THE CAMPAIGN to save the closure-threatened Monktonhall Colliery and the jobs of the 300 men who work there will today be thrust into the public spotlight.

At a meeting in Edinburgh supporters of the pit will discuss what chance there is to find a new buyer for the pit, which is currently on a care and maintenance programme, after the company which owned it went into liquidation.

Leading the fight on behalf of the men is a dapper-dressed former mining engineer who has been at a string of meetings throughout the country over the past few weeks on behalf of the men.

At first glance Peter Neilson, aged 50, may look an unlikely figure-head for the miners' union. Preaching a philosphy of consultation with employers and with strike action very much a last resort, he is far removed from the intransigent attitude of Scargillism which dominated the union during the year-long miners' strike which began on March 6, 1984.

Looking every inch a ''New Labour'' man, the new face at the coal face, has managed to propel

the union into the headlines for all the right reasons after years in

the wilderness.

His handling of the fight to save the pit has been praised both by the men who work at Monktonhall and local politicians.

The conciliatory tones of the statesman of the miners' union are backed up by 23 years as a union representative.

At present Mr Neilson's official title is vice-president of the NUM in Scotland, although the union has no current president since the retiral of George Bolton.

Mr Neilson began as a trainee mining engineer at Bogside mine near Alloa in 1964, a pit which employed around 1000 men.

He continued his union work

and during the miners' strike of 1984-85 was elected on to the Scottish Strike Committee along with Mick McGahey, whom he admired greatly, Eric Clarke who is now the MP for Midlothian, and Willie Clarke, the only communist councillor in Scotland.

After the strike he was chairman of the Fishcross and Whitburn campaign for victimised miners and took pit workers and their families on holidays abroad to, among other places, Russia at the invitation of the Soviet authorities.

Over the years the NUM in Scotland has been forced to cut its cloth following the widespread pit closures of the mid-1980s. At the time it had around 15 pits working in Scotland and thousands of members.

Now it has nearly 800 members at the Longannet complex in Fife, 40 members at a coal washing plant in Ayrshire and the 300 members at Monktonhall. The figures show clearly how important it is for the men as well as the union to find a new buyer for the colliery.

In its heyday the NUM in Scotland was based in the large, impressive office in Hillside Crescent, Edinburgh, with around 20 support staff. Now it has one room in an industrial unit on the outskirts of Loanhead in Midothian with two secretaries.

Although Mr Neilson believes the reasons behind the miners' strike of 1984, to save pits and secure miners jobs, were valid his respect for Arthur Scargill, who is still the NUM national president seems to have waned since then.

The Scottish division of the NUM does meet with its English counterpart once a month in Barnsley and exchanges circulars but otherwise there is little contact.

''Looking back I believe Scargill was right at the time, trying to keep pits open and miners in jobs. However, what has happened since the dispute has made me feel I have a wide difference of opinion with him.

''It is not unfair to suggest that in Scotland Arthur is not a well-liked figure. There is no demand from the membership for meetings with him.

''In Scotland we differ from him in that we do negotiate with employers, we do talk about wages, terms, and conditions. We do sit on safety consultative committees and are here to represent our members.

''Down south it is more of a political game with Arthur Scargill setting up his own party. In the miners' minds in Scotland his type of leadership is not what they want and there has certainly been a definite rejection of Scargillism north of the border.''

Looking ahead he believes Monktonhall has a future and that any potential new buyer would realise it made economic sense to take it over.

''There is new mining equipment still down the pit and you have a trained workforce ready and willing to work. I would certainly hope a company would come along and take it over.''

Also on the horizon is a plan by ScottishPower to build a #120m gas-fired power station in Fife in around four years' time.

''We have always wanted to secure deep mining in Scotland and to lose Monktonhall would be

a massive blow to our hopes and people who work there.

''We believe coal is a fuel of the future, not just a hole in the ground being worked on by people with picks and shovels, which is what people imagine.

''The ScottishPower plan shows coal mining has a future and is a major boost for Longannet complex and shows the importance of a balanced integrated energy policy using coal as its base.

''We are hoping Monktonhall will still be operating to take advantage of that new market.''