Monday, 24 October 2016


This article is published in the latest edition of the Scottish Socialist Voice 

‘I can confirm today that the Independence Referendum Bill will be published for consultation next week’ announced Nicola Sturgeon to a standing ovation from her Party Conference in Glasgow.

But wait! Isn’t this the same ‘Draft’ Bill she unveiled last month in her ‘legislative programme’ for Holyrood? And isn’t it the Bill that is to be discussed for a year containing no specified date for a second referendum? And isn’t that referendum merely ‘consultative’ lacking the legal validity of the 2014 vote? And if passed isn’t the Bill to be stuck in her handbag and used only if a majority for Independence magically materialises?

What, many will ask, is the SNP doing to advocate the case for Independence now and to effectively counter Unionist arguments. For it has not done so for two years. Rather it puts its own party interests ahead of the independence cause.

Despite the nationalists winning two consecutive General Elections in Scotland support for Independence has not grown. Indeed the latest poll by BMG for The Herald [13/10/16] has it falling. In the aftermath of the EU Referendum in June 59% said they’d back Independence. Now it is down to 45%.

‘Indyref2 before 2019 to keep Scotland in the EU’ ran the newspaper headlines on her speech. But the BMG poll also found 47% are against holding another Referendum with only 38% in favour. Three quarters of those against the vote said BREXIT makes no difference. BMG research director Dr Michael Turner concluded ‘The poll shows the EU is no game changer’ confirming the SSP’s view that to win ‘INDYREF2’ the YES campaign must convince on the issues affecting the day to day lives of Scotland’s working class majority.

The SNP has confused public anger over ‘the democratic deficit’ on June 23rd with a misplaced affection for the anti-democratic neo-liberal EU in Brussels. More worryingly for a First Minister with an outsized passion for the EU the evidence shows most Scots will not vote for Independence simply to remain inside that bureaucracy! The passion Nicola Sturgeon displays for the EU reveals above all her loyalty to Scotland’s big business interests not ‘its people’.

More and more voters are asking when they see the SNP’s motto in primus ‘Standing up for Scotland’, what ‘Scotland’ do they mean? For, as the recently published figures for multiple deprivation show, they are not ‘standing up’ for Scotland’s working class communities.

Nicola Sturgeon’s obsession with the EU signifies first her party’s economic neo-liberal orthodoxy. And second reveals the SNP’s Right-wing is far stronger than it’s Left-wing. She would do well to heed the warnings from observers like Martin Jacques [‘The Observer’ 18/09/16] that the economic and political dominance of neo-liberalism may be coming to an end. The huge support for Sanders, Corbyn, Syriza and Podemos on the left and Trump, Le Pen and Brexit on the right represent a popular backlash against neo-liberalism and a desire for profound improvement in people’s living standards. Such ‘inchoate expressions of resentment’ as Jacques puts it, are railed against the very economic orthodoxy the SNP supports. Their economic policies widen inequalities, push down real incomes for the masses, proscribes public ownership and compels the ‘marketization’ of public services with taxes on business and the rich discouraged.  

The election of Angus Robertson MP as SNP Deputy Leader came as no surprise. His victory will have cheered party chiefs at Jackson’s Close for it endorses their orthodox neo-liberal economics. Known as ‘Mr NATO’ by his critics and firmly on the Right of the party, Robertson saw off two left wing challengers with ease in the ballot of 125,000 members. The result tells us a great deal about the political balance of forces inside the nationalist party.

It is ironic that having won mass popular support for not being Labour, for not being the party most closely associated with neo-liberalism, the SNP is in the same ideological camp. They won Parliamentary seats on the promise of ‘standing up’ to the excesses of neo-liberalism. But they have not done so. They advocate rather than ‘attack’ this hegemonic doctrine of corporate capitalism and in doing so they jeopardise the prospects of Independence.

Only by delivering the message of change working class voters need can the SNP secure the second Independence vote. But their passion for the neo-liberal EU and the outlandish claims they have made on its nature, on their place in the BREXIT negotiations and on stopping Scotland’s departure from it, exposes their real agenda. ‘Scotland’s business community’ has the SNP in its pocket and, as Kenny McAskill has recently admitted, produced ‘timid and managerial’ ambitions from the First Minister after two years in office. Such criticism is entirely valid even if it comes from a former Minister who did little to confront this ‘managerialism’ himself over the past 10 years. Nonetheless he is right to conclude a majority cannot be won for Independence on such a neo-liberal prospectus.

Sunday, 25 September 2016


It is hard to see what difference Jeremy Corbyn's re-election as Labour leader makes to the crisis his party is in.
As expected he saw off the challenge of Owen Smith with ease. And as expected 200 of his MP's have told him they will ignore the result just as they did last year. Adding insult to injury for Corbyn his opponent Smith won 58% of the vote in Scotland.
So the bloody stand-off continues.
And yet for all the melodrama the $64m question remains unanswered, what does Labour actually stand for? Does it still believe we should keep Trident nuclear weapons? Does it still believe in neo-liberal economic orthodoxy when its time appears to be up even for the capitalists who employ it? Does it still oppose Scottish Independence? Does it still believe in austerity and support 80% of George Osborne's cuts? Does it still believe in military interventions in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan? Does it still support the monarchy and the House of Lords? Does it still support the privatisation of the NHS and other public services? Does it still oppose higher taxes on the rich?
This confusion means Labour remain an utterly ineffective opposition at Westminster, Holyrood and everywhere else.
It is clear Corbyn cannot heal the splits in his party. The differences are so politically profound and the bitterness now so personal. He may be a principled socialist but 80% of his MP's are not.
So for all warm words of conciliation in the days that follow such results it will be back to 'business as usual' for the Labour MP's out to oust him within the week. Although they do not have the stomach to leave Labour as their forefathers in the SDP did in the early 1980's they will nonetheless continue to undermine him every chance they get. They will neither bury the hatchet nor buckle down to defend the interests of the working people who elected them. The Labour stasis will continue for some time yet.

Friday, 29 July 2016


'Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader is a symptom of the party's existential crisis not it's solution.' That was the conclusion I reached last summer following Corbyn's astonishing victory in the 2015 Labour leadership contest. The electorate's rejection of Ed Miliband's 'more of the same neo-liberalism' was followed by equally stark warning to Labour from its own members to change direction and outline clearly what it now stood for.

In the year since that vote Labour's crisis has worsened markedly. The Parliamentary Labour Party simply ignored the outcome of the leadership vote. Morale amongst Labour members deteriorated with each Parliamentary rebellion against Corbyn. The infamous 'chicken coup' organised by members of his Shadow Cabinet was designed to force him to resign. Instead it stiffened his resolve. And it has now produced this unprecedented second contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith the agent of the PLP faction that so despise him.

There is no shadow of doubt the contest will be poisonous nor that Corbyn will again emerge victorious. Some 600,000 Labour members are determined to deliver their verdict on the anti-democratic treachery of Smith, Angela Eagle and the rest of the PLP plotters.

The entire episode highlights the fundamental division in the Labour Party which was again laid bare when Andrew Marr interviewed Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell last weekend. Labour, Marr pointed out, has always been divided between those who see capitalism as a powerful, unopposable force they seek to manage in Government and those who see it as an exploitative and at times barbarous system which must be replaced by socialism. Corbyn is of course the first Labour leader to emerge from the latter camp.

In the 100 years of its existence Labour has never in truth resolved this core conflict. In recent years it has become politically, economically and socially neo-liberal. Neil Kinnock, John Smith, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Miliband all brought it to this place. Their policies were unashamedly capitalist, pro-market and 'business friendly'. They made it clear they saw Labour as a parliamentary party that sought the acceptance of the UK establishment. Corbyn on the other hand is an outsider contemptuous of the British ruling classes who seeks to end their undemocratic and ruthless grip on power. He seeks to replace capitalism with a more efficient, fairer and more democratic political and economic system.

I agree with Jeremy Corbyn on many things, but not about Scottish independence. He does not see the progressive democratic case for self-determination. And he is also wrong in my view to foster illusions in Labour as a socialist party, even under his leadership. Nonetheless every democrat in Britain fervently hopes he wins again for those in the PLP faction who have stabbed him in the back so often and so publicly deserve to feel the wrath of party members.

But many question arise should he win a second time; above all what exactly has changed? Are his enemies in the PLP and beyond going to bury the hatchet and accept the will of the membership this time? Or are they more likely to leave and form a new party? Labour MP's fear Theresa May is about to call another General Election and most fear they will lose their seats. And they would rather lose on their own terms than under Corbyn's leadership.

There have, its true, been predictions of a Labour Party split many times over the years that came to nothing, but this time it seems unavoidable. If it does happen the implications for politics across these isles will be profound.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

High Street Banking Crooks

It's official, there is one law for the banks and another for the rest of us.

A US Congressional Report published today reveals that the Department of Justice dropped serious criminal charges against the world's biggest bank in 2013 after George Osborne intervened to warn the prosecution would lead to another 'global financial disaster'.

Prosecutors were told that HSBC chiefs had laundered $881m from Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. Yet the bankers did not face the full force of the law because they were too big to prosecute. Instead of sending them to jail they allowed these banking crooks to pay a paltry $1.9bn fine because of the fear of 'systemic risk to the global financial market'.

This episode tells us a great deal about the morality and greed that is rife in the world's biggest 'industry'.

It shows there is virtually no crime the bankers can commit that will result in jail time for these 'masters of the universe'. And it exposes the impotence of apparently powerful politicians like US Attorney General Eric Holder and UK Chancellor George Osborne in the face of neo-liberal finance capitalism.

Who can possibly doubt that 21st century capitalism is in the grip of amoral and crooked financiers? Who can doubt that these bankers act as if they are above the law? The plea bargained outcome in this case is hardly likely to act as a deterrent which will successfully curb their illegal behaviour.

The fact is the bankers have the politicians in their pockets. And only after we change that reality can we expect to see crooked bankers brought to justice anywhere.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Off to the Spanish General Election - Sunday June 26th

I am off to Madrid on Sunday to observe the Spanish General election at the invitation of Podemos.

The election has been called because it is 6 months since the last election and the Spanish Constitution decrees a new vote must be held if no party/coalition has been able to command a majority in the Cortes within that period. Since the last election on December 20th resulted in a hung parliament and none of the 4 main parties could agree to govern separately or together the June 26th vote has been called.

The latest opinion polls suggest little has changed however since December in terms of popular support. The conservative Partido Popular [PP] stands on 29% of the vote, Podemos [We Can] is on 25.5%, PSOE [the Labour Party] 20% and the smaller right of centre party Cuidadanos [Citizens] is on 14%. [Source: El Pais/Metroscopia 11.6.16]

With no party again likely to emerge with enough support to form a majority in the 350 seat Cortes on its own the pressure will mount to form a coalition. The likelihood of that happening however is poor. All the possible permutations failed to materialise last time. So there is likely to be a prolonged political impasse.

All of this is bad news for the economy and continues the journey into uncharted political waters for post Franco Spain. The country has been governed by either the PP or PSOE since the 1970's. But that all changed when the Spanish economy 'went off a cliff' following its financial collapse of 2008. The unprecedented economic crisis that followed also unearthed massive corruption and bribery at the heart of the Spanish banking sector and political establishment. The PP and PSOE leaders were caught red handed and thoroughly discredited by their financial corruption.

The economic collapse and social outrage at the corruption scandals led to the emergence first of Podemos [We Can] on the Left and then Cuidadanos [Citizens] on the Right. Both changed the face of Spanish politics.

Economically Spain remains in huge trouble. Unemployment as a whole is running at 20% and youth unemployment at 50%. The country has seen one million people emigrate in the last 5 years alone. The EU was forced to step in and bail out the Spanish finance sector. The country now has one of the highest debt: income ratio's in the world. It owes its creditors more than one Trillion Euros. The social consequences of the collapse are pitiful. 30% of the population are now living in poverty and unable for instance to afford the electricity they need to keep warm in the winter and cool in the blistering summer sun.

Podemos and their pony-tailed leader Pablo Iglesias have promised to create a million new jobs, to renegotiate EU debt repayments, invest in health and education provision and industrialise Spain's economy by moving away from the traditional sectors of tourism, agriculture and construction. Their hopes of forming Spain's first Left-wing Coalition Government since the 1930's rest with PSOE leader Pedro Sanchez. But there is no love lost between the two parties. More importantly their political differences are profound. Podemos are anti-austerity. PSOE are much more economically and socially conservative. On the crucial issue of Spain's constitution where areas like Catalonia, the Basque country, the Valencien community and Galicia the two party's share a desire to maintain the unitary state. But Podemos is in favour of independence referenda in these areas with a new constitutional settlement might loosen the grip of Madrid and devolve even more power to the localities.

In an attempt to boost its own level of support, increase the pressure on PSOE and ultimately break the deadlock in government Podemos has reached an agreement with the Spanish Communist Party [Unida Izquerida] to form an alliance for this election and will appear on the ballot paper as Unidos Podemos [United We Can].

I am looking forward to the election campaign and learning much more about Podemos's programme and strategy in the next week or so. And I will be filing regular reports from Madrid here on my blog over the next ten days.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Edinburgh Peoples Festival hosts debate on the European Union Referendum

The Edinburgh People's Festival hosts a debate on the forthcoming Referendum on Britain's membership of the EU on Wednesday at The Grassmarket Centre in Candlemaker Row.
The event offers the citizens of Edinburgh help to decide whether to Remain or Leave the EU.
Former SNP Deputy leader Jim Sillars will make the case for leaving the EU, Maggie Chapman from the Scottish Greens will outline the Remain view and Lothians MSP Neil Findlay will also join us to explain why he is as yet still undecided.
Doors open at 7pm and the debate will be chaired by Natalie Reid from the Edinburgh People's Festival.