Saturday, 25 October 2014

Thunderbirds Are Go!

After months of prevaricating, North Lanarkshire Council is finally being dragged back to the Employment Tribunal next week where it will be forced to explain and justify its bizarre pay arrangements.

Now as regular readers know the Council agreed back in the summer to enter into  negotiations aimed at resolving all of its outstanding equal pay claims, but when push came to shove the Council failed to put serious offers on the table which Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) could recommend to its 3,000 plus clients.

So the Council and its senior officials will be back in the hot seat and will be required to explain pay arrangements which are based on traditional male jobs earning up to 60% more than their female colleagues.

Over the coming days I will be re-publishing some of the posts from the bog site archive which highlight what has been going on over the years in North Lanarkshire.

But it has to be said that this is a Labour council - yes a Labour council - and the council leader for the past 15 years or so has been Cllr Jim McCabe who used to be a Unison rep, a shop steward, and so Jim 'knows the score' if you ask me, when it comes to the underlying issues about equal pay.

The Council says its pay arrangements were discussed with the trade unions at the time and that the unions were consulted over an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) which, allegedly, gave the Council's job evaluation scheme (JES) a clean bill of health.

But since then the Council has been forced to admit in the Employment Tribunal that thousands of female dominated jobs such as Home Carers have been incorrectly scored and graded.

Yet all the women workers affected are still fighting for fair treatment and a proper response to their equal pay claims.

I have asked the Council to release an equal pay report to its corporate management team (CMT) dating back to 11 August 2005, but for some strange reason the Council has refused to release this information and an appeal has been lodged with the Scottish Information Commissioner.

In many respects this reminds me of the way that South Lanarkshire Council behaved over equal pay - another Labour run council which stuck it head in the sand for years before it was finally forced to do the right thing.  

So I'm sure we will get their in the end and I, for one, am glad the cases are going back to the Employment Tribunal starting next week.

North Lanarkshire Update (1 October 2014)

I'm told that there is a full meeting of North Lanarkshire Council tomorrow (Thursday 2nd October) which should be interesting because I think this is the first meeting the Council has held since the summer due to the Scottish independence referendum.  

So let's see what the Council bosses have to say about equal pay because things appear to be going nowhere pretty fast, given that the original deadline for reaching a settlement of all the outstanding cases was the end of August (2014).

My own view is that the Council is dragging its feet and that no real progress will be made until the Council is forced to face up to the hopelessness of its position by having another round of hearings and witnesses giving evidence at the Employment Tribunal.

Because, as I've said before on the blog site, the Council's most senior officials have an awful lot of explaining to do and the sooner the people involved are put under the spotlight and subject to cross examination, the better things will be for everyone, if you ask me.

My view is that these individuals will not be able to come up with an explanation that can justify North Lanarkshire's behaviour in relation to equal pay and nor will they be able to justify big differences in treatment between traditional male and female jobs.  

North Lanarkshire Update (31 August 2014)

The settlement talks with North Lanarkshire Council have not produced an outcome by the end of August which was the timescale originally agreed by all the parties to get the job done.

The Council has failed to provide concrete offers of settlement which is the only way to bring these talks to a satisfactory conclusion.

Action 4 Equality Scotland (which has by far the largest number of claimants in North Lanarkshire) pushed for all the cases to go back to the Employment Tribunals, but both the Council and the trade unions asked for the settlement talks to be given more time. 

So next week's tribunal dates have been postponed at this stage and the Council has been given more time to try and get its act together.

I have to say I'm now sceptical that North Lanarkshire is serious about bringing these talks to a conclusion without going back to the Employment Tribunal where senior managers can be put on the spot and forced to explain exactly what happened over the scoring and grading of so many council jobs, such as the Home Carers.

Because why else would North Lanarkshire refuse to release the minute of its Corporate Management Team (CMT) meeting dated 11 August 2005 - if the Council really does have nothing to hide?

If you ask me, this feels like history repeating itself.

In the sense that instead of acting openly and transparently, the Council is trying desperately to 'bury the evidence' just as South Lanarkshire did in relation to a previous FoI request which went all the way to the UK Supreme Court.

But as regular readers know, the UK Supreme Court decided unanimously in my favour - and a short time later all of the Action 4 Equality Scotland equal pay claims were resolved on satisfactory terms.     

What a Shambles!

The resignation of Johann Lamont as the Scottish Labour leader comes as no surprise and represents an 'omnishambles' moment for the party north and south of the border.

The beans have been spilled to the Daily Record which I've not read as yet, but apparently on her way out the door Johann Lamont has taken a swipe at Ed Miliband and described Labour MPs at Westminster as dinosaurs.

Now that's an apt description: Westminster as Jurassic Park, full of strange, primitive creatures with tiny brains who don't realise they're all about to become extinct.

But this has been coming for some time, ever since Johann Lamont and Margaret Curran allowed themselves to be ruthlessly pushed to one side as Gordon Brown and the 'big boys' from Westminster took control of the Labour campaign in the Scottish independence referendum.

All I would say is that it's a shame Johann, as a self-styled feminist and gender equality champion, has has nothing of substance to say about the fight for equal pay that has been raging in Scotland for the past 10 years.

Labour's Women Shoved Aside

One of the more depressing sights during Scotland's referendum campaign was the way that Labour's leading women politicians were ruthlessly pushed aside when the chips were down.

So at the crucial time, in the final countdown to polling day, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont and shadow Scotland secretary Margaret Curran, both self-styled feminists, were brutally shoved to the back of the bus by part-time backbench Labour MP, Gordon Brown.

Now it says something about the Labour Party that this last minute deal making kicks in when the going gets tough, quite undemocratic if you ask me, but the exact same thing happened in the 1999 Scottish referendum which established the Scottish Parliament.

Because in the build up to the 1999 referendum originally there was to be only one question on the ballot paper which asked if people supported the creation of a Scottish Parliament, but at the very last minute a second question was added by Labour leaders in London.

The second question asked if the Scottish Parliament should be allowed to have its own tax varying powers and it was widely regarded as an underhand attempt to sabotage a Yes vote  by introducing yet another hurdle to overcome at the eleventh hour.

Tony Blair used his powers of person to make the case that any parliament worth its salt must have tax varying powers and the problem was eventually resolved, albeit after much heated argument and accusations of sabotage.

So a deal was done which presented the case for a 'Yes Yes' vote as a means of legitimising the status of the embryonic Scottish Parliament even though many viewed the whole affair in a quite different light, as way of hamstringing Holyrood by inviting a Yes No vote.  

As things turned out Scotland voted Yes Yes by a convincing margin and in an ironic twist the tax varying powers (up or down by 3p in the pound) have never been used by any of the four Scottish Government since 1999.  

But the fingerprints of Gordon Brown were all over the Labour's 'Yes Yes' debacle in 1999 and this old-fashioned, last minute, deal making style of politics is the member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath down to a tee - not least because it's all top down politics rather than bottom up as in the manner of the 2014 Yes campaign. 

Nonetheless it's still rather dispiriting to witness supposedly powerful women figures in Scottish politics being reduced to the role of Labour cheerleaders although this may help to explain why a self-styled feminist and equalities champion like Johann Lamont has had nothing of substance to say about the fight for equal pay in Scotland's councils over the past 10 years.  
Lamont says she will keep Labour job
BBC web site

Johann Lamont's comments came during first minister's questions in the Scottish Parliament

Johann Lamont has insisted she will remain Scottish Labour leader, despite claims her position was under threat.

She told parliament said she would be doing her job when Alex Salmond, who is standing down as first minister and SNP leader, was "long gone".

Her comments came during the first first minister's questions since the Scottish referendum "No" vote.

Mr Salmond said he had read claims that there were several "anointed successors" to Ms Lamont.

Attacking the Scottish government for its handling of the health service, Ms Lamont told parliament: "When the first minister is long gone, I will still be doing my job on behalf of the people of Scotland."

The independence referendum saw voters backed Scotland staying in the Union 55% to 45%, although a majority for independence was recorded in the traditional Labour stronghold of Glasgow.

Mr Salmond said he had "read in the papers that there seem to be a number of anointed successors for Johann Lamont".

The first minister told MSPs: "Johann Lamont says she's going to be retained in her current position - yes, I hope she continues as leader of the opposition in this parliament for some considerable time."

A Terrible Beauty Is Born

I've posted a few poems by WB Yeats on the blog site and I was reminded of this one about the Easter Rising in 1916 which was used by Martin Kettle as an analogy for the political changes that have come about in Scotland both during and since the country's independence referendum. 

Things have indeed changed, changed utterly, and to me there is a terrible beauty in what's now happening to the Scottish Labour Party and even though I'm not a 'betting man' I think I'll place a small wager on Scottish Labour having 25 fewer MPs at Westminster after next May's general election. 

Easter Rising

By WB Yeats

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Ringing the Changes (24 October 2014)

The penny is finally beginning to drop amongst journalists south of the border that Scotland really has changed as a result for the independence referendum.

The old Westminster elite, the ancient regime, that has been used to running the country for so long is on its way out, the Labour Party is completely discredited led as it is these days by someone, Johann Lamont, who is a self-styled feminist and gender equality champion.

Yet has had nothing of substance to say about the the fight for equal pay in Scottish local government for the past 15 years.   

So if you ask me it's no wonder that so many people are voting with their feet.

In Scotland the old politics have crumbled, as they once did in Ireland

In the recent referendum young voters opted for independence. As with Ireland in 1916, a new mood has taken hold and change seems inevitable

By Martin Kettle - The Guardian
'√Čamon de Valera, who retired as Ireland’s president at the age of 90 in 1973, managed to shape national life and politics for half a century and beyond.' Photograph: PA

Sometimes a history book prompts one to reflect on the past and present alike. RF Foster, professor of Irish history at Oxford university, has just published such a text. In Vivid Faces, Foster delves into what made the Irish revolutionary generation of the early 20th century tick. Yet at the core of his richly nuanced inquiry into the radical nationalist mentality is an analysis with implications that stretch beyond Ireland to this day – notably to 21st-century Scotland, but also elsewhere in these islands.

Generations make a difference in history. The men and women who transformed Ireland between 1916 and 1922 were strikingly young, even by the standards of today’s callow politicians. The average age of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising was 37. Michael Collins, effectively the first leader of independent Ireland, was killed when he was a mere 31. The corollary was that those who survived, embodied by √Čamon de Valera, who retired as Ireland’s president at the age of 90 in 1973, managed to shape national life and politics for half a century and beyond, until they in turn were peacefully supplanted by a very different, more Europe-centred Irish generation.

As Foster crucially argues, these young revolutionaries of the early 20th century were in revolt not just against the British government – the traditional nationalist narrative – but against the previous generation of Irish nationalists too. The active 1916 generation tended to be urban not rural people, for whom religion was not always a defining characteristic. They often came from comfortable, and in some cases privileged, backgrounds. A significant proportion were in white-collar jobs: teachers, writers and civil servants. Several wrote poems. But they had a common revolutionary awakening, and the first world war presented them with a shared opportunity, which they grasped.

In Foster’s account, the revolutionary generation underwent a crucial change of mentality in the years before 1916. Foster calls it “the quiet revolution in the hearts and minds of young middle-class Irish people from the 1890s onwards.” One, the well-born Muriel MacSwiney, and by then 28-year-old widow of the hunger-striker mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney, put it this way in 1920: “You see, my parents are not quite like myself. I think I am rather characteristic of a certain section in Ireland. The younger people of Ireland have been thinking in a way that some of the older ones have not.”

These young radicals were alienated not just from British rule but also from the values, lifestyles and ambitions of their parents. They disliked the forms of schooling, entertainment, writing and politics of the previous generation. They rejected the powerful established alternative offered by the constitutional Home Rule party under John Redmond, which in 1912 it appeared to be on the verge of delivering. By that time, the new generation was hungry for something more than that.

Fast-forward to the present day and look around. Are there modern signs of a generation impatient of the political past and hungry for something new? True, there is no mass European war taking place today, as there was then. True also, there is a total absence, with the exception of Islamist jihadism, of the belief in politically motivated violence that marked 1916. And true, in addition, there have been other generational revolts since the early 20th century that have been absorbed, including ones in Britain in the 1930s and 1960s.

Ask yourself nevertheless whether Britain today is marked by generational political ruptures that in small ways echo aspects of the Irish nationalist revolutionary experience of the last century as described by Foster and the broad answer, without pushing the parallels too far or too crudely, is surely yes. Those ruptures are particularly striking in the onward march of Scotland’s nationalist movement. In some very different ways, they are also discernible in England, in the rise of phenomena as apparently diverse as Ukip, Occupy and homegrown jihadism, and in the juvenile culture of Russell Brand’s narcissistic anti-politics.

No one who spent time in Scotland during the referendum campaign was in any doubt that they were witnessing something new. Partly, this sense of a generational break was magnified by the strength of pro-independence feeling on social media, all of which tended to reflect itself to itself with ever growing excitement. But the sense of a gathering generational rejection of past Scottish politics was palpable. And the defeat of independence seems barely to have slowed it. The sometimes malign incompetence of the victors may have fuelled it even more.

The figures show we are in new generational political territory now. Young voters clearly opted for independence in Scotland. The strongest pro-independence showing in the referendum was among voters in their late 20s and their 30s – which happens to be precisely the same generation that made Ireland’s break with the past a century ago.

It is not yet clear whether the surge in Scottish National party membership since the referendum – the SNP has more than tripled in size in the five weeks since 18 September – also reflects a surge of younger-voter support. But it may well also be the case. A TNS Scotland poll last week suggested 16- to 34-year-olds were twice as likely to expect to become more involved in politics in the future as Scots aged over 55.

This is emphatically not in any way to imply that the pro-independence movement is about to head off down the revolutionary blood-sacrifice road that the Irish nationalist movement once took so dramatically. But it does begin to feel as though a decisive break between generations is taking place in its own way all the same.

This time, in Scotland, it is potentially a break with devolution, with the traditional parties – Labour in particular – and with Britishness. It also seems inevitable in many minds, rather as it did to the Irish people who spurned Redmond’s party long ago. The insensitive stupidity of the official government reaction, though fortunately not as brutal as in 1916, is yet another echo. We may not be witnessing the birth of the terrible beauty that WB Yeats saw a century ago and on which Foster writes so compellingly. Yet under the pressure of generational change, our politics is stumbling, miserable, uncomprehending and barely self-aware, into a new form that, compared with even the recent past, has changed, changed utterly.

Performance Pay

I'm not sure what performance bonus, if any, Iris Wylie received in 2013/14 as head of human resources in North Lanarkshire Council.  

But if Iris Wylie received a single penny it would be completely unjustified and a disgrace, if you ask me.

Because how can North Lanarkshire possibly believe it's right to reward senior managers with big bonus payments when the Council has made such a mess of equal pay?

A mess that council officials have been forced to admit at the ongoing Employment Tribunal in Glasgow although, as yet, no one has accepted responsibility or been held to account for a series on 'errors' and 'mistakes' in scoring and grading thousands of low paid jobs, including those of Home Care workers. 

Now North Lanarkshire's web site (see extract below) says that 21 chief officers outside the senior management team receive a performance bonus of between £4,684.68 and £9,485.11 which comes to between £98,378.28 and £199.187.31 a year.

What must other Council workers think, especially those still fighting for equal pay?

Other chief officers
Individual service delivery within each directorate is the responsibility of a Head of Service. There were 24* Heads of Service whose salaries in 2013/14 ranged between £17,076.98 and £94,580.19 plus performance-related pay between £4,684.68 and £9,485.11. The expenses reimbursed for this group in 2013/14 totals £1,245.65.
*There are 21 Head of Service posts but, due to promotion and retirement, a total of 24 people filled these posts in 2013/14.

North Lanarkshire Council (15 September 2014)

A number of readers have been in touch to ask if there is any further progress in the settlement talks with North Lanarkshire Council (NLC).

Well the current position is that discussions are still going on behind the scenes, but I am increasingly pessimistic that that these talks will produce a satisfactory outcome.

I suspect the reason that things are dragging on for so long is that the Council is still trying to undervalue many female dominated jobs even though North Lanarkshire has been forced to concede that so many of these jobs (e.g. the Home Carers) have been incorrectly 'scored' under the NLC job evaluation scheme. 

So, my view is that these cases will all be heading back to the Employment Tribunal where senior council managers, such as the head of human resources Iris Wylie, will have to face the QC who has been acting for the Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) clients, Daphne Romney.

Now I think it's fair to say that Daphne Romney has torn the Council's 'defence' apart and that's before she's had the opportunity to cross examine key figures such as Iris Wylie, who have an awful lot of explaining to do when they finally get into the witness box.

For example: 
  1. Who was responsible for committing all the 'mistakes' and 'errors' over the Council's job evaluation scheme (JES)? 
  2. How is it possible that so many 'mistakes' and 'errors' were made in scoring Home Carers' jobs, to name just one group.
  3. Why did the Council deny there was anything wrong for so many years and why has no one at a senior level been held to account?
  4. How did vital pay information regarding the JES go missing, why was there no back up of this data and who within the Council is responsible for what happened?
  5. How can anyone have confidence in the Council's ability to put things right when essentially the same group of senior officials are still in charge?
Maybe the best thing would be to call the Council's chief executive as a witness to the Employment Tribunal as well because the buck has to stop somewhere and Gavin Whitefield is head of the paid service in North Lanarkshire with a salary of £136,473 plus a 'performance' bonus of £11,039.20  

Performance Pay (1 September 2014)

Gavin Whitefield
Gavin Whitefield CBE, Chief Executive
The Chief Executive within North Lanarkshire is the council's chief policy advisor. He is the main link between council officials and elected members. He is responsible for corporate governance and seeks to ensure the co-ordination of the organisation and all its functions. Of primary concern to the Chief Executive is the overall direction and performance of the council.
Salary 2012/13: £136,473 (plus performance-related pay of £11,039.20
Good to Talk (15 March 2014)

Iris Wylie, as the North Lanarkshire's Head of Personnel, is one of the key figures in what has been going on within the Council in recent years - in terms of Single Status, Equal Pay and Job Evaluation.

As I've pointed out to readers in previous posts, Iris Wylie is well connected in terms of the politics of equal pay, having previously been the partner of Mike Kirby, the long-time convener of Unison in Scotland and now the union's regional secretary. 

Now I don't know if Iris and Mike are still on speaking terms, but what I do know is that the situation is North Lanarkshire Council is a disgrace, if you ask me, and that someone, somewhere must surely accept responsibility for the complete hash the Council has managed to make of things.

As ever, I am prepared to let bygones be bygones, for the greater good so to speak, because the important issue now is the shabby way the Council's low paid workers (mainly women of course) have been treated, and how that situation is going to be put right.

So if Iris Wylie and/or Mike Kirby would like to meet up with me to see what can be done, then I for one would be happy do so - I'm sure it would be good to talk even after all these years.     

Small World (1 April 2012)

I asked readers in North Lanarkshire for help the other day.

I wanted to know if people could help trace the background to the controversial North Lanarkshire Council bonus scheme - which has hit the newspaper headlines recently.

The one that seems to be restricted to only the most senior and highly paid officials - as far as anyone knows.

I asked readers if a reference (HR/IW) on the previously secret document - which has been dragged out of the council via an FOI request - might provide a clue.

Since then readers' suggestions have been flying in by e-mail and they all point in the same direction - that HR stands for Human Resources - and that IW stands for Iris Wylie, the council's Head of Human Resources.

Now that would make sense - why didn't I think of it before?

Because the name Iris Wylie is on the list as receiving a top-up or bonus payment of £5,758.56 - and HR is the obvious area of the council from which to seek advice on pay issues.

So who knows for sure? 

Maybe the council will explain the background properly and publicly - or maybe Iris Wylie will get in touch directly and fill in some of the the gaps in people's knowledge - which I'm happy to publish on the blog site.

I first met Iris Wylie years ago - but haven't seen her in the flesh for some time.

The last occasion I remember seeing Iris was at the Scottish TUC in Glasgow in 1999 - when she was 'stepping out' - so to speak - with the Scottish Convener of Unison, Mike Kirby.

Mike has since moved on from his role as convener and stepped up - so to speak - to become the union's regional secretary in Scotland - a full-time paid official in other words. 

Iris and Mike are both mentioned in a previous post to the blog site - one of the earliest posts in fact - going all the way back to April 2007. 

So it all just goes to show what a small world it really is - though that doesn't help to explain why a Labour council - yes a Labour council - would introduce a secret incentive pay scheme - or a bonus scheme for those at the top, as I think it should be called.

Especially one that rewards only the most senior council officials - and appears to exclude the vast majority of the workforce - many of whom are very low paid of course - and many of whom are still fighting for equal pay.

No wonder people are so cynical about politics and politicans these days - and that includes the politics of local government.

Labour in Freefall

I missed the opinion poll highlighted in this article by Bill Jamieson in The Scotsman, but the Scottish  Labour Party's standing at only 19% doesn't surprise me in the least.

Because on the big issues, the issues that really count, like equal pay Scottish Labour MPs and MSPs have failed to stand up and be counted; just like the trade unions they looked the other way and decided not to criticise the behaviour of Labour controlled councils who had been paying women workers less, much less, than their male colleagues for years.

And now all these chickens are coming home to roost which helps to explain why the Scottish Labour Party is doing so badly in the opinion polls.

Bill Jamieson: The first chapter in book of Ruth?

Ruth Davidson s Scottish Tories overtook Labour in one poll. It could be start of a trend. Picture: John Devlin

By BILL JAMIESON - The Scotsman

Clamour for more powers suggests over-55s will be soaked for tax, driving an odd renaissance, writes Bill Jamieson

Of all the stories you never thought you would read in Scotland, here’s one this week you had to read twice because you couldn’t believe it the first time: “Polls show Tories ahead of Labour in Scotland.”

Have we travelled back in a time-warp? Is Anthony Eden still prime minister?

But here it is: the Conservatives have pulled ahead of Labour in Scotland. A YouGov survey puts the Conservatives on 20 per cent, Labour on 19 per cent with the Liberal Democrats on 9 per cent and “others” (and boy, some “others”) including the Scottish National Party on 41 per cent.

If the Conservative vote in Scotland overtakes Labour in the Westminster election next year, it will be the first time since the 1950s: a halcyon era when steam trains pulled into Waverley, Morris Minors tootled along uncluttered roads and the White Heather Club reigned supreme.

Every sinew of our disbelief kicks in early on a story like this. It’s a rogue poll with a tiny sample. It was held in a pub. It’s confined to Scottish Field readers in Dumfries and Galloway. Clients of Savills got multiple votes.

Even with all this, 20 per cent barely signifies as a “revival” of Conservative fortunes. It’s barely a beginning. Even if all these caveats hold good, is this really a story of Conservative renaissance, or another sign of a collapsing Scottish Labour vote? Support for the Scottish Tories needs only to mark time for the gap between it and slumping Labour support to narrow dramatically.

Johann Lamont’s problem is far more to do with Labour’s haemorrhaging of support to the SNP. But this may be to repeat the error of some of the polls during the independence referendum campaign: an under-estimation of the voting intentions of No supporters.

Indeed, it may be evidence of a growing apprehension as to where the clamour for “more powers” is leading us, who is likely to emerge the victors – and who the losers.

Scotland has no lack of left-of-centre parties. The SNP proclaims itself left-of-centre. Labour was long the dominant left-of-centre party. In response to the dramatic decline in its support, shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran wants to take it more to the Left.

The Liberal Democrats are a left-of-centre party, keen on a mansion tax and income redistribution. So, too, are the Greens, whose MSP Patrick Harvie never tires of proclaiming “those with the broadest shoulders should bear more of the burden”.

And then there are far-left shavings and slivers and loose chippings: the Scottish Socialist Party, Common Weal, the George Galloways and Tommy Sheridans: Left as Left can be. Little wonder that “those with the broadest shoulders” and those aspiring to broader shoulders as retirement approaches may be increasingly apprehensive as to where the clamour for “more powers” may take us.

Bear in mind that the number of taxpayers qualifying to pay the 50p top rate in 2010 was just 13,000 and that, according to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland, “another 10 per cent on the top rate might raise about £240 million or less than 0.4 per cent of public spending”. Given this, any shoulder fractionally larger than average will be “broad”.

These apprehensions have been sharpened by the proposed new land and buildings transactions tax under which middle-income households will face swingeing increases in the cost of house purchase. Anyone buying an average family house in Edinburgh costing around £363,000 will be paying £13,600 in tax under the new system – 25 per cent more than they would have paid in stamp duty. The estimated collections are £558m in 2015-16, compared with the total collections of £472m for stamp duty in the 2013 Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland report.

All this suggests a worrying direction of travel by an administration now demanding powers over inheritance tax, capital gains tax and, note well, “other taxes on income and wealth”.

According to consultants BDO, “it is the first political salvo in the taxation battle between Holyrood and Westminster and sends a clear signal that future devolved Scottish tax powers will be used to help those in the lower income bracket at the expense of the more affluent”.

Now comes a fall in the price of oil, which figured so prominently in the SNP’s budget and spending plans. According to Fiscal Affairs Scotland this week, a big gap has opened up between projected Scottish Government oil revenues and reality, with Scotland under fiscal autonomy facing a £5 billion shortfall.

And who might be called upon to make up this gap? Those “with the broadest shoulders” tend in the main to be older voters – those building pension savings for retirement. Figures on “wealth inequality” do not make adjustment for those seeking to amass capital for a post-working life period which now extends to 20 years and more.

How telling that some 73 per cent of over-65s are reckoned to have voted against independence. They seldom featured in those raucous TV debates or featured much in “vox pop” TV interviews in the course of the campaign.

There is a widespread belief among independence supporters that victory will in time be theirs once this older cohort has died off. If this is the grand strategy of the devo-max advocates, a shock lies in store. In Scotland, those 55 and over already represent 36 per cent of the voting population. And the population is getting older. According to the National Register Office for Scotland the number of people aged 65 and over will rise by 59 per cent, from 0.93 million to 1.47 million by 2037. And it is the most elderly age groups that are projected to increase most dramatically.

As people age, their concerns change. They become more conscious and concerned about their lifetime savings and their pensions to see them through retirement.

Many are apprehensive about leaving themselves dependent on the basic state pension. So they carefully accumulate savings. As a result, they have potentially more to lose in a radical upheaval that could affect the safety and stability of those nest eggs. Who represents them to Lord Smith’s Commission?

Never forget that the quiet, reticent and retired – semi- or otherwise – also have a vote. They have – in the lurid lexicon of policy wonks – “more skin in the game”. And – a small point perhaps – they might not quite care to back a cause that is eagerly counting on their early demise.

They certainly have reason for concern as to where the combination of “more powers” and a left-of-centre Holyrood parliament may lead. It is not fanciful to see a return of many previous Conservative voters who voted tactically SNP in 2007 and 2011 returning to the Tory fold next year.

There are votes to be gathered – those who are not part of the left-of-centre media and political nexus and anxious to avoid being caught in the tax thresher thundering towards them. They may for safety opt to lean another way. Enter right, Ruth Davidson: Harvester Girl of Forgotten Scotland?

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.