What Went Wrong?

A lot can and has been said about living in Ayrshire. In our own articles we have pointed out a struggling population with some of the highest rates of unemployment, mental health issues and drug related incidences.

Ayrshire is just one county in a country in which these issues are seemingly becoming better managed. There was a time when Ayrshire boasted important shipbuilding harbours such as Irvine with its Ayrshire Dockyard Company and Troon with the Ailsa Shipbuilding Yard. Some of the most important trade from Ireland and the Americas would pass through this county first. Sunny Saltcoats used to be one of the most popular holiday destinations in the country!

So, what happened?

Where did it all go wrong?

It seems the biggest problem with Ayrshire is the same problem with a lot of smaller counties in the country; it’s a place where industry used to be. The biggest industry that used to be in Ayrshire was the coal mining. Even today, mentioned within ear shot of the right people, talking about the miners strike that started Friday March 9th, 1984 will warrant a response of bitterness and anger. The dispute would last around a year and the result was a community all but torn apart. The miners argued that the government were going to cause mass unemployment by destroying an industry that the area so relied upon and some accused Thatcher of doing it to spite the communities that didn’t support her. The government would claim that it was simply a dying industry that was running at a loss, so it needed to be stopped.

The plan proposed by the National Coal Board that would cause the miners’ union president Arthur Scargill to call for a national strike meant the closure of 20 pits. This would mean the loss of around 20,000 jobs with the next steps being to open ‘super pits’ that would produce more coal with less workers. The only pits that would benefit from this plan would be one in Yorkshire and one in Nottinghamshire.

The ensuing strike would see the best and worst of the community come out. Hunterston power station became a large target for picketing with men being driven there in buses. Although the strike would start out peacefully enough as it went on there started to be some ugly fighting. Strikers would clash with the police as well as ‘scab’ workers (workers that crossed the picket line). Thatcher was well prepared for a response like this and had stockpiled coal from Australia, South Africa and Poland ensuring that the dispute would be a long and arduous one.

The men on strike were accused in the papers of bringing the communities to the brink by being so stubborn and preventing coal supplies going to those in need. In response strikers would go into the hills themselves to dig coal for the more vulnerable members of the community. In spite of the struggle many people would give their last in solidarity with the strikers.

As the strike dragged on through the year it slowly became evident that it couldn’t last. The support from Strathclyde council, although welcome, couldn’t sustain them. The pressure of trying to live on only £15 a week was too much for a lot of families. It all came to an end March 5th, 1985 almost a year since the strike began. Then came the job losses.

Everywhere in Ayrshire there are sad reminders of the industry of the past. Open pit mining has even continued in the area but suffers from similar job loss issues to this day.

It may be a bitter pill to swallow but there was right and wrong on both sides of the picket line in ‘84. Coal mining really was a finite industry and couldn’t sustain itself long term, however the worry that a lot of the coal miners went on strike for was also true. They could see that if Ayrshire lost its biggest industry it would lose its sense of pride and see years of hardship and unemployment. This prediction has come true. The Ayrshire of today is not completely devoid of all industry, the booming electronics industry has a foothold in the area and there is hope yet for the tourism sector. The problem is that nothing has ever filled the hole left by the closure of all the industry that used to be in the area.

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