UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Avoiding a stooshie becoming a stramash

From a Scottish Correspondent: There's a referendum going on in these parts and it's caused in UNISON what we call a stooshie.

A leading UNISON figure has come out for independence (big surprise) in 'a personal capacity' and 40 Scotland national conference goers (out of 281 - big news) have signed one of those petition things for independence - also in collective personal capacities (if that is not a contradiction).

All this has precipitated a message on the UNISON Scotland website reminding activists that:

1. UNISON has no position on the referendum. National Conference says that is so. And we know this now means that the policy is set in platinum and is holy and to be revered. There was an overwhelming vote for that position (or non-position). Seriously though, a position of challenging both sides on what their option will do for social justice, peace, public services and an end to austerity is no bad position to take.

2. You can't realistically be in a personal capacity if you are labelled as 'UNISON'. Everybody with half a brain knows that the media is only interested in the Yes or No position and not the real issues behind them. It's a bit like telling journalist you've got really big news but it's off the record. Surely nobody is that naive.

Grumblings have come from many parts. From No voters who have held the union position and also from Yes voters who fear a backlash.

UNISON's honourable position of trying to put progressive policies at the front of the debate rather than flag waving of whatever design is right and proper and has been developed thoughtfully and comradely.

But, as always, there is a less honourable sub-text. Neither the Yes nor No campaign wants to lose. That is why nobody has really pushed for UNISON to take a position one way or the other. Any branch, including those of the 'personal capacity' folks could have put up a motion at any time.

Most polls of UNISON members tend to show they reflect polls of the general public. If that is the case, a majority of UNISON members will be voting No with a fair whack undecided.

The referendum differs from the devolution campaign of the 1990s. There is no 'settled will of the Scottish people' as the UNISON Scotland briefing pointed out at Conference. There is a divide - so far managed with good humour and reasoned debate - apart from the Cyber-pratts. If it wasn't for corporate media reporting the drivel of social media, most of us wouldn't have heard any of it in the first place anyway.

The humour and reasoned debate, described by UNISON's Scottish Secretary at the Conference fringe meeting, is under stress though.

Why should one side of the debate publicly stick to the policy of the union while the other capitalises on the position the union has given them to speak outside its policy in a 'personal capacity' which they know will be reported as anything other than 'personal'? Perhaps they would argue that the UNISON establishment's closeness to Labour means there's a No campaign under the blankets?

In any case, it all may turn out to be a storm in a home counties china teacup. But some lines have been crossed and only restraint by key figures on both sides has avoided the stooshie becoming a stramash. A fine distinction but an important one.

You can argue that this debate is too important to silence key union and political activists. But there is a responsibility that comes with the label 'UNISON' especially if that is the only reason the media is interested in what you are saying.

This is not about stifling debate. We can have a debate in all sorts of forums and air our political and personal views across a range of opportunities in this campaign.

What we shouldn't do in such a critical debate is to be so naive - or so disrespectful - as to use our UNISON badge to promote personal views.

The great danger in this debate is division. We have enough division on sectarian grounds in our biggest city without another division on constitutional lines. There is very likely to be a divided Scotland after the vote whichever way it goes. The last thing we need is a divided UNISON before we've even voted.

And just a wee word about the much vaunted 'Scottish consensus'. We've just elected a UKIP MEP. Let's front up to that challenge.

There is no socialist Nirvana whichever way the vote goes. Reactionary politics and austerity will still be with us on 19 September and, even with independence or more devolution, for many years after. We will need the maximum unity to tackle that.