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Scotland: The choice is yours

31 March 2014

This year, on Thursday 18 September, four million voters in Scotland will be asked to decide whether their nation should remain in the UK or become an independent country. TSSA Journal asked both official referendum campaigns to answer the question that will appear on the ballot paper: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’

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'Yes' says John Duffy


We know that Scotland, as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, can more than afford to be independent. This then leads us to consider how Scotland can be regenerated for the good of everyone – with better services, social support, infrastructure and the other things a civilised society needs. Trade unions and their members will be central to shaping this future after ‘Yes’, and the railway industry can play a pivotal part in the regeneration of the economy and the nation.

The No campaign is fond of scare stories about borders in an independent Scotland. In reality there will be no border between Scotland and England and trains will flow north and south in the same way that trains cross the borders between France and Spain, Denmark and Germany and all of the other EU ‘borders’every day of the week. Their tactics border on the ridiculous.

A Yes vote is not break-up, but a breakthrough, to put decisions in the hands of the people of Scotland. The gains of doing this range from securing a better deal at work, through expanding childcare and other important services, to bringing power closer to people. Many of these general gains can be found at yesscotland.net, and it is worth exploring both sides of the argument to see which prospect offers a better future for you and your family. There are also particular gains relating to the workplaces and sectors where TSSA members work. This article will explore just a few of these relating to the rail industry in particular.

Yes to a Public Rail Franchise

The particular policy and approach to the passenger franchise is of course determined by the present Scottish Government, but Westminster’s Railways Act 1993 requires that passenger rail services should only be provided through a franchise system.

The current Scottish Government sought derogation from section 25 of the Railways Act 1993, but this was rejected by the Department of Transport. There is no sign that either a Labour or Tory government at Westminster will rescind the Railways Act and open up the possibility of public ownership. A Yes vote will transfer these decisions to Scotland, where there is already an appetite for more public ownership, shared by both the SNP and the Scottish Labour Party.

Developing Scotland’s Railways

Any focus on the rail network should also consider freight. Ten projects since 2007 are estimated to have taken 52 million lorry miles off of Scotland’s roads. However most within the industry know that too often freight contracts have resulted in one rail operator losing out to another rail operator, rather than generating a modal shift from road to rail. Scotland has a clear pro-rail approach, as is shown by recent developments of the network, and there is huge potential for further expansion of the network.

Given the ideological standpoints of all of the main Westminster parties it is unlikely that that there will be any desire from UK governments to amend the railway industry or franchising system any time soon. By contrast, in Scotland there is a desire to expand the industry and to use large scale construction and development projects to kick-start the economy. One of the primary benefits of a Yes vote would be the ability for whichever Scottish Government we elect – whether Labour, SNP or other parties – to determine how industries such as the railways would function.

The “reconnection of the rail and wheel” into a single public industry is a real possibility if Scotland has a fully empowered parliament – and the strategy could be best determined by those close to the industry, with trade unions like TSSA being at the very heart of that. Only a Yes vote brings these powers to Scotland and will allow working people to choose a better direction for Scotland.

John Duffy is a member of the FBU and of ‘Trade Unionists for Yes’

 

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No says Kevin Lindsay


The right to question

At present, TSSA members in Scotland are being bombarded by facts and figures from the separatist campaign, but like many trade unionists, all they are wanting is a fairer society to live in. As trade unionists we hold our managements to account on a daily basis. We stick up for our members and challenge management on the direction they are headed. Raising difficult questions doesn’t make you a bully – it’s what responsible trade unionists do. But if we challenge the separatists we are told we are being negative, playing down Scotland or bullying the Scottish people. This is nonsense. We are being asked to take a gamble, not only our future, but the future of generations of Scots. Therefore it’s only right we ask the important questions.

Railways

The nationalists have chosen to further fragment the railways by splitting off the Caledonian Sleeper into a separate franchise and are in the process of hawking it off for the next 15 years. They are also looking to lease the day services for up to 10 years. Yet in their much fabled White Paper they claim they will bring the railways into public ownership. The Scottish government have the power to run the Scottish franchise on a ‘not for profit’ basis but they don’t have the political will to do so. As we have seen with ferries, privatisation is the preferred option for the SNP.

Pensions

There remain huge questions to answer on pensions. Our members have big concerns about funding for pension funds based elsewhere in the UK. This would effect not just rail workers, but those in all industries on both side of the border. So far the nationalists have failed to give credible answers.

European Union

On EU membership, the separatists used to argue that they had legal advice to prove we would gain automatic entry. It turned out that no such legal advice ever existed. For our members, the conditions of our EU membership are key – would we have to join the Euro? Would we lose the UK rebate? Telling us that everybody else will fall into line with what Alex Salmond says simply isn’t credible.

Currency

As we have seen in recent weeks, for some of the largest employers in Scotland, currency is the most fundamental issue. This is the case for many of the companies employing our members. Alex Salmond needs to tell us what would replace the Pound. Would we rush to adopt the Euro or would we set up an unproven separate currency? What’s the Plan B? The jobs of too many of our members depend on this issue. It can’t be left to a wing and a prayer.

Best of both

Today, as part of the UK, we have the best of both worlds. Our Scottish Parliament takes key decisions about issues affecting our members every day, including transport, jobs and skills, and we benefit from the strength and security of being part of the larger UK. It makes no sense to put this at risk.

Being part of the UK opens up the UK market to Scots businesses and creates jobs and prosperity. 830,000 people born in Scotland now live elsewhere in the UK and 450,000 people born in England, Wales or Northern Ireland live in Scotland. We are four nations intertwined as part of the UK. As part of the UK, Scotland can prosper and grow. We are stronger and better together.

Kevin Lindsay is ASLEF’s district organiser in Scotland.

 

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