Voices for Yes

Stephen Smellie, depute-convener, UNISON Scotland (personal capacity) As a Unison activist, I have no illusions that the SNP are the ideal government for working people. Their record on sticking to the Westminster line on pay freezes and restraint in recent years is nothing to boast about. Their centralisation of police and fire services has cost many Unison jobs and reduced local accountability.

Their Council Tax freeze has benefited people in big houses far more than those in council flats. Their commitment to cutting Corporation Tax suggests that they envisage an economy which is ordered in favour of the rich. So if the referendum was a vote of confidence in the SNP government it would be unlikely to pass.

On the other hand, if it was a test as to the respective merits of the Scottish versus the Coalition government’s, the SNP would win hands down. The Tory/Lib Dem coalition is a brutal anti-worker government slashing public services, attacking welfare benefits and, in England, swiftly privatising the NHS.

However, the referendum is neither of these things. For me it is an opportunity to decide within which constitutional arrangement Unison members and other trade unionists will be able to get the best deal for our members.

In an independent Scotland, big business and financial markets will still have the upper hand. The SNP, with all its faults, will more than likely form the government, keep us in Europe, NATO and with the royal family. But the balance of forces within Scottish society will shift towards our ground. Trade unions will have greater influence than is at all possible in the UK.

The thousands of people who have been energised during the past couple of years to look for and demand a fairer Scotland will provide an impetus to create just that. The promotion of policies for greater public ownership, more progressive taxation and greater rights for workers will receive an enthusiastic response from those people and politicians will find themselves needing to respond to a more active and organised electorate than ever before.

Within that context, humble trade unionists like myself will find that the context within which we seek to negotiate better deals for our members will have changed. We will be able to be more ambitious in our aspirations. All that means that I will vote Yes.

Some will argue that I have forgotten that the choice is not independence or coalition government, that a Labour victory in the 2015 general election will open the road to a transformed UK. That is a non starter. Labour remains committed to austerity, nuclear weapons and only modest reforms to improve housing supply. More importantly it poses no threat to the UK establishment and therefore accepts the neoliberal consensus of low wages and reduced public services. It merely promises a softer status quo and no prospect of radical change.

A Yes vote does not guarantee a fairer Scotland but it opens up an opportunity, more favourable circumstances and a mobilised electorate that makes it more likely to be achieved than at a UK level. Who knows? We might even be able to talk about socialist policies as credible and popular options once again.

Margaret, a UNISON member in the NHS

Having attended UNISON conferences over the years I realise how lucky we are in Scotland that the NHS is not being centralised and privatised the way it is in England. It is being slowly dismantled. At conferences I’ve listened to horror stories, with the closure of hospitals and A&Es, forcing people to drive for miles after an accident or emergency.

NHS workers in England have been robbed of their terms and conditions through ‘Agenda for Change’. Scotland’s NHS is devolved. We take the pittance handed to us by Westminster and we then budget it. If instead we had all the resources of Scotland it could be used for Scotland’s citizens – if we had the money without having to use the begging bowl. Not to pay for the extra £4million in MPs’ expenses, their 11 per cent rise, when we have had no rise in years, apart from this year’s 1 per cent – which England didn’t even pay out to its NHS staff!

If there’s a No vote, I don’t believe for a minute we will get extra powers. They’d think ‘how dare you, Scotland’, and when it comes to spending cuts by Westminster they’d say ‘sorry Scotland, there you go’. This would lead to NHS cuts, mergers in community care, throwing people out of hospital without the backup and staffing to support them. It’s been a hard won fight to keep the NHS, and well done to the trade unions who have fought for it – and to be fair, the Scottish government, who have recognised its value.

I want the wealth, knowledge and experience used for the good of the people in Scotland, including women, who make up 52 per cent of the population but are often least thought of when policies are decided. We make up the vast majority of carers for the very young and very old. Under independence women could tell the Scottish Government they have to listen to us or we will remove them in the next election.

A 24-year-old time-served electrician

Why a Yes vote will bring work and can improve the rights of workers in the building game – let’s face it, there is a lot of work to be done in an independent Scotland, from what we need in social housing now, to the potential we can utilise with the vast natural resources and other potential we have in other industries such as renewables and shipbuilding.

Certainly there will be a demand for skilled workers such as ground workers, electricians, for young workers to gain apprenticeships and of course everything else that will come as a result of the work that needs to be done. This is great, and will hopefully give many of our working class brothers and sisters a chance to sell their labour. However, instead of continuing the eroding of skilled workers’ pay and rights within the building game, improvement needs to be made.

Take for example the temporary employment agencies who very often pay below the industry rate, on effectively a zero hour contract, despite making a killing from “finding” the labour for the employer. Not to mention umbrella companies that “pays your wage”, who can charge up to £25 for doing so. Modern age scabs, it can be argued. Why should we let this form of vulture capitalism continue and steal from the pockets of workers?

We, the working class have again became politically empowered as a result of this indyref debate. Just imagine what we can do for ourselves as a whole with a Yes vote. For example, we could campaign to rid the anti-union laws, set up by the Tories and carried on by New Labour – something that will never be scrapped under the current Westminster system.

We could combat the unfair conditions set out by these agencies and umbrella companies and promote firms to employ workers. It is certainly food for thought when you look at what we have now, what we can do with independence and what we will lose with the further austerity measures in place, no matter who wins the next UK general election.

Gerry McMahon, PCS Scotland Committee

I’m voting Yes because I’m fed up with public sector workers being attacked and shamefully treated by Labour and Tory governments. Regardless of who has been in power, they have cut jobs and attacked conditions of service.

Civil servants have seen a national pay system ripped up by the Tories and hundreds of different rates of pay across different departments. New Labour had 13 years in power and did nothing about this scandal. Blair and Brown intensified the attacks on the civil service in power by announcing and implementing 80,000 job cuts in 2004.

What is clear is that New Labour and the Tories have nothing to offer but more poverty and austerity. That is not good enough for me or my members. I want a fresh start. Voting Yes can give us the chance to build up public services and pay workers properly. Stop wasting money on Trident, bullets and bombs and start spending it on the poor and the vulnerable. That is why a Yes vote is so vital.

Steven Nimmo, Aslef member

I’m voting Yes to independence, not because I believe the nationalists or their white paper can significantly change Scotland for the better. I’m voting Yes because only independence will give us full power over the type of government we have in Scotland.

Only independence will allow us to prioritise the NHS over Trident, peace over war, people over profit and equality over inequality. I’m voting Yes to give us a real chance to be part of forging a democratic and egalitarian society.

Stephanie, a student nurse

I believe an socialist independent Scotland is the way forward to protect our NHS. Scotland will have more finances to provide more nurses’ jobs which will help hospitals cut the costs by using less agency bank staff. A socialist independent Scotland will also be able to provide free nursing care which won’t be means tested. As a student nurse, money is tight and because of this I am often having to work 37.5 hours a week on placement as well a part time job. I believe nursing students should have a living wage so we can focus on our training.

The NHS staff are full of care and compassion because it’s not run for profit yet. A No vote will see cuts in staffing and more hospital closures which in my opinion is very dangerous as an expanding country. We need to keep our NHS in public hands before it’s sold and built for profit. It’s well known that poverty impinges on health. With so many children relying on food banks more nurses will be required in the future. Please vote Yes!

A McDonald’s worker

I’m a full time McDonald’s employee and I’m voting Yes. One of the main reasons is Westminster’s attack on the working class and its endless support of big business. This is the second time I have worked for McDonald’s – the first was down under which if I’m honest wasn’t that bad of a job. I believe that was because they had a trade union affiliation. You really could earn a living from McDonald’s.

Now, most weeks I don’t even earn enough to be taxed. This is caused by a mixture of a zero hour contract and minimum wage. Even when I do, I’m very aware that it could possibly go to supplement a co-worker’s wage in the form of family tax credits because billion pound companies don’t need to pay a living wage in the UK.

A Yes vote can change that in a way the UK never could. For the first time in my life the workers will have the power – purely because with a Yes vote, the government would answer to the Scottish people.

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