The National:

BORIS Johnson provoked derision as he laughed in the face of a Scottish journalist whilst stating that the UK’s progress towards cleaner energy was "thanks" to Margaret Thatcher closing coal mines.

Green, Labour and SNP politicians were united in condemning the Prime Ministers ghoulish sentiments. Johnson’s remarks brought the class and national tensions of the 1980s back to life and vividly animated the political gulf between Scottish and English electoral preferences.

The Prime Minister’s guffawing demeanour makes it tempting to understand his comments as a cruel joke. That is no doubt how they will be felt in towns and villages of the former coalfields that are still suffering from the impact of rapid colliery closures during the 1980s and 1990s.

The National:

Accelerated deindustrialization contributed to mass unemployment, rising health inequalities and lower levels of economic activity, which have been transmitted across generations. The grandchildren of former miners are now facing them.

Former miners who were criminalised for defending their workplaces and communities during the great strike of 1984-5 fought a decades-long campaign for a pardon which was finally victorious following the recommendations of a Scottish Government Independent Review last year. The contention that Thatcher closed their pits in the name of justice will ring especially hollow to the miners who lost their jobs.

READ MORE: To Boris Johnson, coal mine closures aren't just a joke. They're his blueprint

Some were subsequently blacklisted from potentially lucrative industrial work that used their mining skills because they had played an active role in the struggle to keep their jobs.

As part of the Independent Review, witness sessions were held across the former coalfields where former miners gave testimony. I attended one such meeting in Moodiesburn, North Lanarkshire, where vivid memories of injustice and arrest, as well as the long-term effects of pit closures and demoralisation were communicated.

Over the course of oral history interviews I recorded during my research, the cost of 1980s colliery and factory closures were recalled in terms of substance abuse problems, cultural diminishment and early graves.

The National: Hard life: Miners at the Barrow Colliery, near Barnsley, around 100 years ago SUBMITTED colliery-dec-29

Johnson would posit that these were unfortunate but necessary changes, and that we could not have a coal mining industry in an era of clean energy. However, his smug one-liner about Thatcher fatally misunderstands recent history.

Thatcher’s government was content to import tens of millions of tonnes of coal as well as to burn large volumes of coal mined through destructive opencast methods in Britain. It has only been over the last decade that coal has finally fallen out of favour in UK electricity generation, as was symbolised in the Scottish context by the closure of Longannet power station in Fife during 2016.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson refuses to apologise for Margaret Thatcher and coal mines comment

When miners struck in 1984-5, they did so to protect the economic welfare of future generations and to defend collieries that they understood to be important public assets which were threatened by a reckless government. Older, less economic pits had closed in large number before the 1980s. The mining workforce halved over the course of the 1960s.

These closures though were organised on the basis of what historians Andrew Perchard and Jim Phillips term a moral economy. In my book, Coal Country: The Meaning and Memory of Deindustrialization in Postwar Scotland, I detail how the nationalised industry carefully organised closures before 1979 by consulting trade unions, providing appropriate alternative employment and making accommodations for disabled and elderly men.

Johnson appeared to see no contraction in commending Thatcher’s closure of coal mines on the same day he defended awarding contracts for the Cambo oilfield to the west of Shetland. He also conveniently forgot to mention that Thatcher’s government cut funding for an innovative renewables research programme in the late 1980s, costing the UK leadership in a technological field in which it now struggles to compete.

The Scottish Tories will be frustrated by Johnson’s celebration of one-sided class warfare after they spent the last week claiming to be the only party that cares for oil communities in the North East.

We should be under no illusion about Tory pretences towards the environment or industrial workers.

Dr Ewan Gibbs is a lecturer in global inequalities at the University of Glasgow. His book, Coal Country: The Meaning and Memory of Deindustrialization in Postwar Scotland, can be downloaded in PDF form for free or purchased in physical copy here.