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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, 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'.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Scottish Socialist Voice 2nd Forum on Independence - Sat 8th March

The Scottish Socalist Voice - Scotland's only socialist newspaper - is hosting another Forum for the Independence movement. Our second event will discuss how to win more working class Scots to Yes. 
Another terrific line up of speakers from across the pro-Independence left will provide their thoughts and answer questions on the issue on Saturday 8th March in Edinburgh.
Tickets for the Forum are again free and available from
There is already great demand for tickets however so anyone interested in attending is strongly advised to book one in advnace to avoid the disappointment of not getting in.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

YES Edinburgh South Public Meeting - Thurs Feb 27th

If you are in the neighbourhood why not come along and hear the case for Independence in South Edinburgh on Thursday evening?
Its in St John Vianney Church Hall, Fernieside Gardens at 7.30pm

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Stirling University says YES to Independence

Well done to the students at the University of Stirling for organising a superb meeting on Independence this week.
My thanks also to those who have emailed, tweeted and contacted me on my Facebook page to say how much they enjoyed my speech outlining the SSP's unique vision of an Independent socialist Scotland, a modern democratic republic.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Momentum with the Yes Campaign

This article from me was printed in todays Morning Star newspaper

THREE polls published in January have put a spring in the step of the campaign for Scottish independence. The first two, by ICM for Scotland on Sunday and TNS, show support for independence up 5 points since September. The third by Ipsos-Mori confirms that working-class voters are much more attracted to self-determination than their richer compatriots.

For those of us involved in the Yes Scotland campaign these polls provide further evidence that victory is within our grasp. The latest rise takes Yes support to 47 per cent against 53 per cent for No once the “don’t knows” are excluded.

These figures have been described by the country’s leading psephologist, Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, as “the best polling news the Yes side has yet had in the referendum campaign.”

They highlight the wisdom of the “slow burn” strategy that has allowed voters time to come to terms with the full significance of independence.
The poll from Ipsos-Mori shows that class is increasingly the clearest guide to voting intentions.

Working-class Scots are now twice as likely to vote Yes compared with those with a material interest in maintaining the status quo.

The Scottish Socialist Party’s central message has always been that working-class Scots stand to gain from independence. In our pamphlet The Case for an Independent Socialist Scotland we argue that working-class Scots will be economically, socially and politically better off and this is now permeating deeper into this debate.

So what are the perceived advantages of independence for working-class Scots?

The list is a long one. There would be no measures like the hated bedroom tax here after independence, no privatisation of Royal Mail, no more poll tax experimentation, no more blaming immigrants and claimants for an economic crisis caused by City bankers, no more Trident nuclear missiles stationed on the Clyde, no more Scottish soldiers sent to die in Iraq or Afghanistan and above all no more hated Tory governments. Scotland would, according to the latest OECD report, be the eighth-richest country in the world.

That’s an attractive list by anyone’s reckoning, let alone compared to the continuing deterioration in our living standards, the widening inequalities and the xenophobic, anti-claimant policies emanating from Westminster or the ongoing attacks on our political rights promised by the union.

And the polls are expected to narrow further if Ukip emerges as the biggest party down south in May’s European elections, as they are not likely to win a single seat in Scotland.

Moreover if the Tories look like winning the 2015 Westminster general election both factors will further expose the gulf between the political centre of gravity of politics in England and that in Scotland — a factor Labour insists on denying.

But perhaps the greatest potential game-changer in this referendum lies in the risk Labour must run with its “devo max” dilemma. Put simply, the No campaign in announcing “extra powers for Holyrood” must attract those voters who do not favour the status quo or independence.

These voters make up the bulk of the crucial “don’t know” category in the polls. To stop them voting Yes Labour needs to offer a substantial set of additional powers to Holyrood such as gathering in income-tax revenues and setting a separate welfare policy.

Yet ultimately it must be able to get its plans through a hostile Westminster Parliament. Many believe it is a circle Labour cannot square. The national question is plainly a live one in Scotland and the break-up of the British state is already well under way.

As I have reported in this newspaper before three-quarters of Scots no longer identify themselves as British according to the 2011 census. All of this has led to a profound political crisis for new Labour.

Whereas virtually the entire left in Scotland backs self-determination Labour finds itself acting as the “capo” of an unsavoury mob that involves the Tories, the Lib Dems and Nigel Farage.

And defending what? A union no longer fit for purpose, a political reality that forces Scots to accept governments and ideologies we have rejected time and time again.

It means Scotland’s left-of-centre majority is ignored by a neoliberal Labour Party whose focus is on winning a British parliamentary majority by pandering to an “M4 corridor” whose values are completely alien to us.

Labour in Scotland used to distance itself from the policies of its southern counterparts. Not any more. Now we have Scottish leader Johann Lamont decrying universal benefits and claiming Scotland cannot afford free school meals for five, six and seven-year-olds.

She tells us that the health and wellbeing of primary schoolchildren was “not [her] priority” when one in three of them in her Glasgow constituency live in desperate poverty. For the record, she believes spending £100 billion on a second generation of nuclear missiles and building two aircraft carriers at a cost 100 times the price of the school meals is a “priority.”

The Scottish Socialist Party has made a very positive and widely respected contribution to the broad Yes Scotland coalition. More than 500 people have applied to join this past 12 months via our website alone. We have enjoyed innumerable invitations to present our socialist case for independence to new audiences throughout Scotland. Our pamphlet putting the socialist case for independence enjoyed record sales and we hosted a very successful Scottish Socialist Voice forum in December to discuss the Scottish government’s white paper with a distinguished panel that included Jim Sillars, Professor Mike Danson, John Finnie MSP, Councillor Maggie Chapman of the Greens and Isobel Lindsay from Scottish CND. We have also organised dozens of SSP public meetings throughout Scotland on the socialist case for independence and we are actively involved in the Radical Independence Campaign.

And we believe the prospects for a game-changing result in September are better than ever. British politics will never be the same again.

Friday, 31 January 2014


The letter below was sent to The Scotsman on Wednesday in response to an article the previous day attacking Scottish Education Secretary Mike Russell for being 'revolted' by UK immigration policy.
Dear Sir,

I am bound to say I agree - on this occassion at least - with Education Secretary Mike Russell for being 'revolted by UK immigration policy.' [Scotsman 29/1/14] He s right to be disgusted.

When BBC reporters are sent to Bucharest bus station on New Years Day to cover a mythical story about thousands of Roumanians heading for London's Victoria coach station to take advantage of Britain's 'generous benefits system' the influence of UKIP is self-evident. The fact the story revealed no 'hordes of Roumanain immigrants' or 'generous benefits' ought not to obscure the gullibility of BBC news editors who fell for this UKIP myth.

Meanwhile the Tories try to cauterise support ebbing away to their right continue to blame immigrants for Britains economic problems. Their latest proposal is to deny immigrants access to the NHS for two years. Of course I appreciate the Tories would like to deny everyone access to the NHS in favour of private medicine but this idea is surely their worst yet. They shoud be constantly reminded that immigrants make this country richer in coming here. They pay far more into the UK Treasury in taxes than they take out in benefits and services.

There was a time when Labour would have fought such a dual attack on migrant workers and the NHS but those days are sadly long gone. Now they tail end the Tories on immigration policy just as they did on privatisation, on public spending cuts, on anti-union laws, on warmongering, on Trident and ultimately of course on the UK itself.

UKIP want to pin the blame for the 2008 financial collape and the subsequent recession on immigrants. I am confident the people of Scotland will continue to reject their xenophobia and remind them it wasn't the Roumanians who caused the recession, it wasn't the Bulgarians who bankrupted the country it was bankers like Nigel Farage.