THE SNP is facing the first rebellion among its new MPs after a nationalist employment rights spokesman at Westminster broke ranks with the party leadership over the Scottish government’s refusal to hold an inquiry into the 1984-85 miners strike.
Nationalist ministers at Holyrood have repeatedly refused to order a Hillsborough style inquiry into the dispute and have used the SNP’s majority at Holyrood to block such moves.
However, SNP Glasgow south west MP Chris Stephens has stated that he opposes the nationalist government’s stance on the issue and has said he will set out his objections in a letter to justice secretary Michael Matheson.
Stephens was among the 56 SNP MPs elected on 7 May when he defeated overturned a Labour majority of 14,671 by defeating the former Scottish affairs select committee chairman Ian Davidson.
However, his decision to side with Labour on an employment rights issue represents the first rebellion by any of the newly elected SNP MPs against the leadership.
Stephens is a member of the SNP’s ruling national executive committee and secretary of the SNP trade union group, which has more than 15,000 members.
However, Stephens, who is his party’s lead spokesman on trade union legislation in the Commons, has departed from the SNP government’s stance on the issue and its refusal to review the convictions of nearly 500 Scottish miners during the 1984-85 strike.
The intervention represents the first sign of a rift between the SNP government at Holyrood and its MPs at Westminster, where the nationalists are now the third biggest party. Campaigners have said the convictions of Scottish miners may be “unsafe” and politically motivated – particularly for picket line offences, for which some men claim they were threatened with custodial sentences but offered less severe punishments if they accepted bail conditions that banned them from picketing.
The Scottish Government which was not in existence at the time of the strike over pit closures, has stated that it has “no plans to hold an inquiry, either into the conduct of the police or alleged wrongful criminal convictions, relating to the 1984-85 miners’ strike”.
However, SNP MP Stephens has called for a policy shift by the Scottish government over its refusal to hold an inquiry into the convictions of miners, many of whom were sacked following their arrest during the year-long strike against pit closures.
In a letter to Labour MSP Neil Findlay, Stephens stated: “I will be writing to Michael Matheson MSP, cabinet secretary for justice asking him to consider holding an inquiry into policing miners, arrests, dismissals and miners who lost out on redundancy pay, during the miners’s strike in Scotland.
“After some thought, I will send you my letter to the minister alongside his response when this is received.” Findlay welcomed the intervention from Stephens and called on other SNP MPs to follow suit and take a similar stance.
He said: “At the start of the summer I wrote to each of the SNP MPs who had signed a parliamentary motion calling for an inquiry into events at Orgreave urging them to support a Scottish inquiry.
“But to date only one has had the courtesy to write back and I am very pleased that Chris Stephens has and supported my call and will be writing to Scottish Justice secretary, Michael Matheson demanding an inquiry.
“The SNP government has the power to hold a Scottish inquiry into the policing of the strike and the convictions that I believe represent miscarriages of justice. I hope that other MPs and MSPs will support this campaign and that the Scottish Government will instruct such an inquiry.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman, responding to the call for a policy shift from Stephens, said: “There are no plans to hold an inquiry, either into the conduct of the police or alleged wrongful criminal convictions, relating to the 1984/85 miners’ strike.”