SCOTLAND and the politics that help to define our nation are at an important crossroads. For better or worse, the upcoming SNP leadership election – a “de facto” first minister appointment process – will shape the context of our discourse for the foreseeable future.

While this is, absolutely, a decision for SNP members to take, the stakes are high. The outcome of this election stretches far beyond the confines of SNP HQ. This is much more than a leadership contest; this is a pitch from three candidates who want to take their party and country in their chosen direction. Of course, each candidate supports independence but as well as differing on the tactics to get there, each is presenting a quite different view of the Scotland they want to see, now and in the future. There is an awful lot riding on the decision of relatively few.

So, yes, this is an internal contest, yes, this is a democratic decision for members of the SNP, but workers, whether they be SNP supporters or not, cannot be sidelined while such a debate takes place.

That’s precisely why, at the invitation of the SNP Trade Union Group and with the agreement of the STUC General Council, I will be chairing the group’s leadership hustings on Saturday afternoon. Workers deserve to know who seeks to use the power we give politicians at the ballot box.

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All three candidates must be unequivocally and unapologetically on our side. That means being pro-worker, not blindly pro-profit; that means rejecting austerity and properly funding our public services; it means introducing a not-for-profit national care service, one that values our social care staff with the wage they deserve; and, it means supporting a publicly delivered industrial strategy to create the green jobs of the future.

Above all else, it means supporting trade union rights in the face of the UK Government’s latest attacks on us and continuing to get around the negotiating table with unions, treating us as a constructive partner in the development of good industrial relations.

Throughout their tenure as the ruling party, we’ve embedded a constructive relationship with the SNP Scottish government. Specifically, during her leadership, Nicola Sturgeon has treated our movement – and the role of the STUC in leading it – with respect and courtesy, even when we robustly disagreed.

The National: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has a cup of tea after giving a press conference in Bute House in Edinburgh where she announced that she will stand down as First Minister of Scotland after eight years. Picture date: Wednesday February 15, 2023. PA Photo.

It is guaranteed that we won’t always agree but it’s absolutely the role of representative government to give space to the voices of our movement, even when it’s not always a message they want to hear. This is something the current First Minister upheld and an attitude we would expect to continue.

I would make clear to all candidates, however, to not mistake respect for naivety.

Our movement isn’t finished in calling for a fair resolution to all outstanding industrial disputes and we are going to have plenty to say to the new first minister about how we deliver a progressive well-being economy, one that embeds workers’ rights and enhances the rights of all discriminated communities no matter where they live in our nation.

Last year, we led the way in showing the Scottish Government our radical economic prospectus that sought to build that wellbeing economy. Using the full powers of our Parliament, it could have started to raise an extra £1.3 billion from April this year and an extra £3.3bn from April 2025.

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It chose not to and no-one vying to succeed the First Minister gets a pass on that. This type of action we’re calling for – taxing wealth, land and multiple properties and redistributing the money – is what we mean by “radical” and “progressive”. We cannot allow politicians, especially those standing for the leadership, to water down those words into nothing more than vote-grabbing soundbites.

It is us – working people – that must ensure that doesn’t happen. We must double down and push further on the hard-fought, hard-won victories our movement has secured, building that positive vision for Scotland. We want the next first minister to continue to commit to Scotland becoming a Fair Work Nation, one that gives decent pay and conditions to all workers. We need to see the Scottish Living Wage rise even higher, providing workers with a lifeline during this cost of living crisis.

We need to see a Scottish Government leader prepared to properly fund our local authorities, not shortchange them. Just as importantly, the next first minister must ensure all workers, regardless of race, sex, creed, colour or gender, have their rights protected and embedded in and outwith the workplace, building a tolerant, inclusive Scotland that moves forward, not stagnates.

Whoever wins this contest, workers must not lose. Our movement stands ready to build on that constructive relationship with government, one based upon respect but with a clear understanding we won’t be silent in the face of injustice.

That is, ultimately, a choice for the next first minister and for them alone. Not the SNP membership. They can be on the side of working people or they can choose a different path. We prefer the former and would invite the candidates to declare likewise.