Richard Leonard: Speech of the Year 2022
I’ve been speaking about the miners’ strike, since, well, the miners’ strike. I remember addressing a conference at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool about it back in 1984, which was my first experience of speaking to such a big audience. I was petrified!
But for me it was personal. Polmaise colliery was in the eastern villages just along from Stirling, where I lived.
So, I got to meet inspiring local figures from the union like John McCormack, Jim McCallum from Kinneil and a young firebrand, Jim Tierney, who also spoke at that same conference in Blackpool.
I hadn’t seen Jim for over 30 years when we met in the village of Fishcross to discuss the strike, the campaign for justice for the convicted and sacked miners, and the case not just for a pardon, but for compensation.
We filmed it, and it became the first in a series of videos which drove the campaign forward and spread the word to a much wider audience.
As for those parliamentary debates in 2022, my speeches summoned up raw emotion as well as hard facts, and drew on 30 long years of campaigning for justice, as well as urgent demands for action now.
And they were inspired by meeting those principled former miners and their principled and determined wives, widows, sons and daughters.
I was motivated by them and so carried a deeply held sense of injustice, that here, when we had a chance to right a wrong, to pay compensation, to act meaningfully, not just symbolically, they were being let down once again.
I brought to parliament what they had told me:
Alex Bennett: “It’s not compensation we’re after, it’s what we’re due.”
Willie Doolan: “The miners have always had to fight for everything we’ve got.”
Cathy Mitchell: “We keep fighting on.”
There were other influences at work: from the maiden parliamentary speech of Jimmy Maxton 100 years before, especially the stirring passage, “we will not go back to our people…”
To the Cabinet Secretary for Justice’s letter 24 hours before the Stage 3 debate in which he explained to me on the question of compensation for the sacked miners that he was “hoping to meet” Boris Johnson’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, who we all knew was far too busy trying to deport refugees to Rwanda to speak with a representative of the Scottish Government. The meeting never took place.
So, for me, speeches come from a synthesis of experience and learning, from a burning sense of right and wrong, and my own are rooted in an unflinching belief that democratic socialist change will come, that the cause of labour is still the hope of the world.