Unite leader calls on Labour to apologise for ‘betraying’ its voters

Len McCluskey warned that New Labour alienated large swathes of the Scottish working class


Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, has been urged to apologise to ‘large swathes of the Scottish working class’ for the party’s ‘betraying’ it.

That was the assertion made by Len McLuskey, leader of the Unite Union which continues to enjoy considerable financial and political clout within the Labour Party.

Speaking ahead of his speech on Sunday to the first Unite Scotland Policy Conference, McLuskey told journalists:

“The ideology of New Labour effectively alienated large swathes of the Scottish working class, which manifested itself quite dramatically last May. Kezia has to effectively say Labour is under new management where we apologise for betraying you and we will start from scratch to try and build that trust up.”

He spoke as new polling by Unite, reported over the weekend, found that 65 per cent of its members north of the border voted SNP in last year’s general election, a reversal from previous years in which 80 per cent voted Labour.

McLuskey warned Labour in Scotland ahead of this year’s election’s to Holyrood:

“The truth is, from all the opinion polls it looks as if the SNP are going to make further gains in May.

“The neo-Liberal agenda that was pursued to its extreme by the last Labour government and the Labour leaderships that followed made it appear in Scotland that Labour wasn’t on the side of ordinary people. In fact, the SNP stole most of the radical clothes that historically belonged and should have belonged to Labour.

“Now the truth of the matter is in Scotland the SNP are seen by lots of people as a more social democratic party than Labour. So the task for Kezia and all of us is to try to win that trust back.

“She will do that by exposing some of the weaknesses of the SNP and holding them to account. At the same time putting forward policies that make the Scottish people believe that Labour has come home to us. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

In his actual speech on Sunday to conference delegates, McLuskey pledged to work with SNP leader and first minister Nicola Sturgeon as a critical friend. Noting that the Scottish government has ‘reached out to trade unions – including on vital issues like blacklisting’ he argued that ‘we would be letting our members down if we responded anything other than enthusiastically.’

Whilst insisting that ‘Unite remains a Labour union, here in Scotland as across all of Britain’, he nevertheless continued:

“Preferring a Labour administration cannot mean being blind to reality, or ignoring the opportunities that we have to advance Unite members’ interests.”

But his speech was not without criticisms of the Scottish government. Referring to news prior to Christmas that the Presiding Office of the Scottish Parliament had rejected a bid to require a vote in the Scottish Parliament – known as a legislative consent order – to enable the Trade Union Bill to be applied to Scotland, McLuskey noted:

“Being a friend does not mean being an uncritical friend. We can and should demand more from the SNP. Nicola’s government should not be hiding behind procedural niceties in relation to the trade union bill.”

Referring to a meeting he was due to have with the first minister he continued:

“I’ll be saying to Nicola when I meet her later – don’t just oppose this wretched bill, but block it in Scotland. And while you’re at it – end the council tax freeze and really go the extra mile to lift the cloud of austerity from the lives of the people of Scotland.”

In her speech to the conference, Scottish Labour Leader, Kezia Dugdale called on trade unionists to join Scottish Labour to ‘speak with one voice’ to say that SNP cuts to local councils responsible for our schools and social care ‘just aren’t acceptable.’

Nicola Sturgeon vowed to fight the Trade Union Bill, currently being considered by the House of Lords, every step of the way. Speaking to the conference she told delegates:

“We will continue to argue against it at every opportunity in Westminster. But in  addition to opposing it UK wide, we will also argue for Scotland to be exempted from its provisions. And if the Bill becomes law, we will not cooperate with its implementation.

“For example, the Scottish government – for as long as we lead it – will never employ agency workers to undermine a strike. We will do everything we possibly can to defeat and frustrate the bill.”

“The Trade Union Bill represents a view of the world that I don’t recognise and that wider Scottish society has no sympathy for. It’s one which sees unions as enemies, rather than as what you really are – partners for progress.”

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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