RAIL union the RMT yesterday became the first industrial trade union to come out in favour of a Yes vote when it emerged that its Scottish members had narrowly voted in favour of independence. Members backed Alex Salmond’s plans to end the Union by a margin of 1,051 to 968 in a ballot result announced on the same day that Labour leader Ed Miliband made his latest referendum campaign visit north of the Border.
There were 365 undecideds in the poll of the RMT’s 9,000-strong Scottish membership – a turnout of about 25 per cent.
Other major unions such as Unite and Unison have not stated a position, although both are affiliated to Labour. The only other union to come out for a Yes vote is the Prison Officers Association Scotland, while others such as Labour-affiliates the GMB, Aslef and Community are supporting a No vote.
Independence campaigners claimed the RMT result was a sign that left-wing voters were moving towards Yes, despite Mr Miliband’s attempts to shore-up the Labour vote ahead of the 18 September referendum.
The RMT, which was led by the controversial left-winger Bob Crow until his death earlier this year, was expelled from Labour in 2004 after it allowed five branches to affiliate to the Scottish Socialist Party, then led by former MSP Tommy Sheridan.
Yes campaign leaders said the RMT’s backing for independence was a “humiliation” for Mr Miliband because of the remaining links the union has to Labour, some of whose candidates it continues to back financially at elections.
The union has also retained Labour parliamentary groups at Westminster, who lobby on its behalf and put down early-day motions in support of RMT positions on key issues.
The Labour chairman of Westminster’s Scottish affairs committee, Ian Davidson, is one of four of the party’s MPs from Scotland in the RMT’s parliamentary group of MPs.
Other Scottish Labour politicians in the group include the North Ayrshire and Arran MP Katy Clark, Dundee West MP Jim McGovern and Central Ayrshire MP Brian Donohoe.
Mr Davidson, MP for Glasgow South West, said he was disappointed at the RMT’s decision to back independence, pointing out that it was backing a cause supported by the Stagecoach-owning tycoon Sir Brian Souter, who has previously been involved in a series of disputes with the transport union.
Both sides of the referendum debate are engaged in a furious battle for left-wing votes, with Yes Scotland believing that they hold the key to victory.
Mr Miliband mounted an attack on the Tories when he came to Scotland yesterday, arguing that his party can dislodge David Cameron at next year’s election.
But Mr Miliband’s approach was criticised by Mr Salmond on a walkabout in Glasgow. Mr Salmond suggested the Labour leader was fighting on the wrong front in the referendum.
The First Minister said: “What Ed Miliband doesn’t seem to understand is that this referendum isn’t about the SNP, it is not about me or about any politician or any political party.
“It is about the opportunity the people of Scotland have in each and every future election in an independent country to get the government of our choice.”
The SNP’s deputy leader, Nicola Sturgeon, claimed the RMT’s backing for independence was further evidence of “Labour-minded voters” moving towards Yes.