There are ghosts of past troubles that haunt North Lanarkshire. Although the iconic blue-painted steel towers that once marked the capital of Scotland’s steel industry are long gone, what they stood for and what happened when “the ‘Craig” closed, is cemented in local anger.
Ravenscraig was built in 1954 and became a symbol of industrial optimism. It grew to become the largest hot steel strip mill in Europe. When it closed in 1992 there was only one person who got the blame.
In between occasional glances at TV screens showing horse racing from Tampa Bay in Florida, the two regulars propping up the bar in the Railway Inn in Motherwell town centre are prepared to offer insight into their town’s economic history. “She tore Scotland to bits, that Tory bastard did.”
The “she” is Margaret Thatcher, and though it was John Major in Downing Street when the ‘Craig finally closed, such detail is irrelevant. Thatcher’s ghost is as much a part of this place as the Eiffel Tower is in Paris.
Industrial exorcism is no easy exercise. Tens of thousand of jobs were lost when Ravenscraig’s mills and furnaces shut down. Coal mines, iron ore terminals on Scotland’s west coast, and hundreds of support industries suffered the same fate.
In pictures: Top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in 2015
In pictures: Top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in 2015
1/12 Charlotte Rose, Brighton Pavilion
Sex worker Charlotte Rose stood in last year’s Rochester and Strood by-election on a platform of legalising brothels (she came 11th) and says the issue is “important for democracy”
Image taken from Twitter
2/12 Solomon Curtis, Wealden
The youngest candidate to emerge so far is Labour activist Solomon Curtis. Just 18, the young chap has a Tory majority of 17,000 to overturn to become the youngest MP ever
3/12 Doris Osen, Ilford North
The oldest candidate to declare, Doris Osen, 84, of Epic – Elderly Persons’ Independent Party – spent £1,000 on 30,000 fliers to voters
4/12 Dave Wasgij, Preston
Standing to give “piece a chance”, comedian Dave Wasgij has been captured by the jigsaw lobby and is promising free puzzles for OAPs
5/12 Joe Stead, Calder Valley
Protest singer Joe Stead will provide colour at the count. He says war can be prevented through music alone
6/12 Arthur Uther Pendragon, Salisbury
He’s stood for Parliament in five elections and believes he’s the reincarnation of the King Arthur. Apparently, the stones say this is finally his year
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
7/12 Greg Clough, Islington
An Australian married to a Greek, Ukip’s Greg Clough wants to stop immigrants using “our” NHS
8/12 Colin Bex, Eastleigh
Colin Bex’s mission is self-government for the ancient lands of Wessex
9/12 Dave Bishop, seat TBC
Standing alternately as Elvis Loves Pets, The Church of the Militant Elvis, Lord Biro and the Bus Pass Elvis, Dave Bishop (below) has stood since 1997. Among his policy ideas are “free neutering for cats and Boris Johnson”
10/12 Mark Flanagan, Leeds North West
Mark Flanagan is giving voters the option of voting for “none of the above” and thereby rejecting every other candidate
11/12 Al Murray, South Thanet
Presumably wants a boost in sales for his next comedy DVD
12/12 Robert Boaler, South Thanet
Robert Boaler for the Al-Zebabist Nation of Ooog party, wants to build a “great wall of Thanet” to save the town from nearby elite in Broadstairs
Almost 25 years on, in a place where steel for luxury BMWs was once crafted, there is a derelict brownfield site that is twice the size of Monaco. This year, finally, there is a resurrection plan: a new town with homes, schools, a new railway station, business and industrial space, a new leisure and retail centre. The word “new” is not a marketing gimmick, but a long-anticipated phoenix that has been waiting to rise.
Who gets to take the political applause when the new town structures rise from the ashes, will be determined on May 7. As this is the heart of Labour’s working-class heartlands, it not that long ago seemed inconceivable that the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency, which has an unbroken record of returning Labour MPs from 1945, would not do so again. Even when the rest of Scotland turned to the SNP at the 2011 Holyrood election, Motherwell and Wishaw stayed loyal to Labour.
But if the polls are correct, Frank Roy’s 16,806 majority will not be enough to halt the surge of nationalism that has grown since last year’s independence referendum.
Marion Fellows, a pensioner and former teacher who has lived with her family in Wishaw and nearby Bellshill for 40 years, was elected a councillor for the SNP just two years ago. After a controversial selection process, where two SNP councillors resigned from the party claiming there was a “dark veil of secrecy” around who won the Westminster nomination, Fellows emerged as the party’s choice to fight Roy.
Though Fellows is inexperienced in national politics and was jokingly described by one of her council colleagues as “under the protective custody of SNP HQ in Edinburgh”, she is not fighting Roy on her own. The former Solidarity MSP and socialist firebrand, Tommy Sheridan, recently told his party’s supporters in Motherwell that they should “lend” the votes to Nicola Sturgeon in May. He said “for the first time the SNP could win a Westminster election and send a clear independence, anti-Trident, and anti-austerity message to the heart of the British establishment.” Sheridan said this general election required “a unique tactical response.”
The general election in this constituency, as it is across Scotland, isn’t just about the winning numbers at Westminster.
Roy, a former steelworker at Ravenscraig, has been at Westminster since 1997 and finds his future as an MP largely dependent on a simple appeal. He told The Independent “If we want a Labour government, then we need Labour MPs.” He doesn’t disguise the trouble Labour is in, and unlike Ed Miliband, accepts that “the referendum is still fresh here and Labour voters have yet to give us the permission to call them our supporters.”
The new town, according to Roy, is crucial. It could help bring money into the town. Tata Steel run the area’s remaining steel plants at Dalzell and the Cambuslang where there is local concern that the plants’ 400 jobs are at risk. Unemployment, once catastrophic in the wake of the declining big industries, now hovers around the national average at 5.1 percent. And although Motherwell and Wishaw has survived and outgrown the demise of the ‘Craig, what’s left is not pretty.
The route to the town centre, past the tranquility of Strathclyde Country Park, is serially marked with the loud marketing of large car dealerships and everything looks prosperous enough. But the town centre tells a different story. Pound-priced discount shops and pawnbrokers, cheque cashing and legal high-interest money lenders, are dotted along the streets. The out-of-town superstores may have killed off the life-support of the centre, but what’s left shows a community on the edge.
However near the campus of New College Lanarkshire, built on former steelworks land, there is ample evidence that Motherwell has done more than survive. New housing estates have sprung up over the last three or four years. New cars are parked in tidy driveways. John, from Motherwell, whose wife is a teacher, said he moved back from London two years ago, bought his house for £200,000 and is now “home”. He said “I voted Yes at the referendum. I’ll be voting SNP at the election. I mean if Norway can do it, why can’t Scotland.”
Polls suggest it is the young, relatively affluent working-classes of places like Motherwell and Wishaw who will end Labour’s long stranglehold on who represents Scotland at Westminster. And here that may hurt more than it does elsewhere.
Keir Hardie was born in a small cottage in Newhouse, close to Motherwell in 1856. He went on to form the Scottish Labour Party some thirty years later. But even a campaign visit from his ghost may not be enough next month.
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