Scotland

General News, Articles and Information from The POA North of the Border:

19.12.2013

The Scottish Annual Conference

Conference doesn’t just happen. It isn’t something that just falls into place each year or gets lifted out of a box every October ready to roll out all over again. I may be biased, but I genuinely believe we put on a very efficient and professional conference every year, that sets a consistently high standard while still managing to inject some differences in each year to keep it fresh and enjoyable for all who attend.

This year was no different and there are some people who are almost entirely responsible for its success in terms of the planning and organisation; It took Kathryn and Lorraine, on a job-share basis months to put together nearly the entire conference programme that the rest of us have the luxury of taking for granted. What is not so well known is just how much of that is done in their own time and on occasions at their own expense. While the committee may discuss and decide who to invite as speakers etc, or have some view on format or entertainment, the reality is that the actual organisation and arranging that goes into making these things happen all fall on the shoulders of two people, and they never let us down. (Of course I could be accused of being biased there too!)

Once Conference is up and running they are ably assisted in making sure things happen when they should, that people are picked up and dropped off, that our guests are looked after all the time they are in attendance, and that conference hall procedures all happen on time and efficiently, by our team of stewards. Martyn has been head steward for many years, but he has a very able and now experienced group of stewards who work incredibly hard at Conference, even at the times when the rest of us are able to relax and unwind. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all once again, on behalf of everyone who attends Conference, for all that they give of their time, and for the level of commitment they show to make sure it is a success year after year.

Excellent debates

Regarding the Conference itself, I would like to say well done to the delegates for their conduct and contribution throughout the Conference, and in shaping the agenda for us to follow for the next 12 months. I was particularly pleased to see we had several new delegates here for the first time, and some who felt able to contribute to the debates, which is never easy. There were some excellent debates and contributions from delegates and SNC members alike, and some very important decisions taken that could have a lasting impact on the future direction of our members.

Motion 12

The biggest talking point of course was the passing of Motion 12, in support of the “Yes” campaign. That in itself is a headline grabber; in that we were the first Union in Scotland to publicly declare support, but what is often lost in the headline for the general membership are the reasons and rationale for taking that path. Now that we have had the debate, I can hopefully shed some more light on that for those who were not at Conference, without fear of being accused of seeking to influence the outcome.

Working for members

For the last few years, the members in Scotland have come to Conference and mandated us to “do all within our powers” to affect change in relation to the retirement age of prison officers and to continue the campaign over our pensions. We have been asked to applaud and acknowledge the SNP/ Scottish Government over their commitment to prisons remaining in the public sector, and their public condemnation over Westminster decisions relating to our pensions. In that time we have endeavoured to do all of those things you asked of us. We held a debate at last year’s conference with party reps from the SNP, SSP, Labour and the Tories. In that debate all of them were given the opportunity to explain whether they believed we would be better served under the United Kingdom, or in an independent Scotland. Critical for us was that neither of the Westminster parties gave a single crumb of hope in relation to our pensions, or in relation to prisons remaining within the public sector. They offered nothing that convinced the delegates that we would in fact be better served within a United Kingdom, and that was reflected in the informal vote taken at the end of the debate.

Throughout the period leading up to last year’s conference, and in fact ever since, we have been continuing to work away in the background trying to secure some movement or commitment on these issues on your behalf, you would expect no less. In that time we have managed to secure a very public commitment from the Scottish Government that included us in their White Paper on pensions and describing us as uniformed services.

Further, we have a letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill that is crystal clear; 68 is too late for prison officers, and that if and when his government is in possession of the powers to amend that, he will instruct the SPS to sit down with us to negotiate the change to our retirement age. Let me be clear with you now. Our position in those negotiations is not to seek some sort of compromise reduction in the retirement age for officers; it is the return of what was taken from us by Westminster. For us, this campaign has never been about anything else.

The Yes campaign

Colleagues, support for the Yes campaign is not the trade-off, or somehow the price that is required to be paid. The only single door being opened to us is by the Scottish Government. They have given us a firm commitment on prisons being in the public sector, along with the same commitment to public services generally. Crucially, they have recognised the complete madness of expecting prison officers to be walking galleries at 68 and are committed to changing that.

In light of all of that and bearing in mind the mandate you gave us, what other decision could we as a membership reasonably take? Pensions were consistently described as the biggest single issue facing our membership, and we were left in no doubt that we were expected to make some headway in affecting change. We were never told that it was conditional on who was offering the hope to our membership.

Support for the campaign as I said, was not the price. It was simply the avenue required to remove the barrier that allows the one and only government who is listening and responding to our membership to bring about the changes we told them we wanted. I am delighted that Conference recognised the logic of that, and we will spend the next 11 months trying to make sure our voice is heard loud and clear as Scotland makes the biggest political decision of its last 300 plus years of history.

At its conclusion and depending on the referendum outcome, we will then immediately set about bringing about the changes that for us were key to offering our support.

Malky Still Memorial award

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Del Shannon from Peterhead on receiving the Malky Still Memorial Award at this year’s Conference. It has been several years since we have given this award, and it came as a bit of a surprise to all in attendance, not just to Del!

Mick Grattan presented the trophy, and I think we would all agree that it has gone to a very worthy recipient. It was a particularly poignant day as three of Malky’s kids were in attendance to witness the presentation for the first time since he passed away ten years ago. It was incredibly emotional for all, and I can only offer my apologies to everyone for allowing the emotion of the event get in the road of saying all I wanted to say about a fantastic previous Vice Chair, and a very good friend. He was that to many in the room, and it was lovely to meet his kids and see what fi ne young adults they have become.

Although Malky and Del are entirely different people in personality, they both share some of the real strengths, attitudes and commitment that make both of their contributions worthy of recognition. Malky and Del both knew each other very well, and Malky would have been delighted to see Del Shannon being given the award in his name.

HMP Peterhead and HMP Aberdeen

The timing of the award coincided with the last Conference that we will have branch representation from both HMP Peterhead and HMP Aberdeen. We will be joined at next year’s conference by our new branch, HMP Grampian.

Both Del Shannon from Peterhead, and Karen Ewen from Aberdeen took the opportunity to say their farewells to Conference on behalf of their branches. They both did so with great pride and dignity and were a credit to both the staff group within the branches. On behalf of Conference and the SNC, we would like to wish the members from both establishments all the very best for the future, whether they are moving on to HMP Grampian, or to pastures new.

Phil Fairlie
Chairman SNC