By Bob Duncan
Tory EU renegotiation plans could spell disaster for women and the vulnerable as the party attempts to withdraw from social and employment legislation, a leading MSP has warned.
Christina McKelvie MSP has condemned a new paper from the Conservative party which proposes that the Westminster government withdraws completely from the EU Social Chapter.
Such a change would see Scotland losing vital employment protection and much more.
The green paper, entitled “Fresh Start Project”, would see people across the United Kingdom lose their rights concerning equal pay, maternity leave, pensions and even basic human rights – all areas of law which are currently reserved to Westminster.
The Tories are attempting to re-negotiate the UK’s role in Europe in advance of the in-out referendum on the country’s membership in the EU they now plan for 2017.
The document, which carries a foreword by Foreign Secretary William Hague, states that the UK could “opt out completely from the ‘Social Policy’ section of the EU treaties” – the principal part of the treaties is used to protect social and employment rights.
The Tories’ plan recommends that they negotiate not only to opt out of all current EU Social Policy legislation, but also to be excluded from all future social and employment legislation, and even gain the right to ignore any other laws which they believe may bolster worker’s rights as a side effect.
According to the report, they understand that this is unlikely to be approved by all of the other member states, and suggest that the UK may “unilaterally disapply EU social and employment law in the UK, through an Act of Parliament”.
Such an act, acknowledges the report, would be illegal and would almost certainly lead to serious reprisals from other members, but could force the hand of the other EU members:
“this unilateral action would not provide a sustainable long-term solution. It could, though, create the conditions to force a meaningful negotiation if other Member States had previously refused to take the UK seriously”.
Last night Ms McKelvie, the SNP MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse and a long time campaigner for social rights, warned:
“These Tory plans are potentially disastrous for some of the most vulnerable groups in our society.
“William Hague and his chums are either fools because they haven’t thought the consequences of their plan through – or they’re knaves because they simply don’t care.
“The Social Chapter is one of the main benefits people in Scotland get from being in the EU. It is a hugely valuable measure which protects low-paid workers, people with disabilities and women in particular.
“However, the Tories would happily sweep it away in an instant if they could. To even think of opting out of this critical piece of European legislation is a disgrace and an affront to those in Scotland who most need help.
“Social rights and protection of the vulnerable are vital, which is why they are now embedded across Europe. Now this Westminster Government wants to turn the clock back and return us to the labour and social values of the Victorian age.”
The SNP has argued that Scotland could avoid these measures being imposed upon its people only by becoming an independent member of the EU.
The European Commission has stated that it is happy to discuss the status of an independent Scotland within the EU, but can only respond to a direct question from a member state – in this case the UK government.
However, despite recommendations from the Electoral Commission that both the Scottish and UK governments work together to clarify the results of a Yes or No vote, the prime minister has so far refused to take part in talks with Holyrood or to ask the EU for its guidance.
Ms McKelvie added: “Never has it been clearer that a Yes vote in next year’s referendum is vital to the future of Scotland and its people. Only with independence can we be assured of Scotland’s continuing place in the EU and the security for all which our membership offers.
“To keep the benefits of these important social protection measures, Scotland needs to be in the EU club as an independent country – not governed by the Tory Bullingdon Club.”