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Prison officer union votes to reject union

Prison officers in Scotland have voted to reject remaining as part of the UK following a debate at their annual conference.

Members of the Prison Officers Association of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to separate from the UK following a debate at their annual conference at the MacDonald Cardrona Hotel in Peebles.

It is thought to be among the first – if not the first – union in the country to back independence in the referendum due to take place in autumn 2014.

Andy Hogg, assistant general secretary of POAS, stressed the vote was only “indicative” as it involved branch delegates and not all members of the union.

But he said: “At some point unions will have to take a view so we put the proposition ‘Scotland would be better off under the UK’ up for debate.

“We don’t have a party political affiliation but it was a good debate and the delegates ended up rejecting the proposition. It was something like 90 per cent against.

“We had 17 branches represented with 34 delegates.” Hogg said the standard of the debate was high and featured SNP MSP Christine Grahame against the proposition and Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald in favour.

He said members were deeply concerned about the current effects of Westminster policies on pensions, the Civil Service pay freeze and retirement ages.

“It was a well-received debate but there were some serious issues coming to the fore that members have in relation to pensions.

“UK legislation controls that area because prison officers are covered under the Civil Service pensions policy. It makes it really difficult to get support from the Scottish Government.

And he said: “We should be retiring at 60 but we’re facing the prospect of retiring at 68 – that’s just not workable in a prison environment.

“With pensions we are paying a contribution over the next three years of five per cent, which amounts to a cut in earnings because of the pay freeze.

“Our guys are finding it increasingly hard to manage with less disposable income and rising bills.”

Hogg did admit, however, there were “no guarantees” that life in an independent Scotland would be better.

But he said: “We would have a Scottish Civil Service rather than a UK Civil Service which would empower us to address these issues.” He said also members would prefer the two private prisons – Addiewell and Kilmarnock – to be brought back within the public realm.

Lewis Macdonald said: “It was a very enjoyable, lively debate that reminded me very much of the old-fashioned hustings. I’m not quibbling over their figures, as it was their event, but it did look to me as though quite a lot of people didn’t take part.

“However I do look forward to being invited back in a couple of years time when there may well be an opportunity to debate some of the longer-term political consequences [of a yes vote].”