2007 - 2022

Just Say Yes

hand1With the publication yesterday of Yes Scotland’s response to the STUC’s “Just Scotland” paper, the question is raised again – what would trade unionism look like in an independent Scotland?

At his recent appearance at the Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture in January, I asked Alex Salmond whether in an independent Scotland, we would have the ability to repeal the anti-trade union laws. I was met with a politician’s answer: there is no appetite in the Scottish Government for anti-trade union legislation.

Of course, this response can be seen in a positive and a negative way: the “appetite” certainly does exists in Westminster. However, undeniably, it does not answer my question. A key demand, not just for unions or the Left, needs to be that an independent Scotland would repeal these laws. Whilst the “Yes to a Just Scotland” report doesn’t contain any specific policies, the comments made by Blair Jenkins at the launch indicate a shift in Yes Scotland’s overall strategy. He stated, “We believe the trade union movement will be able to deliver more of its agenda through Yes than No.” The report suggests an independent Scotland would be more sympathetic to STUC demands for higher taxes on the wealthy and a more generous welfare system.

I want to argue that there is also an economic case that needs to be made for the restoration of trade union rights and the positive impact that could have on the economy as a whole. Since 1979, anti- trade union laws have become progressively harsher, regardless of the colour of government in Westminster. This indicates a trajectory for trade union abilities, which on a long enough timeline could prove fatal. The legislation that I’m referring to covers a manner of activities including mandatory postal ballots for strike action (a logistical nightmare), secondary action becoming illegal (an insult to our class) and restrictions on numbers and locations of pickets (a violation of our right to protest). Anti-TU laws and practices also have far wider implications. The key role played by the continual fall of the value in Real Wages in the 2008 economic crisis shows that without a decent wage, demand in the economy must be “topped up” by credit- and we all know where that road leads; triple dip recession, growing inequality and a narrative of inevitable austerity. The collective bargaining power of unions that allowed the increase of wages across sectors was crushed by Thatcher. There are now economic arguments being made- not only in Left-wing or radical circles, that the powers of trade unions must be restored in order to create a balance of forces in the economy. The problem remains however that there is no space within British political structures to make these demands. Independence can provide the space for this debate. The rights of workers to organise freely must therefore be at the core of progressive demands for Independence in Scotland. All trade unionists can champion this argument, not just those based in Scotland. Scottish independence that can benefit workers in the rest of the UK by challenging and repealing that legislation, undermining it in the rest of the UK, and opening up new ground to challenge these laws elsewhere.

Following the launch of the Yes to a Just Scotland paper, Neil Findlay, Labour MSP commented that in order to “achieve social justice we need a progressive taxation policy to promote redistribution and the major player in the Yes campaign, the SNP, is opposed to this…Only last week John Swinney confirmed there would be no rises in personal taxation in an SNP-governed independent Scotland.”

The debate between Yes and No cannot just be a battle between the low corporation tax, or tax cuts, of the SNP and the welfare cuts at Westminster- otherwise, we’re in a sorry state. Rather, the Yes movement- which transcends party membership- needs to campaign for a socially egalitarian vision of an Independent Scotland, at the grassroots- not just via the policies of mainstream parties. This is where the Radical Independence Campaign can play a key role: RiC can say things that perhaps politicians can’t say, that parties are unwilling to say. We need to develop a collective, strong voice to make these demands, and project our positive vision of change, that upholds the values of solidarity, democracy and equality- and we must, eventually look towards having this voice represented and elected into the parliament.

This is our task as trade unionists, regardless of borders: to restore the rights of trade unions to act in the interest of the working class. If we fail, in any constitutional set up, ordinary people will be in a worse off position. Without the break-up of the British state, these laws will not be challenged with speed or substantial vigor. A vote to keep the union, without any real plan to get rid of these “anti-democracy laws” will continue to set ordinary people back decades- in terms of work, welfare and education.

A Yes vote in 2014 will not instantly give power back to the unions, nor will it automatically lead to economic democracy and fairness. I recall people arguing that a No vote was a vote for the status quo, and that a No vote would guarantee that things would stay the same. I disagree: a No vote is a vote that puts a motor behind the downwards trajectory of trade union rights, of wage equality and of workers ability to fight back. A Yes vote interrupts this path- that is undeniable.

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  1. This, from Richie Venton, SSP:

    YES TO A JUST SCOTLAND – Trade Unionists for Independence

    For trade unionists and workers suffering the viciousness of the unelected Westminster Coalition, the Yes Scotland campaign’s report ‘Yes to a Just Scotland’ is a welcome step forward compared to being told for months to vote Yes so that little or nothing will change!
    It rightly highlights the greater likelihood of the historic aims of the trade union movement – social justice, wealth redistribution and equality – being achieved under independence.
    The response of some self-styled ‘lefts’ in the New Labour camp is as spurious as it is predictable. By focusing on what the SNP has to say on taxation of the rich, they cynically avoid the fact the pro-independence movement consists of far more than just Alex Salmond and John Swinney.

    Trade Unionists for Independence (TUFI) is a broad, inclusive campaign embracing workers from all parties and none, with the core belief that independence is the best means of radically improving the living conditions of Scotland’s working class majority.
    We see independence as a means not of just changing flags and emblems, but of giving the Scottish people the democratic opportunity to wield the powers to achieve a fundamental and irreversible redistribution of power and wealth in favour of working people, their families and communities. To build a Scotland where the needs and interests of the working class millions displace the greed and dictatorship of the multinationals and millionaires.

    Those like Labour MSP Neil Findlay who favour progressive taxation to redistribute wealth should stop peddling the deceitful myth that this can be best achieved under Westminster rule, perhaps with a few extra powers graciously handed down to Holyrood.
    Given their real-life track records on Planet Earth, which of the Tories, LibDems or New Labour does Neil imagine will pursue such progressive policies?
    He should instead join TUFI in demanding, as our Statement of Aims includes: “ Jobs for all – including through massive public investment in clean, green energy; housing; integrated public transport – paid for by collecting the tax evaded and avoided by big business and the super-rich, and restoration of taxation levels of big business and the rich elite to their historic highest.”

    Nothing short of the powers that go with independence would allow repeal of the most repressive package of anti-union laws in western Europe – initiated by Thatcher’s Tories, sustained by 13 years of New Labour governments, added to by the current Tory-LibDem Coalition with barely a whimper from the timid Labour opposition at Westminster.

    Likewise, not even the Devo Max version of Westminster rule favoured by the likes of Neil Findlay would allow a Scottish government to tackle the national disgrace of poverty pay. And it’s not even a choice on offer in 2014 – just a red-herring for the ‘left’ face of Unionism.
    A guaranteed Living Wage for all can only be applied to the public and private sector alike (where, for instance, retail – the nation’s second-biggest employer – is notorious for low pay) with the powers won through independence.

    Reversal of privatisation by successive Tory and Labour government; reversal of the assaults on benefits (including abolition of the Bedroom Tax) and an end to demonisation of the sick, disabled and unemployed, with a living income for all those unable to work; these and other concrete measures for an economically and socially just Scotland are way beyond the powers of a devolved semi-parliament.
    They require independence, full self-government, granting the Scottish working class the right to elect a government of our own choice, ending the abomination of rule by Westminster governments that we never elected.

    TUFI appeals to the STUC and individual trade unionists to seize the moment and crusade for a Yes vote so that the trade union agenda of social justice, equality and internationalism can prevail, rather than rule by Westminster governments that all and always put profit before people.

    Yours etc
    Richie Venton – Trade Unionists for Independence [TUFI] steering group
    [email protected]

  2. Andy Anderson says:

    It is quite clear to me that any Government which embarked on a Keynesian economic strategy in an attempt to bring Scotland out of the economic mess it is currently in would require economic and fiscal policies which tried to make our community more egalitarian and more fully employed. As life-long trade-unionist I consider that to be at the heart of trade-unionism.

  3. Macsenex says:

    No change to personal taxation does not mean that Land value rental wouldn’t be introduced and make a sea change in land ownership and local community revenue

  4. Charles Patrick O'Brien says:

    I do believe that unions would be restored to a proper level and their voices listened to,also their input would be used.

  5. mrbfaethedee says:

    The trades unions need to turn there attention not to politicians or political parties, but to ordinary people.
    The stripping down of unions (and more importantly workers) rights has only happened under the voting habits of a uk population buying into the neoliberal agenda proffered to them by politicians and media.
    During the past few decades the unions (in so far as i have seen) have appeared to concentrate their efforts on trying to convince politicians (most particualrly Labour) of their perspective, rather than the general public.
    I know it’s more difficult to do than to say, but they need to try to open the debate to the general public – the audience is not the political establishment, and grassroots more than just union membership.

  6. John Souter says:

    This is a rant fit only for the 19th Century.
    Times have changed and the belligerence of the them-n-us mantra between worker and management, if it has achieved anything at all, it has been to play into the hands of the global conglomerate oligarchy.

    It is not going to be easy prising their grip off the tillers of commerce and industry. That will demand ‘out of the box’ thinking and strategies and the them-n-us blackmail between workers and management isn’t one of them.

  7. Pauline Bryan says:


    The Yes Campaign has demonstrated that it wants to engage with the Trade Union movement by responding to STUC’s report on A Just Scotland. Although, given the policies constraints of using a shared currency and the EU as envisaged by the Yes campaign, the document asks almost nothing which could not be answered by greater powers to a Scottish Parliament or ideally a federal arrangement within the UK .

    The report states that “It does not seek to guarantee or predict any one outcome from independence…” and “Of course, how Scotland would use new powers… is not for the Yes Scotland campaign to say – we leave that to the political parties.” It does not, however, stop the document claiming things for an independent Scotland as if they could make firm policy commitments.

    At the heart of the Yes Campaign’s response is a desire to incorporate the trade unions in the “project” of an independent Scotland as if all class conflict would evaporate. They claim that “there is a consensus amongst citizens, civic groups and organisations, as well as political parties and indeed some of our most successful entrepreneurs”. I am sure some of the employees of Brian Souter and Jim McColl find them a long way from the Yes Campaign’s view of “a virtuous cycle of enterprise and compassion”.

    It claims that the Scottish Government and COSLA are working to ameliorate the impact of changes to Council Tax included in coalition welfare policy, but neglects to mention the SNP’s attack on local government with its imposed Council Tax freeze on local government since 2007.

    In its section on Labour Market and Rights the theme of incorporation continues with the promotion of “social partnership” with government and employers. Many would argue that Trade Unions have a different role to play and should not allow themselves to be sucked into a cosy relationship with employers instead of standing up for their members’ rights.

    As for workers’ rights the document can only echo Alex Salmond’s half hearted comment “There is little appetite in Scotland for a further diminution of workers’ rights”, ignoring the fact that we already have the most restrictive laws in Europe and ones which have been repeatedly condemned by the ILO. Such a phrase clearly indicates the SNP’s wish to keep big business on board and should be a warning light to the TU movement. The TU movement would continue to be hamstrung by legal restraints. This itself should be concern every trade unionist.

    The document is right in saying that the debate provides a unique opportunity for Scotland to address key questions for Scotland ‘s future, but as the Red Paper Collective argues, the answer is not independence, but to make a start by using those powers already available to the Scottish Parliament.

    The Red Paper Collective’s exploration of how to bring about greater equality and fairer redistribution of wealth and how to gain democratic control of our economy suggests the need for much greater change that would impact more on most working people than the timid approach on currency, defence, the monarchy and industrial development demonstrated by the Yes Scotland Campaign.

    1. muttley79 says:

      The Red Paper Collective representative makes the same kind of comments as the Scottish Labour Leader, Johann Lamont. Examples include mentioning Brian Souter and Jim McColl’s support for the SNP, which is intended to portray the SNP as right-wing, and that specious argument that the powers of the Scottish Parliament are presently not being used effectively. Nowhere in this statement is there a acknowledgement that Scotland exists on a block grant which is getting significantly reduced annually in the failed austerity process. The Scottish Parliament simply does not have the fiscal powers to create the necessary conditions for producing a better society in Scotland.

      The RPC also says that their preferred constitutional option is a federal UK. However, their rep fails to explain how this is going to occur by voting No in the independence referendum? This is disingenuous in the extreme. Why does the RPC think the No parties, including their own Scottish Labour Party, declined to have a second question in the referendum? They must be aware by now that a No vote is not a vote for major powers to be devolved to Scotland. This group claims it is radical while backing up the arguments of Scottish Labour, which is going in an increasingly right-wing direction. This has been recognized by the Labour Voters for Independence. If RPC want to see extensive change they should join with Dennis Cananvan, John McAllion, Colin Fox, and others in the Yes campaign.

      Far from being radical the RPC wants Scotland to remain in the unequal relationship of the Union. It also reeks of tribal, knee-jerk opposition to the SNP. The sneaky attempt to distant itself from the leadership of Scottish Labour is going to fail because a prominent member is Neil Findlay, a Scottish Labour MSP. It is attempting to appear radical while remaining welded to the failed Westminster political and economic system.

  8. mrbfaethedee says:



    1. muttley79 says:


      Correct! This is an attempt by Scottish Labour to distant themselves from the Tories. It is in the same vein as Anas Sarwar saying during an independence debate last year that he hated the Tories. Not only are Scottish Labour a partner to the Tories in the No campaign, their British Leader has been proudly using the ‘One Nation’ Conservative soundbite, and saying how he wants to be like Margaret Thatcher! The truth is that RPC would rather have a Conservative government partly ruling Scotland from Westminster, than have a Labour government running an independent Scotland from Edinburgh. They attempt to disguise their unionism, but it is clearly there in their statement. At least with people like Alastair Darling, Scottish Tories etc you know that they are staunch unionists.

      1. mrbfaethedee says:

        It’s just another voice for Labour to add to the FUD as far as I can see, all the while keeping SLabour’s name out of it to the casual reader.

        You’re right in your original comment – the real Labour radicals aren’t afraid of indy, they know it’s the real vehicle for a real chance at change.

    2. Macart says:

      The Red Paper Collective have also failed to point out that no Westminster party has as yet produced any detailed work on what further powers may be considered. Equally they have neglected to mention that all Westminster parties have ruled out FFA as a viable end product of ultimate devolution. So there goes the federal argument then. They also missed out the small caviat that under devolution power devolved is also power retained. Power which can be removed at any time.

      Last but by no means least ‘TRUST’. Could the Red paper collective give us any possible reason at all to trust the word of Westminster on basically anything. I mean its not as if the UK govt. were short on time to get their act together vis a vis autonomy, federalism, social justice. Mainly I’d say they were just dragging their collective heals against giving anything away.

      1. mrbfaethedee says:

        Where were the RPC when SAlmond told all that he was open to a 3rd option on the ballot? I didn’t hear the RPC agitating for SLabour to push additional powers onto the ballot.

        Now that the questions sorted though it’s straight to the ‘we could do it all with just some more powers” spiel!

  9. John McCall says:

    ” restore the rights of trade unions to act in the interest of the working class.”
    There is more than a hint here of classic paternalism. Is it in the interests of any group of people first to assign a low-status “class” to them, then to set yourself up as a group acting in their best interests. The Trades Union movement should be arguing for more democracy in the workplace, instead of hankering after the return of the power to call strikes. I’d be very happy to see ordinary people empowered with a measure of control over organisations they are employed by. I have no appetite for the re-emergence of all-powerful union barons feathering their own nests on the backs of those they purport to represent. Sadly TU history has too many examples of this to inspire the trust that a return of the old powers would require.

  10. mrbfaethedee says:

    In the absence of being able to find a reply option against the comment – Pauline Bryan February 25, 2013 at 19:10

    Pithy way to engage – a url and two words.
    I read the link, is that supposed to leave us better informed than before?
    The content of it is predicated on preserving our union with the UK as good thing, it’s begging the question to use it as an argument for preserving our union with the UK. Circular reasoning works because circular reasoning works. Convenient conflation of SNP with the government of an independent Scotland doesn’t help either.

    Also, it’s hardly a passionate exhortation for your party to demand more powers on the indyref ballot is it? And I don’t recall hearing a peep about it when it was published, perhaps if the RPC had the collective bottle of some of their party comrades they could have formed a ‘Labour for devo+’ group to force a debate on this thing they claim to be advocating.
    Alas, no such debate within SLab (or any other unionist party) was made to happen. Yet now that horse has bolted in temrs of the indyref question/s, here are RPC to tell how more powers are what we need and ought to be working towards. Yawn.

    RPC looks and sounds like a catspaw for SLab.

    1. Macart says:

      Aye small elephant or two in the room with that reply. Firstly just how would Scotland becoming independent break the power of the unions across Britain? Just boggles the mind. There are fifty odd million bods across the border and that’s a lot of potential unions members. Are they really so weak that loss of union votes in Scotland will shatter them and are we being asked to believe that unions are somehow going to be abolished in Scotland? Lastly we come back to TRUST again, no matter how vital I personally believe the unions to be, I’m not going to vote for retention of Westminster governance just so Scotland’s contribution of trades union votes can be retained across the UK. I believe that the trades unions will flourish in a politically more socially democratic Scotland, than neo liberal rUK.

      Jeez, they accuse us of flights of fantasy.

      1. muttley79 says:

        “Under this scheme, Scotland’s parliament could be part of a federal structure in which England, or the regions within it, could have some measure of self government while a federal government in London would have responsibility for the currency, corporate tax rates and a portion of income tax. A crucial component of this would be to maintain the principle of redistribution of income from the wealthy south-east and City of London (currently the Barnet formula) to poorer areas like Scotland.”

        This is from the link that Pauline Bryan provided. I think it it obvious to many people that federalism is not going to occur in the UK.

        Unfortunately I think the RPC have not been honest with the Scottish electorate. It appears to be a pressure group within the Labour Party, which wants to appear radical. I am not aware of them calling for a second question in the referendum. Another group, Reform Scotland, a right-wing think tank, were at least in the media explaining their ideas. I heard absolutely zilch from RPC. They appear to be as unionist as the Scottish Labour leadership. They say they are Socialists. Why then are they so determined to see the continuation of one of the most social unequal states in the Western world, which also has some of the most draconian anti-trade unions laws in Europe? Have they being paying attention to what has happened in UK politics in the last forty years or so? From reading their statements the answer would appear to be a resounding NO!

      2. Macart says:


        We have given Westminster three bites at the cherry, in 1950, 1979 and 1999. Home rule, a federal Britain is NOT on the cards. If the Labour giants of times past could not deliver a federal Britain, the current crop never will. Its not even about Labour as a party, the institution of UK govt. Westminster will not allow it to happen. The massive drift to right wing politics and policy overtaking Britain should be of far more concern to the trades unions than Scots wanting to govern themselves.

        Labour is trying desperately to fill the void left by a more centrist Tory party and selling their souls in order to do so. How does this make them any different to the Libdems who sold their party ethos down the river for a share of power? Labour and the Libdems were meant to be the barrier between elitist establishment and the people. How can they look at their record of the past fifty years and say good job, well done? Knowing their roots based in home rule, how can they say this country has become any more equal or socially democratic? The stroke they tried to pull in the Scottish parliament alone should give us all a heads up.

        This isn’t about retaining some UK dream, its about party first politics. No, we’ve got a parliament, let’s give it teeth and a new rule book, a constitution to keep party politics in check. That’s another thing not on offer by the Westminster parties and gives them nightmares…… a written constitution.

  11. Donald Adamson says:


    Excellent article. So it was you that asked Alex Salmond the question about repealing the British anti-trade union legislation after independence! Well done. What is so disappointing here is that the British anti-trade union legislation would be repealed after independence but, tellingly, neither the Scottish government nor the SNP as a party are attempting to make any political capital our of this. This is unfortunate but there is still an opportunity for both the Scottish government and the broader Yes campaign to mobilise Scotland’s trade union movement and Scottish workers on the issue of extended employment rights in an independent Scotland. Unfortunately, the signs are that this opportunity will not be taken, at least not by the mainstream Yes campaign.

    You’re right to target the importance of collective bargaining in this piece. Collective bargaining has collapsed in Britain, particularly in the private sector, as both trade union membership and aggregate trade union density (against a background of an increasing labour force, at least in England) has declined. Collective bargaining is important not only because, obviously, it increases the bargaining strength of workers, a bargaining strength which has been fatally weakened by successive British Labour and Tory governments since the 1970s, but collective bargaining also reduces wage dispersion, one of the sources of the rise in inequality in Britain in the last forty years. It’s no coincidence that as collective bargaining started to decline in Britain so the Gini Coefficient (a summary measure of inequality) started to increase. Indeed, collective bargaining is an important part of the efficient secret of the greater equality in the much-vaunted ‘Scandinavian model’. But collective bargaining requires high trade union density. Compare, for example, the trade union densities of over 80 per cent in Sweden and Finland with the trade union density of 25 per cent in Scotland.

    As part of the UK, Scottish workers have no legal right to strike as such. This is one of a number of features of British ‘negative’ employment rights (the legacy of British voluntarism) that distinguishes the UK from many other EU countries. What’s remarkable is that there are still people on the Scottish left who, even if only by default, are prepared to defend this situation by arguing for Scotland’s continued membership of the UK. It was Tony Blair who, shortly after New Labour’s election in 1997, wrote an article in the Daily Mail that celebrated the fact that Britain had the most repressive labour legislation in the developed world. Scottish workers have paid, and continue to pay, a heavy price for Scotland’s membership of the UK. Of course, trade unionism is about much more than achieving the basic legal right to withdraw our labour, but the codification of this basic right should and could form the basis of a new industrial relations settlement in an independent Scotland.

    I also like your emphasis on the economic case for extended employment rights after independence. There is an issue of perverse incentives here, though, at least from the perspective of the left. For example, the long-standing Workplace Employment Relations Surveys that have been conducted since 1980 have found that workers are more trusting of employers who recognise trade unions, (see William Brown et al, The Evolution of the Modern Workplace, Cambridge University Press, 2009).

    More broadly, though, the direction that Scotland has been travelling as part of the UK has meant that as a consequence of the British assault on trade unions, the decline in collective bargaining, the rise in individual contracts, workplace bargaining, human resource management etc, the British model of neo-liberalism has been exported to a Scotland that has had limited capacity to resist it precisely because of Scotland’s impotent position in the UK. As a consequence, capital has intensified the labour process in the workplace with few restraints and limited protections for workers. It’s little wonder, therefore, that Scottish Citizens’ Advice Bureaus are inundated with appeals for assistance from Scottish workers. That is, it’s not only the case that, as part of the UK, Scottish workers have so few employment rights, it’s also the case that most Scottish workers aren’t even aware what these limited rights are! But the British have, unquestionably, weakened the Scottish working class and undermined the ideological resources available to Scottish workers. Independence doesn’t guarantee that these will be restored, of course, but it offers much more possibilities for this than will be available if Scotland remains part of the UK. There does at least seem to be a majority of voters in Scotland who support ‘soft’ social democracy at least.

    I don’t subscribe to the casual argument that an independent Scotland will be an oasis of social democracy in a British neo-liberal desert, not least because the institutional supports of Keynesianism (domestic and international) have collapsed. But there is no reason why an independent Scotland could not pursue a different trajectory from the wretched path of development that the British have taken us on since the 1970s. At the very least, it would have to be a mendacious and unreceptive Scottish government that didn’t improve on the dire industrial relations settlement that successive British governments have imposed on Scottish workers for generations. By way of a beginning, and of making a new industrial relations settlement a core part of the arguments for independence, the Yes campaign could make a start by campaigning on a basic five point strategy:

    1. The repeal of the British anti-trade union legislation.

    2. Ratification of the ILO Conventions 87 and 98 and Articles 5 and 6 of the EU’s Social Charter (the British state is signed up to these but successive Labour and Tory governments have refused to ratify them).

    3. The restoration of collective bargaining.

    4. The promotion of trade union membership.

    5. The institution of a national living wage

    If progressive social democracy, in any meaningful sense of the term, is to have any future in Scotland, then these modest reforms are one of a number of tests that any social democratic party would have to pass to be taken seriously. Of course, even progressive social democracy cannot deliver the kind of meaningful social and economic transformation that some of us would like to see. And this for three interrelated reasons.

    First, by working, consuming, and living in a capitalist society we reproduce our subordination to capital. No one on the left with any sense is going to oppose (social democratic) reforms that make our lives under capitalism a little more tolerable than they otherwise would be. But this is all that social democracy can deliver.

    Second, any meaningful political and economic transformation must be based on the ownership of productive resources. Social democracy offers limited potential for this but, for all its faults, Keynesian social democracy did at least start to realise, albeit in a limited form, some of this potential and, for a brief period, it was conducive to a culture of collectivism. Keynesian social democracy was, though, a temporary aberration in Britain and since the 1970s the British have returned to their default position of market fundamentalism – that is more or less where zombie Britain is today and is likely to remain.

    Third, and most important of all, money, wages, prices, profits etc are the fetishised forms that value assumes in a capitalist economy. In this fetishised world, the capitalist and her apologist always have the last word with their constant refrain: How are you going to pay for that? One of capitalism’s unquestionable successes historically is that it has naturalised these fetishised forms of value. They acquire an ontological status that seems to overwhelm us and which seems to operate according to its own ‘laws’ that we often feel powerless to resist. Fortunately, capitalism can be relied on to reproduce crises and although the reasons for this are deeply embedded within capitalism as a mode of production, their increasing severity and duration is causing more people to question the nature of our social and economic relations under capitalism. This doesn’t guarantee that we will finally overcome these fetishised forms of value and create a needs-based economy rather than continue to subordinate ourselves to the imperatives of homo economicus, but capitalism itself is making an excellent job of undermining its own valorization process as the present crisis-management policies demonstrate only too well.

    In spite of much research on the subject, we still don’t know enough about the cognitive appeal of nations to so many people across the world. But what seems to unite a majority of people in many nations is a kind of atavistic desire for recognition in the world and a desire to declare: This is who we are and this is what we stand for. Indeed, this is something that all imagined communities seem to have in common, at whatever spatial level they are imagined – local, city-wide, regional or national. No British government, Labour or Tory, will go near the issue of extending employment rights, far less codify them in law, particularly given England’s common law tradition. But for a long time now this has been one of a number of objectives that make Scottish independence worth fighting for. If the broad Yes campaign would only adopt this as a core part of its agenda and promote it in the public domain for public deliberation this could have a decisive impact on the referendum result.

  12. mrbfaethedee says:

    For the record, I’d like to see a refocus on the rights of individuals and workers in an independent Scotland.
    But the independence referendum is *only* about self-determination by a legitimate and pre-existing which wishes (I believe) to gather its autonomy back to itself. Working for the specifics (grantable by an autonomous state) of the Scotland I want to see bloom is for after indy.
    To expect the Yes campaign to campaign in any way other than to maximise the likelihood of yes votes *across the ‘left-right spectrum’* is divisive.
    We ought to be campaigning simply on the fact that once independent we can focus on campaigning for our beliefs in our own context rather than as just a contingent factor in a UK context.
    There are organisations across the spectrum already from Radical Indy, to the SDA all looking to set their own agendas and that’s fine. For the Yes campaign to come down tightly in any one area of that spectrum is simply begging to divide and alienate other potential yes voters.
    It’s about having a fitting constitutional democracy, what we do with it after is not (barring answering some inevitable real or pretend demands for certain broad-brush sureties) really for the Yes campaign.

    IMO It’s not the Yes campaign’s job to say that post-indy workers rights and labour market will be what the unions want (or that big-biz gets what it wants), rather it’s for pro-indy folk in and around the unions to seek to persuade their fellow travellers that indy will give them the best context in which to pursue their goals.

  13. mrbfaethedee says:

    …legitimate and pre-existing polity which…

  14. Donald Adamson says:


    “But the independence referendum is *only* about self-determination by a legitimate and pre-exisitng polity which wishes (I believe) to gather its autonomy back to itself”.

    I couldn’t disagree more with this. What you say is clearly true for loyal SNP supporters but it isn’t loyal SNP supporters that we need to persuade to vote Yes in 2014. The key constituency that needs to be won over is Labour voters which includes but cannot be reduced to the trade union movement. Many of these are people who, I believe, can be persuaded of the arguments for self-determination but only if convincing reasons can be provided that will demonstrate to them how and why an independent Scotland will offer a different and better future to them than the UK. To put it bluntly, unless we can win over a significant minority (at least 30 per cent) of these Labour voters we are not going to win this referendum, and the alleged virtues of the Yes campaign’s ‘neutrality’ on issues like this will be small comfort if there’s a No vote in 2014. That ‘neutrality’ might win over some disaffected Tory and Lib Dem voters and win the approval of some in the ‘business’ lobby but it’s not going to create the kind of surge in support that the Yes campaign needs.

    Let’s remind ourselves that in the 2010 British general election in Scotland, Labour received 1,035,000 votes. It’s most unlikely that all of these voters were endorsing Labour’s actual policies. I suspect that many of these Scottish voters, if not a majority, were voting Labour in a desperate attempt to keep the Tories out because they could see what was coming after 2010 if the Tories got back into power. Many of them were trade union members it’s true, but not all of them. There must have been a lot of non-unionised public sector workers as well as many vulnerable low-paid workers in private services who voted Labour in 2010. These are people who, precisely because of their experiences under successive British governments, have given up on the issue of improved employment rights and trade union membership itself. They are the type of people who have been forced to turn to Scottish Citizens Advice Bureaus for assistance:


    I could better understand your objections if the measures I was proposing were radical. But these are not radical measures, on the contrary they are modest. We know this, because these employment rights are rights that workers in many other advanced EU countries take for granted. And if we want to take a more instrumental approach to the issue of employment rights as an argument for independence, we could remind ourselves that many of these EU countries, particularly the smaller ones, have higher investment, higher R&D spending, higher productivity and higher GDP growth than Scotland and their employment rights have enhanced rather than inhibited their capacity to achieve this. Of course, many employers in Scotland will oppose these measures but many employers have short-term time horizons and, in any case, historically, employers have always opposed measures which, in the long-term, benefit them as employers. Think, for example, of employers’ opposition to the Factory Acts in the mid-nineteenth century, or their opposition to the formation of the NHS or, more contemporaneously, their opposition to the introduction of a National Minimum Wage in 1999.

    The broad point I’m making is that Scottish workers’ perceptions of employment rights have been shaped by their experience under successive British governments. This has limited their horizons and created a deep sense of fatalism and defeatism on the issue of industrial relations. This has been compounded by, among other things, the decline in trade union membership, the collapse of collective bargaining and the relentless increase in the coercive powers of employers. None of these are going to be reversed if Scotland remains part of the UK.

    A Yes campaign that was more aggressive in its promotion of a new industrial relations settlement in an independent Scotland could use this policy objective to mobilise the constituency that it needs to increase its appeal to, for example, women workers in the public sector, male and female workers in low-paid private services and, broadly, traditional Labour voters. My fear, though, is that you’re probably right and the Yes campaign will maintain its ‘neutrality’ which, at the very least, will give it an even bigger mountain to climb in 2014.

    1. mrbfaethedee says:

      Donald, thanks for your response. I suspect we may just have to disagree as armchair strategists! Feel free to rebutt or not, I may not respond – but don’t take it as pique or disinterest, I’ve written more on here in the past day than I have for donkey’s!

      Obviously what i see as that single issue, is actually just the gateway to the potential for change that motivate voters, it’s what motivates me too, but you have to get it first. I don’t want it ‘just because’. You can’t conflate the event with what comes after. We could take till the cows come home about what we want post-indy, but there are tons of groups with tons of views, sometimes at odds. If nobody is going to back it unless they get promised the things they want, then it’s never going to happen – nor should it!
      It isn’t the job of the Yes campaign to offer specific policies for one very simple reason – they can’t deliver them as they are not a political party!

      The Yes campaign can’t promise that industrial relations (for example) will be different post-indy. That’s for the electorate to do via Scotland’s elections, that’s our job as active citizens to push hard for what we believe in so that we have parties (unfortunately IMO, but that another thing) who will enact the legislation we require to realise our beliefs. I’ll take my change legitimised via elections, not by holding the yes campaign to ransom.

      The policies implemented in an independent Scotland will be selected from the sparse menu offered by her mainstream political parties – if you want to have the sorts of policies you would like to see being offered on that menu, then generate broad, visible, grassroots support for them and have no doubt they will appear on the menu of some parties – even before the indy-ref if you can make your constituency clear enough; that means identifying as ‘yes’!

      What I’m saying is that we can *almost* have our cake and eat it here anyway – the Yes campaign carries on with reassuring (dull) reasonableness, and people/organisations on the ground in the various ‘constituencies’ (e.g. trade unions) organise, vocalise, and publicise their stances – within the context of an eventual Yes outcome.

      That’s what I see groups like radical indy as best exemplifying, and I know there is a nascent body withing the trade unions. I think that large clearly focused groups, publicly aligned with ‘yes’ could herald in the movements they want in policy in existing parties, or at worst present a viable base for mainstream sized progressive party post-indy. I think that making post-indy policy demands of a single issue campaign group during the campaign is both distracting and in vain.

      btw – the only reason I want indy, is because I think it gives me a better chance of arguing for sort of democracy I want, the SNP and Yes campaign are just vehicles – i don’t see that postion as being any different to a trade unionist realising that a better fitting constitutional/democratic settlement lets them put their case on a more even field.
      It’s a simple proposition for me, though I appreciate others views may be more sophisticated.

    2. Braco says:

      I couldn’t disagree more with this. What you say is clearly true for loyal SNP supporters but it isn’t loyal SNP supporters that we need to persuade to vote Yes in 2014. The key constituency that needs to be won over is ME which includes but cannot be reduced to the trade union movement.

  15. CW says:

    “Under this scheme, Scotland’s parliament could be part of a federal structure in which England, or the regions within it, could have some measure of self government while a federal government in London would have responsibility for the currency, corporate tax rates and a portion of income tax. A crucial component of this would be to maintain the principle of redistribution of income from the wealthy south-east and City of London (currently the Barnet formula) to poorer areas like Scotland.” From the paper linked by Pauline Bryan and referenced earlier in the thread. Aside from the usual mirage of federalism, never trust anyone in a position of authority or with sufficient intellectual resources who tells you that Scotland is poor. It is not. It is the richest part of the United Kingdom outside of London.

    1. Macart says:

      COULD BE – Important two words there CW.

      If we vote YES the Scottish government WILL absolutely deliver the full parliamentary powers that come with independence. No ifs, buts or COULD BEs about it. 🙂

  16. Donald Adamson says:


    I take your points and I understand your position on this. Not wishing to prolong this discussion any longer than is necessary myself I would, though, like to come back on a couple of your points.

    “You can’t conflate the event with what comes after”.

    I agree that this has a lot of intuitive appeal and it’s an opinion which I’ve heard expressed many times by supporters of independence. But in my opinion, it’s misguided, at least as a strategy for achieving independence. In other words, those Labour voters that we need to win over are only going to vote Yes if they can be provided with compelling reasons for doing so. And they will do this, or many of them will do this, if they are convinced that what comes “after the event” makes a Yes vote worthwhile. Inviting them to vote Yes with the implication that, thereafter, everything else will be alright on the night, isn’t going to cut it in my opinion. I’m not suggesting that employment rights are some kind of panacea in this respect (see below), only that they are a key area that has been neglected by the mainstream Yes campaign.

    “It isn’t the job of the Yes campaign to offer specific policies for one very simple reason – they can’t deliver them as they are not a political party”.

    Fortunately, the official Yes campaign has already entered this specific debate, with its recent report, ‘Yes to a Just Scotland’ (its first official response to the STUC report ‘A Just Scotland’). It is encouraging that the official Yes campaign has made this response and the report makes it clear that it will continue to engage with the STUC, among others, and develop its response further. Having said that, the section in the report on ‘Labour Market and Rights’ is disappointing to say the least. It is a first response so all is not lost, but even as a first response it lacks substance and credibility.

    “I think that making post-indy policy demands of a single issue campaign group during the campaign is both distracting and in vain”.

    I think that it’s a mistake to see employment (and trade union) rights as a “single issue”. They’re not. For example, the reason we need to get behind the policy objective of restoring collective bargaining after independence isn’t in order to wage class war or some nostalgia for the peculiar British variant of quasi-corporatism up to the 1970s. Rather, collective bargaining is one of the most effective means of reducing inequality and achieving social justice. We can surely agree that these are widely held objectives in the Yes campaign. Collective bargaining also tends to function more effectively in smaller countries and Scotland is well placed to institute this reform, not least because of its higher trade union recognition rates in the private sector than any other area of the UK, although admittedly that’s not saying much given that these have collapsed across the UK since the 1980s. But the important point is that employment and trade union rights are intimately related to broader social objectives of equality, social justice, greater civic engagement, and so on, they’re not a single issue by any means. In fact, ‘Yes to a Just Scotland’ implicitly acknowledges this but there’s the rub, the relations between employment and trade union rights, equality, social justice etc are much too implicit in that document.

    Finally, enhanced employment rights and a new industrial relations settlement after independence is one key policy area (given its connections to other important social policy objectives) where the Yes campaign could outmanoeuvre BetterTogether with potentially great rewards in the referendum. They could be used by the Yes campaign, along with of a number of other policy objectives, to demonstrate the different path that an independent Scotland will follow compared to the UK. That, it seems to me, is the key to winning the referendum. Of course I’m not suggesting that the Yes campaign promote employment and trade union rights to the exclusion of everything else, that would be patently absurd. I am suggesting, though, that they need to be promoted in the Yes campaign’s agenda as a means of mobilising greater support for independence between now and the referendum.

  17. departed says:

    ““I think that making post-indy policy demands of a single issue campaign group during the campaign is both distracting and in vain”.

    I think that it’s a mistake to see employment (and trade union) rights as a “single issue”. They’re not. ”

    I was referring to the Yes campaign as a single issue campaign group. Hence my view that making policy demands of them is , by definition, in vain.

    While they’ve said they’ll engage with the STUC in looking at these issues, they can do no more than explore and publicise the potential that indy offers in areas that interest the STUC. It is not the gift of the Yes campaign to offer anything more.
    In the event of a yes vote, all that is delivered is that negotiations will begin for independence.

    I disagree with you on one thing only – that the Yes campaign is a vehicle that can deliver any policy commitments outwith the constitutional necessities.

    If I’m honest, I do suspect we may see some strong signalling going on from Yes to STUC in order to move in the direction you suggest. Realpolitik. Though as I said I don’t think it’s in their gift to do it, better if the parties could find a way, perhaps the framing of the constitution is the place for it – strong on principles but free of specific policy commitments and (if done right) with broader credibility.

    It’s always a pleasure to see shared aims from different perspectives, thanks for the informative dialogue.

  18. thelatemrb says:

    @Donald Adamson
    Sorry, that last post (departed) was from me (mrbfaethedee), should have waited till I got home!

  19. Donald Adamson says:


    Sorry I misread you on the single issue point.

    As you say, the Yes campaign itself cannot deliver policies but it can and does promote a wide range of objectives, that’s the nature of the campaign. I hope you’re right, though, about the “strong signalling” that you refer to. Given that ‘Yes to a Just Scotland’ is a first response to the STUC report and that the dialogue between them will continue, there is a chance that this dialogue might encourage a more emphatic and bolder approach from the official Yes campaign on these issues. We’ll see.

    I agree about the parties. It’s the Scottish government and the SNP as a party that could make a real difference here. Of course we need to always remind people that the SNP is not the Yes campaign and that the referendum is not about electing an SNP government. But if the SNP as a party and the Scottish government committed themselves to the policy objective of a new industrial relations settlement in an independent Scotland, that’s the kind of policy announcement that could start to shape many Labour voters’ preferences in the campaign. It would also put Scottish Labour in the invidious position of defending the British anti-trade union legislation in Scotland, but this time in the full glare of the independence referendum campaign.

    The principle of workers’ rights codified in a written constitution? With you all the way on that one.

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