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26 February 2014

PCS enters Scotland independence debate

Opposition to all cuts vital

Philip Stott

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has voted overwhelmingly to put opposition to all cuts at the centre of the debate on the referendum on Scottish independence.

PCS branches in Scotland voted overwhelmingly at a special consultative conference on 22 February that the union would not make a recommendation to its members about how to vote in the referendum in September.

Following weeks of branch consultations, debates and mandating meetings 18,025 backed the 'no recommendation' proposition, 5,775 supported calling for a Yes vote and, significantly, there was 0 votes for the No position.

PCS assistant general secretary Chris Baugh opened the well-attended conference. He explained that whatever the outcome of the conference, PCS would seek to put centre stage "opposition to all cuts, an end to welfare 'reform', and a decent social security system, repeal of the anti-union laws, tax justice and support for public ownership."

PCS Scottish secretary Lynn Henderson, in moving the No recommendation proposition, emphasised that it was "not a neutral position, it's a campaigning position and an active engagement in the debate around the referendum on PCS industrial demands."

Scottish National Party (SNP) deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon spoke in favour of the Yes position.

She argued that under independence Scotland could be a "progressive beacon" in tackling social inequality. "The big issue at the heart of this debate is not that Scotland is not a wealthy country, but why don't people share in that wealth. Voting for independence is the only way to change this."

Neil Findlay, a left Labour MSP, argued for the No position. He is chair of the PCS group in the Scottish parliament.

He began by pointing out that "on the four occasions that the PCS has had a picket line at the Scottish parliament, I have never crossed it, and never will.

This was a reference to the fact that SNP ministers have routinely crossed PCS picket lines.

It was very significant that none of the 82 PCS branches in Scotland were prepared to support the No position.

This reflects the overwhelmingly anti-working class platform of the Better Together campaign.

The doubts among PCS members in backing a Yes vote reflects the different views among working class people generally.

It's also, crucially, a reflection of the SNP's pro-business approach that seeks to make an independent Scotland a bastion for business interests, while also promising to reduce social inequality.

Only decisive social measures can offer a way forward for the working class under independence.

This vote will allow the union to play a central role in advocating and campaigning for a pro-working class, trade union and anti-cuts voice during the referendum debate.

Left Unity, the socialist grouping in the PCS that Socialist Party members play a leading role in, supported a Yes position and will continue to encourage PCS members to vote Yes in September.