We took the Trade Union Bill campaign to the Scottish Parliament today. Scottish Labour used their time to ensure that MSPs had an opportunity to debate this legislation.
UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis told MPs scrutinising the legislation at Westminster that these draconian proposals are ‘a major attack on workers’ rights in this country’ and ‘a negation of democracy’. Today was an opportunity for Scotland's politicians to show that there is no mandate for this legislation in Scotland and they didn't disappoint. Almost all MSPs attacked the Bill in the clearest possible terms.
Today's debate should have been on a Legislative Consent Motion (LCM). Unsurprisingly, the UK Government's delegated powers memorandum says the Bill is reserved and therefore no Legislative Consent Motion is required. However, the provisions on facility time and DOCAS are clearly about public administration which is devolved. This is reinforced by the policy justification which focuses on public spending and the fact that these provisions only apply to the public sector. As the UK minister has confirmed, Ministers running English departments will be able to direct public bodies in Scotland on facility time. This is without doubt the most serious breach of the devolution settlement since 1999.
Kez Dugdale led on the LCM point from the outset and the Welsh Government made similar arguments. There was welcome support for this position in today's debate from Scottish Ministers. Roseanna Cunningham outlined four grounds on which a LCM could be based.
At Westminster yesterday during the Scotland Bill debate, Shadow Scotland Secretary, Ian Murray asked if, in the current context, the Government “would require a legislative consent motion for the Trade Union Bill?” David Mundell responded by stating that the nature of any legislative consent motion required is determined as the Trade Union Bill is finalised. That's an interesting answer, even if not consistent with the Memorandum of Understanding, depending on how you define 'finalised'.
Today's debate reflected the context of Scottish industrial relations. As the recent 'Working Together' review showed, there is a distinctly different industrial relations culture in Scotland and this is being taken forward in the Fair Work Convention. This is particularly the case in the public sector - the target of this UK legislation. That's why Scottish public opinion is against the Bill, reflecting UK wide public opinion that this is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.
Tory MSPs Murdo Fraser and Gavin Brown looked lonely figures on the Tory benches during today's debate - 'agency staff' as Neil Findlay quipped. In fairness, their contributions reflected Ruth Davidson's constructive blog post about trade unions on Conservative Home, which interestingly made no mention of the Trade Union Bill. Sometimes it's more interesting to note what politicians don't say! Murdo Fraser has himself written constructively on trade union issues. The problem for the Scottish Conservatives is that the UK minister driving this bill uses very different language.
Today's debate was an important opportunity for MSP's to take a stand against the Trade Union Bill and we are pleased with the cross party support for the campaign. It's now important that we build on this support by forcing the UK government into legislative consent and then build resistance to this pernicious legislation.