Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale will today unveil radical plans for new trade union laws at Holyrood that would spell the end of national economic development agency Scottish Enterprise and training quango Skills Development Scotland.
A national work agency, Skills Scotland, would take their place and be set up in partnership with trade unions, Ms Dugdale will say in a keynote speech to the STUC in Dundee.
The Labour leader is hoping the proposals will breathe new life into the party’s Holyrood election campaign after a weekend poll again showed they are neck and neck with the Conservatives, who now stand a strong chance of emerging as the main party of opposition in Scotland.
STUC general secretary Grahame Smith has called for “bold ambitious policies” to brought forward by parties in the Holyrood election campaign, ahead of the three-day gathering of delegates.
Ms Dugdale insists Labour will seek to appeal to the party’s “historic alliance” with unions and pledge to “give a voice to working people in Parliament”.
The party says the new Work and Trade Union bill will be the “antithesis” of legislation being passed by the Conservatives at Westminster which is seen as clamping down on trade union rights.
“We will bring forward a Work and Trade Union bill,” Ms Dugdale will tell delegates today. “It will be the antithesis of the negative Tory trade union bill. It will recognise the positive role of trade unions in the economy, in creating better workplaces, in increasing productivity, in building a fair economy.
“And it will establish Skills Scotland, in partnership with unions and employers and co-chaired by a nominee of the STUC. This new agency will bring together employment services and skills services, including new powers over the Work Programme that are coming to Holyrood.”
Under the new agency, a network of regional hubs would be established to boost local economies, provide training for people seeking work and support life-long learning.
Ms Dugdale will add: “It won’t just be a radically different approach from the Tory approach to the workplace and to those out of work, it will be a radically different approach from the SNP approach over the last few years that has seen 152,000 fewer students at our colleges.”
The trade union bill being introduced by the Tories at Westminster has been branded “draconian” by critics amid claims that it will restrict the right to strike and form pickets, as well as clamping down on core union activities in the workplace.
The STUC is making a number of key demands on the next Scottish Government, including not implementing Westminster’s controversial trade union reforms.
The SNP government has attempted to have Scotland excluded from the trade union bill, but it has been ruled that this is an area of legislation reserved to Westminster and Scottish ministers do not have this power.
Meanwhile, a weekend Panelbase survey suggested Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives could overtake Labour as the main party of opposition at the election.
The poll puts support for Labour in the constituency vote at 19 per cent, slightly ahead of the Tories on 18 per cent. Backing for the SNP is at 51 per cent, while the Liberal Democrats are on 5 per cent.
Asked at the weekend if she would become leader of the opposition, Ms Davidson said: “Yes – and I will work so hard for the people to hold them [the SNP] to account.”
In the regional list vote, the Conservatives edge ahead of Labour, on 19 per cent and 18 per cent respectively. Support for the SNP is at 47 per cent with the Lib Dems at 4 per cent and the Greens at 8 per cent.
The poll also suggests Ms Davidson is the more popular leader, with a net approval rating of -8 against -17 for Ms Dugdale.
The poll of 1,021 voters between 6 and 15 April, coincides with publication of a report suggesting that a vote for the SNP on the regional list ballot might be “wasted”.
The paper, by Professor John Curtice for the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, argued that the SNP is projected to do so well in constituency contests it could win as few as two seats through the proportional representation part of the ballot.