Coal Country: The Meaning and Memory of Deindustrialization in Postwar Scotland

Lecturer in Global Inequalities, Dr Ewan Gibbs, details his new book.

During 2002, miners arose from the Longannet drift mines complex for the last time and brought down the curtain on the centuries-long saga of Scottish deep coal mining. My new book, Coal Country, tells the story of the long death of Scotland’s coal industry through the words and recollections of those who experienced it.

Coal Country is the first book-length study of deindustrialization in Scotland’s coalfields. It began life as a PhD in Economic and Social History at the University of Glasgow, where I was supervised by Jim Phillips and Duncan Ross. Although deindustrialization is usually primarily understood as an economic phenomenon, I approach it as a defining historical experience with profound and lasting cultural and political consequences.

In Coal Country, I present an assessment of deindustrialization as a long experience that evolved across the second half of the twentieth century, beginning with the closure of small aging collieries in the Shotts area of Eastern Lanarkshire during the late 1940s. An assessment ‘from above’ uses archival research from the archives of the UK government, including energy policymaking and the Scottish Office’s management of labour market changes. Voices ‘from below’ are included through the records of the nationalized coal industry and trade unions, such as the remarks made by miners and their representatives during pit closure proceedings. I demonstrate that before 1979, pit closures were broadly negotiated consensually through a moral economy that protected workers’ welfare and the economic security of coalfield communities.

The other principal source in Coal Country was provided by an extensive oral history project that interviewed former miners, their wives and children as well as other former industrial workers who live in the coalfields. Important details about the intergenerational transmission of occupational identities, changes to gender relations and shifts in communities that came with the closure of collieries, factories and steelworks were uncovered in the interviews. In addition, the testimonies reflect on what deindustrialization means in the Scottish coalfields during the early twenty-first century in the context of shifting politics of class and nationhood that has been shaped by the gradual erosion of industrial employment during the previous seventy years.

As Scotland experiences another energy transition, and workforces and communities that rely on North Sea oil and other carbon-intensive industries face an uncertain future, I hope the perspective put forward in Coal Country can contribute to discussions on how economic change is managed in workers’ interests. 

My book can be downloaded for free in PDF form or purchased paper copy from the University of London Press.

Coal Country: The Meaning and Memory of Deindustrialization in Postwar Scotland (London: University of London Press, 2021)