The Scottish Labour Party conference last week overwhelmingly passed a motion highly critical of the Scottish Executive’s decision to restrict pension rights for local government workers.
Speaker after speaker attacked the executive’s stance. Tom McCabe, the local government minister, was heckled with cries of “shame” as he tried to answer for the government.
All this took place despite a vocal appeal for unity from Lesley Quinn, the general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party. Making the first major speech of the day at the Aviemore conference centre, Quinn warned the party that it could not afford to be wracked by splits and divisions with an election looming.
But Mike Brider of the T&G union warned of strike action unless the executive reversed its decision. “This is unjust and strikes at the heart of working people’s pay and conditions,” he said. “The strength of feeling on this issue is absolutely clear.
“It’s important we recognise that the proposed changes to the local government pension scheme will impact upon thousands of workers in a wide range of occupations in Scotland.
“Many local authority members sitting in this hall will be taking strike action to defend the very fabric of their pension scheme because of decisions made by our government both at Westminster and Holyrood.”
Linda Miller of Amicus warned the conference that if they thought pensioners were living in poverty now, “just wait and see what it will be like if the Scottish Executive gets its way”.
The executive has argued that it had no choice but to ditch the rule of 85 because of European law, although this has been comprehensively disproved. The conference passed a motion overwhelmingly calling on it to look again at its legal advice and to reach a compromise with the unions to avoid strike action.
Tom McCabe told delegates, “I can give you an assurance that the legal advice available to us with regard to the rule of 85 is extremely robust. But I hear what this resolution says and for the avoidance of any doubt, we have once again asked that these views be tested.”
The unions should pile on the pressure to make McCabe back off entirely and should not accept some terrible deal. If Scotland was forced to take a different position to Westminster it would be a huge blow to New Labour’s plans.