Questions over GMB No-support after claims process had poor attendance and may have breached rules

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  By G.A.Ponsonby

Claims by a trade union that it held a “long consultation” of its members before deciding to back a No vote in the 2014 independence referendum have been challenged by members who claim only five people turned up at one event and protocols may have been breached or manipulated.

The Scottish GMB announced on Sunday that it would be supporting a No vote in 2014, and campaign for ‘further devolution’.

Harry Donaldson, general secretary of GMB Scotland, said the union’s decision had been reached after a “long consultation” with Scottish members, whose feedback had led to the union opposing independence.

Sunday Herald reporter Tom Gordon, who broke the story, described the decision as “a blow to Alex Salmond and the Yes Scotland campaign”.

However, within hours of the story breaking, angry Scottish GMB members flooded social media sites complaining that they had not been asked their views and questioning the validity of the decision.

Jim Moody, Senior Shop Steward at Scottish Borders Council, the region’s biggest employer, said that the move had been a “betrayal and a disgraceful stitch up.”

Mr Moody, an SNP member who has been in the GMB for more than 20 years and represents more than 200 other members locally, said: “I have spoken to other shop stewards and GMB members and we are absolutely incandescent about this. The union leadership has absolutely no right to take this action.

“To say we have been consulted is a falsehood, pure and simple. There has certainly been no consultation in this part of the world – the first I heard about this was when I saw it on Facebook.”

He continued: “This decision has not been endorsed by the membership and it makes absolutely no sense. The union leadership has taken a hugely important and controversial decision without having any of the hard facts about what a Yes vote will mean. How can they possibly come to a judgment on independence without waiting for the Scottish Government’s White Paper on the subject, which is due out later this month and will give us a full picture of an independent Scotland?”

He added: “This is a betrayal of the membership. My trust, and that of my colleagues, has been completely eroded by this unilateral action. The GMB’s Scottish leadership seems more concerned about taking Labour’s line against Scottish independence and protecting the careers of Scottish Labour MPs than worrying about serving their loyal members.”

Newsnet Scotland has learned that at one meeting in Inverness, only five people showed up to discuss the referendum and that no formal vote was taken.  In another, a GMB member who attended a Kilmarnock meeting claimed there were around a dozen people who were evenly split between Yes, No and don’t know.

In a statement to Newsnet Scotland, one angry GMB member said: “I was at one in Killie a few months ago.  About twelve people were there.  It was more a Question & Answer with Harry Donaldson and Richard Leonard answering.”

On the views of those who turned up, and whether any formal vote was taken, the GMB member added: “I’d say evenly split Yes/No/Don’t Know.  But that’s my opinion, no vote was taken that I remember.”

Both Mr Donaldson and Mr Leonard hold hard line pro-Union views which they recently expressed in speeches at GMB conferences.

Another meeting held on 16th October at the Best Western Hotel, Inverness had an even lower attendance with only five people present, including union officials.

Those present were Chair: Richard Leonard – GMB Scotland Political Officer, John Boocock – LGO (retired) and chair of his local community council, Alan Docherty – Secretary of GMB Easter Ross branch (retired), Gilbert Skinner SSE GMB shop steward and Neil MacKenzie an SNP member and YesScotland volunteer who declared his credentials at the start of meeting.

According to Mr MacKenzie a discussion took place between the five but no mention of any formal vote was made.

He told Newsnet Scotland: “At no point was there a formal vote held and if the views expressed constituted a vote in the Chair’s eyes he should have said so to at the meeting and all the members/officials at the meeting should have known how many members were being represented by those at the meeting?”

Mr Mackenzie explained he took the issue of the controversial decision to support No up with the general secretary of GMB Scotland Harry Donaldson who he says told him that the decision was reached through “representative democracy”.

Newsnet Scotland understands that the union has since been hit with resignations from Scottish members angry at the decision to oppose independence, which some claim was taken without their knowledge.  It has also been suggested that the manner in which the decision was taken may have breached the union’s own rules and protocols.

This summer the GMB officially announced it would consult Scottish members before deciding which, if any, side to back in the referendum campaign.  At its June conference the union’s Congress referred the decision on the union’s stance on Scottish Independence to “GMB Members in Scotland” explicitly stating “pending a decision by GMB members in Scotland”.

On the GMB’s own twitter account it reiterates that the decision is to be made by “GMB Scotland Members”.

However those angry with the decision to back No have complained that the announcement on Sunday via a national newspaper comes before the consultation process has even completed and without a ballot of all Scottish members having taken place.

A Facebook group for GMB members who support independence for Scotland has now been established