Collective pardon for miners convicted during 1980s strikes
It’s thought around 500 miners were convicted in Scotland during the strikes in the 1980s.
By Democrat reporter
The Scottish Government made the announcement on Wednesday that around 500 miners will be pardoned following an independent review into arrests the 1984/85 strike.
Around 1400 miners were said to have been arrested, with approximately 500 convicted of breach of the peace and similar offences.
Legislation will be required to overturn the convictions, which justice secretary Humza Yousaf, pictured left, said would be put before parliament to “right a wrong”.
Millions of people protested against pit closures during the industrial dispute with Margaret Thatcher’s government.
Scottish Labour MSP Neil Findlay joined some miners outside Holyrood on Wednesday afternoon.
Mr Findlay said: “Many former miners and their families have waited years for this – they have paid a heavy price for their convictions including being blacklisted from employment.
“I want to thank former justice minister Michael Matheson for setting up the independent review into policing during the 1984/85 strike and John Scott QC and the panel for their work.”
This being the stuff of history we have decided that The Democrat should carry a record of the full debate, which took place in Scottish Parliament today:
- The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf):
I am pleased to inform Parliament of the outcome of the independent review of the impact of policing on affected communities in Scotland during the miners’ strike from March 1984 to March 1985. As members know, that was a bitter and divisive dispute and it is clear from the report that very strong feelings about the strike remain in our mining heartlands to this day.
In 2018, the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, commissioned an independent review group to investigate and report on the impact on mining communities of the policing of the strike. The purpose of the review was to provide an opportunity for those who were affected by the strike to share their experiences as a means to aid understanding and reconciliation. I will come back to that word “reconciliation” throughout the statement.
The review demonstrates Scotland’s leadership in making sure that the experiences of those affected by the strike are properly heard and understood. As you may know, this Government has pressed the United Kingdom Government to undertake a UK-wide public inquiry, which it has so far refused to do.
The report reflects the significant amount of evidence that the review group considered, which includes UK Government Cabinet papers and files, and various academic papers and past reports on the strike. The report also draws heavily on the powerful testimonies that were heard during the review’s public engagement events in former mining communities, as well as on written submissions. The evidence received through those processes has helped to bring openness, understanding and a degree of closure to all those who contributed.
I know that the review group’s report and the Scottish Government’s response have been keenly awaited, not least by individuals and communities from our mining heartlands. That is why I am pleased today to outline the Scottish Government’s response to the report, which will also be published today.
I thank the members of the review group for their hard work and commitment in producing the report. The group is ably led and chaired by John Scott QC, who is a solicitor advocate, and the other members are Kate Thomson, former assistant chief constable with Police Scotland, Jim Murdoch, professor of public law at the University of Glasgow, and former MP Dennis Canavan.
The group took engagement events to the mining communities and met a broad range of people with many different perspectives, encouraging as many of them as possible to come forward and have their voices heard. The group paid close attention to what they read and heard, and they reflected the evidence with honesty and compassion in their report.
I thank the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Association of Retired Police Officers for their contributions to the review, and of course my thanks go to the miners, police officers and other members of the mining communities who provided such powerful and personal accounts of their experiences of the strike.
Although more than three decades have passed since the main miners’ dispute, the scars from the experience still run deep. The report indicates that, in some areas of the country, the sense of having been hurt and wronged remains corrosive and alienating. That is true for many who were caught up directly in the dispute but also for their families and the wider communities.
I was struck by the degree of commonality between miners and police officers as they described their experiences of the strike. For example, many miners and police officers were young men with families. They spoke about how frightened they felt at times on the picket lines and about their appreciation for small acts of compassion from those who were “on the other side”.
I turn to the recommendations in the report. The report recognises that, although the constitutional, legal and cultural landscapes have changed since the strike, the strength of feeling that was felt at the time of the strike continues to be felt in mining communities today. With that recognition, the report takes the view that it is impossible to separate out the impact of policing during the strike from other key influences such as the National Coal Board and the criminal justice system.
The report makes reference to the testimony of miners on a range of issues, such as state interference in policing, wrongful arrest, miscarriages of justice and unfair dismissal. In particular, it makes reference to their view that the National Coal Board management in Scotland were unfair and inconsistent in their policy of dismissal, with many miners being dismissed for relatively minor offences. It is reported that 200 miners were dismissed in Scotland, which is 30 per cent of the total number of UK dismissals, at a time when Scotland’s miners made up only 7 per cent of the total number of UK miners. It is clear that a sense of unfairness remains.
In adopting a truth and reconciliation approach, the report makes a single recommendation, which is that
“subject to establishing suitable criteria, the Scottish Government should introduce legislation to pardon men convicted for matters related to the Strike.”
The report states that the pardon is intended to provide redress for miners who suffered disproportionate consequences for taking part in the strike. The report indicates that a positive step should be taken to recognise that, and that there is a moral responsibility on the state to provide something proportionate to the miners to aid the reconciliation effort.
The report suggests that the pardon could be granted on the same basis as the pardon scheme under the Armed Forces Act 2006. That scheme recognised the exceptional circumstances in which world war one soldiers were convicted of offences such as cowardice. The scheme did not quash convictions or create rights, entitlements or liabilities, but it offered the restoration of dignity to deceased soldiers and comfort to their families.
Having considered the matter carefully, I can confirm today that the Scottish Government accepts the recommendation in principle, and that we intend to introduce legislation that will give a collective pardon to miners who were convicted for matters related to the strike. In the spirit of reconciliation, the pardon is intended to acknowledge the disproportionate impact that arose from miners being prosecuted and convicted during the strike, such as the loss of their job, and to recognise the exceptional circumstances that gave rise to the former miners suffering hardship and the loss of their good name through participation in the strike.
It will be a collective pardon, which will apply both posthumously and to those living, and which will symbolise our desire as a country for truth and reconciliation, following the decades of hurt, anger and misconceptions that were generated by one of the most bitter and divisive industrial disputes in living memory. The Scottish Government will right the wrong that was done to our miners.
In taking forward the recommendation, there are of course some matters to work through—not least the detail of the pardons scheme, such as the qualifying criteria. In so doing, the Scottish Government should not be seen as casting any doubt on decisions that were made at the time by the judiciary, or as seeking to place blame on any individual or group of individuals.
On the next steps, today’s statement marks the beginning of a new phase of activity in relation to the miners’ strike. The next steps in the process will be for me to consider carefully the criteria that might apply to the pardons scheme, so that the rationale is well thought through and informed by the views of? stakeholders.
A moment ago, I said that it will be a collective pardon, rather than one that requires an individual to make an application. That is because we recognise the difficulties that there may be, for some, in sourcing the records to enable an individual to make a robust case. We must therefore take the time to explore the issues that are associated with the granting of a collective pardon and take a view on what would be reasonable and ethical.
In due course, primary legislation will be required. In bringing forward the legislation, the Government will be sending an unequivocal message to all who have been disproportionately affected by the events of the strike. We will be asking the Parliament to recognise the hardship and loss of dignity that have been suffered by affected miners. In bringing forward a bill for a collective pardon, we hope to bring a degree of closure and a restoration of dignity for a number of miners, their families and their communities.
In addition, I confirm that I will of course continue to press the UK Government to hold a full UK-wide public inquiry into the events of the miners’ strike of 1984-85.
The strike was divisive in many ways, with miners and police officers finding themselves in extremely challenging situations, and with police and community relationships coming under what can only be described as unprecedented strain. In welcoming the report and accepting in principle its single recommendation, I recognise that policing has moved on considerably since 1984-85. Serving communities lies at the heart of modern policing, and the review will help to ensure that that value of community policing is even more firmly embedded in current practices.
I encourage people to read the report and to consider with an open mind what we want the real legacy of the strike to be: reconciliation between police officers, who were upholding the law in circumstances of a scale that they had never encountered before, and miners, who were protecting not only their jobs and way of life but their communities. Undoubtedly, we can together help to heal the wounds of the past and recognise that, between miners and police officers, there was that thread of common humanity.
I will end with a couple of quotes from those involved in different aspects of the strike. First is a quote from a police officer who was himself from a mining community:
“I was brought up beside miners all my life and had nothing but respect for them for doing a very dirty, dangerous, hard job – that view has not changed of the honest hard working men I met and knew.”
It is only right that I give the very last word to a miner:
“We were not on strike to have a fight. We were on strike for our lives.”
The 1972 strike
“was a strike about money. This was about jobs and communities.”
- Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con):
‘Police officers’ upholding of the law in exceptional circumstances.’
I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement, and I acknowledge his careful but thoughtful and well-chosen words, in particular towards the end of the statement, when he rightly highlighted both the police officers’ upholding of the law in exceptional circumstances and the miners’ protection of their jobs, their way of life and their communities.
With that in mind, I also acknowledge the calibre of the review group and its full and comprehensive report. A matter such as this, with such a degree of nuance and need for understanding of all the facts and all perspectives, required nothing less than that report, which, as the cabinet secretary said, merits reading.
Colleagues will explore the many issues around the statement, so I will confine myself to three simple questions. First, is the cabinet secretary reassured that enough police officers were spoken to during the review, given that the interim report noted that very few attending the public meetings identified themselves as retired police officers? Secondly, what does the cabinet secretary anticipate to be the timescale for the primary legislation, given the current pandemic and the crowded timetable between now and dissolution? Finally, will the cabinet secretary seek the views of the police and miners’ representatives when formulating the criteria for granting a collective pardon?
- Humza Yousaf:
I thank Liam Kerr for his questions and his comments about the statement, which are much appreciated.
On the question about police officers, I spoke not just to John Scott QC, who did everything that he possibly could do in the review group—and the group certainly did everything that it could—to make the atmosphere as welcoming as possible to all contributions. That can be difficult, because I know from the miners to whom I spoke—I suspect that members across the chamber will say the same—that feelings are still very raw for a number of miners, so passions can get quite high.
I took the time to talk personally to the Retired Police Officers’ Association Scotland and some individual retired police officers who were involved in the strike at the time. I found their testimonies very powerful, too. In particular, one retired officer was close to tears when he was telling me that some of his family did not even speak to him because he had to police the picket line and that some of his family refused to speak to him when he joined the police. I heard some powerful testimony from police officers, which is captured in the report. If, when he gets the chance to read the report, Liam Kerr has any further concerns, he can of course bring them to me.
On the question about legislation, that will not be for this parliamentary session. I suspect that that would be incredibly difficult to do given the crowded legislative landscape that we have, in relation not just to Covid but to what was announced in the programme for government. However, the period between now and dissolution will give us time to work through what the qualifying criteria will be and so on.
On Liam Kerr’s third question, I assure him that when it comes to working through that qualifying criteria and legislation, we will consult as widely as we can with those who have been affected.
- Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab):
Neil Findlay, campaigning for at least ten years.
I have campaigned on this issue for most of the 10 years that I have been in this Parliament, but that is absolutely nothing compared with the 36 years of campaigning by former miners and their trade union.
The release of the Cabinet papers under the 30-year rule and the information that came out of the Hillsborough inquiry were the game changers in this campaign, confirming the long-held view that the miners’ strike and the arrests during it were politically motivated miscarriages of justice. Scotland was the scene of one of the biggest mass arrests anywhere in the UK, with 300 arrested in one day at Stepps in Lanarkshire. The cabinet secretary was right in saying that Scottish miners were just 7 per cent of the workforce but made up 30 per cent of those who were dismissed after arrest. Most of those were on trumped-up charges of minor breaches of the peace, but the effect on miners was that they were made redundant and lost their jobs and livelihoods, many were blacklisted and many never recovered.
I am delighted, proud and, I have to say, moved that the pardons scheme that I put to the review has been accepted in full. I give my unequivocal thanks to the panel led by John Scott and to the previous justice secretary, Michael Matheson, who met us, listened to us and took the bold move of initiating the inquiry. I also pay absolute tribute to the cabinet secretary for accepting the recommendations of the report in full. From the bottom of my heart, I say thank you.
The demand for justice does not diminish through time. Today shows us that determined, dogged campaigning works, and I hope that this decision today will put pressure on the UK Government for a full inquiry into the events at Orgreave and the policing of the strike in England and Wales, because burning injustices will not go away.
Enacting the pardons will require legislation. Will the cabinet secretary agree to meet party representatives to discuss how we could expedite that before the end of this parliamentary session, because the numbers get fewer every year, and time is of the essence?
Finally, if the pubs were open, I would be going for a pint tonight, but I will have a few beers at home instead.
- Humza Yousaf:
It would be absolutely churlish not to recognise the enormous efforts of Neil Findlay on this issue. He has been a dogged and ferocious campaigner for the rights of miners. I read his article at the weekend about his own family’s history within the mining communities and, as I say, it would be absolutely churlish not to put on record his very considerable efforts. Having spoken to the miners on many occasions—in fact, most recently just about an hour ago—I know how thankful they are to Neil Findlay for being a close ally and a close friend, so it is appropriate to put that firmly on the record.
On Neil Findlay’s questions and comments, I agree with his concerns about the political motivation and interference by the UK Government at the time in relation to the strike. We heard powerful testimony about those concerns and I echo his calls. The Scottish Government continues to push the UK Government for a full inquiry and of course if there is any way that we can make that case and even team up with and ally ourselves with mining communities in England, we would be happy to do that.
I will take up Neil Findlay’s offer to hold a cross-party meeting to see whether there is any opportunity to bring forward the legislation. I will say that it is important to work through the detail. I understand his urgency, but I assure him—given that he is not standing again, if I am not mistaken—that even if the legislation happens in the next parliamentary session, we will still be listening to what he has to say about it, given his efforts and his contributions. However, I will take up his offer and I will meet party representatives about that.
Again, it is only right to put on record my thanks and the Government’s thanks to Neil Findlay for his efforts in this regard.
- The Presiding Officer:
Thank you very much. I am conscious that this an emotive subject. However, I am also conscious that we now have eight minutes to get through 11 potential questioners; we are not going to manage that, so I would encourage everyone to be as succinct as possible.
- Bruce Crawford (Stirling) (SNP):
I very much welcome the cabinet secretary’s statement today, particularly about bringing forward legislation to give a collective pardon to convicted miners. Miners from Polmaise pits 3 and 4 from Fallin in my constituency were the first to strike and the last to return, despite the hardship and provocation that they endured. Sadly, many of those good men have died and will not witness this important day, but I know that their families will be very proud of them.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that the unsung heroes of the miners’ strike were often the partners and families of the striking men who were wrongly convicted? They too showed courage and fortitude. Speak to miners and their families today and they would contend that they went back to work unbroken. Thatcher and the Tories badly underestimated the resilience and solidarity of communities such as Fallin.
Dennis Canavan, who fought tooth and nail for the striking miners.
I sincerely thank John Scott QC and Dennis Canavan, who is a constituent of mine, as well as the other members of the review team, for doing such a magnificent job.
- Humza Yousaf:
I am pleased that the member mentioned Fallin; I have been reading an extract from a book by John McCormack about Fallin and the role that those miners played. As Bruce Crawford says, they went out three weeks before anybody else and they returned a week later. If my memory serves me correctly, I think that they held the record of being out for 56 weeks in total. They are undoubtedly the unsung heroes. I agree with the points that the member makes and I add my thanks to John Scott QC and the review panel—in particular to former MP Dennis Canavan. When it comes to the political dimension, we will continue to press the UK Government in relation to its role in the miners’ strike of 1984-85.
- Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con):
When considering and setting the criteria for the collective pardons scheme, can the cabinet secretary offer any reassurance to police officers who may be concerned about any potential consequences?
- Humza Yousaf:
They should not worry about consequences; that is not the aim or the purpose of having a collective pardons scheme. It is about aiding truth and reconciliation. I have spoken to the chief constable about the review, and he will be putting forward a comment on behalf of Police Scotland. He is welcoming of the review group and has made a commitment that Police Scotland will work closely with the Government on what needs to be done, where appropriate. I understand that Margaret Mitchell will not have had the chance to see the report, but John Scott goes into some detail on what he thinks the qualifying criteria should be, and I think that that is probably a good basis on which we can start discussions.
- Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP):
As the son and grandson of miners and as an MSP who represents the former mining community of Airdrie and Shotts, I welcome the report, on which I congratulate John Scott QC, and I very much welcome the statement from the cabinet secretary. I have two questions. First, I accept that this is a collective pardon and I understand the reasons for that, but can the cabinet secretary confirm that the individual criminal records of the people who are being pardoned will be corrected and will have any conviction deleted from them? Secondly, will the cabinet secretary use what devolved powers he has to influence the UK Government to ensure that all powers of the state are used to ensure that never again will any group of workers be treated in this disgraceful way simply for exercising their right to strike?
- Humza Yousaf:
To take the second question first, of course, I will push the UK Government in that regard. I can also give a commitment on behalf of the Scottish Government that the structure of policing that we have now through the single national police force and the Scottish Police Authority affords the police a degree of independence from the Government in terms of operational policing. That is precisely why we have the structure of policing that we have in Scotland: we want to ensure that there is no political interference in operational policing.
On the first question, the issue of criminal records is challenging. Given that we are going back 35 or 36 years, it is unlikely that the criminal records of many of those who were convicted of offences such as breach of bail or breach of the peace will exist. Therefore, if the criteria for the collective pardon involved there being an actual criminal record, many miners would lose out on it. That issue notwithstanding, I am happy to look at the issue of what records exist and do not exist in the police system. However, the police tell me that, at this stage, something called the 40/20 rule would apply. That rule states that, once a person reaches the age of 40, any information about a non-custodial sentence that has been on record for at least 20 years will be removed from the criminal history system. That means that many of the records of the miners will have been removed. We are exploring the issue carefully, but it is quite complex.
- Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab):
The many ex-miners I represent will be absolutely delighted with the cabinet secretary’s statement. However, in all sincerity I say to him that they will not understand why we cannot deal with the legislation in the five months remaining in this parliamentary session. They know that we cannot in all certainty bind a future Parliament and they know how many of their victimised comrades have already passed away during this long wait. When we wish to, we can legislate quickly. Therefore, I ask the cabinet secretary to consider seriously how that could be done in this case.
- Humza Yousaf:
On the basis that I will undoubtedly incur the wrath of the Minister for Parliamentary Business, I say that I will absolutely take up the point that Mr Gray and Mr Findlay have made. In all sincerity, I would love to be the cabinet secretary who brought forward that legislation and led that effort, and Mr Gray is correct in what he says about our not being able to bind a future Parliament.
As I said, I will take Mr Gray’s point on board, but I hope that he will recognise the enormous pressure on parliamentary business that there already is in relation not only to Covid but to other legislation that has been announced.
- Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green):
I warmly welcome the collective pardon and pay tribute to the dignity of the mining communities and their determination to see justice done.
The report acknowledges that the injustice went beyond the individuals who were arrested and that women and their families in mining communities carried a very heavy burden in the years that followed. What programmes will be put in place in communities such as Fallin, Alloa and Lochgelly to continue the reconciliation work into the future and to educate people of the next generation about the struggles of the past as well as of their rights today?
- Humza Yousaf:
I lost some of what Mark Ruskell said, due to technology, but I agree with his point. The Government continues to work with mining and ex-mining communities, including some of the ones that Mark Ruskell mentions, to make sure that that history is not lost and that education about the struggle that the fathers and forefathers went through is not lost. I am more than happy to engage in a conversation about anything further that the Government can do in that regard. My colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government, to whom I spoke before the statement, is also very keen to be involved in that discussion.
- Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD):
This morning, former miner and Labour MP Davie Hamilton said: “The vast majority … the only conviction they ever had was during the miners’ strike”,
and that “Many have now passed away but their families are still there.”
He also said that the pardon will right the wrong of “grossly excessive punishments”.
LibDem leader Willie Rennie talks to a constituent in Fife.
I add my support to Neil Findlay’s call for a UK-wide initiative. I am interested to hear from the minister what discussions he has had with the UK Government on that proposal and what the chances are of success.
- Humza Yousaf:
I suspect that the member knows the answer to his second question. I am not holding my breath for a positive response from the UK Government, but that will not stop us putting the pressure on. I was waiting for the review group’s report to be published. It has now been published and I will take those conversations up with the UK Government, as my predecessor did in previous years. Perhaps we can look towards our colleagues on the Conservative benches to exert pressure on the UK Government.
The first point that the member made is important. In the review group’s report, he will see that the qualifying criteria that John Scott QC lays out include people not having had previous or subsequent convictions. That is a good basis on which to begin the conversation.
- Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP):
I, too, welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement today, and I praise the work of the review group on the excellent report that it has prepared.
Can the cabinet secretary provide assurance that he will approach the setting of the proposed criteria for inclusion in the collective pardon in a sympathetic manner by seeking to be as inclusive as possible? That will be very important, particularly for the families of those miners who have sadly passed away and for their communities, including my Cowdenbeath constituency, where the attack that was visited on miners and their families by the Thatcher Government is felt deeply to this day.
- Humza Yousaf:
Annabelle Ewing articulates her point extremely powerfully. I will be very sympathetic in my consideration of broad qualifying criteria. We must also accept that there must be qualifying criteria, and the report gives us a good basis on which to look at those. John Scott suggests that we look at a number of qualifying criteria. He says that the relevant offences should be restricted to “breach of the peace or breach of bail” relating to the strike and to people who had no previous or subsequent convictions and whose case was “disposed by way of a fine”.
That is a good basis to start from. We might want to look at whether those parameters are correct. As Annabelle Ewing requests, I will engage in a sympathetic way and with an open mind.
- The Presiding Officer:
Thank you. I am conscious that it is a powerful, emotive subject in which a lot of members are engaged. A number of members have waited patiently to get their comments and questions on the record, but we have run out of time this afternoon and there is a lot of business still to get through. I apologise to Gordon Lindhurst, David Torrance, Christine Grahame, Claire Baker and Claudia Beamish.