THE year was 1984 and people were wondering if the bleak, dystopian world that George Orwell had created in a novel he had written 35 years earlier would indeed come to life.

It did not, but the year did see one of the most bitter industrial disputes these islands have ever witnessed – the 1984-85 miners’ strike – which still stokes controversy today.

The strike pitted then prime minister Margaret Thatcher against Arthur Scargill, the Marxist leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and, although the strike started after the closure of one pit in Yorkshire, it spread rapidly to other areas including many parts of Scotland, as more pit closures were announced.

This was the year that brought us flying pickets, clashes between police and striking miners across the country and the ridiculous image of National Coal Board (NCB) chief Ian McGregor exiting a car in Edinburgh with a brown paper bag over his head to avoid the waiting media pack.

It’s true – I was there.

As a reporter with BBC Radio Scotland, I and a number of my then colleagues spent most of those 12 months criss-crossing the country in the middle of the night to report from the early-morning picket lines.

Monktonhall, Bilston Glen, Longannet, Seafield and Ravenscraig were almost our second homes.

At Ravenscraig, I was among those jostled by horses as mounted police officers tried to hold back pickets while Yuill & Dodds lorries loaded up with imported coal thundered into the steelworks; at Bilston Glen I sought refuge amongst the pickets as private coaches brought “scab” workers into work at the pit.

We carried on our coverage through 1984 until early in 1985, when a colleague and I were invited to see the underground damage the strike had caused at the Frances Colliery in Dysart, Fife.

After an early morning start, the two of us, along with a coal board boss, geological expert and a safety officer, togged up in overalls, safety boots and helmets, descended 450 metres in the lift and began our 1.5-mile hike under the Firth of Forth to the coal face. We finally stopped after squeezing through a tiny gap into a cavern just past the face, when our expert began to describe in alarming detail how the cracks we could barely make out in its “ceiling” could cause a chemical reaction that would trigger spontaneous combustion, which he said was “imminent”.

Needless to say we beat a hasty retreat to the lift and relative safety above ground.

Overall the strike was so destructive that some coalfield communities have not properly recovered from the 12-month dispute that split families and towns apart, and left hundreds of miners with convictions for offences related to it.

HUMZA Yousaf, the Justice Secretary, has said the Scottish Government is consulting on the detail of plans to pardon miners convicted of some offences during the strike.

That came after QC John Scott’s independent review into the impact of policing on communities during the stoppage recommended that Holyrood should introduce legislation to pardon convicted miners.

Yousaf said his consultation will establish the criteria for their absolution.

However, Bob Young, a former miner at Frances, who was on the team trying to persuade the Scottish Government to agree the pardons, told The Sunday National the criteria should go further than initially planned. 

“Unfortunately, Wales haven’t followed this up as well as they could have done,” said Young, who is now with the Coalfield Communities Trust.

“We never expected Downing Street to come up with anything, but we wanted the Scottish Government to put pressure on them. “My argument is what about all the Scottish miners who got arrested in England? They’re not going to get a pardon.

“And will those who were arrested in Wales get a pardon? As far as we’re led to believe the answer is no. Obviously the Scottish Government can’t pardon guys who were arrested at Sheffield or Orgreave.

“So it’s a partial victory in that we’ve got the Scottish Government to recognise that it was a highly-politicised strike and they’ve accepted that they shouldn’t have been charged.

“But there were guys who took their own lives after being sent to jail and they’ve just been forgotten about.”

YOUSAF’S consultation sets out the potential criteria for a pardon and asks for views on them, and Young, along with the NUM’s Scottish president Nicky Wilson, will take up that offer.

“There are guys like me who were sacked, charged and were up in court and I can argue my own case,” said Young. “But there are a lot of guys who don’t want to do that for whatever reasons – maybe the stigma attached to it, or they just want it to be forgotten.”

Covid-19 and lockdown have not made their work any easier, but Young said he’s hopeful that next week’s broader easing of restrictions could allow meetings to take place so they can move things along.

The Justice Secretary said responses to the consultation will help shape the legislation to implement the pardons.

He added: “The miners’ strike was one of the most bitter and divisive industrial disputes in living memory and I hope that the independent review, this consultation and the legislation for a pardon will go some way to aid reconciliation – and to help heal wounds within Scotland’s mining communities.

“I have again written to the Home Secretary Priti Patel renewing the call for her to instruct a full UK public inquiry into the policing of the strike.”