From the Upper Clyde to Independence

0
788

  By Peter Geoghegan
 
Tam Brotherston knows a thing or two about political campaigns. Back in 1971, Brotherston was at the forefront of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders ‘work in’ that grabbed the world’s attention. 

But more than four decades after Jimmy Reid led the workers back into the shipyards, the former shop stweard is in no doubt that the biggest fight of his life is going on right now.

  By Peter Geoghegan
 
Tam Brotherston knows a thing or two about political campaigns. Back in 1971, Brotherston was at the forefront of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders ‘work in’ that grabbed the world’s attention. 

But more than four decades after Jimmy Reid led the workers back into the shipyards, the former shop stweard is in no doubt that the biggest fight of his life is going on right now.

“The UCS campaign pales into significance compared with [the Yes campaign],” he says. “I’ve never seen a movement like this. Never.”

Age certainly has done little to diminish Tam Brotherston’s passion for politics. Now 66, he wears a dark blue coat, a light blue ‘Yes’ badge, and a lively, playful smile.  Despite his a thick grey beard and rimless glasses, it is not hard to imagine him as the young son of a boiler-maker growing up in a Govan teeming with shipyards and workers; or as a youthful Communist Party cadre.

“This is one of the most exciting, enlightening and uplifting moments of my life,” says Brotherston over a cup of coffee in the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow. “The number of folk I talk to that say ‘I’ve never done anything like this before.  That is when you know the world is changing.”

A few minutes earlier, Brotherson and his former UCS colleague David Torrance finished a press conference in which they called on the Scottish government to take Fergusons, Scotland’s last commercial shipyard went bust last week, into public ownership if a deal to save the company cannot be struck and for all Holyrood parties to commit to keeping the shipyard open.

The decline of shipbuilding on the Clyde has been anything but inevitable, Brotherson told the #AllYes daily press conference: “It’s about political will and some investment.  That’s all it needs, all the potential is there to re-open more shipyards but it has suffered for many many years from chronic under-investment and mismanagement.”
 
“There’s been no investment in the marine and ship engineering industry,” said David Torrance, a former USC Coordinating Committee member during the work-in. “In other countries like Poland, Germany, South Korea the government is providing low interest rates for loans and subsidising shipbuilding, but the UK government’s not provided that sort of support.”

Instead shipbuilding on the Clyde has been oriented towards a single buyer – the Ministry of Defence – and the numbers employed in the yards have dwindled from tens of thousands to just three and a half thousand.

Earlier this summer, both men were among the seven UCS work in veterans who signed a letter to the Daily Record calling for yes vote for independence.

“Anybody who says voting no will protect our industries [should ask] why are we not better together? Why are people [at Fergusons] hanging on by their fingernails hoping a white knight will come in and save them?” asks Brotherston.
 
“We will make mistakes in an independent Scotland, there’s no doubt about that, but they will be our mistakes.”

“I’m a member of the Labour party but I’ll be voting for independence, because Westminster has put everything into the City of London and forgot about building things,” said David Torrance.

Many current union reps in Govan and Clydebank advocate a no vote, arguing that independence would scuttle lucrative defence contracts upon which the existing yards survive.  Brotherson disagrees: “There is nowhere else for the Navy to build them”. A yes would, he says, also allow the shipyards to diversify into other areas including wind farms and green technology.

For Brotherston the experience of fighting for his livelihood along with the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders four decades ago has prepared him well for the contemporary struggle for Scottish independence. “I learned about solidarity. That’s a message we should broadcast in England and Wales.

“The minute a nation begins to look after its people then it becomes the enemy of nations who don’t do that, who don’t have their people’s interests. The people of England need to support us because we will be fighting for the things that they are seeing dismantled in front of their very eyes.”

Independence, for Brotherston, is about changing economic relations, not just switching political allegiances: “We are not voting yes just to exchange one exploiter for another. We are voting yes because we want to end the system of arrangements where working people have nae voice and nae control over the direction that their nation takes.”

Brotherston quotes Shelley (“Rise like lions after slumber”), George Bernard Shaw (“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”) and his old friend and comrade Jimmy Reid.

There is one thing he is certain of come September 19, he says: “Win or lose, Scotland has changed”.