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Agenda: Why, as a trade unionist, I believe a Yes vote will boost Scottish Labour

Today I will join fellow trade union members in Glasgow as my union, Unite, hosts a major debate on independence.

Many fellow trade union members desire independence as a response to recent political setbacks at Westminster but, as a General Council member of the Trade Union Congress representing our movement across Britain, I believe the political malady facing us goes much deeper.

My late father, a farmer and member of the Farmers' Union, voted Conservative in 1979. I remember the shock in his voice when I heard him discuss unemployment figures with a friend in 1982, saying of the Thatcher Government: "But they dinnae care about the unemployed. They just dinnae care."

He didn't vote in 1983, which was a shock in turn for the family: we were accustomed to all being herded into the car to go and vote for different parties. We may have been cancelling out each other's votes, but he believed it was our civic duty to go to the polls. Margaret Thatcher destroyed that for him, along with so much more.

Her policies utterly changed UK politics. Gone was the consensus that underpinned our state. The refusal of Scots to send Tories to Westminster incurred Mrs Thatcher's wrath and we felt punished accordingly. Now rejection of Conservatism's modern face is a touchstone for Scotland. Yes, there is a natural Tory vote, but not on a scale to justify control over the structures and public life of our nation.

With fellow trade unionists I share dismay and anger as the ConDem government attacks on trade unions and workers' rights. But I no longer accuse the Chancellor and Prime Minister of economic incompetence. Cutting the deficit is not their agenda, despite the rhetoric. They are clear-sighted warriors pursuing the interests of their class. I just wish we had more class warriors in politics on behalf of working people.

Decimation of public services and channelling of expenditure into pockets of Tory business supporters are destroying social mechanisms that Scots believe in. I want our state to provide collectively for health and social care. I believe most Scots share my social responsibility for other people's children, other people's parents, the sick and my neighbour with disability, however they intend to vote in September.

Scots don't want a government that will rant about the deserving and undeserving poor and take us to war at the drop of a hat. We should have at least some chance of a government that shares our aspirations.

Getting a government you didn't vote for is a natural part of life in a democracy. Regularly getting governments that your country didn't vote for is not natural, democratic or acceptable.

The UK political system is damaged, dominated by public schoolboys and riven by class division. Appeals to defending "venerable" British institutions cut no ice when working people are left to be mistreated as economic units. I want to live in a polity where economic success is measured by the benefits it brings to all.

Accusations of abandoning English and other British comrades feel unfair. I have actively engaged for years with friends and comrades across the border about how to put right our political system, but have found a deep unwillingness to discuss structural change, and complacency from some of my dearest friends who believe, with the aid of the Scottish vote, that Labour will keep coming back to improve things "a bit".

Whatever happens in September, I fear Labour may not be able to rely on Scottish voters. Scots are tired of being taken for granted, but independence will benefit Scottish Labour if they respond with policies that appeal to Scottish people.

As a Scot and a trade unionist, I believe our movement must first look to meeting the needs of our own people. But independence will not end solidarity across these islands. It will be a catalyst for change throughout what is now the United Kingdom.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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