Business and unions: the bedfellows bankrolling Scottish Labour

In recent years, Scottish Labour has liked to decry the SNP as the party of big business, pointing an indignant finger at the eye-watering donations from Brian Souter.  They personalise the issue of donors and donations in a way no other party does.

So it’s time to turn the tables.  FACT:  Scottish Labour received more donations from businesses and companies in the run up to the Scottish elections than the SNP did.

One of the biggest was the Co-Op, or to be precise, the Friendly Society that is Scottish Midland Co-operative Society.  Known locally as Scotmid, it exists in local communities all over Edinburgh and the Lothians, these supermarkets service the convenience market and those who are too poor, old or disabled to be able to make it out to a bigger store for their weekly shop.  Nice to know that the extra pennies (the convenience premium) they charge on every pint of milk and loaf of bread sold convert to donations totalling £10,000 for Edinburgh and Lothian CLPs.

Here is the full roll of donors and donations, as recorded by the Electoral Commission:

Peoples Ltd donated travel, presumably cars, to the value of £3,993.66;

Moorpost Ltd gave administrative services worth £3,500 (this may in fact have been take away meals as this is Moorpost’s line of business);

ScottishPower plc provided sponsorship in February 2011 to the tune of £2,937.50;

Chivas Brothers Ltd provided more sponsorship worth £2,850.00 – that will be the whisky company in Jackie Baillie’s constitutency which opposed minimum pricing, saying it threatened jobs;

Thompson solicitors donated £2,500 in February 2011 and a further £7,000 in April – the firm that is supporting John Park MSP to draft a member’s bill on the living wage;

Holland House Property Investment Ltd gave £2,000;

G1 Group plc, owners of the Corinthian Club and Ghillie Dhu and many other clubs and pubs, gave £10,000;

Training Initiatives Ltd, based funnily enough in the same building in which Douglas Alexander MP has his constituency office, donated £2,750;

Aldergate Realities, MGN Ltd, which appear to be based in Nottingham; Oakford Farms Ltd which are located in Essex and GVA Grimley Lt, a property consultancy with its head office in London – all donated £2,000 each.  What was that about folk donating to elections they don’t have a vote in again?

Digby Brown solicitors in Edinburgh gave £2,000;

And lookie here, what’s this?  a donation from a bus group!  The £,2000 from First Group plc is ridiculously small beer compared to Souter’s wads.  But his donations are from his personal wealth, which I do acknowledge was gained from the cut-throat and rather unpleasant world of the de-regulated bus market.  But here is a company which has also benefited from the privatisation of bus and train routes donating profit to Scottish Labour.  It isn’t the first donation either, and they have also received personal ones from its former Chief Executive, “Sir” Moir Lockhead.  Gosh, doesn’t this all sound very familiar?  What’s that you say about people in glass houses?  Quite.

You want another odd one?  Okay, how about £2,400 donated by Law Society of Scotland Services Ltd.  That’s right, the body which purports to “lead and support a successful and respected Scottish legal profession” wanted Labour to win the last election and was prepared to fund it to do so.  I wonder if it consulted all its members before deciding to donate?

ADDENDUM:  Ian Smart, former President of the Law Society points out that it sponsored events for each of the party conferences and as he rightly points out, that should show in their recorded donations – Labour did not get anything different from any of the others is his point.  Yet, the Electoral Commission entry does state that Labour’s was a cash donation, so I have encouraged him to check and follow up with the Commission.

The amounts are pretty trifling, particularly when weighed against the costs of an election campaign, but it is the principle and the actuality that counts.  And according to the donations declared to the Electoral Commission for the first six months of this year, Labour had considerably more financial backers from business than the SNP.

However, it remains the case, that at UK, Scottish and local level, trade unions are still Labour’s biggest financiers.  Indeed, should the unions ever shun, either voluntarily or by changes to the rules, its support for the supposed party of the “working man” (sic),  Labour would be stuffed.  Here’s what different trade unions donated to their comrades in Scottish constituency parties or to the Scottish party generally between January and June 2011:

ASLEF  (train drivers and engineering personnel)  £6,000

Communication Workers’ Union (the posties) £11,000 approx

UNISON (public sector mainly) £16,600

COMMUNITY (manufacturing sector mainly) £27,200 and an additional £4,000 approximately in sponsorship and auction prizes

GMB (mainly manual and lower skilled workers ie the ones who tend to be lowest paid) £114,000 and it also donated £4,348 in staff costs

RMT (rail workers and seamen) £2,000

UCATT (specialist construction workers) £6,000

USDAW (shop workers)  £42, 800

UNITE  (the biggest union in Britain)  £94,500

Transport Salaried Staff Association  £4,000

Ultimately, all of us – businesses, unions and individuals – are free to give our money to causes which we share and deem appropriate.  But it is the hypocrisy and lack of transparency that bothers me.  The audit trail shows quite clearly that Scottish Labour is more beholden to business than the SNP is, but it does not stop the puerile taunting and jeering.

As for the union money?  Well, it’s one reason I opt out, for I don’t believe any union money should go to fund any political party.  But aside from the likes of John Park MSP, who takes his union antecedents with him into the Parliament and focuses on issues that matter to union members like training, skills and the living wage, I think Scotland’s union members might be entitled to question what they get for their bankrolling.  What does Labour do for them that they cannot get from the SNP these days?


37 thoughts on “Business and unions: the bedfellows bankrolling Scottish Labour

  1. Dear Ms Burd,
    As a member of a cooperative society (not Scotmid), is there any way to influence their political donations so they are less partisan?

  2. I see how you work now Burdz, you just censor any reply to your opinion that does not agree with you, probably including this one. Do you post from North Korea? Or perhaps you work at The Scotsman? Same thing really. Forgive me if I decline further opportunities to read your stuff.

    • I think you’ll find I have quite a laissez faire approach to comments and their content but when folk start personalising their comments, being pejorative and abusive, then I will stop that. It’s my blog, see, my rules. And frankly, nae loss. I write for me, not you. You want a space in which to make offensive remarks about people, go start your own blog. I promise not to visit.

  3. Does anyone else find the threading here hard to follow?

    I am a meat and potatoes -most recent comment first – but this is more like sushi.

  4. How many deaths has the failure to re-regulate buses been implicated in?

    More or fewer than when Labour backtracked on a ban on tobacco advertising in F1 coincidentally just after Bernie Ecclestone bunged them a million quid?

    • RevStu,

      Fascinating that that is what you recall about the Blair regieme. I tend to recall illegal wars, but I expect we are all different.

      • That’s not what I chiefly recall about the Blair regime. For me it was chiefly about the massive destruction of civil liberties and the creation of thousands of new crimes, but I struggle to form much of a connection between that and the ethics of donations from businessmen – which is what we’re talking about here – so I went for a relevant comparison.

  5. Ré John Ruddys’ comments about Unite.

    Would I be correct in thinking that the votes that he refers to as being taken regularily are UK wide votes? In other words are we not comparing apples to oranges here. It is hardly likely that the Scottish collie could sway the English Bulldog from it’s exclusive affection for Labour, is it?

    I’d assume that all UK wide unions take a UK-wide approach to their membership, “one for one and one for all” and all of that, but I’ll be happy to learn otherwise.

    • Actually, as I thought I had made clear, my comments are about UNISON, not Unite. Shows how much you must have read them.

      As it happens, UNISON-Scotland also has its own votes on the link, and takes those proposals to main conference… but why let facts get in the way of a good rant against Labour?

      • Dear John Ruddy,

        It matters not a toss whether you were defending Unison or Unite. What matters is how small a voice their Scottish contingent may have. It is clear from your reply that the answer is ‘not a lot’ and you are content with that.

        Thanks, John Ruddy, unionist trade unionist of this parish. And a man who admires traditionalist structures. And who thinks criticism of your ideas constitutes a ‘rant’.

        I do wonder why no-one takes trade unionistas particularily seriously any more?

        Oh! It might be because they are a hundred years out of date?

  6. The thing that disgusts me is the trade unions giving money to a right-wing party that couldn’t give a monkey’s about them.

    They are clearly as corrupt a hegemony as the hegemony they help finance.

    • Perhaps you would care to read my comment below as to how UNISON sends its money to Labour. You have to opt in – so presumably those union members whose money goes to Labour are happy to do so in the full knowledge of Labour’s policies.

      Or maybe they should donate to a party or refused to increase protection for shop workers attacked at work?

      • I hope the Burd will excuse me but some people ignore how right wing their party is.

        Tartan Tories.

      • I’d not seen that! Thanks for sharing and really interesting. To go off topic – it’s my blog, I’ll do as I please – does make you wonder why the Greens distance themselves from the SNP a lot of the time!

      • Labour’s actions back up the theory, too. There’s a question I’ve often asked Labour activists, and never had an answer to:

        “If you’re genuinely left-wing, why would you rather see Scotland governed by the Tories for roughly six years out of every 10, rather than the 0 out of every 10 that would be the case in an independent Scotland?”

        It’s not concern for the rest of the UK, because contrary to popular myth Labour DOESN’T need Scottish (or Welsh) MPs to win UK majorities – all three of Tony Blair’s election victories would have provided comfortable majorities on English votes alone. And it can’t possibly be fear of a resurgent Scottish Conservatives, because that brand is so poisonous the party’s prospective new leader wants to wipe it from the face of history.

        So why does “Scottish Labour” insist on condemning Scotland to needless Tory governments? Perhaps Mr Ruddy could have a go at explaining it to us now, though I won’t hold my breath based on past experience.

      • And as I have often asked you, RevStu, how can you guarantee the tories wont be elected in an independent scotland? You cant.

        This is the sort of “beggar my neighbour” politics we have coe to expect from some on the nationalist side of the argument – I want to see all the UK with a Labour Government, whilst nationalists like RevStu couldnt care less what happens to England, just so long as he gets what he wants.

        Thats just plain selfish.

        Having a strong Labour Government in Scotland will show that we can govern responsibly, deliver policies that work for the people, and mean that people in England wont be able to be scared off of voting Labour as they did in the 80’s and early 90’s. With the powers at the disposal of the Scottish parliament, now, and those about to be devolved, we have the power to make Scotland a better place. If a party chooses not to use them, but instead pursue their own narrow agenda, thats not acting for the good of Scotland, regardless of who is in power in westminster.

      • “how can you guarantee the tories wont be elected in an independent scotland? You cant.”

        Well, there’s no need for abuse in Cockney. But seriously, if all you’ve got as an argument against independence is “the Tories might suddenly become popular in Scotland”, I think we can safely say that Labour has an awful long way to go in accepting the most basic aspects of reality, let alone starting the long walk back to power. The Tories will never win a plurality of Scottish votes in my lifetime, and even in a ludicrous fantasy world where they did, it’s an even safer bet that they’d also be overwhelmingly in the majority in England, so we’d be no worse off anyway.

        You need to do much better than this, John. I can’t “guarantee” that Earth isn’t going to be invaded tomorrow by 900-foot-high robotic space dinosaurs either, but it’s about as likely as the Tories winning a Scottish general election is, and desperately clinging to the idea of the latter isn’t going to win you any credibility in the coming referendum debate.

      • And this is just feeble:

        “I want to see all the UK with a Labour Government, whilst nationalists like RevStu couldnt care less what happens to England, just so long as he gets what he wants. Thats just plain selfish.”

        I pre-emptively dealt with that in my previous post: if the rest of the UK wants a Labour government it’s perfectly capable of electing one without Scotland – it did so in 1997, 2001 and 2005. Oh, and it’d be the opposite of “selfish” in my personal case, as I currently live in England.

        “Having a strong Labour Government in Scotland will show that we can govern responsibly, deliver policies that work for the people, and mean that people in England wont be able to be scared off of voting Labour blah blah blah”

        How would independence in any way preclude a strong Labour government in Scotland? Surely if anything it would be MORE likely, as independence would remove a significant portion of the SNP’s raison d’etre.

      • (And finally, of course, a fully-independent Scottish Parliament with full governmental powers would be a considerably more attractive prospect to upcoming Labour talent than the halfway-house of Holyrood is now compared to the bright lights of Westminster, making the notion of a theoretical “strong Labour government in Scotland” considerably less hilarious than it is at present, when they can’t even find anyone who wants to lead the party…)

      • “I want to see all the UK with a Labour Government, whilst nationalists like RevStu couldnt care less what happens to England, just so long as he gets what he wants.

        Thats just plain selfish.”

        The thing is, John, if England doesn’t want a Labour government, then that’s their prerogative. For nationalists like RevStu (and myself), it’s not that we selfishly don’t care what happens to England; it’s just that we see it as being the responsibility of the English voters to decide who to elect. That’s not selfish, it’s just letting other people take responsibility for their own actions. The problem is that at the moment, their actions have a big impact on us, because Scotland certainly didn’t vote for this Tory government. Is it right for Scotland to keep being saddled with Tory governments we don’t elect?

        “Having a strong Labour Government in Scotland will show that we can govern responsibly, deliver policies that work for the people, and mean that people in England wont be able to be scared off of voting Labour as they did in the 80′s and early 90′s.”

        So you think Scotland should continue to be saddled to the union in order to promote Labour’s credentials down in England? I take it you remember how well it went down when Ed Miliband effectively suggested Holyrood should be Labour’s stepping stone back to Westminster? I’ll be honest with you John, one thing I certainly don’t care about is how Labour look to English voters, and I certainly don’t want them using Scotland as their rehearsal space.

        From what you’re saying with these points, it seems you think Scotland’s purpose in the world is to save England from itself. You’re accusing nationalists of being “selfish” because you don’t think they give a toss about England, but if the alternative is to become preoccupied by the interests of another country over your own, then I’m afraid I’ll welcome any accusations of “selfishness”.

      • One of the depressing things about John’s attitude is that I actually in essence want the same thing as him – to see a left-of-centre social-democratic government in an independent Scotland prove to English voters that there IS a viable alternative to the Tories (and to the market-beholden neo-Toryism of New Labour).

        The really spectacular failing in John’s argument is, of course, that it’s already been tried. Scotland had a Labour-led devolved administration for the best part of a decade, and not only did it do nothing to persuade the English to embrace Labour values, it couldn’t even persuade *Scotland* to stick with it. (Possibly because New Labour itself discredited and betrayed Labour values.)

        Sadly, the likes of John are a lost cause. They refuse to accept, no matter how iron-clad the evidence, that modern Labour is a party far to the right of the SNP (which itself isn’t by any means troubling Marx, but it’s a low bar), because hatred of the SNP is bred into their bones. He will expertly doublethink his way out of anything you or I could say.

        I fervently hope, for the future of both Scotland and of socialism as an ideology, that it’s the people like Aidan Skinner who win the battle for the heart and soul of Labour in the coming months. I fear that hope may be in vain, though, because the truth is that far too many Labour diehards actually prefer UK Tory governments to SNP Scottish ones. It’s a tribal thing.

  7. We held events at each of the four main party conferences earlier this year. This was the cost for the Labour event.

    We published a manifesto ahead of the May election and used each conference event to promote this manifesto.

    Hope this info helps. The Law Society of Scotland is an entirely nonpartisan organisation and works with all Scotland’s main political parties.

    • Many thanks for clearing it up – it is stated in the Electoral Commission’s record as a cash donation so you might want to discuss that with them. And you will see that I did amend the blog when I found out that all the other parties had had an event as well – not that these donations feature yet on their records.

      • I’m guessing thats more how Scottish Labour reported the donation, and not anything to do with the Law Society. I’m surprised as to why the other parties havnt declared it at all, though.

  8. Agree with you re the unions, I’m surprised that they still donate to Labour, apparently without question. And I dislike the system they use to do so. When I was last in a union, not so long ago, I specifically requested to opt out of the political donation. I had to ask twice, and eventually was sent a tatty form to sign and send back. I had the distinct impression I was the only person in my branch who’d ever asked to do this. Not surprising, since a quick poll round my workmates revealed that none of them had any idea that some of their union dues went into Labour’s pockets, and they weren’t too pleased about it.

    There’s nothing wrong with unions choosing to back a party if the members get a regular and genuine opportunity to make that decision. But union members in Scotland are locked into a financial relationship that they did not choose and may well not be aware of. Not very fair and transparent, is it?

    • I dont know what union you are in, but I can speak on the processes in UNISON – one of the largest unions in the country. In our union, you have to make a positive choice of signing up for the political levy (called Labour Link in UNISON – its not hidden), or the general fund, used for other campaigning directly by the union. If you dont tick either box, you are assumed to have opted for the general fund.

      The Labour link is voted on regularly, and at UNISON conference this year there was a motion voted on to end the Labour link. Needless to say, it didnt pass.

      So please, dont tar everyone with the same brush.

  9. John Ruddy, i don’t think that any one who contributes to need to be concerned by your opinions of their site, when you consider what passes for journalism in the MSM with regard to Scottish independence and the SNP these days. Or even the closed patronising shop that is the short bread tin of Labour Hame.

    Neither do we need take any lectures from new Labour on morality or cleanliness of donations, or cash buying access to patronage and privilege, history shows new Labour are the renowned experts in this field. Their hypocrisy continues to strangle them.

  10. The difference between the two different bus magnates donating to the two main parties is that one of them didnt get the party they donated to to dump their Bus re-Regulation policy right after getting a game-changing donaton. Talk about being be-holden to a particular interest group. The idea that a donation as small as £2,850 could cause a party to follow a particular policy is really quite laughable, isnt it? However a donation of £750,000 just might.

    And as for a lack of transparency – well, they wernt hidden, were they? They were properly declared and reported – after all if they wernt, you wouldn’t have been able to find them, would you?

    The business donations you have listed come to less than £50,000 – compared to £500,000 from Mr. Soutar. Even if you add in those Union donations, we’re still more than £100,000 under Mr. Soutars payment.

    To be honest this is the sort of thing I’d expect to see on newsnet Scotland, not your usually sensible and thoughful blog.

    • The point is John, that Labour takes far more donations – of whatever size – from business than the SNP does, yet it tries to portray the SNP as the party beholden to business. I don’t agree with any business or any individual providing donations – I support state funding for political parties. Under the current funding system, no one comes out smelling of roses, is my point.

      First group have made donations to Labour for years – when did bus re-regulation fall off your party’s agenda?

      And if we want to look for a supposed buy-off, then I’d say the Chivas donation on the back of Jackie Baillie leading the charge to oppose minimum pricing looks awfy dicey to me.

      BTW don’t agree with a word of what Hen Broon commented, but happy to let him air his views.

      • Surely it is better to have a larger number of small donations from businesses than one or two large ones? And lets not be under any misunderstanding that the likes of Brian Soutar, Julian Rudd etc are not business-related donations. Virtually the only way people could afford to throw tens of thousands of pounds at a political party is after having made a lot money in the business world, or have inherited it.

        If your point is that under the current system, no one comes out smelling of roses, then its one that was lost int he original post.

        As for Bus re-regulation, I cant say it ever was on our party’s agenda – but from what Tom harris has said, he will be looking at introducing the sort of regulation they get in England up here. And the idea, as I said that a donation of such a small amount as £3,000 could affect an entire party’s policies, is quite laughable. And to imagine that one of £570,000 doesnt?

        I’m sure Hen Brown is part of that aspect of Scottish nationalism which Ari Mack described as full of “paranoia and conspiracy theories”

      • You need to go back and read the post John – I make it absolutely clear my distaste for Souter’s donations. And I’m pretty sure that Labour did say they would re-regulate, possibly in 99. Like I said, First have been donating to Labour for years, as has Moir Lockhead personally.

        Everyone who takes money from business is tainted. Your lot are no better than anyone else’s.

    • The only union leader who pulls no punches not like a lot of the other union leaders. Labour is ‘worst government ever’, says Mark Serwotka

      In his own address, Mr Serwotka said Labour had systematically undermined civil servants by privatising parts of the public sector.

      Brian Dempsey £2,000.00 and no doubt many more

      • I can assure you that a great many union leaders say things to Labour that the leadership doesnt like. Not all of them say it publiclly, though.

        By the way, only 7 individuals donated declarable amounts in the 1st 6 months to Scottish labour. Total amount £23,000. As opposed to the 18 individuals who donated sums totalling £776,000 to the SNP in the same period.

        Now which looks more suspicious to you? Or you only cynical about the SNP’s opponents?

      • Individuals making donations is fine in my book – I actually think one of the things Labour needs to address as part of its review is its unwillingness of individuals to donate to it. Several of the SNP’s donations came from MSPs who had clearly been putting some of their salary aside in order to put money into their local election campaign. There’s nothing to stop your MSPs doing the same.

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