Date: Thu, 11 Sep 97 22:04:24 CDT
From: (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Support For Scottish Parliament Grows
Organization: InfoMatch Internet - Vancouver BC

Support For Scottish Parliament Grows

By Anne Howie, Militant, Vol.61 no.31, 15 September 1997

GLASGOW, Scotland—On September 11 people in Scotland will go to the polls to vote on the creation of a Scottish parliament for the first time since the founding of the United Kingdom. Two questions will be decided in the devolution referendum: whether there should be a Scottish parliament, and whether it should have the power to vary the basic rate of income tax by 3 percent.

A referendum on whether to create a similar parliament in Wales will take place September 18.

The Labour Party promised these votes as part of its manifesto for the May elections, which swept Anthony Blair into Westminster against a backdrop of increasing labor resistance, particularly to cuts in social services.

Ian McCalman, president of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the largest teaching union here, told the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) that in Glasgow alone 250 teaching jobs have been cut in the last year. The STUC held a special congress in Glasgow on August 30.

In response to these attacks, 5,000 members of the Glasgow Association of the EIS went on strike for three days, beginning March 5, when 10,000 people demonstrated in support of the striking teachers. The union also organized a march of 20,000 in January as part of its campaign to defend jobs and oppose cutbacks in education. The STUC organized another demonstration of 10,000 March 1, against public sector cuts. And 25,000 janitors, administrators, and clerical staff from Edinburgh, Midlothian, Glasgow, and West Dunmartonshire took part on March 6, in what was the latest in the largest series of local council strikes since 1989.

Workers in the rail industry and on Caledonian MacBrayne ferries have also been on strike in the last few months. Over the last year or so, visits by former Scottish secretary of state Tory Michael Forsyth became the focus for protests. At the May general election, every Conservative member of parliament (MP) in Scotland, as well as Wales, lost their seat.

One of the arguments used by opponents of devolution is that public spending has traditionally been higher in Scotland and Wales than in England, as former prime minister John Major put it in an article published in the August 30 Times of London. The English accept that resources should be allocated according to need, Major continued. But as living standards have risen in Scotland over the past 20 years this transfer of resources has become progressively less defensible. The former premier said that if the new Scottish parliament is given the power to cut income taxes, my constituents would not take kindly to, in effect, subsidising tax cuts in Scotland.

Statistics, however, show that the standard of living is much lower here, compared to England. Scottish unemployment, for example, stood at 6.6 percent in June, compared to 5.7 percent in the entire United Kingdom. A report on mortality rates published last year by the registrar general of Scotland showed that 15 of the 20 areas in Britain with the highest death rates are in Scotland, with the top eight all Scottish.

What devolution proposal includes

The proposed Scottish parliament would have lawmaking powers over areas such as health, education, local government, and most civil and criminal law. London would remain in control of foreign policy, defense and security, constitutional affairs, relations with the European Union, employment legislation, transport safety and regulation, social security policy and administration, and specific health questions such as abortion, human fertilization and embryology.

The government paper that lays out the Labour Party's proposals for the Scottish parliament emphasizes that Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom. The UK parliament is and will remain sovereign in all matters, it states. But as part of the Government's resolve to modernise the British constitution Westminster will be choosing to exercise that sovereignty by devolving legislative responsibilities to a Scottish parliament without in any way diminishing its own powers.

Scotland was an independent kingdom prior to the union with England in 1707. Since unification, however, Scotland has retained its own legal system, education, state church, and other institutions. This was a British concession to the Scottish ruling class.

This will be the second vote on devolution in Scotland. In 1979, nearly 52 percent of those who cast ballots voted yes in a similar referendum. But because of a clause requiring approval by at least 40 percent of eligible voters, the proposition was defeated. This time around, polls indicate a higher percentage of the 5.1 million residents of Scotland will support the devolution proposal.

In a 1979 referendum held in Wales, the devolution proposal for that region was defeated by a 4—1 margin in a turnout of 59 percent.

Future of UK at stake

Even though the upcoming referendum in Scotland does not include the option of independence, the future of the United Kingdom is very much part of the discussion.

At the August 30 STUC congress, Sandy Boyle, speaking for the organization's general council, said that maintenance of the status quo is the slippery slope to independence. The Scottish National Party (SNP), which is pro-independence, calls devolution at least a step in the right direction. On July 27 the SNP National Executive Committee voted to recommend a Yes vote on Labour's proposal.

In the August 30 Times article, John Major said that devolution would eventually lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. Michael Ancram, the Conservative party's constitutional affairs spokesperson, stated August 27 that the Scottish National Party's support for Labour's proposition is a dangerous sign. They see a Yes vote as the first real step on the road to independence for Scotland, he said.

Ian Wilson, Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, a branch of the sectarian Protestant organization, added his voice to the opposition campaign. He wrote in the Orange Torch newsletter that if it is the expected Yes, then we have absolutely no choice but to redouble our efforts to push back the tide of green [Catholic] corruption that has disgraced Scottish politics for too long.

The Labour Party leadership, on the other hand, is arguing that devolution poses no threat to the integrity of the UK. Scotland will remain firmly part of the United Kingdom, insists Donald Dewer, Labour's secretary of state for Scotland, in a foreword to the Westminster document on devolution.

The document states, The Government wants a United Kingdom which everyone feels part of, can contribute to, and in whose future all have a stake. The Union will be strengthened by recognising the claims of Scotland, Wales, and the regions with strong identities of their own. The Government's devolution proposals, by meeting these aspirations, will not only safeguard but also enhance the Union.

Supporting tax varying powers for the Scottish parliament, the Labour Party argues that all real parliaments have tax powers. While a few representatives of big business have voiced opposition to the proposed right of the parliament to vary tax rates, most claim a neutral stance. The August 31 Scotland on Sunday newspaper quoted a spokesperson for Scottish Equitable saying, Even if there were extra costs it would still be cheaper to have a business based in Edinburgh than in most other places throughout Britain, especially London.

Speaking to the August 30 STUC congress, Donald Dewer said he was very aware of the business concerns, but added that devolution would produce a grown up parliament with grown up responsibilities... There is not going to be a power to vary corporate taxation.

I really do think there are a lot of positive features in the Scottish parliament for business, said STUC general secretary Campbell Christie at the meeting.

With the death of Diana Spencer, campaigning on devolution was suspended by all parties until after her funeral. A festival organized to celebrate the centenary of the STUC was also canceled. However, the referendum will go ahead.

Bill Lockston, a telecommunications worker from Aberdeen, said in an interview that one of his workmates summed up a common response among workers when he said he hoped [devolution] would do something for the lives of working people, but he didn't hold out much hope for that.