“Do not find yourselves on the sidelines of history” - Margaret Curran at GMB Congress 2014

Thank you Mary.


It is a great honour to address your annual conference.

At the outset, let me take the opportunity to pay tribute to your work day in and day out on behalf of working people.

It is a privilege to be invited to address your union.

The trade union that led the campaign for equal pay.

Secured the living wage for local authority workers in Scotland.

Building on the work of the great city of Glasgow.

And, today, is a fighting force in the campaign against blacklisting and exploitation at work.

I am proud to be addressing a union whose best days aren’t behind you, but ahead of you.

Led, in Scotland, by Harry Donaldson.

A man with real influence who commands real respect throughout Scotland.

A great friend and campaigner who I pay tribute to today.

And, friends, let me thank you at the very beginning for your support in the campaign to keep the people of the UK together.

You will know that just a few days ago, President Obama talked about maintaining the unity of the United Kingdom.

Congress, it seems that where Harry Donaldson and Paul Kenny go, President Obama follows.

This union and the people of Scotland understand what is at stake in September.

People know this is a vote like no other.

Our decision is irreversible.

And we are making it, not just for ourselves, but for our children, our grandchildren and for generations to come.

One hundred days from now, people across Scotland will make a decision about our future.

It is a decision that will affect the lives of everyone who lives and works in Scotland.

And the consequences will have a profound effect on the whole of Britain.

We have lived together, worked together for over three hundred years.

We have fought together under the same flag and for the same cause, as we were reminded only last Friday on the anniversary of D-Day.

And, as a Labour movement, we have struggled together against abuses of workers and to improve the rights of everyone who works in this country.

Regardless of whether they are English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish.

You all have a stake and it is right that you have a voice, guided by your membership in Scotland.

The debate we are having isn’t one about whether Scotland could be an independent country.

It is about whether we should be an independent country.

That is the choice we make on 18th September.

This, friends, is a decision we have to make with our eyes wide open.

One that has to be made with all the facts on the table.

During the banking crisis, it was said that the failure of the banks was because of a collective failure of oversight.

That no one asked the right questions.

And when we make decisions without the facts.

When we don’t ask the right questions.

It is too often the people we represent who pay the heaviest price.

And as people today look at their lives and ask questions.

Struggling with the cost of living.

Young people in insecure employment.

Worrying about housing, health and their future.

They increasingly know that separation is not the answer.

Because their interests do not lie in playing one group against another.

One nation against another.

They do not want to see our economic future based on a race to the bottom.

Because let’s look at the facts.

Alex Salmond wants to cut corporation tax.

But he won’t increase taxes for the most well off.

He won’t tax bankers’ bonuses to help young people back to work.

And he won’t stand up to the energy companies to help hard pressed Scots.

No wonder Brian Souter and Willie Walsh support a yes vote.

Because the SNP believe Scotland has to cut taxes to compete.

The logic of their position is that Scotland would have to compete with England and Wales.

Turning our biggest partner into a competitor.

Opening up a real risk of a downward spiral in wages, rights and conditions.

Instead, people across Scotland know that the best future lies in the partnership that allows us to secure and raise common rights for all, as we have in the pact.

Employment protections.

The welfare state.

The National Health Service.

The national minimum wage.

Every one of them, secured “by the strength of our common endeavor” for every man, woman and child in our country.

It didn’t matter that you were English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish.

They were common rights for all.

Those rights not won easily, but delivered by the struggle of the Labour movement.

And that, friends, is what we are putting at risk.

Alex Salmond says he wants more power for Scotland.

But he proposes a currency union that would mean the interest rates Scots pay would be set by the Bank of England.

A foreign bank over which we would have abandoned control.

Friends, don’t let anyone tell you independence is a progressive choice.

And don’t let the SNP say that they can create a progressive beacon.

Because this is a party of Government that just last month rejected the living wage.

That cut 40,000 jobs from the public sector.

One billion pounds from anti-poverty programmes.

And because of their choices, 140,000 of our young people have lost out on a place at college.

So how can independence be a progressive choice?

How can it be?

When it reduces political control over economic decision making.

How can it be?

When it has stripped the ideology out of politics.

And all that matters is being Scottish.

How can it be?

When the most important thing that matters is nationality, not the economic interests you represent.

Congress, let me be clear with you.

I fiercely oppose David Cameron.

Not because he is English.

But because he is a Tory.


The choice that faces the people of Scotland this year is clearer than ever.

If you are tired of an economy that seems to work for the few at the top but not the majority.

The answer is not separation.

It is to say no thanks in September and then say yes to Labour next May.

Labour, under Ed Miliband, is not satisfied with the status quo.

We will take on the vested interests.

We will deliver an end to exploitative zero hours contracts.

An increase in the minimum wage.

An energy price freeze.

People in Scotland don’t need independence for this.

They need a Labour Government.

Because what Scots want are jobs for our young people funded by bankers’ bonuses.

And a 50p tax rate for those earning £150,000 or more.

Because we believe that those with the deepest pockets should pay their fair share when times are tough.

Congress, this is real change.

Not the empty promises of the SNP.

Or the failed ideas of the Tories.

The vote on 18th September is not a test of patriotism or who loves Scotland the most.

For me, the patriotic choice is to vote against separation and to build a stronger Scottish Parliament for the future.

With Labour, we will have a Scottish Parliament with more power over the levers of taxation.

With powers over welfare which means we will never again inflict the bedroom tax on tenants in Scotland.

And more powers to develop our economy and get our people back to work.

Scotland can have the best of both worlds – a stronger Scottish Parliament backed up by the strength and security of the United Kingdom.

Protecting our people.

In good times and in bad.

The best illustration of that is the story of Cathy Murphy.

A member of your own executive in the GMB.

When Cathy fell ill at Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, she was rushed to Broadgreen Hospital.

The consultants there saved her life.

And when she needed long term care.

She carried on receiving it in Liverpool.

No questions, no bureaucracy, no costs.

Because that was her entitlement as a British citizen.

We can still have our own NHS in Scotland.

But the Union between our countries means that when people are in need.

Our NHS doesn’t look to borders within Britain.

And helps not only people like Cathy.

But thousands of others who benefit from transplants or transfusions on a daily basis.

And that is why I believe Scotland should remain part of the UK.

My argument for Scotland remaining part of the UK is based on Labour values of solidarity.

Like the majority of people across Scotland, I believe in sharing our resources across the UK to provide for those in need.

That working people in Glasgow share a common cause with working people in Liverpool.

As do people from Edinburgh to Exeter, and Cardiff to Creiff.

Across the nations of the United Kingdom.

Working people have worked together in trade unions and political alliance to further our interests.

We have achieved great things in the past and we will do so again.

Keir Hardie set up the Scottish Labour Party.

But he went on to form the British Labour Party.

Because he knew working people had to show solidarity with one another.

Our forebears wanted to abolish the Scottish Poor Law and replace it with a British Welfare State to establish standards across Britain that no one could fall below.

And, of course, Mary MacArthur, one of the great inspirations of this union, from Ayrshire in Scotland, helped establish the National Federation of Women Workers, for women across the UK. 

All of this based on the enduring values of the Labour movement.

Looking for what we have in common with each other, not what divides us.

Separating ourselves from poverty and injustice, not from each other.

Congress, it is because of all that we have at stake in this referendum that I praise the leadership shown by the GMB. .

Along with Community, ASLEF, CWU, Usdaw and the NUM you have spoken out about why separation is no good for your members.

You have shown the leadership that trade unions should, and need, to show.

In the great struggles of our time, the trade union movement has always been at the forefront.

Arguing your case.

Standing up for your members.

And making sure that you provide the leadership that people look to you for.

That is what you have always done.

And now, as we stand on the verge of one of the most significant political decisions of our time.

A decision that is a clear choice between progressive values and nationalist values.

It is time for all of us who believe that separation threatens the best interests of working people to speak out.

Do not take the outcome of this vote for granted.

There can be no complacency.

Because this referendum will be won by those who play their part.

It won’t be won in the pages of newspapers, in research reports, or even at conferences like this.

It will be won by the people who get out there and make the arguments.

Who inform the debate and make their views clear.

We are now in the closing stages of this campaign.

And everyone who believes in a no vote needs to stand up and be counted.

I say to people who are thinking about speaking out. 

Do not look back, 101 days from now, and wish that you had made your views known.

Do not be cowed or intimidated.

Do not find yourselves on the sidelines of history.

Others need to follow the GMB’s lead.

You have said clearly why you, and many of your trade union colleagues, support a No vote on September 18th.

It is because you know what generations before you knew.
That we are stronger united, and weaker apart.

And that the best interests of working people are not served by erecting new borders.

Congress, this year we will fight for Labour values.

And use our power together to fight for a better and fairer future.

And we will show again that the interests of working people

Are best served when we stand united.