HeadLine: MAGGIE’S AXEMAN DEAD
Daily Record, 14/04/1998, p2
by SHAUN MILNE
The man who butchered Britain’s coal industry has died.
Sir Ian MacGregor, dubbed Mac the Knife for ripping the industrial
heart out of Scotland, collapsed yesterday morning.
He was rushed to Taunton and Somerset Hospital after suffering a heart
attack while on holiday in the area.
Last night, STUC chief Bill Speirs said: “I doubt if many tears will be
shed for him in Scotland.”
Not just the coal fields have reason to hold bitter memories of him –
steel workers too suffered.
MacGregor, 85, was a favourite of Margaret Thatcher during her reign as
She paid a New York bank £1.8million in the early 80s to bring him in
to ruthlessly prune the British Steel Corporation.
Thousands of Scots jobs were lost as a result and UK-wide, MacGregor
cut almost 100,000 steel jobs.
The cost-cutting changes he forced through led ultimately to the
closure of works like Ravenscraig almost a decade later.
During the miners’ strike, Ravenscraig was the scene of bitter
confrontations between NUM pickets trying to stop coal supplies going
into the steel plant.
And it was in that 1984/85 miners’ strike that MacGregor gained true
notoriety with the unions.
They called him Maggie’s axeman, but the Tories regarded him as a hero
as he headed the NCB fight against the miners.
MacGregor won – but the price was near-extinction for much of Britain’s
coal industry and Scotland was left with just one pit 10 years after
the strike ended.
Scottish NUM leader in the dispute, Mick McGahey, said last night: “He
was viciously anti-trade union and anti-working class.
“That is why he was appointed chairman of the coal board by Maggie
Thatcher – to destroy trade unionism, not just in mining but in
Yet despite all the praise at the end of the dispute, MacGregor soon
slipped into the background, and he retired as NCB chairman in 1986.
Thatcher knighted him, but they soon fell out over his book on the
Last night, Thatcher said: “He brought a breath of fresh air to British
industry and made a real difference.”
But deputy general secretary of the STUC, Bill Speirs, gave a more
commonly held Scottish view of him.
He said: “He took money from Margaret Thatcher to destroy the miners,
their union, their communities and ultimately the country’s coal
He added that any death was a loss but “thousands have lost much,
including the lives of loved ones, because of the actions which Sir Ian
took with such enthusiasm”.
MacGregor’s Welsh-born wife Sibyl, whom he met during his years in the
USA, died in 1996. They had a son and daughter.
Latterly Sir Ian’s main home had been in Bermuda.
* HATE him or love him, Ian MacGregor left his mark on British industry.
Miners’ leader Arthur Scargill branded him the “American butcher of
He replied: “I am not a butcher. I am a plastic surgeon. I try to
rebuild damaged features.”
But even MacGregor himself admitted he had a darker side.
He once described himself as “a hoary old b*****d who likes to win”.
MacGregor was born in Kinlochleven, Argyll, going to a top public
school before graduating from Glasgow University.
He began work at British Aluminium alongside his dad in 1935.
He moved to America in the 1940s, partly because he disliked the post-
war Labour government’s nationalisation programme.
He won a reputation as a shrewd buyer of metals for defence work for
By the late 1960s, he had worked his way to the top of the Amax
Corporation, a minerals and coal giant, and had a reputation for being
tough but with a very shrewd business brain.
A workaholic, MacGregor, while based in Britain, often commuted to the
US for the day by Concorde.
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