War of words escalates between Scottish actors and their union

A bitter war of words between Scottish actors and their own union has escalated dramatically amid warnings that a breakaway body may be set up unless a controversial figurehead steps down.
Tam Dean Burn has one of the main campaigners. Picture: Aly WightTam Dean Burn has one of the main campaigners. Picture: Aly Wight
Tam Dean Burn has one of the main campaigners. Picture: Aly Wight

Six members of Equity’s Scottish national committee have quit in protest at a recent restructure and redundancy process which led to its long-serving Scottish organiser losing his job.

A campaign was launched to reverse the decision over Lorne Boswell, who had been in the role for more than 30 years, after it emerged just before Christmas and a petition attracted more than 3000 backers.

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The need to cut costs and tackle “substantial financial instability” at the union was cited for the loss of five jobs across the UK.

Scottish actors say the decision was taken at the worst possible time when many are out of work due to the closure of theatres due to the coronairus panemic.

The Scottish committee described the decision to axe Mr Boswell as “wholly unjustified and unnecessary.”

However the plea for a rethink has been rejected by Equity general secretary Paul Fleming, who has been the target of criticism by actors on social media.

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An official statement by Equity responding to the actors’ campaign suggested some members had “abandoned all sense of reasoned discussion in favour of abuse.”

Mr Fleming has suggested that the tactics of campaigners have “created an environment in which members of staff can be sent anonymous, ominous letters to their home address.”

However Mr Fleming, who has come under fire from Scottish campaigners over his support for Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum, has been accused of inflaming the situation instead of trying to seek a resolution and running a “smear" campaign.

In his letter of resignation from the Scottish national committee, musician and actor John Sampson said: “Compulsory redundancy is something no trade union should embark on especially when a furlough scheme is still in existence.

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"You will preside over the break up and fragmentation of this once great union.”

In her letter, actress Julie Coombe, said of Equity’s response to the campaign: “We effectively received a smack on the nose by a rolled up newspaper and were ordered back into our basket. A committee with no voice is impotent. A committee with its master’s voice is sinister.”

In a letter responding to the resignations, Mr Fleming said: “Facts have been baselessly decried as being untrue – ‘fake news’ if you will – when it does not suit the agenda being pursued.

"The repeated placement of incorrect or misleading information into the public domain, without checking or in spite of knowing the contrary, has inflamed the situation.”

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River City and Outlander star Tam Dean Burn, one of the campaigners seeking to remove Mr Fleming, said: “A breakaway Scottish union would be a disaster, but it might well come to that.

"Unity is strength as far as trade unions go, but the way things are going it is certainly a distinct possibility.

"The strength of feeling in Scotland is that people are just not going to go along with this. There’s no way Paul Fleming is capable of convincing anyone now.”

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