A three-page advert in “Labour Research” (monthly magazine of the Labour Research Department) costs £4,000. But the current issue of the magazine gives the SNP three pages of advertising for nothing.
Uncritically and inaccurately, an article entitled “Scotland and Employment Relations: Scotland - Showing the Way?” covers the SNP’s position on the Tories’ Trade Union Bill and the SNP’s attitude towards trade unions.
The article accepts without challenge Sturgeon’s claim that the SNP “will do everything in our power to frustrate, undermine and stop the Bill being enacted.” It portrays the Labour Party as tagging on behind the SNP government’s “strong opposition to the Bill”.
And it highlights specific measures supposedly taken by the SNP government to promote fairness in the workplace: promoting the Living Wage, introducing tighter procurement guidelines, investing in workers, and working in partnership with the STUC in the “Fair Work Convention”.
But all this is far removed from the reality of the SNP’s policies and practices in relation to not just the Trade Union Bill but also to the broader trade union and labour movement.
The SNP is certainly opposed to the Trade Union Bill. But the motion passed at its last conference made no mention of the Bill’s attack on the political levy. And while it encouraged SNP members to “play their part” in opposing the Bill, it contained no specific proposals for campaigning.
By contrast, the motion passed at the last Scottish Labour Party (SLP) conference condemned the Bill’s attack on trade unions’ political funds and also contained a number of specific proposals for campaigning against the Bill.
These included: calling for a Legislative Consent Motion (see below); promoting the position of non-co-operation with the Bill taken by Labour-controlled local authorities; and “organising rallies and further weeks of action in conjunction with the trade union movement.”
Even prior to the conference the SLP had already organised a weekend of action against the Bill and printed 250,000 leaflets for distribution (carrying the logos of 14 affiliated trade unions, and with the strapline: “Solidarity, Socialism, Equality”).
The “Labour Research” article also refers to all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities pledging to refuse to implement the terms of the Bill. But it fails to mention that this was an initiative of Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council and other Labour-controlled authorities, with SNP-controlled authorities tagging along behind.
And then there is the article’s uncritical acceptance of Sturgeon’s claim that the SNP would do everything in its power to “frustrate, undermine and stop the Bill being enacted.”
In fact, the amendment to the Bill tabled by the SNP in Westminster did no more than say that the Bill should not apply to Scotland. And when the Bill was voted on after its second reading, the SNP did not even bother demanding a vote on its own amendment!
The SNP’s position on a Legislative Consent Motion (LCM, a Holyrood parliamentary device, requiring Westminster legislation to be approved by Holyrood before it applies in Scotland) is even further removed from Sturgeon’s claims.
After weeks of dithering about whether it would support Labour’s call for an LCM for the Bill, the SNP finally came out in support of an LCM on 9th December. But the very next day Holyrood’s Presiding Officer declared that the Bill did not require an LCM and ruled it out of order.
The SNP meekly accepted the Presiding Officer’s decision. Its support for an LCM had lasted all of 24 hours! When Labour MSP James Kelly sought to challenge the ruling and was thrown out of Holyrood for doing so, the SNP was silent again.
(A much shorter article in the same issue of “Labour Research” reports on the ruling, with an opening sentence suggesting that the SNP had led the call for an LCM: “An attempt by the Scottish government to block the Trade Union Bill from becoming law in Scotland has failed.”)
The same uncritical attitude is again in evidence in the “Labour Research” article when it covers various measures implemented by the SNP government.
The article points to the growing number of employers in Scotland paying the Living Wage.
It omits to mention that on four occasions the SNP in Holyrood voted down Labour proposals – backed by the Scottish TUC – to make payment of the Living Wage a condition of being awarded a public contract.
The article points to “new procurement guidance which explicitly recognises fair work.”
It omits to mention that the SNP in Holyrood voted down Labour amendments – backed by Scottish trade unions – to the Procurement Bill which would have banned companies engaged in blacklisting or aggressive tax avoidance from being awarded public contracts.
By October of 2015 16 public sector contracts in Scotland, worth nearly £1 billion, had subsequently been awarded to companies guilty of blacklisting.
The article points to “measures taken by the Scottish government to invest in workers.”
It omits to mention that many workers are unable to ‘benefit’ from such measures as jobs have been axed under the impact of SNP austerity: 40,000 local government jobs; 4,500 jobs in the NHS; 4,000 school teaching posts; 3,600 Further Education teaching posts; and another 2,100 in other public sector bodies.
The uncritical readiness of the article to accept the SNP’s claims at face value even leads it to ignore what the SNP Trade Union Group (TUG) – presumably the most pro-trade-union element in the SNP – has to say about trade unions in Scotland.
The three currents of opinion which exist within the SNP TUG were outlined in an article written by its Acting Secretary and published in “Scottish Left Review” last year.
Firstly, “many members” of the SNP TUG have the position that “the SNP TUG should become a union itself so they can leave their current unions.”
In other words: Break up a multi-national trade union movement along national lines, and restrict membership of the national breakaway to members and supporters of one particular party.
Secondly, “some SNP TUG members” want their unions to disaffiliate from Labour and affiliate to the SNP instead. The rationale for this is presumably that Labour in power has a record of privatisation, cutting jobs, underfunding public services and failing to tackle inequalities.
But so too does the SNP government in Holyrood! (In fact, even more so in certain respects than past Labour governments.)
Thirdly, “unions should not be affiliated to any political party and instead should support candidates and policies on a case-by-case basis.”
This is to advocate turning the clock back by over a century.
Instead of building a trade-union-based political party to represent the collective interests of the working class – the rationale for creating the Labour Party – trade unions should shop around in the marketplace to see who has the best offers for sale.
None of these three currents of opinion amount to “showing the way” to the rest of the trade union movement. On the contrary, they would all weaken trade unionism as a collective social force in Scotland, and undermine its ability to exercise a political influence.
Indisputably, the SNP is not in the same league as the Tories.
The latter are the party of the interests of the ruling class, viscerally hostile to trade unionism. The SNP is a nationalist party with an essentially corporatist approach to trade unionism, seeking to absorb it into its nationalist project.
But to select the Tories as the comparator against which to measure the SNP – “When it comes to trade union relations with the Holyrood and Westminster Parliaments, there’s something of a difference.” – is to set the bar unacceptably low.
Especially when the result of carrying out such a comparison is to ignore the record and the reality of the attitude of the SNP and its TUG towards trade unionism.