Murray Ritchie examines the views of the quality press in England on

the loss of Ravenscraig

CHUCK COLSON, the Washington lawyer who was jailed as one of President

Richard Nixon's Watergate conspirators, was a great one for screwing up

and throwing away newspapers which annoyed him. Many years ago we met in

Edinburgh and he confessed to me details of his daily habit of

assaulting his copy of the Washington Post.

He would be sitting in the back of his chauffeured limo as he opened

the Post to read the latest revelation by Woodward and Bernstein of

Nixon's cheating. Poor Chuck seldom reached the White House gates before

he exploded, crunched the Post into a ball and hurled it to the floor.

Eventually he got religion, wrote a book called Born Again, and I have

not heard of him since.

I thought of him yesterday while sifting through the English papers

and reading their views on the loss to Scotland of Ravenscraig. You can

ignore the English tabloids because no-one cares what they think anyway.

(I read recently that 40% of Sun readers believe it to be left wing, but

that's another story.)

Any naive expectation that the English heavies might try to understand

public opinion in Scotland, which holds that Ravenscraig is more than

just another closure, was quickly dispelled.

The Financial Times fretted about British Steel's share price and

hailed an end to political interference with British Steel, apparently

under the impression that such interference had actually existed these

past few years. If it had Ravenscraig would, of course, still be the

base of the Scottish economy.

Daily Telegraph readers were advised: ''While the management [of BS]

is prepared to take hard decisions like this one, the shares look an

excellent gamble.'' So we know where the Telegraph's priorities lie. Its

leader writer looked on the bright side: ''Lanarkshire . . . has the

prospect of a much brighter future without traditional heavy industry.''

There was more. The Telegraph seemed deluded by the familiar London

line that Ravenscraig was some sort of subsidy-injected industrial

cripple, oblivious to market forces, and not what it really is: the most

efficient steel plant in the UK.

''The true betrayers of Scotland,'' quoth the house magazine of the

Home Counties, were those Opposition MPs ''who seek to preserve the

Scots people in a fantasy world where there is no limit to government

subsidy, and no requirement for Scottish-based industries to compete

effectively''. Who in Scotland has mentioned the word subsidy? I was

naively under the impression that the Scots wanted Bob Scholey to allow

Ravenscraig to compete, not shut it.

Even the Guardian remarked that ''a forceful case can be made out for

British Steel, already one of the most cost-effective steel companies in

Europe, being left to its own commercial decisions -- even if these

involve moving out of some basic steel-making activities''. Well, yes,

agreed, but that does not answer the point that they said they wouldn't

do that in Scotland -- unless market forces compelled them to -- and

Scholey deliberately refuses to try to justify his decison.

But the Colson type of urge to invoke violence grew with The Times (a

convert to Scottish devolution, believe it or not) which complained that

Ravenscraig should have been closed sooner, indeed never built at all.

''Truly those who yesterday wrung their hands are the 'dismal Jimmies'

of whom the Prime Minister complained on Tuesday,'' said The Times.

With unswerving irrelevance The Times drew the comparison between

Ravenscraig, and Corby and Consett. The fact that England and Wales have

suffered closures but still have national steel industries while

Scotland does not, was ignored. But, says The Times, these are ''now

both reasonably prosperous towns, despite steel closures . . .'' Ah,

well, that must make it all okay.

Breaking point, Colson-style, came with the Independent whose leader

writer was plainly irritated by the Scots' use of Ravenscraig as a

political virility symbol. Silly me, here was I thinking Ravenscraig

symbolised the very opposite: our complete absence of any political


And then I read the paragraph which caused me, finally, to assault the

Independent. For your benefit I have uncrumpled it to share it with you.

This is what the Independent thought we up here should have done these

past years, instead of merely fretting about Ravenscraig: ''The Scots

should have devoted less energy to trying to reverse the tide of

history, and more to a pre-emptive diversification of the local [sic]

economy during the boom years of the eighties.''

Ah! The good old boom years of the 80s. These were the days, when all

those greetin'-faced, ungrateful Scottish workers went to Linwood,

Gartcosh, Invergordon, Bathgate, Scott Lithgow. When our scenery was

spoiled by all those ugly factories where there is now nice grass, when

Scottish unemployment boomed -- by about 100%.

I'm sorry for complaining and behaving like Chuck Colson. I must try

harder to be reasonable, like a good Independent reader, and thank

English and Welsh Steel, plc, for the most memorable piece of metal to

come out of Ravenscraig: Tommy Brennan's MBE.