THE head of the Scottish Fire Brigades Union is facing moves to oust him over concerns among firefighters that his leadership has an “incestuous partnership” with SNP ministers.
FBU Scottish secretary John Duffy, who is a member of the SNP, is expected to face a challenge to his leadership in the coming weeks.
Some union members want to remove him after he brokered a deal with the Scottish Government that meant firefighters in Scotland did not join their colleagues in England and Wales in a strike over pensions.
Duffy – who is on the SNP’s list of approved Holyrood candidates – has been accused of being too close to SNP ministers and of being a “soft touch” on challenging issues, including the government’s contentious decision to merge Scotland’s eight regional fire services into one force.
The UK’s FBU general secretary Matt Wrack is understood to be unhappy about the failure to strike in Scotland and Duffy’s leadership.
A senior Scottish FBU member said there is a widespread view among Scottish firefighters that SNP ministers view it as being “good for the government to have a senior union officer in place who supports independence”.
The source said that given the “current disquiet” with Duffy’s leadership that it was “inconceivable that there won’t be a challenge” to the union boss after nominations for the Scottish FBU secretary’s post formally opened at the end of last week.
Scotland on Sunday has learned that challengers to Duffy could include Denise Christie, an experienced firefighter in the Lothians, who is now a full-time FBU official and who has also served as the women’s representative on the union’s ruling UK body.
Another possible challenger is Stephen Thomson, who is a full-time FBU official in Glasgow. Both Christie and Thomson are known to be critical of the leadership’s perceived closeness to the Scottish government.
Duffy’s leadership has also been criticised on fbuscotland watch – a web page for FBU members – for failing to oppose the government’s creation of a single service, which saw the number of fire control rooms reduced from eight to three.
A union member said: “Here we have a union leadership in Scotland, who have engaged in an incestuous partnership with the SNP government, which has seen them being complicit in the loss of uniformed frontline jobs, the loss of five control rooms, the implementation of new detrimental duty systems – with further cuts to firefighter jobs and pay just round the corner.
“They have utilised their positions in the union to accommodate and immerse themselves in their own political agendas with the SNP.”
About 4,500 Scottish FBU members will be eligible to vote in the union’s leadership election expected in early June.
Duffy, who is a senior member of the SNP trade union group, agreed a deal that saw Scotland avoid strikes affecting the rest of the UK because of a separate deal offered to the Scottish FBU by Holyrood.
FBU members had voted for a strike, although this was postponed when SNP ministers offered to mitigate the UK government proposals to increase firefighters’ retirement age from 55 to 60.
However, some firefighters in Scotland claim there was no “one member, one vote” ballot on cancelling the strike, with the leadership just holding a consultative ballot of FBU branches.
Firefighters south of the Border staged strike action last year after UK ministers and the Welsh administration refused to scrap proposals that would see firefighters who opt to retire at 55 facing a cut to their pension of 5 per cent a year.
Last night, Duffy insisted that the electoral challenge he is facing “underpins the democracy of a trade union” as he defended his links to the SNP.
He said: “The FBU have many friends across numerous political parties. We engage with them all, but naturally the current government has the greatest ability to act in our members benefit.”
Duffy added that firefighters in Scotland had voted not to strike in a ballot as he rejected claims members had not been consulted on the move.
He said that the “decision was taken via a ballot of all Scottish members. It was the members choice not to take strike action”.