ScotRail ‘forced to scrap political badge ban’

RAIL unions today claimed they had forced ScotRail to scrap plans to ban its 4,700 staff from wearing political badges in the run up to the independence referendum.

A draft staff notice stated that ScotRail was an apolitical organisation. Picture: Complimentary
A draft staff notice stated that ScotRail was an apolitical organisation. Picture: Complimentary

The pro-Union train drivers union Aslef said it would be “ridiculous” to bar its members from wearing Better Together badges when transport minister Keith Brown had worn a Yes Scotland badge.

A draft staff notice prepared by Scotland’s main train operator stated that ScotRail was an apolitical organisation, and staff at work or in uniform “should not campaign or seek to influence political affiliations with colleagues or members of the public”.

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The statement, from human resources director Julie McComasky, said: “This includes distributing material that promotes political parties or cross-party groups and the wearing of any associated badges, lanyards or lapel pins while at work.”

ScotRail said the notice had been a draft and would not be issued to staff.

A spokeswoman declined to respond to the unions’ claim they had forced it to back down.

Aslef said the directive had been drawn up because of its support for the Better Together campaign.

Scotland district secretary Kevin Lindsay said: “A number of our members wear Better Together badges and United with Labour badges, and I have seen other staff with badges supporting both sides.

“I believe it’s in direct response to Aslef already taking a position on this matter.

“I doubt very much anything would have been said if we were backing a Yes vote.”

In a letter to ScotRail, Mr Lindsay wrote: “I’m not happy with political censorship. The whole of Scotland has a view on independence and it’s unreasonable to stop staff discussing this.

“Aslef has taken a position on the referendum and we don’t see why the referendum is any different to any other election.

“The transport minister wears a Yes badge at his workplace but [ScotRail franchisee] First[Group] are stopping its employees from doing the same.

“I find this position ridiculous. As such, we can’t support suppression of our members’ views.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT), which has yet to decide its stance on independence, said ScotRail had made the right decision.

A spokesman said: “RMT welcomes the fact that, following pressure from the union, the offending staff notice has now been withdrawn.”

General secretary Bob Crow said the staff notice had been “the most blatant attempt at political censorship and gagging imaginable”.

Both sides in the independence debate said ScotRail had been right to scrap its planned ban.

A spokesman for the Better Together campaign said: “We welcome this sensible move. People should be able to able to express their views in this hugely important debate.”

A Yes Scotland spokesman said: “We believe in freedom of expression and the rights of everyone to their opinions.

“This would appear to be a sensible decision by the company.”

Meanwhile, Mr Brown told MSPs yesterday that rail staff would continue to be permitted to wear union badges at work.

He said concern that this would be banned had been based on a misunderstanding over the wording of ministers’ requirements for the next ScotRail franchise from next year.