Scottish Independence and the Trade Union Movement

Trade Unions must realise that they are drawn from a broad political and constitutional background- or risk losing membership

The leader of the Scottish Labour branch, Richard Leonard is often regarded as a comical figure of fun within the pro-independence community. His weekly contribution to First Minister’s Questions is often followed by a mixture of hilarity and exasperation as half of Scotland’s social media choruses “that’s devolved!” in response to whatever hobby horse he is atop of at the time. But is Mr Leonard really as dim as a two-watt bulb, or is he far cannier than he appears? Like his predecessor he’s keen on a prop or a story to help his claim along; after all a picture paints a thousands words, and with a friendly media only interested in rebroadcasting his claims and not scrutinising them they don’t need to stand up to rigorous examination. All that matters is that initial image for the morning press or that initial soundbite for the evening news, both of which are the happy hunting ground of the British nationalists in Scotland. It’s probably fair to say that Mr Leonard and his cronies are happy in that grey murk which exists in the general public’s mind regarding the roles of the parliaments, allowing him to echo whatever the party in England and Wales are particularly concerned about when it suits, even when it’s not entirely relevant.

I don’t believe that the bumbling clown persona which we have given him is an accurate one, and could lead us to write off all his efforts, to our own misfortune. At present there are a number of industrial disputes going on in Scotland. Some of the trade unions are affiliated to the Labour Party and will be working very closely with them, if not as a direct extension of them; however we cannot simply write off their activities as solely politically motivated. There are real concerns, and genuine demands being made by the trade unions on behalf of their members and it would be foolish of the independence movement to simply write these off as grievance politics. Many of those unions members are pro-independence and are members for the collective strength and protection they provide. Having said that of course, pro-indy trade unionists would be remiss to simply go along with the line being pursued by their unions unquestioningly, and must hold their own officials to account to ensure that their muscle is being used in the right manner, for the right reasons.

There are of course a number of unions who are not affiliated to the Labour Party, such as the RMT and the EIS. As an RMT member I am aware that there are many people at the top level of the union who would have us re-affiliate with Labour, a view not shared by the majority of members who recently rejected such an alliance. That of course does not prevent union officials being sympathetic to Labour and from pushing things as far as they can to give support to Labour where possible. There are many areas where they will share common cause, but members need to scrutinise these and decide whether they are valid reasons or not. I would imagine the same arrangements will exist within other unions, the EIS being the prime example at the moment. With teachers by and large earning much more than the average Scot, demands for a 10% pay increase seem unreasonable to most people, and with the EIS being courted by Mr Leonard and the Labour Party they are receiving a hostile response from many. While this should be of concern to EIS members it’s a win/win for Mr Leonard; should they win their claim he can bask in the glory of someone else’s efforts, should they fail he will have shown the trade unions that he’s on their side, and they will make sure their members know it.

He is using his trade union connections extremely effectively by being seen to attach himself to every industrial dispute he can at present, affiliated union or not. Labour MSP Neil Findlay recently stated that “The only progressive alliance Labour wants is with the trade unions” and this explains why Mr Leonard has been so keen to be seen to support trade union activities in Scotland. The unions have an active membership which Labour in Scotland doesn’t. For such a strategy to truly work though, for Labour to regain what they lost, they need to put independence to bed and win back former supporters. Sadly some union members have short memories. Glasgow City Council workers who were denied equal pay are now championed by the man who helped deny them, and march beside him to rally for something they should have had on his watch!

Pro independence trade unionists must take heed of Mr Leonard’s activities. It’s up to us not to allow our unions (in Scotland at any rate) merely to become the physical footprint of a Labour Party which simply doesn’t have the activists required to campaign themselves. We need to ensure that we do not simply write off the trade union movement to the Labour Party, and instead we must make a point of becoming active for Scotland within it, we must question what the union does in our collective name, and we must and ensure that officials within it are aware of the strength of independence support that exists in their ranks. This means being visible as independence campaigners on picket lines and days of action; will Mr Leonard and his activists be happy to share images of them campaigning next to workers with Yes t-shirts on? Somehow, I think not.

Perhaps in the near future we will have Scottish trade unions which truly represent their members and are not seen to be a tool of a particular political party. Until then, and so long as the Labour Party remains hostile to Scottish independence and pursues its policies from a British Nationalist standpoint then we must fight for Scotland from the inside of the trade unions and not against them.

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Monklands Hospital: Coatbridge to Gartcosh Direct Rail Link

At the evening public meeting in Airdrie Town Hall in September, NHS Lanarkshire stated that they had had discussion with Network Rail regarding introducing a direct rail service from Coatbridge to Gartcosh to link to their proposed new hospital. On the night it was stated that this would be fairly easy and that they had an assurance from Network Rail which said that this was merely a “timetabling issue”.

I submitted two freedom of information requests on this topic, one to Network Rail and one to NHS Lanarkshire asking the same question:

“Please could you supply all correspondence between North Lanarkshire Health Board/North Lanarkshire Council and Network Rail in relation to the provision of a new rail service which would run from Coatbridge to Gartcosh via the Gartcosh Single Line.”

Network Rail responded within around two weeks, and confirmed that they had no records of any correspondence on this subject.

NHS Lanarkshire have not responded. They have until the 16th October to do so, which is sadly after the public consultation closes.

Monklands Hospital: The Tail Wagging The Dog

Letter published in the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser

It seems quite clear that the preferred option for the location of the new Monklands Hospital is Gartcosh, despite it not even being near Monklands. The recent consultations which took place was more of a sales pitch than anything else, the only problem is, no-one wanted to buy it. The vast majority of journeys made to the hospital are by car, that’s undeniable. But the vast majority of those journeys are made by patients and their families. yet the hospital is being relocated to Gartcosh because it has a rail link for staff to get to work. This really is a case of the tail wagging the dog!

What disappoints me the most about this whole debacle is that the two main political parties in the area seem more interested in playing the blame game than coming together on an issue on which they by and large agree on. Both parties have issued petitions; the SNP against the local health board, despite having their man on the board, while Labour have issued theirs against the Scottish Government, obviously because they have representatives on the health board too. Labours’s Scotish branch leader Richard Leonard is campaigning to keep the hospital on the present site, while the SNP are campaigning to keep it in Monklands. Bizarrely the Labour candidate in the Coatbridge by-election is also campaigning, like the SNP, to keep it in the Monklands area. Confused yet? Our politicians certainly are! As for the Conservatives, if anyone knows their opinion, do let me know, as I don’t seem to be able to find it.

FOR Scotland or Against?

IMG_20180615_075826.jpgIMG_20180615_075829.jpgI was genuinely moved to read the column written by former Daily Record editor in which he wrote of his conversion from supporting the union to supporting independence for Scotland. As the man responsible for the infamous Daily Record “Vow” front page that is an amazing turn around. The reasons that he gave for his change of heart go to the very core of what our desire for independence means; that on principle Scotland should have the same right to run its own affairs for the benefit of its citizens as any other country. The right to decide what’s best for Scotlands environment, its health, education, defence, trade, in fact every aspect of life here should be taken by a parliament we elect as a reflection of our society, and not by a parliament hundreds of miles away, which treats us with contempt and which appoints a mouthpiece to talk down to us; a mouthpiece who tells us our country was extinguished and that we are are not the valued partners they led us to believe, in fact they see as not even partners at all, just an insignificant part, to sit down, shut up, do as we are told and just be thankful for the benevolent charity they bestow upon us.

Mr Foote must have hung his head a thousand times as the Vow he crafted suffered the death of a thousand cuts. All the sentiment pured out by the three signatories before the vote in 2014 was revealed as false, until there was nothing left but a trail of broken promises, and I am sure that Mr Foote is not alone in his realisation that it was time to stand up and say that enough is enough.

Mr Foote is clearly not a British Nationalist and voted No on the basis that at the time he thought he was acting in Scotlands best interest. Four years later he has looked at what was promised against what has been delivered and has made a reasoned decision that the best way to protect our country is to make it independent. This goes to the very heart of our campaign and it is one that we must grasp; that many of our fellow Scots weighed up the information and voted No because they thought they were standing up for Scotland in doing so. Instead they have have come to realise that remaining in this union is damaging Scotland and is actually against Scotland’s interests. These are though, by and large, people who have over the last few years, and indeed probably all their life, not supported the SNP, and perhaps never will. People who support traditional Labour values and followed their leadership when it told them that they were Better Together perhaps now see that we are not, but haven’t changed their mind on other issues and who have realised that perhaps the best way to see those values implemented is in an independent Scotland. There are also people out there who are Conservative but not unionist, who will still believe in their ideals but see that Britain isn’t working for Scotland and will carry those ideals forward independently of the UK.

There are many people who are committed to the UK and will support it no matter how damaging it is to Scotland. They will never be swayed by any reason, even the evidence of their own eyes. People like Mr Foote however have crossed the tipping point. Others like him have yet to do so and we need to help them to think again afresh, and I feel that we need to reshape our argument to win those people over. The very existense of Scotland is under threat from the Westminster. They attack our language, our culture, our people and our parliament. Those facts are undisputable. We now need to ask people not if they are Yes or No to independence, but if they are For or Against Scotland. We need to rip out the anti-Tory, anti-Labour rhetoric from our repertoire and instead make a place for them beside us. People who once opposed us are now close to being convinced that being a normal, self-determining country is now best for Scotland, and that it’s a place where they have every chance of contributing and thriving. So let’s welcome them, not isolate them based on what their views were four years ago. After all, we all want what’s best for Scotland, don’t we?

Monklands Hospital Closure: Time For Our Politicians To Earn Their Keep

At his first candidacy hustings back in 2015 when Neil Gray promised to deliver a new hospital to replace Monklands Hospital we all laughed. We’re not laughing now. The news which broke over the weekend that Gartcosh was the preferred site for a replacement hospital has gone down like a cup of cold sick and no wonder. Looking about the town, seeing one closed shop after another, and then seeing another major employer about to leave could prove to be the death knell for Airdrie.

Glenmavis as an alternative is not ideal, but at least it retains the Health Service footprint in roughly the same area, primarily serving Airdrie, Coatbridge and Cumbernauld, even if the public transport links are pitiful. Can anyone explain to us the logic in moving the hospital from the centre of North Lanarkshire to the western border, where in all likelihood it will become the A&E hospital of choice for the residents of the east of Glasgow? The current site is centrally located, has a rail link, bus links and is within walking distance for many people from Airdrie and Coatbridge. Moving it to Gartcosh will put it in walking distance for people from Gartcosh, and that’s about it. At a time when we are trying to reduce reliance on cars and move people to public transport this makes absolutely no sense! I checked the Traveline Scotland website journey planner and a trip to Gartcosh from Airdrie either involves an expensive series of bus journeys using multiple companies with incompatible ticketing systems or getting a train to Bellgrove in Glasgow then another back to Gartcosh! How does that help the poorest in our society who are less likely to own a car? There is a direct rail line which runs from Coatbridge to Gartcosh with a mere 5 minute journey time, but there are no passenger trains running on it, so either way our local hospital will now be over an hour away by public transport and this is simply unacceptable. Unfortunately it seems it is now health board policy to build new facilities where they aren’t within walking distance to deter use.

Having lived in Edinburgh for a time I know that there is nothing unusual with a health board spreading its services across multiple locations. The difference is that they have a cheap and integrated transport infrastructure to support that. North Lanarkshire’s shambolic, haphazard system doesn’t, and it’s one of the prime reasons why Monklands Hospital must stay in it’s present location or at worst Glenmavis.

Our town is on life support, and this would finally pull the plug. Our elected representatives, Neil Gray MP in particular, who opened this can of worms, must now stand up for Airdrie not only to retain our hospital, but to give us a joined up local transport system so it accessible by all the residents of Lanarkshire who rely on it, not just car owners.