Thursday, 12 October 2017

Back to the drawing board for the Independence movement in Catalonia and Scotland


Has he or hasn’t he? That is the question. Has Catalan President Carles Puigdemont declared Independence or not? Has the October 1st Referendum he organised, where 90% of voters opted to become an independent republic, given him a mandate or not? Have the people of Catalonia spoken or not? If so, what have they said? For it is not at all clear. 

On the one hand Senor Puigdemont appears to have declared Independence only to suspend it for a week to allow negotiations between him and the Spanish Government to take place. Whilst the Referendum, declared illegal by the Spanish state and conducted under duress, resulted in a huge majority for Independence its validity is contested. The Catalan President insisted such an outcome would mean he had secured a mandate to declare Independence for Catalonia.

Whilst 90% of voters backed Independence the turnout was just 43% meaning most Catalans ignored the ballot. Both sides, for and against Independence, claim to have the majority behind them. The mood of the Catalan people is not at all clear as the massive demonstrations mobilised by all three sides in the conflict [those for independence, against and in favour of some negotiated dialogue with Madrid] showed. Each failed to conclusively prove where the majority of Catalans stand on the issue.

Furthermore the Catalan Government is now completely isolated at home and abroad in the ‘corridors of power. It has little support in the rest of Spain where all four main parties PP, PSOE, Podemos and Cuidadanos oppose Independence. The Spanish Constitution expressly prohibits secession by any of its constituent regions/nations without the consent of all others. And the ‘International community’ so called considers the matter an internal Spanish issue in which it is steadfastly determined not to become embroiled.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, leader of the conservative Popular Party [PP] government, has threatened to impose direct rule from Madrid the moment Puidgemont declares UDI. And despite the huge political escalation this action would induce – alienating Catalans even further from the Government in Madrid - no one doubts he will do so. The Spanish state will simply not allow Catalonia to secede. Its provocative use of the Civil Guards and Spanish police on the streets of Catalonia on October 1st left few in any doubt about the seriousness of its intentions. Rajoy knows the implications of Independence in Catalonia for politics across Spain - in the Basque country, Galicia and the Valencien community - would be incendiary. The break-up of Spain has been sharply posed and the forces of capital are not prepared to countenance such a possibility.

There was therefore only ever one outcome here. The independence movement in Catalonia has too little power. Worse, it has shown it was unprepared for this particular conflict. It now risks being routed by the emboldened Spanish state. The tactics the Independence movement employed in Catalonia in holding this referendum may well have back fired. It has not persuaded a majority of Catalans to support Independence. It has grievously underestimated the powers the Spanish state would employ against it and the huge inequity in the power relations it faced here. Moreover it has also threatened to split the governing coalition of Puidgemont’s centre-right nationalist party and the hard Left CUP [Popular Front].

Rajoy may in due course offer further devolution and increased funds to Catalonia in an effort to undermine the potency of the Independence cause. But this is unlikely in the short term. Meantime it looks like it is back to the drawing board for the Independence movement in Catalonia, just as in Scotland where following Nicola Sturgeons own INDYREF2 blunder morale has also been sapped.

Monday, 11 September 2017

'Brexit' negotiations underway with neither side representing the working class


Westminster MP’s vote tonight on the Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill with the Tories widely expected to win with the support of their allies the loyalist DUP. The vote draws attention again to the ‘Brexit’ negotiations now well underway. And perhaps the most important point about them, one universally ignored by the mainstream media, is that neither side represents the interests of working class people, anywhere.

I argued for a Remain vote back in June 2016. I did so on the basis it was ‘the lesser of two evils’. The European Union is, as far as I'm concerned, no friend of working people. It is an institution firmly rooted in post war Western European capitalism. Today it is firmly in the grip of neo-liberal free market capitalist corporations. It exists to ensure these multinational corporations profit, without tariff or interference, from exploiting 550milion Europeans. Treaty after treaty [Rome, Maastricht, Nice, Lisbon, Dublin] all ensured their interests were sacrosanct and put ahead of the peoples of Europe. Despite purporting to be ‘democratic’ the EU is in fact run by and for the interests of big business/capital. It is an instrument which exists to exploit their interests.

I therefore have no illusions in the EU, its character, purpose or negotiators. But, you may ask why, in that case did I call for a vote for Britain to ‘Remain’ inside this corrupt and undemocratic organisation?

Answer. Because the ‘Leave’ case on offer was even more unattractive. Led by the extreme Right of the Conservative Party its central promise was to roll back the clock and ‘take back control’ of economic and political decision making. But control for whom? Led by ‘Little Englanders’ who had no intentions of advancing the interests of working people anywhere, the ‘Leave’ campaign was not led by the Left. It was a narrow-minded xenophobic array led by dinosaurs like Nigel Farage, Boris Johnston, Michael Gove and other enemies of working people.

The British electorate voted to ‘Leave’ however. And as democrats we must accept the result. To do otherwise is to stand alongside the world’s ‘democracy deniers’. That’s no place for socialists.

So the ‘Brexit’ negotiations are now underway with neither side representing the interests of working class people. The ‘Brexiteers in Chief’ David Davies and Liam Fox are both arch Thatcherites with a record of reaction and privatisation as bad as any. They fully intend to shackle working people further and so do the EU negotiators who have their own punishments in store.

Working people across Europe face the same struggle. Greedy, exploitative employers wish us to work longer for less. They introduced zero hour contracts increasing the insecurity of working class people everywhere. And they have all moved to replace full time, permanent jobs on decent pay and trade’s union rights with insecure, part-time, casual, low paid and often humiliating conditions. Their profits have mushroomed as insecurity and indebtedness have wreaked havoc on working class communities throughout the continent. The rich have become obscenely richer whilst most of us have seen our living standards fall.

The SSP has no faith in the EU, its leaders or institutions. They are part of the problem facing working class people across Europe not its solution. The illusions pedalled in these institutions particularly by ‘Remainers’ who lost the 2016 Referendum are criminal. Working class Europeans have, as they say in the United States, ‘No skin in this game’. Both sides of the negotiating table are intent on signing a deal which further exploits working people across this continent. Neither want a £10/hour Living Wage and permanent, secure contracts of employment with full trade’s union protections. Neither want the riches of Europe publicly owned and controlled for the benefit of everyone. And neither side want that wealth shared out among all the peoples of Europe starting with the poorest first.

The task therefore facing working class people across Europe is to link up and build a common treasury for all. Not allow xenophobes and exploiters to divide us up so that we end up fighting one another instead of our common enemy. That’s the true internationalism behind our call for a People’s Europe.

I campaigned for a vote to stay in the EU to work with 550milion other Europeans to reform it from top to bottom. Reform it democratically since none of the EU leaders are elected by anyone. Reform it socially to ensure it serves the interests of working people not financiers in London, Frankfurt, Paris, Milan or Edinburgh for that matter.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Ultimate fight weekend arrives as world watches Mayweather vs McGregor

Mixed Martial Arts or the Ultimate Fighting Championship [UFC] is brutal. If first impressions last longest mines was horror. A mixture of boxing, wrestling and jujitsu UFC fighters can punch, elbow, knee, kick, choke, cripple and thump opponents senseless even when they are down and unconscious until the referee intervenes. One can only imagine what the sport is like at lower levels away from the prying eyes of TV cameras and pundits. My teenage son introduced it to me one Saturday morning at 3am last year as it was broadcast live on BT Sports. It woke me with a jolt I can tell you. There is no way I’d ever want him to do it.

UFC fighters meet in a cage or ‘octagon’ and the showtime pzazz surrounding it, like the carnage, is incessant. Needless to say contestants are mainly black, hispanic, eastern European or poor whites as is the case with the sports undisputed star and two category World Champion Irishman Conor McGregor. They all come from poor, working class backgrounds. McGregor, from the tough, impoverished Dublin housing scheme of Crumlin, is no exception.

Boxing is of course no different in its recruitment demographic. Floyd Mayweather, his opponent in Saturday nights ‘megafight’ under the Marquis of Queensberry's rules is black, and although now reputedly worth $250m after an unblemished 49-0 professional record, he emerged from poor neighbourhoods in Michigan and New Jersey.

The fight in Las Vegas this weekend will bring both fighters [and their huge entourages] $100m a piece as a worldwide audience hands over an estimated $500m to watch via pay per view or ringside in the massive T-Mobile Arena Las Vegas where, such has been the demand for tickets that a $1,000 ringside seat was this week being exchanged for $100,000!

Although now 40 years of age [and 12 years older than his opponent] with a shorter reach and a defensive style Mayweather is nonetheless considered the hot favourite. Tempted out of retirement by the staggering purse his compensatory advantage is the fact he is fighting under the rules of his sport and not McGregor’s. Incredible as it may seem McGregor has never had a single professional fight under boxing rules. And although boxing is his speciality in UFC bouts he has never fought an opponent in a 12 round purely boxing contest before. What a debut then!

For boxing purists this makes a mockery of their sport. They consider it a vulgar and greedy mismatch. Worse, they fear a victory for McGregor [however unlikely] will render boxing ridiculous and plunge it into even greater doldrums than it presently inhabits. They hope and expect McGregor to get ‘whupped’. But their first preference would probably be for another undoubted showman like him to emerge and take their sport forward with such pzazz as the Irishman has exhibited in the UFC.  Mayweather simply cannot match the Irishman for braggadocio and bullish one liners. Comparisons with the young Cassius Clay/Muhamad Ali are glib and over the top, but McGregor has certainly copied ‘the greatest’ in his pre-fight hype. Win or lose he and his UFC people have succeeded in putting their sport centre stage as far as the world’s attention is concerned this weekend. I'll certainly be watching to see if McGregor can possibly defy all the odds.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

MAY'S LOSS ON SUPREME COURT RULING IS LESS THAN NICOLA STURGEON'S

Today’s ruling by the UK Supreme Court that the Government must seek Parliaments consent before signing Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin Britain's formal exit from the EU comes amid dramatically different political circumstances from those in early December when the case was heard.

Then the judgement threatened to throw Theresa May’s ‘Brexit’ plans into chaos. There was speculation that a Parliament stacked with a huge majority of MP's who had voted to Remain might thwart Brexit. And there was a bitter and unseemly intra-establishment row between ‘Remainers’ paying for a last gasp legal attempt to overthrow the wishes of the electorate and ‘Brexiteers’ accusing the courts of interfering with equally anti-democratic monarchical powers to plough on regardless of Parliament's wishes. Now however Theresa May’s hand appears immensely stronger. Her aim to sign Article 50 by the end of March is back on track.
What caused the turnaround? The answer is that the die-hard ‘Remainers’ looked over the cliff edge and decided they did not have the stomach for defying voters after all. 

May’s ‘Article 50’ Bill with its ‘Hard Brexit’ plan to halt the free movement of labour, stop payments to the EU and extricate Britain from the European Courts of Justice will be given the green light within weeks. All Tory MP’s will vote for it and so will two thirds of Labour’s. Which leaves only right-wing Labour ‘rebels’, 6 Lib Dems and the SNP huddled together in the ‘No’ Lobby.

Where does this leave the case for Scottish Independence? The short answer is not in a good place. The SNP have spent 7 months grandstanding and using Independence as some EU bargaining chip. Their bluff has been called time and time again. In June Nicola Sturgeon promised to ignore the UK vote and somehow keep Scotland inside the EU. She jetted round European capitals ‘sooking up’ to as many EU leaders as would meet her seeking help to thwart ‘Scexit’. As widely anticipated she got nowhere with either gambit. Next she insisted she would get Scotland a seat on the UK negotiating team. Having failed to deliver that too she finally warned she was ‘not bluffing’ over INDYREF2 and there must not be a ‘Hard Brexit’. If Scotland did not get to remain in the Single Market she would ‘almost, almost, almost inevitably’ call a [legally unenforceable] second Referendum. She did nothing of the kind of course. And today her ludicrous plan to use the ‘powers’ in the Sewell Convention have been utterly dismissed by eleven Supreme Court Justices.  

And the reason for not delivering a single one of her threats? Her impotence. Even the dogs in the street know she is bluffing over INDYREF2. Neither Nicola Sturgeon nor anyone else in the YES side is going to hold a second referendum while the polls are this bad. Support for Independence is not only in the minority it has been falling since June!

The same conservative SNP who infer Nicola will gamble on ‘one last throw of the dice’ know she has not made the case for Independence for two years now.

As the Scottish Socialist Party and others have been pointing out for months the EU is not the issue upon which to win INDYREF2. The EU is an anti-democratic bosses club in the grip of the same neo-liberal capitalism that was rejected in Britain in June [and the US in November]. It is no friend of working people. The SSP called for a ‘Remain’ vote in June as the ‘lesser of two evils’. Now that the verdict has been delivered we must all respect it and leave.

Nicola Sturgeon has ignored all else in her ‘in tray’ these past 7 months in order to highlight the ‘democratic deficit’ inherent in the June 23rd vote. But she has ‘over egged the pudding’. For that particular ‘democratic deficit’ is not the only one Scots have suffered in recent years. And neither it is the most egregious. The war in Iraq and the Poll tax were even more offensive. Neither are such ‘democratic deficits’ all there is to the case for Independence. We will only win the vote for Independence when we can prove to Scotland’s working class majority they will be economically, socially and politically better off that way. Threatening INDYREF2 is not the same as making the case for Independence. That case has not been made and that is why we lag in the polls. Moreover increasingly frequent warnings from the SNP Deputy Leader and others that working class Scots will be worse off for the first 5 years of Independence at least is only going to prolong our minority status.

The psephologists Professor John Curtice and Dr Craig Dalyell have both shown the immensely more difficult challenges facing the YES campaign second time round. Some 13% of YES voters have moved to NO because of fears about the state of the Scottish economy. And the full impact of that journey is only now being revealed as it has been masked by the 14% of No voters who had moved in the other direction because they wanted to keep Scotland inside the EU. As that is clearly not going to happen they may drift back.

Rather than making an opportunist and undeliverable case for keeping Scotland in the anti-democratic neo-liberal EU as the SNP leadership has done the wider Independence movement needs to concentrate on making the fundamental - economic, social and political - case for self-determination. We have wasted 2 years waiting on the SNP to do it.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

BRITISH 'DEMOCRACY' UNDER THE MICROSCOPE AS SUPREME COURT RULES ON ARTICLE 50

 
Britain’s decision to leave the EU is being scrutinised by the highest constitutional court in the land. And in doing so the case has put UK ‘democracy’ under the microscope. Eleven unelected Supreme Court ‘Justices’ will rule on whether the UK Government has the legal right to use autocratic, monarchical ‘Crown Powers’ to override our elected Parliament’s right to ‘interpret’ the wishes of the British people as expressed in a democratic referendum.
It all sounds like an episode of ‘Yes Minister’ or ‘In the Thick of it’.
The Judges insist they are above politics and always reach their decisions based only on matters of law – matters passed into law by Parliament and therefore political by their very nature. 
Ostensibly the case in front of the UK Supreme Court turns on whether the Government has the right to sign Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty triggering Britain’s formal departure from the European Union, without going back to Parliament for permission and uses the archaic ‘Crown Powers’ vested in the office of the Prime Minister Theresa May by the Queen instead.
The High Court judgement in October ruled that the power to sign Article 50 fell under the jurisdiction of the European Communities Act 1972 passed by Westminster, as such was a matter ‘domestic UK law’ and therefore required the assent of Parliament. The Government on the other hand claims Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty falls under Britain’s International Treaty obligations and therefore does not require Parliamentary permission as such decisions are routinely dealt with under ‘The Crown Powers in Parliament’. Those who claim the British monarchy is powerless and largely confined to a figurehead role might like to pay close attention here as their view appears to be again exposed by the facts of this case. 
Obscured beneath all this legal finery is the naked politics. The High Court injunction was brought by two wealthy ‘Remain’ campaigners, investment fund manager Gina Miller and society hairdresser Dier Dos Santos who admit their objective was to overturn or at least slow the entire Brexit process. Moreover the three Judges involved earlier were outspoken ‘advocates’ of a Remain vote. They are of course ‘horrified’ at the suggestion their verdict was influenced by their political convictions insisting they are both obliged to, and capable of, putting aside their own political opinions in such circumstances and backgrounds. Of course!  
Meanwhile the UK Government is privately resigned to losing their Supreme Court Appeal and has tabled a one line Short Bill for Parliament seeking Westminster’s assent to invoke Article 50 formally in March.