Campaigning to right the wrongs of the miners’ strike

In the coming weeks members of the Scottish Parliament will have a historic chance to right some of the wrongs of the 1984/85 miners’ strike.

That chance must be seized to make sure former miners and their families get the justice they deserve.

The SNP’s Miners’ Strike Pardons Bill is long overdue. It seeks to pardon those convicted of non-violent offences arising from the dispute. But it does not go far enough, and even the Minister in charge has admitted that he views it as only “symbolic”.

It will not cover arrests made in communities, only at picket lines and demonstrations. This, of course, is to misunderstand that the strike did not stop and start at the colliery gates. The dispute was about the survival of those mining communities. And the police as well as striking miners were highly active in mining villages and towns for a whole year.

Significantly, the SNP is refusing to include a compensation scheme in the bill. A glaring omission, given the number of miners who lost their jobs – and therefore lost out on wages, pensions and redundancy payments further down the line – as a result of being wrongly arrested and convicted.

The arguments the Scottish Government is using veer from the petty to the bordering on ludicrous, including the claim that because the Scottish Parliament did not exist at the time, it cannot now be held responsible.

The genesis of the bill lies in the fact miners were arrested by the police in Scotland, prosecuted by the Procurator Fiscal service in Scotland and convicted by the Scottish courts during the strike. The Scottish legal system has always been fiercely independent.

There is a distinctive Scottish dimension to what happened. Striking miners were twice as likely to be arrested and three times as likely to be dismissed during the strike as anywhere else in the UK. Thirty per cent of all National Coal Board dismissals arising from the strike were in Scotland.

The Scott inquiry, set up to investigate how the strike was policed in Scotland, concluded that there was “an element of arbitrary application of the criminal law by police, prosecutors and Sheriffs”.

In the end this is a matter of political conviction and moral judgement. The miners were wrongly criminalised and paid a heavy price. Society owes them a debt, and to those MSPs and Ministers who are havering, the question they must ask is if not now, when, and if not us, who?

The full weight of the state was used against the miners, their families and their communities. The full weight of the state needs to be brought to bear now to address these huge injustices. It’s simply a matter of political will.

  • Richard Leonard is Labour MSP for Scotland Central

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