Our Writer at Large speaks exclusively to STUC general secretary Roz Foyer ahead of Thursday’s crucial Budget

THE SNP Government will find itself in a state of open war with the trade union movement unless it uses every power at its disposal in this week’s Budget to fund pay rises and protect public services amid the escalating cost-of-living crisis, the leader of the STUC has told The Herald on Sunday.

In an exclusive interview, Roz Foyer warned that the SNP risked being seen as no better than the Conservative Party unless it took steps to protect ordinary people. Foyer also voiced fears of social unrest due to plummeting living standards.

Foyer made clear her comments were unrelated to the constitution. She stressed the STUC isn’t affiliated to the Labour Party, and supports the right of the Scottish Parliament to call another referendum. The STUC general secretary even said: “There’s no reason why the STUC in the future couldn’t support independence if it offered a fairer future for Scotland’s workers.” At the last referendum, the STUC was neutral.

The STUC has commissioned an economic report – Fairer Taxes for a Fairer Future – into what powers the Scottish government has at its disposal for Thursday’s Budget. The analysis shows the SNP can raise an extra £3.3 billion using income tax, wealth taxes, and replacing council tax with a proportional property tax, which takes a percentage of a property’s value.


“THIS research shows the Scottish Government that within their existing powers they can, and absolutely should, take a range of immediate actions to rebalance our economy and redistribute wealth to those who need it most,” Foyer said. “They have an absolute duty, if they claim to be a left-of-centre government, to take every action they can within their existing powers to support people.

“This isn’t a question of ability, it’s a question of ambition and political will. I’m fed up listening to the Scottish Government playing the Westminster blame game. Simply being better than the UK Government isn’t good enough.

“It’s a very low bar. You can only play that card if you show that you’ve done everything within your existing powers.

“If they expect people to have confidence in them in terms of moving forward to an independent country then they need to show they can use the powers they have already got, and they’re truly on the side of ordinary people.”


FOYER stressed that Nicola Sturgeon described the cost-of-living crisis as “a humanitarian emergency”, adding: “Then surely you would be using the powers you have to act.”

Using powers to protect the poorest means “taxing the rich”, Foyer added. “Given we live in a society where eight out of 10 Scots earn less than £40,000, this would be a good way to show they’re on the side of ordinary people and prepared to act in a progressive way and use their full fiscal powers to make Scotland a fairer place.”

The two richest Scottish families have more wealth than the poorest 20 per cent, Foyer said. “We’ve got the highest drug deaths, huge amounts of poverty and low pay is endemic. When are we going to see real action? The time is now.”

So, why hasn’t the Scottish Government used all these existing powers? “We’ve a very powerful business lobby. You see that from the strategy for economic transformation the Government produced last year. I was part of the body that advised on that but very critical when it came out. It wasn’t a strategy for economic transformation but trickle-down economics.

“If the SNP really want to put clear blue water between themselves and the Tories, in terms of economic ideology, they need to start walking the walk not just talking the talk.

“Sadly they’re very good at talking the talk.”


THE SNP’s Growth Commission “was just a neoliberal vision – frankly no better than the status quo that we’re suffering under the Tories. We need a new deal”.

Foyer added: “People are impatient with the inertia of the Scottish Government and why they’re not delivering.”

She says the SNP “fully understands” what powers it has. “This is about the political willingness to use those powers. The Scottish Government needs to stop just talking about being left of centre and actually start taking some progressive measures. They know they have the powers. They lack the ambition, not the ability. Whose side are they on?”

Scotland has “deep social problems” related to poverty, Foyer says. “The SNP has been in government a long time and had ample opportunity to address these issues. There has been no shortage of strategies and working groups, but there seems to be real inertia in delivery. The Scottish people won’t forgive or forget any government that fails to stand up against the Tories and protect workers.

“If the SNP wants to keep the working class onside, which it really needs, then it’s got to start delivering. Winter is here. We have people struggling right now.”

The Herald:


GIVEN the STUC’s economic analysis, the Government can no longer “plead poverty”. Foyer has been on “hundreds of picket lines this year” and not only are public sector strikers angry about their own financial struggles, they are also “breaking their hearts about services on their knees”.

She said: “They want services that are there when they need them. They don’t want homeless people sleeping on the streets. They want to live in a fairer society. They want their kids educated in a place that has resources to do it well.”

Independence supporters are also angry, Foyer says. “I hear again and again on picket lines people saying ‘I was a Yes voter, but we need jam today, not tomorrow. We need issues sorted now, we need to know we have a government on our side’.”

She added: “It might be okay when times are relatively alright to put everything off until the great day independence comes and the promised land arrives, but right now that’s not good enough. If you’ve got the powers and ability to do something to help citizens – and you claim to have a set of beliefs that’s about closing the wealth gap, a wellbeing economy, fair work, rebuilding communities – then don’t be the government that has those powers and doesn’t act because people will take revenge on a government that does that to them at this point in time.”

Tartan Tories?

FOYER says the SNP risks being seen as “Tartan Tories” unless they pass a progressive Budget. “If we see a government at this time of crisis in Scotland that’s not prepared to take a more radical approach to using its fiscal powers to support people, then I don’t see how you could come to any other conclusion, if they do nothing, that ideologically, in terms of economics, the Scottish Government is no better than the UK Government.”

Foyer is clear, though, that there are huge differences between the SNP and the Conservative Government. “I’d absolutely differentiate,” she says. “At least we’re able to walk into the room and negotiate with government. You don’t have a government actively encouraging departments not to resolve disputes. They don’t want to kill off unions. I do believe they respect us and want to work with us but that can only get you so far if you have powers that you’re not prepared to use that could be used to support working people. We’ve got a government telling us ‘oh, we’d love to give workers a bigger pay rise but we can’t’. What I’m asserting is: it’s not can’t, it’s won’t. They have the ability if they have the political will.”

She added: “We’re not in the mood for excuses. They know we’ll keep fighting until we get what our members deserve and won’t accept anything less.”

The SNP is “running out of road” and the STUC’s economic analysis “shows there’s a lot more they could do”.

The future relationship between trade unions and the SNP Government “hangs” on the Budget on Thursday. Foyer said that if she were an outsider looking at Scotland: “I’d be very intrigued by the fact [the SNP] sounds like a progressive administration but when you look at the results on the ground, it doesn’t look like one”.

Foyer has attended SNP conferences and “seen the policies passed, the bit that’s missing is the delivery, the implementation to make that happen. You can’t create a fairer economy though nice words”.


ALTHOUGH Foyer and Sturgeon have “extremely robust discussions, there’s a lot of respect there”. It is “to the credit” of the First Minister that she “expects” the STUC to “campaign and shout as loud as we possibly can that she delivers. She expects nothing less from the trade union movement and respects that’s our role”.

Foyer said: “There’s still a strong working relationship, and I respect both the individual and her office. But that certainly won’t stop us fighting to give workers a fairer share of the wealth in our economy because things have gone too far. We have workers on precarious contracts, who don’t have pensions anymore. They’re struggling to pay bills, put food in their kids’ mouths. The concept of the working poor is massive once again. We can’t go on like this. Politicians ignore that at their peril.”

Despite mutual respect, Foyer is “thoroughly disappointed” in the SNP. “I think they believe the ideas they espouse but they aren’t prepared to do the hard work … If not now, then when is it ever going to be done?”

The Herald:


SO, what happens if the SNP doesn’t pass a progressive Budget? “It will be a damning indictment because they’ll basically be saying ‘we’re not on the people’s side, we’re not prepared to use our own powers that we already have to raise revenue to put into public services at a time when they’ve been starved by Tory austerity’.”

Foyer believes passing a progressive Budget could help the SNP’s independence campaign. “Maybe they should lead by example? I’d like a government prepared to be bold, radical and show they’re prepared to act at a time of humanitarian emergency. They have an opportunity to show they can be very different from the UK. Don’t wait until you get independence – start now. That’s where the SNP project has failed. Start acting like you’re independent. Don’t be so unambitious and defeatist. Perhaps they’ll get to where they want to be by showing people they’re on their side.”

And what if the SNP Budget comes with cuts? “They’re going to have a huge fight on their hands. The trade union movement and Scottish working people are standing together. They’re organised. They’ve found their voice. We’re on the front foot. That’s not going back in its box anytime soon. It’s only going to grow – I’ve never seen ordinary people more prepared to fight back.” If the Budget fails to address the STUC’s demands it will determine “the level of strike action we’re going to see”. So it would be war footing? “Yes,” she said.

“There’s going to be a lot more industrial unrest and social unrest if we don’t see governments start looking after people more effectively.”

Foyer notes recent “riots in Dundee and social unrest among young people”. She said that that we saw it in the 1980s. The cumulative effect on people of years of austerity, “wage suppression”, then the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis has been “profound”, Foyer added. “It’s an absolute disgrace workers have been through that. Something has snapped in a lot of people’s heads. There’s visceral anger out there, directed against the UK Government but also the Scottish Government. There’s a lot of tinder out there. The tinder is now on fire and that fire is building. Governments need to be aware of that.”


SO, does Foyer believe there will be social unrest if the UK and Scottish governments don’t give workers a better deal? “Yes, that’s a real risk. I think that’s where things would go, and I don’t think that should come as a surprise to anyone.” People who are now hungry and cold want “dignity and respect”. It’s “wrong” that workers, who kept Scotland running during the pandemic, have to strike for “decent pay given everything they’ve done over recent years”. Debt is rising too, especially among the middle classes, Foyer points out. “That’s going to burst at some point where people just hit the buffers.” Nurses are using foodbanks, “warm banks” are multiplying. “People are talking about loan sharks. It’s heartbreaking.”

A general strike seems highly unlikely. Rather, “you’ll find many workers will just generally be on strike. A general strike is maybe not as effective as a wave of industrial action in different sectors at different times”. Industrial action “isn’t going away just because [governments] tell us they’re skint – I don’t think they understand how resolved people are”. The wave of strikes is a “cry for help” and action is led from the “bottom up”. It is not union leakers pushing for strikes but “workers telling us they’re sick of this”.

Could strike action bring down either the Scottish or UK government? “Yes, because eventually this will translate to the ballot box. Working-class people are more united, more cynical of government, more politicised and very angry. They want real action and they’re not getting that at the moment. That’s a dangerous situation because in some places that can lead to fascism as we’ve seen in the past. I’m glad people are turning to trade unions.”

Union busting

ALTHOUGH angry with the SNP, it i the UK Government which gets most of Foyer’s condemnation for trying to “weaken unions, strip workers’ rights and vilify us”. She warned of Conservative politicians attempting to “scapegoat” migrants amid the current economic crisis. Foyer also turned her fire on SNP supporters who try to paint strikers as “part of a unionist conspiracy”, adding: “It’s incredibly frustrating when workers who have resorted to taking strike action over pay and conditions are labelled as part of a unionist plot, or somehow politically motivated around the constitution. It’s really insulting. Most decent people don’t indulge in that. Those who do, I’ve little time for.”

Until recently, the constitution has divided the working class “right down the middle”, Foyer says. However, on picket lines she now sees “Yessers and Noers working together”, adding: “Nobody who’s an SNP supporter is voting against strike action as they think it’s a unionist plot. That’s just a small section of very vocal nationalists on Twitter. On the ground, ordinary people, many who voted for the Scottish Government, are beginning to think collectively around class in a way I haven’t seen for years. If that keeps growing, then the Scottish Government could have a real problem if they don’t start becoming a more progressive government.”

She said: “The STUC looks at the constitution through the lens of the economy. Sometimes talk of the constitution is just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. If the ship goes down, it doesn’t matter what flag is flying over it. It becomes very easy to say ‘once we’re independent we’ll be able to do A, B, C and D’. It becomes the answer for everything. But cynical Scot that I am, I want to see evidence of what you’re doing now.”

Foyer makes clear not all industrial action comes from the public sector. Unite was involved in 170 disputes this year alone – most were in the private sector and 80% led to better deals. She furiously rebuffed claims that higher pay for workers increases inflation. “It’s the ridiculously large profits sucked out of our economy that’s pushing up inflation. Don’t swallow the garbage that it’s about pay. That’s patently untrue.”

The rich

ON claims the rich will leave Scotland if taxes rise, Foyer said that “the mega-rich who have decided to settle in Scotland can well afford to pay”. Scottish people should consider the country “worth it” when it comes to asking the rich to pay more. She also pointed out the rich can’t move their assets, which would also be subjected to taxation. “Assets will always belong to somebody.”

Fairer taxation, which protects public services, could help tackle the current skills shortage. Skilled workers may “migrate” to Scotland for “a better standard of living and quality of life”. Foyer added: “And frankly, to the ones who would up sticks and move for the sake of a few pounds they can well afford – good riddance. We don’t need people like that in Scotland.”

On comments that raising taxes would lead to a cut in Scotland’s budget from Westminster, Foyer said: “It’s a perversely unfortunate consequence of the current fiscal framework. We’re keen to see this reformed, but it doesn’t affect the very positive impact of the wider package of measures we’ve called for which would still raise billions for our most in need.”

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