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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 10:56 GMT
Miners' strike was 'battle of ideas'

By Colin Blane
BBC Scotland Correspondent

The miners' strike was one of the most complex, exhausting and unforgettable stories I have ever worked on.

When it began, I had just started a new job covering Scottish news for BBC radio.

By the time it finished, I had been to every pit in Scotland, I'd seen violent clashes between pickets and police, and I'd witnessed the collapse of negotiations between Arthur Scargill and Ian MacGregor.

My first experience of the miners' anger about pit closures came in the days leading up to the strike.

Miners and police clash at picket line
There were flashpoints between police and miners during the strike

Men from Polmaise colliery had already gone out because their pit was one of the first on the list.

The Polmaise strikers converged on a meeting of Scottish miners' leaders in Edinburgh trying to persuade them to bring the rest of the coalfield out too.

As the meeting dragged on, tempers frayed among the miners outside.

Seized by the lapels

They charged into the hotel and began ejecting journalists.

I can clearly remember being seized by the lapels and thrown down the stairs.

A few days after that, Scottish miners' leaders declared an area strike but some pits were divided.

There was an angry meeting at Bilston Glen colliery outside Edinburgh where some men insisted they wanted to work.

Their pit was not threatened with closure.

Ian MacGregor himself had told them they had a future.

On the first Monday of the strike, this is where the trouble was.

Miners' placards
Many of the striking miners were defiant

Watching the picket line violence, I had no idea how often I would be back.

On and off, throughout the year, Bilston Glen was a flashpoint.

I saw a working miner attacked in the car park, striking miners dragged away by police, rolls of coal board barbed wire spread out round the perimeter, stones flying out of the morning sun.

Once a stray missile even clattered off my reel-to-reel tape machine.

And of course, Bilston Glen was where an NUM official picket Jackie Aitchison was sacked for stepping across a white line painted by the coal board on the public road outside the pit yard.

I have memories, too, of Ravenscraig and the tensions between miners and steelworkers.

Pressure point

Today, the Ravenscraig site at Motherwell has been levelled but at the time of the 1984 miners' strike it was the centre of steel-making in Scotland and one of the key conflict zones of the year-long dispute.

It was a pressure point.

If the miners' pickets could prevent coal and iron ore going in, they could bring steel production to a standstill.

In the days before mobile phones and satellite trucks, I had to broadcast from a phone box 50 yards from the main gate, as busloads of miners arrived to confront hundreds of police.

When the strike ended I went to Frances colliery in Fife to watch the men march back to work
As the miners' strike went on, union leaders faced desperate choices.

The future of the Ravenscraig works was known to be at risk and though the huge plant survived the strike, it only struggled on for a few more years.

The strike was not all sound and fury.

In the course of the year, there was also hardship and despair.

I met strikers who had sold cars and houses and strike-breakers who had gone back to work - some broken, some defiant.

It was a battle of ideas. These were the early years of Margaret Thatcher but many in Scotland were still resisting.

The miners' union had defeated governments in the past; this time Mrs Thatcher was ready to take them on.

When the strike ended I went to Frances colliery in Fife to watch the men march back to work.

It was an emotional occasion made even more difficult for those returning because more than 200 miners across Scotland had been sacked during the strike.



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