How a Dark Chapter of History May Have Defined Welsh Identity; Was the 1984-85 Miners' Strike a Defining Moment for Modern Welsh History? Political Editor Tomos Livingstone Investigates

Article excerpt

Byline: Tomos Livingstone

THE idea that the miners' strike heralded the beginning of a political process that eventually led to devolution is one that'll keep future historians busy.

Even Hywel Francis, who raises the question in his valuable new book on that bitter conflict, concedes that the journey from picket line to referendum Yes vote was a "long, tortuous and some would say a tenuous one".

Yet if one looks back at the photographs from that period - with Plaid Cymru MPs sitting alongside union leaders at strike meetings, and farmers and miners co-operating to get food to Valleys communities - the process starts to make a good deal more sense.

And in that context the One Wales agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru, signed in the Assembly in 2007, is a good deal less startling than it might appear to those unaware of the history.

If the move toward devolution and Labour-Plaid co-operation was a long-term process, other political consequences of the strike became clearer much more quickly.

The end of the strike strengthened the position of the Thatcher government, which had turned the strike (as, arguably, did the NUM in its own way) into a deeply divisive national question.

The lesson from the miners' strike was that unions could no longer hold the Government to ransom, as had happened to Edward Heath in 1974 and, in a different way, to James Callaghan in 1978-79.

Pit closures increased, while Mrs Thatcher won a renewed majority at the 1987 general election. …