IT'S the festive season and behind every Advent calendar door stands another sector of furious workers preparing to strike over pay and conditions.

In England, the government is preparing the army to step in, sidestepping the irony of the fact the armed forces are also public sector workers whose pay has similarly stagnated yet who are prevented from walking out over it.

Here, there is general relief that the Scottish Government has been able to negotiate successfully with Unison to prevent ambulance staff and other NHS workers from striking this week. Relief from politicians, that is, and relief from a public worried about reduced access to healthcare. Less relief from the workers themselves though.

"It is not a win for government - it is a warning," Wilma Brown, chair of the union's health committee said as the news was announced. This, it is being said, is not a solution but a stop gap.

The government's pay offer was less than NHS employees had asked for and was accepted by a slim margin of only 57 per cent of balloted workers.

It is good enough for now, they are saying, just to get through the winter, but agitation will return as the health service continues to be understaffed, under-resourced, staff overworked and patients facing lengthy waiting lists.

The resolution might, you would hope, give UK ministers some pause for thought.

Royal College of Nursing General Secretary Pat Cullen said the RCN would "press pause" on upcoming strikes if Health Secretary Steve Barclay agreed to meaningful negotiations of pay.

The fact that NHS members of Unison accepted a compromise offer in Scotland shows the government there is the possibility of manoeuvring to reach a settlement and yet Barclay and Sunak seem, at time of writing, to be entirely unwilling to budge.

Sunak and his well-briefed ministers keep repeating the line that pay offers have been drafted by pay review bodies and so are independent, fair and reasonable. Sunak loves the word "reasonable", he is trotting it out at every chance but reports of his reasonableness are greatly exaggerated.

The remit of any pay review body is set by the government so its report is not entirely independent. Instead, ministers need to meet the unions on a playing field levelled with respect.

Instead, there's a sense from the Tory government that they don't understand the route that has led here. Margaret Thatcher already dealt with all this, didn't she? The unions were supposed to have been gelded, so how can this uprising possibly be occurring?

That sense of bewilderment comes out in the obstinacy of pushing ahead with new legislation to further reign in the trade unions. It seems an extravagant waste of time: legislation curtailing the right to strike is hardly likely to receive the cross-party support needed and, even if it did, would take too long to pass to be any use in the current furore.

It is also likely to be electorally unpopular because, despite the best efforts of Rishi Sunak to frame them as obstructing honest, hard working people, the strikers have public support.

The rail strikes seem to be the only ones causing a harrumph and that's probably because being without adequate public transport is no novelty situation; withdrawal of services is made more objectionable when people are already hugely inconvenienced by a lack of that service in the first place.

Sunak has tried all the usual lines to make striking workers the enemy. Last week he tried to convince tax payers that decent public sector pay would set them all back £1000, a line few are foolish enough to fall for.

Of course, it's difficult for MPs of certain stripes to understand. Why won't these people just take on a second job? A bit of consulting would fill the stopgap, no? A lecture or two?

People aren't as daft as the Westminster government would hope. The sense of collegiate spirit fostered during lockdown still lingers. Strikes will be inconvenient. They are clashing with Christmas. They're affecting almost every service feted at this time of year: rail for Christmas shopping and socialising; the postal service for cards and gifts; Border Force agents at airports where people are coming home for the holidays. And that's taking the very serious issue of health service strikes aside, not to mention Scotland teachers.

Sunak forgets that the strikes now are so general that most people will know and care for a striking worker. It makes it all the more difficult to turn the public against them.

Not least, these strikes are a response to a sense of powerlessness that has intensified since Brexit and been exacerbated by the pandemic. After years of agency being removed and preferences being ignored, it's understandable people who can do so will take an opportunity to exercise autonomy.

The strikes, however, are a result of political choices over how to allocate funds and how to direct the economy. When a government is obstinate, the only way to make it budge is to highlight the value of your labour by withdrawing it.

Can you function without us, is the question posed by the strikes. The public already knows the answer and that's why it backs the workers. It's for the government to ponder the question and act accordingly, not make hollow attempts at us and them rhetoric.

Read more by Catriona Stewart: