Members of the Human Rights Consortium Scotland (HRCS) met on 1st June and agreed on a co-ordinated campaign to defend the Human Rights Act (HRA), and to promote human rights for everyone in everyday situations. Human rights standards and principles reflect our basic values of fairness, respect, equality and dignity.
Despite recent press coverage, members agreed not to be complacent and recognised that abolition of the HRA and potential withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) remain very real possibilities. Following the UK Government’s announcement in the Queen’s speech that “My Government will bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights”, some thought that the case for the HRA had been won, but HRCS members thought the result would actually be a weakening of human rights enforcement and protection as further information was provided in the Queen’s Speech Briefing Pack:
“The Government will bring forward proposals for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. This would reform and modernise our human rights legal framework and restore common sense to the application of human rights laws, which has been undermined by the damaging effects of Labour’s Human Rights Act. It would also protect existing rights, which are an essential part of a modern, democratic society, and better protect against abuse of the system and misuse of human rights laws.”
Carole Ewart from the HRCS spoke at the meeting and said:
“The real issue for politicians is to ensure the general public enjoy and can equally assert human rights in everyday places. A campaign of demonization against human rights only makes sense if you want to create public hostility to rights that should in fact empower us all, as well as the weakest in our society, and offer us all protection against failings in public services. Human rights belong to public service workers too and can be used within organisations to deliver more effective, people centred services.
The meeting was addressed by Kevin Hanratty from the NI Human Rights Consortium who pointed out:
“The HRA was a cornerstone human rights protection of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the new Assembly it set up, just as it was for devolution in Scotland and the Scottish Parliament. The Human Rights Consortium (NI) is determined to work with our colleagues across the UK like the Scottish Human Rights Consortium to defend this important legislation, which acts as a fundamental protection for the most vulnerable in our society”
Marianne Scobie from Glasgow Disability Alliance pointed out that welfare reforms and changes in the delivery of social care to disabled people had raised significant human rights issues but there was not a throughput of legal cases to change public sector behaviour. “When people do assert their human rights that case is individually fixed but what we want to see is a change in policy, practice and culture for us all. We look forward to working with other organisations to ensure the HRA realises its potential.”
Aidan Collins from HIV Scotland outlined how the protection afforded to its members by the HRA had changed how individuals approached public services and influenced their expectations about how services are delivered as well as which services should be available.
The next HRCS event is its national conference on 25th June ‘What Next for Human Rights’ which will be addressed by the Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil.
- The Human Rights Consortium Scotland (HRCS) is a civil society network established in January 2010 to address the gap in knowledge of human rights and to build capacity on applying human rights principles and standards to the delivery of publicly funded services. The HRCS was borne out of an unmet need and in response to specific problems. The need for the HRCS is proven and we are committed to developing our work across Scotland. Our membership has increased to over 180 organisations and individuals. To join go to www.hrcscotland.co.uk
- The Queen’s Speech Briefing Pack is available on the Ministry of Justice website and quote appears at page 75.
- UK Government policy appears to contradict Scottish Government Policy which was affirmed at the Scottish Parliament on 11th November 2014: “…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.”
- The conference on 25th June runs from 9am – 4.15pm in the Scottish Universities Insight Institute, Collins Building, 22 Richmond St, Glasgow, G1 1XQ
The Scottish Review has featured Jimmy Reid in its online, oral archive of 6th May 2015.
‘Storm the heavens’ was recorded in front of an audience of young people with Jimmy Reid on politics in Scotland. There is an introduction by Kenneth Roy
(6 mins 57 secs)
The Foundation’s sister organisation Scottish Left Review, co-sponsored a fringe meeting at the STUC congress on challenging austerity and highlighting the cumulative misery and suffering caused to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.
It was standing room only as we heard from UNITE, RMT, PCW, the acting Editor of the Morning Star and striking porters from Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. The meeting discussed human rights as workers rights, ending austerity to make social justice a reality for all and highlighting attacks on basic trade union rights such as participating in union activities and more insidious attacks on the general right to protest.
A report on the meeting also appears in the Morning Star, a co-sponsor of the meeting, which can be found at http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-5ff6-STUC-2015-Austerity-is-not-designed-to-work-for-us-hears-fringe#.VTogyT-BGzw ”
Industrial Democracy and General Election Predictions Dominate
18 Articles offer informative, provocative and constructive comment in the latest Issue of Scottish Left Review (SLR) http://www.scottishleftreview.org/
Contributors look forward to the STUC Congress in April and demand industrial and economic democracy as unions understand – no matter which party is in office – they need full rights and powers. The revelation, to some, of the hundreds of thousands of people who are in work but poor, has created a momentum for all political parties to adopt progressive policies to improve individual employment rights and address economic inequality. Effectively challenging the cost of living crisis and decline in real wages requires a wider commitment to remove the restrictions on union recognition and representation enabling them to have the freedom to organise and bargain collectively.
The May General Election is regarded as the halfway mark in a journey that will determine our political settlement for some years to come. Realistically, we will only be clearer about how politics has evolved after the referendum when the result of the Holyrood Elections is announced in May 2016. Gregor Gall, Editor of Scottish Left Review (SLR) points out:
“The main beneficiaries of people’s political disillusionment will be the likes of the SNP and UKIP. Sooner or later, the hopes placed in them will be disavowed as their ideologies are but mere variants of neo-liberalism. In the case of the SNP, it’s called social liberalism which depends on growing the capitalist economy but obvious problems are weak economic growth for the moment, and for the foreseeable future, continuing government austerity and the power of capital to make governments bend to their will.
Moreover, there are growing concerns about the SNP government’s tendencies towards centralisation so that the democratic part of any alleged social democracy is also being called into question. It appears not only is managerialism taking over but internal enhanced devolution is not on the cards either. Will there be a revolt within the SNP against this social liberalism from those on the left that have recently joined?”
Articles are available for re-production subject to full acknowledgement.
The People’s Assembly Scotland Against Austerity has a petition against
austerity cuts. To find out more go to
The Project Board has agreed the direction and detail of the Foundation for the next six months which includes:
- A project on the integration of health and social care in Scotland;
- Update of existing policy papers on Procurement, Industrial Democracy, Democracy and Universalism.
The latest Edition includes 13 articles including one from Neil Findlay setting out why he is standing for the leadership of Scottish Labour, the STUC’s submission to the Smith Commission, Book Reviews, letters and the regular ‘Vladimir McTavish’s Kick up the Tabloids’. http://www.scottishleftreview.org/
I first met Ailsa when we approached her to become a Board Member of the Reid Foundation. I immediately liked her. As a professor of economics she was of course a very bright woman, capable and with a sharp and original mind. The Foundation benefited greatly from her knowledge, particularly on issues of welfare and welfare economics. She was a passionate advocate of feminist economics as anyone who heard her wonderful speech to the Radical Independence Conference would appreciate. In fact, I spoke to one female delegate afterwards who told me that she’d never taken any interest in economics before that but that she saw things completely differently now.
Ailsa was instrumental in providing the economic case underpinning the Scottish Government’s proposals for free, universal childcare. She chaired our inaugural Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture which was given by Alex Salmond. Childcare came up as a topic of conversation over coffee before the lecture. When the First Minister later asked her to do some work on childcare economics her response (as she later told me) was so typically Ailsa – “are you serious about doing this? If you’re serious about this policy, if you mean it, then I’d be delighted. But you have to mean it.”
People use phrases such as ‘no nonsense’ and ‘to the point’ about strong women. That wasn’t the Ailsa I got to know. She was full of fun and mischief and when we met for a coffee to talk economics we often failed to get to ‘the point’ for ages. What she wasn’t was small-p politic – if you suggested a daft idea to her there would be no pause before she made clear you knew it was daft. It was that combination of brightness, directness and fun that made Ailsa so pleasant to spend time with.
I met her quite a few times after the cancer diagnosis. Determined doesn’t begin to describe her attitude. She was as clear as could be; “I’m not lying down for this, not without a fight”. The last time I met her was a few weeks ago over lunch. She was planning all the work she wanted to do, the contributions she wanted to make to Scottish life. We’re all the worse off for that fact that she won’t be able to deliver it.
She leaves behind a young family; all our thoughts are with them.
But she also leaves behind one last policy contribution. The last contact I had with her was at the end of last week when she signed off the joint authorship of a major Common Weal report on welfare. I think it is one of the most important contributions to the welfare debate in Scotland and it represents exactly the caring, compassionate – and passionate – thinking that characterised Ailsa.
She will be greatly missed by us all. She is very greatly missed by me personally.
Comment on White Paper by Reid Foundation Director in the Daily Record
I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the Scottish Government’s White Paper. I am pleasantly surprised.
It proposes we should radically change economic policy to create a high-pay economy, make the primary purpose of government greater equality among citizens, place dignity and respect at the heart of welfare policy, renationalise Royal Mail, offer free childcare for every family, give employees a right to sit on the boards of their companies, see trade unions as a partner, remove nuclear weapons in four years, have a written constitution, end tax evasion by corporations, focus on growing Scottish industrial base and much more.
If a UK political party was offering this it would be called the most radical and people-focussed manifesto since the Atlee Government set up the welfare state and the NHS. Ed Milliband has been praised highly by some for offering much less.
What I was looking for was a promise that between a Yes vote and the first democratic election in 2016, the SNP wouldn’t behave like it had the right to design a new country all by itself. The paper promises we will all get to play a part in writing a constitution and that its opponents will be included in the negotiating team that agrees the deal we get when leaving the UK. So I am reassured.
That does not mean the Scottish Government has got everything right. It is wrong on cutting corporation tax, it is wrong on keeping the UK’s terrible banking regulation and in my opinion it is wrong to join NATO. But these are all issues that will only be decided after a democratic election so I and everyone else in Scotland will get to have a say about it.
Has it answered every question? Well, the thing is the size of a doorstep and a genuine effort has been made.
Will you be convinced? That’s up to you. The Scottish Government is in the position where if it tries to answer questions that have no definite answers it will be accused of lying and if it doesn’t it will be accused of hiding. With this report it is certainly not hiding.
And that is where Better Together looks weak to me. Alastair Darling has just been on TV suggesting that since he thinks Alex Salmond is a liar, no-one should trust him or his answers. But does Darling honestly think we trust him, that we’ll take his word for it?
I don’t think it’s going to be that easy. Whatever you think of it, this White Paper sets out a vision for a high-pay society with a strong welfare state. That is a leap forward from anything we’re being offered by the UK.
I and many other experts believe this vision is realistic. I don’t think shouting ‘liar’ will be enough to get Better Together off the hook if it rejects it.
If you want certainty, get a digital watch. If you want a better country, judge people on what they are offering.
Yesterday a big gulf opened up between the two futures we are being asked to choose between.
Will working people have enough confidence to jump that gulf and take a chance on a new future?
You’ve got about nine months to decide.
Richard Leonard argues that the best way for unions to influence politics is to maintain its close links with the Labour Party
The role of the union in fighting for justice for its members is not confined to the workplace. Nor should it be. The standard of living goes beyond the monthly salary or the weekly wage. It is about quality of life, both inside and outside work and from the cradle to the grave. The noble and enduring aims enshrined in my own union’s rule book include industrial democracy and collective ownership, an equal society, as well as extended legal rights to trade unions and greater social and economic welfare and environmental protection. These all require political action.
So the trade union movement needs a political voice. Anyone who thinks that trade unions and politics can be separated doesn’t live in the real world.
That’s why over a century ago the GMB’s forerunner the Gas Workers and General Labourers Union worked with other new unions like the London and Liverpool Dockers and the Amalgamated Railway Servants to establish the Labour Representation Committee to secure “independent working class representation”. Founding Conferences in Edinburgh and then London were convened following resolutions carried at the Scottish and British Trade Union Congresses of 1899.
A year before Keir Hardie had called for “the same kind of working agreement nationally as already exists for municipal purposes in Glasgow”. So Hardie’s vision and the pioneering role of trade unionists, socialists and co-operators in Scotland became highly influential in the new political formation.
Of course down the years there have been those who claim that the decision by Hardie and the other ILP’ers to create an independent working class party built on the trade unions was a mistake. During my lifetime in politics this ‘historic mistake’ tendency defected from Labour to help found the anti-trade union Social Democratic Party in 1981, later the Alliance. It then returned to help create New Labour a decade and a half later, all too commonly and without shame comprising many of the same individuals.
And now this same tendency with some of the same people again founded Progress the limited company, and brazenly “New Labour” (capital “N”; capital “L”) pressure group. Progress is busy falsely accusing the trade unions of the domination of everything from candidate selections to the decisions of the Party’s National Executive Committee. Its supporters are now baying for the collective disaffiliation of trade unions from the Labour Party.
It is an important matter of political principle that trade unions affiliate collectively to Labour. Trade unions are not a random collection of consumers in a market. We refuse to be run according to an iron law of individualism, indeed the very point of trade unions is that we live and breathe democratic collectivism. Our aspirations are collective ones, and devised for the common good not to feed individual greed but to advance the greater social and economic welfare of all. Trade unions not trade unionists affiliate to the Labour Party. That is democratic, it is also right and keeps alive the collectivist tradition upon which Labour was also built and should live by.
The distinctive nature of the Labour Party as a party of democratic socialism founded by the trade unions should not be supplanted by a version of the US Democratic Party stripped of its commitment to socialism and robbed of its trade union roots. The GMB and other unions are not merely donors to the Labour Party but affiliates. The link is first and foremost not financial but constitutional. To move to an American style system where the donor with the biggest buck chooses the policy, and the candidate, puts the political process itself up for sale. This would not be a change for the better but a change for the worse.
So too the idea floated of US-style primaries with Labour ‘supporters’ voting to select Labour candidates will not herald the end of a so-called ‘politics of the machine’, it would institutionalise it. For anyone to become a candidate in a primary-style system demands not reduced but significantly increased financial backing.
It is impossible to be an effective democratic socialist without working in combination and solidarity: these are defining principles. To win change we have to build, organise and persuade as well as stir emotion. The principal vehicle for doing that is still the Labour Party. Affiliation to the Labour Party and the TUC and STUC is a direct expression of solidarity and an overt act of combination with other unions. It is also a declaration of the union’s identity, that it is part of the wider Labour Movement with sister parties across the world.
And what is the alternative to this solidarity and combination? A place in the political wilderness of non-engagement? A dalliance with a political group to the left of the Labour Party liable to end in bitterness and recrimination, doctrinal faction fights and splits? Either way it represents a false trail. There is no evidence past or present that a breakaway has brought with it greater political effectiveness.
The link between Labour and the unions is forged by shared interests and a common understanding that for the quality of working people’s lives to be improved there must be radical social and economic change. That will require a renewal of political education, a commitment to be transformers not simply reflectors of public opinion, active not passive, with a new intellectual edge alongside the old tradition of pragmatism.
It was Aneurin Bevan who observed that “our movement is based primarily on the industrial masses. It is not based so much upon ideologies, as upon social experience.” He also famously said “There is only one hope for mankind – and that is democratic Socialism. There is only one party in Great Britain which can do it – and that is the Labour Party.”
I make no apology for remaining on the side of Keir Hardie, those courageous women and men, those trade union and Independent Labour Party pioneers who founded the Labour Party, or for evoking the spirit of Nye Bevan. For this is not to look back to a heroic golden age but to understand better the eternal challenges and the defining purpose of Labour’s link with the trade unions today. It is also an important reminder that the future of the Labour Party is well worth fighting for.
Richard Leonard is GMB Scotland Political Officer and was a Labour Party candidate in the 2011 Scottish Elections
Bob Crow looks at his union’s influence in UK politics today and concludes that disaffiliation to the Labour Party was one of the best things that happened to it
RMT was expelled by the Labour Party in 2004. Our crime? Allowing our regions, branches and members to have a democratic say on what political parties and candidates they chose to support.
The expulsion centred on Scotland. RMT’s executive had agreed to support requests from the Scottish Regional Council and a number of Scottish branches to affiliate to the Scottish Socialist Party. An RMT AGM decision in 2003 had already cleared the route to create a more flexible political fund, freeing the union up to support candidates in addition to Labour.
The SSP decision provoked a huge political furore with the likes of Ian McCartney wheeled out across the media to denounce RMT and to issue dire warnings that the union was consigning itself to the wilderness.
Nearly a decade on nothing could be further from the truth.
By freeing ourselves from the shackles of automatic Labour support, RMT’s political influence is thriving with political groups established in the British, Scottish and Welsh parliaments and assemblies that involve a base of supportive Labour representatives, Greens and SNP. The condition for joining is that elected members must sign up to the core political priorities laid down by the union.
In many ways, RMT’s decisions from ten years ago put the union well ahead of the game when it comes to the relationship with the Labour Party. This year, major unions have said that they will be cutting their affiliation fees to Labour to reflect the number of members who genuinely support the organisation. Others are reorganising their parliamentary groups to clear out the opportunists who take the union support and then back policies that are clearly anti-worker and anti-working class communities.
But the biggest leap of all remains supporting candidates other than those from the Labour Party. It is both inevitable and essential that that issue remains firmly on the agenda. RMT judges candidates solely on their merits as advocates of policies that match the union’s own programme and which would deliver for our members, their families and their communities. Let me pull out a couple of examples.
First up, the anti-union laws. Part of the reason why RMT made the decisive changes to our political funds that led to out expulsion from Labour in 2004 was that halfway through its second term the Blair Government had not a lifted a finger to repeal any of the anti-union laws introduced under the Tories in the wake of the Miners’ Strike. Not only had they not made any moves to unshackle the union’s but we had the grotesque site of the Labour Prime Minister touring the world boasting about how we had the most lightly-regulated workplaces in the EU – a boast designed solely to encourage bad bosses, the exploiters and the ‘filthy rich’.
The latest attack on our basic rights under this current Government is the levelling of huge fees on those seeking redress in the Employment Tribunal, designed to deter those seeking a fair hearing and loading the whole process even further in the direction of unscrupulous, wealthy and bullying bosses. It is surcharge on justice. And what has Labour done? Nothing. Running scared of the employers’ organisations and the right-wing press they have allowed the ConDems to force through measures that allow hiring and firing on an industrial scale and which is solely designed to hammer workers and their unions financially.
Running parallel to this betrayal was the stance on privatisation. Even after the smashing up of British Rail in the name of profit led to the avoidable carnage of Hatfield and Potters Bar, Labour, with the power to act, refused point blank to renationalise the railways. Far from it, it was under John Prescott himself that the PPP privatisation model was rolled out on London Underground until Metronet went bust midstream plunging the system into chaos and forcing a reluctant retreat. How could a rail union sign a blank cheque for Labour against that backdrop?
Even now, after losing an election and seeing polls showing that 70 per cent of the people support renationalisation, Labour offers little or nothing. They talk about the possibility of retaining the successful, publicly owned East Coast/DOR under state control but only as a ‘public sector comparator’. On the simple and straightforward question of full public ownership they remain in total and abject terror of the train companies and the Tories.
If you can’t even walk the talk in opposition we know exactly what that means from a potential Labour Government in power – absolutely nothing. Ed Miliband blew it the moment he fell into the old Blairite trap and pledged that a Labour Government would stick to this administration’s spending levels. Boxing yourself in to a spending straightjacket laid out for you by the most right-wing government in a generation highlights both a poverty of ambition and a total lack of concern for the lives of those you are depending on to bringing you to power.
There has to be an alternative. RMT has supported, and will continue to support, TUSC candidates and our union is pledged to encourage rank-and-file, working class candidates wherever the opportunity arises. Next year, RMT will play a leading role in fielding a full slate of “NO2EU – YES TO WORKERS’ RIGHTS” candidates in every seat with the exception of Northern Ireland. That is a major political operation that will challenge both the neoliberal, pro-boss agenda of the EU and the cynical opportunism of UKIP head on.
At this year’s Durham Miners Gala, we issued a call for a new party of labour. RMT has every intention of keeping the debate and discussion going across the broad sweep of the labour, trade union, environmental and social justice movements about what that new political operation should stand for and what it should look like. I hope that you will engage with us in those discussions.
Bob Crow is the General Secretary of the RMT