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I am the Scottish Socialist Party spokesperson, former MSP for the Lothians. A founder member of the SSP I have been a political activist for 30 years.

Friday, 13 June 2014

STANDING SHOULDER TO SHOULDER WITH WORKING PEOPLE

This is an article I have submitted to the Morning Star for publication as part of their on going 'Voices of Scotland' series. Yes vote will benefit working class throughout these isles ‘Scotland should stand shoulder to shoulder with working people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland’ said Gordon Brown last week [Daily Record 2/6/14] standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tories, Lib-Dems and UKIP in opposing Scotland’s independence. The former Prime Minister pops up periodically in this debate to lead Labour’s own separatist group ‘United with Labour’ much to the chagrin of Alistair Darling his arch rival who represents the official ‘No’ campaign. But Gordon Brown’s standing is not high. And no wonder for this is the man who stood ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with Tony Blair over the war in Iraq and privatised so much of Scotland’s public services using punitive PFI contracts. He also left millions of people facing the worst recession in 80 years and his support for reckless, greedy merchant bankers is surely the most enduring feature of his political career. Brown doesn’t have to travel far in these isles to see the scars his pioneering neo-liberal reaction has left on working class communities. Yet this ‘heavyweight thinker’ with ‘an immense intellect’ [the Daily Records’ terms] apparently believes Labour stands to the left of the SNP politically nowadays. The evidence suggests otherwise. Mind you he has form as a ‘heavyweight thinker’ who disregards the evidence. As Chancellor he claimed he had ‘ended the boom-bust cycle of British capitalism’ just before it all went bust! He has not changed much during his 4 year ‘gardening leave’ in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. For Labour now believes, as their Scottish leader Johan Lamont infamously put it, that ‘universal benefits represent the something for nothing culture.’ They also vote voted against the SNP’s abolition of NHS prescription charges here in Scotland and they support further cuts in public services and welfare payments to the poor. Brown’s hero Jimmy Maxton must be birling in his grave! Of course no one, whether they have ‘an immense intellect’ or not, would claim the SNP are socialists, but then neither is the Labour Party. Unlike Gordon Brown however the nationalists did not vote for the Coalition Government’s welfare cap. But again ignoring all the evidence our ‘soothsayer’ predicts Scotland will be more right wing [than Labour] with Independence, more unequal and we would spend ‘all our resources on cutting corporation tax’. ‘Scotland gets the best of both worlds within the Union’ insists Gordon Brown. ‘We have a strong Scottish Parliament at Holyrood and vital influence in the UK Government’. But it’s a ‘double dip’ delusion! I was an MSP at Holyrood for 4 years. My daily experience was to be reminded by the Presiding Officer about what we couldn’t talk about there. We couldn’t talk about unemployment, we couldn’t talk about the national minimum wage and the low pay epidemic affecting 680,000 Scots, we couldn’t talk about social security or pensions, or the worst anti-union laws in the whole of Europe, we couldn’t talk about Europe or Foreign Affairs, we couldn’t talk about the Scottish soldiers dying in illegal wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, we couldn’t talk about the obscenity of Trident nuclear weapons stationed on our soil – we couldn’t talk about any of these issues they were all ‘reserved’ for Westminster. So we patently don’t have a strong Scottish Parliament nor do we have ‘vital influence at Westminster’ because the overwhelming majority of Scots wanted the bankers who caused the economic crisis held to account but they weren’t. We rejected the privatisation of the Royal Mail and yet we were lumbered with it. We rejected the bedroom tax and the attacks on the rights of immigrants and claimants but we suffer that too. Nonetheless Gordon Brown insists we should still vote No in September and wait for a Labour Government to come along and challenge the warmongering neo-liberalism that destroys our lives. But we just had three of them and they didn’t challenge neo-liberalism in any shape or form, they advocated it. The truth is Independence offers working people the left of centre, social democratic Scotland the majority want. And we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with working class people throughout these isles when we get it. Those like Gordon Brown and George Galloway who say Independence means we are ‘Abandoning the English working class to permanent Tory rule’ are wrong. They are arithmetically wrong because very few Westminster elections are ever decided by Scottish votes. Labours three most recent victories for example would still have been won without its Scottish MP’s. And they are politically wrong too because we are not ‘abandoning’ anyone. We are leading the fight for social democracy and socialism in these isles, as has often been the case in the past. The shop stewards movement for example came out of the Red Clydeside struggles of the 1900’s. The UCS work-in inspired the industrial fight back in the 1970s and the anti-poll tax rebellion began in Scotland in 1998. We are however abandoning the delusion that a Labour Government at Westminster will ever implement a social democratic or socialist programme. Independence will therefore be to the advantage of working class people across these isles. It represents a defeat for the forces of neo-liberalism and imperial warmongering. And it stands to reason that working class people in Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, London and elsewhere will also benefit from that. Moreover our solidarity does not stop at the English Channel. Scotland has a proud record of standing ‘shoulder to shoulder with working people’ in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the rest of the world. A ‘Yes’ vote on September 18th will not change that but it will rearrange the political balance of forces across the UK and beyond. It will embolden working people in the rest of these isles and internationally. Such a defeat for the UK ruling classes – at the forefront of neo-liberalism and warmongering the world over – will assist the struggle for socialism worldwide. In the last analysis Gordon Brown is not defending the interests of the working class and he never has. He is again ‘standing shoulder to shoulder’ with the neo-liberal British state and its political elite.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

UKIP's success will mean further reaction from Labour and the Tories

As the polls predicted UKIP has again dominated the European Elections in Britain winning more votes and more seats than any other party.
And whilst Farage’s party trailed in behind the SNP, Labour and the Tories in Scotland some 140,000 Scots still voted for their ‘dog-whistle’ racist politics.
Why did they win? And what are the likely consequences for the Independence referendum?
Incredible as it may seem UKIP with its Home Counties base and right wing views are regarded by many voters not just as anti-EU and anti-immigrant, but also as anti-establishment. The more Farage is attacked by the chattering classes and the metropolitan political elite the more popular he becomes.
This is a remarkable phenomena given he is himself part of that elite. Here is a public schoolboy, millionaire merchant banker and former Tory backwoodsman now masquerading as a ‘rebel’ who sticks two fingers up to EU bureaucrats and corrupt Westminster politicians.
Whatever else may be said about his odious, reactionary message it is clear, simple and oft repeated. UKIP dominated these elections with a message that is not difficult to comprehend. Those looking for simple answers, easy scapegoats and an ‘ordinary guy’ hero rushed to him in their droves. His face was never off TV and his message was co-sponsored by several tabloid newspapers.
Millions of Britons in the middle of the worst recession in 80 years have seen their wages fall 17% in real terms since 2010 instead of turning to the left for answers have thus far turned to the right.  The right has persuaded many people that the collapse in their living standard has been caused by immigrants and claimants [who either work too cheaply or not at all] rather than the bankers and corporate capitalism.
We are asked by UKIP to ignore the fact that immigrants make this country wealthier by coming here, that they pay far more taxes into the UK Treasury than they take out, that our NHS and other key services benefit enormously from their labour, that immigrants come here for work not for paltry benefits, that young workers from Poland and Spain have halted Scotland’s population decline, that our quality of life is greatly improved by multiculturalism and that Scots themselves have emigrated for centuries in search of a better life.
This is why the right has done so well in these elections and the left, such as it is, has done so badly. The left must clarify our message afresh, deliver it with aplomb and passion and then purposefully confront the racism of UKIP and its Tory, Labour and Lib Dem ‘bedfellows’ in this debate.

The results of these elections will be fiercely contested in so far as they tell us anything about the Independence debate. We on the YES side argued UKIP was a xenophobic, English party by and large rejected by voters here. That view is somewhat undermined by the fact 140,000 Scots voted for them. Yet it retains some potency since UKIP topped the poll in England whereas they came fourth here in Scotland. However it would have been much better for Yes if UKIP had not secured a Euro seat here.
The Scottish Greens will again be disappointed by the results. I was one of those who felt they were the best electoral vehicle for halting UKIP’s drive into Scotland. But they secured only one more MEP across Britain as a whole and in Scotland their 8.5% of the vote was only marginally better than the 7.5% they got in 2009. This suggests they lack wider appeal as ‘the torchbearer of radical and progressive politics in Scotland’ despite the claims of their election press releases to the contrary. Writing in ‘Bella Caledonia’ Mike Small of the Scottish Independence Convention went even further and concluded ‘the harsh truth is the Greens lack charisma, popularism and bite. They are rootless and unable to reach beyond the Guardianista’.
In due course we might all reflect on what might have been. Perhaps if the Greens had joined the Red/Green alliance proposed by some of us in the Greens and the SSP this time last year it could have made the difference. And it might also have been the test bed for a similar initiative in the more fruitful Holyrood elections of 2016?

Finally, however the last word on these elections goes to that ‘expert’ of Scottish politics the Bradford MP George Galloway who apparently insists UKIP and the SNP are ‘two cheeks of the same arse’. This nonsense surely secures for Galloway the title of the biggest ‘arse’ in Scottish politics today?

Monday, 19 May 2014

Widening inqualities a sure sign of a society in decay

Scotland's richest people saw their fortunes rise 19% last year according to the Sunday Times Rich List published this weekend. The wealthiest 100 Scots now own £25bn.
At the top of the rich list with £1,300million is the Grant family who own whisky distillers Glenfiddoch among other brands.

Whilst the majority of us continue to endure the consequences of the worst economic recession in 80 years and the impact of the Westminster austerity measures the wealthiest millionaires and billionaires rake it in.
Across the UK as a whole 1,000 people own the equivalent of 1/3rd of Britain's entire GDP.

Those who benefit from this state of affairs would have you believe this ever widening gap between the rich and poor is inevitable, or the result of market forces we cannot control or occurs by accident. The fact is it is the inevitable consequence of the neo-liberal economic policies pursued by successive Westminster regimes. They know exactly what they are doing and they condone the appalling consequences which follow for the poorest in our society.

To my mind these outrageous inequalities are completely unacceptable and will again disgust Scotland's working class majority who realise the huge gap between the rich and poor is not the result of some unhappy accident but is rather the consequence of greater and greater exploitation of the working class majority by a rich capitalist elite.

And all this certainly has a bearing on the Independence referendum in September because Scotland's social democratic and socialist majority demands action to narrow such grotesque inequalities. A Yes vote in September is therefore not only a vote for Independence in my view it is also a vote against the neo-liberal economics and political warmongering offered by Westminster. That is the reason why support for Independence continuous to grow in Scotland's poorest communities. Those who stand to gain most from narrowing the gap live in our most deprived communities. And all of us in the Yes movement must realise an independent Scotland must reverse the trend in wealth distribution or we will have failed its most passionate advocates.

Friday, 4 April 2014

MARGO MacDONALD: One of Scotlands finest daughters

Scotland has today lost one of her finest daughters.
Margo MacDonald left her mark on Scottish life and then some. Born in Hamilton seventy years ago she was an extraordinary woman in the way working class Scots women truly are.
Who else could campaign and be recognised the length and breadth of Scotland using her first name alone? Who else could get elected to Holyrood three times running an Independent? Who else took up such 'unpopular' causes? Who else could carry herself with such dignity and fortitude during her prolonged and very public illness? Who else could get away with half the things she said and did? No-one.
Like millions of Scots I could relate to her. She was a very formidable public figure and yet at the same time she was one of us.
I was very fortunate to get to know her first as a fellow Lothian's MSP and thereafter as a friend and colleague in the Independence movement.
She helped me enormously. As an MSP she helped me steer my Bill to abolish NHS prescription charges through Parliament. And when you got to know her you realised just how extraordinary she was. All the SSP MSP's and our staff loved her. We would regularly seek her out for her wisdom, her experience, her rebelliousness, her candour and above all for that great - and widely underestimated - gift she had of putting people at their ease around her. She was great company and generously provided wise counsel to everyone. Moreover it was usually taken after all here was someone who had broken the mould of Scottish politics again and again.
I admired her for her bravery and her integrity above all. She took up causes no one else would. And like most rebels she was fearless when she needed to be. Her remarkable staff Peter and Mary were always very generous to the SSP too.
The Scottish Socialist Party will be forever in her debt not least because she was the only MSP to stand up against the lynch mob who expelled us from Holyrood and fined us £30,000 for protesting against attempts to prevent the democratic right to protest against the G8 leaders summit in Gleneagles in 2005. [The severest penalty meted out to any 'Parliamentarians' in Britain since the English Civil war incidentally]. In the face of a baying mob she insisted on our right to due process. She failed. We got no such thing, but it showed the towering strength of the woman she was in standing up for what was right and just.
And I loved the fact you could disagree with her and yet she would make sure it never became an impediment to your ongoing relationship with her. Many's the time she gave me advice and then respected my mistakes with patience and generosity of spirit.
I was with her for a few minutes on Tuesday evening at the house as I waited to take Jim to speak at an SSP public meeting in Govan. We talked about the referendum campaign and she was full of confidence in the people of Scotland voting Yes in September. She gave me advice on what I should say at the meeting and we said goodbye.
She was an inspiration to millions. And millions of us will miss her. The best way to repay her generosity to to help Jim, Zoe, Petra and all her family and friends through the tough days ahead without her.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Tony Benn [1925-2014] our greatest tribune

Tony Benn was the reason I got involved in politics.
Growing up in Motherwell in the early 80's he inspired me to join the Labour Party. The first political campaign I ever took part in was his candidacy for deputy leader. I threw myself into it with everything I had. And I can recall as if it were yesterday the excitement I felt getting up early one Sunday morning to go into Glasgow to hear him speak at the University. He was electrifying in that understated style he had. It was the first time I had seen him 'live' as it were and I was overjoyed when I met him that first time.
Meetings were organised throughout Britain to help get him elected. Those I attended were exhilarating with hundreds and hundreds of people crammed in to hear him outline the socialist case for transforming Labour. I remember travelling all the way down to Aston Park in Birmingham [on an overnight bus laid on by the Ceramic workers union] on my own to hear him speak at a rally against mass unemployment. I had to 'stowaway' on the Scottish Labour Party Executive coach to get back home and wasn't in the least surprised to find the other 'passengers' backing his opponent Dennis Healey. I was heart-broken when he it was announced live on BBC TV that he had lost the vote by the slenderest imaginable margin. And like many others I was furious with those five so called 'left-wing' Labour MP's who had abstained and effectively cost him victory. In a sign of what was to come for Labour Neil Kinnock was one of them!

Tony Benn was the anti-establishment figure in that contest and remained so throughout the rest of his life. Strange really as he was the son, and grandson, of established Labour MP's and inherited the title Viscount Stansgate as a young man. Yet as he learned more and more about the world around him he became more and more left wing. The reverse is true for most Labour MP's. His enemies, and there were many of them, inside and outside the Labour Party, reviled him. They referred to him sneeringly as 'Anthony Wedgewood Benn'.

I met Tony many times over the last 35 years and learned a great deal from him, always grateful for his advice. As I look back proudly at the many platforms I shared with him - speaking out against the poll tax or against the war- like millions of others I realise I could have listened to him all day. Personally warm, friendly and supportive, above all I remember his patience and courtesy. Many's the time I would call him for advice or asked him to come and speak at some event or meeting I was organising.
Yet ironically it is a meeting we had in his Edinburgh hotel in August 2006, following Tommy Sheridan's lunatic and disastrous court action, that sticks in my mind most of all. For he was on that occasion to contradict the legendary advice he used to give all Britain's competing socialist groups to 'tie your ropes together'. On that balmy summers evening drinking endless cups of tea he explained how he had followed the case and insisted the SSP needed to break with Sheridan after his shameful conduct in the Court of Session. As it happened Tommy Sheridan left the SSP days later and saved us the bother.

The world today is a poorer place without Tony Benn. He is mourned by millions of working class people throughout Britain because he inspired us all. He explained the nature of the world we live in and the need to change it. We have lost our greatest tribune. And we owe his family an immeasurable debt today in their hours of sorrow for having shared him with us. His intellect, his integrity, his courage, his boundless energy, his solidarity, his friendship and character are sadly missed. He put all of them at the service of our socialist movement for half a century. Farewell dear comrade and friend. Rest assured 'La lotta continua'.