As last Tuesday morning broke, the now ex-First Minister Nicola Sturgeon shared a story on her Instagram. Walking around Holyrood Park, the snap was set to the tune of Michael Buble’s “Feelin’ Good” with lyrics: “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me”.

Undoubtedly, this is true for Nicola. The strains of leadership – of helping to lead a country through a global pandemic – have been lifted. There is far more time to live a life outside politics. The STUC have always enjoyed a respectful relationship with Nicola and we wish her all the best as she starts her “new life”.

Quite whether the election of the new First Minister is a “new dawn” for Scottish politics though remains to be seen. A lot was said during the leadership election on continuity, fresh starts and the need for new beginnings. All candidates, to varying degrees, seemed so eager for the keys to Bute House that they willingly scorned their own party’s record in government.

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Whilst it’s absolutely a matter for the SNP, the new First Minister seems to have a job on his hands to reunify before the party can think about being re-elected. Self-reflection is fine. Critiquing one’s own record in government, if done properly, can be detoxifying. In the pursuit of Scotland’s top political office, to do it on national TV was pretty unedifying. 

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At the STUC, we hold the Scottish Government to account on its record. It’s intrinsic within our nature to call out governments, employers, agencies, departments or any other body who are failing workers. This is our role and it’s served without fear or favour.

The Scottish Government readily accepts this and that’s why, in part, industrial relations in Scotland are so different to those in England. There’s an understanding from government level, even if we are in strident opposition to each other, regarding the place of unions and the place of our labour movement within Scotland’s industrial landscape. That doesn’t mean there isn’t public mobilisation, intense disagreement, or incredibly robust discussions against them. The sign of a mature, representative government is whether it is willing to genuinely listen.

Last week, as a “new day” broke on the First Minister’s early leadership, it appears, and I stress this very tentatively, that Humza Yousaf has listened to our calls. He has been straightforward in his stated ambition to ensure those with the most resources – wealth, income, land – pay their fair share of tax. At his debut First Minister’s Questions, he was “unequivocal” about his stand on taxing wealth to redistribute to fund our public services.
This is welcome. So welcome, in fact, it’s precisely what the STUC called for ahead of the Scottish Budget last year via our Fairer Taxes for a Fairer Future report. The powers of our Scottish Parliament, here and now, can be used fully to have raised an additional £3.3 billion worth of revenue to fund our public services.

Is this significant? We’ll see. But it’s certainly a marked development and a far bolder, stronger line than his predecessor. We won concessions from the Scottish Government during its latest budget but it was small steps when we needed strides.

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If this is the tone and language the First Minister is taking, nailing his colours to the mast at the first available opportunity, then it’s a positive start. The promotion of Fair Work and Wellbeing Economy to an elevated cabinet secretary role enhances this. What it shows, really, is the influence of our movement in permeating government; giving the lived experiences of workers during this cost of living crisis and demanding politicians do something about it. 

This must continue. As a movement, we’re too long in the tooth and too wise to the patter of the Scottish Government to get overexcited when progressive policies are touted. This cannot be a false dawn, another publicly owned energy company; another policy that, on paper, sounds great but languishes now on a dusty shelf in St Andrew’s House. Workers cannot feed their children or heat their homes on promises alone. We need action. Delivery. Real progress.

The pledges made in an election campaign are one thing; delivering them in government is another. The fight against poverty, injustice and workplace discrimination doesn’t just stop because the guard at Bute House has been changing.

The First Minister, if he is to build on his start, within his first 100 days must set out a radical plan for a progressive Scotland.

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That means delivering free school meals for all pupils, ensuring children – kids at the cutting edge of this humanitarian crisis – have access to a hot meal.

It also means ensuring social care is fit for purpose, overhauling the beleaguered National Care Service Bill and removing private profit from public care.

It means, as inflation still outstrips wages, public sector pay must be increased.

Workers cannot hope for protection from any Tory government; where politicians fail, workers act. The Scottish Government must, therefore, refuse compliance with the UK Government Strikes Bill, allowing working people to defend their human right to strike and withdraw their labour.

It’s questionable, at best, whether this is a new dawn for Scottish politics. It’s far too premature to be making conclusions at this stage. What is clear, beyond any doubt, is that if the First Minister doesn’t act quickly to stamp his mark, setting out his stall on what a Yousaf Government will deliver, the new dawn, the new day and the new day will very quickly turn to very cloudy skies.

Roz Foyer is General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress