Margaret Thatcher's legacy forced Motherwell and Wishaw to work twice as hard to move forward
The Tories turned their back on our local workforce and sold its plant and machinery to China, setting in motion a slow economic decline, writes Marion Fellows
I’ve lived in Lanarkshire for over 40 years and have seen my fair share of changes over those decades. Originally we moved to Bellshill to start our family, and eventually to Wishaw in 1988. My husband persuaded me to uproot our young family as he was a frequent visitor to Wishaw on business and had seen what it had to offer.
But within a few years of setting up home there, we’d seen a slow economic decline set in. What was once a thriving town centre saw the closure of the local cinema, swimming baths, two small department stores and even the bustling local market.
The decline of Wishaw’s Main Street wasn’t the only significant change in our community. The proud sight of the Ravenscraig integrated steel mill dominated the local landscape, visually and economically.
The cooling towers of Ravenscraig stood as a landmark to our towns, but they were only a small part of the massive industrial site which had grown between Craigneuk, Motherwell, New Stevenston and Carfin and which employed tens of thousands of local people both directly and indirectly.
Steel and iron making was central to the economic wellbeing of the area. At its height, Ravenscraig was one of the largest steel production facilities of its type in the world, and was the largest hot strip steel mill in eastern Europe.
Despite the sheer scale of the site and the skill and dedication of its workforce, the plant had been deliberately run down for a number of years.
I distinctly remember the social and economic impact of the miners’ strike on Ravenscraig and its workforce. I especially recall the solidarity shown by the local community to those on strike as I watched buckets being filled with donations on Bellshill Main Street to support the miners in their efforts to sustain the strike. Mining and coal and steel communities stick together through hard times.
It was Margaret Thatcher’s ideological approach to privatisation that almost entirely killed off steel making in Motherwell and Wishaw. While other European countries supported and invested in their steel industry, the Tories turned their back on our local workforce and sold its plant and machinery to China.
That steelworks still exist in the constituency is no thanks to the Tories, but due to the recent work of the Scottish government which brokered a deal with Liberty Steel Dalzell Works in Motherwell to keep that plant rolling plate steel.
High unemployment was a price Mrs Thatcher accepted to achieve her political goals, impervious to the misery she inflicted. For years, unemployment was a blight on our local area, while even today it is a sad reflection of three decades of under-investment that around one in four children continue to live in poverty in Motherwell and Wishaw.
The closure of Ravenscraig made the largest brownfield site in Europe. Eventually, Ravenscraig Ltd was formed to regenerate the derelict and contaminated site, with plans to build a new town with a railway station and shopping centre at its heart.
But delivering regeneration on this scale is a slow and difficult process. Early on in the development, legal objections to the new shopping centre from existing retailers in nearby towns blocked significant parts of the plans.
The subsequent economic recession following the financial crisis in 2007 meant that, apart from some housing, the Ravenscraig Regional Sports Facility, New College Lanarkshire and other small projects, development stalled. Today, significant progress has been made but there’s still much more to do to deliver the full vision for the area.
Revised plans to include more houses, office, industrial and retail space, five primary schools, an extension to the sports facility and a new town park are moving forward. I’m delighted that funding for much of their work has been secured from the Glasgow city region deal through the Scottish and UK governments.
Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is still visible in Motherwell and Wishaw – a site the size of Monaco is only partly developed. Unemployment is down since the 90s but high-paying jobs are much fewer.
The scar on the landscape which was the Ravenscraig site is still visible but there is hope that the proposed development on the site will lead to economic growth across the whole of North Lanarkshire. All of this is in spite of the terrible legacy Margaret Thatcher left the area.
The people of Motherwell and Wishaw are resilient and still show enormous community spirit. As the local MP, I can bear witness to the huge number of local organisations working tirelessly to help their fellow citizens improve their lives and life chances.
Wishaw is still the cheapest place for land in the UK, so we’ve turned that to our advantage by building a new mixture of homes for both private purchase and social rent thanks to the SNP Scottish government’s house building drive.
Margaret Thatcher’s legacy has meant that Motherwell and Wishaw has had to work harder to move forward, but it’s the determination of the folk in Motherwell and Wishaw that has made this progress possible. Perhaps this gritty resolve to build a better life for our children is why Motherwell and Wishaw voted yes in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum?
But whatever the future for Scotland, I know the future for our community is bright.
Marion Fellows is SNP MP for Motherwell and Wishaw