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UNISON Scottish Retired Members Conference
Glasgow 28th April 2009

Eugene Duffy –Chairperson, opened Conference 2009 by welcoming all delegates to our Scottish Conference.

He reported to conference on the work of the Scottish Committee over the last year [2008] and assured conference that the committee were working hard to promote all issues surrounding pensions, and care.

He spoke about Post Office closures and how the campaign about the issue of post cards that was carried out was successful, and that the Government had backed down over this due to pressure exerted by campaigning groups.

He emphasised the struggle that Post Offices are having to keep open, and stressed that we must continue to keep this important service within the public domain.

There was a minutes silence as a mark of respect for Jack Jones; to pay tribute to his contribution as a staunch supporter, and fighter for, all pensioners.

Chair then spoke of the power of the ‘grey vote’.  He said the fight must continue, and we must be heard.  He stressed that delegates must take this message away from conference with them, and back to their branches.October will be an important month because there will be a Pensioner Parliament – See the Person, not the Age.  And we must have a presence at this Conference. He said, now more than ever, we must be aware of the attacks on pensions and pensioners care, and that we must defend our rights on all pensioners’ issues.

Living Wills & Power of Attorney

Jane Lindsay, assisted by Toni Wong, attended conference on behalf of Thompson’s Solicitors, to speak on Living Wills and Power of Attorney. Thompson’s had a stall at Conference with leaflets and information, so that Delegates could take this back to branches.

The speaker then gave detailed information on both of those topics, stressing the importance of getting your requests formally documented whilst you were of sound mind and body. There was too much information to be detailed in this report, but the general advice from Jane Lindsay was that anyone who was interested should get in touch with a solicitor, and discuss how they would go about setting up Living Will or Power of Attorney. What the speaker did stress all through her presentation was that these things should be entered into seriously, and it was of utmost importance that the correct person to carry out your requests, on your behalf, be selected.

Guest Speakers

John McAllion is a former MP and constant Scottish Campaigner, who is now enjoying retirement. Although retired, he is still very much involved with pensioner issues.

He started his talk by quoting a professor of economics who said ‘The future is not what it used to be’. He went on to tell of a photograph taken in 1945 after that years’ election, which gave a huge victory to the ordinary people, and showing huge crowds of people in the City Square in Dundee [his home town].

He reminded us that was a time when successive Governments created pensions, and the National Health Service, and the country flourished. John McAllion compared then to what has happened now and the effects of Capitalism and free markets on us all now. He stated that the ordinary man had been badly let down by Capitalism.

On the subject of Public Sector Pensions Schemes, he is of the opinion that there is no more of a brighter future for the Public Sector than anywhere else.  They are in the midst of huge difficulties and there is not enough money for the pensioners of the future. We have incurred the largest debt problem in any peace time government in decades.  This must inevitably lead to tax increases and pensions cuts. There is a massive struggle ahead for the attacks that will be made on pensions services. This fight must be for a liveable pension above the poverty line, and keep up with the standards of living. He stressed that it was crucial that pensioners must stick together whether their pension is private or public sector.

He stated in his opinion we must fight for other cuts from such Government projects as the huge sums of money being spent on [for example] Trident. It is essential that we involve ourselves with discussion and debate with the Government; otherwise they will go ahead and make the decisions without us, and to our cost. We must be part of the larger movement that encompasses all ages, and keep solidarity.

When asked if the Labour Party can be won back, Mr McAllion said only if they dissociate themselves with the values that are now being presented by New Labour.

After a lively question and answer session, Eugene Duffy thanked John McAllion for attending our conference and for his frank and inspirational input.

Presentation to Irene Sweeney
[recently retired secretary to Scottish Committee]

Eugene Duffy paid tribute to our recently retired Secretary to Scottish Committee Irene Sweeney. He expressed the committees’ thanks and gratitude on behalf of all the membership to Irene who has given many years as a dedicated worker in the fight for pensioners, and a sterling secretary to the Scottish Committee. He concluded by wishing Irene all the very best on behalf of the Scottish Committee, and the Retired Members.

Chair welcomed Sue Chalmers who takes over as secretary to Scottish Committee for 2009.  Once again we are fortunate indeed to have a dedicated member of the committee to fill the important task of Committee Secretary.

Sue was wished well in her new position on the committee.

A presentation of flowers and gifts from Scottish Committee Members was made to Irene, on our behalf, by Lillie MacNaughton.

Chair welcomed our second guest to Conference.

Margo MacDonald was to speak on her proposed bill on assisted suicide.

Eugene introduced her by first recognising her contribution to politics and her notable career in Scottish Parliament, and thanked her for taking time out of her busy schedule to attend our Conference.

The speaker began by stating that the purpose of a Bill or Law on assisted suicide was to make it legal for the person concerned to be able to make the choice.  She stressed here that the only person who could make this choice was the person themselves. In our country, at the moment, choices are left with doctors or carers, who must sometimes make choices which are illegal and leave these people open to prosecution.

Margo MacDonald went on to explain that although the law saying assisting people to die is illegal, there are grey areas that do not assist in laying down clear guidelines, but allow only leeway.

The only way in her opinion to discuss this in the Scottish Parliament is through a Bill.  Her Bill would only cover:  Degenerate Conditions. Dependency on others after an accident. Terminal illness.

These are the only groups she would argue for in physician assisted dying. This bill is about elderly people; or people who have a mental illness; or dementia victims. There would be a register of doctors who would volunteer to assist people.

Our speaker informed Conference that she is now at the stage of drawing up the Bill with legal authorities to ascertain the correct course of action.

Margo MacDonald finished by explaining that even if only a small number of people would take up the use this Bill, then it is their right to do so.

The question and answer session that followed proved that this is a subject of concern for us all, as individuals.  There were many questions which are too many to be reported, but were answered most expertly by the speaker.

Eugene Duffy thanked Margo MacDonald for explaining so clearly the purposes of her Bill, on what was clearly an emotive, but extremely important topic. He wished her well with the Bill’s course through Parliament and thanked her once again on behalf of Conference.

Light Entertainment:

Eugene introduced our third speaker Mae Stewart.

It was decided that there be a brief interlude in the formal proceedings of the day to listen to Mae, as she recounted some of her memories of a Dundee childhood, through her writings

This was very well received by those present.

Chair thanked Mae Stewart for her input into the proceedings.

Items of Interest for Scottish Retired members

Bowling Tournament – 2009 :

The tournament will be held at the Kettle Bowling Club in Fife.  Bob Miller thanked Kettle Club for yet again hosting this day, and said that they gave members a very warm welcome [and good food], and that the membership was very happy to continue using this venue.         

Bob Miller spoke to Conference about the annual bowling day that has been held for many years now and has been proved to be a success year on year, and hoped that as many as possible would inform their members through their local branches about this years outing.

Our New Scottish Committee Secretary:

Sue Chalmers spoke about being the new secretary and the role she would be fulfilling on behalf of the membership. She spoke about proposed motions to be taken forward to National Conference this year in Scarborough. Finally Sue wished Irene Sweeney well in her retirement, and wished all members good health and well being for the coming year.

Chair Rounds up Conference.

Eugene Duffy [Chair] concluded by urging delegates to go back to their branches and take the message from Conference that we must stay at the forefront of pensioner issues and guard our rights and pensions.

He spoke about the many points that had been covered by this conference, and asked that we build contacts between other groups retired, and working, to protect our wages and pensions.

Eugene Duffy assured Conference the 2009 committee would work tirelessly towards ensuring that we are at the forefront of action and communications with anyone who would assist us to guard our rights and pensions.

We fight on.