Nicola Sturgeon with deputy first minister John Swinney. Photo: Getty
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Leak inquiry ordered over memo that claimed Nicola Sturgeon wants David Cameron to remain prime minister

The cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, has confirmed that an official inquiry will take place.

An official inquiry will take place into the leaking of a memo which suggested SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon wanted David Cameron to remain prime minister, the cabinet secretary has announced.

In a statement, Jeremy Heywood wrote: "You have asked me to investigate issues relating to the apparent leak of a Scotland Office memo that forms the basis of this morning’s Daily Telegraph story. I can confirm that earlier today I instigated a Cabinet Office-led leak inquiry to establish how extracts from this document may have got into the public domain. Until that inquiry is complete I will not be making any further comment either on the document or the inquiry."

The Daily Telegraph reported this morning that the SNP leader told the French ambassador to the UK that she did not see Ed Miliband as "prime minister material" and that "she'd rather see David Cameron remain as PM". The quotes are said to come from an official memo prepared by a civil servant after speaking to France's consul general in Edinburgh, Pierre-Alain Coffinier, who was present at the meeting.

Sturgeon has denied saying the words quoted in the memo, and that she wished to discover  "how did it come to contain such an inaccuracy and how did it get into the hands of the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph?"

Mr Coffinier has also denied that the ambassador and Sturgeon discussed who she wanted as prime minister. "At no stage did anyone comment on their preference regarding the elections," he said earlier today.

Ed Miliband said: "I think these are damning revelations. What it shows is that while in public the SNP are saying they don’t want to see a Conservative government in private they’re actually saying they do want a Conservative government. It shows that the answer at this General Election is that if you want the Conservatives out the only answer is to vote Labour for a Labour government."

My colleague Stephen Bush has more on the likely fallout here, as well as the suggestion that the leak may have come from the office of Scotland secretary Alistair Carmichael, with the aim of helping the Lib Dems hold on to their 11 Scottish seats. The BBC's Scotland correspondent James Cook concurs that some of Sturgeon's alleged comments are not as revelatory as they might first appear. "OF COURSE there are some SNP strategists - I know, I've spoken to them - who say in private a Tory victory would hasten independence," he tweeted today.

Former Labour spinner Damian McBride gives his take on the news here, and asks the following pertinent question: "Are Sturgeon, the Ambassador and the Consul General disputing the entire version of the conversation reported in the Scottish Office memo, or just the line about the First Minister’s supposed preference for David Cameron as PM. Did she say, for example, that “she wouldn’t want a formal coalition with Labour”; that “the SNP would almost certainly have a large number of seats”; that “she had no idea ‘what kind of mischief’ Alex Salmond would get up to”; and that she “didn’t see Ed Miliband as PM material”. If those four points are accurate, then it makes it all the more remarkable that the fifth point (about the preference for Cameron) was not. If, on the other hand, all five points are disputed, then it raises even more serious questions about how this account of events found its way into the official FCO memo."

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Trade unions must change or face permanent decline

Union membership will fall below one in five employees by 2030 unless current trends are reversed. 

The future should be full of potential for trade unions. Four in five people in Great Britain think that trade unions are “essential” to protect workers’ interests. Public concerns about low pay have soared to record levels over recent years. And, after almost disappearing from view, there is now a resurgent debate about the quality and dignity of work in today’s Britain.

Yet, as things stand, none of these currents are likely to reverse long-term decline. Membership has fallen by almost half since the late 1970s and at the same time the number of people in work has risen by a quarter. Unions are heavily skewed towards the public sector, older workers and middle-to-high earners. Overall, membership is now just under 25 per cent of all employees, however in the private sector it falls to 14 per cent nationally and 10 per cent in London. Less than 1 in 10 of the lowest paid are members. Across large swathes of our economy unions are near invisible.

The reasons are complex and deep-rooted — sweeping industrial change, anti-union legislation, shifts in social attitudes and the rise of precarious work to name a few — but the upshot is plain to see. Looking at the past 15 years, membership has fallen from 30 per cent in 2000 to 25 per cent in 2015. As the TUC have said, we are now into a 2nd generation of “never members”, millions of young people are entering the jobs market without even a passing thought about joining a union. Above all, demographics are taking their toll: baby boomers are retiring; millennials aren’t signing up.

This is a structural problem for the union movement because if fewer young workers join then it’s a rock-solid bet that fewer of their peers will sign-up in later life — setting in train a further wave of decline in membership figures in the decades ahead. As older workers, who came of age in the 1970s when trade unions were at their most dominant, retire and are replaced with fewer newcomers, union membership will fall. The question is: by how much?

The chart below sets out our analysis of trends in membership over the 20 years for which detailed membership data is available (the thick lines) and a fifteen year projection period (the dotted lines). The filled-in dots show where membership is today and the white-filled dots show our projection for 2030. Those born in the 1950s were the last cohort to see similar membership rates to their predecessors.

 

Our projections (the white-filled dots) are based on the assumption that changes in membership in the coming years simply track the path that previous cohorts took at the same age. For example, the cohort born in the late 1980s saw a 50 per cent increase in union membership as they moved from their early to late twenties. We have assumed that the same percentage increase in membership will occur over the coming decade among those born in the late 1990s.

This may turn out to be a highly optimistic assumption. Further fragmentation in the nature of work or prolonged austerity, for example, could curtail the familiar big rise in membership rates as people pass through their twenties. Against this, it could be argued that a greater proportion of young people spending longer in education might simply be delaying the age at which union membership rises, resulting in sharper growth among those in their late twenties in the future. However, to date this simply hasn’t happened. Membership rates for those in their late twenties have fallen steadily: they stand at 19 per cent among today’s 26–30 year olds compared to 23 per cent a decade ago, and 29 per cent two decades ago.

All told our overall projection is that just under 20 per cent of employees will be in a union by 2030. Think of this as a rough indication of where the union movement will be in 15 years’ time if history repeats itself. To be clear, this doesn’t signify union membership suddenly going over a cliff; it just points to steady, continual decline. If accurate, it would mean that by 2030 the share of trade unionists would have fallen by a third since the turn of the century.

Let’s hope that this outlook brings home the urgency of acting to address this generational challenge. It should spark far-reaching debate about what the next chapter of pro-worker organisation should look like. Some of this thinking is starting to happen inside our own union movement. But it needs to come from outside of the union world too: there is likely to be a need for a more diverse set of institutions experimenting with new ways of supporting those in exposed parts of the workforce. There’s no shortage of examples from the US — a country whose union movement faces an even more acute challenge than ours — of how to innovate on behalf of workers.

It’s not written in the stars that these gloomy projections will come to pass. They are there to be acted on. But if the voices of union conservatism prevail — and the offer to millennials is more of the same — no-one should be at all surprised about where this ends up.

This post originally appeared on Gavin Kelly's blog