Zero votes for NO after democratic debate in Usdaw meeting

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By an Usdaw member, reporting from her union branch debate

Exactly a week before the Referendum, I attended what I think is the only branch of Usdaw in the whole of Scotland to have a well advertised, democratic debate of union members between Yes and No, with speakers for each side, and a full, fair debate where members’ questions and concerns were answered.

By an Usdaw member, reporting from her union branch debate

Exactly a week before the Referendum, I attended what I think is the only branch of Usdaw in the whole of Scotland to have a well advertised, democratic debate of union members between Yes and No, with speakers for each side, and a full, fair debate where members’ questions and concerns were answered.

It was organised by Usdaw in IKEA, Glasgow. The speaker for No was Usdaw Scottish Divisional Officer Lawrence Wason, speaking on behalf of the national union. For Yes it was our Usdaw convener Richie Venton, speaking in a personal capacity.

It was a really well attended meeting, despite Richie telling us how 29 other members had contacted him saying they really wanted to attend but were working their shift.

And the debate was tremendous! It was passionate and lively, and very democratically run. Everyone had their chance to speak. And many of us did, with absolute fury at the way the decision to affiliate to the Better Together campaign had been decided by Usdaw leaders without first giving subs-paying members the chance to debate the issue.

Much of the debate after the two main speakers was about union democracy, the need for members to be involved and consulted by our union’s national leadership before making such big decisions. To say people were angry is an understatement.

Lawrence Wason, our union’s top official in Scotland, spoke first on behalf of Usdaw’s support for No. He started by saying “I am not ashamed or embarrassed to speak for this position. I’m not doing so because I was asked or told to, but because Usdaw does not believe independence would deliver a better life for workers.”

One member later asked him why he felt he had to say he wasn’t ashamed, as it sounded very negative. He told her, “The No campaign is negative”.

Lawrence argued for a No vote to “get change so the UK economy is run by and for the people. We must retain the means to realize this vision by continued democratic political participation at UK level.”

Richie Venton denounced Usdaw’s leadership for claiming in 2012 they were ‘joining with like minded organisations and people in the Better Together campaign.’

“Behind the coy words, that means they have spent the past two years in bed with the Tories, who fund the Labour-fronted Better Together, which has poured out lies, myths and scaremongering to bully us into denying ourselves democratic self-government.”

He exposed lies and myths about pensions, Scotland’s economic strength, promises of extra powers, and explained how Scotland’s wishes have been repeatedly trampled on by Westminster. “Democratic political participation at UK level? Scotland opposes, but Westminster imposes!”

Richie quoted the email every union member in Scotland had received that morning from Usdaw general secretary John Hannett, asking us to vote No (even if we don’t know!) for “the best of both worlds, by keeping the Scottish parliament without losing the strength and security of the UK”.

“Try telling 95% of the population about ‘strength and security’ in the UK when they’ve suffered a 12% drop in real wages since 2003”, said Richie.

“Or tell that to retail workers whose jobs would be endangered by Westminster plans to slash 730,000 public sector jobs, cutting their ability to shop, undermining our job security.

“Or the children in poverty, the workers relying on foodbanks and the pensioners dying of hypothermia in energy rich Scotland every winter – while energy companies profiteer and Westminster squanders £100bn on real weapons of nuclear destruction.”

Richie warned that even if Labour was elected next year, “they agree with 90% of the Tories’ cuts, have been stony silent on scrapping their anti-union laws, and started the destruction of the NHS in England which the Tories have accelerated.”

He called on fellow-Usdaw members to vote Yes and then organise to fight for real change, including the best workplace rights in Europe, the £10 minimum wage being discussed at the TUC conference this week, a childcare revolution, and creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs in green energy, house-building and transport. “Real safety and security in a Scotland we shape in favour of the working class majority population”.

A great debate followed, passionate but respectful.

At the end we agreed to have an open vote on Yes, No and Don’t Know, as an indication of Usdaw members’ views after a long, healthy, two-sided debate.

The result was 87.5% for Yes, 12.5% Don’t Know and Zero for No.

Some of the undecided said they now lean towards voting Yes. Several of those who voted Yes on the night had arrived at the meeting as No voters. One woman who had been a No, and voted Don’t Know after the debate, told the meeting, “I’ve had more straight answers and common sense from Richie tonight than I’ve heard from anywhere for the last two years. You might get me to vote Yes yet!”

Surely this is the kind of democratic debate every Usdaw branch should have had? And surely it shows Usdaw members see the sense of independence to use Scotland’s wealth to benefit our wages, public services, workplace rights and job security?