Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Level of Debate

The news that ASLEF have showed their hand by formally backing the No Campaign - whilst disappointing, is no surprise given they were already providing financial support.

I am not sure what mechanisms of consultation were used to engage their membership, but I find the claim that not one member will vote for Independence incredibly silly.

Other Trade Unions are correctly taking a longer term view and engaging with their members through the STUC "A Just Scotland" consultation, which correctly challenges all sides of the debate to demonstrate how the options will benefit the lives of working people.

But lets come back to ASLEF.  Simple research uncovers a rather offensive article in their Newsletter last year, where a certain Tom Burns of their Perth Branch wrote in inflammatory terms.

Among the gems of criticism were

(a) no guarantees that the heirs of Queen Elizabeth would be head of state in an Independent Scotland
(b) the stated intentions of multinationals to relocate south of the border - without naming anyone in particular
(c) That Holyrood is a single legislative chamber with no checks and balances - but the devolved parliament isn't a stand alone institution and ignores the ongoing debate about where powers should sit at an even further local level in Scotland
(d) That the SNP Government discriminates against English Students - ignoring legal context
(e) The SNP is anti-English - despite the existence of English born parliamentarians and Government Ministers and activists who are entirely comfortable with campaigning for independence - as it's about the right to self-determination not tribalism

It is of course the prerogative of ASLEF to publish such arrant nonsense, but leaves serious questions as to why such an article would find itself in a Trade Union news sheet, as is the decision to show their hand in the constitutional debate now.

Interestingly the debate within the Trade Unions is beginning to heat up after STUC Congress and UK Conferences due to take place over the Summer.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation also has very useful suggestions, in its new document "The Common Weal", on the type of economic and social renewal that can take place in Scotland - looking at examples in the Nordic and Germanic countries.  Dealing with issues such as Tax reform, welfare, a proper investment bank, and various models of company ownership are just some of the issues which should lead the debate over the next year or so within the Trade Union Movement.

The level of the debate within Trade Unions has the capacity to lead the way, and perhaps ASLEF will regret showing their hand and their arguments so early on - as all it would take to completely undermine their stance is for one single ASLEF member to come forward and express their support for independence.

Sunday, 19 May 2013


Possibly due to being a largely English electoral phenomenon, I have not really encountered UKIP until recently, and only saw them register in the margins in canvassing and survey returns.

My first real engagement with them was last month at a Strathclyde University debate where I was on the side of the UK remaining in Europe - which won handsomely in a vote at the end.

During the debate the UKIP spokesperson in answering what was a reasonable point on the success of ERASMUS - a body which enables higher education students to work and study abroad as part of their degree stated that this body was designed to "enslave today's students to be part of the EU bureaucracy."

A rather dangerous and eccentric view to put it politely.

There is something deeply troubling about their rhetoric on immigration, their outlook to our partner countries in Europe, and their simplistic approach to leaving the EU.  Indeed it appears to have passed them by that joining the European Free Trade Alliance would result in them having to sign up to their pet hates of European Regulation to be part of that body too.

UKIP are on the side of those who see workers rights and hard fought protections such as the Social Chapter (deemed too left wing incidentally, by Major, Blair, and Brown) as troublesome regulation, whilst opposing a financial transactions tax and the capping of bankers bonuses.

On your side? No chance.

The mutual talking up of a Conservative/UKIP arrangement in a future UK election demonstrates that the electoral survival of Tory MP's is more important than being part of a rational debate about our relationships in the world and having a positive vision for our future.The case being put forward to leave the EU is based on a fantasy of turning back the clock to 1973 without consequences - a fanciful delusion.

The case for staying in an institution that has improved the lives and working conditions of millions of working people in Europe, now needs to made in a concise, clear and positive way.

The case for leaving the EU, is a classic case of the race to the bottom.

Monday, 6 May 2013


As much as I've been entertained by the farcical 500 questions from the Better Together campaign (providing light relief for a holiday weekend) , the matter of the English local elections and their potential significant bearing on Scotland's decision in September 2014 has been the hot topic this weekend.

Two immediate thoughts spring to mind.  Firstly,  on this showing, Labour will not be elected as the next Westminster Government in 2015.  The rule of thumb from considered political experts is that they needed approx 500 gains to be in a position at this stage of the political cycle to be heading in that direction.  Labour gained half that total.

This fact will no doubt worry Labour activists, and will I am sure lead to some debate as to whether they continue the Tory-lite approach favoured by the Westminster Front Bench , or do they start to provide a clear narrative articulating their differences with the Tories? 

Secondly, and perhaps related was that the rise of the UKIP vote demonstrates that Scotland and England are becoming two, distinct, political countries.  As a regular delegate to the UNISON UK Conference, the reaction from Scottish TU colleagues listening to the challenges faced by TU members elsewhere in the UK, is met with support but also relief that some of the attacks facing public sector workers - for example the abandonment of the two tier workforce agreement by the Tory led Government - are not being faced here in Scotland.

Whilst the defeat of the BNP in Burnley is most welcome, the results indicate a move to the right.  The UKIP agenda of playing to prejudice and grievance, of trying to blame someone else for the country's problems rather than the Government plays into the Tories hands.

The sight on Friday afternoon of Simon Hughes of the Liberal Democrats discussing anti-immigration measures is testament to that.

But perhaps the harshest lesson is that the rise of the UKIP vote, and the pandering to it by the Tories, is that the biggest threat to Scotland's place in Europe, is not an Independent Scotland, but by staying in the UK.

Lets consider this, there is no doubt that Cameron will veto measures such as, a financial transactions tax, limits on bankers bonuses, and extensions to social protections. Are these not policies that a Scottish Government and most Scots find favour with?

Wednesday, 1 May 2013


A chance conversation earlier this evening with a UNISON Branch Secretary got me thinking - he revealed that today was his daughters 16th birthday, and so she was born the same day that Labour was elected or Tony Blair got his hands on the reins of power -  depending on your viewpoint

Indeed - the New Labour Project with its figurehead Tony Blair won in a landslide 16 years ago.  My thoughts today turn to the mess the Labour Party finds itself in now.

What was once a confident looking, positive party has been reduced to a small minded, vitriolic, inconsistent shambles.

In my time at the STUC Annual Congress when talking to delegates their real concern was the association with the Tories in the Better Together campaign.  A perfectly justified concern, given the many public pronouncements from Better Together come from a centre right political position - witness the huge publicity afforded comments from the CBI yesterday as a classic example. As one Labour activist commented privately " I didn't come into politics to wrap myself in the Union Jack and campaign alongside Tories ".

Add in a very public attack on the UNITE General Secretary from Ed Miliband and it's little wonder that many Trade Union activists are supporting Independence.

With the Westminster Labour front bench being led to the right by the Tory-led Government on the economy and welfare (and can we reclaim the language by using "Social Security" whenever possible ?) , the joy and relief on that morning in 1997 when the Tories had been ousted, seems generations away.

This week Labour have a difficult juggling act to pull off - attack the Tories in England to win council seats in the local elections (but not frighten the horses aka Daily Mail readers who might vote UKIP instead), but at the same time retain the base vote being hardest hit by public spending cuts, but not be tagged as Red Ed,  but keep the trade union funding and support (by verbally biting the hand that feeds you through the subscriptions of low paid workers - very odd, Ed) - and at the same time have your Scottish party members campaigning using materials funded by questionable sources and working Better Together alongside Tories ? Tricky..
Their desperation to secure a No vote in 2014 and the increasingly tribal, bitter nature of the attacks on all independence campaigners (and even against the thoughtful, not made their minds up, willing to have a decent debate people ) is entirely down to one clear dynamic - the survival of the Labour party as an electoral force is dependent on Scotland's votes and a cohort of MP's ( Cohort is the kind word) to boost the Labour numbers on the green benches in Westminster. Victory (or a negotiating mandate with any Libdems that are left after their ride into the valley of electoral death in 2015) is not a given - and without those Labour Scottish MP's  Miliband minor will never walk through the door of number 10.

16 years on, the conclusion can only sensibly be - don't let the survival of the "people's party" (largely populated by shiny clones who've never worked outside of the political career bubble)  be more important than a decent debate about Scotland's future and let's not have the largely self centered and biased worldview of the Labour tribe get in the way of the facts.