By a Newsnet reporter
Newsnet Scotland has learned that a Trade Union attempted to influence the outcome of the Dunfermline by-election by sending letters out to its members who lived in the constituency.
The letters posted by GMB Scotland on the 21st October, called on the “member named in the address” to vote for Labour candidate Cara Hilton.
Sent on behalf of Harry Donaldson, the GMB Scotland Regional Secretary, the letters told the member: “Please make sure you use your vote in this byelection and please cast it for Labour’s candidate Cara Hilton.”
According to the letter, the union claimed Ms Hilton “will speak up for a living wage” and “against zero hours contracts”. It adds: “she will back … renewed investment in frontline services”.
The use of union funds in order to actively campaign in a Scottish by-election has caused anger amongst some members of the GMB. One has published a copy of the letter on social media site Facebook.
There has also been anger over the trade union’s description of the new Labour MSP as a “working mum … who knows just how much the squeeze in living standards is hurting working families.”, with some claiming her new combined councillor and MSP salary will give her a joint salary of almost £70,000.
According to the GMB, members know the union is required to have a political fund to allow the union to campaign on the issues like NHS, rights at work, housing, pensions and other political and economic priorities.
However there is considerable doubt over what policies the Labour party in Scotland actually stand for given pledges made by Labour’s Dunfermline campaign team which appear to contradict statements from senior party figures at Holyrood.
Last month the GMB announced its intention to cut the affiliation funds it gives Labour from £1.2m to £150,000 in the wake of a row over reforms. The union said there would also be cuts in spending on Labour campaigns.
The third party intervention in Dunfermline on behalf of Labour follows a similar episode in the recent local council election in Govan which saw the anti-independence group Better Together target constituents in the area with leaflets – the Labour candidate eventually won.
The issue of third party canvassing at by-elections is controlled by laws which limit the amount that can be spent to £500.
Newsnet Scotland had planned to leaflet the constituency with our own promotional flyers days before polling but cancelled the run after being was advised by a lawyer that it could breach the electoral law.
In an ironic twist, First Minister Alex Salmond yesterday revealed he had cancelled planned campaign visits to Dunfermline in order to concentrate on the growing crisis at the Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemical plant after a Labour party dispute involving the UNITE union in Falkirk set of a chain of events that brought the industrial plant to the brink of closure.
The decision by the GMB to urge members to reject the SNP follows a similar pattern adopted by other trade unions in recent weeks.
Last week Newsnet Scotland revealed an independence briefing note sent out by another union to its Scottish members appeared heavily influenced by anti-independence campaign group Better Together.
The CWU is to hold a consultation on the referendum by holding six meetings throughout Scotland. However a briefing note sent to Scottish members was described by another union official as “biased” in favour of the No campaign.
The document appeared to be heavily influenced by claims made by the anti-independence campaign Better Together, with almost nothing from pro-independence group Yes Scotland.
Asked by Newsnet Scotland to comment on the contents of the note, Andy Kerr who is the CWU Deputy General Secretary said:
“I do not know who you are or what your organisation is and therefore we will not be explaining anything regarding this document.”
Last month head of the Scottish branch of the trade union Usdaw also attacked the SNP and independence.
The shopworkers’ Trade Union leader in Scotland, Lawrence Wason, ‘warned’ the “Scottish Nationalists not to overplay their hand in the debate over Scotland’s future and keep their promises in the realms of reality,”
Wason – Usdaw’s Scottish Divisional Officer said: “I was surprised to hear that the SNP have claimed that their ‘Pensions Promise is affordable, when we have no idea how much it costs’. That is not what we expect from serious politicians who want to run an independent Scotland, breaking our historic links with the rest of the UK.
“The credibility of the SNP is undermined by this false promise on state pensions. This is basic stuff. They cannot say that something is affordable if they don’t know how much it costs.
“Worse still they are offering false promises to some of the most vulnerable people in society. Most pensioners live on a fixed income and need to have certainty about their future finances. Either the SNP are not going to deliver their promise or they will have to come clean on the service cuts and tax increases required to fund it.”