Town’s MP says he backs Trident at Cumbernauld Town Hall PCS #IndyRef meeting

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 16:12 on 10 September 2014.
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Mr McClymont at the meeting.                                                                                                                                                                                          Picture: Cumbernauld Media.

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SOME forty members of the Public and Commercial Services union turned out at Cumbernauld New Town Hall earlier last month to hear the cases being made by both the pro-union ‘Better Together’ campaign and the pro-independence ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign. 

On the panel for the evening’s debate were Gregg McClymont, Labour MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East; Jamie Hepburn, SNP MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth; John Davidson from the Radical Independence campaign; and, John Foster from the Red Paper Collective.

Kicking off at 6pm, in the Craigieburn Suite of Cumbernauld New Town Hall, the event was chaired by a senior figure from the National Executive Committee of PCS Scotland, and covered a wide range of issues surrounding the debate over whether Scotland should be an independent country. 

Amongst the issues to be brought to the floor, matters such as the privatisation of the post-room in the HMRC Accounts Office, in Cumbernauld; the Cumbernauld Theatre debate with Tommy Sheridan; currency; inequality and social justice; and the European Union were discussed. 

Locally, PCS represents some 1,400 members of staff at Cumbernauld Tax Office, at the HMRC site on St. Mungo’s Road. The site is the town’s largest employer, and speculation over its future has featured heavily in the last few weeks of the independence debate. 

At the top of the meeting last month, the issue surrounding the proposed privatisation of the post-room at Cumbernauld Tax Office – which would affect some 40 jobs, was the hot button topic. In responding to the matter, Mr McClymont said: “ I’m aware of this matter, and I have also raised it in parliament.” He said however that a Labour Government, at Westminster, would ensure that no jobs were outsourced.

A member of the audience was not pleased with Mr McClymont’s response and lambasted the Labour man’s stance. 

She told McClymont that “workers’ rights have slowly been dissolved as part of the United Kingdom. Independence offers us an opportunity to change that, and progress the rights of the working man and women – all the while the UK seems to be going back to 100 years ago.”

McClymont was however defiant and asked the female union member: “If we believe that Scotland is a progressive place then why do we have a council tax freeze?”

Soon thereafter, the discussion turned towards the existing devolution settlement, and the pledge of more powers for the Scottish Parliament in the event that Scots back independence in this month’s referendum.

Cumbernauld’s MP was the first to make his point. He said that the Scottish Parliament had “worked well” since it was reconvened in 1999. The Shadow Work and Pensions Minister described the Parliament as a “substantial body”, which is due to have its powers “increased from 2016 onwards, with the devolution of further powers on tax.” 

After a discussion on the Scottish Parliament, matters soon returned to the future of Cumbernauld Tax Office; John Davidson from the Radical Independence campaign was very defensive of tax office workers – being one himself, in East Kilbride.

Mr Davidson said: “Britain is effectively offering a low pay, low wage economy; and, under the UK Government some 2,000 HMRC jobs have already been lost in Scotland – and, let’s not forget, one tax worker brings in around 30 times more than they earn.” He claimed that independence could protect tax office jobs, stressing that an independent Scotland would need its own tax collection system, and thus tax offices and workers. 

John Foster, from the Red Paper Collective, however, was more cynical. The anti-independence campaigner claimed that the “SNP aren’t coming clean on independence”. Foster said that the Scottish Government “can’t run away from the key questions”.

He added: “The deficit would be higher in a separate Scotland, and we would have to find a way to deal with this – and, in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, this will be the first thing that we will have to deal with.”

Mr McClymont, however, claimed that independence could cost the jobs of hundreds, if not thousands of tax office workers; citing figures which say that Scotland has more tax office workers, as part of the UK, than its GDP share.

Turning the issue towards strike action and Trident, Mr McClymont stated outright: “I believe in nuclear weapons”, while Mr Hepburn – Cumbernauld’s SNP MSP lambasted the MP’s viewpoint, and told the audience that he “deplored” nuclear weapons, suggesting that independence would be a way of getting rid of Trident. 

Asked whether either or both Mr McClymont and Mr Hepburn would straddle the next picket line to be arranged at HMRC Cumbernauld Tax Office, Mr Hepburn said yes, while Mr McClymont cautiously said, “I don’t rule out coming to the picket line. I look at every issue on the matter, and it would depend on the issue(s) surrounding the strike.”

Towards the end of the meeting, Jamie Hepburn – Cumbernauld and Kilsyth’s constituency Member of the Scottish Parliament had the last words.

Responding to comments made by Mr McClymont, that breaking away from the United Kingdom would be a major step backwards for social justice, the Nationalist MSP told audience members: “It’s peculiar that social solidarity relies on borders – does it end at Dover?”

He added: “I can’t stand to hear that ‘we are better together’, and that we have the ‘best of both worlds. Try telling that to the 85,000 Scottish families affected by the bedroom tax; or, the thousands queuing at food-banks. It’s utter rubbish.”

Scots will go the polls on Thursday 18th September, and answer the straightforward ‘Yes/ No’ question, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’
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