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  By a Newsnet reporter  

In what may be the first of several leading trades unions to come out in support of Scottish independence, delegates to the annual conference of the Prison Officers Association of Scotland have voted overwhelmingly to back independence following a debate at their annual conference at the MacDonald Cardrona Hotel in Peebles.

Stressing that the vote was "indicative" as it involved only branch delegates and was not a full ballot of union members, the assistant general secretary of POAS, Andy Hogg said:  

"At some point unions will have to take a view so we put the proposition 'Scotland would be better off under the UK' up for debate.

"We don't have a party political affiliation but it was a good debate and the delegates ended up rejecting the proposition.  It was something like 90 per cent against.  We had 17 branches represented with 34 delegates."

The debate featured the SNP MSP Christine Grahame speaking against the proposition and Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald arguing in favour.

Mr Hogg said that union members were deeply worried about current Westminster policies on pensions, retirement ages, and the pay freeze amongst public sector workers.  

He said:

"It was a well-received debate but there were some serious issues coming to the fore that members have in relation to pensions.

"UK legislation controls that area because prison officers are covered under the Civil Service pensions policy.  It makes it really difficult to get support from the Scottish Government.

"We should be retiring at 60 but we're facing the prospect of retiring at 68 – that's just not workable in a prison environment.

"With pensions we are paying a contribution over the next three years of five per cent, which amounts to a cut in earnings because of the pay freeze.

"Our guys are finding it increasingly hard to manage with less disposable income and rising bills."

Another issue which was raised by the officers as a reason for supporting independence is the two private prisons in Scotland, Addiewell and Kilmarnock, which were set up under the previous Labour / Lib Dem administration in Holyrood.  Officers want to see these prisons return to public ownership.

Mr Hogg added that under independence: "We would have a Scottish Civil Service rather than a UK Civil Service which would empower us to address these issues."

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