Socialist Worker

Trouble in Tayside - how the SNP governs in 'Yes City' Dundee

Disillusionment with Labour has seen the Scottish National Party capture the hopes of those radicalised by the independence vote. But a closer look at councils it runs should be a warning, as Raymie Kiernan found in Dundee

Issue No. 2450

The hoardings on Dundee Waterfront boast that things are getting better

The hoardings on Dundee Waterfront boast that things are getting better (Pic: Socialist Worker)


The Scottish National Party (SNP) hopes to make gains in May’s general election. In Dundee, where the SNP has majority control of the council, it is set to win both MPs.

The SNP is benefiting from growing anger at the Labour Party. 

Increasing inequality, privatisation, illegal wars, racism and continuing Tory anti-union laws under New Labour corroded its support.

A deep row between Labour’s Westminster and Scottish leaders last week revealed that Labour will continue Tory austerity in Scotland.

And for many, Labour’s alliance with the Tories and the British ruling class against independence last year was the last straw. It now faces a near wipeout of its MPs in Scotland.

The SNP has leaned left and hopes to pick up votes from former Labour supporters. But its record shows it can’t be trusted to stand up for working class people.

Dundee, like every working class area in Britain, has been ravaged by austerity. It has had the highest level of welfare sanctions in Scotland and food banks are rife.

Dundees SNP MSPs - including Scottish health minister Shona Robison (right)

Dundee's SNP MSPs - including Scottish health minister Shona Robison (right)


The SNP has majority control of the council, both of the city’s MSPs and one of the two MPs.

Mick Tunstall a campaigner with Dundee Against Welfare Sanctions told Socialist Worker about the impact of benefit sanctions. 

Sanctioned

“People don’t know they have been sanctioned until they discover there is no money in their account,” he said. “Many have no idea why they have been sanctioned. 

“For the first two weeks people get nothing and then only get 40 percent of their benefits.”

Sanctions have pushed more people to use food banks, run by the city’s churches and mosques. The numbers visiting with children during school holidays has risen sharply.

Community worker Liz explained, “Families are so reliant on free school meals to feed their families that school holidays create a crisis.

“It’s so bad that the council has produced a leaflet showing where people can get a free meal each day of the week.”

The SNP has done little to mitigate the worse effects of austerity. There is less of a novelty factor about the party for people who have experienced having the SNP in political control of the city.

“I don’t trust them as far as I could throw them,” Ashley McDonald told Socialist Worker. “The SNP is shutting down my son’s school to save £2 million a year.” 

Ashley is part of a campaign of parents, pupils and local residents fighting the closure of Menzieshill High School. It is in a deprived area of the city.

The SNP voted through swingeing council cuts of more than £33 million over the next few years. This includes plans to close the school and force students to attend another miles from where they live.

Ashley was shocked at the attitude of local SNP councillor and Dundee lord provost Bob Duncan when she raised the closure with him. She said Duncan seemed more interested in the fate of big business.

Hospital porters on strike against low pay

Hospital porters on strike against low pay (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Ashley has more reason than most to be angry at the SNP. Her husband is currently on indefinite strike with porters at Dundee’s Ninewells and Royal Victoria hospitals.

The porters are among the lowest paid workers in the NHS. They are demanding NHS Tayside pay them the same wages as most of Scotland’s other porters.

NHS bosses refused. Instead they tried, and failed, to use Tory anti-union laws to undermine the workers’ action.

Responsibility for health is devolved in Scotland and lies with the SNP government.

Strikers don’t hold local Dundee East SNP MSP Shona Robison, also Scottish health minister, in very high regard.

Disappointed

Striker Vince told Socialist Worker, “We’re very disappointed at the lack of support from Shona Robison. We expected she’d want to help working class people. It seems she is only interested in votes.”

The experience of the dispute has left a bitter taste in strikers’ mouths. Another striker, Ross, simply said, “I don’t trust politicians.” He had a simple message for Robison—“You’re the health minister, can you get this sorted please?”

The dispute puts the SNP in a tight spot. To settle the workers’ claim would potentially open the door to further claims from low paid public sector workers. But to refuse to do so marks it out as no different to all the other main parties.

The SNP has some policies that mark it out from the Tories and Labour—such as its promise to scrap the Trident nuclear missiles system. 

But its powerful business friends would desert it if it dared implement real change.

The Dundee Waterfront development is a case in point. This 30-year development project covers five miles along the River Tay and is worth an eye-watering £1 billion.

Dundee Council is heavily involved with the project.

In August 2013 its policy and resources committee unanimously passed a motion to “support the campaign by trade unions against the operation of blacklists against trade unionists”. The motion was proposed by Labour councillor Richard McCready.

Francie is angry that blacklisting firms have been given big contracts

Francie is angry that blacklisting firms have been given big contracts (Pic: Socialist Worker)


But in February this year Dundee Council awarded a £80 million contract for a new V&A museum on the Waterfront to BAM Construction. 

BAM is a self-confessed blacklister. Almost half of the V&A project funding is coming from the Scottish government.

Blacklister

Another blacklister Sir Robert McAlpine was awarded a multimillion pound contract on the Dundee Waterfront development.

According to Dundee Council and Scottish government policy these companies have “committed an act of grave misconduct and should be excluded from tendering for public contracts”.

The council justified awarding BAM the contract saying it had received assurances from BAM that its use of illegal blacklists “ceased completely in 1998”.

It added that BAM Construction in Scotland had never engaged in such practises.

There is no such company as BAM Scotland and BAM Construction is registered in London.

Stewart Merchant and Francie Graham gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee inquiry into blacklisting. “The politicians are saying one thing but doing another,” said Stewart.

“We’re going to need more protests. The council isn’t protecting workers in Dundee from these blacklisters.”

Francie said the betrayal was another reason why ordinary people need a political alternative.

Dundee TUSC candidate Carlo Morelli on the picket line

Dundee TUSC candidate Carlo Morelli on the picket line (Pic: Socialist Worker)


“We’ve had the two main parties for so long,” he said. “But the referendum changed politics—not just here but throughout Britain. Now people want change and they’ve had enough.”

During last year’s independence referendum Dundee became known as Yes City. It delivered the highest vote for independence with 57 percent.

The city used to be a Labour stronghold. But the independence campaign transformed the atmosphere as people felt they had a chance to win real change.

Better

It galvanised thousands of people into political activity—and they deserve something better than a choice of SNP cuts or Labour cuts.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is standing in both of the Dundee seats. Carlo Morelli, standing in Dundee East, is a leading trade unionist and anti-racist campaigner in the city. 

His UCU union is preparing for a strike at Dundee University against job losses later this month. Carlo explained, “This city is a microcosm of the impact of austerity and the resistance to it.

“Sanctions rip the heart out of communities and food banks flourish. Yet the all-out strike by Dundee hospital workers shows that people aren’t prepared to put up with it any more.

“There’s a sea-change taking place in working class areas in Dundee. 

“The collapse in support for Labour shows that it is no longer seen as a mechanism to stop the cuts. And it’s clear that the SNP cannot be trusted either. 

“TUSC provides the only political alternative to austerity in Dundee.”

Workers’ names have been changed

New politics, same old cuts?

Support for the Scottish National Party (SNP) has mushroomed since last year’s independence referendum.

But it has been cultivating an image as the real social democratic party in Scotland for much longer.

Tapping disillusion with Labour saw the SNP form a minority Scottish government in 2007. The SNP and the Tories both agreed on the government’s 2007 budget, raising questions about the SNP’s radical image.

That budget saw cash spent to make sure business rates went down—hitting local authority services.

The SNP went on to win an absolute majority in the Scottish parliament in 2011.

The party’s leadership realises that many working class people saw independence as a starting point to bring real change. That’s why it says it will “end austerity”.

It offers itself as a break from the depressing world of mainstream politics where party leaders shore up business interests.

But its record in government and in local authorities tells an all too familiar story.

Between 2010/11 and 2013/14 the Scottish government cut funding for councils in real terms by 8.5 percent. 

The SNP has majority control of five local councils in Scotland. Public auditors’ reports reveal the party’s success in ramming through austerity.

In one council, Perth and Kinross, the auditor praised the SNP’s “strong track record” in making cuts.

It noted that axing further services will be “more challenging in future years” given the 6 percent cut in staff since 2009.

In North Ayrshire the latest report shows a £4.5 million increase in reserves from the “early delivery of efficiency changes” and underspending on services.

This was achieved through “pay restraint” for staff, among other things.


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