The National:

Good evening! This week's edition of the In Common newsletter comes from Craig Dalzell, head of policy and research.

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I was pleased to visit the STUC annual congress in Dundee this year, representing Common Weal as an observer and speaking at the SNP Trade Union Group’s fringe meeting on Scotland’s future.

The panel of speakers (Seamus Logan from SNP PPC, Stephen Smellie from Unison, Gordon Martin from RMT, and myself) were each asked to present a progressive policy idea as well as to shape that idea around a broader vision of Scotland as we each saw it.

After excellent speeches on the NHS, social care, and train and ferry policies respectively, I followed by presenting my recent policy on taxing land in Scotland and reforming Council Tax. The ludicrous nature of the Council Tax, the urgent need for reform and the need to protect local public services and fairly tax wealth held in land were all topics of unanimous agreement in the room. As was the desire for the SNP TUG to keep doing its work to ensure that the Scottish Government does more to hold to and implement the policies of the SNP as voted for by members of the party – an issue highlighted over the weekend with the Government's still woolly words of commitment when it comes to the idea of an independent Scotland signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

READ MORE: STUC annual congress: Workers tell us why Scots should join a union

Despite being a strong SNP policy, the best the Government itself can manage after omitting the commitment from its own international affairs white paper is to say that it “supports the objectives of TPNW” – something that, if we apply the principle of the minimum promised deliverable (ie the least they can do to claim they met their promise), can be done without actually joining it.

The Congress itself was an affair clearly marked by party politics shifting into an election year. Where there could have been coalitions formed around policies, there was a definite air of tribal party loyalties coming to the fore and a certain amount of jostling for ownership of positions rather than jointly collaborating to make sure the policy actually happens.

And the shifting polls were a definite topic of conversation but again, in a strange way considering the momentous nature of what may be about to happen in UK politics. Even for pro-Union activists, the UK Parliament seems to feel very far away.

The National: A MP has raised concerns about Parliamentary concerns at Westminster (Alamy/PA)

So where there was a sense of grim foreboding from some of the SNP folk I talked to, this isn’t exactly contrasted by an exultant Labour voice in the room. Yes, Anas Sarwar is recognised as being a fair bit to the left of and more supportive of workers’ rights than Keir Starmer is (particularly when it comes to the devolution of them). But more than a couple of the folk I talked to didn’t really believe that he’d be able to go more than cosmetically further than his boss will allow.

For me, a touchstone in that debate will be whether or not Scottish Labour adopt the STUC’s call to devolved workers’ rights and minimum wage powers to Scotland as soon as possible, whether or not that devolution will happen and whether or not Scottish Labour will use those powers if they find themselves in a position to do so, regardless of who is in power in Westminster at the time.

READ MORE: STUC shows support for conversion therapy ban in Scotland

I should mention a couple of polices that were adopted by the Congress that I had some hand in, or have been following. This was a motion that the STUC endorsed, Katy Clark MSP’s [below] member’s bill to extend FOI legislation.

The National: Katy Clark MSP

A key provision in this bill is to cover services provided by private companies who are using public money on the same basis as if that service was being provided “in house” by the public body paying for it. For example, right now if a council operates a care home, you are allowed to submit FOIs about the running of that care home. However, if the council sells off that care home and then contracts the new owners to provide care services, then you cannot. In this way, privatisation can be used as a shield against democratic scrutiny. Clark’s bill would remove this loophole.

The other notable mention goes to a call that I support but didn’t have a hand in, which is the STUC general secretary Roz Foyer reiterating the position of the organisation that while they are strictly neutral on Scottish independence, the idea is a matter for Scotland and shouldn’t be subject to a veto from the PM – the power to hold an independence referendum should be devolved.

This was a position that Keir Starmer held in 2020 but, like many other positions he once held, he has backed away from since. With the results of the General Election looking like it’ll be a Labour landslide whether or not they win a single seat in Scotland, it remains to be seen how much political pressure can be brought to bear to have him hold to that previous sentiment. The idea that this power should be devolved to Scotland was, of course, the defining difference in the last Scottish Labour leadership contest between Monica Lennon (who supported the principle) and Anas Sarwar (who did not) so that too may be a wrinkle in negotiations.

READ MORE: UK's largest cooperative-run wind farm set for Scottish Borders

The National: Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar speaking at the Scottish Trades Union Congress in Dundee (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Beyond the party politics, there is a sense of vision coming out of places like the STUC. Broader questions being asked about what a “Workers’ Scotland” could look like. This is encouraging. This is how we rebuild those coalitions around seemingly disparate policies like care, transport and housing. If we don’t get that inspirational vision from the parties before the election, maybe we’ll get them from the workers instead.