Neil Findlay: The Miners’ Strike review is the first step on the road to justice
In his regular column, Neil Findlay commends Michael Matheson for accepting a review into the policing of Miners strike, and calls for a UK-wide public inquiry.
Last week in Scotland we took a major step forward in the campaign to deliver justice for former miners affected by the policing of the Miners’ strike in 1984/85.
After 33 years of waiting and decades of campaigning the Justice Secretary Michael Matheson announced that there will be an independent review of the policing of the strike in Scotland and its impact on communities. I commend him for his actions.
Whilst not a full public inquiry this was a victory for perseverance, for justice, and for the organised working class. We must not squander it.
The Miners’ Strike was the most bitter and divisive industrial dispute since the General Strike of 1926. Its legacy reverberates across the UK to this day, but for some individuals the legacy is permanently with them as they continue to be branded criminals or were blacklisted for refusing to allow a brutal Tory government to destroy their industry, way of life and culture.
Sadly a great many have gone to their graves victims of a miscarriage of justice having been arrested, charged and sacked on trumped up charges.
Scottish miners suffered disproportionately during the strike – falling victim to 30% of the arrests despite only having 10% of the UK's mining workforce.
Many of these workers subsequently lost not just their jobs and income, but their relationships, their homes, and in some cases their mental and physical health.
The record of that time has been skewed by a compliant media (with a few honourable exceptions) that accepts this was necessary to change Britain’s economy, but for those of us who believe in a society constructed to serve the people, not a rich and powerful elite, this was one of the darkest times in Scotland and the UK’s history.
I have campaigned on this issue since I entered Parliament in 2011 and am proud to have been supported and assisted by so many great people, but this review is the culmination of decades of hard work by those individuals and groups who have refused to give up.
The evidence provided by the release of the Cabinet papers under the 30-year rule and fallout from the Hillsborough inquiry were game changers.
Many mining communities across the UK still believe that the police were used for political ends during that period, to break the strike effort, and to deliver a near fatal blow against organised labour across the country. This is an opportunity to test that hypothesis.
All these people want is a fair hearing with the full evidence laid out so that an independent body can judge whether in fact they were unfairly treated. Given the number of testimonies and documentary evidence that is available, I am confident they will be exonerated.
The fact is that after so long we have secured a review shows that nothing is ever a lost cause in politics. This is the 3rd campaign I have been involved in where we have forced the government to carry out a major review (the mesh campaign and undercover policing, the others). These show that campaigning matters and progress can be made.
Just like the Hillsborough campaigners in England this campaign has survived on the persistence of those few who will not give when they have confidence in their cause. In a week where we have seen the first anniversary of the Grenfell disaster it gives us hope that those who lost loved ones in that disaster will one day have justice too.
But a review in Scotland alone is not enough. Now is the time for a full public inquiry across the UK to finally bring to bear the full weight of evidence – so that those who stood strong in England and Wales can also be heard.