“An injury to one is an injury to all”.

This quote is a mantra for how trade unions operate. If one worker suffers then we all suffer; if one worker is attacked then we collectivise and respond.

Regretfully, that’s what we’ve seen this past week with – and let’s not beat around the bush here – a personalised slur on a Unison official that was featured as an exclusive in this newspaper which resulted in an unacceptable avalanche of online personal abuse. 

First, I have no grudge nor ill-will with The National. The STUC has received an apology from the editor and, to their credit, The National is allowing me this additional column to set the record straight.

And for the record, let’s be clear: The Scottish Trades Union Congress is not affiliated to any party or politician. We neither fund political campaigns, give endorsements or chap the doors. We took a neutral stance at the last referendum to reflect the variety of views held by our members and we have publicly campaigned for the Scottish Parliament to hold the right to choose the timing of any future referendum. We work with parties from across the political spectrum to achieve what’s best for working people. As the key spokesperson for the STUC, I will unashamedly pursue, without fear or favour, justice for workers and seek to improve their working conditions.

READ MORE: It’s nonsense to suggest Unison school strike is linked to party bias

As Scotland’s national trade union body, we give a voice to over 550,000 workers. Some of our individual trade union affiliates are also affiliated to the Labour Party.  Some are not. This is a matter of public knowledge and no secret. And, yes, many of our activists within trade unions will, oddly enough, be active members of a political party. They’re in Labour. They’re in the SNP (around 14,000 of them as I understand it). They’re in the Scottish Green Party, Scottish Socialist Party, Communist Party, Socialist Party and many more besides.

In turn, political parties will use our movement either as allies or antagonists. It’s expected. I’ve also come to expect that for almost every intervention I make in Scotland’s print or broadcast media, there will be a barrage of abuse from both nationalist and Unionist camps who seem determined to interpret my every word - sometimes even the same words - as proving me to be either “a Nat sympathiser in bed with the Scottish Government” or a “secret Unionist conspirator working for my masters in London”.

Sadly, this is now expected but not accepted. We need to call it out.

What isn’t expected, nor accepted, however, is an anonymous and frankly cowardly SNP source briefing against an individual trade union official by ludicrously suggesting they have put party politics before representing the views of their members.

The National:

What isn’t expected nor accepted is a highly personalised attack that not only slanders the integrity of a union official, but attempts to undermine the whole democratic process of one of Scotland’s largest, lay member-led trade unions. 

Unison is one of the most politically diverse trade unions in Scotland. The reps who work in local government were elected by their members. They took a perfectly justifiable decision to recommend rejection of the offer from Cosla, as is their right, and continue with their industrial action while they ballot their members. This is not an unusual course of action for a trade union to take, especially given such an agitated and motivated workforce.

What we witnessed this week was thousands of low-paid workers across Scotland showing their anger at their treatment from Cosla and the Scottish Government. They chose to withdraw from work in the pursuit of a better tomorrow.  But sadly, what we also witnessed was an attack by some parts of the nationalist movement to undermine every single Unison member.

This dispute is about the degradation of our public services; of low-paid workers' pay packets and conditions. It’s about the catastrophic underfunding of our local authorities and the resultant impact on our communities.

As such, I know this might be hard for those to hear, especially those within the cyber-space independence fringes who have been frothing at their keyboards to attack Johanna, myself and striking Unison workers, but not everything is about the constitution.

Shock. I know. Whether you choose to believe it or not, this isn’t a conspiratorial, deep covert operation by members of the Labour Party to upset the SNP's chances in Rutherglen and Hamilton West. To think so is disturbing on many counts.

On the incredulous side, it shows a frankly staggering level of delusion to think that one woman can engineer a long-running industrial dispute involving 84,000 members, circumnavigating each and every Tory anti-trade union law to boot, override her own union democracy to dictate to members, without equivocation, that they’re striking coincidentally near the time of a contested by-election.

On the other side, it reveals the poisonous toxicity within our politics and the laughable lack of knowledge those briefing against our movement have on our decision-making processes.

The National:

This past week I’ve been at local picket lines and national rallies supporting the low-paid (mostly women) Unison members. I can tell you, as straight-talking as I can: No one gives a damn about a by-election in South Lanarkshire.

These striking workers care about their pay and conditions. They care about putting food on the table. They care about getting through winter with dignity. They also care deeply about the quality of the service they deliver to some of our most vulnerable kids.

Whatever side of the constitutional divide you’re on, it doesn’t help your cause – not one iota – to have your window to the world so blindly dominated by rigid dogma. Especially if it comes to throwing low-paid public sector workers under the bus to reinforce that blind dogma.

This week alone I’ve been called a “traitor”, “quisling”, “Keir’s puppet”, “Red Tory” and “anti-Scottish”. Johanna has been called much more besides.

Personal attacks aside - attacks that have been instigated through mudslinging SNP press briefings against our movement – is this really the type of country we hope to build through our democratic process?

READ MORE: School strikes: Unison chief says ‘significant’ pay offer needed

In the feverish run-up to a by-election, politics can be a dirty game. But striking workers are not and have never been fair game. They’re not pawns to be used by SNP sources to whip up a siege-like mentality within the independence ranks. 

How can we ever hope to build a better nation if this is the gutter patter foisted upon trade union women seeking to represent their members?

We must all do better. We must raise the tone. We must drag our discourse out of the mud and build a country built on the principles of tolerance and respect.

I started this column with a quote I agree with. I’ll end it with one:

“But social media amplifies and encourages those who are hostile to women’s rights, those who are hostile to women. I genuinely worry about the impact this has on women and girls generally, but in particular our ability to attract women into public life. The environment in politics today for women, and I don’t say this lightly, is harsher and more hostile than at any time in my political career. That deeply concerns and appals me, and we must challenge it." - (Nicola Sturgeon, 2023).

I couldn’t agree more. Maybe the SNP should do so too.