Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Congress 2014: Grahame Smith, STUC on A Just Scotland

On the last afternoon of Congress 2014, Grahame Smith, STUC General Secretary delivered the following statement to conclude the debate on A Just Scotland:

President, Congress, happy to present the General Council statement on A Just Scotland and urging support for Composite C and amended motion 103 and asking Congress to oppose motion 105.

Congress, opening this debate on behalf of the General Council, Mary Senior persuasively outlined the reasons why we should be proud of the STUC’s A Just Scotland initiative.

We have shifted the referendum debate firmly onto social justice and onto the real priorities of the working people we represent.

But Congress I’ve heard it argued – at this Congress and elsewhere – that our refusal to tow a Yes or No line demonstrates a lack of leadership.

I refute this absolutley.

In many ways for the STUC choosing one side and blindly pursuing its rigid arguments would have been the easy option.  But it would have also risked the unity of the movement .

Developing and promoting A Just Scotland has been an intense and difficult task.

But we know trade union members and many in wider society have valued our contribution and the difference it has made to the debate.

It is right that people should read and learn from our reports knowing that they’ve been compiled to constructively challenge both sides.

And that is what we have done this week in the two question and answer sessions.

Hard, fair and informed questions to both sides eliciting revealing responses; sometimes welcome, sometimes not.

Both Yes and No positions have profound implications for the future of our nation – defending these positions shouldn’t be an easy ride for anyone.

Whether it be the First Minister on tax and procurement or Johann Lamont on Trident or public spending  it is our responsibility to highlight inconsistencies and weak arguments.

And we will continue to do so.

Congress,  it is of course acceptable and understandable that affiliates will develop their own positions on the referendum. These are reflected in our agenda.

However the terms of motion 105, if adopted would be tantamount to taking a Yes position which would be incompatible with the A Just Scotland approach. It would throw away the outstanding work undertaken over the last two years and marginalise our impact in the remaining months before the referendum.

The General Council is entirely comfortable with affiliates taking their own positions. But it is essential that we leave this Congress with a united STUC position.

One that will give strength to our A Just Scotland approach.

One that will secure our influence in the debate.


But Congress, the increasingly febrile nature of the debate  and  the exaggerated and at times hysterical  claims  of both campaigns is deeply worrying because the tone is being set for the referendum’s aftermath.

Whether it is a yes or no vote the political atmosphere could quickly become poisonous.

This is why it is so important that the Scottish trade union movement continues to play a central role in ensuring the path to Scotland’s constitutional future is as smooth and consensual as it can possibly be.

Whatever the outcome in September our actions as a movement will be driven by our values - our values of unity and solidarity.

Whatever the outcome, Scotland’s trade union movement and civic society must be at the heart of the negotiation process for  independence or enhanced devolution.

And we will not be shy about stating our red line issues:

If it is independence there must be no backtracking on Trident;

and trade union freedom must be at the top of the agenda for the new Scottish Parliament.

If it’s enhanced devolution then tax powers must go further than those proposed by the Labour’s Devolution Commission.

And we need to see a new direction from UK Labour. More austerity is not acceptable.

We will not accept a little bit less of the same.

We want a lot more of something different.

Whatever the outcome in September there will be change - and the trade union movement on this island will not be immune from it.

Whatever the outcome we all need to remember the need for unity amongst workers; within and between unions and between trade union centres.

But if we want to be in a postion to shape that change, to achieve A Just Scotland  - closing our eyes, keeping our fingers crossed and hoping change won’t affect us not an option.

The status quo is not an option.

If we fail to recognise that we fail to recognise the danger of division – division that will damage our class and our movement and will have the bosses rubbing their hands.

Our objective is to move forward together. But if the opportunity to advance is offered should it be rejected because it is denied elsewhere?

If Scotland’s constitutional arrangements, whatever they turn out to be, allow us to advance the cause of social and economic justice, would it not ultimately benefit workers across these islands?

We have the capacity to lead that change but we need the  capacity to  change ourselves.

This is an historic moment for our country and our movement.

It will fall to us to define the road we take, to shape our future, to grasp the opportunity to achieve A Just Scotland.

Our ability to do it lies in every workplace where there is a union member.

In every workplace where good reps do what good reps do –  build the union – and fight for their members.

It lies in our ability to organise;

In our ability to take on the bad bosses;

In our ability to stand up for our values and our beliefs.

This Congress meets on the cusp of a momentous moment in Scotland’s history. The prospect of profound change in our nation’s democracy is very real.

But we should be in no doubt that whatever our constitutional future working people will still have to contend with the Jim Ratcliffes, Michael O’Leary’s and the faceless private equity barons of this world. They’re not going away. 

But Congress neither are we!

The Scottish constitutional debate is a debate about where power should lie and why.  It will be of little real relevance unless government, wherever it sits, has the power and is willing to use it to prevent the destructive actions of private equity or if workers through their union, do not have the power to influence the actions of an employer, and achieve a much more equal share on our national wealth.

I commend the statement and our A Just Scotland approach to Congress.

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