Tuesday, 8 January 2013
When Margaret Thatcher was in charge of these islands, she made some decisions which left me speechless. Two which still irk me today are the decimation of the coal and steel industries.
At the time she took on Arthur Scargill, (odious man), I was working abroad and all I knew about the confrontation was from English (and Scottish) newspapers. I worked with a Polish chap occasionally and shortly after German television had broadcast a clip of Arthur Scargill being arrested by the police, my Polish colleague expressed his delight at Margaret Thatcher's stance. Explaining his joy he said (I'm paraphrasing of course):"This is excellent for my country. We will now be able to sell coal to England and charge what we like." I recall he went on to explain Poland was already supplying Britain's coal supply but, because we had our own mines, the Poles were making little profit on their export.
Of course coal is a dirty word nowadays but here in rural parts some residents depend on it for their wellbeing. Coal lorries can still be seen delivering to outlying homes, albeit the material they supply is now classed as clean coal.
For some years there has been much talk about 'clean' coal and of course coal-based power stations are not acceptable to those who firmly believe that coal is responsible for the country's problems with pollution.
Once upon a time that may have been the case, but with modern technologies cleaning up the fossil fuel, our pollution has reduced radically.
However, this post isn't about the pros and cons of coal, but how short-term most political decisions can be.
We're all aware the great economies of the world - the US, China and India - continue to use coal in abundance and it's reported energy firms may have to rely upon it unless new gas power stations are built.
Just think - if Margaret Thatcher had been more interested in the country rather than her personal feud with Arthur Scargill, Britain could have been exporting coal to these countries and also providing employment for many instead of closing the whole industry down and using the North Sea oil income to soften the blow. If investment in both the coal and steel industries had been made wisely, instead of foolishly, we may have had two modern, although much smaller, industries of which we would have been proud.
Yes, coal mining and steel manufacturing are 'dirty' industries but the workers were skilled and quite rightly had pride in their abilities. The few remaining coal mines in England have serious problems and since Corus closed the Teeside plant, there is no need to teach steel-making skills to the younger generation.
I wonder, if Thatcher had reorganised the coal and steel industries would they have been profitable or would the coal industry been sold to foreign investors to asset strip? I will never know.
Alex Salmond insists the renewable industry has created numerous jobs. I've yet to meet anyone who earns their living from this industry, although Scottish renewables claimed, in March last year, 1,526 people were directly employed with a further 8,701 in the supply chain and 909 jobs in academia and the public sector. No mention is made of anyone in the supply chain being based overseas.
However, the renewable industry is still in its infancy and we can but hope that it becomes a major player in the energy market.
(The subject of this post arose from a trip I had to Fife recently. The coal mines are no longer, the communities destroyed and some of the people still hanker after the days when unemployment was low and towns all pulled together. Halcyon times to some who continue to resent losing far more than jobs.)