Uh-oh. Scargill’s back. The former NUM leader turned up at a picket line this week to show his support for the rail workers. He was wearing the skip-cap and the defiant expression on his face that he used to wear during the miners’ strike in the 80s. Does this mean we really are back in the past now?

On the fact of it, it would seem so. Inflation. Strikes. Now Arthur Scargill. But the sight of the NUM hero/villain was also a reminder of how ineffective he actually was. One of his problems was vanity unsoftened by humour, which matters in a campaign for public support. He sat for a portrait of himself and hung it in his office. His hair was carefully curated even in the push and shove of a picket line. John Lyons, ex-boss of the Engineers and Managers’ Association, called him vain to the point of incoherence.

Scargill’s other problem was his ideology and poor tactical abilities. He attacked Michael Foot for not being left-wing enough. He supported extra-parliamentary action to defeat the government's new labour laws. And infamously, he went ahead with a strike without the support of his members in a ballot. He also said, without very much self-awareness, that he had compromised only once in his life and regretted it.

To be fair, at the time there were lots of people in the unions who could see Scargill’s flaws but they were either unwilling or unable to do anything about it. Scargill himself has also apparently never even admitted that the strike was lost, and a man who does not accept the facts does not make a good leader. All of this is part of the long legacy of the miners’ strike.

But there are some other things that Scargill’s little cameo this week has emphasised: one is how much the political landscape has changed but another is how much better the RMT’s Mick Lynch is at handling strikes and the PR that goes with it. The dithering, lightly-briefed ministers resorting to the worst cliches of the Thatcherite 80s have not been impressive. But Mick Lynch has. Indeed, seen as a man who’s standing up for his members, his performance has been heroic.

Partly, it’s because he has a clear and understandable message – his workers deserve more pay to keep up with inflation – and most people get that. Indeed, the polls show support for the strikers at well over 50%, which is not bad considering many of them will have been severely inconvenienced by the strike.

However, Lynch also appears to have learned from the mistakes of the past. He’s been accused of being a Marxist (and perhaps he is). But whatever the truth, he has avoided making extreme political statements. Instead, he’s focused on the message: his members deserve more pay. There also appears to be no trace of Scargillian vanity – it looks like Lynch is a union leader because of what he can achieve rather than what it can do for him.

He has other qualities too which make it possible he will win this strike and the main one is his skill in handling the media. You may have seen Richard Madeley and Kay Burley trying to land punches on him and instead making themselves look under-briefed and ill-informed. Lynch by contrast has remained calm and consistent, and in the process has exposed the low standard of some peak-time broadcast news.

In the end though, it will be Lynch’s tactical abilities that will decide how this goes and so far he’s played it well. Scargill’s strategy was to take a stand and refuse to compromise whereas Lynch has taken a stand but also signalled his willingness to talk and to compromise which everyone knows is the only way this is going to be resolved.

All of this makes him an impressive figure. He has a strong message, he’s good at PR, he’s firm and passionate, and he works to a clear and reasonable set of principles, which not only makes him a striking contrast to most senior politicians, it makes him much more likely to achieve his aims. This old Thatcherite is tempted to say I like him. I might even say he’s my hero of the current political landscape. For now of course. I have some trains booked in the coming months. So let’s see how we go, shall we?

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.