Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A Just Scotland

I’ve been meaning to blog for a good while now on the issue of what makes a Just Scotland, as well as reflecting on the journey many people in Scotland have made and are making from the Labour Movement towards supporting Independence. This was very much on my mind recently - as many of you will know, our Convener of Govan SNP, Steve Butler, sadly passed away in December after a very short illness.

Steve was the Constituency Officer Manager for Jim Sillars, and so when I joined the SNP on the back of the 1988 Govan By-election and the Anti-Poll Tax campaign I got to meet him for the first time. I was aware of his background in the trade union movement and am proud to say he was my mentor and someone whose values I shared.

Steve became a good friend and colleague and his contribution, and kindness to many people will never be forgotten.  A typical story about him comes from when he was covering the polling station in Priesthill in 2011.  A conversation with the local Minister resulted in him helping to repair the church organ. He believed in action and his many small acts of assistance were as big a contribution to his community as a lifetime of political debate and activism.

For the wider political picture  I would recommend an interview with a young Steve Butler from 1975 -  with an equally young Christopher Hitchens for the New Statesman, which sums up a lot of Steve’s political thoughts …………..” Steve Butler, a young shop steward from Rolls- Royce in East Kilbride, told me why he had left the Labour Party in Glasgow and signed up with the Nationalists (for whom he hopes to become industrial organiser). ‘Self-government would be a step towards socialism,’ he said. ‘I used to identify with people like Foot but since they took office I’ve given them up.”

Anne McLaughlin reminded me of this interview and has also written a very moving tribute and in blogging it would be remiss of me not to direct you towards that at … http://indygalonindependence.blogspot.co.uk/

When I first heard of Steve’s sudden illness, I had just attended two meetings organised by the STUC as part of its campaign “A Just Scotland”, which is looking at the significant challenges facing Scotland, as part of its approach for the Referendum campaign.  The comparisons with other countries as part of this process gave plenty of food for thought.

Senior Trade Unionists and Academics made rational and measured contributions.

Among the key findings I noted were ;

(1) The infamous IFS report does not suggest that an Independent Scotland would have less money to spend, and should have compared an Independent Scotland with Scotland in the UK, and not Scotland v the UK.

(2)  More importantly, they state that the key issue in terms of finances is one of demographics - an issue that remains whether YES or No is successful.

(3) Income Inequality - the UK has one of the highest gaps in Europe

(4) If all workers not in receipt of the Living Wage, were to be paid it, there would be increased income tax revenues of £550m.

(5) Only in 9 out of the last 69 months have real wages risen.

(6) Workers whose pay and conditions were covered by collective bargaining in 1979,have gone from 81% in Scotland to 23%.

(7) Trade Union membership in Scotland now stands at 32.3% of workers, in Sweden that figure is 69%

These are fascinating statistics, and demonstrate the real challenges the country faces, and the STUC should be thanked for facilitating these events. 

It does however reveal key weaknesses in the Better Together armoury.  As John McInally of the PCS put it.........."if No means more cuts,  austerity, and more privatisation then Scotland will leave the UK.  “ As Ed Miliband has just confirmed that a future Labour government in Westminster would still sing from the same austerity hymn sheet that hits the poorest hardest then what was a concern has just become a reality – a No vote means more of the same with NO possibility of change. That is only tip of the iceberg – and I’ll address that in a future blog post, but at the moment it’s sad to reflect how far the Labour party has moved away from its roots and fails to recognise the opportunities for real change through supporting workers rights and building a new dynamic in an independent Scotland.

The key message that trade union activists recognise is that employment law affects pay, conditions, and the wider economy including welfare. A Fair Work Commission, and a National Convention on Employment and Labour Relations would be a good place to start on addressing these challenges. That opportunity is there to be grasped, and increasingly many people are participating in shaping and discussing what makes a Just Scotland and what is our Common Weal and thinking outside narrow tribal party interests. A YES vote isn’t a vote for the SNP , it’s a vote for the possibility of change and for opening the door to new opportunities. A NO vote is a vote for more of the same diet of austerity and squeezing of public services that hasn’t served the workers of Scotland well in the past decades.

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