By a Newsnet reporter
A trade union official whose organisation is at the centre of a row over its support for the No campaign, has hit out at critics who claim the consultation process was a sham.
Richard Leonard, who is the Political Officer with GMB Scotland, disputed claims the union’s consultation process was inadequate and accused critics of “mischievously” choosing to concentrate on the process.
Mr Leonard said the process used by GMB Scotland was “robust and the decision democratic” and that members had been given ample notification and opportunity to submit their views.
Writing on the official website of the Scottish Labour party, the GMB official said: “It is a decision taken by GMB Scotland’s Regional Council: a body made up entirely of lay representatives newly elected this year from right across Scotland, and from a cross section of industries, public services and commercial services where we organise.”
He added: “Over the last 18 months consultation meetings open to all GMB members have been held in Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee, Falkirk and Kilmarnock. In each location meetings were held both in 2012 and again in 2013.”
Last week Newsnet Scotland revealed that two of these meetings attracted less than 20 people in total.
Five people turned up at the meeting in Inverness and around a dozen attended a meeting in Kilmarnock. There were also claims that no official vote was taken at either meeting
Mr Leonard said representatives of the SNP and Labour for Independence groups had been in attendance at several meetings and that GMB members in Scotland had been mailed copies of the union’s own journal three times a year which contained extensive coverage of the consultation.
He also compared the union’s handling of the process to the SNP’s decision to adopt a pro-NATO policy which he said had not been decided by a ballot of SNP members.
“I am reminded too that last year when the SNP decided to support membership of NATO there wasn’t a referendum of SNP members on this. It was quite properly determined by delegates after a debate at their conference.” he said.
Leonard also compared the decision by the GMB to that taken by the Prison Officers Association in Scotland: “So too the POA has recently decided, as is it is perfectly entitled to, to support a ‘Yes’ vote next year, but there have been no calls for a referendum [sic] on the referendum amongst the POA’s membership by supporters of independence.”
The GMB refused to answer questions posed by Newsnet Scotland last week, which included a query on the number of GMB members in Scotland who had attended the meetings and why a decision was taken before the consultation process had ended.
It has also emerged that the union had decided to set up an anti-independence campaign group with the Labour party before GMB members had been fully consulted.
According to the Sunday Herald newspaper, GMB Scotland worked with the Labour party in order to set up an anti-independence campaign group ‘United with Labour’. The group was launched by former PM Gordon Brown in May this year.
Speaking to the Sunday Herald GMB Scotland’s Secretary Harry Donaldson denied there had been a “stitch-up” for a No vote, and said he never tried to influence the GMB’s Scottish members.
Donaldson, who has expressed strong anti-independence views at GMB meetings, said: “Until the outcome of the consultation we were not committed either way. We were not pushing a certain line, we were just inviting people to give their views.
“Most people would not have been at congress and would not have heard that speech. I never repeated that speech at any of those meetings. We are very comfortable with the process we went through.”
The GMB is the latest in a number of unions to officially announce their backing for the No campaign, with others including Usdaw, rail union Aslef and the Community union opting to support the No campaign after consulting members across the UK.
Some observers have suggested that unions should have waited for the Scottish Government’s White Paper, due to be published this month and which will set out the SNP’s independence prospectus in more detail, before deciding whether to back Yes or No.
Other trade unions still to decide what stance to adopt include the CWU. However, last month Newsnet Scotland revealed that the CWU union had been accused of trying to persuade its Scottish members to support No in its own consultation on Scottish independence.
The CWU held six meetings throughout Scotland in October. However a briefing note sent to Scottish members was described as “biased” in favour of the No campaign after it appeared to be heavily influenced by claims made by the anti-independence campaign Better Together, with almost nothing from pro-independence group Yes Scotland.
The refusal of trade unions to ballot Scottish members has led to claims that the organisations could face a backlash from members on both sides of the constitutional debate.