By Rory Steel – Vice Convenor SNP Youth
The current crisis facing the Scottish steel industry and the contrasting reactions of the Scottish and British Governments epitomise the argument for independence.
In October this year, TATA Steel announced the mothballing of two of their plants in what was once the heart of the European steel industry, at Dalzell in Motherwell and Clydebridge in Cambuslang, resulting in 270 job losses.
Steelworks across the UK have suffered mass redundancies with thousands of jobs cut from Scunthorpe to Port Talbot. The reasons for the cuts is due to high energy prices the steel plants incur from producing steel which is an energy intensive process. China has also overproduced steel and are ‘dumping’ it on foreign markets at a much cheaper price due to cheaper labour and poorer quality steel.
Recently the Prime Minister met with Chinese President, Hu Jintao, to discuss relations, mainly trade relations, between the UK and China. The Tories’ ideological war to further open our market to foreign economic competitors places our workforce, particularly in the manufacturing sector, in a position where they cannot compete with cheaper labour and poorer worker rights; and places worker against worker in a race to the bottom. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would also open up Scotland’s workforce to further competition from cheaper competitors in the Americas.
These are some of the challenges that the Scottish and British steel industry faces. The steel industry has been warning the government about these dangers for years. Both matters, energy prices and economic policy, are both reserved powers in Westminster. But despite the sudden crisis, the Tory Government still fails to do anything to resolve it.
In some occasions, the Tory Government have even forgotten about the existence of plants in Scotland. In a speech to the House of Commons, Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, failed to mention the Scottish plants once.
During PMQs, the member for Scunthorpe requested that the PM meet with North Lincolnshire MPs to discuss steel jobs following their previous meeting in November. The Prime Minister agreed, but reflected no similar courtesy in his refusal to meet with Lanarkshire MPs after an invitation from Motherwell and Wishaw MP, Marion Fellows, to discuss the very same issues.
Scotland was further snubbed when Scottish Government Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing, was rejected from attending EU crisis talks in Brussels. And the Prime Minister also failed to discuss steel in the European Council to prevent the dumping of Chinese steel in European markets. It is clear that the interests of steelworkers and Scotland are not high on the Tories’ list of priorities as they have persistently failed to safeguard their welfare.
Whereas the day after TATA Steel announced closures in their Scottish plants, the Scottish Government immediately formed a Scottish Steel Taskforce to support workers and trade unions at the plants and to find a new buyer who would invest in continuing to produce steel in Scotland’s ex-industrial heartland. Nicola Sturgeon vowed to leave “no stone unturned” in the SNP’s fight to save the steelworks.
The Taskforce, chaired by Fergus Ewing, is made up of SNP MPs and MSPs, including Marion Fellows MP (Motherwell and Wishaw) and Margaret Ferrier MP (Rutherglen and Hamilton West). Trade unions will also be present as well as MSPs from both Labour and the Conservatives, further stressing the SNPs commitment to finding a solution to what should not be a partisan issue.
Despite the SNPs consensus approach, during the Save Our Steel march on the 7th of November in Motherwell, organised by Labour, no non-Labour representatives were allowed to speak, despite the fact that Marion Fellows has been leading the fight to save the Dalzell works at Westminster – which is the only institution capable of resolving the long term energy and trade issues crippling the steel industry.
But the Tories refuse to intervene claiming that the EU prevents any sort of state interference in the failing steel industry. But there were no such restrictions on spending billions in bailing out the bankers who were responsible for their own downfall that culminated in the harshest austerity cuts since Thatcher.
Like Thatcher, Cameron is intent on continuing the ideological battle to roll back the state and cut public spending and taxes for the rich under the guise of a “long term economic plan” which will intervene to save the lavish lifestyles of their cronies in London; but not the lives of the steelworkers in Lanarkshire.
A strong manufacturing sector is essential for any economy. Germany is one of Europe’s leading manufacturers and has one of the most robust economies in the world. Diversifying Scotland’s economy so that it is not reliant on the housing and banking sectors like the UK’s economy will also limit boom and bust periods and provide workers with different skillsets from entering into work that suits them.
For any country, steel is an essential strategic economic resource to be able to produce. But for Scotland, it is even more important if we want to continue to meet our renewable energy targets and invest in the renewables industry which would contribute jobs and also to Scotland’s large research and development sector.
One option that has been considered is the nationalisation of the steel industry. This would provide Scotland with direct control over a fundamental resource that can be used to build houses to end the social housing shortage; or to expand our renewable sector and increase the number of wind turbines providing clean energy to homes and businesses across Scotland.
However, to be viable in the long term the issues of energy prices and Chinese steel must be addressed as in its current state, the steel industry would not be a viable industry to nationalise. Even if it was, the Scottish Government does not have the powers to fund the nationalisation of steel.
It is vital that the steel sector in Scotland is not only saved from closure, but that the long term problems facing steel in Scotland are also addressed, including energy prices and cheaper, foreign competitors. Only when these issues are addressed and Scotland has the powers that it needs to properly manage its domestic economy will Scotland be able to take control of steel – a fundamental, strategic resource that is essential for Scotland’s economic and social aims: to grow our renewable industry and end the unacceptable plight of homelessness in our nation.