By Bob Duncan
The STUC has published its interim report on the debate on an independent Scotland, entitled ‘A Just Scotland’, and has refused to join the anti-independence campaign, despite its strong links with the Labour movement.
The report makes clear that the STUC is not yet endorsing either side of the debate, but is rightly determined to play a key part in the referendum process.
It examines the debate from the perspective of a number of areas of interest, such as defence, fiscal policy and position, the labour market and public services, among others.
In the introduction, the report states:
“for STUC, the referendum debate needs to be seen, not just as a means of discussing the form of Scotland’s constitutional arrangements, but as an exciting opportunity to reawaken a debate on social justice and equality, to talk about the sort of Scotland we want to see.”
On universal benefits and services it had this to say:
“There was a wide recognition that the Scottish approach to public service delivery is distinct from south of the border. Criticism of UK public service policy was not confined to the actions of the current Coalition Government with many blaming New Labour for initiating many of the reforms including the creation of Foundation Hospitals, privatisation of local authority services and education reform south of the border.
“In each case, an overwhelming majority preferred the Scottish approach, highlighting the record of successive governments in Scotland in resisting NHS privatisation, limiting the contracting out of local authority services and committing to free and accessible education.
“For many, the current public spending cuts being driven by Westminster put such services in potential jeopardy and make a strong case for independence.”
And on the subject of defence, it says:
“Given that Scottish trade unionists appear to strongly support the removal of Trident, the question of the ‘Better Together’ parties is how else can Scotland and the UK be freed of Trident other than through a vote for independence?”
In particular, the report also lambasts the approach of the Labour party, making clear that “‘Not being the Tories’ and negative messages about the SNP will not suffice”.
The decision by the STUC to remain neutral in the independence debate “for the foreseeable future” will come as a blow to the Labour party whose MP Alistair Darling heads the Better Together alliance. However there are concerns over Labour’s recent shift to the right with Johann Lamont announcing a commission whose aim is to look at the affordability of universal benefits, such as free prescriptions and concessionary travel for pensioners.
The report also expressed reservations about the Scottish government’s proposal to cut corporation tax should it be devolved, calling it “misguided and wrong”.
Commenting on the STUC report, SNP MSP Christina McKelvie said:
“This is an important contribution from the STUC that, instead of starting from a pre-judged position, instead looks at the kind of Scotland we want to see and examines the powers needed to get there.
“It will make uncomfortable reading for the anti-independence campaign, given their failure to set out any kind of positive vision for the future of Scotland.
“Unsurprisingly, Johann Lamont’s Cuts Commission has also clearly provoked a strongly negative reaction from STUC members.
“While the anti-independence parties are offering the dismal prospect of the progress that has been made by the Scottish Parliament being rolled back, only a Yes vote will protect and build upon the social contract that has been built in Scotland.
“It is people in Scotland who should be the ones to shape the future of our country and only the powers of an independent Scotland will give us that opportunity.”