Yes Scotland welcomed the publication of A Just Scotland, an interim report on the constitutional debate by the Scottish Trades Union Congress.
"This is an important and valuable contribution to the independence debate, setting out challenges for both campaigns, and we certainly intend to pay close attention to the detail of the report " said Yes Scotland Chief Executive Blair Jenkins.
The STUC says it has not reached a point where it is able to recommend a Yes or No vote in the 2014 referendum. There are, however, some key questions which it believes will help to shape the views of its members and some major challenges which both sides of the debate must meet.
One key challenge identified in the report is to persuade members ‘that social justice is more achievable’ in an independent Scotland.
"It is fair to say that our members will need to hear of a more detailed vision for fairness in an independent Scotland if the Yes campaign is to succeed," says the report.
The report’s authors found there was concern and, on occasion, ‘outright anger at some of the economic, social and international policies which have been pursued by government, particularly at the UK level’. But Labour's response was also criticised.
The reporter states: ‘Not being the Tories’ and negative messages about the SNP will not suffice and members will require a clear steer on how economic and social justice will be achieved at all levels of government and to be convinced that the Scottish Labour party intends to play an active and radical role in achieving this.’
Although it has been generally assumed that Scotland’s fiscal position will be a key issue in the debate, the STUC found that few interviewed for the report concentrated on arguments that Scotland would become dramatically better or worse off through achieving full independence. This, the report states may ‘reflect the view that the resource question should focus less on absolute figures and more on how wealth is shared’.
The report cites independent evidence which suggests that it is the division of resources in a society rather than their absolute level which impacts health and happiness. It says the real question is not about absolute economic wealth, but how best to reduce economic inequality.
It adds: "Equally we should ask not whether Scotland could be a viable independent nation, it could. But which constitutional settlement provides best scope for Scotland to flourish?"
The report says that Scotland has prospered marginally since devolution compared to the UK, improving our performance somewhat on employment levels and GDP.
‘However this modest improvement sits within the context of a systemically weak and unequal UK economy. There has been near consensus ….. that current economic orthodoxy has led to policy which has undermined the economic security and living standards of workers in Scotland. Privatisation, deregulation (particularly of finance), business tax cuts, attacks on the welfare state, the undermining of workers bargaining power and of workplace health and safety has not led to a fairer and more prosperous society,’ it says.
‘These processes have produced a society that is less equal, fair and democratic and an economy more unstable and much more prone to systemic crises. It is vital that Scotland’s politicians start to embrace new economic thinking as part of the constitutional debate.’
The report’s authors detected ‘widespread anger at the attacks on employment rights, equalities and trade union rights at Westminster and this is not a view confined to active trade unionists.
The report says that ‘a vision of an independent Scotland which committed to more equitable trade union laws and which enshrined democratic participation of trade union members in the economy would be an attractive proposition for many members and trade union reps.
It highlights general concern about the current UK Government’s approach to equality. Many participants cited the swingeing cuts that are currently being made to the EHRC and the repeal of certain sections of the Equality Act as examples of where this Government is attempting to water down protections and the effectiveness of the law.
‘This presents a challenge to the Better Together Campaign as it creates a negative context for this debate and calls into question the commitment of certain parties to achieving a more equal society.’
The report says that while there are concerns about the impact of the policy of removing Trident in the context of retaining membership of NATO, ‘the most important question for the SNP, as part of the YES campaign, to answer is what vision it has for the role and size of a future Scottish defence force and what actions it might take to ameliorate the impact on Scottish industry of a reduction in defence contracts?
‘Given that Scottish trade unionists appear to strongly support the removal of Trident, the question of the ‘Better Together’ parties is how else can Scotland and the UK be freed of Trident other than through a vote for independence?’
Mr Jenkins said: ‘In overall terms, the report correctly points out that what people in Scotland require is quality information to help them make their decision in 2014. That is what I committed to do when I became Chief Executive of Yes Scotland and that is what I remain determined to achieve.
‘For the people of Scotland, this is the most important debate about the future direction and shape of our country for more than 300 years. We all have a responsibility to ensure that the many questions people have are answered accurately, fairly and openly. Since we have absolute confidence in the case for an independent Scotland, that is precisely what we will be doing at Yes Scotland.’