KENNY MacAskill - the minister who refused to launch a review of the convictions of miners from the 1984-85 strike - was “instrumental” in winning a landmark legal case during the dispute that was worth £1million to the families of miners, it has emerged.
The SNP justice secretary has rejected calls to use his powers to review the criminal records of nearly 500 miners in Scotland during the bitter dispute over pit closures.
However, former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars has said that Mr MacAskill did more than “anyone else” in the SNP to help the miners.
Mr Sillars, who worked closely alongside former lawyer Mr MacAskill during the strike, said that the minister won a case against the UK government that stopped the Uk government from withholding social security benefits from miners in Scotland.
Mr MacAskill said any review of the convictions of miners could only take place if individuals contacted the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC).
Mr Sillars said that the justice secretary had managed to use his knowledge of the law to successfully ensure strikers received social security benefits in a Scotland-only ruling.
He said: “Not only was Kenny involved in like me and others in supporting the miners, he was instrumental in overturning a rule that mean the striking miners were not entitled to money.
“He won a tribunal that meant the miners and their families in Scotland got the cash they were entitled to and it was worth about £1million to them.
“Not only did he play the usual role in supporting the miners, he went further than anyone else by using his knowledge of the law to take a test case that he won.
“The Thatcher government wouldn’t give the miners any benefit, but Kenny found something in Scottish law that said they were entitled to the money. He had a very significant role.”
Labour MSP Neil Findlay criticised Mr MacAskill for failing to review the convictions and said the minister should follow the same principles as he had done in the 1980s.
Mr Findlay said: “Kenny McAskill rightly helped the miners in 1984/85. He is now in a Ministerial role and has the opportunity to do so again.
“As a solicitor working with Miners at that time he will have heard the stories of how innocent people were arrested on bogus or exaggerated grounds - the dogs in the street knew about the police tactics and the political role they were made to undertake on instruction from the Thatcher government.
“This resulted in many innocent men being arrested, jailed and sacked. I hope he will reconsider his approach and instruct a review of these cases - he has the opportunity to help right historic wrongs - now is the time to act.”
Mr Findlay has also sent out a series of questionnaires to former miners, asking them whether they believe that any criminal convictions against them during the strike are unsafe.
The Scottish Parliament has also agreed to hold a debate on the issue on 14 March.
A Scottish government spokesman said: “We recognise the miners’ strike, nearly 30 years ago, was a traumatic experience for the communities involved. “Anyone who considers they have suffered a miscarriage of justice, including miners who were convicted during the miners’ strike, can ask the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to investigate their convictions with a view to a case being referred back to the Appeal Court for a further appeal.”