The SNP will be moving an amendment to the Tories’ Trade Union Bill that the Bill does not apply to Scotland.
Of course, the amendment will be defeated. The SNP knows that. In fact, the SNP tabled the amendment at the second reading of the Bill but did not even bother pushing it to a vote.
And these are the people who used to denounce Scotland’s then 50 Labour MPs as “the feeble fifty”!
Some ‘constitutional experts’ now argue that, having already tabled the amendment but not pushed it to a vote, the amendment cannot be tabled a second time.
Whether that is true or not is irrelevant to understanding the SNP’s attitude to the Trade Union Bill. As is the case with everything else, the SNP’s attitude is determined by, and subordinate to, its goal of independence for Scotland.
One of the worst aspects of the Bill is its requirement that trade union members ‘opt into’ paying the political levy. This would turn the clock back to the 1920s. Even Thatcher rejected such as proposal as ‘too extreme’ for her own anti-union laws.
The requirement to ‘opt in’ would slash the money available to unions to engage in political campaigning. With 13 trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party, it would also have a devastating knock-on effect on trade union support for the Labour Party.
But the motion on the Trade Union Bill passed by the SNP Trade Union Group (TUG) earlier this year and submitted to the recent SNP annual conference did not even mention this element of the Bill.
This is not surprising.
When an SNP TUG member spoke at a meeting of the Unite United Left (Scotland) shortly after the general election, the one SNP TUG policy she was able to specify was: to achieve the disaffiliation of trade unions in Scotland from the Labour Party.
The Trade Union Bill will not result in disaffiliations. But it will drastically impact on trade union political campaigning and the Labour-unions link. The Tories are doing the SNP’s job for them!
Hence the failure of the SNP TUG – presumably the most ‘trade-union-friendly’ element of the SNP – to even mention that element of the Bill in its motion.
Hence also the fact that a number of SNP MPs are known to be only too happy with that element of the Bill.
(And if the SNP TUG is the most ‘union-friendly’ element of the SNP, what does that say about the rest of the SNP membership? Of the 4,000 people who attended this year’s SNP conference, just 40 (forty) bothered to turn up to its fringe meeting.)
In announcing the SNP policy “to ask that Scotland is excluded from the entire Bill”, SNP Minister Roseanna Cunningham explained that the Bill would “lead to greater confusion among employees.”
It would “directly impact on Scottish business and especially our devolved public services” and was therefore not “a constructive platform upon which we can pursue our ambitions for Scottish workers.”
The SNP seems to have fairly modest ambitions for Scottish workers. The Employment “Policy Base” on the SNP website does not even mention workers rights’ and trade unions.
Nor does the Economy “Policy Base”, which informs its readers that the SNP “wants Scotland to be the most competitive place in the UK (surely shome mishtake? Ed.) to do business and invest. The Scottish government provides the most competitive business rates package anywhere in the UK.”
And the SNP’s White Paper on Independence, produced for last year’s referendum, made no mention of repealing any of the Tories’ anti-union laws in an independent Scotland. Not even – in contrast to the current policy of the Labour Party, supposedly the ‘Red Tories’ – restoring the right to take secondary action.
As a nationalist party, the SNP does not and cannot call for a mobilisation of the target of the Trade Union Bill: the UK-wide labour movement – the trade unions and the Labour Party, which, however imperfectly, gives political expression to their interests.
For the SNP, the Trade Union Bill is not a class attack by the Tories on the working class. Instead, in the words of the SNP TUG motion, it is “an unnecessary ideological attack” by “the UK government” on “the largest part of civic society.”
Echoing the theme that the Bill is bad for Scottish business, the SNP TUG’s own webpage declares: “The SNP believes that good employment practices are a key contributor to economic competitiveness and social justice. The SNP are firmly opposed to the UK government’s Trade Union Reform Bill.”
The SNP’s “firm opposition” to the Bill might be slightly more credible if they could at least get the name of the Bill correct: it is the Trade Union Bill.
The SNP TUG webpage concludes with the bold declaration: “We will work with all those in the trade union and labour movement who share this vision to deliver the change families and communities urgently need.”
So, the SNP TUG wants to break up the labour movement in Scotland – by calling for trade union disaffiliation from the Labour Party. And it will “work with” only those section of the labour movement who share its “vision”. Not even the SWP is that sectarian.
The SNP’s half-hearted opposition to the Trade Union Bill confirms the poisonously divisive nature of nationalism (all nationalisms, not just Scottish nationalism).
It is the SNP’s nationalist agenda which defines its approach to the Trade Union Bill, with Nicola Sturgeon writing to Jeremy Corbyn to demand that he support devolution of trade union and employment law from Westminster to Holyrood.
And then, when the Labour Party rejects the SNP’s divisive proposal and the Tories use their majority to push through the Bill, the SNP will use this as another demagogic argument for independence for Scotland. Mission accomplished!
For the SNP, the need for a labour movement mobilisation against the Tories’ class warfare counts for nothing in comparison to an opportunity to ritualistically denounce “Westminster rule” and ‘oppose’ the Trade Union Bill as “confusing” for Scottish workers and bad for Scottish business.
And what credibility can the SNP have as the self-proclaimed champion of workers’ rights when its Finance Secretary, John Swinney, has crossed PCS picket lines at Holyrood – along with Tories and Lib-Dems – declaring that it was his “duty” to do so?