Nicola Sturgeon accused of playing games over Tory trade union bill

Nicola Sturgeon interview

Labour has accused Nicola Sturgeon of playing games with the trade union movement after the Scottish first minister appealed for a joint front to attack Conservative reforms of trade union law.

Sturgeon wrote to Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, on Wednesday to ask him to back a Scottish National party effort to devolve trade union and employment law from Westminster to Holyrood.

She said Scotland had a golden opportunity to defend union rights on strike action that are being eroded by the UK government’s trade union reform bill if the Scottish parliament were empowered to have different legislation to the rest of the UK.

Calling on Labour to change its opposition to devolving trade union law, she said the Tory reforms could be reversed in Scotland by using the different legislation now going through the Commons, the Scotland bill, to devolve extra tax and policy powers to Holyrood.

Sturgeon told journalists on Wednesday: “I don’t think it’s enough that we are left having to protest in vain over things like that: I think it’s vital that we have the power here in Scotland to take a different course.”

The first minister told Corbyn the vast majority of MSPs in Holyrood would never agree to such “draconian” legislation if they had the chance to vote on it, and said her proposals had the full support of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (TUC).

A Labour source said the party could not back this measure because it wanted to defend trade union rights across the UK, and claimed Sturgeon was deceiving people that a fresh amendment to the Scotland bill was likely to be accepted in the Commons.

The SNP tabled the change at an earlier reading but failed to insist on a vote. As a result, the Commons authorities were highly unlikely to accept it again, the source said. There were other Labour amendments to the Scotland bill that were new and untested and would be given priority.

The source said: “The SNP didn’t push these amendments to a vote when they had the chance. For Sturgeon to come back now to say to us this should be discussed is a little bit rich, given that her MPs sat on other hands at second reading [of the Scotland bill].” The source said Sturgeon was “totally at it”.

SNP sources denied this and insisted Commons clerks had indicated that the amendment could be tabled again.

The Labour source said the SNP had failed to take up another opportunity to challenge the trade union bill by demanding that the UK government agree to allow the Scottish parliament to vote on it before it became law – a constitutional measure known as a legislative consent motion.

He said Carwyn Jones, the Welsh first minister, had already proposed this for Wales because the trade union bill would affect public services controlled by the Cardiff assembly, as it would for public services controlled by Holyrood.

Under Sturgeon’s leadership, the SNP is making far more deliberate and often successful overtures to the trade union movement – a sector largely ignored by her predecessor, Alex Salmond – as she competes for urban centre-left votes.

Her challenge to Corbyn is designed to put pressure on the new Labour leader to back the SNP on a series of totemic centre-left issues, including welfare cuts, the replacement of the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons, and devolution, as Labour and the SNP battle for support in the runup to the Scottish parliament election next May.

She said: “Notwithstanding the Tory majority, if the opposition play it cleverly and in a united fashion, there are opportunities to beat the Tories [at Westminster] and also to win advances for Scotland.”

Sturgeon’s proposals to press for the devolution of trade union law appear to have split the union movement. The Scottish TUC and the UK’s two largest unions, Unite and Unison, have supported proposals to devolve employment law, but Labour said the TUC at UK level is vehemently opposed.

She is also attempting to make Labour’s future under Corbyn part of the constitutional debate about Scotland’s future in the UK. The first minister believes Labour’s clear divisions over Corbyn’s leadership will make it far more likely that the Tories will win the next UK general election, making the case for Scottish independence stronger for many voters.

But Labour sources, who fear that breaking up UK trade union law will anger English voters and trade union leaders, said: “Instead of making political points about amendments that are not going to get past because of the Tory majority in the Commons, she should be using the powers they have got over services that her government is directly in control of.”

Powered by article was written by Severin Carrell Scotland editor, for on Thursday 24th September 2015 07.41 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010