Welcome to my Blog

It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year. Well we must live in hope!

For Scotland there will be no shortage of events. The Commonwealth Games, 700th anniversary of Bannockburn, the Ryder Cup and First World War centenary commemorations, all in the one year. Oh, and the small matter of a referendum on Independence.

While Scottish politics will be dominated by the referendum, I would argue for a different focus. That's because whatever the referendum outcome, it will make little immediate difference to the lives of most Scots suffering under the yoke of austerity economics. Challenging that should be our main focus.

Workers have experienced the longest real wage pay squeeze since 1870 - with inflation rising faster than wages for almost 43 months. This means that any perceived recovery cannot last if it relies on consumers using their savings or going into debt. One in six of us borrowed this year to buy food and presents at Christmas and most of us will take until June to pay it off.

Osborne might think a quick housing boom will get him past the 2015 election, but that's typical of the short term thinking that our unbalanced, finance driven economy crashed on. I see that one bank has even resuscitated the Leveraged Super Senior Synthetic Collateralised Debt Obligations. Yes, a bit much for New Year's Day, but in essence it's one of those dodgy financial instruments that caused the financial crash. Bankers, bailed out by the rest of us, have learned nothing!

Britain needs a pay rise and astonishingly, even the CBI agrees. In the 1960's up to 61% of the economy went on wages - since the 1980s it has never gone above 56%. This may look like a small percentage, but it makes a big difference to our living standards. Its no coincidence that for the first time we have more in-work poverty than out-of-work poverty. So in 2014, we must relentlessly make the case for fair wages and UNISON's 'Worth It' campaign will be an important part of that effort.

Another Osborne objective is to cut our public services - back to 1948 levels as the recent OBR forecast highlighted. Permanent austerity was always the real policy aim, with deficit reduction simply an excuse. Again, we are beginning to win the argument, as this week's You Gov poll shows. That poll also found just 2 per cent of people said they have benefited from growth while only 18 per cent expect to see their living standard increase in 2014.

I would also like to see us do more with devolved powers in 2014, as well as make the case for extended devolution. The Procurement Reform Bill is an opportunity to put the £11bn of public procurement to better use - expanding the living wage, raising employment standards and tackling climate change. We could also sort out local government finance, end the disgraceful way we care for elderly people and take a proper look at public service reform, including a national workforce strategy.

It won't be high on many people's priorities, but let's not forget the European elections. There are so many areas of public policy that are driven from the EU that we ignore this at our peril.

Finally, that referendum. As I have written elsewhere, I think there has been some positive aspects to the debate amongst the dross. The work funded by ESRC and others has provided a better understanding of social and economic policy that has a value well beyond the referendum.

On the current offer, I remain an independence sceptic. I understand the politics of the independence lite strategy, but it risks a response of, why bother. The consequences of the currency plan, energy markets and other policy areas, where little is going to change, are that we end up with the worst of both worlds. Directed by a larger neighbour, without any democratic influence.

However, that doesn't excuse the status quo. The No campaign has focused on the many weaknesses in the White Paper offer, but it has failed to make the positive case. I am a socialist, I don't believe in the status quo. Our profoundly unequal society has to be challenged for the good of everyone in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Constitutional change isn't the only way to address these issues, but it can be part of the solution. If the status quo is all that's on offer, I may be prepared to forgo my scepticism.


2014 will undoubtedly be a big and challenging year in so many ways. Let's keep a focus on what really matters - enjoy the big events and welcome those who visit our country, but also relentlessly campaign for a fairer Scotland.

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