Scargill joins climate camp &ndash; to campaign for <u>more</u> coal

By Mark Hughes
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:25

He is the man who has devoted his life to trying to save Britain's coal mining industry. They are the eco-activists that are campaigning to stop the construction of Britain's first coal-fired power station in more than 30 years.

But, in his first newspaper interview for more than a decade, Arthur Scargill has revealed himself as an unlikely champion for the protestors vowing to shut down Kingsnorth power station at the Camp for Climate change.

Mr Scargill told The Independent that he sympathises with the campaigners and condemned the tactics the authorities used to police the camp. He said he didn't agree with the campaigners' views on the use of coal as a means to create energy but said that he could see parallels in the cause they are fighting for and the struggle the miners faced in the 1980s.

Speaking from the office he still occupies at the National Union of Mineworkers' head office in Barnsley – the town he has lived in all of his life – Mr Scargill says the protestors have his sympathies.

"There are similarities in that they are people who are demonstrating for what they believe in and they are doing so in a way that draws attention to them from the media and from the forces of the state. I find it offensive and obscene that you can have police in the numbers that you had at climate camp, particularly riot police, stopping people entering the field. They are stopping and searching people going inside and asking for their names and addresses. It cuts across their civil rights.

"On Monday, I saw police stopping vehicles on the road near the camp and the police, as in 1984 and 1985, have no right to do this to these people but they get away with it because they are in a uniform.

"The people at the climate camp have my sympathies in that they have a right to demonstrate."

During the miners' strike, violent battles between miners on the picket lines across the country and the officers sent to police them were commonplace.

There have been no such scenes at the Camp for Climate Change near Kingsnorth power station on the Hoo Peninsula in Kent, but protestors have complained of political policing.

They claim that police officers are employing stop-and-search powers as a means to put people off attending the week-long camp and say officers are confiscating everyday items under the pretence that they may be used as weapons.

But while Mr Scargill's sympathies extend to the protestors on the issue of over-zealous police officers, the man once known as "the enemy within" by Margaret Thatcher, was not for making concessions on the subject of coal power. He added: "I agree with their campaign for a cleaner environment policy and agree that we should be putting an end to nuclear power, I do not agree with stopping coal power.

"I am saying that we can use clean coal by removing the CO2 by using a process called carbon capture. And I think that we can fit Kingsnorth, and any other coal-fired power stations, with the technology to do this. That way we can extract all of the oil and gas we need from coal, just like we did during the war, without hurting the environment. It will also allow us to use up all of the coal supplies that we have that will last us for 1,000 years."

The process of carbon capture has never been mastered and the technology is unproven but, never one to back down, Mr Scargill views that as a mere inconvenience. He said: "I am saying that it can [work]. The problem is that we are not seeing the Government invest in the way they should be in carbon capture so that it can be achieved."

Mr Scargill became a prominent figure in Britain when, as the leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), he took on a Tory government that sought to shut down 20 coal mines at a cost of 20,000 jobs. As president of the NUM, Mr Scargill orchestrated a strike that would last almost exactly a year. Despite it eventually being deemed illegal, meaning striking miners were not entitled to state benefits, Mr Scargill was, and still is in some parts, seen as a working-class hero.

The miners eventually lost the strike and, earlier this year, the last deep coal mine in Wales, Tower Colliery near Aberdare, was closed. Mr Scargill said: "It shut because the coal reserves were exhausted but it made a profit every year since it was bought by the miners who worked there. It proved that we were right and the Government was wrong: coal mining could make money."

Since the end of the strike Mr Scargill has only fleetingly figured in the world of British politics. He left the Labour Party and set up his Socialist Labour Party in 1996 but it has never won a seat in Parliament.

It is all a far cry from the Arthur Scargill of old when the Yorkshireman had the support of more than 187,000 men and became one of the Margaret Thatcher's most feared opponents.

But pressed on his thoughts at the decision to grant Baroness Thatcher a state funeral upon her death, the normally outspoken Mr Scargill stayed uncharacteristically quiet, saying he didn't want to comment on the subject.

What happened to the British coal industry?

When the miners strike started in March 1984, there were 170 collieries operating in Britain. During the strike, 20,000 people were injured, two were killed on the picket line and 200 served time in prison or police custody. Three died digging for coal during the winter. The last strikers returned to work on 5 March, 1985. The coal industry was privatised in December 1994 to create a company named RJB Mining – it is now called UK Coal. Today, UK Coal operates just five deep mines and employs 4,000 people. During the 1980s, more than 200,000 miners were employed in Britain's pits.

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