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Time is overdue to reverse Scotland’s industrial decline

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THE CLOSURE of Ravenscraig in 1992 spelt the beginning of the end for ‘Scotland’s proud manufacturing tradition’.  It was unnecessary. Just two years later, previous claims British Steel had sacrificed Ravenscraig to join a European cartel were given credibility when it emerged the company was one of seventeen fined for illegal price-fixing.

The consequential unemployment and depravation across Lanarkshire initiated by this decline can be felt to this day. No surprise there was outrage in 2017, when released files revealed a political awareness back in 1992 that the demise of Scotland’s steel production would cost direct and indirect 15,000 jobs, yet politicians failed to act.

When Ravenscraig closed I was working in an offshore fabrication yard in the Highlands. During what was a slow downturn when we were losing contracts to European rivals, I remember asking the question – ‘how, with similar labour rates and better productivity are we struggling to compete?’

Could there be any truth in the mutterings some European governments found ways around the EU Rules prohibiting industry support, while our Government played by the book?

Then as we welcomed the new millennium the Asian Tiger rose to become the world centre for offshore fabrication – another industrial loss for Scotland, particularly damaging across the Highlands.

Eight years on, Alex Salmond envisaged Scotland as the “Saudi Arabia of renewables“, raising hopes of an impending ‘second industrial revolution’.

Heightened optimism followed when John Swinney promised offshore wind offered “the potential for 28,000 direct jobs and a further 20,000 jobs in related industries and £7.1 billion investment in Scotland by 2020.”

In the eventual reality Scotland secured only 6 per cent of the jobs from our energy infrastructure projects and as our yards fought for the ‘crumbs’, the rest sailed off into the sunset!

Like a déjà vu moment reminiscent of times gone by, calls for a ‘level playing field’ and visibility on the interest groups funding these projects and their subsidiaries fell on deaf ears!

The UK Government pours billions into renewable projects and our Scottish Government millions into local yards to facilitate their readiness to benefit from renewable contracts. It’s surely reasonable the taxpayer expects a fair return on that investment eg having the skilled, well-paying fabrication jobs stay local?

Scotland’s shift from manufacturing to a service driven economy, has for many, resulted in lower wages and a higher dependency on in-work benefits. There is clearly something wrong where the system necessitates a reliance on government to financially support working individuals?

In 2013 Iain Macwhirter reminded us a low-wage economy isn’t a firm foundation for recovery and that Scotland must reconnect with our manufacturing past. He felt confident there was a good understanding of what caused our decline and a determination to reverse it, suggesting this should be the top line on the manifesto of every party in Scotland in 2014.”

We frequently hear how Scotland could be like Norway. Norway’s success came by adopting a strategy that prioritised Norwegian companies through the Oil & Gas boom, contracts going overseas only when their own yards were full.

Our Scottish Government – hamstrung by playing to the EU’s state-aid rules – did nothing to keep the fabrication of Scotland’s windfarms at home. It will not acknowledge the EU was at the heart of its inaction and would still have us rejoin the EU and be bound by their restrictions all over again.

As we move into an economically challenging post-Covid recovery, it’s imperative Politicians move beyond their obvious comfort-zone, reverse Scotland’s industrial decline and improve job opportunities for all. In doing so we must exploit the new-found commercial freedoms that leaving the EU has presented us with rather than seek to surrender them in the name of pan-European idealism.

Following years of broken promises from our mainstream political parties, it’s time for accepting reality, it’s time for Reform!

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