Memo to Holyrood and Westminster: Government Involves Us Too

Chelsea Rocks

For the last two decades, Scotland has increasingly looked at Holyrood as its governing body, placing trust in the ministers’ ability to shape the legislation, policies and practices which support citizens and support economic security and growth.

That’s all the more so over the last 11 months of the pandemic. But while that has rightly been a priority, more could have been done to acknowledge the growing poverty epidemic stemming from a year of lockdown.

We haven’t had a full picture of what’s happening in Scotland, where failings have stretched beyond fatalities and into the support for children in poverty; elderly people isolated in their homes and businesses crumbling under never ending lockdowns. 

There are serious issues to be raised about the localised handling of the coronavirus pandemic and how cuts to local government funding have failed the most vulnerable. 

There is clear evidence to suggest similar issues have been taking place in England – you only have to google ‘Andy Burnham’ to understand there are similar frustrations south of the border – it should not be a game of tit for tat or ‘we failed less than them’. 

Instead of political point scoring, both Westminster and Holyrood could do more to admit and address where years of misjudging localised issues have failed the people who keep them in power. Or give the decision making powers to the people who do understand local issues. 

It is therefore time to reconsider devolution and what more could be achieved by allowing local councils and public bodies more control over their local communities in order to empower people who currently feel disempowered.

In order for devolution to work in practice, local governments must also be given greater opportunities to question the Scottish Government over their spending priorities. Just as local government leaders and Westminster Ministers can be questioned in Holyrood, why shouldn’t Scottish government leaders be asked to go to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee and publicly account for their decisions too? 

While this all sounds very political, in reality those who are most impacted by this are those on the receiving end. For example, children’s charities in one of the most deprived areas of Glasgow lost funding due to local government cuts– leaving Drumchapel without a frontline youth service and award winning organisations on the brink of closure, only to be saved by third sector funding at the eleventh hour. 

You only need to look less than five miles beyond Drumchapel to West Dunbartonshire Council, where three additional food banks were required to open and support the distribution of free meals and essentials to families in the wake of the Covid crisis. 

It would be unfair to suggest all is dismal in these greater Glasgow communities, as West Dunbartonshire Council have invested tens of millions into the Queens Quay development – taking a new approach to renewable energy in order to power the social housing, health centre and elderly care facility surrounding the tidal energy heating plant. 

Projects like this highlight what Scotland can do now to prepare for our future, making the most of our surroundings and our great engineering capabilities to place ourselves as global leaders in Climate Change. What Scotland does not need is more of a power grab from Holyrood – where there appears to be a significant lack of viable accountability. Instead, Westminster should grant further devolution to the Scottish Government on the terms that it will be filtered down to a local level.  More financial support and autonomy needs to be given to local councils  from Holyrood, to ensure public money is being spent in line with local priorities. 

Devolution should enable those who benefit from the system to be given a voice in shaping it. Much the same as Westminster fails to acknowledge those living outside of the SW postcode, the Scottish government could do more to share the powers it has to those beyond the corridors of Holyrood. 

In my home city of Glasgow, too many people feel government is done to them, not by them. is it any wonder then that for too many, especially those in our most deprived communities, they feel removed from the decision making process? 

We too often treat people like passive recipients – who are supposed to feel grateful for mutely accepting whatever a distant government in Holyrood or Westminster decides to hand down to them from on high. Taking power back to local streets and local communities isn’t some dry exercise in government reform – it’s about trusting and handing back control to people, families and communities who, for decades, have been deemed incapable or unworthy of it.

Devolution would maintain partnership with the rest of the UK to allow for a rational approach to national and international trade as well as the protection of national security, while achieving real change for the people of Scotland. 

In 1999, Donald Dewar proclaimed that the Scottish Parliament would “never lose sight of what brought us here: the striving to do right by the people of Scotland; to respect their priorities; to better their lot; and to contribute to the commonweal.”

It appears the Scottish Government has now lost sight of their priorities and it seems more invested in protecting itself than delivering for the commonweal in Scotland. It is now time for those at the grassroots to hold them accountable for their actions. 

A First Minister For Health?

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon in front of a NHS Scotland Coronavirus sign

Interviewing Sir Michael Marmot for ScotlandCan last week, I was struck by a comment he made about the priorities governments make. Looking back over the last decade, Sir Michael noted that he “almost didn’t care” about growth in the economy. People were getting sicker and health inequalities were widening. If GDP was going up, “so what?”

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I’d Rather my Covid Bonus Went to Care Home Workers Who Deserve a Permanent Pay Rise

Dr Roddy Neilson in the foreground and an older woman and another woman walking away, with shaded purple decoration
Dr Roddy Neilson | Consultant Haematologist, Forth Valley Royal Hospital

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that the NHS in Scotland is currently living in interesting times.

Nobody would have wished a pandemic like Covid on anyone but, as a hospital doctor, it’s been humbling to see the extra effort everybody in the NHS has made in dealing with this along with the efforts of shopkeepers, taxi firms and food outlets in keeping things going.

The messages from the Scottish Government have been pretty clear too – stay home and save lives. Nobody can really argue with that.

I would suggest a change, however, to one of its policies. Health and Social Care staff are to receive a £500 bonus from the Scottish Government to thank them for their efforts, the announcement of this being made in last November. While nobody would begrudge that payment to some workers the award of it to already well-paid medical staff is causing disquiet among my colleagues.

Personally, I see no reason why I should get an extra £500 (actually less than £300 after tax but that’s another story) for doing my job when I’m already getting paid more than other NHS workers already.

There are about 160,000 healthcare workers in Scotland meaning that the cost of this will be, for NHS Staff alone, some £80M. For the money that is to go to doctors you could increase the salaries of care home workers longer term – surely a better use of the cash.

GMB: Show You Care

Signs supporting GMB Scotlands campaign for a Scottish carers wage with shaded purple design

Megan Fisher | GMB Scotland Assistant Organiser, Women’s Campaign Unit.

Before the emergence of COVID-19 and the government lock-down, it was widely recognised that there was something seriously wrong with Scotland’s social care system. Social care in Scotland faces a “fundamental crisis”, experts warned after a Care Inspectorate report in 2017 found more than a third of care services had unfilled staff vacancies the previous year (Care Inspectorate, 2017).

This against forecasts showing not only increasing demand for adult social care services in Scotland, but also an increased demand from people with more complex care needs (Audit Scotland, 2016, 2018; Public Health Scotland, 2018). The crisis in Scotland’s adult social care system is underpinned by a workforce that are some of the lowest paid workers in Scotland. Many earn less than £10 per hour. The vast majority, 83%, are women. Most have unpaid caring responsibilities out with their work.

The emergence of COVID-19 and its consequences have shone a blinding light onto Scotland’s social care system. Following the announcement of government lockdown measures in March 2020, in order to increase NHS bed capacity, nearly 1,000 hospital patients in Scotland were discharged directly to care homes – without being tested for the virus. The announcement of a policy to test all hospital patients twice before discharge to care homes was made on 22nd April 2020. In some cases, it took weeks for care workers to receive basic PPE. This only happened because thousands of care workers spoke out, writing directly to the First Minister.

In the week ending 19th April 2020, almost half, 46% of all COVID-19 deaths in Scotland were in care homes. On June 3rd 2020, National Records of Scotland (NRS) announced the statistic that more people had died of COVID-19 in Scotland’s care homes than in the country’s hospitals. NRS recorded 1,818 deaths linked to the virus in Scotland’s care homes since the outbreak began (National Records of Scotland, Show You Care – Executive Summary 2 June 2020).

This was the very group of vulnerable people that government measures were supposed to protect from the virus. Estimates as of 11th June 2020, were that only around one quarter of care home staff in Scotland had received testing for COVID-19. Only on 25th June 2020 were social care workers finally afforded proper sick pay. GMB Scotland’s surveying of its social care membership found that over 75% of workers were scared to be tested for fear of testing positive and having to be off work, in receipt of only statutory sick pay of less than £96 a week. The level of financial detriment that workers were being left in was fundamentally undermining the testing regime and exposes a lack of coherent planning.

Scotland’s social care workers have shown their skills and bravery during the COVID-19 crisis. Yet these skilled workers remain undervalued and underpaid. The average hourly rate of pay of the over 1600 who participated in our questionnaire survey was £10.64 an hour. The average hourly wage in the UK is £14.80 (Statista, 2019). GMB believes that there needs to be a minimum care wage of £15 per hour.

GMB also believes that we need uniformity of terms and conditions across Scotland which include, but are not limited to, protection for council staff on better conditions, permanent and full-time contracts where desired, flexible working arrangements, good pension contributions and drive for workers to join the pension scheme, better staff ratios, an equality proof job evaluation scheme, permanent full sick pay across the entire sector. Scotland should also establish an independent National Care Service which recognises trade unions and national collective bargaining. This should involve discussions on the future role of the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) and the Care Inspectorate; this would include options for progression if desired. The Scottish Government should also ensure trade unions are included throughout all aspects of development and implementation of changes in the social care sector. Social care workers have highlighted frequent changes to their contracts, sometimes without any notification from their employers. Low pay and workers’ contractual rights must be improved if we are to solve Scottish social care’s recruitment and retention problem.

Social care workers need time to deliver dignified and compassionate care. Two of the five standards the Scottish government cites as key components when delivering health and social care are dignity and compassion (Scottish Government, 2018). Social care workers desperately want more time to deliver dignified and compassionate care continuously. Service users certainly deserve this. Put simply, social care workers are looking after too many service users with not enough time allocated to their often complex care needs. The reason? Understaffing and high staff turnover. Add to that the high levels of sickness due to the stresses involved in delivering social care – “always up against the clock” – as one social care worker put it, and one understands the barriers to providing quality social care.

So the Scottish Government should set a figure for improved investment in Scotland’s social care sector. Any future commissioning to be driven not by profit but in order to ensure a high quality of care, delivered by a professional and properly valued and rewarded workforce.

A valued social care workforce should be rewarded in their pay and terms and conditions for the amazing job they do. This would also make a statement about how Scotland views the rights of low paid women and the importance of gender equality in the workforce and wider Scottish society.

This is an extract from GMB’s Show You Care Executive Summary, which can be read in full here.

A Scottish Minimum Care Wage

An older woman and a woman carer wearing a mask with shaded purple decoration

Over the last year, Scotland’s army of social care workers have been right on the front line of the Covid pandemic.

Often without adequate PPE, and – until June 2020 – without adequate proper sick pay, they worked exhausting shifts in care homes across Scotland to tend to their elderly and extremely vulnerable adults. When hospitals removed patients into care homes at the start of the pandemic, it was these care workers that took on the burden of work. Tragically, care workers were often the only people there to comfort and support elderly residents of care homes in their final hours before succumbing to this disease, with families unable to say goodbye. We cannot underestimate the physical and emotional burden this has placed. 

The crisis has only highlighted the huge role that care workers play in Scotland’s social fabric, and how under-appreciated they have been up until now, and even in comparison to the health work force throughout the pandemic.  With a rapidly ageing population – c.68% rise in over 75s predicted by 2035 – the role of, and need for social care staff is only going to become more pronounced, to uphold the social rubric of Scottish society. 

The case for change.

In its recently published paper “Show You Care”, the GMB Union surveyed 1,600 Social Care Workers across Scotland. Their average pay was just £10.64, well below the UK hourly average wage of £14.80. This inadequate pay disproportionately affects women, who comprise 83% of the workforce. Similarly their total package for sick pay, time off and travel time is vastly insufficient. 

The survey revealed that 82% of social care workers feel undervalued by their managers and 89% believe social care is not adequately funded. This undervalue is compounded by a lack of training and development opportunities in the profession, leading to issues of staff retention and recruitment. Many believe a lack of support and time is compromising the quality of care they can provide. 

The Scottish Government is to be commended for having conducted an extensive review of adult social care, published last month by Derek Feeley. It acknowledges the fact that the social care workforce in Scotland feel ‘undervalued and under recognised.’ Its main recommendation is to create a new National Care Service which directs funding for the social care sector. On pay, the review notes that increasing the social care support wage bill to the Real Living wage will cost £15.5m, with this acting as a floor, requiring an extra £100m per annum for every £1 p.h. extra. This indicates an additional cost of £500m for a £15 per hour wage. 


Scotland needs to take an active role in recognising the value of, and supporting care workers. The Scottish Parliament could make a commitment to paying a minimum care wage of £15 per hour a key pledge – as a way of honouring their response to the pandemic, but also the thankless work they do generally, day in, day out.

Any pledge will signal to society their work is valued and important. Just as the US created a ‘GI Bill’ for soldiers returning from World War II, so can the pandemic provide the impetus for a ‘GI Bill for social care workers’. 

The Feeley report, and its recommendation to replace competition with collaboration in the Social care sector could provide the mechanism to push through a new £15 an hour minimum care wage. This should be supported with a clear learning and development programme to be rolled out to all staff, incentivising retention.

Increased funding for such initiatives needs to come predominantly through extra Local Authority support (with public funding currently at 84% of all costs) and more private sector investment. At a minimum, Local Authorities need to streamline and equalise the funding they provide to privately run care homes, who currently receive less funding per resident than their state counterparts. The private sector will then be able to pass on this increase directly to their care workers, bringing them in line with their public equivalents. There is also scope for the public sector to provide a certain amount of this funding deficit and for it to be matched by the private sector, as long as this cost is not passed onto the residents themselves. Support for funds can also be redirected from senior public sector pay packets. 

In showing their commitment to the care sector across the entirety of the UK, Scottish MPs could campaign for the £15 per hour pledge to be adopted across the UK, demanding that the Scottish Government guarantees any extra funding that flows to Scotland be dedicated to the social care sector.

Adequately paying our social care staff is just part of the solution to reforming our care system, in both Scotland, and the UK. The impact of raising carer wages to £15 per hour will inevitably have a knock on effect on the pay we should offer other health workers, operating within the care system and beyond, i.e. junior nurses – any rise for carers should not be conducted in silo. A fair wage for all those key workers is required, worth the value of services required. This starts with providing an adequate minimum social care wage. 

Welcome to Scotland Can.

The Clyde Arc and Clyde riverside, Glasgow, on a sunny day

Like many others involved in Scottish politics over the last decade or so, I’ve spent most of my time lobbing rocks at the other side on the question of the constitution. The battle continues to be vital and intense, but it has left us divided as a result. This platform is designed, in a small way, to reset that balance.

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ScotlandCan Campaign Launched Today

A view of Edinburgh, Scotland, with the Salisbury Crags in the background on a sunny day

A new campaign is being launched to make the case for change, and to highlight what Scotland can do.

Created by the think-tank Our Scottish Future, ScotlandCan aims to set out the argument for positive action in Scotland. ScotlandCan will focus on key priority areas – the NHS, education, the environment, jobs, and Scotland’s global links.

It will begin with a focus on support for Scotland’s carers. ScotlandCan will also examine ways to boost education after lockdown, build on Scotland’s reputation for environmental protection, and deliver social justice in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

It will provide a forum for experts, young Scots and frontline workers to set out fresh thinking on how to create a fairer, stronger Scotland.

Our Scottish Future was set up by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2019 to offer positive ideas for change for Scotland in the UK.

The think tank supports reform of the UK to deliver a more cooperative union. It is calling on the UK Government to commit to fresh review of the country’s governance following the Covid pandemic.

The new campaign is focussed on how Scotland can deliver progressive action now under the existing devolved settlement.

Eddie Barnes, project manager for Our Scottish Future says today: “The pro-independence movement has rightly argued that those of us who want to remain in the UK need to make a positive argument. This new campaign is about showing what we can do, not focussing on what we can’t. It isn’t about saying No, it is about making the case for action now.”

“We know that Yes and No voters are divided on the constitution. But we also know that they share many priorities for after the pandemic – building a stronger NHS, restoring our education system, creating a greener Scotland, and providing dignity in work.”

“We want to showcase some of the radical ideas that are possible on how we can do that, looking at where things have gone right over the last few years, and starting a debate about how we can improve still further.”

“The aim is to provoke some fresh thinking and to stimulate ideas about how devolution can transform Scotland.”

Full details of Our Scottish Future can be found here.