Wednesday, 3 September 2014

STV debate and the STUC's position on the referendum

I regret having to write this short blog which I worry will look stupidly self-important. But I don’t think I can get away with not doing so given proximity to the referendum and the fact that the STUC’s non-aligned position has until now been scrupulously maintained.

During last night’s live STV referendum debate (which, being on a train home from Manchester at the time, I didn’t see) Douglas Alexander MP, speaking on behalf of Better Together mentioned my name...whilst inadvertently handing me a promotion! Here’s the full context:

The following question was asked from the floor:

"Given Labour's move to the right under the guidance of Douglas Alexander and Tony Blair, would you not think Scotland would be better placed, as a left wing Labour voter, under a Labour government voted in for by the people of Scotland, in an independent government?"

Douglas answered thus:

"Well, I would start with the historical mission of the Labour movement, which has been to look out for the interests of working people.  Why is it there is not a single large trade union supporting Yes?  It’s because the Labour movement understands that our unity is our strength and it will disadvantage, not help, working people across Scotland if we have a race to the bottom on wages, on terms and conditions; if we were to see a higher tax, higher regulation, higher terms and conditions Scotland alongside what would be suggested by a Tory Government in England, lower tax, lower wages, lower regulation, what's the logic of capitalism?  That those businesses would move south.  The way that we've made advances as the Labour movement over the last 60 years is by working together.  It took the votes of working men and women in Newcastle and Belfast and Cardiff to deliver a National Health Service and a welfare state.  I believe the way that we can do that is by having redistributive policies and after seven years of a Scottish Government here in Holyrood, they haven't implemented a single redistributive measure.  Don’t take my word for it; look at the words of Stephen Boyd, the Deputy General Secretary of the STUC.”"

Although I’m very confident this wasn’t the intention, Douglas mentioning my name in this context could leave the impression that I (and by extension the STUC) am hostile to the Scottish Government and/or anti Scottish independence. I accept that a precise reading of the words doesn’t necessarily lead to this conclusion but I’m already aware that some didn’t hear it in this way.

While being unable to recall writing anything which directly conforms to the above characterisation I certainly make no apologies of being critical –sometimes very critical - of the Scottish Government although it must be stressed that I always endeavour to ensure that any of my personal media contributions – mainstream or social – are wholly consistent with STUC policy. Areas where the STUC has been most vocal in its opposition to Scottish Government policy, and where I am the policy lead, include corporation tax, tax framework post-independence and small business bonus.

Scottish Ministers tend to react reasonably constructively to this criticism.  On some issues we agree to disagree but in other areas where the STUC is not uncritical – inequality, industrial policy – there is ongoing dialogue aimed at improving policy outcomes. At our last meeting with the First Minister we agreed a programme of work to develop policy in three areas: the foundational economy, manufacturing/reindustrialisation and inequality. Being official-led this work is behind the scenes, boring and long-term. It might lead to nothing or, who knows, we might develop world changing interventions.

The STUC was of course heavily involved in the recently published Working Together review of progressive workplace policies which stands in stark contrast to the approach to industrial relations at UK level and to which the initial response from Scottish Labour was rather underwhelming.

Regarding the referendum, the STUC’s approach – which I hope is widely recognised by now – is set out in the first two A Just Scotland reports. Our third and final (pre-referendum) report will be published next week. Post referendum – whatever the result – AJS will proceed with a conference and march/rally in October.

For the sake of clarity, no individual at the STUC will take a public Yes/No stance on the referendum and will not do so as it will undermine the position of the STUC. Yes, we might from time to time take a position on social media that is more challenging to the interests of one campaign (for me that’s sometimes meant being harder on Yes as we’ve yet to be convinced by Scottish Government/Yes arguments on the macroeconomic framework) but our overall position is set out in the AJS reports. This approach will not change before the 18 September.

Stephen Boyd

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