One of Scotland’s top union officials will today declare his support for a Yes vote in September’s independence referendum.
Stephen Smellie, who is Deputy Convener of Scottish Unison, will tell a fringe event at the union’s UK conference in Brighton that independence is the best way to achieve a fairer Scotland.
His endorsement comes as Yes Scotland publishes new findings from a Panelbase poll which find that people in Scotland think they would be better off with decisions over economic policy and welfare taken by the Scottish Parliament, rather than at Westminster.
Excluding people who are undecided, 72% back Holyrood and just 28% favour Westminster.
Among Labour supporters, nearly seven in 10 (68%) favour the Scottish Parliament over Westminster on economic and welfare decisions when undecideds are factored out. A similar number of Liberal Democrat voters (67%) choose Holyrood over Westminster.
Marking the three-months-to-go point until the referendum, Mr Smellie will today spell out his reasons for voting Yes when he speaks at the UK-wide Unison conference in Brighton.
At the same fringe meeting a range of Unison activists who are backing Yes will make the case for independence – including Sarah Collins, of East Ayrshire Unison and Chair of STUC Youth Committee; and Colin Turbett, Chair of Unison North Ayrshire Branch. They will also launch a response to Unison’s Fairer Scotland report.
Mr Smellie, who supports Trade Unions for Yes, is convinced independence is the key to building greater social solidarity – and reshaping the Labour Party to face future challenges in an independent Scotland.
He said: “As a senior activist in Unison I have fully supported my union’s approach to the Independence Referendum, to clarify the kind of Scotland that we as a union, and our members, wished to see. The Fairer Scotland we seek includes principles of democratically accountable public services, sustainable economic growth with social justice, an end to poverty, reducing health inequality, a more equal and greener society and a world, and Scotland, without nuclear weapons.
“Now Unison members will need to decide how to vote, and as a trade unionist I look to see where I will be able to negotiate a better deal. In an independent Scotland the trade unions will be more influential than is possible at a UK level.
“Having spent years arguing for a better, more just and fairer Scotland, I do not believe all those people and organisations who have worked for fairness will let the politicians simply get on with it. In alliance with voluntary groups, communities, churches and progressive forces, trade unionists will be able to ensure that decisions taken by government will be more often in favour of working people, of communities, of sustainability, of peace, of justice. These decisions will be fairer.’
Mr Smellie is the latest in a growing number of key Labour party members who have backed a Yes vote, following the declarations last week from Pat Kelly, former President of the STUC; Jamie Kerr, Vice-Chair of Renfrewshire South CLP; and Anum Quasar, the General Secretary of Muslim Friends of Labour, Scotland, and Constituency Labour Party member of Motherwell and Wishaw.
Mr Smellie said a Yes vote would make for a stronger Labour party, adding: ‘The kind of Labour Party needed to champion interests of working people is more likely to develop in an independent Scotland than in the current UK. The Scottish trade unions have it in their power to make sure this happens.’
He criticised the industrial environment created by UK governments, saying: “It will be difficult, no doubt, to stand up to the rich and powerful people who would not shirk from threatening to destroy our economic base if we do not dance to their tune.That is what happened at Grangemouth last year.
“The UK political class have created an environment where companies can do this. However, in an independent Scotland there is a chance to construct a social solidarity that would say to Ineos and others; we are not prepared to let you destroy our economy, our jobs and our community.”‘
Blair Jenkins, Chief Executive of Yes Scotland, welcomed Mr Smellie’s declaration as well as the poll findings on economy and welfare decisions.
He said: “It is a significant feature of the Yes movement that so many prominent Labour figures are joining the campaign, because they realise that independence is the best way to use our vast wealth and resources for the benefit of all people in Scotland.
“The latest poll shows that 34% of Labour voters currently plan to vote Yes in September – a figure which we believe will continue to grow.
“And new poll findings today show overwhelming support for the proposition that people in Scotland will be better off if decisions about economic policy and welfare are taken in the Scottish Parliament, rather than by Westminster. Excluding people who are undecided, 72% back Holyrood and just 28% favour Westminster – including big majorities among Labour and Lib Dem voters.
“Only a Yes vote in September means decisions about Scotland being made in Scotland – so that we can use our wealth to build a prosperous economy and fair society.
“Scotland is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Only with a Yes vote can we make decisions and deliver policies that match our needs, priorities and aspirations.”