Scottish Nationalism’s Trade Union Problem

‘Conspiracy’ and ‘sabotage’ at the hand of ‘London bosses’. These are just a selection of the charges that online supporters of the SNP have laid at the feet of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, as they embarked on industrial action which has contributed to widespread late cancellations and a much-reduced timetable on the newly nationalised Scotrail. These accusations are often garbled. For instance, in some corners of Twitter, the GMB, a Labour-affiliated union which doesn’t organise on the railways, but which called for a ‘No’ vote in the 2014 independence referendum, were held responsible, presumably to underline the supposedly constitutionally-motivated political malice behind the drivers’ dispute. Adding to the confusion, other accounts blamed the RMT, a union which called for a ‘Yes’ vote in the 2014 referendum and which was for a period affiliated to the pro-independence Scottish Socialist Party after it was expelled from the Labour Party following the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. 

It would be convenient to write these sentiments off as the views of a small number of ‘ultras’ who are unrepresentative of the mainstream position in the SNP or the wider base of nationalist voters and activists. That is not the whole picture though. Ruth Wishart, a stalwart pro-independence commentator and respected public intellectual, claimed that ASLEF were ‘sabotaging a newly nationalised rail service’. The Minister for Employment and Fair Work no less, Richard Lochead, also urged restraint on rail unions, imploring them to accept a level of wage increase which was ‘affordable’ to Scotland. In effect, this amounts to demanding that staff who were lauded as ‘key workers’ during the pandemic and applauded as central to Scotland’s new publicly-owned railways a few months ago take a major hit to their incomes when inflation is running into double digits.  

Lochead’s sentiment was not solely directed at ASLEF drivers or the RMT train staff who are also likely to soon be on strike. It also served as a wider message to workers negotiating pay rises in a tight labour market whilst their purchasing power is being eroded at a rate that hasn’t experienced for over forty years. Train drivers are being vilified as greedy for demanding excessive pay increases. Annual earnings in excess of fifty grand are being widely touted to confirm that they should be more grateful for what they’ve got. These arguments don’t engage with the reality of a severe real-terms pay cut, or the skill and responsibility driving a train entails, or with the anti-social working hours which drivers endure. Nor do they consider the fact driving a train is often the pinnacle of a career that starts much further down the ladder. 

These specificities are also something of a red herring when it comes to understand the misgivings many nationalists hold towards organised labour. After all, similar arguments regarding a political conspiracy were made recently when less well-paid rail staff in the RMT took action over Sunday working arrangements last year. Getting a train on a Sunday became a living nightmare – I can vouch for this after standing on many crowded trains between Glasgow and Edinburgh in valiant efforts to follow Hibernian’s relatively successful start to the 2021-22 season! The dispute ran on for months, but that didn’t stop the suggestion during the run up to the COP26 conference that unions were deliberately using the occasion of the summit to sabotage (a familiar theme) Scotland’s time in the limelight.

Other recent occasions of industrial action that provoked similar responses included the EIS’ ultimately highly successful campaign for a teachers’ wage increase over 2018 and 2019. In this instance, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, John Swinney, provoke the ire of trade unionists by sending a letter directly to Scottish teachers in the hope of undermining a well-organised and determined union. Whilst these efforts failed, they demonstrated an antagonistic attitude towards structures of collective bargaining.

The most long-running and – at least until the recent development on the railways – most contentious instances of anti-trade union nationalism have taken place in Glasgow through two disputes involving the GMB. Equal pay strikes by carers, cleaners and caterers organised by Unison and the GMB during 2018 became a source of ire for SNP supporters who pointed to the culpability of the previous Labour administration, and unions, for the strikers’ grievances. More recently, industrial action by cleansing workers – popularised by an energised social media campaign centring on Chris Mitchell, a GMB trade union convener, fuelled further claims of politically motivated strikes and sabotage. Like the RMT strike, this dispute overlapped with COP26. As a result, the cleansing workers’ action was described as ‘a wholly political move from Better Together funders’ in the pages of The National. Chris Mitchell and his workmates were far better received by representatives of international environmental movements and trade unions, Mitchell memorably headed a demonstration alongside Greta Thunberg, no doubt adding to the anger of those who saw the strike as undermining Scotland on the world stage.

These occasions point to a generalised pattern of antipathy when unions conflict with SNP-led local authorities or the Scottish Government. Ignorance is an important fuel for these sentiments. Unions are often confused with one another and the reality of how unions and their relationship with the Labour Party work are widely misunderstood. Taking strike action is in fact very difficult in Britain given the restrictions imposed by anti-union laws. Ballots have to be organised well in advance of striking and over 50% of the workforce must vote in favour of action. This is a bar far beyond the mandate most elected politicians enjoy. It seems inconceivable that the Glasgow cleansing workers or Scottish railway staff are in on a Labour Party conspiracy to undermine the SNP and willing to give up hundreds or thousands of pounds in wages to carry it out, never mind the women workers who a Labour-led council failed for so long.  

Only a fundamental misunderstanding of how labour movement politics works allows keyboard warrior to imagine that the Labour Party enjoys authority over industrial matters. Lewis Minchin’s tome, The Contentious Alliance, explains in great detail that broadly, Labour-affiliated unions devolve political decision making to the party in return for preserving autonomy over industrial affairs and related areas of policy. The image of Westminster chiefs calling the shots might be attractive to some more imaginative SNP supporters but it’s simply not how trade union politics work. Furthermore, unions are usually comparatively decentralised. When it comes to the form of disputes under discussion in this article, decisions purely about Scotland tend to be made in Scotland, even before the stage of balloting workforces.  

My historical research on the SNP’s energy and industrial politics suggests that the attitudes we’ve seen in recent years stem from a long-lasting unease with organised labour. This arises from a nationalist distrust of socialist or labour politics where class is the fundamental division in society, hostility towards large bureaucratic organisations that are often headquartered in London as well as links to the Labour Party. That is not to suggest that the SNP’s history is purely mired in hostility to radical workplace perspectives. For instance, the party’s leader during the 1970s, Billy Wolfe, was closely associated with engineering cooperatives founded in the spirit of using Scottish industrial prowess for socially useful rather than military purposes.

Nevertheless, policy documents and archival records from Wolfe’s time at the helm also belay instances of a hostile attitude towards unions strongly redolent of more recent experiences. These related to the wider perception that working-class Scots, especially in west-central Scotland, were somehow duped and coerced into voting Labour. A housing policy document from the mid-1970s underlined that the spread of publicly-owned housing is an ‘ideological end’ that deprives tenants of the agency that either cooperatives or private ownership would provide through giving them a stake in the nation. More specifically in relation to unions, these perspectives were highly visible with regards to both the motor and steel industries during the same period. For instance, in 1978, David Rollo, the party’s candidate for the Paisley constituency, accused John Henry, the deputy general secretary of the STUC and John Carty, convener of the nearby Linwood car factory, of being ‘blinded by their Labour Party membership cards’ when it came to threats to the plant’s future. These related to a larger perception that engineering unions and Jim Callaghan’s Labour government were choosing to prioritise the welfare of the English Midlands over West-Central Scotland and that they may tolerate the closure Linwood to save jobs down south.

Another similar instance on the other side of Glasgow where Tom McAlpine, another parliamentary candidate, led the Scottish Steel Action Group who opposed the nationalisation of Scottish steel under the centralised model of the British Steel Corporation. This created conflicts with the Labour Party, and the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation union. When earlier promises of an electric arc at Hunterston and Ravenscraig were cancelled in March 1978, an SNP press release did not hold back: ‘Labour MPs and steel unions accused the SNP then of scaremongering, but today’s news shows how blatant their lies were’.

Even union leaders who championed devolution – more commonly then known as ‘home rule’ – and forms of industrial autonomy for Scotland – weren’t spared this treatment. Michael ‘Mick’ McGahey, the President of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) Scottish Area, was subject to a blistering attack by George Reid, the SNP MP for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire during 1977. McGahey, who had praised the UK government’s plans to extend coal mining and invest in new collieries was accused of a ‘pathetic attempt to whitewash the Labour government’s record on the Scottish coal industry … He knows full well that the Westminster government wants to ditch Scottish mining. He is welcome to his view on the unity of the UK but he should be honest to recognise that he is in danger of sacrificing Scottish mining communities be holding such views.’ Nine years before, McGahey had played an instrumental role in shifting the Scottish trade union movement’s position towards support for a Scottish Parliament by moving a resolution in support of devolution at the STUC and his union remained an influential supporter of home rule thereafter. 

Nevertheless, antipathy was mutual: McGahey self-identified as a nationalist whilst also arguing that Scottish nationhood was too important to be the preserve of the SNP. Although he and several other high ranking Scottish miners’ union officials were Communist Party members, the union was also firmly Labour affiliated. Jim Sillars, the South Ayrshire Labour MP who led a breakaway Scottish Labour Party in 1976 over the Wilson-Callaghan government’s failures on devolution recalls in his autobiography which was published a decade later that during the 1979 general election the NUM paid for an advert in the Daily Record instructing its members and supporters to vote for his Labour opponent. To add insult to injury, Sillars and his son were also run out of the mining village of Cumnock whilst campaigning.

Sillars’ reflections are notable in that despite having left it behind, he felt defensive of the Labour Party and its achievements. Writing after being elected deputy leader of the SNP a few years previously, Sillars cautioned his new party colleagues against what he saw as unjustified hostility towards the labour movement. These reflections were perhaps inspired by the experience of factory occupations which developed in the context of mass unemployment and a growing number of devastating industrial workplace closures during the early 1980s. In disputes such as the Lee Jeans occupation in Greenock during 1981 and the occupation of Plessey’s plant in Bathgate the following year, SNP activists offered support and felt well received by the workers if not by union officials or the STUC. 

Kenny Macaskill, a young campaigning lawyer, provided legal advice for the Plessey workers and did the same for the engineers who occupied the Caterpillar tractor factory at Tannochside in Lanarkshire who attempted to halt its closure in 1987. He was a close ally of Alex Salmond, whose gradualist sensibilities included a desire to build a more sustained institutional relationship with unions. As party leader from 1990 to 2014 (with the exception of 2000-2004), Salmond courted links with the STUC before and after entering government. These were symbolised by the 2014 White Paper which enshrined the hope that unions would be central to the economy of an independent Scotland founded on ‘social partnership’. Under Nicola Sturgeon, these connections have continued and are visible through the role unions enjoy alongside business representatives on the Scottish Government’s Just Transition Commission. Sturgeon recently renewed these links by addressing the STUC’s conference which celebrated the organisation’s 125th anniversary.

The growing industrial dispute on the railways indicates that relations between the Scottish Government and unions will likely be periodically more fractious in the context of the cost of living crisis. It also reveals that more fundamental ideological problems which unions throw up for many Scottish nationalists are far from settled issues. Genuine ignorance of how unions work is no doubt part of these sentiments in the context of a society where union density is perhaps around half of what it was when it peaked in the late 1970s. Concerning unconditional support for local authorities or the Scottish Government is another powerful driver, which is reinforced by the view that formal electoral processes are what passes for legitimate politics, with little space for the workplace. An enduring understanding of unions as being associated with a form of class division that compromises the nation as the key agent of political hopes, and as controlled by oppositional national and partisan forces is though perhaps the most persistent barrier to a more enlightened understanding of industrial relations for many nationalists.

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  1. Jim Anderson says:

    Any normal business acquisition, which government nationalisation is, would have discovered, fully researched, discussed & debated, agreed publicity of all aspects of the acquisition, especially negative ones, in advance, and have clear plans for any hurdles that might impact the process. But then the assumption is that the SNP behave in a “normal’ way. As a member of the SNP it is galling to see the good work (as pointed out in the FM’s “essay”) constantly trashed by ineptitude of management of major projects (definitely not included in the FM’s “look how good I am” essay!). People remember the bad – ferries, Scotwind, trains, police investigations on donations – and marginalise the good despite their importance – baby box, prescription charges, action on poverty. I joined the SNP as I considered the party to be tolerant, caring, transparent, incorruptible and member led – the FM and her husband’s management have killed all that over the last few years!

    1. 220523 says:

      The problem is that the Scottish government’s nationalisation strategy premised on the acquisition of struggling businesses. The state now owns a duff railway, in addition to a duff airport, a duff shipyard, and a duff ferries operation. We appear to be going back to the future in Scotland, the future being the 1970s.

      1. Michael Picken says:

        To be fair the Scottish Government under the current fiscal limitations of the devolution settlement, especially controls on borrowing, does not have the resources and legal justification held only by a state to carry out and invest in significant nationalisations, the only ones it can afford to buy are those that don’t cost anything much, which usually means that they are not very viable.

        Of course even a lame duck is better than a dead duck … but it’s not necessarily the significant progress it is sometimes portrayed as.

        ScotRail is not a nationalisation despite all the hype. It’s a rail franchise operator that is now run by a part of the state under rules designed for private company profit – the tracks, the signals, the rules for operation and ticketing, the stations, and even the trains/carriages are not owned by the Scottish Government, they just run the company that employs the staff to drive the trains around and sell the tickets. ScotGov cannot raise the billions that it needs to create a genuine public railway system. It’s not new of course: the LNER franchise has had to be run by parts of the state twice before; even the Westminster Tories now have more state-run train operating franchises than the Labour government under Blair.

        That’s not to let the SNP off the hook for being useless. But nor should we let the real culprits off the hook – the Tories and the Labour governments of Tony Blair/Gordon Brown, which in 13 years of rule at UK state level with all the legal and fiscal resources that only a state can command (as we’ve seen in the Covid crisis and various wars) completely failed to restore a functioning state railway system to Britain. That’s why only the fiscal and legal powers of independence can enable a properly functioning rail system, but in the here-and-now we also need to demand and fight for better.

        1. 220527 says:

          This is true. Labour refused to reverse the privatisation of public assets that had occurred over the 20-year period prior to its return to power. (Would it have gotten elected on such a ticket?)

          And you’re right: the current ‘nationalisation’ of lame ducks (which should probably have their necks wrung) is a far cry from the state capitalism of the post-war consensus. But even under state capitalism, did we ever have a properly functioning passenger rail system?

    2. Derek Thomson says:

      Does “ineptitude of management of major projects” include arguably the largest and most complex, the Queensferry Crossing? Some of us remember the good too, we’re well used to having the bad thrown back at us on a regular (relentlessly regular) basis.

      1. Jim Anderson says:

        Apologies for missing the one brilliant project that went well as the management and infrastructure requirements were led by knowledgeable, intelligent professionals that followed professional guidelines at all times despite unionists political interference. The unionists and their media lackeys never gained any traction in their attempts at smears or claims of incompetence. Compare that to their ability to criticise air, ferries, energy and now trains – all strategically important for a future independent Scotland. I am being kind in calling it ineptitude!

        1. 220523 says:

          Yep, Transport Scotland and the private overseas contractors who (as Forth Crossing Bridge Constructors) actually designed and built the thing did a competent job on the Queensferry Crossing. Scottish design and engineering at its best.

      2. Michael Picken says:

        Some people also seem to have forgotten that the Tories and Labour between them managed to let the Crossrail/Elizabeth Line rail project in London – ‘the largest construction project in Europe’ – overrun by four years and over four billion pounds. And despite all the taxpayers’ money invested in it, the trains that will operate on it are run by a private company, part owned by the Chinese government of all people, rather than it being part of the longstanding and still publicly owned London Underground system.

        1. 220524 says:

          Indeed, there are striking similarities in the conception and management and the successes and failures of Transport Scotland’s Queensferry Crossing project and Transport for London’s Crossrail project.

  2. George Buchan says:

    This is really just part of the wider underdog/”everyone is against us” mentality that exists and persists in the independence movement as a direct consequence of spending decades fighting against the establishment, the media etc. The same mentality that sees all journalists as bad, even the ones who are supporters of independence but are professional enough to not let it influence how they do their job.

    Ironically, supporters of trade unions are guilty of the exact same thing when it comes to defending trade unions, and similarly, it’s an entirely understandable reaction to spending decades fighting the establishment, the media etc. But just as supporters of the SNP are incapable of accepting any criticism of their party, trade union supporters seem incapable of accepting any criticism of trade unions.

    Trade unions don’t need to be operating under top-down orders from the Labour party for decisions over industrial action to be coloured by party affiliation – it simply requires decision-makers within the unions to subconsciously allow party allegiance to influence when to escalate things (or perhaps even consciously in the case of those with political aspirations). If a local organiser is a “Good Labour Man”, it stands to reason they’re not going to have that internal conflict in their mind when deciding whether to push for industrial action if the council in question is not a Labour one. There’s no conspiracy there, it’s just how human beings operate.

    So it’s quite legitimate to question, for instance, GMB only pushing for industrial action in regards to equal pay when Glasgow was no longer a Labour-controlled council. Nobody was saying the workers themselves were part of some anti-SNP conspiracy (and anyone who did say that could be safely ignored), but you really need to have blinkers on to not at least raise an eyebrow at the timing by GMB. People who criticised that decision were accused of criticising ordinary working women – the same way SNP supporters accuse anyone who criticises SNP decisions of talking down Scotland.

    (Of course, with the SNP having made it one of their promises at the 2017 Glasgow Council election that they would deal with the equal pay dispute, it may be that GMB organisers simply saw an opportunity to associate themselves with a victory that was coming anyway, or just wanted to make sure it got over the line. Whatever it was, it’s not outlandish to think that the change in council administration played some part in the GMB’s decisions.)

    So yes, SNP supporters need to stop knee-jerk accusations of partisan behaviour whenever a trade union dares to take action that gets leapt upon by Labour and the media to attack the SNP, but equally let’s not be naive and pretend that nobody in the trade union movement would ever allow their party affiliation to influence their decisions.

  3. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    As someone who was a trade unionist all of my working life, who has taken industrial action on a number of occasions, support other workers who take such action and who encourages people to join trade unions, it must be pointed out that many trade union officials are actively hostile to independence for Scotland and, on occasion tie their membership to Labour Party policy on independence. An egregious example was the attitude of the Govan shop stewards demanding that the Tories make rejection of independence in 2014 as a condition for future workshop contracts.

    The Scottish media, currently are trying to draw the SG into the negotiations between Scotrail and the trade unions. However, an RMT spokesperson gave the BBC Scotland interviewer a flea in her ear when she tried to engage in the negotiations. The Scottish media are not reporting that the UK trade unions in the rail industry have balloted about industrial action in England.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      Apologies! I wrote RMT. It ought to have been ASLEF.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    Perhaps the more general problem is that much of the UK trade union movement is small-c conservative and reactionary, competitive (inter-union demarcation disputes etc.) and hierarchical. And therefore inclined to be suspicious of radical or constitutional change, and less inclined to solidarity. That is, their primary role is seen as the preservation of jobs and enhancement of pay, terms and conditions for members. Lacking a common good life philosophical base which could harmonize views on quality of workplace life, workers in miserable or stressful jobs push for greater pay as compensation, and tranches of the (unionised and non-unionised) workforce are pitted against each other in power plays or for profit. In other words, trade unions represent interests, not society, certainly not the wider environment. However, as part of civil society they can ally with more progressive or reactionary forces as their leadership or members (if democratised) wish. Ideally, I suppose, we want to transform society to get to the position where when a worker says “as a trade union member I support this” and “as a concerned citizen I support this” when ‘this’ and ‘this’ are the same thing.

    1. 220523 says:

      ‘…the UK trade union movement is small-c conservative and reactionary, competitive (inter-union demarcation disputes etc.) and hierarchical.’

      Is it? As a lifelong unionist since the days when it was a mandatory condition of employment in many firms, that’s not been my experience. In fact, I’ve always found union democracy exemplary and enabling of wider democratic participation in civic life. Lots of citizens gained socially valuable democratic skills through their experience of collective decision-making and activism in the workplace and other unionised communities and through the education and training their unions provided.

  5. Sean Clerkin says:

    There are a lot of Tartan Tories in the SNP leadership and the cult of leadership has also set in following Sturgeon.
    The trade unions are there to look out for justifiable pay rises for working class people during this cost of living crisis and they are entitled to withdraw their Labour to get what they want.

    1. 220523 says:

      They’re also there to educate and empower their members, through their participation in decision-making in the workplace (e.g. on pay and conditions), in the furtherance of democracy more generally in society. The Labour Party was founded as a kind of parliamentary wing of unionism, a means of getting workers elected to the biggest decision-making assembly of all. The SNP has never replaced Labour in this function, while Labour itself has largely lost it.

  6. florian albert says:

    The central truth is that trade unions represent sectional interests. ALSEF represents train drivers, not all those involved in the railway industry, let alone the working class. For the vast majority of union members, their union is not there to promote or to prevent Scottish independence.

    The defence of ALSEF drivers on a basic salary of – it has been reported – £52k, is unconvincing. Most people would regard driving a train as less demanding than driving a bus. Basic pay for bus drivers is very far short of £52k.

    The present inflation crisis has made even previously (reasonably) secure groups of workers feel insecure. The lack of solidarity which has – over decades – allowed inequality to remain endemic in Scotland is likely to become worse under this pressure.
    One lesson of the inflation ridden decade of the 1970s is that dealing with it is painful and that delaying dealing with it is even more painful. Across the left in the UK, there seems to be little awareness of these unwelcome facts – as though denouncing Boris/Tories/ Neo-liberalism will take care of the problem.

    1. 220523 says:

      There isn’t a moral element to remuneration. What people get paid in compensation for the loss of their labour is purely a function of bargaining rather than of just desert. The higher wages that train drivers have historically enjoyed compared to bus drivers reflects nothing but the relative strength of their bargaining position over the years. Their more solid unionisation has contributed to that strength.

      My dad drove both trains and buses for a living, working shifts for both British Rail and Central SMT (and taking as much overtime as he could get from both) to try and keep up with the spiralling cost of living in the postwar era. He always maintained that driving trains – even the electrics – was way more demanding than driving buses.

      But your point is well-made that the business of any union is to strengthen the bargaining position of its members in negotiation and not to secure the independence of the Scottish government.

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        Anent trains v buses in terms I’d demands and stress. – I reckon that this is largely a function of the greater speed and mass of trains., and, hence, momentum. In the event of a collision the forces involved will be huge and thus, immensely destructive. In addition, at junctions, the driver has to trust that the signalling and points changing are functioning correctly. The driver has no control over them, whereas a bus negotiating a junction is under the driver’s control. Trains, generally, carry more people than buses. A crash involving the latter, while having the potential to cause death and severe injury, is likely to be substantially less in terms of number and severity.

        1. 220525 says:

          My old man felt quite keenly that the consequences of his making a mistake when he was driving a train would likely be far more severe than when he was driving a bus. He also found the irregular shift regime of train driving, and the perpetual disruption of his sleep and eating patterns it entailed, relentless and disordering to his health.

          1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

            Having worked on the buses, irregular shift patterns have always been a feature. They do, indeed, cause serious disruption to family and social life and to equanimity.

    2. Paddy Farrington says:

      There has always been a school of thought within the trade union movement that its remit should encompass wider issues than those defined by purely sectional interests. These wider issues have included, for example, the mobilisation of local communities, solidarity with workers in other industries, and involvement in international causes. There are plenty of examples of these: to name but three, the UCS work-in (which linked with a wide community mobilisation), the Grunwicks dispute (which involved cross-union solidarity in support of a workforce of Asian women) and the boycott of repairs to military hardware after Pinochet’s coup in Chile.

      My own involvement in trade union disputes taught me that building such alliances can be the key to winning lasting gains. For this reason, trade unions should most definitely engage with the discussion around Scottish independence, and the independence movement should care very much about obtaining the support of trade unions, as well as of individual trade unionists.

      1. 220525 says:

        Not forgetting the widest issue of all – ‘the supersession of the capitalist system by a socialistic order of society’ – which is a stated object in the constitutions of many trades unions.

        Maybe if the independentistas could show how making the Scottish government independent of the UK government would materially contribute to the achievement of that foundational goal, they would gain more union support for their project.

  7. Wul says:

    How can Scotland nationalise railways when it isn’t a nation? Without the economic levers to properly manage such a huge project, taking on an ailing railway system seems like a daft move born of hubris.

    I thought part of the problem is that, as a newly made “public sector” workforce, railway workers will be capped at a 2% wage rise the same as the rest of the Scotland’s public sector workers? Entirely predictable surely?

    Once it has drained the public purse and is operating safely at a profit, it can be handed back to the private sector. That’s they way we usually deal with railways.

    1. 220524 says:

      Scotland is a nation (just not an ‘independent’ one), the Scottish government has the power to transform privately owned assets within the realm of its jurisdiction into public assets by taking them into its ownership, and, in thus becoming the owners of Scotrail, the Scottish government has set itself at odds with the workers (and their union) as their employer.

      In an ideal world, the workers themselves would own their industries through their unions, just as residents would own their own communities through their voluntary associations. That would be socialism. Nationalisation is nothing but state capitalism.

  8. SleepingDog says:

    How far away are we from autonomous trains, AI drivers, anyway?

    1. 220525 says:

      London’s ahead of us in this. The London Docklands Light Railway has been automated since its birth 35 years ago, and Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, is insisting on driverless tech as a condition of the UK government’s national bailout of TfL.

      Back in 2020, at the start of the negotiations to partly renationalise London’s transport system, Boris Johnson said: “Let’s not be the prisoners of the unions any more, let’s go to driverless trains and let’s make that a condition of the funding settlement for Transport for London this autumn.”

      Driverless trains might likewise be part of the solution to Scottish nationalism’s problem with the rail unions. Perhaps the independentistas should include ‘Smash the Unions’ banners among their bunting during the marching season.

  9. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    I turned on the radio when I woke this morning to hear that the meeting between Scotrail and ASLEF yesterday (26, May) had produced a resolution. BBC Scotland immediately began attacking the deal as giving the green light to similar pay rises for other worker groups, such as teachers. Clearly, working people getting wage increases to enable them to face the problems of rising inflation and growing poverty is a BAD THING!!!!!! The spokesperson for Scotrail was being badgered and shouted at by an angry Martin Geissler about how HE was going to deal with the teachers demanding similar amounts!

    After that the headlines led with that despite the resolution the ‘chaos’ of the temporary timetable will go on for at least a week – every silver lining has a cloud attached for BBC Scotland.

    With an RMT strike likely to start in the rest of the UK (and some cross border services), I suspect the BBC and ITN will resume its union-bashing role ‘Holding the country to ransom’, ‘aren’t we all in this together?’, ‘shouldn’t we all be pulling together to beat inflation?’.

    Windfall tax??? Isn’t this destroying initiative? Well, of course, it is not a ‘windfall tax’ that the Chancellor has introduced a ‘temporary levy’, so that’s alright then!!! The BBC reports go on to quote IFS and the Resolution Foundation telling us that this ‘levy’ is ‘hugely redistributive’. I understand that at the bevy sessions in Whitehall Rishi and others were heard singing ‘The Red Flag’ as the greased piglet in No10 flew past.

    1. 220527 says:

      Well, the dispute hasn’t been resolved yet; the drivers have yet to decide whether to accept or reject the revised offer. The concurrent disputes with the RMT have also still to be resolved. The Scottish government isn’t out of the woods yet.

      But well done to ASLEF for smashing the desired 2% ceiling on public sector pay offers. The total package now on the table is 9.5%, which is closer to the 10% that public sector workers have been demanding to avoid a real-terms pay cut. Well done to Scotrail for resisting government pressure to refrain from setting the precedent. And well done to the BBC for reporting the precedent as such, which should encourage other public sector workers to emulate their ASLEF colleagues, and the predicament in which all this has left the Scottish government, when it could have done the government a favour by drawing an obfuscating veil over the matter.

      Bloody unions, eh? Bloody BBC? ‘Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in fa me!’

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        I was not criticising ASLEF or trade unions. I hope they are successful across the UK in winning significantly improved pay and conditions for members.

        Given the conditions on finance under devolution, the SG, unlike The Treasury does have a finite ‘cake’, from which it has to slice allocations of funds to different priorities and so, giving an increased slice to one section results in reduced slices to others. Borrowing and taxation powers are limited by the devolution settlement. The Treasury, on the other had, can create money – it’s ‘cake’ (a limited analogy, I grant, but it is a favourite of the UK Government, the Treasury, the Bank of England and the media) is inflatable and it can, if it chooses, change taxation radically. But, of course it does not intend to do much of that, because it is set up to shovel shedloads of money from the majority to its financial paymasters. It’s job is to create an illusion of legality to make all those tax dodges ‘perfectly legal’.

        The BBC is part of the UK Government propaganda service and so presents any challengers to the City of London money laundering hegemony to attack. So, it attacks the Scottish Government, because independence will remove resources from Westminster and it attacks trade unions because they want a redistribution of wealth and power, and, if disputes between SG and TUs can be fomented, then it’s ‘divide and rule ‘ strategy comes into play.

        The SG and TU s have interests which they can pursue more effectively, jointly, which is what the actual article is about.

        PS, I know the ASLEF deal is not ‘settled’, but having achieved close to what they wanted and having put it to members, I think it is a ‘done deal’. This is my experience of the various negotiations my TU was involved in.

        1. 220527 says:

          If the BBC is part of the UK government’s propaganda service, then it does a pretty poor job. It consistently gives the UK government a pretty ‘bad press’, which is I supposed why so many Tories are united with the Nationalists in alleging its editorial bias.

          The BBC is, however, part of ‘the establishment’ (the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised in society), and it does tend to curate the world from that perspective. As I keep saying, anti-establishment audiences should seek out alternative news sources that curate the world from perspectives other than those of the established régime.

          The idea that there is or can be an objective or entirely non-perspectival source of information is quaint. The news is rather a plurality of diverse and often conflilcting reporting, none of which is ‘true’ in any absolute sense. You’ve just got to make of it what you can.

          1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

            I think the coverage by the BBC UK wide during the 2014 referendum was hugely biased against the independence side and made few serious attempts to explain the reasons to the wider audience.

            As you say, the BBC since it’s inception has been ‘establishment’, but in 1926, at the time of the General Strike, it was rabidly partial. But for much of its life, it has been fairly balanced across a ‘centrist’ spectrum, from traditional/acceptable Labour to one-nation Tory, and did seek to be balanced within that range. In the arts and entertainment, particularly in drama, it was pretty radical in much of its output and it is this rather than News and Current Affairs that brought reactions from the Tories from the days of MacMillan. Independence for Scotland in these days was a minority fringe pursuit. However, by the advent of Thatcher, the Tories really started the ‘culture war’ and the appointment of placement (increasingly women, too) began and has continued apace. There are few senior people anywhere in the BBC who are not Tories, and/or from class based segregated schools. Question Time has always been run by a Tory favouring group and panellists usually had to have lunch at the Garrick or other club with some Tory MPs to be deemed ‘suitable’. It’s panels are almost always 3-4 from the ‘right’, with 1-2 others, and the Chair has always been unashamedly partisan.

            BBC Scotland News and current affairs is clearly anti independence and as various media studies have demonstrated is reports are in a big majority of items framed to put devolution and the SG in a bad light.

            It still has within it some journalists who actually challenge Scottish Tories, but, for much of her time as Leader, Ruth Davidson was rarely challenged. Douglas Ross is frequently introduced with a cheery, “Hallo, Douglas!”, but, SNP and Green MSPs, councillors, trade union officials are always addressed ver formally and are frequently and repeatedly interrupted. Interviews are often prefaced by a statement from the Conservative Party or some ‘campaigning group’ and the opening question to the interviewee is, “Do you DENY [whatever the Tory statement was] …..”

            Channel 4 News was once considered to be ‘challenging’ but the threat of privatisation has brought them grovellingly to heel. We have Old Carthusian, Cathy Newman addressing fellow Old Carthusian, Jeremy Hunt, smilingly by his first name and Tory MP, t
            Tobias Elwood, as ‘Tobias’. Labour MPs are always addressed formally. When an SNP MP is ‘interviewed’ it is usually silent film with Ciaran Jenkins telling us what the interview is about.

            Much of the free to air broadcast media is part of the culture war. The right has been applying Gramsci’s concept of hegemony and organic intellectuals for decades. Today’s BBC reports on the Chancellor’s ‘largesse’ had approving comments from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation, plus a vox pop from a single parent saying how grateful she was to the Chancellor.

            I agree with you that we need to get ‘News’ from a range of outlets, which is why I view Al Jazeera, CNN, RTE, even Russia Today!

          2. 220527 says:

            I usually interrogate the news reports that matter to me. Which of their statements are statements of fact and which are statements of opinion? Of the statements of fact, can they be corroborated by at least two independent sources (in Scots law, as in scientific research, the agreement of at least two independent sources is what’s required for a fact to be established as such – though the Crown’s currently looking at ditching this requirement in order to secure more convictions)? Of the statements of opinion, what justifications of them does the reporter offer and do those arguments hold water; on what presuppositions do the truth of those opinions logically depend and are those presuppositions warranted? Occasionally, I’ll even e-mail the reporter to ask for his or her sources, so that I can check them, and/or for the thinking behind the opinions he or she expressed. Sometimes, I even get a reply.

            Our consumption of the news has to be not only catholic but also critical; otherwise, we’re leaving ourselves susceptible to being taken in.

          3. Alasdair Macdonald says:

            Thanks. Do you think we have taken this pow-wow as far as we can take it at this stage?

            All the best!

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