Monday, 1 September 2014

Make Your Own Kind Of Music

If I were in charge of the Yes campaign I would adopt this great hit song from Mama Cass Elliott as an inspiring, upbeat number for the final two weeks of the Scottish independence referendum.

Because the 1960s were such an optimistic time in the history of the western world - a time which opened many people's eyes to the kind of life that is possible when organised religion takes a back seat, where sexist and racist attitudes are challenged and changed with logic, reason and good humour.

So let's hear it for Scotland - let's 'Make Our Own Kind Of Music' and turn the country we live in into a better place, a more civilised society than it is today.      

Spotlight on Sentencing

Image result for spotlight + images

Here's another case where if you ask me, Scotland's criminal justice system is failing to protect the public.

The record appears to show that this violent serial offender, Alexander Gallagher, was given a five year prison sentence for armed robbery and assault in 1997, but was granted early release only to attack and rape a woman, a complete stranger, as she sat in her car - just ten days after he got out of jail.

Now you would imagine that this would have resulted in such a violent man being sent back to prison for a very long time, possibly life, but Gallagher received only a ten year sentence and appears to have been back on the streets by 2013.  

In February 2013, Gallagher was realised from prison again on licence, presumably because he was placed on the sex offenders register in 2000, only to breach his bail conditions which resulted in a further appearance in court in March 2013. 

But Gallagher was granted bail again despite breaching the sex offences order and five days later he violently attacked and raped another woman at her home in Glasgow.     

Tagged rapist Alexander Gallagher guilty of new attack

BBC news
A convicted rapist has been found guilty of raping another woman while wearing an electronic tag.

Alexander Gallagher, 41, attacked his 34-year-old victim at her home in Glasgow on 23 March last year.

He was released on licence from a 10-year jail term for rape on 22 February and tagged but was back in court after breaching bail conditions on 18 March.

Gallagher carried out the attack five days later after he was granted bail for breaching the sex offences order.

At the High Court in Glasgow, sentence on Gallagher was deferred.

Victim silenced

The trial heard how Gallagher had been at the woman's flat in Glasgow's south side with another man.

Gallagher insisted they were "having a jolly" listening to music before the woman went to bed.

He told the jury he later joined her in the bedroom before claiming they became "intimate".

However, the victim told a different story and recalled how Gallagher forced her to have sex - and then stuffed a bag in her mouth to try and silence her screams.

Her terrifying ordeal also involved her being punched in the face, flung around the room and assaulted with a torch.

She was left battered and bruised as Gallagher later walked out of the flat.

Gallagher denied the rape charge at the trial and claimed the woman willingly had sex with him.

Prosecutor Sheena Fraser later challenged him about the victim being heard "screaming" during the attack.

Gallagher replied: "It was just noises from sex, nothing more. We were having consensual sex."

'Moment of madness'

Ms Fraser went on: "Why did you put a carrier bag in her mouth to gag her?" He told the trial: "That didn't happen."

Gallagher went on to claim he hit the woman after they had sex - but only because she had assaulted him during a row over a phone.

Ms Fraser said it was clear he had "lost his temper". Gallagher replied: "You could say that. I hit her because of the pain I felt in my arm. It was a moment of madness that I deeply regret. I am not angry all the time."

After the guilty verdict, the jury were told of Gallagher's criminal past.

He was locked up for five years for assault and robbery in 1997.

Just 10 days after being freed early in 2000, Gallagher then raped a mother-of-two as she sat in her car in Stirling.

He was jailed for 10 years, but also ordered to serve the remainder of his five year jail-term from the previous offence.

Prosecutors have also moved to have a risk assessment carried out on Gallagher which could see him made subject to an Order for Lifelong Restriction.

Personal is Political

I was shocked when I first read Rory MacKinnon's story in Private Eye and I was also puzzled as to why the behaviour of the Morning Star and the RMT union had never featured anywhere else in the mainstream press.

So I have reproduce Rory's full story on the blog site - originally I had included a photo of Caroline Lenaghan's injuries, but you can see these and read Caroline's words for yourself (Domestic Violence and International Women's day RMT) at:

I think I'll drop Rory a note and offer to meet up with him for a chat because I despise everything about this kind of behaviour and in fact it reminds me of what happened when I resigned from the Labour Party back in 1999 when I was Unison's Head of Local Government in Scotland.

My own union (and employer) for whom I had worked with great distinction for over 20 years tried to argue that I had brought the union into disrepute - because my resignation from the Labour Party attracted publicity from the press and media in the run up to the 1999 election to the Scottish Parliament.  

Now can you imagine that - how can someone's resignation from a political party be any business of their employer?

But that's what happened and although this ridiculous accusation was subsequently dropped, because it had no substance, the 'damage' was done and I decided that it was time to move on and do something different with my life.

So I empathise with Rory MacKinnon, I understand what he's been through and I hope his story is read and discussed by all of the delegates to the 2014 TUC Congress as they gather for their annual' bash' in Liverpool this coming weekend.         

“The public has no right to know”: how the Morning Star threatened to sack me for reporting domestic violence allegations

[First published in a guest post at Another Angry Woman. TRIGGER WARNING - DOMESTIC VIOLENCE]
morningn-star-17-12-2013My name’s Rory MacKinnon, and I’ve been a reporter for the Morning Star for three years now. It’s given me a lot of pride to see how readers and supporters believe so strongly in the paper, from donating what cash they can to hawking it in the streets on miserable Saturday afternoons. I was proud to represent a “broad paper of the left”, asmy editor Richard Bagley always put it: a paper that saw feminism, LGBTQ issues, racial politics and the like as integral to its coverage of class struggle.
It’s for this reason that I thought I would have my editor’s support in following up domestic violence allegations against the Rail, Maritime and Transport union’s assistant general secretary Steve Hedley. Instead the Morning Star’s management threatened me with the sack, hauled me through a disciplinary hearing and placed me on a final written warning.
If you want to see my reasons for writing this, skip to the bottom. But I’m a reporter, and in my mind the most important thing is that you all know exactly what’s happened behind closed doors. So let’s get on with it.
“On this occasion he kicked a pot of paint at me, threw me around by my hair and pinned me to the floor repeatedly punching me in the face.”
Leneghan said she had approached both police and the union after their break-up to seek an investigation: her RMT rep confirmed that police had suggested “a high chance of conviction”but that the six-month window for a charge of common assault had since expired.
Despite this, the union’s then-leadership had decided not to refer the allegations to its national executive for a formal investigation. It was at this point that Leneghan decided to go public (you can find Leneghan’s full statement and photographs here).
Now, I don’t pretend to have any inside knowledge, and at the time I had only just been assigned to a post in Scotland and was busy trying to get my feet in under the table up there. But I am a journalist, and when the union agreed to consider an appeal from Leneghan only to see it eventually withdrawn at her request* – amid a pretty vile reaction from some elements of the left – I mentally filed it away as something to keep an eye on.
In March of this year I went as a Morning Star reporter – with the RMT’s approval – to cover its women’s conference in Glasgow. Women I knew of in the RMT were still talking about Leneghan’s case, and it made sense to me as a reporter to follow it up in the public interest, so I took advantage of a Q&A session with the union’s national organising co-ordinator Alan Pottage – a session on recruiting women organisers and combating sexism in the workplace – to ask whether he thought the lack of formal investigation into the allegations against Hedley had affected women members’ perceptions of the union. Pottage declined to comment and the session continued, but when delegates reconvened for the afternoon session the union’s equalities officer Jessica Webb and executive member Denis Connor approached my seat and forcibly ejected me from the conference. (You can find my full statement on the incident here).
The very next day the Morning Star’s editor Richard Bagley informed me that I had been suspended following allegations of gross misconduct and that any public comment I might make “could risk bringing the paper into disrepute and could have a bearing on [my] case”. (You can see the letter here and subsequent charges here.)
Six weeks [correction: one month] later, I found myself back in London for a disciplinary hearing, with the company’s secretary Tony Briscoe bringing the charges and Bagley sitting in judgement. But as the Morning Star management’s minutes (for some reason presented as a verbatim transcript), and my own notes here show, it quickly became clear that the real nature of the accusations had nothing to do with the charge sheet and everything to do with appeasement.
From the minutes:
“RB: You have three years’ experience as a Morning Star journalist. Given the type of stories you’ve covered previously do you think the paper would have published a story on the issue you raised?”
“RB: So let’s clarify the role of the Morning Star here: internal union matters are different from inter-union matters.”
“TB: It’s debatable whether the NUJ (National Union of Journalists – Rory) code of conduct applies in a situation such as this and the fact you asked it raises a question about your approach. The question feels more like something a Daily Mail reporter would ask than someone from the Morning Star. You should have known better. This indicates a lack of journalistic etiquette and has damaged our relationship with the trade union movement.”
And from my own notes:
TB: “I would have thought the role of the Morning Star reporter was to progress the aims & goals of the paper.”
TB: “I would expect that sort of question to be asked in the Daily Mail or the Sun.”
TB: “I would say the public has no right to know about the ins-&-outs of the relationship between Leneghan & Hedley.”
Shortly afterwards I received Bagley’s written judgement. Again, you can read it for yourself here, but the thrust of the Morning Star’s editorial policy is below:
“After three years at the paper you should reasonably be expected to be familiar with the paper’s news priorities, which do not include reporting internal union rows or personal controversy. Your actions suggest a fundamental failure to grasp the Morning Star’s news focus, and by extension the role of any journalist employed by it.”
I was placed on a final written warning with twelve months’ probation, then went on to appeal(dismissed, ruling here), but that’s boring procedural stuff that isn’t really relevant.
What’s relevant, to my mind, is that readers cannot trust the Morning Star’s current leadership to report on abuse allegations and failures to formally investigate when they concern favoured figures in the trade union movement, even when those figures are elected officials. As the edition for 24 July shows, however – coincidentally the same day I had decided to give my notice – those Nasty Tories cannot expect such discretion. Feminist principles are a weapon with which to attack the right, but not an end in itself for the left.
I’ve written this because I was told that “the public has no right to know.” I think the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union’s members do have a right to know about their leaders’ decision not to hold a formal investigation into reports of violence against a female member, and I think the Morning Star’s readers and supporters also have a right to know that the paper’s senior staff have an explicit policy of suppressing such allegations.
It is quite possible that the Morning Star’s management committee – a panel which includes the National Assembly of Women’s Anita Wright – have not been told anything about this. If so, I hope that they will investigate and reassert the paper’s editorial independence. I am not trying to wreck the Morning Star here. I am insisting that it commits to its feminist principles and treats readers with the respect they deserve.
Rory MacKinnon
Morning Star reporter (2011-2014)

UPDATE – This post was drafted on Saturday 26 July, the day after informing the Morning Star’s management of my intent to quit. On Monday 28, the paper announced company secretary Tony Briscoe’s retirement and editor Richard Bagley’s departure “for family reasons”. Bagley would continue to work for the paper, the report added.
* 6:53pm: Caroline writes, “There’s a mistake here,the executive refused me to appeal, after that the only route was the agm, which is the quashed one, as i realised all my documents, statements etc had been distributed to hundreds of people without my knowledge”.

Personal is Political (30 August 2014)

Private Eye, the UK's best and only fortnightly satirical magazine, contained this rather disturbing report under the banner of one of its regular columns 'TUC News'.


"Last month the Communist Morning Star gave space and prominence to a demand by Women's Aid that Tory MP David Rufffley must face "strong disciplinary sanction" for assaulting his ex-partner. Short shrift was given to his claim that because the ex-partner had accepted his apology no more needed to be done. As readers were reminded: "Domestic violence is a criminal, not a private matter."

Well if it's committed by a Tory MP, that is. When the alleged perpetrator is a senior trade union official, the Morning Star will discipline any of its hacks who have the temerity to pursue the story. That is what it did to Rory MacKinnon, its Scotland correspondent, who quit last week after three years on the paper.

In March this year MacKinnon was sent to cover a women's conference in Glasgow organised by the RMT transport union. For months women he knew in the union had been talking about Caroline Leneghan, an RMT member who had written a blog-post about the violence allegedly inflicted on her by Steve Hedley, the RMT's assistant general secretary, with whom she was in a relationship until last year.

On one occasion, she wrote, he "threw me around by by my hair and and pinned me to the floor repeatedly punching me in the face". She published photos taken at the time, showing her horrendously bruised and swollen face.

Finding himself attending an RMT women's conference - and one which the RMT was launching its new policy on, er, domestic violence - MacKinnon thought it a good moment to ask if the union's refusal to hold a proper investigation into the allegations against its assistant general secretary  might affect female members' perception of the union. 

He put the question at a Q&A session with the union's national organising co-ordinator Alan Pottage, who declined to answer. Soon afterwards, however, the hack was forcibly ejected from the conference.

On the next day, Morning Star editor Richard Bagley told MacKinnon he was being suspended while his bosses investigated allegations of "gross misconduct" and "bringing the paper into disrepute". A month later he was summoned to London for a disciplinary hearing, with the company secretary Tony Briscoe acting as prosecuting counsel and Bagley sitting as judge.

Briscoe told MacKinnon the question he'd put to the RMT official "feels more like something from a Daily Mail reporter would ask than someone from the Morning Star. You should have known better. This indicates a lack of journalistic etiquette and has damaged our relationship with the trade union movement." The public had no "right to know" about whatever occurred between Hedley and Leneghan.

Bagley agreed. "After three years at the paper," he said in his judgement against MacKinnon , "you should reasonably be expected to be familiar with the paper's new priorities, which do not include reporting internal union rows or personal controversy. Your actions suggest a fundamental failure to grasp the Morning Star's news focus, and by extension the role of any journalist employed by it."

Having belatedly grasped the paper's "focus" after being put ion a final written warning for behaving like a journalist, MacKinnon handed in his notice last month and left on 8 August, writing a post on his  blog explaining why he had resigned. The same day he received a magnificent Stalinist leaving present: a letter from Bob Oram, chair of the Morning Star's management committee and senior organiser for, er, the RMT union.

"You are formally under investigation for an allegation of gross misconduct," Oram wrote. "I recognise that you are in your final day of employment and will not be available for interview, but...." The accusations were "gross breach of trust and confidence" and "brining the Morning Star into disrepute".

Has it ever occurred to Oram and the other men who run the paper to charge themselves with the same offence?"  

Now I think I'll have a look at what Rory MacKinnon has to say on his blog site because this seems like an extraordinary way for the Morning Star and the RMT to behave - and the annual TUC Congress is only days away. 

Nasty Nonsense

I don't know Daniel Jackson personally, but if this recent article in The Spectator is anything to go by he's an arrogant little prick with his silly argument that Yes voters in Scotland are all 'plebs' and/or the political equivalent of proselytising 'Moonies'.

Now I'm not a nationalist and I have, I like to think, a well thought out case for voting Yes in the Scottish independence referendum which comes down to the fact that I believe the Westminster is fundamentally undemocratic and incapable of reform from within - because both the Tory and Labour parties have vested interests in trying to keep things the way they are.

Which is why UKIP is having such a great time south of the border as it plays to the anti-politics mood of the country where English voters do not have a PR based Scottish Parliament which represents their interests more accurately and honestly than Westminster.

So I hope Daniel Jackson gets the shock of his life on 19 September when the result of the independence referendum is declared but, whatever happens, the important point is that Scottish democracy will go from strength to strength because the voters are developing a liking for deciding things for themselves.

The SNP’s “cybernats” are a modern political scourge – with the zeal of converts

If – and probably when – Yes Scotland loses, where will all that frantic energy go?

By Daniel Jackson - The Spectator

The first ‘yes’ campaign volunteer knocked on my door towards the end of last year. She was a member of the Scottish Socialist Party. I glanced at her dog-eared tally sheet — in my old block of 40 flats, only three residents had said they would vote no. In this neglected pocket of Edinburgh there are men who roll up their tracksuit bottoms to show off their prison tags. It is made up of decaying towers and pebble-dashed tenements. The people here are going to vote for change. Who can blame them?

Now that I have moved to a more genteel suburb outside of the city, a further three yes activists have attempted doorstep conversions. I have heard appeals to my head, my heart and my wallet from nationalists who are as dogged as Jehovah’s Witnesses. What motivates them to plunge into a cause that was, until recently, the preserve of a marginalised few?

One factor is consistently overlooked. Like most Jehovah’s Witnesses, my door-knockers tend to be converts. They have a born-again zeal that propels them on to the streets to share their faith. Their appearance demonstrates that a disengaged electorate is ripe for conversion to the nationalist cause.

Alan Bissett, a prominent ‘yes’ campaigner, made a recommendation recently. ‘On the day of the referendum, “yes” folks should be on the streets giving out not leaflets or flyers, but flowers.’ That’s what Moonie proselytisers used to do in airport terminals.

Without these converts, the dream of Scottish independence would be confined to SNP apparatchiks and a small slice of the voting public. Without all their campaigning, the words ‘End London rule’ would languish in faded paint on motorway flyovers.

Most of the converts I have spoken to cite political disengagement as the reason they support independence. They have finally found relief from political boredom. They want change and the referendum offers a quick fix.

Alex Salmond knows that old-timers don’t shout the virtues of their cause through a megaphone. It’s converts who aggressively seek recruits. They give themselves completely to their new obsession. Which is what makes them so valuable — and volatile.

The ‘zeal of the convert’ is a measurable phenomenon. A 2007 Pew survey of all American religious believers found that converts were more ardent than non-converts both in their beliefs and their practice. The early Christians were nervous of converts. St Paul is explicit in his first letter to Timothy: a church elder ‘must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil’.

Converts to many creeds, political as well as religious, tend to be excitable and angrily dismissive of non-believers. That helps explain why some Scottish nationalists behave so horribly on the internet. We call them ‘cybernats’ with mock affection, but at times their bile can be so bitter that I wonder if we should drop the cute nomenclature. (After J.K. Rowling’s £1 million donation to the Better Together campaign she suffered the kind of abuse that would make a prison guard blush.)

These new nationalists remind me of Ukip supporters. Nigel Farage is embarrassed by the gushing devotion and crazed invective of ‘cyberkippers’. When asked about them in private, he murmurs that they tend to be — you’ve guessed it — ‘recent converts’.

The new believers are both an asset and a problem for the ‘yes’ camp. The campaign has a disciplined and professional public face, yet it is constantly embarrassed by its loony fringe. Nationalists with hair-trigger tempers make for disastrous headlines. Yet the sheer energy of these converts is undeniably an asset. They will knock on doors until their knuckles are raw. They will spend every spare hour traipsing up worn tenement stairwells in pursuit of a percentage point. They are not discouraged by polls; being true believers, they dismiss them out of hand.

After two televised debates, bookmakers put the chances of a Unionist victory at 84 per cent. But the quasi-religious determination of the ‘yes’ campaigners is the wild card. Scots who never usually vote in elections — like my former neighbours — are going to turn up in numbers that are impossible to determine.

What will become of the new nationalists in the event of a ‘no’ vote? The most committed ‘yes’ campaigners will still be wound up like spring pistons. It is hard to imagine that this energy will quietly dissipate if they don’t get their way in a fortnight’s time.

Having a Laugh

Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown share a stage at the Caird Hall in Dundee
Photo - James Glossop/The Times

I noticed that Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown were at a joint Better Together event the other day and had some unkind things to say about the SNP including this quote from the former Labour leader: 

“They dine out on Scottish ideas of equality. They talk as if they actually believe it,” Mr Brown said.

“But when you look at the actual policies of the SNP, there is not one measure in their document that suggests there would be a higher rate of income tax for those at the very top, or a millionaire’s tax at the top of council tax, or a mansion tax at the top of stamp duty, or even the bankers’ bonus tax that is proposed for the UK.

“They have no way of raising the money to pay for all the expensive promises they have made.”

Now part of the job of being a politician is to slag off your political opponents and that really comes as no surprise, but I do object to these senior Labour figures banging on about equality as if their track record is anything to boast about.

Because the biggest single betrayal of low paid workers in Scotland was the failure of  Scotland's Labour dominated council employers and the trade unions to implement the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement which was intended to sweep away years of pay discrimination against well over 100,000 female dominated jobs.

As some people may know both have been Scottish Labour MPs for a very long time, Gordon Brown since 1983 and Alistair Darling since 1987, yet they always seem to focus on other people's failings without ever facing up to their own. 

Independence and Equal Pay (2 April 2014)

I went along to a Yes Scotland meeting in Glasgow the other night and quite enjoyed my evening even though most of the audience were already in favour of Scottish independence.

But the turnout was impressive, especially on a cold and windy night, and I came away convinced of one thing - the momentum is clearly with the Yes campaign.

Lots of issues came up including equal pay and, of course, everyone supported equal pay (as they always do) although what I couldn't quite understand is why so many people are still fighting for equal pay in 2014? 

Especially the original Equal Pay Act dates back to 1970 which means that employers, politicians, government (local and national) and trade unions have all known what is expected of them for well over 40 years.

If you ask me we don't need more legislation (Scottish or UK) to enforce equal pay,  what we need are people who 'say what they mean and mean what they say' on these issues - instead of saying one things and then doing another. 

Will things be different if Scotland becomes an independent country?

I don't know to be honest, but I find it very interesting that it was a Scottish equal pay agreement that the Scottish employers turned their backs on for years - the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement.

And it was the Scottish trade unions who stood on the sidelines doing nothing about the situation for years - without any big campaigns or threats of industrial action to get equal pay back on track.

Very few Scottish politicians (MSPs, MPs or councillors) have had much to say about the issue all this time - yet all of them, publicly at least, will say they are firm supporters of equal pay.

Yet when push came to shove the Scottish Government (in the year 2000) and Scottish council employers funded a major new pay agreement for teachers (McCrone Agreement) costing £800 million a year - while renting on a 199 Equal Pay Agreement for low paid workers which had a price tag of £400 to £500 million a year.

Who Gets What and Why? (1 April 2014)

The Sunday Times reported the other day that if Labour wins the next year's general election, the Party will cut university tuition fees in England by at least £3,000 and as much as £5,000 a year - which will cost the public purse between £1.7 billion and £3 billion a year.

Now I think this is what Ed Miliband calls standing up for the 'squeezed middle'.

But what I'd like to know is how Labour can find all this money for middle income families - when party leaders show none of the same conviction when it comes to delivering equal pay for low council paid workers?

Brass Neck (24 March 2014) 

The business of politics requires a 'brass neck' - the ability to make claims that you know are exaggerated or even untrue, but this nonsense from the Scottish Labour leader about equality really takes the biscuit.

Because the fight for equality would have taken a huge leap forward if Labour councils in Scotland had kept their promises to deliver equal pay over the past 15 years, as required by the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement.

Now as I've explained before on the blog site the 'problem' was never about money or resources since the the Labour led Government at Holyrood and the big Labour councils managed to fund a major new pay deal for Scottish teachers (the McCrone Agreement) in the year 2000 which cost a mammoth £800 million a year.

Yet the same people and politicians turned a blind eye to the ongoing scandal in Scottish councils were traditional females jobs (carers, cooks, classroom assistants, cleaners and clerical staff) were all being paid much less than comparable male jobs.

Now funding the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement would have cost a whole lot less than the teachers pay deal, £400 to £500 million a year, but Labour councils reneged on their commitment despite the Labour led Coalition Government at Holyrood (until 2007) and the Labour Government at Westminster which had an overall majority between 1999 and 2010.

Johann Lamont was a school teacher before she stood as an MSP and she has been a full-time MSP ever since 1999, so the Labour leader must understand the underlying issues, yet I've never heard Johann say anything of significance about the long fight for equal pay in Scotland's councils, even though her seat (Glasgow Pollok) lies smack within the boundary of Glasgow City Council, the largest council in Scotland.   

Shameless behaviour, if you ask me.

Labour's Johann Lamont claims SNP fails on equality

By Andrew Black
BBC Scotland news
Johann Lamont will criticise the Scottish government - and pledge to make high earners pay more tax

Scotland's Labour leader will compare Holyrood's SNP government to the Tories, saying it has failed to deliver equality.

Johann Lamont will tell her party's conference that, despite seven years in power, Scottish ministers had failed to distribute wealth from rich to poor.

Branding the Scottish government "Osborne Max", she will pledge to ensure the rich pay their fair share.

Ms Lamont's speech comes ahead of the Scottish independence referendum.

On 18 September, voters in Scotland will be asked the Yes/No question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

Ms Lamont will tell delegates in Perth: "Seven years of nationalism in Scotland - and not one policy which distributes wealth from rich to poor - in fact the opposite.

"Those in the richest houses saving most. Those with the most getting more. Those with the least getting less.

"That isn't just a betrayal of social justice - it is a betrayal of everything we believe Scotland stands for."

The Scottish Labour leader will urge members of the party faithful to "look beyond the saltire and plaid", to what she argued the SNP planned to deliver.

"While we will ask the rich to pay their fair share - the nationalists tell us that would put Scotland at a disadvantage," Ms Lamont will say.

"Social injustice is what puts Scotland at its greatest disadvantage and restoring the 50p tax rate will start to fight injustice.

"We have a nationalist government which refuses to reverse Tory tax cuts for millionaires - and a nationalist government which votes against giving workers on government contracts the living wage."

She will tell the conference: "Forget the talk of indy lite - this nationalist government is Osborne Max."

Politics of Equal Pay (2 August 2013)

I am often drawing readers' attention to interesting and/or thought provoking article in the newspapers and here's a real doozy which lays bare  the politics of Equal Pay in today's Herald - from none other than little old me!

So, go out and buy yourself a copy of the Herald, share it with your friends and use the information in the article to good effect - kick up a great fuss - for example, by posing a few awkward questions to your local councillor, MSP or MP.
Because when it comes to equal pay - Scotland's politicians, particularly its Labour politicians, have a great deal to answer for, if you ask me. 

Agenda: Political will, not economics, has stalled equal pay

There are still battles being fought on equal pay.
Earlier this week, I called on Eddie McAvoy, leader of South Lanarkshire Council, to resign after the authority lost a three-year legal battle which has cost the public purse more than £168,000 so far.

The Supreme Court in London ruled that the council wrong to withhold information from me. I wanted to check whether women workers at the authority were being discriminated against. 

The way in which Scottish councils chose to deal with equal pay has important implications for areas of social policy.

The business goes back to 1999 when a new national agreement was struck (the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement between Scotland's council employers and the unions. The stated aim was to sweep away years of historical pay discrimination against many female- dominated jobs which were paid much less, typically £3 an hour less, than traditional male jobs.

The way equal pay was to be achieved was by raising the pay of women workers to the same as the men. The costly price tag was around £500m a year: 90,000 women workers at £3 per hour x 30 hours a week (on average) x 52 weeks = £421m. 

You might well ask how Scotland's councils could afford to spend so much on equal pay. The answer is that the annual budgets of Scotland 32 councils and that of the Scottish Parliament doubled in size during the period between 1997 and 2007. So, money was never the problem – the problem was political will.

Because in the year 2000 Scotland's 32 local councils with the enthusiastic support of the Scottish Government, implemented a much more expensive agreement on teachers' pay, the McCrone Agreement, with a far weightier annual price tag of £800m. Now this pay deal gave Scottish teachers an unprecedented 23.5% increase in a single year, whereas other very low- paid council workers were still waiting for the promises of their 1999 Equal Pay Agreement to be honoured.

Nowadays Labour and the unions are demanding a so-called Living Wage, yet I am struck by the thought that a rate of £9 an hour could and should have been achieved years ago. Not only would this have put more money into the pockets and purses of thousands of low-paid women council workers, but equal pay would also have eliminated the need for the crazy and complex system of working tax credits.

Those who failed to keep their promises in 1999 were the Labour councils who dominated the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) at the time and the Labour trade unions who decided not to cut up rough on behalf of their lowest-paid members. Instead this was done by Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES), which arrived on the scene in 2005 and began to explain the big pay differences between male and female council jobs, which led to an explosion of equal pay claims in the Employment Tribunals. 

Aome people criticise A4ES because we charge clients a success fee of 10% (not 25% as some have suggested), but I've always regarded that as great value for money. The same people wrongly claim that the unions represented their members "for nothing", which is nonsense because they were, of course, taking millions of pounds in union contributions from these members –while turning a blind eye what was going on right under their noses.

So the fight for equal pay continues because certain councils decided to preserve the historically higher pay of traditional male workers when introducing job evaluation, which means that women workers have a potential ongoing claim while these pay differences continue. 

Other councils have cynically reduced male workers' pay to avoid the likelihood of claims from women employees, yet this was never the aim of the original Equal Pay Agreement: the problem was never that men were paid too much, but that women were paid too little. 

Mark Irvine was chief union negotiator in the 1999 Scottish agreement which was meant to deliver equal pay for women.

Scotland and Equal Pay (24 January 2014)

Here's another post about the politics of equal pay which I've decided to re-publish in light of the speech by Labour's Margaret Curran on Women and Independence.

If you ask me, Margaret Curran's comments are ill-informed and ludicrous because the main reason that the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement was not implemented properly - was down to the role of the big Labour councils which controlled CoSLA at the time and the failure of the Labour supporting trade unions to stand up for the interests of low paid women workers.

Money was never the stumbling block because the Labour-led Scottish Government along with CoSLA (the umbrella body for local councils) managed to find £800 million to fund the McCrone pay deal which in the year 2000 handed an eye-watering 23.5% pay increase to another group of council employees - Scottish school teachers.  

Now this £800 million was built into the Scottish Government's base budget which means that it costs the country and extra £800 million every year to pay teachers a good salary - at the level determined by the historic McCrone Agreement. 

But the McCrone Agreement somehow leapfrogged and took precedence over the cost of implementing the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement which, at the time, was estimated to be £400 to £500 million a year.

Interestingly, the Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement would have benefited well over 90,000 very low paid council workers, most of them women, while the McCrone Agreement gave an unprecedented pay increase to a smaller group of around 70,000 teachers.  

So, why was the money found for teachers and not other employees much further down the pay ladder?   

I don't know, but the answer to that question lies with the Scottish Government, the council  employers and the trade unions - all three organisations being dominated by the political priorities of Labour Party.  

Politics of Equal Pay (20 August 2013)

I came across this article on equal pay which I missed for some reason - when it was published in The Herald back in January 2013.

Now the writer involved - Ruth Wishart - is an experienced journalist, so I was both surprised and disappointed that the piece contained so many inaccuracies and mistakes.

For a start to use the words 'pay anomalies' to describe what was going in Glasgow  back in 2005 is an abuse of the English language - as if there were just a few wrinkles here and there.

Because what was taking place in Glasgow (and elsewhere) - right under the noses of the trade unions and seasoned journalists like Ruth Wishart - was widespread pay discrimination against thousands of low paid women.

Women in caring, catering, cleaning clerical and classroom assistant jobs - who were routinely being paid thousands of pounds a year less than relatively unskilled male jobs such as refuse workers or gardeners.

When Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) arrived on the scene in 2005, things began to change because we  explained to women workers exactly what was going on - and the fact that council employers and trade unions in Scotland had promised to sweep away this widespread pay discrimination as far back as 1999.

And this was during a 10 year period between 1997 and 2007 - when the budgets of councils in Scotland actually doubled in size, of course. 

But the employers and the unions failed to keep their promises which is why so many of these cases ended up in the Employment Tribunals - as union members voted with their feet and decided to pursue their equal pay claims with A4ES.

So much so that A4ES clients outnumber the trade union backed cases by a ratio of 10 to 1 - not 4 to 1 as Ruth Wishart wrongly suggests - and A4ES charges a its clients a success fee of 10% which Ruth would also know if she had bothered to check her facts.

Another glaring error is Ruth's reference to a Scottish Joint Council Job Evaluation scheme which she says was still under negotiation - but the truth is that a nationally approved Job Evaluation scheme specifically developed for Scottish councils had been available for use since 1999 - and this scheme was supported by the trade unions.

So Glasgow's decision to use a different scheme had nothing to do with choosing a quicker option - quite the opposite in fact.       
I find this all the more amazing because Ruth is (or was until recently ) a member of the Leveson Expert Group - whose advice on how to implement the Leveson Report in Scotland was quickly binned by the Scottish Government.

Yet the original Leveson Report was concerned with journalistic standards in the press and media - such as the importance of behaving with integrity and getting your facts right even when writing an opinion piece.

For example, Ruth's comment that "The unions, however dozy, went into bat for nothing" is plainly wrong - because the unions charged their low paid women members millions of pounds in contributions (membership fees) over this period - yet let them down miserably when it came to sweeping away years of pay discrimination.   

I was genuinely taken aback to such an ill-informed and unbalanced piece, so I decided to write to Ruth Wishart recently and invite her to meet with Mark Irvine and Carol Fox - to set the record straight.

Sad to say that offer wasn't taken up, but there is still an open invitation for any journalist who - like Ruth - appears to be struggling to grasp the basic rights and wrongs of equal pay.   

No easy answers in the struggle for equal pay

By Ruth Wishart (22 January 2013)

On one level it sounds so simple.

People should get the same pay for work of similar value regardless of gender. The Treaty of Rome said so way back in 1957. The UK law enshrined it when the Equal Pay Act came fully into force in 1975. What could go wrong?

Pretty well every thing as it happens. From dodgy employers in the early days who thought it smart practice to promote every single bloke on the payroll, to mass re-writing of job descriptions, to assembly lines being re-jigged to make them single sex.

And even when the rogues were rounded up, the earnings gap stubbornly persisted. Still does. But now all these years of underpayment have come back to bite cash-strapped local authorities who, not exactly obstructed by male-dominated unions, continued to preside over arrangements which turned out to be institutionally discriminatory.

A landmark judgment at the end of last year found Birmingham City Council on the wrong end of a court case brought by more than 170 women claiming back pay over six years. It is likely to open the floodgates for hundreds, if not thousands more.

Meanwhile, next month sees Glasgow City Council at a second session of an employment tribunal – there's a third scheduled for May – defending the arrangements it has come to after a process which began way back in 2005. A process which has already cost it over £50 million in compensation packages to female employees.

But this is not a straightforward tale of winners and losers, nor for that matter heroes and villains. When Glasgow City Council did its job evaluation exercise seven years ago there was no shortage of pay anomalies tumbling out of the woodwork.

As was the case with other councils, pay rates had grown up which made the casual assumption that outdoor dirty jobs like refuse collection and grave digging were intrinsically worth more than indoor manual work like cooking and cleaning. No prizes for guessing which of these categories employed more men than women and vice versa.

On top of that was an extraordinary bonus culture which widened the pay gap quite dramatically. As one executive explained "it seems that in some areas bonuses were being paid for turning up to work". And a lack of transparency around who got paid what and why meant that many of the disadvantaged women had no notion just how poorly paid they were by comparison with similar or poorer male skill levels.

The workforce pay and benefit review was designed to examine and eradicate these anomalies. Glasgow decided not to use the Scottish Joint Council Scheme still under negotiation, but used the Greater London Provincial Model on the grounds it would be a faster option than re-inventing the wheel. This entailed putting diverse jobs into 13 "job families" depending on the working context and skills.

The exercise meant higher pay for almost 25,000 employees, but loss of earnings for just under 4000. Under the deal anyone losing more than £500 would be offered skills development and there would be pay protection for three years.

The unions had several complaints about this, suggesting – among other complaints – that employees having to sign on the dotted line before being compensated for previous inequities was a form of blackmail.

But their cages were also being rattled by a new breed of specialist lawyers who saw the fight for equal pay as a lucrative niche market.

Their pitch was that on a no-win-no-fee basis they could get the women a better deal than union reps who, they suggested, had been asleep on the job in order to protect the incomes of their male membership.

Since the lawyers' cut of a successful action involved anything from 10% to 25% of the women's compensation packages, it seems somewhat disingenuous to suppose the main motive was a lofty crusade against injustice and discrimination. The unions, however dozy, went into bat for nothing.

In the event, four times as many Glasgow employees plumped for a private law firm than for Unison, though not the least of the ironies in this saga is that many of the lawyers involved had previously worked for Unison.

But, as I said, this is not a simple tale. Righting previous wrongs is important. Equal pay for work of equal value is essential. Yet all of this unfolds against a backdrop of budget cuts inevitably resulting in job losses.

It's not so much being careful what we wish for, more a dispiriting calculation on benefits versus costs.