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May/June 2007 No 67


New Executive brings new opportunities - and challenges

by Chris Bartter

The outcome of the recent Scottish Elections has major implications for UNISON in Scotland, says Matt Smith, UNISON's Scottish Secretary.

"The important thing to grasp, is that UNISON's policy of engaging with political parties across the spectrum continues."

He said, "UNISON is keen to sit down with the new Executive and discuss with them ways forward for our members, our services and our policies."

UNISON ran a strong campaign during the election, primarily promoting the role of Scotland's public services. Thousands of leaflets and posters were distributed via UNISON branches urging members to question their candidates and supplying the questions.

In a new development a major sponsorship was undertaken with the Herald. Their pre-election supplement and their election website all carried the UNISON message - as will the new government poster due on 24 May.

An opinion poll commissioned by UNISON confirmed that the Scottish public continued to value their public services and continued to want them democratically delivered - rather than by private firms. This was backed up by a poll for the BBC which put the public delivery of public services as the number one issue for electors.

In a new development separate material was produced featuring the important role UNISON members play in protecting and enhancing the environment and the increasing role that UNISON as a union is playing in the fight against climate chaos.

This message and other policy issues had a struggle getting into the press. Matt Smith said. "In the tight race between Labour and the SNP, third party campaigns like ours faced an uphill battle to get press coverage. However, branches and members picked up the message - and candidates were left in no doubt where UNISON stood.

"While we need to re-examine ways of more effectively getting the message to our members faster, there is no doubt we had an impact."

Analysis of SNP manifesto commitments illustrate many of the issues that UNISON is likely to want to discuss with the new government. Public Service Trusts and the future of PFI; the threat of financial cuts and removing tax raising powers from local government are indicative of possible opportunities and challenges for our members.

Matt Smith is clear that issues need to be raised constructively. "We want to engage in serious discussion with the new government." He said "We currently are drawing up key issues to raise.

"This will be a minority government, and some issues will be put on the back burner because the SNP know they will not win them. And when they do take on legislation - opportunities are there to work across the political spectrum - something we've been doing for some time.

"UNISON is not in opposition: we are looking to constructively engage with the SNP government, and with all of the political parties in the Scottish parliament to pursue our policies.

"We need also to recognise the importance of dialogue with newly elected councils, most of whom will be coalitions."

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