Song of the Clyde by Kenneth McKellar

I’ll sing of a river I’m happy besideThe song that I sing is a song of the ClydeOf all Scottish rivers, it’s dearest to meIt flows from Leadhills all the way to the sea
It borders the orchards of Lanark so fairMeanders through meadows with sheep grazing thereBut from Glasgow to Greenock, in towns on each sideThe hammers ding-dong is the song of the Clyde

By Bill Heaney

The Song of the Clyde with its  reference to the “hammers ding dong” has brought many hours of contentment and happy nostalgia to Clydesiders at home and abroad …
However, in truth, that ding dong was the death knell for thousands of workers who built the world’s most famous liners and ships in the riverside yards of West Dunbartonshire.
The Scottish Parliament paid tribute to them this week though and agreed they will be remembered on Action Mesothelioma Day 2023 on Friday, July 7.
The motion was placed before the MSPs by Marie McNair, who is both a West Dunbartonshire councillor and an SNP Member for Clydebank in the Scottish Parliament.


That the Parliament recognises Action Mesothelioma Day 2023, which is on 7 July 2023; understands that mesothelioma is a rare cancer that is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos, with tiny fibres getting into the lungs and damaging them over time; notes that the cancer most commonly occurs in the lining of the lung, but can also occur in the lining of the abdomen and the lining of the heart, with symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pain, cough and tiredness; understands that there are around 2,700 new mesothelioma cases in the UK every year, including over 200 in Scotland, which is the highest number in Europe, with at least a further 2,000 cases of lung cancer that are likely to be caused by asbestos exposure; recognises that Action Mesothelioma Day is a national event to raise awareness of asbestos and mesothelioma, raise vital funds to support the research into tackling mesothelioma, and to remember and support those who have been affected by the disease; applauds the long-standing and ongoing work of Clydebank Asbestos Group, which has provided information and support to people with asbestos-related conditions for over 30 years; notes the need for continued research into mesothelioma, and hopes for a successful Action Mesothelioma Day 2023. Marie McNair MSP


Marie McNair (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP) told her colleagues in the chamber: “It is important that we again approach this issue on a cross-party basis. I acknowledge the contributions that have been made by members from all parties to keep our focus on mesothelioma and the wider impact that asbestos has had on our constituents.”

She welcomed members of the Clydebank Asbestos Group to the public gallery, Edinburgh and the the Parliament. 

Ms McNair added: “We in Clydebank and Milngavie owe the group a debt of gratitude for the work that it has done for people who have been impacted by asbestos and the compassionate support that it gives to their families and other loved ones, often at very difficult times, as well as providing excellent and compassionate support. Its determination for truth and justice is resolute and strong.

“Action mesothelioma day 2023 seeks to raise awareness of the disease. I congratulate ActionMeso and all other support groups up and down the country for their determined efforts to raise such awareness. As part of that campaign, we have been asked to turn landmarks blue. I am pleased to advise members that the Clydebank district heating centre, which is on the site of the former John Brown & Company shipyard, will be lit up blue on that day, as will the Beardmore’s sculpture in Dalmuir, which depicts HMS Ramillies.”

Mesothelioma is a cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos fibres and begins to grow in the linings of certain organs. It most commonly affects the linings of the lungs but can also affect the linings of the abdomen or the heart.

It has a long latency period. Worldwide Cancer Research states that it can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years from first exposure to asbestos until a diagnosis of mesothelioma. It is an incurable disease, but some people can survive for many years after diagnosis.

The MSP welcomed the recent developments in treatment and research, and commended the  Scottish Mesothelioma Network, Mesothelioma UK, Cancer Research UK campaigners and health professionals for all their work, the importance of which is inestimable.

She added: “The most appalling fact about mesothelioma is that it is preventable. Cancer Research UK estimates that there are around 2,700 new cases in the United Kingdom every year, which is the equivalent of more than seven per day.

“The latest Health and Safety Executive statistics show that the local authority area that covers Clydebank has the second-highest death rate for males and the fourth-highest death rate for females in the UK.

“Clydebank was once known as the mesothelioma capital of Europe because of its high mortality rates—a horrible description that, for us, hides the real person behind each number.

The Singer sewing machine factory and Turners Asbestos Cement Company’s factory were all examples of industries that often put the prioritisation of profit and production over the safety and welfare of workers.

“Our industrial history is the main reason for that unwanted legacy for our town. John Brown & Company’s shipyard, the Singer sewing machine factory and Turners Asbestos Cement Company’s factory were all examples of industries that often put the prioritisation of profit and production over the safety and welfare of workers.

“In their book “Lethal Work: A History of the Asbestos Tragedy in Scotland”, Ronald Johnston and Arthur McIvor illustrated the dreadful work conditions that were experienced by many people in the shipbuilding industry. One lagger whom they interviewed gave a horrific account of his job:

“You opened the mat up and you left enough so you could stitch it up. You filled it with asbestos”,  folded the cloth and “patted it all to try and make … it … the same … sometimes it was hard stuff so you got big lumps of wood and you battered it … You worked in a fog making this up.”

“Those conditions were appalling and were responsible for the murder of many people from our town.

“Some exposures to asbestos that have caused mesothelioma are not linked to our industrial history. Cases have emerged of younger people being affected, with one person having been supported by the Clydebank Asbestos Group after being diagnosed at just 30 years of age.

“The Health and Safety Executive also reports evidence of young teachers being diagnosed with mesothelioma. That questions the continued wisdom of the HSE’s advice that asbestos being held in situ in the built environment provides the least risk to exposure.

“Instead, consideration needs to be being given to a programme of phased removal of asbestos from all public buildings, starting with schools. I call on the Scottish Government to work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Health and Safety Executive to bring that to fruition. That will be the best way to reduce exposure and further cases of mesothelioma.

“The support that we give to those who have been impacted by the disease also requires us to have a social security system and legal compensation schemes that are there for people at their time of greatest need.

“I have listened to the Clydebank Asbestos Group talk about the running down of the Department for Work and Pensions industrial injuries disablement benefit office at Phoenix house in Barrow.

“Although the issue concerns a reserved matter, I have raised it in the Scottish Parliament and colleagues have raised it at Westminster.

“The refusal to U-turn on that decision is very disappointing. The transfer of the benefit to Scotland allows us to devise a modern system that will be more receptive to needs, once the full and safe transfer of cases has taken place. I have already secured a meeting at which the asbestos group gave its clear views to the minister, and I look forward to that dialogue continuing.

“I also welcome [Labour MSP] Mark Griffin’s contribution in the form of his bill, which seeks to create a Scottish employment injuries advisory council. As a member of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, I look forward to taking evidence and scrutinising that member’s bill.

“The three-year time bar for compensation must end. Although the courts have the right to exercise discretion in those cases, the legal test is often failed. It cannot be right for justice to be denied in that way, which is why I have raised the matter in Parliament with the justice minister [Angela Constance] and have secured her commitment to hear from a delegation that will include members of the Clydebank Asbestos Group.

“I am hopeful that the work done by the Scottish Law Commission will lead to positive recommendations to resolve the difficulties in raising proceedings in asbestos-related cases. If those recommendations move us to a better place, I want to see them implemented during this session of Parliament.

This debate is important to my constituents and to many others who are impacted by mesothelioma.

“We use it to remember those lost to that horrible and tragically preventable disease, and to thank people such as members of the Clydebank Asbestos Group, researchers and charities that fight with resolute dedication for better outcomes.

“We can thank them most effectively by acting where we can and by standing with them in their pursuit of truth and justice.”

Marie McNair’s colleague, Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP), pictured right,  thanked her for bringing this important debate to Parliament.

He told the members: “Last year, she secured a debate on the same issue, and she spoke movingly and passionately about her experiences as part of the nursing team at St Margaret of Scotland hospice.

“There, she saw at first hand how these types of cancer took away so many too soon, and she recalled the many heartbreaking conversations that she had about the impact of mesothelioma.

“As the MSP for Clydebank, the town in which she was brought up, Marie McNair knows better than most, and has described again today, the devastating effect that mesothelioma can have on individuals, families and whole communities.

“I applaud her for her commitment and dedication to this issue—an issue that has affected so many in the Clydebank area and beyond.

“As we have heard, mesothelioma is a particularly aggressive, painful and debilitating cancer, with the average life expectancy after diagnosis being between 12 and 21 months. Often associated with exposure to asbestos—in fact, it is very much associated with that—its dangers were first discovered as early as 1906.

“However, it was not until the 1950s and 60s that the link between asbestos, lung disease, cancer, mesothelioma and other diseases became established, leading—as has been said—to its total ban in 1999. Sadly, given the time between exposure and diagnosis, despite the ban on asbestos, mesothelioma continues to blight thousands of lives every year.

“Focus on those at risk has also shifted, with the realisation that, due to the use of asbestos in the building process, many public buildings, particularly schools, could pose a threat to those working in them, especially if asbestos is disturbed as they undergo refurbishment, repair work or demolition.

“Those are very real risks—the Health and Safety Executive estimates that more than 1 million tradespeople are still being exposed to asbestos every year. If we think about the fact that previous exposure to asbestos is still causing more than 5,000 deaths a year—including the deaths of around 20 tradespeople each week—we can see the continuing scale of the issue and the huge potential for future tragedy.

“That is why the work of groups such as Action on Asbestos, Clydebank Asbestos Group and others is so important in ensuring that we do not lose sight of the challenges that we face, or think of mesothelioma as a product of past industry and yesteryear.

“I applaud the work that those groups have done for more than 30 years and the support and focus that they continue to provide.

Action mesothelioma day is very relevant to my constituency of Glasgow Anniesland. With a proud history of shipbuilding and heavy engineering, it has suffered from the ravages of mesothelioma.

“The help and the support of organisations such as Action on Asbestos and Clydebank Asbestos Group have been invaluable.

“The Scottish Government’s continuing commitment to acknowledge and tackle the issue should be commended. The establishment of the Scottish Mesothelioma Network in 2019 aimed to improve outcomes for patients by taking a collaborative approach across Scotland and across various professions, meaning that all patients in Scotland could access the very best expertise and the care that they deserve, no matter what health board area they happened to live in.

“During the debate last year, we learned that the network had recently created the first set of national quality performance indicators but that those QPIs were not at that time all being met. Given that a year has passed, I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to provide an update on the work of the network and on progress towards meeting its targets.

Today’s debate is relevant to the past, to now and also, sadly, to the future. As we learn of the potential harmful effects of new innovative materials, as asbestos once was, we need to learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure that they never happen again.

“For that to happen, we need to have more control over the development, licensing and distribution of new products.

“We need to have more control in overseeing their use, namely through health and safety legislation. I urge the Government to call for such powers, and I urge us all to support those calls.”

Given its importance to the many families in West Dunbartonshire affected by this issue, the contributions to this debate from Labour and Conservative MSPs are reported in a separate item in the The Dumbarton Democrat.

There was a workforce of 20,000 at the Singer sewing machine factory in Clydebank. Top of page: The Queen Mary, with her sister ships Queen Elizabeth and the QE2 were built at the John Brown shipyard in Clydebank.

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