Obituary: Alex Eadie - Politician of the old school whose drive was hewn from his coal-mining experiences

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Born: 23 June, 1920, in Buckhaven, Fife. Died: 26 January, 2012, in East Wemyss, Fife, aged 91

WE DO not make Members of Parliament like Alex Eadie any more. He was a very good representative for Midlothian and commanded respect from everyone who had dealings with him, and his life encapsulates so much of our history over the past three-quarters of a century.

Born in 1920, he joined the National Union of Mineworkers in 1934. In 1951 he was elected councillor for West Wemyss and Coaltown in Fife. In the 1950, 1951 and 1955 general elections he was the election agent for Willie Hamilton, the MP for West Fife. He was chairman of the Fife County Council education committee and was elected to the House of Commons in the 1966 general election. He followed Jimmy Hill in a constituency that was a safe Labour seat. I only got to know him really after I was elected for East Edinburgh in 1970.

Alex Eadie was proud to be a miners’ MP sponsored by the NUM. He was respected in the Commons for his knowledge of the industry. My front-bench brief included North Sea oil and gas. His was coal. After Labour won the February 1974 general election, then prime minister Harold Wilson appointed us both to the Department of Energy. Eric Varley, also NUM sponsored, was the secretary of state.

They were exciting times. The exploration and production of North Sea oil and gas was a huge industrial challenge.

It is all history now, but it is worth recalling that the government established a successful state oil company, the British National Oil Corporation. Shortly before the general election, we had decided not to use BP as the agent of the government.

The IMEG Report commissioned by the previous Conservative government set out how the discovery of North Sea oil gave us the opportunity to create thousands of jobs building the huge production platforms needed offshore and developing the equipment required for oil and gas production and further exploration.

The Offshore Supplies Office was set up by the government to support the growth of a huge new industry. Within weeks of taking office, we moved its HQ from London to Glasgow. The Scottish Development Agency was set up, as was the Welsh Development Agency.

Oil revenues were to be used to foster economic growth in areas of the UK where jobs were desperately required. But no direct link between the oil revenues and the new regional development agencies was put in place, nor was an oil fund established to support economic and industrial development in the long term. The Treasury was opposed to the hypothecation of the revenues in principle.

Alex was well fitted to bring stability back to the coal industry after a period of prolonged industrial action. His heart was in the mining industry; achieving better health and safety, wages and conditions for British miners were his priorities. The contribution he made was immense.

Alex also had responsibility for nuclear power. Early on, Varley decided not to take the advice of officials to use the pressurised water reactor design for the new generation of nuclear power stations. Other designs were given the go-ahead. Alex was pragmatic about civil nuclear power.

The coal, nuclear, electricity and gas industries were, of course, all owned by the government then. In electricity generation, there was hydro power in Scotland and a few oil-fired power stations, but coal was king in Scotland, England and Wales.

Global warming and climate change were not issues in those days. We were not aware that increases in greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity were going to put the planet at risk for future generations.

“The Right Honourable Gentleman must be aware that what is worrying people in Scotland is not the industries that will benefit if we go into the [European] common market, but those that will not: for example the coal-mining industry and the agricultural industry. The Right Honourable Gentleman must have knowledge of this as he is a Scottish Member of Parliament,” Hansard, July 1970.

The above question, put to the president of the Board of Trade, Michael Noble (a Conservative who represented Argyll), is vintage Alex. I can hear how he would have said it – although I may not have been in the Chamber at the time – with such clarity, brevity and the voice inflection as it was a question.

Noble told him that he profoundly disagreed because the agricultural industry would do well in the EC. Alex was strongly against entry to the EC and voted no to the renegotiated terms of entry in the 1975 referendum.

Alex’s father, Robert Eadie, was a Lanarkshire miner who had been blacklisted following the 1926 general strike. In those days, there was a practice whereby the private mines employed a “man and boy” to work at the coalface. Alex started as a miner at the age of 14. When he was 15, he and his father got a start as “man and boy” at Lochhead colliery. Robert Eadie had been blacklisted for ten years.

Robert Eadie was political.Like a good many Scottish miners who were activists during the 20th century, he was a member of the Communist Party. He is believed to have left the party in 1943 and by 1945 he was elected for Labour to Buckhaven and Methil Burgh Council.

Alex had a sister and a brother, Robert, who has come back from Australia for the funeral. Alex and his wife Mima had one child. Mima died in 1981. He remarried and is survived by Janice.

Alex was a good family man and leaves one son, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Helen Eadie, MSP for Cowdenbeath, is the wife of his son Bob Eadie, a Fife councillor. Alex told his son Bob he would like to be remembered as “the son of a victimised miner who also became an activist for change and – along with many, many others – worked to improve the lives, not just of miners, but of everyone”. GAVIN STRANG