Tuesday, 3 March 2015

New Scottish Government Economic Strategy: Corp Tax and Inequality


There’s much to discuss in the 82 pages of the Scottish Government’s new/updated/refreshed economic strategy published today. I’ll try to return to other stuff over the next few days but confine this blog to two specific issues.

The first is the dropping of the Scottish Government/SNP’s longstanding commitment to a deep, blanket cut in corporation tax (see page 80) in favour of a more nuanced approach targeted at encouraging specific investments (e.g. R&D) and sectors (e.g. manufacturing).

Why focus on a reserved, and therefore for the immediate purposes of this strategy, an irrelevant power? Well, by arguing for years that pulling this single ‘lever’ (yuck!) would have a transformational economic impact, Scottish ministers did the ongoing and essential debate around Scotland’s economic development a huge disservice. This difficult, complex process was reduced to a simple, superficially plausible story of how one tax cut could and would dramatically boost growth and jobs. Risible comparisons with Ireland’s Celtic Tiger crowded out nuanced consideration of how policies successful in other nations might be effectively transplanted into the specific economic, cultural and institutional context of 21st century Scotland.

Now we can hopefully get back to a national debate that embraces the fundamental complexities, difficult decisions and trade-offs intrinsic to economic development policy. For economic development is a tortuous slog – in a modern, advanced economy like Scotland there are no quick big fixes, no single policies that will reliably, significantly and sustainably boost the long-term growth rate. If such policies existed, they would already have been implemented with great gusto across the developed world. 

Politicians are understandably nervous about ‘u-turns’ so the First Minister and her team should be congratulated for having the courage to revisit a once defining policy. It would be pretty churlish to do anything but sincerely and enthusiastically welcome the reversal. It couldn’t have been an easy decision. Let’s just look forward to a better quality debate; one in which fairy stories are eschewed not relentlessly promoted.

The second issue is the scope of measures proposed to reduce inequality. These centre on labour market participation, fair work, childcare, educational attainment and regional development – all laudable and important but in totality insufficient to significantly reduce inequality.

Indeed, reading the strategy today transported me back to November 2013 and publication of the White Paper. While the refrain ‘the UK is the fourth most unequal country in the developed world’ rattled noisily around the campaign, the White Paper singularly failed to address those factorswhich had made it so.

What are the distinguishing features of the UK model? Why did inequalities of income and wealth shoot up in the 1980s and remain relatively high? The explanation is surely to be found in (these are additional to the trends in skill biased technological change and trade which have acted to increase inequality in most of the developed world):

  • A relatively low level of collective bargaining coverage – contributing to trends in both low and high pay;
  • Very lightly regulated labour and product markets;
  • A large and powerful financial sector, a more financialised economy – contributing to inequality through the enrichment of its participants, shifting resources away from the productive economy and by forcing firms to focus on immediate shareholder value;
  • A uniquely febrile market for corporate control and poor corporate governance exacerbate the trends embedded in financialisation – the UK model is quite uniquely short-termist;
  • A uniquely relaxed attitude to ownership (just think - Germany has had only three hostile takeovers since the second world war and all three only proceeded after significant intervention);
  • Tax changes, particularly steep cuts in the higher rate of income tax which have changed incentives at the top i.e. encouraged executives to bargain in their own interests rather than those of the firm; and,
  • Privatisation and outsourcing – pursued with more vigour and to a greater extent in the UK, witness the extent of state ownership of transport and utilities in most other advanced economies.

Now clearly the economic strategy, as far as possible within current powers, tries to steer a different course on industrial relations to which the STUC will endeavour to contribute positively. But the words collective bargaining are absent and the mooted partnership approach – although reasonable and a welcome relief from the Coalition’s aggressive approach to both trade unions and employment legislation - will not reverse the fundamental asymmetries in economic power underlying the growth in inequality. And, unfortunately, the strategy is silent on the other issues raised above.

I was fortunate enough to be present when the First Minister’s gave two excellent speeches to (mainly) business audiences at SSE Glasgow in November and the National Economic Forum in December. Her argument on both occasions can be crudely, but fairly I think, reduced to the following syllogism:

  • Tackling inequality is good for growth
  • Growth is good for business
  • Ergo, tackling inequality is good for business.

The propositions may be true but the conclusion is seriously flawed for inequality in Scotland (or the UK as a whole) will not be tackled without challenging the prevailing business culture. Some may object that the Scottish Government doesn’t have the powers to, for instance, implement structural reform of the financial sector, reform corporate governance or reverse anti-trade union legislation. They would of course be perfectly correct. But not currently possessing a power has never prevented Scottish ministers stating what they would do with it once devolved. The point is that factors fundamental to reducing inequality have been ignored, even in the White Paper. The new economic strategy is similarly myopic.

The Scottish Government claims that ‘increasing competitiveness’ and ‘tackling inequality’ – the ‘twin pillars’ on which the strategy is built – are ‘mutually supportive’. But what does this actually mean? Haven’t the supply side reforms implemented over the past four decades in the name of boosting competitiveness directly exacerbated inequality? Boosting competitiveness has usually been code for deregulation of labour and product markets, tax cuts for business and wealthy individuals and anti-union legislation.

This isn’t the Scottish Government’s agenda and it would be ridiculous to paint the new strategy in this way. But it will be impossible to tackle inequality effectively without implementing measures which have for a long time now been regarded as bad for competitiveness. So big challenges for the Scottish Government, and those organisations like ours that want to see the strategy work and for employer representative organisations who have tended to pursue a very narrow agenda on competitiveness. I'll try to explore some of these issues in future blogs.

Finally, while the Scottish Government has failed to produce a compelling inequality reduction strategy it’s probably worth pointing out that the opposition has hardly covered itself in glory on this issue. If Jim Murphy wants to ‘end inequality’ (an outcome irreconcilable with any functioning economic system ever devised) he might start thinking about how Labour will start to address the issues neglected in today's strategy.
 
Stephen Boyd, STUC

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Where are our unions in Scottish Labour’s policies?


WITH only 10 weeks until Britain’s general election the main parties are setting out the territory on which the campaign will be fought.

Inevitably, the economy (or more likely it’s fallacious surrogate, “the deficit”), the NHS, immigration and Europe will be key battlegrounds. However, it would seem — if the recent pre-election skirmishes are anything to go by — that Labour’s focus on the cost-of-living crisis and union campaigning on fair work and fair pay will mean that workplace protection policy will receive more than just superficial attention.

The Tories have already called on employers to increase the wages of their staff and pay the living wage for lower-paid workers as they enjoy record profits in the wake of the fall in oil prices. They have also advocated a £7 minimum wage. This, I suspect, has more to do with reducing welfare payments to the working poor rather than any real concern over the fact that two-thirds of children living in poverty come from working families.

While the level of inequality in Britain should be enough to provoke action by any government that has not mislaid its moral compass, it is more likely that the pronouncements of the likes of the IMF and the OECD on the economic impact of inequality are what is focusing political strategists’ minds. It is difficult to ignore the 9 per cent GDP lost between 1990 and 2010 as a result of inequality in Britain.

Redressing Britain’s disgraceful record on the inequality level — the fourth worst of 340 OECD countries and the worst Europe — has, in part, motivated Ed Milband’s advocacy of “pre-distribution.”

Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish government has put reducing inequality at the heart of its programme for government and alongside innovation and internationalisation as the main driver of its refreshed economic strategy.

New Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, in a recent speech to the David Hume Institute, identified inequality as Scotland’s single biggest challenge.

In the next few weeks we will discover how this translates into party manifestos and, in particular, into proposals for enhanced workplace protection.

In addition to raising the minimum wage, the Tories have flagged their intention to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, to end the use of exclusive zero-hours contracts (ones which tie workers to just one employer) and to tackle trafficking through a modern slavery Bill.

Labour has committed to raising the minimum wage to £8 per hour by 2020, to using public procurement and tax incentives to encourage more employers to pay a living wage, to banning “exploitative” zero-hours contracts, to reform the tribunal system so affordability is not a barrier to justice, to set up a proper inquiry into the blacklisting and to double the length of paternity leave and increase paternity pay.

While Labour’s proposals in particular should make a difference, they fall far short of the demands the Scottish TUC will publish early next month. However, of more significance is how little of substance Labour has had to say about the role of unions and about the need for a positive approach to union rights.

We already know about Tory proposals to introduce thresholds for strike ballots in the utilities and public services. Labour’s national policy forum report, on which its manifesto will be based, contains some warm words about the importance of the union voice for people at work and in wider society. But, aside from welcome commitments to support union learning and to repeal the Lobbying Act, it contains no firm proposals.

Murphy referenced STUC evidence on zero-hours contracts in his recent speech on inequality, but had nothing at all to say about the role of unions in reducing it or what a future Labour government might do to support union organisation or to extend the scope and reach of collective bargaining.

Labour’s strategists may consider it an electoral liability to display too positive an attitude to unions. Such an approach is unlikely to work in Scotland. Labour faces a formidable challenge from the SNP which is certain to make much of its support for the recommendations of the Working Together review, instigated by the Scottish government to highlight the positive role played by unions in Scotland, in direct contrast to the Westminster government’s Carr review on the conduct of industrial action.

The Scottish government has already started to implement some of the 30 recommendations of the Working Together review, conducted by academics and an equal number of union and employer representatives.

This includes establishing a post of cabinet secretary for fair work, training and skills, supported by a fair work directorate and the creation of a fair work convention. This would promote union and employer leadership on workplace issues and explore the potential to extend collective bargaining in Scotland and increase levels of workplace democracy.

Under its new leader, the strategy of Scottish Labour appears to be concentrated on winning back the support of working-class men, mostly in the west of Scotland, who voted Yes in the referendum.

This strategy is likely to focus on a narrow range of issues that opinion polls suggest appeal to this particular group — the NHS, youth employment and standing up for Scotland. It is also responsible for Labour’s blatantly populist and cynical campaign for the sale of alcohol at football matches. While this is something that might be attractive to Labour’s target voters, it is less so to those who have to deal with its consequence, particularly the victims of the domestic violence with which the combination of football and alcohol is related.

Politics must be about more than parroting the findings of focus groups. It must be about ideas, about values and about ideology. It must be about winning support for policies that might be unpopular with some groups of voters but for which the evidence is sound. The evidence, presented in the report of the Working Together review and published elsewhere, is that high levels of union membership and extensive collective bargaining coverage are not an impediment to economic success and are central to the reduction of inequality.

If Labour is serious about reducing inequality and about tackling the cost-of-living crisis, it must not shy away from a positive policy agenda on union rights, signal this in its manifesto and campaign on it.

The recommendations of the Working Together review would be a good place to start, not just to match the commitments of the SNP, but because it is the right thing to do.

Grahame Smith is general secretary of the STUC



Friday, 20 February 2015

The Value of Ethical Trade

Pamela L’Intelligent will be attending the Fairtrade Fortnight event at the STUC centre on the 23rd February. To register for this free event email Helen Martin on hmartin@stuc.org.uk

Pamela is a 44 Year old woman from Mauritius who has worked in the manufacturing industry since the age of 13. She started working at Entansia where she was a helper before being trained on sewing machines and starting as a machinist. Entansia made products from wool which could irritate the eyes, skin and the respiratory system. She left because she was being exposed to such unnecessary risks. After this she joined an established textile company in Saint-Pierre. During her time there she was blessed with a beautiful daughter who is now 19 years old.

Pamela then joined a fair trade company named Craft Aid. Joining Craft Aid has seen her develop her skills further. Initially she worked on different segments of a shirt, but now she works on different garments from start to finish. During her career at Craft Aid, she has managed to find a balance between her work life and her personal life, something that was hampered during the early parts of her career.

She is looking forward to telling you more about her story working at Craft Aid in Mauritius when she attends this event.  


Scottish Fair Trade Forum                              

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Right to Strike is a Human Right

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have called for a day of action on the 18th February in support of the right to strike. Currently employer organisations, including the CBI, are opposing the accepted consensus- that has functioned well for the last 60 years- that the right to strike is implied by the core conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and that the ILO should be able to rule on whether government restrictions on that right are fair or reasonable. The effect of this dispute has been to throw the normal workings of the ILO into disarray and to sabotage its ability to criticise many of the world’s worst regimes, leaving working people and trade unions vulnerable to brutal oppression.

For more information on this dispute see Stephen Russell’s excellent blog, available here.

In Europe the right to strike is covered under Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights. In a landmark case Wilson and Palmer V the United Kingdom (yup you can always rely on the UK to provide the landmark rulings!) the court ruled that:

“the Convention safeguards freedom to protect the occupational interests of trade union members by trade union action, the conduct and development of which the Contracting States must both permit and make possible. A trade union must thus be free to strive for the protection of its members' interests, and the individual members have a right, in order to protect their interests, that the trade union should be heard”.

It also stated that

"The grant of the right to strike, while it may be subject to regulation, represents one of the most important of the means by which the State may secure a trade union's freedom to protect its members' occupational interests."

It went on to say:

"The Court agrees with the Government that the essence of a voluntary system of collective bargaining is that it must be possible for a trade union which is not recognised by an employer to take steps including, if necessary, organising industrial action, with a view to persuading the employer to enter into collective bargaining with it on those issues which the union believes are important for its members' interests. Furthermore, it is of the essence of the right to join a trade union for the protection of their interests that employees should be free to instruct or permit the union to make representations to their employer or to take action in support of their interests on their behalf. If workers are prevented from so doing, their freedom to belong to a trade union, for the protection of their interests, becomes illusory. It is the role of the State to ensure that trade union members are not prevented or restrained from using their union to represent them in attempts to regulate their relations with their employers."

In this way the Court makes a very clear ruling that trade union freedoms are not simply about the freedom to exist or the freedom to recruit members, but genuinely turn on the ability of trade unions to defend their members’ interests. A trade union that is prevented from doing so, is prevented from accessing one of its fundamental freedoms under a democratic society and every trade union member within that organisation has suffered a breach of their Human Rights.

It is useful to consider the status of trade union freedoms within international law and to remember that trade unions are recognised at an international level to play a key role in defending the rights of vulnerable people, and are key to making the economy work for those at the bottom.

A quick glance across our own economy tells us that: wages have been stagnating for a decade; foodbanks are growing and low paid workers are the second largest group using them; use of zero hours contracts is widespread and growing; and the minimum wage falls quite far short of a living wage. All of which stands in stark contrast to the fact that the richest fifth of households have increased their share of total income from 35% in 1979 to 42% in 2011 and if this trend continues we will be back to Victorian levels of inequality within 20 years.

Our economy does not function well for those at the bottom and trade unions have a key role to play in reversing this picture, as institutions that help to balance out the power differentials that exist between employers and workers.

Yet rather than seeing a championing of trade union rights at a political level, we are often seeing regressive action and further restrictions on trade union freedoms, and the painting of trade unions as anti-democratic or suspicious organisations.

Just consider the recent debate about ballot thresholds for trade unions which the Prime Minister has declared ‘on the table’ for after the general election as he wants to see ‘fewer unnecessary strikes’ (whether the strike being necessary or not clearly being a matter for the Tory party rather than the workers affected by the industrial issue). The 50% turnout threshold, with no precedence in any other part of our democracy from General Elections to decisions taken by boards within companies, would have the effect- explicitly desired by the Prime Minister- of limiting the right to strike and thus further limiting the rights of trade unions to defend their members.

At what point do these actions become Human Rights breaches? Well that is for the court to decide but what is clear from the above judgement and many others taken by the court is that trade union rights and freedoms are considered in the round and if the right to strike is curtailed there would need to a compensatory increase in collective bargaining rights in order to protect the Human Rights of workers.

Given the state of our economy and the crisis that exists in living standards these rights seem ever more crucial. Currently the situation in Scotland seems better with the Government’s Working Together Review and the creation of a new Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work. While this is certainly positive there is still much to do to make the recommendations of the Review a reality, much a which may well run up to the sort of employer response which is having such a devastating impact at the ILO.

Whatever lies in front of us, however, it is important to remember that the right to strike is a Human Right but more than that the right of trade unions to defend their members’ interests is a Human Right and should not only be respected but facilitated.


Helen Martin- STUC

Monday, 2 February 2015

Bandwagon?

Last week, David Torrance accused the STUC of effectively jumping on a 'grievance' bandwagon for criticising the watering down of Smith Commission proposals on welfare. He also (ridiculously) suggested we didn't spend any time making proposals for tackling inequality.

Scottish Labour has now recognised that the Command paper unnecessarily precludes the creation of a range of new benefits and Gordon Brown has made reference to the 'nailing down' of Section 54 of the Smith recommendations. And guess what, it's now being identified as an important means of promoting social justice.

The STUC has welcomed this in a press release. I wonder if David categorises this action as another example of us jumping on a (different) bandwagon or if he will be prepared to concede that we might have had a point in the first place and continue to pursue our policy positions on a more consistent and considered basis than he implied.

Dave Moxham

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

‘Older Women in the Workplace’ Reps Event: Tuesday 9th December 2014


I am an older woman.  I have listened to older women working in the private and public sectors and know there are many similar issues affecting older women in the workplace.

At the STUC Women’s Conference in November, I listened to Kathleen Bolt outline the legal perspective and implications of accessing, sustaining & progressing in employment for older women. I realised that in order to demand rights for older women, firstly, older women and their representatives in the workplace need to know what they are.

I have listened intently to Miriam O’Reilly describe the events that took over her life when this remarkable woman took on the might of the BBC in an age discrimination case and won. Unfortunately, older women still face barriers and discrimination from their employers and potential employers on a daily basis.

As a Union Equality and Workplace Representative, I have many examples of the issues facing many women members, both in the private and public sectors in their working life.

The woman working in a bank who, when facing redundancy, was advised she was ‘too old’ to be retrained while her male counterpart, the same age, was deemed as ‘being ready to take on the challenge of a new role’ both were aged 37.

The women, who after years of gaining higher qualifications, attending college and university, coming of that sticky floor, breaking through that glass ceiling, moving into lower managerial roles which somehow once re-evaluated, didn’t quite meet the same salary or status as the roles carried when men held these positions.

The nurse, now being expected to work additional years than she envisaged who said ‘as you pass 50, there are major changes in women’s health and it’s hard to keep up the same physical aspects in a role you may have been doing for 30 years already.  My back will eventually give out and I won’t be able to apply for ill health retirement as the external agencies used to assess you rarely agree you are ‘ill enough’ for this option so you are managed out through capabilities.’
The library assistant, now suffering arthritis due to kneeling for years on hard concrete floors, never imagining what she did at work daily for all these years before kneeling mats were introduced, would result in health issues later in life.

The call centre worker who has never received any formal computer training but being performance measured using generic targets against younger workers who have been using computers since being introduced to them at nursery and primary school.

Are older women workers resigning from their workplaces or volunteering for redundancy rather than face formal absence, performance or disciplinary meetings?

I am supporting the ‘Older Women in the Workplace’  Reps event to be held in the STUC, Woodlands Road on Tuesday 9th December, hosted jointly by the STUC Women’s Committee, One Workplace Equal Rights and Close The Gap, and would encourage Reps to register to attend.

To register click here or email Kirsten McTighe kmctighe@stuc.org.uk

Sheila Kettles

Friday, 28 November 2014

Our Future Free from Racism


It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be able to share some of my thoughts with you so early in my tenure as First Minister.

Scotland has just lived through the most extraordinary flowering of democracy and political engagement any of us have seen in our lifetime.

The referendum campaign was an empowering, energising phenomenon which saw the revival of the town hall meeting and which took political debate into every home, workplace and community across Scotland.

And it proved that – despite the cynicism about politics which so often prevails nowadays – people can, and do, become politically engaged when faced with issues which really matter to them.

The Yes campaign which I was proud to play my part in may not have prevailed – but that huge political engagement has continued, not least with the massive surge in SNP membership which now makes ours the third largest party in the whole of the UK.

That is the spirit of democratic engagement which I will be looking to build on, as SNP leader and First Minister, in the days to come.

And I very much look forward to working with the STUC in those days ahead.

Our country remains on a constitutional journey, but I am determined that the Scottish Government pursues an agenda of social and economic progress in tandem with that focus on the constitution.

And, as the STUC marks our national day with this year’s theme of a Scotland free from racism, I want to reiterate just how important it is that we make Scotland a welcoming country for everyone who has chosen to make this nation their home.

Scotland’s civic ethos is an inclusive and progressive one, which helps ensure that welcome is extended to all who come here. But we must always be on our guard against racism and prejudice when it does rear its head, and the STUC is to be commended on sending out that unequivocal message.

Our Future Free from Racism



The STUC’s St Andrew’s Day March is an opportunity for the labour movement to look back at what we have achieved in the fight for racial equality here in Scotland.

Through big struggles we’ve come together and recast our society. 

Working together with BME communities throughout the UK and in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the movement, we have made considerable advancements: 

  • The Race Relations Act
  • Equal Pay Legislation 
  • The Equality Act
  • Better representation of BME communities in Parliament – both at Westminster and Holyrood. 
We should all be proud of these achievements.

But as we remember the significance of battles won, we need to be united together in the fights we still face:
  • The rapid growth of UKIP and the politics of intolerance and bigotry. 
  • Rising Islamophobia spreading fear and hatred in the hearts of our communities. 
  • The persistence of racially aggravated violence on our streets. 
  • Almost half of BME young people are out of work, more than double the level of white youth unemployment. 
These are massive challenges, but we know that when we come together we are capable of incredible things. 

So as Scotland moves past two years of constitutional debate it’s time for the labour family to reimagine Scotland.

The referendum changed Scottish politics forever, but it doesn’t matter how you voted on September 18th. What matters is what we do now.

If you believe in combatting racism, creating sustainable and inclusive growth, a living wage and putting an end to the politics of fear – then we are in this fight together.

Next May the people of Scotland will go to the polls again where the choice will be between a Labour Party committed to creating jobs for young people through our Compulsory Jobs Guarantee, paid for by a tax on bankers’ bonuses, raising tax on the richest in society, increasing the Living Wage and delivering more powers to the Scottish Parliament or a Tory Party who will give more tax cuts to millionaires while delivering a cost of living crisis for everyday families.

When we meet again next year I want all of us to have worked together to consign the coalition government to the dustbin of history, and begin a new chapter in the struggle for equality.

Anas Sarwar, MP
Acting Leader of the Scottish Labour Party





Our Future Free from Racism


The scourge of racism cannot be looked at or dealt with without challenging every assumption that any individual or group wants less, needs less or deserves less than any other.  Thus we tackle racism as part of a hierarchy in society which values some human beings over others in varying degrees, and we learn from examining our own struggle, whoever we are, as we have lived it, and the struggles of billions against apartheid, caste divisions, wage discrimination, state violence, and other discriminations, from Ferguson to Fallujah, and from Gaza to the Congo.


We have to examine the NGOs as well as Parliament, and the ambition of those who come from movements for justice but end up at high salaries in high places imposing and hiding injustice.  We must overcome divisions at the grassroots to blow the whistle on every establishment that is based on maintaining the hierarchy of gender, race, religion, nationality, age, disability, etc.

Selma James

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Our Future Free from Racism

2014 has been a great year for Scotland, and one where we have celebrated and embraced diversity. Over the summer 71 teams from 53 members of the Commonwealth came together in Glasgow for the best ever Commonwealth Games, which saw sports successes alongside cultural celebrations.

It is quite right that Glasgow, where we made the pioneering decision to grant Nelson Mandela the Freedom of the City and James McCune Smith studied at the University of Glasgow, who was the first African American to receive a university medical degree, celebrated diversity at the Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. We all came together for that anthem of universal brotherhood – Freedom Come All Ye, as sung by the South African singer Pumeza.

As people embrace diversity, it is disappointing to hear the hostile political rhetoric coming from certain political parties. There has been the terrible spectre of the ‘Go Home’ vans and the use of dangerous and inflamatory language from senior politicians such as ‘swamped’ and ‘inundated’ to describe immigration.

The two Westminster parties are fighting each other to out-UKIP UKIP. Politicians of all political persuasion have a responsibility to ensure that they don’t succumb to the temptation of populism for cheap political gain.

I am the proud son of immigrants, and am pleased that the Government I am part of and the party I represent believes that migrants from across the world have made outstanding contributions to Scotland and will always be welcome to our country.


It is vital that we all stand united in defiance of racism, and the St. Andrew’s Day rally is an integral part of this country’s anti-racism effort. I would like to say to all the elements who wish to divide us and cause hatred – you will never be welcome to Scotland, not now, not ever. No Pasaran.

Humza Yousaf
Minster for External Affairs and International Development

Monday, 24 November 2014

Our Future Free from Racism? International Students: milked like cows, treated like criminals


International students bring in tens of billions annually to the UK economy. They generate over 130,000 jobs. They are quite literally a lifeline to the further and higher education sector in Scotland the UK. If every international student were to pack up and leave, not only would colleges and universities be facing an unprecedented crisis, but the economy more generally would take an enormous blow.

You’d think, given how much the Tories tell us about balancing the books, that they’d be bending over backwards to make this country attractive and welcoming to international students. But something else is at play.

Once here, paying tens of thousands in fees, international students are treated like criminals. They’re prevented from working, they’re forced to register with the police, they’re subjected to racism and abuse, and – unless they’re rich enough – they’re kicked out once they finish studying.

To make matters worse, this Government’s reckless obsession with the private sector has put thousands of international students in jeapardy. Letting private colleges run rampant – at public expense – has brought a spotlight onto what’s called Highly Trusted Status – an institution’s ability to recruit students from outside the EU. When colleges and universities have this removed, as London Met famously did a few short years ago and dozens more did earlier this year, the students are told to get out. They pay the price for this Government’s ideology and their institutions failing.

But this makes no sense, does it? This Government’s back-of-a-fag-packet immigration policy is built, at best, on mistrust, at worst on outright xenophobia and racism. UK ministers focus more on pandering to UKIP than any objective approach to society’s needs. They’ve promised, indefensibly, to cut immigration to below 100,000, and international students are baring a huge portion of the brunt for that.

But immigrants, and international students, bring enormous value to our society – not just financially, but culturally and socially. It is in our interests – but even if it wasn’t, a country that’s colonised half the world hardly has the right to now tell people they’re not welcome here.

Our colleges and universities have a massive role to play in lobbying and arguing for an approach to international students based on fairness and tolerance, and it’s the student and labour movement that will make them do that.

Gordon Maloney
President of NUS Scotland

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Our Future Free From Racism

“Our Future Free from Racism” - I’m only slightly embarrassed to confess that in recent months I seem to have adopted Twitter as my new home from home. When I recently posted - I mean 'tweeted'- about the St Andrew's Day March and Rally on November 29th one of my followers, based in the USA, replied with the following (what seemed to me at least) rather flippant statement: “The day racism ends is the day the right-handers start killing the left-handers. Or vice versa.” I admit I am still not entirely sure what he meant by this less than 140 character riddle but I refuse to believe that our future cannot be free of racism. To believe otherwise would be fatalism and cynicism personified, as well as a crime against humanity. But, to make this future a reality we do need to be vigilant and challenge racism wherever and whenever we see it – whether in the street, at our workplaces, in football grounds, on the pages of newspapers or in Parliament. The author Brian Niro (2003:1), in his book Race, argued that this concept and idea was a monster. He went on to say that “Race… is a monster because of the manner in which it has been employed for the justification of a systematic oppression and for the wholesale murder of huge populations.” And indeed, from the slave trade to the Nazi death camps, this notion of ‘race’ has been employed in the most murderous of ways. And yet it is still not consigned to the vaults of a shameful history. From the deportation of Roma in France and Italy, to the ‘everyday’ racism captured on mobile phones on public transport, we have a duty to stand-up and make ourselves heard, as citizens of a world that can be free of racism. We need to say loudly, and with purpose and intent, "not in my name".

Colin Clark
Professor of Sociology and Social Policy
University of West of Scotland &
Board Member of CRER