A railway, a museum and a legacy of coal

With Andrew and Mhairi about to have a wee tour
With Andrew and Mhairi about to have a wee tour

A trip on the Borders Railway to visit the National Mining Museum of Scotland provided food for thought on energy and our workers’ rights.

On a sunny Monday, I zoomed along on the Borders Railway (which many folk forget stops in Midlothian too) to Newtongrange to visit Scotland’s National Mining Museum. It was great to chat with Mhairi Cross, the CEO, who’s a fellow artist and to hear about her ambitions for the museum. Ellie Swinbank who has the awesome job title of Keeper showed us around the exhibition.

A museum panel on miners essentially being slaves
A museum panel on miners essentially being slaves

From the formation of coal and the development of engineering nouse to extract it, to the social history of mining and harsh labour conditions, Ellie and Mhairi painted a really powerful picture of Scotland’s mining heritage. I was shocked to hear about the way mines were run in the 1600s by private owners who literally owned the workers and their families as well as the land. Miners who fled were punished for the charge of stealing their own bodies.

Coal mining is deep in the veins of many communities in the South, from Nithsdale to Midlothian and from Ayrshire to Lanarkshire. Long memories of hard work and sacrificed health permeate to this day, although I’m always struck by the love/hate relationship that such communities have for coal.

As a Green, I want to see a just transition away from fossil fuel extraction, including coal mining, towards the renewable and sustainable energy that we desperately need. But today reminded me that it’s so vital that we don’t forget the history of our mining industry.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 20.22.45In many ways, the brutal work regimes, the health problems and the ownership model so common in coal mining for centuries, were what gave rise to our trade union movement, to the labour rights we all enjoy today and to the notion that privatisation isn’t the answer to questions of how to develop and sustain Scottish industry.

We owe an enormous debt to all those who risked their lives down the pits. But we have an equal obligation to future generations, at home and around the world, to ensure that no one is asked to risk their life just to keep the lights on; to make sure our rights as workers are defended; and that we protect our environment from the kind of fossil fuel extraction that will see our planet change beyond repair.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 20.11.03To visit the National Mining Museum, hop on the Borders Railway or jump on a bus to Newtongrange. They’re open 7 days and their tour guides are fantastic.

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