STUC initiative welcomed as union body seeks to widen referendum debate

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By Bob Duncan

The Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC), along with its affiliated unions, has launched a debate on Scotland’s constitutional future, in which it seeks to have an “issue-led discussion” about how to create a more equal and socially just Scotland.

The initiative, which the STUC has called “A Just Scotland”, has been welcomed by the SNP and will take the form of a number of public events designed to promote debate and lead towards a consensus among trade union members on their preferences for the future constitution of Scotland.

During the Autumn of 2012, it will seek to promote a wide ranging and free debate on Scotland’s future, starting from the assumption that the majority of Scots wish to see a more equal and socially just nation.

As well as seeking views online and organising five initial discussion events, the congress will be supporting and publicising events being held by other groups which are also committed to a Just Scotland.

The five STUC events will be held on successive Saturdays in September in Glasgow, Dumfries, Inverness, Edinburgh and Dundee respectively. Their main themes include tax justice and sustainable growth, decent welfare and public services for all, international relations and peace, a better environment, stronger communities, equality and human rights, education, participation and citizenship.

In November the STUC will publish a paper giving an account of what they have heard so far, but ‘A Just Scotland’ will continue its discussion right up until the referendum on independence in Autumn 2014.

The STUC say the debate has the following aims:

  • to enable individuals to approach their personal referendum choice in the most informed way possible;
  • to enable individuals and affiliated organisations to seek to influence the views of others through rational and informed debate;
  • to enable affiliates and civic partners to influence the position of STUC by contributing their views; and
  • to better inform debate on the question or questions to be asked in the referendum and how any demand for enhanced devolution might be advanced.

The STUC initiative is one of a series of such constitutional discussions which are now taking place in Scotland – joining the likes of ‘Future of Scotland’, ‘Red Paper Collective’, and ‘Devo Plus’.

The involvement of trade unions in the debate will put further pressure on Scottish leadership of the  Labour party, which has so far denied its members any form of debate on the constitution.

This has led to a number of senior figures in the party – including former First Minister Henry McLeish and current front-bencher Neil Findlay MSP – openly criticising the approach of Johann Lamont. Another outcome has been the recent establishment of the group ‘Labour for Independence’.

Commenting on the announcement, SNP MSP Christina McKelvie said: “I warmly welcome the STUC’s positive engagement in the discussion about Scotland’s future.

“As Graeme Smith [STUC Secretary General] says, this debate is too important to just be left to Scotland’s politicians – it needs voices from across civic Scotland to tell us what they want Scotland to look like, and how we can build a more just and equal Scotland.

“The SNP believes that the best way to achieve these aims is for people in Scotland to make these decisions – as it is the people living here who care most about Scotland – instead of leaving them to Westminster politicians, many of whom are unrepresentative of Scotland.

“The STUC’s engagement with its membership stands in stark contrast to the approach of Tory-led anti-independence campaign. The Labour leadership didn’t even ask their members what they thought Scotland’s constitutional future should be. Instead they have signed their party up to a Tory-led anti-independence campaign, which is refusing to countenance any constitutional change for Scotland and keep decisions at Westminster.

“The SNP will listen carefully to the ideas put forward by STUC members as we know their experience will lead to a worthwhile contribution – it is time the anti-independence parties made the same commitment.”

The website for a Just Scotland can be found at http://www.ajustscotland.org/ and the initiative has already been announced on the websites of many of the individual trades unions associated with the STUC.