Union Matters

This week the Scottish Parliament had the opportunity to debate the UK Government’s Trade Union Bill for the first time.  This followed exceptional scrutiny of the Bill by the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee under the stewardship of Bruce Crawford MSP.  The Committee report included some startling conclusions. (http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/95587.aspx#a22)

 “We conclude that there is clear and widespread opposition to this legislation in Scotland. The Scottish Government do not believe that the UK Trade Union Bill will bring any benefit to the people of Scotland and instead, will have a negative impact on Scottish public authorities, trade unions and the delivery of public services in Scotland.

  1. It is the Scottish Government view that the best solution would be for the UK Government to devolve industrial relations to the Scottish Parliament, but ask that at the very least the UK Government remove Scotland from the territorial extent of the Bill.
    1. The Scottish Government asks the Scottish Parliament to consider the arguments set out in Memorandum and on this basis, make a recommendation to the UK Government that Scotland should be removed from the extent of the Bill to that it should be amended appropriately in order to ensure the Bill’s provisions should not undermine the generally positive industrial relations climate in Scotland nor restrict the wider activities of trade unions in Scotland.
    2. The Scottish Parliament has already voiced strong opposition to this legislation in Scotland in its debate on 10 November and much viewed the legislation as impacting on devolved competence.

On this of all days, one might have expected that the benches opposite, with the exception of the tory party, might have come together to support the motion in the name of the Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham. Unfortunately it was at times a tetchy and ill-tempered affair.


As someone who was born and brought up in industrial Lanarkshire, the trade union movement and industrial relations have been integral in my life. The traditions of solidarity and unity in Lanarkshire were brought home to me last year when I stood with representatives from the trade union movement, the STUC and people from the communities of Motherwell and Wishaw at the unveiling of the steelworkers memorial, which is a beautiful sculpture by Andy Scott and a fitting tribute to the many workers in the steel industry who lost their lives in the workplace. However, the site of Ravenscraig on which the statue stands will forever be remembered by me as the place that epitomised in my formative years the failure of industrial relations.

I remain scarred by the news reports of the miners’ strike and picketing at Ravenscraig. I fully believe that conflict was orchestrated by a Government on an ideological mission to irreversibly damage the trade union movement. I thought that the anti-trade-union legislation that followed was the worst that a Tory Government could do to a movement that has done so much to secure workers’ rights, to improve health and safety, and to protect workers. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

The Cabinet Secretary made her feelings and the position of the Scottish Government absolutely clear:

“In November last year, the Scottish Parliament made plain its opposition to the bill with the motion opposing the legislation being carried by 104 votes to 14. In that debate I explained the Scottish Government’s view that trade unions are a force for good in modern society; that unionised workplaces have more engaged staff, a higher level of staff training and a progressive approach to staff wellbeing; that unions help employers to create the safe, humane and productive working conditions that head off industrial disputes and build better businesses; that any legislation that undermines the value and contribution that trade unions can make is a “thoroughly bad idea”; and that the bill is nothing more than an ideological attack on unions, with no evidence to underpin it.”

These sentiments were repeated by many of my colleagues during the debate with excellent contributions from Kevin Stewart, Christina McKelvie and Mark McDonald, who all emphasised that if the Scottish Parliament had power over employment legislation, as Northern Ireland does, we could have been rejecting these proposals from the UK Government.  Labour blocked this proposal during the commission deliberations.