Review of Devolution Protocol will ensure unity in diversity

Jim McFarlane
Jim McFarlane

Conference backed Scotland’s call for a review of the union’s Devolution Protocol to take account of significant developments since it was first established in 2004. The call was supported by the NEC and all the devolved nations.

Moving the motion, Scotland’s Elaine Duffy reminded that devolution has been with us for twenty years and the Devolution protocol for almost as long and much has changed in that time, both in the world and in the Governmental structure of the United Kingdom.

“The Devolution Protocol however has not,” said Elaine “And it is time to look at it once again, to decide what works well, and where it might be strengthened or altered to improve its effectiveness.”

Elaine Duffy
Elaine Duffy

She pointed out that although this union met the challenge of devolution, it has turned out to be a process rather han an event.

“As time has gone on there have been changes to the powers that each of the devolved bodies has.
“This has meant a more complicated picture of public service delivery – not least because as time has gone on we now have a more colourful political picture than when these bodies were set up,” said Elaine, highlighting the different political leaderships in each of the devolved nations and the lack of a functioning assembly in Northern Ireland.

She also pointed to the diversity of approaches – in how services are designed and delivered, saying that things have never been as complex and varied as they are now.

“It raises questions, not least ‘How do we best organise to support our members in this ever changing public service landscape?’ And how do our structures and procedures best support that effort?” said Elaine, calling for an examination of the Devolution Protocol that outlines how the Regions with devolved institutions relate to and interact with the union as a whole.

She added that it isn’t a marginal issue for us because in Scotland something like 95% of UNISON members work in services that are the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament, and she warned that Brexit could further change this.
Elaine called on us to develop best practice around devolution, learning from others and from each other. “These are difficult and at points confusing times. We need to examine and take stock of how we can work best; to take
into account the nature of the changes in the UK.

“Only by doing that can we seek to maximise unity in diversity and ensure a common purpose in an uncertain environment.”

Jim McFarlane, speaking on behalf of the NEC, backed Scotland’s call, saying that our trade union values are universal but when things differ we need to have structures and systems to adjust for differences in the four countries.

Jim outlined that the principle was established in 2004 that the NEC would mirror devolution in the country.

Safeguards were created to protect the sovereignty of conference which seem to have worked well.
However, nothing stands still and Jim highlighted the changes that have taken place in the devolved nations, including the situation in Northern Ireland, where the assembly has not sat for two years leaving unelected civil
servants to make cuts.

“This is not just about where the power lies,” said Jim. “It’s about in whose interests these powers are used. We want devolved powers to be used to invest in public services.”

Supporting, Jim urged, “We should celebrate our differences but move forward in common struggle. With the right structures to meet the devolution process we can go forward with confidence.”

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