Sunday, 21 June 2009

MPs and MSPs forget the poor as they feather their own nests

Figures released by the Scottish Government this month show that the oft repeated promises of politicians at Westminster and Holyrood to reduce poverty and inequality in Scotland have simply not been kept.
The Scottish Government report 'Poverty and income inequality in Scotland: 2007/08' reveal that no progress whatsoever has been made in lifting children, low paid workers and pensioners in Scotland out of poverty in recent years, indeed many observers believe the situation may well have worsened sharply.
The Department of Work and Pensions who carried out the study found that between 2006/07 and 2007/08 17% of the population in Scotland were living in poverty and their total income, compared to the rest of society, fell once again.
These figures are doubly disappointing considering they refer to a period of economic boom. It is widely accepted that periods of economic recession like the one we are in at the moment with unemployment rising at record levels, cuts being made to public services and taxes due to increase, hit those on low incomes hardest.
To think that the same MPs who have been 'rifling' through the public purse to maintain their own highly inflated life of luxury in recent years ignored those in much greater need tells us a great deal about the appalling priorities of those parties currently sitting in Westminster and Holyrood.
The poor clearly need someone else to stand up for them if they are ever to obtain their fair share of the enormous wealth all around us.That's why the Scottish Socialist Party is so important.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Thank You!

I want to thank all my comrades and friends in the SSP for this wonderful birthday gift, a cartoon of me drawn by the brilliant Edinburgh Evening News cartoonist Frank Boyle. Give that man a rise! Of course he's got the age wrong, I'm only 25! I shall treasure it.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Sorted - Labours Royal Mail privatisation plan

Since Lord Mandelson's Bill to privatize the Royal Mail has been 'returned to sender' and is now to all extent and purposes dead and buried [it failed even to appear for its scheduled First Reading in the Commons last week] I want to take this opportunity to thank the tens of thousands of people across Scotland who signed the Scottish Socialist Party's petition to keep our postal service in public hands.
Our collective opposition, with 90% of the British population against it has defeated Labours sell off plans.
There are those who fear Lord Mandelson will return with this Bill but I am not one of them because this issue would bring down his teetering Labour Government. Mandelson and Brown need the support of the Tories to get the Bill through Parliament and Cameron has so many incentives not to back it that the Bill would fall and so would the Government!
Labours plan to sell off this vital public service to the Dutch postal company TNT failed because the public much preferred to keep Royal Mail in public hands; owned by the public, run for the benefit of the public, with the price of a stamp the same for every member of the public regardless of whether they lived in say Shetland or South London and where the profits [£344m last year] went into the public purse to build hospitals and schools rather than into the hands of private shareholders in private postal companies.
Peter Mandelson's Bill has again exposed Labour as the party of privatisation. Yet it is not privatisation Royal Mail needs, it is investment. The public has witnessed a stark deterioration in the service in recent years as private companies 'cherry picked' the lucrative business to business post. This has meant residential customers have suffered fewer deliveries and collections.
With the Tories likely to win the forthcoming Westminster General Election however it is important our collective opposition to privatisation is not demobilized. It is a battle we will need to fight again. Let the Tories take note however, the campaign to keep the Royal Mail in public hands is emboldened and our case is stronger than ever.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Where now for the SNP

These are heady days for the Scottish National Party. If the results of the European elections were repeated in the forthcoming Westminster contest Labour would be annihilated in Scotland. There would be no Labour MP's in Edinburgh where they currently have four. Both Alastair Darling and Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy would be roundly defeated, and the Nationalists would take a majority of Labour seats.
The SNP, in Government in Scotland, out polled Labour for the first time in a UK wide election last week, surpassing even their Holyrood triumph of 2007. They have been ahead of Labour in the polls for two years now.
Whereas in England Labour is hemorrhaging votes to Cameron and the right, in Scotland it is the SNP and they stand to the left of Labour in every conceivable measure. Furthermore they have virtually monopolised the left vote.
Labour just doesn't know how to handle them. They are at sixes and sevens strategically. Their historic opposition to a referendum on Independence was dropped by the hapless Wendy Alexander only to be imposed again by Iain Gray their 3rd Scottish leader in as many years. Having tried and failed to pigeon hole the Nats as irresponsible big spenders, Labour now, laughably, wheels out the old bogey that 'the SNP brought down the Callaghan government in 1979' and are in effect just 'Tartan Tories'! This charge is both preposterous and inept since Labour are the self proclaimed heirs to Thatcherism with their own wars, privatisations and low taxes for the obscenely rich.
Like it or not working class voters see the SNP as the most attractive anti Labour vehicle, one which has ended the rampant PFI/PPP privatisation of the NHS in Scotland, opposed the war in Iraq and pledged to rid Scotland of the nuclear weapons stationed on the Clyde. Furthermore it is widely noted that the SNP picked up all the Bills pioneered by the Scottish Socialist Party between 1999 and 2007, on free school meals, abolition of the unfair Council tax and scrapping prescription charges and represented them to Holyrood. Labour voted against all three.
Of course just as the SNP creates problems for Labour it also provides a clear challenge to the Scottish Socialist Party. There is an important response to that challenge however and it is this. Whilst the SNP has certainly adopted a progressive social programme it remains nonetheless a bosses party, a big business representative. Its support for neo liberalism is equal to any Tony Blair ever demonstrated. Indeed Alex Salmond has moved significantly towards courting capitalism in recent years.
'Salmond's dilemma' here is however best illustrated in relation to the financial collapse. The SNP's independence model 'took a helluva beating', to quote the famous Norwegian football commentator, as the banking collapse all but wiped out what Alex Salmond referred to admiringly as the “Arc of prosperity” of Ireland, Iceland and Norway. His defence to charges that an independent Scotland under the SNP would have bankrupted the country has been to claim that they -the SNP - would have kept the banks 'on a tight leash' and prevented all their reckless acquisitions and 'toxic trading'.
This is, to put it mildly, just not supported by the facts. Some might go further and suggest, in Salmond's favoured language of the streets, that his claims are 'utter mince'. In my experience as an MSP at Holyrood over 4 years watching the SNP at close quarters, they were the most obsequious of all the parties towards the banks. Desperate to reassure RBS, HBOS, and Standard Life for example and the other financial institutions in Edinburgh - Europe's fifth biggest banking centre measured in terms of equity under management - that their interests were safe with the SNP, they have been putty in Sir Fred Goodwin's hands. And indeed they still are as the banking classes insist on making working people pay for the economic collapse which RBS , HBOS and the others caused.
So lets call a 'shovel a shovel'. The SNP is every bit in 'hock' to big business as New Labour. Alex Salmond's fawning over US billionaire Donald Trump was a clear case in point. Trumps plan to trash an area of outstanding natural beauty in Aberdeenshire in order to build a £1bn luxury golf complex was rushed through at the highest levels of the Scottish Government and the entire episode shows conclusively what side the SNP are on.
Like New Labour they have been caught in the headlights of the worst capitalist recession in 80 years. As hundreds of thousands of workers lose their jobs on the back of it the SNP offer no resistance whatsoever. The recent sacking of 700 workers by computer giant Hewlett Packard in Erskine offers yet another case in point. When the issue was raised in the Scottish Parliament the workers got tea, sympathy and offers of retraining but sadly no promise from First Minister of 'Erskine no more'.
Despite vacuous talk about “standing up for Scotland”, as closures and sackings mount, the SNP simply wring their hands and walk away blaming — no doubt correctly — the Westminster Government. And as far as Gordon Browns imminent swingeing cuts in public spending are concerned the SNP will huff and puff about them and then implement them. Indeed their Finance Minister John Swinney has his own agenda for what he calls Scotland’s 'bloated' public sector.
Perhaps the most intriguing factor looming over Scottish politics however is the potential impact of a Tory Government elected in London. The Holyrood Parliament was established in response to what many Scots saw as the 'democratic deficit' wherein we voted Labour and yet were landed with an alien Tory government. The election of Cameron next year looks certain to reignite that conflict and at the same time boost the drive for independence.
The SNP is committed to holding an independence referendum next year. Both Labour and the Tories intend to block it in the Scottish Parliament, running the considerable risk of being seen to prevent Scotland's right to decide. Whilst it is fair to say that the SNP has done next to nothing these past two years to mobilise and embolden the independence constituency ahead of that referendum campaign, it will be a critically important vote.
The SSP will actively campaign for a Yes to Independence vote because we firmly believe working people and the poor will be economically, socially, culturally and politically better off if able to determine our own future and make our own decisions. Unlike the SNP we favour a Scottish republic, a break with the monarchy, a Scotland where the banks and corporate elite are under the control of the public.
The old British certainties in Scotland where undermined fatally by years of Tory arrogance under Thatcher and Major. Labour was forced to deliver the Scottish Parliament as a result of this famous 'democratic deficit'. Having done so they set a new politics in Scotland in motion.
The SSP will remain an important part of the process of change arguing for a break with an increasingly irrelevant Westminster, for a green socialist Scotland, a republic capable of delivering justice for all and acting as a beacon of resistance to neo liberalism internationally.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Lordy. Lordy. Lordy – Labour’s Government of the unelected

There they sit Lords Mandelson, Adonis, Sugar, Malloch-Brown, Drayson and Baronesses Royal and Scotland, seven peers of the realm whose allegiance is to the Queen not the people centre stage in the Labour Cabinet.
This Government is a caricature of a Britain long gone, a vivid testament to how Labour has abandoned its founders. The first vote passed at the first Labour conference in 1900 was to abolish the House of Lords. In 2009 Labour depends on it to rule the people.
Amid the severest economic crisis in 80 years and with the European elections providing irrefutable proof that Labour has no democratic mandate it must be a great comfort to the British establishment and its ever loyal Labour Party that they can always rely on unaccountable, unelected feudal relics to help govern the country.
These seven Ministers sit in the Cabinet without fear of an electorate of any kind and provide Gordon Brown’s life jacket as HMS New Labour plunges into the murky depths.
Those who expect anything meaningful from Gordon Browns vaunted plans for Constitutional Reform should take note. Packing the Cabinet with unelected peers, representative of no-one and answerable to no-one - and not averse to fiddling the public purse themselves - is not just an affront to democracy it typifies New Labour through and through.
The French, who hosted the 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings last week and were upbraided by the right wing in Britain for not inviting the Queen to lead the parade of militarism – as Head of the Armed Forces – were by all accounts howling with laughter at the idea they should need the permission of a Monarch. After all the French solved that particular problem centuries ago.
And lest we here in Scotland think it is only those South of the border who are being ridiculed internationally may wish to consider the scene to be acted out in Edinburgh next week as The Queen formally presides over the 10th anniversary of ‘her’ Scottish Parliament. Her Scots ‘subjects’ will be expected to bend the knee and tug our collective forelocks.
In 2005 when she arrived to ‘officially open’ the new Holyrood Parliament amid sycophantic pomp and democratic effrontery the Scottish Socialist Party took to the hills. Calton Hill in Edinburgh city centre to be precise, to proclaim our belief in a modern democratic republic. We look forward to a Scotland without feudal monarchs, without divine rights for Kings and Queens, without all our hospitals and civic institutions being ‘Royal’, where the people are citizens not ‘subjects’ and where our democracy is not ‘protected’ by unelected Lords of the Treasury, Lords Privy Seal, Lords President, Lords Chancellor and Barons or Baronesses.
The Scottish Socialist Party stands for a modern democratic republic. Our guiding principles egalitarianism and democracy, not class hierarchies and feudalism.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

European election results push Scotland Left

The European Elections in Britain were overwhelmingly dominated by the financial swindling of Westminster MP's in London. Voters vented their anger at the corruption of the political establishment and this led to a collapse in support for the Westminster parties, although the Euro seats themselves remained in largely in their hands.
In common with the much of the rest of Europe Britain witnessed sizeable gains by parties of the centre right and the extreme right.
This peculiar election campaign somewhat masked the biting impact of the worst economic recession in 80 years, which is certainly the most important political issue in Britain today. The International Monetary Fund forecasts the recession will be deeper and longer lasting here than in virtually any other European country. Several influential economic studies suggest that, for example, it may be a decade before unemployment figures return to 2008 levels.
The response of voters across Europe to this recession appears to have been to vote for the right. Certainly that is true in England and Wales, Germany, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Ireland. Why is this? Is it because they see the pro-capitalist parties as more likely to solve the capitalist crisis? Or could it be that the consciousness of the population lags behind events, as yet unprepared for the savage assaults on living standards the right wing have in mind in 'solving' the crisis?
In England the right certainly benefited with the Conservatives, United Kingdom Independence Party [UKIP] and fascist BNP all advancing at the expense of Labour.
In Scotland however the country seems to be seeking answers to the twin crisis of Westminster corruption and a crashing economy from the left.The collapse in support for Labour here gathered significant further pace. Labour suffered their first defeat in 50 years of UK wide elections at the hands of the left leaning Scottish National Party. The SNP won the biggest share of the popular vote - 28% to Labour’s 20%. The Greens also made headway. This outcome is significant as the SNP is the traditional working class protest vote in Scotland and it sits to the left of Labour not its right.
Indeed it has adopted policies pioneered by the Scottish Socialist Party such as the abolition of health charges for medicines, providing free school meals for all youngsters, opposition to nuclear weapons and scrapping the unfair local Council taxes which has placed the SNP in such a strong position. Their leader Alex Salmond has thoroughly outmaneuvered Labour for the past two years and is the country’s most popular and populist politician by far.
Yet the SNP in the last analysis presents its social democratic social model within a pro business, neo liberal economic policy. It is wedded to ‘market’ solutions and will dance to the same neo liberal economic tunes imposed upon it in due course.
It is in this context that the somewhat disappointing - if expected - 1% vote the Scottish Socialist Party achieved has to be seen. Left voters in Scotland rejected a discredited New Labour Party but see the SNP at this stage as the most credible left alternative.
The SSP is still living under a cloud following a highly damaging and yet utterly avoidable spilt three years ago which has heavily diminished the purchase of socialist ideas among the public.
Yet the SSP Euro election campaign for all it’s lack of support at the polls was very important for us. Through it we maintained our profile as a party and marked out our unique political terrain. Unique because we rejected the separatist position adopted by the right and some on the left in Britain. A new left formation 'No2 EU - Yes to Democracy' backed by the Communist Party, the Socialist Party of England and Wales and the railway workers union RMT with its sizeable financial resources was constructed for this contest and campaigned for British withdrawal from the EU and a shift of power towards London. They made no impact and will probably not continue.
Our campaigning, as part of the wider European Anti-capitalist Left, was rather more internationalist in programme demanded those who created the crisis, the bankers and neo liberal bosses should be made to pay for it. Our 'Make Greed History' campaign included calls for a 10% “Greed Tax” on Europe’s millionaires and billionaires to provide the funds necessary to create jobs, expand public services and build desperately needed housing. This demand places the blame for the crisis where it belongs and proposes measures which not only reject the austerity promised by the pro capitalist parties but actually raises the prospect of more jobs and improved services.
On the face of it electoral support for this idea appears extremely limited but the fact remains that Scotland is looking at ten years of high unemployment, cuts in public services and crippling taxes on working people as the neo liberals attempt to 'solve' their crisis.It is also clear that consciousness here lags behind the economic and political realities.
Since it is virtually certain now that a right wing Tory Government will be elected in Britain within the year, there can be no doubt that such an outcome will usher in a era of savage cuts to public services as bad if not worse than that of the Thatcher era.
In Scottish terms, where the public sector is a more significant part of the economy, that can only mean a rising tempo of attacks and resistance in which the role of the SSP in both campaigning against cuts and sackings and proposing alternatives will increase in importance. The election of a Conservative government at Westminster will heighten considerably the unresolved contradictions within the national question and sharpen demands for Independence for Scotland. The SSP supports an Independent socialist Scotland. We see independence as a progressive step forward and recognise that it is overwhelmingly supported by workers and young Scots.
With the next UK General election now less than a year away and Scotland due, in 2011, to elect a new Scottish Parliament the question of Scottish Independence from the UK is sure to be centre stage. The SSP stands firmly in the camp seeking to break up the reactionary British state and usher in a Scottish Republic.
Despite our disappointing vote in the Euro elections the SSP remains the key socialist force in Scottish politics. We offer a coherent socialist solution to the economic crisis and support the fight for national independence and democracy. We continue to rebuild the party as the economic crisis deepens.
We look forward to working with our allies in the Anti-capitalist Left across Europe and in solidarity with those fighting for policies which can tackle the gathering economic and ecological crisis we all face.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Edinburgh shocking housing shortage

Sue Gyfords report ['One in 17 people in city waiting for a council house' 1/6/09) highlights the fact that 27,000 people in the city are on the council house waiting list. This figure represents an appalling indictment of both the current SNP - Liberal administration and their Labour predecessors. Indeed the statistics almost certainly mask the full extent of the problem as repossessions in the mortgage market rise steeply and other families in need walk away having concluded it is now futile to approach the City Council for help.This appalling housing shortage in Scotland's richest city puts the SNP - Liberal coalition to shame.
Not only have they failed to act, the position has clearly deteriorated from the one which they inherited.The record of the Labour Council that preceded them was awful its true. Labour tried to eradicate the problem not by building more houses but by selling off our existing council houses in its ill-fated stock transfer ballot. But current Housing leader Paul Edie and his team have simply continued this record of failure. They have effectively relegated our chronic housing shortage to a '3rd division' issue.
Who can believe they see the provision of affordable, quality, rented accommodation as a priority when they spend so little on it compared to say the £600m they have allocated to the city tram scheme? Since neither Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat or SNP Councillors support publicly owned housing for rent, as long as they inhabit the City Chambers the needs of our citizens will continue to receive scant attention and inadequate provision.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Lobby of Parliament June 9th against the privatisation of Royal Mail

To all Lothians MP's

As you know the Communication Workers Union [CWU] has arranged to lobby MP’s on Tuesday June 9th over Lord Mandelson’s Bill to privatise the Royal Mail. I am hoping to come down for the lobby and perhaps meet with you in person to chat over the issues involved.

In the meantime I am writing to you today to ask for your own views on the Bill.
The Scottish Socialist Party has been campaigning throughout Edinburgh for several months now to retain the Royal Mail as a wholly owned public service. I am sure you know the Bill is hugely unpopular, the latest poll has 90% of the population simply not persuaded of the government’s case for privatisation.
There is a widespread belief that even ‘part privatisation’ will jeopardise the universal delivery which ensures that all parts of Britain enjoy the same service, pay the same price for stamps and share in the profits.
Much has been made of the impact of electronic communications like email on mail volumes in recent years, which has undoubtedly altered the nature of the industry. However it is also true that the new technologies have generated extra postal demand through online ordering and booking systems and as you know none of the private postal companies have shown any interest in delivering mail that ‘last mile’ to households or businesses in any volume sense.
It is clear to me that voters want the Royal Mail to remain a wholly owned public service whose profits go back into the public purse to build hospitals and schools, not siphoned off into the pockets of private shareholders in private postal companies like TNT. It is a classic case of public interest being threatened by private profit.
If the case for privatisation is actually based on fears over the future sustainability of the Royal Mail pension fund I cannot see how handing over a third of the profits to TNT will help.

I appreciate you will have spoken to enough of your own constituents to realise they expect you to oppose this Bill when it comes in front of the Commons for further consideration and I look forward to your earliest reply.

Politics Now - Euro Elections

Here is the link to the Politics Now show I participated in on Thursday May 28.