Trade unions and Scottish independence – “don’t fracture the workers’ movement”

As Coalition and SNP government ministers agree terms of 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Unite member and former MP Maria Fyfe says independence would make it harder for trade unions to fight battles on working hours, wages and rights.
by - 10th October 2012, 10.01 BST

First, I urge people to read “People Power” if they want to get a grasp of the real issues that matter to trade unionists, which have barely had a hearing in the mass media, as we spend the next two years in Scotland waiting for the referendum.

(Pictured: STUC ‘People First’ protest, Glasgow, October 2011)

For our brothers and sisters down south, this matters to you too.

The newspapers can give you the impression that Scotland is on its way out of the UK.

Not true.

Poll after poll, taken over decades, has shown there is only a minority of around 30% who want this.

Not all the campaigning, nor all the millions donated to the SNP, have shifted the public’s opinion one jot towards independence.

We simply do not want to break up Britain.

We don’t want our families who have gone to work in England or Wales or Northern Ireland to become foreigners.

But there are also arguments against that are of profound consequence to trade unionists all over Britain.

The SNP likes to present itself as a social democratic party, but the Labour Party remains the only political party where trade unionists can play a role in determining policy.

We all know the Labour Party began life with trade union backing. Efforts have been made by Blairites to end this connection, but they have failed. Today, large, powerful unions are led by people who are determined to keep that link and use it well.

If the SNP were successful, and Scotland did break away, then three consequences would result that would be harmful to the interests of the trade union movement.

The movement itself would be fractured.

The more Britain broke up – if Wales and Cornwall followed this example – the less effective we would be.

As each country developed its own agenda and its own laws on trade union rights, the minimum wage, hours of work, health and safety at work, and much else, the less could the TUC fight a battle that was UK-wide.

(Pictured: trade unionists strike against pension cuts, London, 10 May 2012)

Solidarity with comrades in other countries is fine, but it is hardly the same as having the same battle to fight and having the strength of a UK-sized trade union movement to fight it.

A second consequence is that a Scotland on its own would be less able to tackle the depredations of big business, most of which is registered outside Scotland.

Already Alex Salmond has proposed a cut in corporation tax, in order to make Scottish businesses more competitive. This could only lead to a downward spiral, as England – now a competitor country – outbid Scotland in turn.

All very nice for big business profits, but the result for the rest of us is either hikes in our taxes, or cuts in welfare spending to cope with the deficit.

The third consequence might well be the break-up of the Labour Party itself, following Scotland becoming a separate nation.

Yes, we would no doubt form a sister party in Scotland, but as a lifelong trade unionist and Labour Party member since I was aged nineteen, I don’t want that forced upon me.

I understand very well that there will be people reading this who are committed to other parties, or have no such commitment, but I hope they will understand my determination to see that Britain keeps together.

As Coalition and SNP government ministers agree terms of 2014 Scottish independence referendum, UnionNews has asked two leading political activists to lay out the case for and against independence. A companion piece by the Convenor of the SNP’s trade union group, Christina McKelvie MSP is here.

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