GRAFTING a compensation scheme onto landmark legislation pardoning striking miners, could ultimately pit miner against miner, a Scottish Government minister has warned. 

Keith Brown told Holyrood’s equalities committee that while he agreed with the principle of some form of financial redress, it needed to be a “properly thought out uniform, fair system” carried out by the UK government, which took into account strikers in England and Wales. 

He also criticised Labour, who are campaigning for compensation to be part of the legislation, saying they had 13 years in government to do what they’re now asking of the SNP-Green administration. 

However, Richard Leonard said the SNP had spent the last four weeks in the local election campaign criticising Boris Johnson, calling him corrupt and a liar, but were now expecting miners and their families to “invest their faith” that the Prime Minister would launch of a UK wide investigation into the strikes.

In Scotland, there were roughly 14,000 strikers, and by the mid-1980s approximately 1,400 had been arrested, with over 500 convicted. 

Approximately 206, or 1.5 per cent of the total number of striking miners were dismissed.

The historic legislation pardoning those convicted is currently making its way through parliament.

Mr Leonard told MSPs that the “miners and their families, the women and children who bore the brunt of what happened, had their future stolen from them. It is only right that they are compensated for that.

"What was done to those men was one of the worst injustices in Scottish history.”

He said that time was of the essence: “Many miners have passed away, and time is running out for others who were convicted. We understand the Scottish Government wishes to pass the bill to enact the pardon and is concerned that including a compensation scheme may delay this. 

“But the pandemic has demonstrated the speed with which legislation can be enacted when the issue is afforded priority. 

“We believe this is the time for priority to be given to those to these historic wrongs, including a clause in the legislation in support of the establishment of a compensation scheme, which would cause no delay, and indicate the Government's intention to act in this area.”

Mr Brown, the Justice Secretary, said the Bill wasn’t the place for a compensation scheme. 

“The whole point of this Bill is a symbolic collective and automatic pardon and focused on reconciliation rather than compensation. That's not to say the compensation is wrong, just that this is not the place for it. 

“You will undermine the fact that it's symbolic, that it's collective because it will divide miner from miner, who qualifies, who doesn't and it will not be automatic.” 

Mr Brown said it would be difficult for applicants to find the necessary evidence and could lead to a situation where one miner could qualify for the compensation but another couldn’t because they couldn’t find the necessary evidence or no remaining reference to conviction can be found in any records. 

He said that both employment law and industrial relations are reserved to Westminster and any Scottish Government attempt to compensate or provide financial redress could be outwith Holyrood’s competence. 

Mr Brown said he would “continue to press the UK Government for a UK wide public inquiry."

He added: "We have to have regard to what miners in Wales would want to seek from this, in the north of England as well. Compensation should be a properly thought out uniform, fair system.”

He also said it could ultimately undermine judicial decisions made at the time. 

“I have a huge sympathy with miners who have lost at least thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of pounds in redundancy in pension payments, which would have made a massive difference to them and their families.

"But it's not possible for me to support this amendment to create a compensation scheme, because this Bill is simply not the place for it.”

Responding, Mr Leonard urged Mr Brown to think about how his teenage self would view his current position.  

“In his earlier remarks, the cabinet secretary said that as a student at Dundee University, he was in favour of the miners. 

“Well, I would ask him to reflect on what that student would think now, of you, 38 years later, as the Cabinet Secretary with the ability to financially redress the wrongs of that era, surely the younger Keith Brown would have looked to the older Keith Brown to take action, to take divisive action and to go beyond the symbolic pardon, which is in this legislation.”

Mr Leonard added: “I think that we can be a beacon to the rest of the UK, we can take what I believe is an historic opportunity.

"The strike ended 37 years ago, and all the pits have long since closed. And for new generations, this may seem like old history, but to those of us who lived through it, in coalfield communities, as I did, who were part of miners support groups, who saw the strife and all of the unrest and the difficulties that those communities faced and the hardships that were inflicted upon people by the justice system of this community, that will stay with them, that will stay with us.

“That's why today is the time to open up the dialogue and the discussion about the establishment of a compensation scheme for the miners and their families.”