Election '97: Labour rejects Scottish union 'wish lists'

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The Independent Online
George Robertson, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, yesterday tried to bury the Tory image of a Labour Party in hock to the trade unions with a blunt rejection of public spending "wish lists" paraded before this week's Scottish Trades Union Congress conference.

There could be no "recess from reality", Mr Robertson told delegates to the centenary congress in Glasgow, which has backed calls for a four- day week, a national minimum wage of well over pounds 4 an hour, renationalisation of the railways and further investment in industry and training.

"The inescapable reality is that we cannot repair the economic damage of 18 years of failure in the first 18 weeks or even 18 months of a new Labour government," he said.

Delegates gave Mr Robertson a polite reception but many were clearly irritated by the directness of his language.

Sandy Boyle of the TUC General Council said Mr Robertson had "over egged it". Nobody in the STUC was in any doubt about the relationship with the Labour Party and nothing the Congress had decided had anything to do with "fantasy", Mr Boyle said.

Mr Robertson wove the courage of the pioneers of Scottish trade unionism in tackling inequalities in wealth and health with the need for moderation today.

"We owe them the discipline and hard-headedness and the coolness of judgement to take their legacy on and improve and better it for generations still to come."

He said Tory scaremongering would only be exposed as petty and without foundation if there was self-discipline and control. "If there is an inflation of expectations of what can be done ... and if there are unreasonable and unfulfilable demands made then the beneficiaries will only be those who want to hold back the tide."

Repeating the "no favours, only fairness" theme, Mr Robertson said if a Labour government was elected it would be to eliminate the "croneyism" which had so corroded public life for the last 18 years. "There is no way we will replace their croneyism for croneyisms of any other kind." Nor could there be any magic carpet of unrealistic wish lists flying to days gone by.

STUC leaders drew comfort from Mr Robinson's reminder that although a Labour government would inherit the Tories' immediate spending totals it would not inherit their priorities or policies.

A key demand at the conference was for a national minimum wage at substantially above any figure contemplated by the Labour leadership. Although a proposal from the public service workers' union Unison was dropped from the agenda a similar proposal starting at 50 per cent of median male earnings - pounds 4.42 an hour today - rising to two-thirds of earnings slipped through.

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