Miners Strike 1984-85: UK-wide Inquiry

Part of NDAs: Universities – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 29th June 2022.

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Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip 4:30 pm, 29th June 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the potential merits of a UK-wide inquiry into the miners’ strike of 1984-85.

I am grateful for the opportunity to secure this debate and talk about an issue that is very close to my heart and that of my community, and an integral part of Scotland’s—and the UK’s—history and present. After being told I had secured the debate, I reached out the community in Midlothian, and asked for the views and memories of many of those who were involved at the height of the miners strikes. I was overwhelmed by the response of the residents of Midlothian and am thankful to them for sharing their memories and experiences.

As events fall into the past and become history, it is easy to forget that the people involved were real people; their lives mattered and they were affected in tangible ways. In the case of the miners strike of 1984-85, the history is not that long ago, and the people at the heart of it still feel real pain and injustice. I moved to the town of Loanhead at the height of the strikes. Criminal records, lost pensions and social stigma were the real-world consequences, which many are still living with, but those issues have never been fully addressed, nor the people listened to. That could change. Ex-miners and their families deserve to feel listened to, and for the Government to take action off the back of what they say. That is why I am calling for a public inquiry into the strikes—to get answers and redress for those affected by the many injustices caused by those events.

This is not about a grievance, nor dwelling in the past. It is about the future and recognising that we need to heal the wounds of the past in order to move forward. How we approach the past says a lot about who we are today. Do we learn from injustice and listen to the lessons, or would we do it all again given the chance? Those are the questions that need answered for the sake of communities across the country, especially my own in Midlothian. The way we achieve that is through a public inquiry into the policing of the strikes.

Mining in Midlothian dates back all the way to the 12th century, when the monks of Newbattle Abbey first began extracting coal. By the 20th century, mining was integral to the area’s way of life. Midlothian was home to a range of pits, from Bilston Glen and Monktonhall to the first Victorian super-pit at the Lady Victoria colliery, which is still home to the National Mining Museum Scotland; I recommend that all Members visit.

But by the 1980s, mines meant miners strikes. A token picket of six was maintained at Monktonhall, but Bilston Glen and Loanhead saw mass picketing and some of the most bitter conflicts of the strike in Scotland. Such was the significance of Bilston Glen in the story of the strike that Tom Wood, the former deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders police said,

“Did we have violent confrontations? Yes, we did, and they were mainly on the days when visiting pickets came to Bilston Glen.”

According to Professor Jim Murdoch, miners’ stories

“showed without doubt that the criminal justice system all too often reacted in an arbitrary and disproportionate manner.”

The unfair and unbalanced reaction from the authorities often took the form of arbitrary sentences being handed out, whether charges stuck or not.

During the recent Committee stage of the Scottish Government’s Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill, a former miner at Monktonhall and former colleague of mine on Midlothian Council, Alex Bennett, said,

“I was snatched by one of the snatch squads. They went for the union officials and they knew our names. The original charges were for rioting but that wasn’t going to stick so they changed it to breach of the peace.”

The tactic was simply to use whatever means necessary to get miners, especially union officials, off the picket line and into the cells. Breach of the peace, obstructing a police officer, breach of bail and theft—all those charges and more were twisted to justify the snatch squad style of policing. It would be better suited to Putin’s Russia today. That is not what good policing looks like and it does an injustice to the rule of law. Serious questions still remain to be answered about the extent of alleged political interference in the policing of the strike.