A SENIOR SNP MSP has apologised after wrongly accusing Lord George Foulkes of being “silent” during the miners’ strike in 1984 when he was a Labour MP in Ayrshire.
Former children’s minister Adam Ingram claimed last Wednesday that people in the mining community of Auchinleck had had to “cope with the silence” of their Member of Parliament during the strike, which still raises deep passions 30 years on.
The claim, in a Holyrood debate, drew a sharp response from Lord Foulkes, who in 1984 was the MP for the Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley constituency. He accused Mr Ingram of “lying”.
Mr Ingram accepted he had made “remarks to the contrary” but insisted he was making a wider point about the Labour Party leadership at the time not backing the miners
Even though the dispute, which pitted Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government against Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Minerworkers (NUM) and deeply divided the UK, was three decades ago, it has become a totemic issue in the independence debate because of the way it destroyed communities in Scotland.
Nationalists have claimed that Labour failed to properly back the miners in events which led to the collapse of union power in the country, while leading Scottish Labour figures of the time have been marking their involvement in the dispute.
Last night, Lord Foulkes said: “I accept the apology. I feel vindicated but not triumphalist.”
In a letter to Mr Ingram, Lord Foulkes wrote: “I was not at all silent during the strike, indeed quite the reverse.
“During the strike I supported the Ayrshire NUM totally, I joined them on the picket lines at Sorn, Barony, Highhouse and Killoch pits and at Hunterston Port, where coal was being imported to try to break the strike. Indeed the police surreptitiously followed me from Hunterston to the police station at Largs where I went to complain about police brutality.
“I spoke at numerous meetings in support of the strikers, including a packed meeting in Cumnock Town Hall with Arthur Scargill and Dennis Skinner.”
He also said that he toured the miners’ support centres, including one in Auchinleck run by the then Labour councillor Jean Allen. He went on: “My views were regularly carried in the Cumnock Chronicle, Ayr Advertiser and Ayrshire Post as well as the national press.
“I am deeply upset by your untrue assertion, particularly so since the last time we met in Cumnock I went out of my way to sympathise with you about your health problems and bereavement.”
He added: “While I am more than used to the banter of politics, I take great exception to you lying to make party political capital and demand that you issue a public apology immediately or I will have to consider what further action to take.”
Mr Ingram, who is the MSP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, issued a swift response to the letter apologising for his comments and making it clear he had been unaware of Lord Foulkes’ involvement in the dispute.
He said: “I welcome Lord Foulkes’ correspondence, and am pleased to be informed that he was active in assisting the miners in Ayrshire, and therefore apologise for my remarks to the contrary. My wider point is that support from the Labour leadership was not as forthcoming.”
The Holyrood debate had been called by former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray who represents old mining communities in East Lothian.