Nicola Sturgeon delivered the third annual Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture in Glasgow University’s Bute Hall last night. The lecture, held in memoriam of the trade union leader and the University’s former rector, centred on the topic of “workers’ rights as human rights”.
After entering the hall in a procession of University management and senior representatives, including SRC president Liam King, the first minister was introduced by Grahame Smith, followed by a brief film clip of Jimmy Reid’s famed 1972 rectorial inaugural address, delivered in Bute Hall, which rejected the notion of a "rat race" and called for humanity in politics and in business - a message which Sturgeon reiterated.
In keeping with Reid's own ideological convictions, the first minister took the opportunity to decry the Westminster government’s planned Trade Union Bill. If passed, the bill would make ‘check-off’ payments to trade unions from pay packets illegal, and dramatically reduce so called ‘facility time’ available to workers. Sturgeon also slammed the bill’s “sinister” proposals to force picket leaders to wear armbands or other identifying symbols.
Lauding her own government’s relationship with trade unions, she highlighted that, since 2007, 84 per cent fewer working days have been lost due to industrial action north of the border. Sturgeon appeared to offer a hand of friendship to trade unions, to the delight of the many STUC delegates in the audience, saying that “trade unions are a force for good in modern society”.
Aside from appealing to trade unions, Sturgeon also spoke on issues of social justice, including gender equality and social mobility. According to the first minister, all of her government’s policies are scrutinised by independent bodies for their efficacy in poverty reduction and prevention.
The first minister’s half-hour long speech was interrupted by a heckler, later escorted out by security. A woman seated in Bute Hall’s benches interjected with an attack on Sturgeon’s performance as an MSP and representative of Glasgow’s Southside. The woman called upon the first minister to “save Govanhill” and argued that she “wasn’t listening”. Seemingly nonplussed, Sturgeon told the woman she could speak to her “at any time” as she apparently had done on several occasions.
Speaking before Wednesday’s Spending Review, Sturgeon assured the audience that if the Chancellor proceeded with his tax credit cuts, the Scottish Government would be implementing measures to protect vulnerable families. Today’s u-turn by the Chancellor on these controversial cuts will no doubt cheer Westminster’s SNP benches. At the time of writing, Sturgeon had not formally responded to the Chancellor’s statement, however she issued a tweet congratulating those who “kept pressure” on the Chancellor to reverse the cuts and indicated coming scrutiny of the housing benefit cuts outlined by Osborne.