We need to recognise the "Scottish or British?" debate as the blind alley it is. Instead we should be articulating the Scotland we want to see, writes UNISON Scotland NEC member Gordon Mckay in the Morning Star on the day UNISON’s Scottish Council ran workshops on that very issue. http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/117784
UNISON’s role in the constitutional convention that
created devolution and the Scottish Parliament was significant. It is also
significant that it was a Parliament that was created and not an ‘assembly’. A
settlement where everything was devolved except for key reserved powers, rather
than the other way around.
And UNISON’s longstanding position that this
was a process rather than an event - supporting more powers for that Parliament
- has led the debate in recent years. Subsidiarity is the key position.
Decisions taken as close to the people as possible.
However, times have
changed since UNISON’s original position was taken in the 1990s and it is right
that the whole issue of the constitution is revisited. Revisited not on the
basis of technical constitutional issues, but from a starting point of what kind
of Scotland we’d like to see, moving back from that to what constitutional
option is best placed to deliver it.
That agenda is being taken forward
through discussions at UNISON’s Scottish Committee and today’s Scottish Council
of over 250 branch delegates.
In today’s workshops, delegates from across
Scotland were unanimous in a vision of a Scotland that brings equality,
eradicates child poverty, invests in and values public services and drives
forward social and economic policies for full employment – alongside a concept
of building a fairer society through social dialogue and consensus.
unity on those points was unquestioned. How we achieve that is the trickier
UNISONActive covered Richard Leonard’s view recently
that “… the real division we are living with in these times, (is) not one
between Scotland and England, but between an economy run in the interests of the
rich and one that should and could be run for the common good.” http://unisonactive.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/scotland-real-divide.html
Gordon Mckay takes up that theme in his article today.
discussing the "national question" we would do well to ignore the appeals of
nationalists, both Scottish and British, and concentrate on the fact that our
concern is not with flags or anthems but with advancing the cause of working
people”, writes Gordon.
“The nationalists on either side of the debate
wish to reduce this to a question of identity, whether people should think of
themselves as "Scottish" or "British."
“But for trade unionists it's not
people's perceived identities that matter, it's their actual lives as working
The consensus around today’s UNISON’s Scotland workshops was
reflected in Gordon’s view that: “Scotland is a vision which is radically
different from the privatised Britain of David Cameron - but is equally
different from Scotland the corporate tax haven that Alex Salmond is trying to
“We should not be seeking constitutional change for its own
sake, as something self-evidently good in itself (because it isn't). Neither
should we adopt the blinkered Unionist "this far and no further" approach of the
Tories and Lib Dems.
“Instead we should be looking to use the upcoming
debates and referendum to put our issues on the agenda. Arguing for more powers
for the Scottish Parliament not as some sort of abstract principle, but tied to
plans to use them to create a Scotland more in line with our priorities” writes
One of the key visions delegates voiced today was that of an open
and inclusive Scotland. One that welcomed diversity, one that saw itself as
force for peace internationally, one that shared the nation’s wealth equitably.
Is independence the only way to achieve that?
Gordon argues not. “It
should go without saying that anything that puts barriers between workers should
be anathema to trade unionists, but it is a principle often ignored by those who
are promising a land of Milk and MacHoney.
“If only we grasp the thistle
and decide that our concern is with Dundee and that Durham is as foreign as
Dubai - all will be well, so the rhetoric goes.
“Looking after ourselves
and saying to hell with the rest isn't the principle that built the trade union
movement and in the long run it will damage us all, north and south of the
“Instead we should be arguing for a better form of devolution
than we have now, more powers over raising and spending money - but without
neglecting the need to redistribute resources across Britain.”
Scotland has gone some way today to starting that debate in the union. There is
a need to recognise that many of our activists and members are committed – for
many and various reasons - to independence as a route to achieve our
Others see that as a distraction from the real issues. For them
the real division is between between rich and poor with the need to fight the
inequality that transcends the regions and nations of the UK.
Scotland is right to try to foster a wider debate among its members and
activists on those issues. It is right to shift the focus from the false idol of
'patriotism' and constitutional technicalities to what kind of Scotland we want
to see, how we can achieve that and how we can focus on the real
Without that focus, any constitutional settlement from the status
quo, to independence, to‘devo-max’ or even Calman will be nothing other than
social and economic inequality wrapped up in a different, and perhaps more