A New Direction for Scotland

21 Nov

By PAT RAFFERTY, Unite Secretary

In September your union contacted hundreds of fellow members to try and get a handle on the priorities of our members including the future of Scotland. We have spent some time analysing the May Scottish elections and the fall out – and we have been consulting our members in detail for their views. I am sure you may have received text messages, phone calls and emails.

We have compiled a picture which challenges many key assumptions that are too often made about the direction of Scottish opinion. This was the honest answers of our members – no manipulation – we are listening to what you are telling us. We are doing so because we are constructing policies and campaigns that reflect the priorities of our members. We believe that being a member of our union is vital to creating a fairer workplace and a better society but particularly at this moment where mainstream social democratic parties in Scotland are not effectively addressing the hopes and concerns of our members.

Some of the results from the poll which were published in the Daily Record were predictably characterised as hostile to SNP – supportive of Labour, and, anti-independence – pro-union. However, these cheap characterisations fail to understand the real message of the poll which is that the current situation is no longer tenable. It’s clear that the people of Scotland want more powers not simply for their own sake but to ensure we have higher employment, better schools and continued excellence in our public services in particular our Scottish NHS.

The poll found that Unite members do not want separation and – perhaps as important – they do not think it will happen. 32% thought independence was not a possibility at all in the next ten years and in total 45% thought it was very unlikely or not a possibility. Only 12% thought independence was certain – a counterweight to the assumptions being made by First Minister, Alex Salmond.

The results of the polls found that the focus of our members is not on the constitution but on jobs, schools, hospitals, and living standards. More than 60% ranked job creation to be a number one priority. More than 40% who responded thought the NHS to be a top priority. And while 33% thought education a priority; only 6% thought constitutional reform was of such importance that it was a priority, and only 8% said with respect to independence that it ranked number one in terms of a priority.

The SNPs recent political focus has been squarely on a referendum and independence.  A tame Plan MacB policy on the future of jobs and investment in Scotland was rudderless, sorely lacking in long-term strategic planning for the future of Scotland’s economy.  However, and this is very important, our members want change – big change. The status-quo it is no longer viable. 62% of respondents ‘agreed’ or ‘completely agreed’ that Scotland should have more powers.

Bringing foreign policy under a Scottish Government was important to only 13% of people – and putting defence under a Scottish Parliament was important to only 16%. And our poll showed the worries people have about the position of the SNP specifically about three potential worries people have – about bailing out Scottish banks, being forced into the euro and a black hole in resources for the NHS and schools.

We challenged people on whether they agreed or disagreed that ‘Scotland can’t afford independence. Had we been independent when the banks went bust we would have ended up like Ireland’  23% did not agree at all with this but more, 37%, agreed with the statement and 49% in total thought it was at least likely to be true.

A second question was ‘If Scotland left the UK we would end up in the Euro and this is just too much of a risk’. 22% did not agree with this statement that there was a risk. But again 38% did agree with the statement and 51% either agreed with the statement or thought it likely to be true. The poll if it was to be asked today I am sure would be even more in favour of the statement.

Again we challenged people on how deep their commitment was to Scottish autonomy. We asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement that ‘Scotland spends 12 billion-a-year more than it collects in taxes. If we lose this either our schools or hospitals are under threat or our taxes will go up we can’t afford independence’. Interestingly only 18% did not agree at all with the statement that we can’t afford independence. 34% agreed with it and another 15% more agreed at least in part with the statement again making nearly 50% dubious about the benefits of independence and aware we might not be able to afford it.

So the Scottish people are worried that the banks might weigh us down, that the SNP might put Scotland into the euro, and, worried about a big black hole in finance for the NHS and schools in a separate Scotland. Clearly bread and butter issues dwarf constitutional questions.  Progress in creating a more prosperous and fairer Scotland is the key issue for the Scottish people – and this should be the challenge for all political parties. No Party is effectively meeting this challenge particularly the morally bankrupt Lib Dems and Conservatives.

Constitutional tinkering or even constitutional surgery takes second place. Today our members’ worries are about their livelihoods and their children’s futures. The challenge for any Party which claims social democratic credentials is to develop a policy agenda that delivers growth, raises employment levels and pay, improves living standards, and, invests in education and the NHS.  It is the Party that offers the best vision on these issues and the means of achieving it through- if necessary- further powers in our Scottish Parliament that will have the best chance of winning the Scottish peoples’ endorsement.

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