News of what's going on in radical politics in Scotland.

Economic benefits of public sector provision

Mar 30, 2016 Add a comment

‘The economic benefits of public sector provision’ is the title of a new report commissioned by the RMT union into life-line ferry services in the Clyde and Hebrides.  Written by Jeanette Findlay, University of Glasgow, the report examines the relative merits of the private and public sector bidders in retendering process in relation to the fulfilment of the contract itself and other elements which have an economic value to the island economies and to the Scottish economy. This is done in the context of the Ferries Plan 2013-22 of the Scottish Government. The report notes that the dangers identified in the competitive tendering process since 2005 still pertain including those of ‘moral hazard’ and ‘the Principal Agent’ while observing CalMac Ferries Ltd has operated in an efficient, innovative and  strategic way in the conduct of the contract and has shared with the Scottish Government all the benefits of cost savings. Meanwhile, Serco has an extremely troubled history in relation to its public sector contracts; it has no significant experience in the maritime industry and its financial health and business model raise concerns in relation to any unforeseen aspect of the current contract as it proceeds. CalMac has employment policies and values which are fully in line with Scottish Government thinking in these matters.

The full report can be read at

Human Rights Inquiry Concludes with Letter

Mar 29, 2016 Add a comment

The European and External Relations Committee of the Scottish Parliament launched a ‘Human Rights Inquiry’ in 2015 to which the JRF made a submission. The Inquiry has now concluded and Carole Ewart has written a Blog on the Committee’s letter to the UK Government and what steps the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament can take to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. Carole has written two policy papers on human rights for the JRF and is a Project Board Member. The Blog can be found on the Glasgow University Policy Scotland website at

Human Rights Protection in Scotland – Raising the Bar

Mar 03, 2016 Add a comment

Today the Jimmy Reid Foundation publishes a new policy paper on why Scotland must do better to respect, protect and fulfil human rights across devolved functions.  Publication coincides with Alex Neil, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights giving evidence to the European and External Relations Committee of the Scottish Parliament as it concludes its ‘Human Rights Inquiry’.

Human rights are under attack from the UK Government which is threatening to abolish the Human Rights Act (HRA), possibly withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and introduce a British Bill of Rights.  Although the Scottish Government explicitly supports the HRA and the ECHR, the real problem remains the failure of ‘duty bearers’ ie the public sector and those providing services of a public nature, to comply with existing human rights obligations.  Fixing that problem should occupy the political energy and practical action of our elected politicians with a consequent gain of the public understanding that human rights are relevant and powerful in making our lives better, and Scotland fairer.   A YouGov poll for the Scottish Government in 2015 confirmed the difficulties in perception with one in five Scots saying human rights are for minority groups only and two in five Scots saying they have no bearing on their everyday life.

Carole Ewart who wrote the Paper pointed out that

“Applying human rights equally and fairly can address urgent issues including poverty, poor care for elderly people and unfair employment practices.  Scotland must now take deliberate, concrete and measurable steps to comply with existing human rights law, address the reputational damage which has led to people regarding human rights as weak, owned by a minority and of little relevance, and focus on enforcement action which makes Scotland a model of best practice.

“Although human rights are to be included in the National Performance Framework, there is a fear that it will fail to deliver a prompt impact, and promises to consult on extending out list of human rights will serve as a distraction from the main problem of delivery and delay positive action further.”

The paper argues that in the longer term consulting the people of Scotland on what further rights they would like to see enforceable in domestic courts in very welcome particularly on economic and social rights.  Thus far a Bill of Rights has been hijacked as a tactic to constrain human rights by the UK Government whereas in other countries a Bill of Rights is regarded as a positive vehicle to mainstream and enforce human rights and we can learn from such experiences eg from the State of Victoria in Australia.  The paper concludes with four recommendations which can be enacted now and after the May Holyrood elections:

1. The Scottish Government should entrench its commitment to human rights by proactively ensuring that our 10,000 + public services in Scotland fulfil their existing obligations to comply with the ECHR as well as international law. The model of the Charter of Rights in the State of Victoria, Australia, should be considered.

2. The Scottish Parliament should entrench its commitment to human rights by setting up a Human Rights Committee to provide scrutiny of all Bills, inquiries etc. and ensures a focus on the impact on our human rights.  In particular the current human rights inquiry being undertaken by the European and External Affairs Committee should focus on duty bearers’ compliance with existing human rights obligations which are 18 years old.

3. The Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) consulted on, designed and established the framework for Scotland’s National Action Plan on Human Rights (SNAP).  Whilst a welcome development, and after two years of delivery, it is time to change the delivery mode from persuasive to compulsion supported by funding.

4. The Scottish Parliament elections in May 2016 provide an excellent opportunity to focus on human rights delivery in Scotland with each party setting out specific commitments in its manifesto.  Those commitments should include: agreement to improve human rights protection regardless of what the UK government decides on the future of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights; a public consultation on what human rights should be added to those which are currently enforceable in Scottish domestic courts; as a priority in May 2016, the elected Scottish government should require public authorities in Scotland to explicitly promote and comply with existing human rights law via regulations or legislation.

The Policy Paper is available here Human Rights 1 March

The agenda and papers for the European and External Relations Committee meeting on 3rd March can be found at

Democracy at Work – launch of JRF report on economic and industrial democracy

Feb 11, 2016 Add a comment

The Trade Union Bill will shortly become law. It will undermine workers’ rights and enhance the power and control of managers and employers. But even without it, workers in their workplaces still continue to experience a fundamental lack of democracy and control at work. Currently, Scotland and Britain are in the bottom half of the European league table for democracy at work. This timely new report for the Foundation analyses the contours of this present lamentable situation and outlines a number of proposals to give workers the means to control their work and working lives.

It is called ‘Rights and Respect: a vision for democracy in the workplace’ and  is written by Gregor Gall, Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Bradford. It is being launched today (Thursday 11 February) at a conference in the STUC as part of #heartunion week campaign against the Bill.

Amongst the proposals are measures on workplace and sectoral collective bargaining, right to take industrial action, co-determination, a strategy of encroachment upon the managerial prerogative, public ownership, worker cooperatives and tripartism.

The right to sectoral bargaining is worth highlighting in particular as a means to stop the ‘race to the bottom’ by taking out wages and conditions as a factor of competition between companies in the same sector. A form of co-determination is also worth highlighting so that workers can have their own representatives on the board of directors of the organisations they employ them.

In themselves the various proposals put forward are not new but what is new is using them together as a joined up, strategic means to solve a much longer standing issue of disempowerment and disenfranchisement in the workplace. Some of the proposals would provide for workers the greater ability to advance and defend their interests at work on immediate and day-to-day issues in the workplace – on such issues not just as pay but also the organisation of work – while others would allow workers to influence the decision making process within employing organisations and at the level of the economy. Without the latter, any advances in the former could be undermined.

Of the proposals, Professor Gall said: ‘The advance of neo-liberalism under the guise of human resource management has left workers in their workplaces more disempowered than ever before. This situation will only get worse with the arrival of the Trade Union Bill on the statute book. It is, therefore, imperative that in addition to opposing the Trade Union Bill the union movement takes a step back from this immediate task and considers how long-term and deep seated positive change can be brought about in workplaces so that workers empowered and enfranchised.’

He continued: ‘Although the times may seem inauspicious with a Conservative government and another looming recession, there are opportunities to be taken advantage to promote this radical reform of how workplaces are governed. Not least there is the new leadership of the Labour Party and in Nicola Sturgeon the first leader of the SNP who proclaims to be a social democrat. To do so would be to begin putting Scotland on Britain on a par with the current leaders in the field in Europe of workplace democracy like Germany and Sweden.’

Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) General, Secretary Grahame Smith added ‘Launched during #heartunion week, this paper makes a very welcome and positive contribution not just to the case for the value of trade unions, but by providing a vision of how properly organised workers, able to collectively bargain and participate in the management of their companies can change the industrial relations and the economy of this country for the better. The STUC intends to widely disseminate this paper which should part of the basis for unions’ work in improving the architecture of industrial relations in a Scotland.’

The full paper is available JRFRightsandRespect

Adjusting the Scottish Government’s Block Grant: taking the wider perspective

Jan 27, 2016 Add a comment

 As the negotiations between the Holyrood and Westminster governments over the fiscal settlement for Scotland continue and inch closer to some kind of deal, leading independent economist, Jim Cuthbert, argues there are ways to avoid Scotland falling into the ‘fiscal trap’ in a new policy paper for the Jimmy Reid Foundation called ‘Adjusting the Scottish Government’s Block Grant: taking a wider perspective’.

In noting the possibility of Scotland falling into ‘fiscal trap’, Cuthbert critiques the recent IFS report, ‘Adjusting Scotland’s Block Grant for Tax and welfare Powers; Assessing the Options’, and then lays outs the strategic alternative options.

Each option varies in its nature of method of indexation used for the block grant adjustment and outcomes of taxpayer fairness (see Appendix 1). The four options are Option A – Tax Revenue automatic; Option B – Tax Base manual; Option C – Fixed increment manual; and Option D – Fixed increment hybrid. For the purposes of comparison, Option A was based on the aforementioned IFS report.

Although not without their challenges, Cuthbert argues that Options C and D are by far the more meritorious. Option C indexes the block grant adjustment by a fixed low real percentage each year but faces potential problems of future, on-going adjustments. Option D goes a step further, addressing the problem of Scotland losing control over its own income tax rate when Westminster changes rUK income tax to fund reserved services. Thus, Option D restricts Westminster so that it could only change income tax in relation to ‘devolved’ services.

Turning to the political terrain for implementing either options C or D, Cuthbert argues 

‘While Option D solves the problem of Scotland losing control of its income tax rate in the event rUK changes income tax to fund devolved services, mechanisms for implementing Option D would involve something akin to federalism. Consequently, there would need to be an over-arching chamber setting a block grant for each of the parts of the UK, and making decisions on reserved services. Westminster (or that part of it which would be akin to an English parliament) would be responsible for topping up its block grant through income tax, and other devolved taxes, to fund its spending on ‘devolved’ services. This would obviously be a major constitutional step’.

Concluding the paper, Cuthbert states:

‘Options A and B are unacceptable, on the grounds that both options involve Scotland engaging in an economic race with rUK, when the risks and penalties are out of kilter with the limited economic powers available to Scotland. They are unacceptable to those Scots interested in implementing a more progressive tax system, now we know that elements on the unionist side regard these options as requiring Scotland to do precisely the opposite, and introduce more regressive taxation. Option D is probably a step too far, given public attitudes in England – which means there may be room for compromise around Option C’.

Download the Policy Paper JRFCuthbertSmithpaper Jan 2016 



Sort out our ports!

Jan 18, 2016 1 Comment

In a significant new policy paper entitled ‘Increased trade and economic growth won’t happen in Scotland until we sort out our ports’, Alf Baird warns the Scottish Government that its hopes of growing the Scottish economy to provide for increased employment and a higher tax base from which to fund public spending will will come too little without resolving the chronic crisis affecting Scotland’s major privately owned ports.  The paper can be downloaded here Economic growth & Scottish Ports

The paper argues that increasingly obsolete sea transportation facilities and links (docks, ports, shipping services) in Scotland mean existing international trade flows are weak and are becoming ever weaker as the Scottish economy continues to lose competitiveness. Indeed, much of Scotland’s traded goods have to be sent to and from ports in England, raising costs. The effect is that the amount of trade going through Scotland’s container ports is the same as that going though Iceland’s Reykjavik container port (when Iceland’s population is just 329,000). The obsolescence results from chronic lack of investment over decades by private equity port owners in new technologies, infrastructure and facilities as well as from the privatisation of the port authority role.

On this basis the paper contends that as ports in Scotland are a devolved responsibility, there is nothing to stop the Scottish Government formulating its own ‘ports policy’, preferably as part of a wider maritime transport and trade policy. Such a policy should seek to estimate the port capacity that is needed in future, and to then provide that capacity to enable trade to expand and thereby ensure the economy can grow, and to plan and facilitate ongoing investment in essential port infrastructure and key international shipping connections. Moreover, the Scottish Government should also seek to return the statutory regulatory ‘port authority’ roles and functions which are currently held by offshore private equity firms, to the control of public agencies, as is the case in virtually all other countries.

But critical in formulating its own ‘ports policy’, the Scottish Government thus needs to take control of the situation, not by taking existing obsolete ports into public ownership but by developing entirely new port capacity at more optimal locations. The paper argues this can be done by offering concessions to private firms to build and operate required ports and terminals as well as by an enforcement regime requiring port owners to adequately maintain and improve existing facilities, and to better regulate port charges.

Alf Baird commented: ‘No economy can sensibly depend on the offshore private equity model of port ownership and regulation to bring about trade growth. By its very nature, the private equity model limits investment in new port infrastructure, whilst continually demanding excessive profits, followed by selling on of what are ‘mature’ port assets to another ‘fund’ to do precisely the same thing over again. Ultimately, there comes a time when the nation’s port assets are so obsolete and trade is so diminished that this model is completely unstuck; given Scotland’s moribund trade position that time seems ever closer’.


Biographical note

Alf Baird began his working career in 1974 as a Liner Shipping Clerk at the port of Leith, then running a small packaging and freight forwarding company. After a degree in Business Studies at Napier University in Edinburgh in 1993, he was employed there first as a researcher and then as lecturer, completing a PhD on strategic management in the global container shipping industry in 1999. He was appointed Director of the Maritime Research Group at Napier in 1997, and in 2005 was appointed Professor of Maritime Transport. He has been appointed as specialist advisor on maritime transport matters by a number of select committees of Parliaments in the UK, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, and as advisor to various government agencies and ports including Scottish Enterprise, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Clydeport, and Orkney Islands Council. He left Edinburgh Napier University in 2015 although he remains actively involved in international research and consultancy activity, particularly in the maritime economics/policy/business areas, and with emphasis on ferry transport, container shipping, cruise shipping, and seaport policy and design.







Scottish fiscal settlement negotiations

Dec 10, 2015 Add a comment

In a carefully constructed but sharply critical assessment of the recent Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) report entitled, ‘Adjusting Scotland’s Block Grant for Tax and welfare Powers; Assessing the Options’, leading independent economist, Jim Cuthbert, warns any negotiations deploying the assumptions and reasoning of the IFS report will ‘do Scotland gravely down’, and present a further twist to the present ‘fiscal trap’.

In the first of a new series of Jimmy Reid Foundation working papers entitled ‘IFS report provides inadequate basis for Scottish fiscal settlement negotiations’, Cuthbert demonstrates the IFS report by Messrs Bell, Eiser and Phillips represents ‘a very flawed assessment of the options for adjusting the Scottish government block grant and a significant danger for Scotland of falling into a ‘fiscal trap’ if the current negotiations take the IFS report seriously’.

The danger of being misled by the IFS report is significant because, while it does not recommend any specific method for adjusting the block grant and correctly identifies the difficulty of implementing the ‘no-detriment’ principles set down by Smith, the report nevertheless makes a series of incorrect decisions and assumptions about the characteristics of the block grant adjustment process.

One example is the report’s decision to use the method based on tax revenue indexation for adjusting the abatement to the block grant. This has profound implications for the types of risk to which the Scottish government’s revenues would be exposed, and for the way in which Smith’s second no-detriment principle will impact on the freedom of action of the Scottish government. The upshot is that, if the IFS report is used as a basis by which to negotiate the fiscal settlement, the decision to index on revenue, rather than tax base or some other approach, means that the Scottish government effectively loses control of its own full discretion over the income tax rates it wishes to set.

Other aspects which the IFS report either ignores, or to which it pays inadequate attention are:


  • What effect does the Scottish government’s lack of economic powers have in affecting the balance between risk and potential reward in the eventual fiscal settlement.
  • What are the limitations, and risks, of trying to run a monetary union on the basis of a largely formulaic approach to distributing resources.

Cuthbert’s conclusion is ‘the IFS study in effect represents a distorted assessment of the options for the post-Smith fiscal settlement. There are therefore grave dangers for Scotland if the IFS report were taken as the basis on which the fiscal settlement negotiations are conducted’.


Lobbying Woes

Dec 01, 2015 Add a comment

The Reid Foundation has submitted its response to the ‘Lobbying (Scotland) Bill and has concluded that the proposed register of lobbyists is insufficient. Given that the Scottish Parliament was designed to be open, accessible and accountable, there is a need for increased transparency in lobbying activity and that includes extending freedom of information rights to increase the power of people to hold MPs and Ministers to account.

The full submission can be read here Lobbying Bill submission

Worker’s Rights are Human Rights!

Nov 25, 2015 Add a comment


24th November in the Bute Hall, University of Glasgow

The Rt. Hon. Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister of Scotland, delivered the Third Annual Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture “WORKERS’ RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS” on Tuesday 24th November in the Bute Hall, University of Glasgow.  The 1,000 strong audience included members of Jimmy Reid’s family, along with veterans of the UCS dispute.

The Lecture took place against a backdrop of engineered uncertainty on the status of trade unions and fundamental human rights in the UK: the Trade Union Bill is currently being debated at the UK parliament and its provisions seek to weaken the ability of trade unions to represent their members; the UK government wants to change the mechanism to define and protect human rights and is about to publish proposals to abolish the Human Rights Act and introduce a Bill of Rights.  These developments are opposed by the Scottish Parliament.

A video which explains the issues can be found at

The meeting was chaired by Grahame Smith, General Secretary of the STUC.   The Lecture honours workers’ leader Jimmy Reid, who delivered his inaugural address as rector of Glasgow University in the Bute Hall on 28th April 1972.   Jimmy delivered his famous “The rat race is for rats” speech.  His archives and those of the UCS Work-in are maintained by the University and some were on display prior to the Lecture.

Professor Gregor Gall, Director of the Reid Foundation, responding to the content of First Minister’s speech to the third annual Jimmy Reid Foundation lecture said:

‘We welcome the First Minister’s criticism of the Trade Union Bill and the actions she proposes the Scottish Government will take to blunt its impact when it becomes law.

However, and notwithstanding employment issues remain reserved matters, we urge the First Minister and the Scottish Government to go further by using their existing powers to provide regulatory underpinning to worker participation so that workers have influence over the way their workplaces are run. This could be done through public procurement and in the public sector.

It would then mean Scotland’s economy moves closer to the First Minister’s goal of emulating the Rhineland model of regulation – which still remains the most successful economic and social model in Europe.   This would be the most fitting way to honour the legacy of Jimmy Reid.’

Third Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture

Nov 24, 2015 Add a comment


  The Rt. Hon. Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister of Scotland, will deliver the Third Annual Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture “WORKERS’ RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS” on Tuesday 24th November at 6.30pm in the Bute Hall of University of Glasgow.  All the tickets have been taken up and the 1,000 strong audience will include members of Jimmy Reid’s family, along with veterans of the UCS dispute.

People without a ticket can still watch the Lecture live at  

The Lecture takes place against a backdrop of engineered uncertainty on the status of trade unions and fundamental human rights in the UK: the Trade Union Bill is currently being debated at the UK parliament and its provisions seek to weaken the ability of trade unions to represent their members; the UK government wants to change the mechanism to define and protect human rights and is about to publish proposals to abolish the Human Rights Act and introduce a Bill of Rights.  These developments are opposed by the Scottish Parliament.

A video which explains the issues and promotes the Lecture can be found at

The meeting will be chaired by Grahame Smith, General Secretary of the STUC.   The First Minister and guests will be welcomed by the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anton Muscatelli. Following the speech, there will be a question and answer session. Our Director, Professor Gregor Gall, will make a short contribution on our work programme to conclude the event.

The Lecture honours workers’ leader Jimmy Reid, who delivered his inaugural address as rector of Glasgow University in the Bute Hall on 28th April 1972.   Jimmy delivered his famous “The rat race is for rats” speech and a souvenir programme will be available containing the text. His archives and those of the UCS Work-in are maintained by the University and some will be on display prior to the Lecture.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland said:

When Jimmy Reid spoke here in April 1972, it was towards the end of the Upper Clyde Shipworkers dispute. The work-in which Reid helped to organise was arguably the greatest achievement of the post war union movement. It asserted the fundamental right of individuals to work. It did so through a peaceful, positive protest which captured the imagination of people around the world.  

It is a reminder that trade unions are a source of empowerment. They provide a voice for those who might otherwise go unheard.  The right to strike is an essential part of that, but the real value of trade unions goes much wider. They help employers to create the safe, humane, productive working conditions which head off industrial disputes – and which build better businesses. Because of that, trade unions are a force for good in modern societies.”

Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said

“I am honoured that this year’s Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture is taking place in the Bute Hall at the University of Glasgow – the very place Jimmy Reid stood to deliver his powerful address in 1972 after being elected Rector by the student body. It also very fitting that the First Minister, a graduate of this University, will deliver the lecture. I will be delighted to welcome the First Minister, members of Jimmy Reid’s family and representatives of the Reid Foundation to the University.”

Grahame Smith, the general secretary of the STUC who is chairing the Lecture said:

“The address by the First Minister to the annual Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture could not be more timely.  The values expressed by Jimmy in his famous address espoused the importance of solidarity and basic values of decency which trade unions uphold on a daily basis.  

“The Trade Union bill strikes at the very heart of democracy, at both the democratic right to assembly and representation in the workplace and at the devolution settlement itself.  The Bill is an attack upon on human rights and a completely unwarranted interference in the right of government in Scotland, at all levels, to conduct industrial relations as best suits their vision of workplace democracy.  

“The Trade Union Movement is committed to resisting this Bill in every way that we can.  We support the view of the main political parties that it should be subject to a Legislative Consent Motion and will work with all of our colleagues in central and local government to make it unworkable if it is passed”

Professor Gregor Gall, Director of the Reid Foundation said:

“We are delighted to be working with Glasgow University to deliver the third Jimmy Reid Memorial address which is a celebration of the right to work as well as the legacy of Jimmy Reid which is to promote fairness, equally, in Scotland.”

Due to the level of interest, the STUC has arranged an overflow meeting at its centre in Woodlands Road in Glasgow and the lecture will now be streamed by Glasgow University so that people, everywhere, can watch the lecture live.  So far we know that people in Switzerland, Germany and North America will be tuning in as well as in Stirling and Inverness.

The Reid Foundation is grateful to the University of Glasgow for its assistance in organising the Lecture.

Additional information

  1. The Foundation has published a policy paper on this issue, available at our website, ‘Economic and Social Rights are Human Rights’
  2. On 10th November the Trade Union Bill received its third reading at the House of Commons and the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights announced pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill as “some significant human rights issues may arise”
  3. The Scottish Parliament voted in favour of the Human Rights Act 1998 on 11th November 2014 “ The Parliament re-affirms and re-asserts, on behalf of all of the people of the community of Scotland, the inalienable human rights and fundamental freedoms that are the common inheritance of all members of humanity; recalls the particular importance to the Parliament, through its founding statute, its founding principles and in all aspects of its day-to-day work, of human rights in general and of the European Convention on Human Rights in particular; acknowledges the constitutional responsibility of the Parliament to uphold the principles and values expressed in the convention and to respect, protect and realise the rights and freedoms that it enumerates; further acknowledges the importance of that work not only in relation to Scotland, but also in establishing and maintaining standards of best practice, which provide a benchmark for human rights elsewhere in the world; expresses its confidence in, and support for, the Human Rights Act 1998 as a successful and effective implementation of the convention in domestic law, and believes that the principles and values that inform the convention, the rights and freedoms that it enumerates and the Acts that incorporate it into law, should be a source of unity and consensus across the whole of society and should enjoy the unequivocal backing of all who are committed to upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”
  4. Information on the STUC parallel event, to which the Lecture will be streamed, can be found at
  5. To watch the Lecture live from other locations go to