Union accused of issuing anti-independence briefing note to Scottish members


  By Martin Kelly
One of the UK’s biggest unions has been accused of trying to persuade its Scottish members to support No in a consultation on Scottish independence.
The CWU is to hold a consultation on the referendum by holding six meetings throughout Scotland in October.  However a briefing note sent to Scottish members has been described as “biased” in favour of the No campaign.

The accusation follows the publication a document by the Communications Workers Union which the union says contains “information on how independence would affect Scottish postal services, the Post Office network, Telecommunications and Financial Services.”

However concerns have been raised as to the balance of the document which appeared to be heavily influenced by claims made by the anti-independence campaign Better Together, with almost nothing from pro-independence group Yes Scotland.

Speaking exclusively to Newsnet Scotland, Willie Marshall who is Branch Secretary CWU Scotland No2, criticised the document and said:

“The role out programme that has been endorsed by the CWU nationally and the document sent to all members in Scotland is definitely leaning towards the No campaign.”

Mr Marshall claimed that trade unions based in England “were trying to stifle debate from their Scottish members” and that they should consult Scottish members without seeking to impose the views of, “the leadership who are mostly Labour die-hards and will stand by the national position of Labour”.

The briefing document claims that businesses in Scotland are not “taking action” because of the independence debate.  The document also speaks of, “Scotland separating from England, Wales and Northern Ireland”.

The Scotland No2 Branch of the CWU made a decision at its AGM in March this year to support the Yes Scotland campaign and to affiliate to Trade Unions For Independence.  To date, it is the only CWU branch that has asked its members the question on independence.

Mr Marshall added: “The CWU members in Scotland, especially the ones employed by Royal Mail, are sick to death being ruled by a Governments that they did not vote for.  We would hope over the coming weeks that our members take this opportunity to attend these meeting being held all over Scotland and get their views across.”

On Postal services in Scotland the CWU briefing document says independence would have a “significant impact” adding: “It is difficult to predict what arrangement would be put in place for delivery of postal services in an independent Scotland, and there are a number of significant complications.”

The union’s UK leadership also claims that a new Scottish postal services provider would result in “huge setup costs”.

It adds: “The current universal service would not automatically apply in an independent Scotland.  The form of the universal service would depend on the Scottish government and whether Scotland was a member of the EU.”

On the EU, the CWU tells its Scottish members: “It remains unclear whether Scotland would be a member of the EU following independence.  Scotland may need to apply to join.  Scottish Ministers have said that an independent Scotland would remain part of the EU and they have received legal advice to that effect; however, they have so far refused to publish such advice.”

However the document omits to tell members that the EU has stated it will only clarify the situation if asked to do so by Westminster, something the UK coalition refuses to do.

Scottish members are also told that independence would mean “terminal dues” being paid at a new border between Scotland and England which it says would be “costly” as Scotland is a “net importer” of mail.

On privatisation of the Royal Mail the union claims the Scottish Government pledge to re-nationalise may not happen because after independence “another political party may well be in charge”.  However the briefing note claims the UK Labour party, although not committed to re-nationalisation, would put in place “a number of protections” for the universal service.

The briefing note also points to the flotation of Royal Mail, pointing out that the company itself, in its prospectus, highlighted “the uncertain impact of Scottish independence as a risk factor for the company.”

It adds: “The financial position of the Post Office network in Scotland is precarious because of the high proportion of rural branches, in which revenue tends to be low.  The current Scottish Government has not made clear their funding intentions for the Post Office network if Scotland decides to become independent.”

Other claims contained in the briefing note include warnings that independence will lead to telecoms disruptions which “could burden Scottish businesses and consumers with higher charges and poorer services, especially for those in rural areas.”

The document also warns members that a “significant” proportion of Scotland’s financial industry will operate in a “foreign country” which will have a different regulatory environment.

It ends with one of the oft repeated myths about the banking bailout saying: “The UK Government has also warned that an independent Scotland would not have the capacity to recapitalise banks in the event of another financial collapse on the scale of the one in 2008.”

Newsnet Scotland contacted the union asking for a response to claims that its document was loaded in favour of the No campaign, as yet we have received no reply.

A spokesman for Yes Scotland said: “We were delighted when the CWU Branch 2 members voted to support independence and the biggest grass-roots campaign ever seen in Scotland.

“We understand that the union’s members in other parts of Scotland have yet to make up their minds on whether or not to back the Yes campaign but we feel confident that, along with most people throughout the country, the more information they have on the benefits of independence, the more they will understand that Westminster is simply not working for Scotland.

“And that the only way to secure a share in the wealth of our nation and protect the most vulnerable from the seriously damaging decisions of Westminster – such as the Bedroom Tax – is to vote Yes 11 months from now.

“There is still a long way to go in this campaign but we at Yes Scotland feel sure that the people of Scotland will want a fully independent country free of the constraints of the UK Government.”

The CWU Consultative programme will see meetings held at the following locations:

Monday 21 October 2013 – The Queens Hotel, Montrose Suite, 150 Nethergate, Dundee, DD1 4DU

Tuesday 22 October 2013 -The Edinburgh Overseas Club, 100 Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH2 3AB

Wednesday 23 October 2013 – The Mercure Glasgow City Hotel, 201 Ingram Street, Glasgow G1 1DQ

Monday 28 October 2013 – Station Hotel, 48 Lovers Walk, Dumfries, DG1 1DQ

Wednesday 30 October 2013 – Arts Centre & Theatre, 33 King Street, Aberdeen, AB24 5AA

Thursday 31 October 2013 – Ramada Encore Hotel, 63 Academy Street, Inverness IV1 1LU