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Dear First Minister

I don’t know yet if I am writing to Nicola, Kezia or even Ruth although lets be honest the chances of that rank alongside the prospects of Leicester City winning the English premiership…

Willie, no offence but I can’t really give you a mention with a straight face in this context.  

In any event, I write this letter today, on the eve of the 2016 Scottish election to be read by our next and newly elected First Minister.  It is my plea for the issues I would like to see you address and the bold legislative steps that I believe that the people of Scotland need and deserve as soon as you cross the threshold at Bute House.  


Patrick McGuireI write this as a Trade Union and campaigning lawyer who firmly believes that the laws of Scotland empower and help victims of accident, injury, disease, mistreatment and discrimination achieve justice.

The Scottish referendum was said by many to have divided the nation.  I believe that it has united Scotland by lighting the fire that has become an inferno of political engagement.  There is no nation as politically engaged as the people of Scotland.  We therefore hold our elected representatives to the highest level of scrutiny.  We demand a lot; and will not allow ourselves to be let down or disappointed.  That means that there is a lot of pressure on you, First Minister.

You have to get it right; and you have to get it right quickly.  That means, no matter what your views are on the constitutional issue - whether you want more power; think that we have enough; or would still like to see an independent Scotland – you primary job is to use the powers that we have as fully and widely as possible.  You must also ensure that the powers still being devolved under the Smith Commission do not become a casualty of constitutional politics and that you try to maximise the transfer of powers under that process.  

That is where I will start; and with the Order in Council relating to employment tribunals.  Frankly, the current drafting of the Order in Council is a joke.  It is an anaemic, lifeless version of what everyone expected and anticipated would come to Scotland.  You must fight, tooth and nail, to ensure that the fullest powers of administration over the Employment Tribunal system is devolved to Scotland.  The last thing you, or anyone would want, is that one of the first matters concluded on your new watch is a great and disappointing opportunity lost in relation to the employment tribunal system.

Sticking with the theme of being bold, it is time to take a legislative stand against Section 69 of the Enterprise Act.  The UK government has taken away health and safety rights given to our workers by the European Union.  They have done so illegally and you must find the legislative way to restore essential rights of workplace safety under European law.  It is not enough to say that you disagree with Section 69 of the Enterprise Act; nor is it enough to say that you would reverse the legislation if you had more legislative powers. As an issue relating to European law, you can and you must, find a way for the Scottish people.  

I would say exactly the same about the Trade Union Bill.  There have been many hard fought concessions in the last four weeks but they are not enough and the Bill still stands as a fundamental attack on our most basic human rights.  The Scottish Parliament are constitutionally bound to observe and promote the Human Rights Act at all times.  Again, I therefore say that you must do everything that you can to kill the impact of the Bill in Scotland.
 
Workers’ safety relies on employers being scared of the criminal law and the employees having the power, backed by strong trade unions, to take employers to task through the civil court process.  There are gaps in our law on both fronts.  The Corporate Homicide law remains woefully inadequate and toothless.  The Corporate Manslaughter Act has been with us for almost a decade and it has not made one iota of a difference either in relation to prosecutions or, most importantly, workplace deaths.  

The last government introduced significant changes to our civil court system.  That has had a significant impact upon the ability of workers to bring civil court cases.  The landscape at present is very uncertain.  There is one change which was supposed to form part of the reform process which has not yet been introduced.  It is a change that will undoubtedly benefit workers and the Trade Unions that support their cases.  It sounds technical.  It is called Qualified One way Cost Shifting.  It sounds complex but the idea is simple.  It rebalances the economic scales.  The insurers have all of the money and all of the power.  QOCS will change that.  It will empower victims and Trade Unions to ensure that they are on a level and fair financial footing when they fight for justice through the courts.  It must be a priority for your first 100 days.  

Finally, we need to change the law to allow victims of historic abuse being denied justice by legal technicalities relating to timebar.  

There are other issues but hopefully that is enough to be getting on with.  

Be bold.  Be progressive.  And make things better for the Scottish people.  

Good luck.

Patrick

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