Scottish Government’s Cuts to Produce Industrial Action in Schools

By Tam Burke, Edinburgh

A big FAIL mark was given by teachers in Scotland to the Scottish Government just after the Tories’ general election humiliation. The AGM of the EIS (Educational Institute of Scotland, the teachers union) unanimously agreed to prepare a campaign to restore salaries which have been severely cut by the continual 1% pay cap. If negotiations fail to achieve this for next year’s pay settlement, a ballot will be held for industrial action, including strikes, beginning at the start of the 2018-19 academic year.
Teachers have had enough of 1% pay increases which, as for all other workers, mean a pay cut when rises in prices and contributions paid by workers for national insurance and pensions are accounted for. The union’s fair pay settlement is set at 20% for the 2017 pay rise. This is a result of the long running cap public sector pay which has seen their pay fall by a similar figure over several years. The teachers’ mood is hardening.
This year has seen two periods of EIS Further Education College members taking action with rallies, strikes, picket lines and support from students causing disruption. The action was suspended after a deal brokered by the Scottish Government. It may resume if it is not implemented following the announcement on 12th June that several Councils cannot afford to pay staff the amount agreed. Workers in education are under pressure due to unrelenting cuts in spending. Staff must stand united in fighting back against the SNP Government and remind Nicola Sturgeon of her stated principle that “education is at the heart of our plans and I am committed to doing all I can to improve the life chances of every child and young person.”
The reality is the Scottish Government is bending the knee to the Tory Government by passing on the cuts to councils to do their dirty work, destroying services and hope. Then Jeremy Corbyn came along to inspire belief in the fightback against the Tories and that austerity can be brought to an end.
The GTCS (General Teaching Council for Scotland) reported that in 2016 86% of its members reported increased workloads, 19 % had a decrease in workload satisfaction and 54% would not recommend teaching as a job. Implementation of a new curriculum, without sufficient preparation, has resulted in even more stress as teachers struggle to cope to do their best for their pupils. The SSTA (Scottish Secondary Teachers Association), the other teachers’ union, held their 2017 conference under the theme “Put pupils first – give teachers time to teach”. The question is how best to achieve that decent aim? In October 2016 SSTA members , on a 40% turnout, voted 91% for industrial action short of strikes, over issues such as extra hours workload, the failure to provide supply teachers to cover shortages and for more training time. The SSTA welcomed the Scottish Government’s pledge last year to provide modern school buildings, but stated “fundamentally the teacher in the classroom is the most important educational resource.”
The GTC found a lack of job share provision by employers for staff with families, that teachers on a three day week felt it equalled five days with the extra time need to cover vacancies that would not be filled due to cuts. A lack of permanent jobs means staff look elsewhere for work, not necessarily in Scotland or in teaching. The SSTA has highlighted the 1819 teaching posts lost between 2010 and 2016 due to the Tory Government’s cuts in money to councils for services, including education. This loss increases the workload of those left behind. This is the same reported for workers in the NHS. We support all public sector unions fighting together to defend public services and improve pay and conditions across the board.
Ultimately the Tory Government and capitalism are to blame. However, with only verbal opposition by the SNP Government rather than practical defiance in refusing to carry out cuts, it’s no wonder EIS members are preparing for strike action if negotiations fail. Larry Flanagan, EIS General Secretary, stated to the AGM delegates that they were the key to victory, to encouraging members to support a ballot and to work for its acceptance. He reminded the AGM that under the Tory trade union legislation, every abstention counted as a no vote. The role of local reps and the active rank and file members are key to building members’ confidence to succeed. This struggle with the Tories involves the conditions of all workers in education, so requires widening the struggle to include joint action as “divided we beg, united we win”.
The teaching unions are non-party political, but undoubtedly many members are encouraged by the move to the left by a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn. The fightback will more and more lead teachers to draw increasingly political conclusions. Only by taking the means of running of society out of the hands of the tiny minority whose self interest curtails educational spending and achievement and putting it in the hands of the workers under public ownership can we ensure a properly funded and well rounded education system

The Scandal of Research Assessment and Insecure Employment at Our Universities

By Sarah Wells, Glasgow

As the current academic term ends and studies conclude for another generation of undergraduate students, work carries on for the thousands of staff employed at universities and higher education colleges across the country. Just last year, figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, analysed and released by UCU, revealed the true precarious conditions many of these workers face. During the period 2014-15 HESA states that on average 53% of all teaching and teaching/research academic staff were employed on an insecure basis, including casual worker contracts with hourly paid rates and fewer rights and protections, through to zero-hours contracts and temp agency work. Most shocking was the shameful revelation that the “worst offenders” were within the UK’s Russell Group; with an average of 59% of staff at these elite research-intensive universities employed on insecure contracts. During this period, Scotland’s Russell Group members, the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, employed 67% and 49% of their teaching and teaching/research staff on temporary or “atypical” contracts, respectively – despite both committing to increased tuition fees for international students and the latter undertaking a huge £775 million campus expansion plan.
Although the resulting backlash has driven many campuses to strive to eradicate this “Sports Direct model” of employment, such campaigns can only help to temporarily alleviate the symptoms of a far more fundamental problem, unresolvable so long as the education system continues as a mere instrument of profit in the capitalist system. UK universities depend on public funds to run, and therefore must demonstrate that they are a worthwhile investment, generating strong, high quality research. This research assessment, and hence the allocation of nearly £2 billion of annual funding to UK universities, has been carried out every 5-7 years since 1986 by REF – the Research Excellence Framework. It is ideally a tool for the unbiased analysis of research “outputs”, driving a commitment to excellence and transparency. However, as announcements are expected imminently for the proposed changes to the next REF, 2021, the fallout is still occurring from REF 2014.
Its critics are far ranging, from those who see it a as a bloated tool of bureaucracy, a “Minotaur that must be appeased by bloody sacrifices”, to a hypocritical system that is there to be played, driving a vicious culture of fear and blackmail. This game-playing to succeed in REF meant it was used as a management tool, driving a frenzy of hirings and firings. The technicalities of REF allowed institutions to submit the previous work of new staff members, with universities attempting to scoop up researchers of high status from other institutions, often hiring them on insecure contracts dependent on the outcome of their REF report. Researchers employed on short-term contracts of as little as a single day a week could be included. As only those staff members on research contracts were assessed, workers with chances of giving a less favourable REF report could be forced onto teaching-only contracts to selectively hide their outputs. There were countless accusations of ghost-writing of papers and research impact reports, as well as tailoring of publication dates and prestigious authorship placements.
This outcry has resulted in numerous research council reviews, a parliamentary bill and finally an independent review by Lord Stern. Although some suggested changes are mostly welcomed, such as the call for an inclusion of a measure of research impact on the public, many fear that others will still allow it to be used as a tool of fear against academic workers. For instance there is no guarantee that a move towards a more flexible assessment of all research-active staff will reduce gaming and unfair treatment of employees when the time comes for REF submission. The majority of academic research staff already face a career where insecurity is seen as the norm, and as the build up to REF 2021 continues there is the risk of even further instability and uncertainty. The rules for REF 2021 have yet to be announced but, despite any safeguards against this culture of gaming the system, it will be the workers at the bottom of the academic hierarchy who will bear the brunt of the clambering for reputation, status and funding.
As universities and colleges face cut after cut in public spending, with workers burdened with both rising workloads and falling pay and security, the effect on student education is clear, all while tuition fees continue to rise and prospects of better employment following graduation fall. What is required is true democratic control of academic research institutions, with universities and colleges ran for the better development of individuals and society as part of a planned economy, not for profit

Is Scotland Turning Conservative?

By Kit MacDougall, Glasgow

The results are in, and things are looking quite different for Scotland. Although the Conservatives have lost ground in England, they have made dramatic gains here for the first time in two decades. Since the 1997 General Election the Tories have managed to sustain an average of 1 seat in Scotland. They now have 13, spread mainly over the rural north-east, many of the seats that were considered SNP strongholds. The apparent rise in popularity for the Tories in Scotland, along with the decline in the SNP’s dominance over the country, has lead many to jump to the conclusion that the Scottish people are gradually losing their progressive edge, turning conservative in the face of change, and thus somehow becoming less Scottish.
It has always been considered the role of Scotland to counter Conservative rule in Britain, and up till now they have been seemingly reliable in doing just that. For many, the change represented in this election shows that people are turning their back on Scotland the brave, submitting to what many equate to rule by Westminster, i.e. England. In choosing not to vote SNP, these scots are making a statement, and that statement is that Scotland should remain part of the UK. After all, the Conservatives have firmly established themselves as the anti-independence party, the only people capable of holding off another referendum as long as possible. With another Scottish referendum as their main objective, the SNP have turned off many of the older voters in rural constituencies who would have voted for them in 2015, voters who have now turned towards the Tories.
However alongside this we have the Labour Party making gains in some urban constituencies, due almost wholly to appeal of Corbyn as a leader, though they have still got some way to go before re-establishing themselves as the main progressive force. Scottish Labour’s move to the right, its stance as anti-independence, which brought them into bed with the Tories in the ‘Better Together” campaign, and above all the lack of appeal to working-class voters meant that most of the left-wing electorate moved towards the SNP back in 2015 and have remained there today. But clearly some have been attracted back to Labour on the basis of Corbyn’s campaign and the prospect of a Corbyn led Westminster government. This is reflected not only in the few seats that Labour has won, but also in its increased vote share generally. Ironically, in some cases this may have helped the Tories to beat the SNP by reducing the latter’s vote, effectively splitting the left vote.
As for the right-wing labour voters, there now seems to be little appeal in voting for a weakened party, especially as the Scottish Conservatives have aimed themselves directly at those who identify as liberal, ‘progressive’, but anti-socialist, what we might call the ‘centre’ although that term seems to become less and less relevant every day. So rather than move right, Scotland has polarised, and with that has come the splitting of the left vote between the SNP and Labour, whereas the Tories have hoovered up all the right wing votes. Hence there is no sudden emergence of a new right wing.
The idea that Scotland has somehow always been an inherently progressive and yet tragically hindered nation is false. Although it is true that Scotland’s cities have largely maintained more socialistic politics, many rural areas in Scotland harbour quite different politics, based of course on laws of property and taxation, but also on opposition to what they see as an attack on the rural way of life by the urbanites. The Scottish Countryside Alliance supports the barbaric activity of fox hunting amongst other reactionary causes. Many citizens who we may presume to be the most pro-independence, i.e. the kilt-wearing, bagpipe blowing nationalists of the north, are in fact probably more likely to vote against the SNP.
On top of this we have the tradition, particularly in Glasgow, of the most reactionary kind of unionism, based on idealisation of the British Royal Family, preservation of protestantism and its culture, which is tied to a ridiculous hatred of catholicism, a hatred which is founded on nothing more than a cultural partitioning of the working class by political elites and which manifests itself in football hooliganism and general sectarianism. Thankfully this unionism, especially in the working class, is increasingly small and outdated, though it does exist.
In the end there is not much to be surprised about. Conservative layers of the Scottish population have existed for a long time, and it remains our job to combat the influence of these ideas on the working class, insofar as they are influenced by them. As Socialists we must understand that the only way forward is to counter this ideology by winning the labour movement to clear socialist ideas – because only a class conscious, urban working class can consistently oppose the basis of these reactionary ideas. And it is without doubt that conservative ideas are discredited and in decline in Scotland, especially the traditions associated with unionism. The SNP still dominates, and has been joined by a Labour Party gaining in support thanks to its left wing leadership.
Nevertheless this election has been a wake up call to the illusion that Scotland was on an irreversible march towards increasing left wing dominance, and that therefore we need not fight for class based ideas and can just rely on the vague left nationalist trend. By breaking with these illusions in Scotland as automatically progressive we can better understand that the left can go forwards only by fighting unambiguously for the interests of the working class, rather than taking them for granted. Through doing this we can organise ourselves into a real force for socialism in a Scottish Republic

 

New Challenges for YES Movement and SNP

Ross Walker, IMT Edinburgh

“With the rise of Corbyn, the SNP government needed to move to the left. Given the actual rise of a Frankenstein Tory right in Scotland, we were hardly risking anything. Besides, this morning we might have been celebrating a Corbyn government backed by the votes of nearly 59 SNP MPs.”

Continue reading New Challenges for YES Movement and SNP

What the General Election results mean for Scotland

Editorial

The Tory Party has been humiliated. They’ve gone from having an overall majority to having to lean on the DUP. Corbyn is the hero of the hour having lead a campaign that inspired millions to vote and lead tens of thousands into political activity. The SNP still dominate Scotland by far but have taken a major kick. Key figures such as Alec Salmond and Angus Robertson have lost their seats. They’ve lost all their borders seats and much of the Highlands to Tories. In the central belt they’ve also lost seats to 6 seats to Labour who now have 7. They’ve even lost 2 seats to the Lib Dems.

Continue reading What the General Election results mean for Scotland

SNP Spring Conference: Membership Moving Left

Ross Walker, IMT Edinburgh

The SNP’s 2017 spring conference came the same week as Sturgeon announced plans for a second referendum. This of course gave the event its main emphasis and themed how it was reported on by the mainstream press. However other factors were at play at this conference. Under the surface, the class contradictions that characterize the party were very present. A look at the conference can give us a clue into how Scotland’s very turbulent future will pan out.

Continue reading SNP Spring Conference: Membership Moving Left

Sturgeon’s call for IndyRef2 sparks political storm

by Amy Dean

Nicola Sturgeon this week finally delivered the speech that had seemed almost inevitable ever since the Brexit vote in June last year. By announcing her intention to seek a second independence referendum, Sturgeon has started a political storm that will likely rage on – at the very least – until any referendum takes place. Continue reading Sturgeon’s call for IndyRef2 sparks political storm

Fight Trump! Fight Capitalism!

Later this month Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. His racism and misogyny during his candidacy have already made him a feared and unpopular figure across much of the world. Of course, this is nothing particularly new in Scotland where Trump and his golf courses have been causing controversy for a number of years.
Trump bought the land for his first golf course in Aberdeenshire back in 2005. It did not open till 2012 due to several objections from the local community surrounding environmental impact and its affecting their quality of life. In fact the plan required the support of the SNP government in 2007 in order to go ahead.
Since then relations between Trump and the SNP have somewhat soured. Trump and Salmond’s war of words on twitter culminated in Trump stating that Salmond “may be the dumbest leader of the free world”. He has also had his GlobalScot business ambassador status removed by present First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
Where was all the love lost? Primarily through the issue of wind farms. Plans to extend the golf course in Aberdeen were halted by a proposed wind farm in the vicinity of the area. Trump attempted to prevent the wind farm – which he felt would be an eyesore – from being built through a number of legal actions, culminating in taking his case to the UK Supreme Court. He was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, this has not stopped him from buying another Scottish golf course.
Trump’s complete lack of regard for the importance of the environment and wishes of local people have been shown in his comments around the legal challenge and also his responses to questions at a Holyrood inquiry. He has repeatedly ignored the importance of reducing CO2 emissions, describing targets as “phoney” and “absolutely ridiculous”. Rather than appreciating the importance of maintaining the environment he has argued that business and profit making are what matter, stating that wind farms will only succeed in bringing down Scotland’s economy.
Trump’s position on wind farms is hardly surprising given he has previously referred to climate change as a “hoax” and currently plans to reduce funding for climate research. As socialists we understand the link between rising CO2 emissions and capitalism. Profit motivated big business owners like Donald Trump are simply more interested in their money in the bank than the future of the environment. It is key that we understand that it is through socialism and planning the economy for the needs of all rather than the short-term profits of the few that we can overcome the threat of climate change.
Many were justifiably angry and upset when Trump came to power, but now is not the time to mourn but to organise. Trump’s victory was based on the failure of lesser-evil liberalism, which has been increasingly exposed by the global financial crisis. Now is the time to fight back with socialist answers, as has already been shown in protests across America. Here in Scotland we can help through solidarity protests, including protesting Trump’s business ventures and anti-environmentalism here.

SNP: You cannot Please Two Masters

When voters in Scotland abandoned the Labour Party, it looked like things could not get any worse for Scottish Labour. However, nearly 20 months after the disastrous General Election, where the party was nearly wiped out North of the Border, Labour continues to decline in Scotland.
The direction and the leadership of the party have been vocally criticised also by its most crucial financial backers, namely trade union leaders. Many trade union members are SNP voters and had previously been YES voters at the Independence Referendum, but their leaders’ criticism of the LP is a rather novel development. Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, went as far as praising the SNP and suggested that the party led by Sturgeon could be the key to getting Labour into government in Westminster. Are Scottish Trade Unions about to desert Scottish Labour and affiliate to the SNP? Will this tactic pay off? Is the SNP able to pander to the interest of both big business and trade unions?
In recent weeks, the Leadership of Scottish Labour has been criticised by some of its most important donors – trade union leaders. The General Secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, claimed that Kezia Dugdale had done a disservice to the party by openly backing Owen Smith as Labour leader during last summer’s leadership elections. Her Welsh counterpart – Carwyn Jones – had stayed neutral despite potentially having a good reason to back Owen Smith, who is a Welsh MP. McCluskey went further and claimed that the SNP could be the key to getting Labour into power after the next general election.
Gary Smith, the leader of GMB in Scotland, has been consistently critical of Kezia Dugdale. He defined Scottish Labour as a “middle class protest party” far from the issues of working class people. Earlier on this year the union, which is affiliated to Labour, did not carry out a consultation with its members in Scotland over which candidate to back in the party’s leadership contest, due to the perceived irrelevance of Scottish Labour.
These criticisms do not come out of the blue and are a consequence of a shifting Scottish landscape, where the Labour party is not able to retain the support of its most traditional backers.
The Scottish Trade Union Council (STUC) leader addressed the SNP conference in Aberdeen in 2015 . This was watershed event, in that it was the first time that the ‘leader’ of the trade union movement was invited to address the SNP conference. In turn, Nicola Sturgeon spoke at the STUC congress last year, and used her speech to stress her commitment to workers’ right and the positive influence the ‘critical friends’ in the unions had on her party’s policies.
Although the STUC is not affiliated to the Labour Party, around 10 of its constituent unions are, and these recent developments may suggest that some of the big trade unions could reaffiliate to the SNP. At the rank-and-file level, the shift has already taken place. The SNP Trade Unions Group has over 15,000 members according to the information the group itself provides. This is about the same size as the whole membership of Scottish Labour, which recent estimates place at 18,000.
Many union members voted YES in the Independence Referendum and gave their support to the SNP in the following year’s general elections. SNP Socialists, a new left-wing group within the party, was set up in 2016 and generated some interest. Although its meetings are not public, this confirms a shift in the membership of the SNP, which has been joined by many left-wing voters.
This influx of left-wing and trade union forces poses an existential question to the SNP. So far, and with far more limited powers, the SNP tried to appease to both big business and workers with their vision for a low-tax, high-earning independent Scotland. This has won them the trust of both business and working people, but anyone versed in the ideas of Marx knows this honeymoon period cannot last forever. The first cracks have started to appear. The interests of workers and capital are inherently opposed, and any party trying to champion both causes will only last in power as long as it manages to delay answering the fundamental questions of economics. The SNP has so far done brilliantly, focusing on the two constitutional questions, but they can only put off the question of austerity, privatisation and workers rights for so long.
Since the referendum, new powers have been given to Holyrood, but the executive has been very careful in using them as little as possible. Although Holyrood was given new responsibilities regarding the administration of 11 benefits, the government decided to hand the new powers back to the DWP until 2020. The Scottish Government also gained new tax powers but again used as little as possible of them, and their greatest progressive measure was that of failing to implement a Tory tax cut for the highest earners.
As long as the party leadership wants to appeal to big business, its claim to be a party for Scottish workers will necessarily remain fictitious and awaits exposure. If anything, this influx of socialists and trade unionists will expose the bourgeois nature of the SNP leadership sooner, and possibly lead to a left-right split in the party.

SNP Draft Budget Hides Austerity

The presentation of the draft budget for the Scottish Government is normally not a particularly interesting event, but the draft for 2017-2018 draws attention due to the further devolution of tax and welfare powers to Scotland this year.
The ambitious use of these new powers to change Scotland for the better is not the story of finance secretary Derek Mackay’s announcement, however. Former Alex Salmond advisor, Alex Bell, derided the Scottish Government as “cowards” for the lack of wealth-redistributing reforms in the draft budget. Mackay claims that the budget will mean more money coming from taxes to local services, but he is attempting to pull the wool over our eyes.
Mackay claims an “extra” £79m is to be raised through the use of the Scottish Governments new powers. The reality of this is that with powers over income tax, he will not be raising the tax threshold on the 40p rate as the Tories have done for the rest of the UK. Not losing that £79m through a tax cut could hardly be described as “extra” revenue.
Another piece of creative accounting includes boasting “additional spending power” (note a very careful choice of words) for local government by ending the SNP’s council tax freeze. So Mackay counts a 3% increase in Council Tax towards a total of £241m for “local government services”. Even though the final decision to actually increase council tax is not down to him, but local councils themselves.
The independent Scottish Parliament Information Centre finds Mr Mackay’s most dodgy budgetary trick to be the double-counting of funding for social care, which is included in the totals for both the Health and Local Government budgets, appearing to enlarge both! This did not go unmentioned by the opposition parties at Holyrood.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale attacked the draft budget by highlighting the real cuts to local services the SNP is implementing. Unfortunately for her, Scottish Labour’s criticisms sound like hypocrisy, as it is very difficult to imagine them doing anything different. For all their talk of using the Scottish Government’s new powers to prevent cuts, we know they’d swindle us just as much.
Local government definitely is a loser in this draft budget, however. In exchange for the Scottish Government allowing councils to raise Council Tax by 3%, there are cuts of £327m to local government grants. This sort of financial relationship – whereby the lower unit of government is hamstrung by cuts from above and given insufficient powers to make up the shortfall – is exactly what the SNP leadership complains about concerning the tax powers devolved to Holyrood and austerity cuts to the block grant from HM Treasury. In reality the only solution in either case is by defying austerity budgets and the bourgois law that defends them. Any idea such as this, as we’ve explained previously, could gain much resonance amongst the SNP’s membership and support. However the leadership are far from willing to carry out such a thing.
The SNP tops will always argue, of course, that only with the powers of an independent country can the Scottish Government truly run Scotland in “Scotland’s interests”. But whose interests are those, really? With more power comes more responsibility, and with the new devolved powers coming in April 2017 and beyond, the Scottish Government will be more responsible for the management of the Scottish economy and its budget will reflect that. For so long as the SNP are wedded to capitalism, they will have to implement the agenda of Scottish capital when in Government.
In these times of great uncertainty following the Brexit vote and ever-declining predictions for economic growth, the austerity agenda of capitalism has become somewhat more cautious. We saw this with the new Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s Autumn Statement. The UK Government will adopt a slightly more Keynesian policy due to the instability of the British and European economic outlook, financed by the swelling national debt. This is the only area where the SNP are using Holyrood’s new powers to the maximum: borrowing money.
Currently the majority of the Scottish working class trusts the SNP to defend their interests. Where they want influence now is in the other half of their cross-class alliance for independence: the capitalist class. This draft budget which implements austerity cuts while trying to hide them behind misleading statistics and crumbs-from-the-table reforms shows this cautious new attitude.
The SNP will continue to speak up for “Scotland’s interests”, covering up the contradictory class interests at the heart of Scottish society and the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon has quickly become a stalwart defender of Scottish and British capitalist interests in the EU by using this deceptive slogan. She may still mention fighting the Tories from time-to-time, but on whose behalf? However the SNP have a problem in that their support comes from a healthy attitude of wanting to fight the Tories along with austerity, trident, warmongering and the rotten Westminster clique. I.e. an opposition to the some of the most unjust but inherent traits of capitalism. Even though Sturgeon et al are wedded to capitalism the mood and expectations created during the referendum and the SNPs rise are something which they will not be able to control forever.
The class contradictions of the SNP in time will lead to huge splits and formations of radical left wing currents where the ideas of revolutionary socialism will gain huge resonance. It is important now more than ever that we do not keep our criticisms of the SNP leadership to ourselves. If the working class does not fight for its interests – if we do not fight for socialism – nobody will. It’s not going to be handed to us by Parliaments or passed via referendum. 2017 will be a more turbulent year than 2016 as the crisis of capitalism and infighting among the ruling class intensifies. This is a precondition to revolutionary moments, but they will only come if we get organised, educated and take the offensive. Make Revolution your New Year’s Resolution!