Thursday, 27 May 2010

Longstone After School Club Saved

I received the good news that the Longstone After Schoold Club has been saved! This letter below is addressed to me but I would like to extend the thanks to all those who supported this campaign.

Dear Colin
As you have no doubt already heard, our After School Club has been saved!
We have agreed to take on the annual expenditure of £500 which relates to the alarm system and phone lines, and the maintenance of the building shall continue to be under the council's remit.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all of your support over the past few months, it has been greatly appreciated.
Kindest regards,
Lynsey Nairn
Longstone After School Club

Monday, 24 May 2010

Governements irresponsible public transport strategy

On Friday The Scotsman reported on Government plans to increase train fares by 6% in January. Since the newspaper has a bad habit of not printing my letters here's my reply in full.

I read your transport correspondent Alastair Dalton's report about train fares rising 6.3% ['Rail tickets set to rocket despite 'fair fares' pledge 21/5/10] with a mixture of incredulity and disgust.
On Monday I travelled to Brighton to speak on behalf of the Scottish Socialist Party to the annual conference of the Public and Commercial Services union PCS. My standard class return ticket, booked online and in advance, cost £220. Furthermore with Edinburgh Airport closed on Monday because of the volcanic ash the 10.30am London train resembled those seen only in third world countries. Hundreds of passengers, young and elderly, left crouching in the aisles and in any other available space they could find because there were no seats available. I was one of them. I reserved a seat but gave it up to a young French woman and her infant son who, having visited Edinburgh, were on their way back home.
Despite paying £220 to the Government owned East Coast train company they couldn't even provide me, or hundreds like me, with a seat during the 400 miles journey.
As it happened the speech I gave to the PCS conference outlined the case for free public transport as an effective way to combat the greenhouse gases emitted by motor vehicle exhausts. Described by one learned commentator as 'the boldest and most imaginative response any party has yet suggested to combat climate change' our proposal follows the example set by the Belgian city of Hasselt.
The union voted unanimously to support my proposal.The Governments aim meanwhile is to pass the cost of running our railways to passengers instead of matching the subsidies provided by all our European neighbours. This approach is downright irresponsible and does nothing to persuade people to leave their cars at home.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

SSP advocates free transport plan

I was invited at the PCS conference on Tuesday in Brighton and an article appeared in yesterday's Morning Star newspaper regarding my free public transport speech at PCS.

Tuesday 18 May 2010
by Paul Haste

PCS conference 2010: Scottish Socialist Party leader Colin Fox took his party's "groundbreaking" proposals for free public transport to the PCS conference before debates later in the week on the union's political stance under the new government.
The former Lothians MSP informed delegates that the SSP was "pioneering the policy of free public transport as a way of reducing harmful CO2 emissions and combating social exclusion." Mr Fox explained that "almost 90 per cent of our transport-generated greenhouse gases come from the cars on our roads and, if we are to meet our target of reducing CO2 emissions by 2020, we need to persuade people to leave their cars at home. "The best way to achieve this is to offer people a better alternative and the evidence shows that free public transport will do that if it is reliable and interconnected," he emphasised. Mr Fox pointed out that, in the Belgian city of Hasselt, progressive politicians had "introduced free public transport in response to traffic gridlock, environmental pollution and anxiety over social exclusion as far back as 1997. "Within three years of offering free travel on buses and trains, the city witnessed a tenfold increase in passenger numbers and, moreover, they met rigorous targets for traffic reduction, CO2 emissions and increased social mobility," he explained. And he emphasised that the SSP "firmly believe that the same multiple successes can be replicated in this country," adding that such a "groundbreaking policy can go on to lead the world by example."

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Those who have the gold write the rules

On a daily basis 1,000 times more money is traded on the world's bond markets than in the goods and services bought and sold by all the nations of all the world. In other words if you added up the entire trade in oil, cars, wheat, coffee, fruit, vegetables, minerals, fuel, manufactured goods and human labour it would still not amount to 0.1% of the finance capital slushing around the money markets.
And the bond markets in particular are scrutinised as never before in Michael Lewis's fascinating new book 'The Big Short'. The staggering truth behind the 2008 financial collapse is unveiled as an uncomplicated tale of greed, recklessness, deception and bullying. Michael Lewis, himself a successful trader turned author, strips away the complicated financial products and practices to reveal the simple and inescapable truth behind Wall Street that 'the people who have the gold write the rules'. The self styled 'Masters of the Universe' as they rather modestly described themselves thrived not in a free market but an utterly corrupt and woefully unregulated casino economy. He patiently reveals how huge institutional investors like pension funds, merchant banks and governments trade trillions and trillions of dollars. This is a world where a single bond trader can 'earn' 47million dollars a year and another can lose $9billion dollars in a single transaction. This is the world the richest men inhabit, people like Warren Buffet and George Soros, where financial 'products' like 'credit default swaps' and 'collateralised debt obligations' are invented to gamble ever more greedily on every possible permutation of the financial markets.
Lewis superbly explains the essential greed behind the subprime mortgage scandal which led to the collapse of 'Masters of the Universe' like Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, Merrill Lynch and AIG the world's biggest insurer. He shows how the CEO's of these merchant banks hadn't the first idea about the where their mega profits came from and cared even less just as long as their obscene commissions kept pouring in. They gambled on the 'certainty' that house prices in the US would rise in perpetuity. So crazy had their system become that by the end Goldman Sachs was even betting against itself. One half of the company was selling 'credit default swaps', in effect insurance policies against mortgage repayment failures to the other half and the CEO's were delighting in announcing the record profits made from commissions on every trade. Their clients or investors meanwhile were losing trillions as these defaults swaps went 'toxic'.
Lewis outlines the utter contempt which Wall Street has for working class people and for government bodies charged with regulating the bond markets in any way. He offers a brilliant insight into the logic of 'subprime mortgages' themselves. Strange as it seems they were initially designed to supply credit to 'the little guy' in America those whose only access to credit was at punitive rates companies like Provident over here provide. But the greed in this 'philanthropy' quickly took over and the consequences were unbelievable. Lewis cites the example of Long Beach Savings [Building Society] who loaned $724,000 to a Mexican strawberry picker in Bakersfield California to buy a house despite the fact he was earning just $14,400 a year. The mortgage broker would then advise the poorly paid strawberry picker that he could 'opt' for the 'teaser' rate which allowed him to spread repayments out over 50 years and even defer the interest payments due in the first 2 years by simply adding them onto the capital sum borrowed. So the initial $724,000 loaned would rise to $813,000 at the end of year two[724,000 plus 6% for year one and 6% for year two]. The 'teaser' rate of 6% of course rose to 11% after 2 years but they didn't highlight that small print much! You can see where this transaction was headed but Wall Street, mesmerised by rising US house prices, reasoned that even if the strawberry picker couldn't make the repayments he could still sell the property and walk away unscathed. At least that was the theory! When house prices fell in 2007 just as the famous teaser rates disappeared well hey presto, it was armageddon for Wall Street. And yet in many ways the collapse of the mortgage bond market invented by Salomon Brothers was the least of it. It was the 'credit default swaps' - essentially insurance policies that covered the threat that the borrower would fail to make repayments - which made the collapse 1,000 times worse. But why on earth would anyone be foolish enough to insure against the risk of mortgage payment failure by Californian strawberry pickers for example? You might well ask! Step forward the world's biggest insurance company AIG [known to all football fans as Manchester United's shirt sponsor]. AIG were assured by Goldman Sachs, one of the world's most prestigious merchant banks, that these loans were triple A rated with 'cast iron guarantees' they couldn't fail. So in those circumstances AIG were only too keen -and greedy- to take insurance premiums on that basis. Of course it turned out that the ratings agencies Moody's and 'Standard and Poor' had no idea what they were assessing because the 'Masters of the Universe' would not let see these towers of mortgage bonds. In fact 95% were 'delinquent' i.e. virtually worthless. By the time AIG worked this out their goose was cooked!
As every socialist on the planet now knows the collapse of western capitalism was only staved off by the intervention of capitalist governments like New Labour. Gordon Brown poured in unheard of sums on money to bail out these 'Masters of the Universe' and they did so because the politicians belong to the bankers too. Like Don Corleone says these politicians he owns' like so many nickels and dimes'. Those who have the gold continue to write the rules. And a mere General election changes none of them!
* THE BIG SHORT-Inside the Doomsday Machine' By Michael Lewis. Published by Penguin [2010]

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Many congratulations to Caroline Lucas

James Mackenzie has rightly been in touch via this blog [see comment under the previous posting] to remind me that there was in fact one spectaular winner in last weeks General election and that was Caroline Lucas the leader of the Greens' who secured a famous victory in Brighton Pavilion.
I am happy to stand corrected. I am a big admirer of Caroline and her victory in a first past the post election is a huge achievement. Her victory is even more impressive in that she defeated Labour in a seat where people would be very keen to keep out the Tories.
Brighton Pavilion is a seat I know well. I visited the area many times on political work when I lived in London. The election of Britain's first Green MP, and an excellent 'red green' at that, is terrific and a fitting reward for the many, many years of hard work by Green Party's activists. There are already several Green Councillors in the city.
I have made amends James by emailing Caroline today at Parliament to offer her my congratulations on behalf of the SSP.

Monday, 10 May 2010

The election everyone lost

Did you hear the one about the election everyone lost?
Labour the party in power lost 100 seats and with it the chance to continue in Government after 13 years.
The Conservatives lost the victory all the polls had been promising them for the past 18 months.
The Liberals suffered perhaps the most devastating humiliation after Cleggmania turned out to be a complete and utter mirage. The man who apparently wowed us so much in the great TV Leadership debates actually lost a significant number of seats rather than gaining any.
The Nationalists also lost seats. Instead of going from 7 to 20 as Alex Salmond confidently predicted they actually went back to 6.
Scottish Socialist candidates lost all their deposits. We averaged around 1% of the votes cast,which was just as we expected, but the increase in Labour's vote in Scotland was not anticipated!
Mind you to all extents and purposes 'Scotland is a foreign land' for Westminster elections. For one thing there was no swing to the Tories whatsoever. For another the 'grate' TV Leadership debates were largely irrelevant here since so much of what was discussed didn't apply to Westminster for us. The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood retains responsibility for most of the things Cameron, Brown and Clegg argued over -health, education, criminal justice, transport.
The people who lost out most however were undoubtedly working people as usual. The neo-liberal warmongering Westminster parties concocted a deal ahead of the election not to spell out what £100bn of cuts in lifeline services looks like for working people. They ignored the very real concerns of the unemployed - with unemployment at a 16 year high. They ignore the plight of the poor - with income inequality now wider than at any time since records began in 1961. Since all three stand for the same thing there was no mention of the fact 77% of working people are opposed to the ongoing occupation and slaughter in Afghanistan.
The overwhelming conclusion the 2010 General election pointed up in Scotland was the revulsion there is at the thought of a Tory Government being returned. 'Nice Boy Dave' has been rumbled. With his odious remarks on public services and cuts, immigration and withdrawing benefits from the jobless his mask slipped badly in the course of the campaign and his vile Thatcherite soul was exposed.
Tactical voting was employed across Scotland with the candidate most likely to stop a Tory gain seeing their majority rise. This was evident in Labour seats certainly but also in SNP seats like Perth where Pete Wisharts majority more than doubled as Labour voters opted for him as the optimum anti - Tory vehicle.
Chancellor Alastair Darling, the man at the helm during the worst economic collapse in 80 years, saw his majority over the Tories double in Edinburgh South West. This was the seat I contested on behalf of the SSP. To be honest I had anticipated the charge that standing against him might 'let the Tories in' but it was never mentioned once. Had it arisen I had a response prepared - 'Which Tory did you mean like?'
We had a thoroughly enjoyable campaign with 4 weeks of active politicking, holding 5 public meetings in various parts of the constituency on our opposition to the cuts and the occupation of Afghanistan. More than 30 new people signed up to join the party. More than 75,000 SSP election leaflets were delivered door to door. The four hustings attracted nearly 700 people between them. Mind you taken collectively they were a mixed bag. No one at all turned up to the PCS event whilst 500 people packed into a church in Juniper Green to attend the Question Time arranged jointly by 3 local community councils. The SSP was widely regarded to have won the debate, however the audience were in the main 'dyed in the wool Tories'
The canvassing we conducted in Stenhouse provided us with very important intelligence about what people think of the SSP, our strengths and weaknesses. Chief among the criticisms were a sense that we are unrealistic about what we can achieve and we lack the strength to deliver on what we promise. On the other hand voters we talked to were full of admiration for our commitment to working people and the interests of the poorest in society. Our irrepressible resilience in the face of the dreadful events of recent years was also greatly admired.
As far as the result of the General election is concerned I think all the possible outcomes look unstable. The Conservatives and Liberals are in talks as we speak but proportional representation or 'fair votes' is not on the table. It seems to me most unlikely then the Liberal Democrats will ever enter a formal coalition with the Tories. Perhaps Cameron will opt to Govern as a minority in the way the SNP has done at Holyrood? The problem with a more feasible Labour/Liberal coalition is that they simply do not have the numbers to pull it off and a 5 party coalition [Lab, Lib, SNP, Plaid and SDLP] is most unlikely.
Meanwhile the SSP will continue campaigning against the economic injustice behind the cuts and the ongoing military repression in Afghanistan. These issues may have not been discussed much by the myopic media these past 5 weeks but they remain the most important features of politics in Scotland today.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

A fight for the left in Darling's back yard

Article published in the Morning Star on 28 April 2010.

Edinburgh South West, currently held by Chancellor Alistair Darling, looks like 'Labour's Britain in microcosm.'
The constituency was created under boundary changes with his old Edinburgh Central seat being fused together with that of Edinburgh Pentlands represented by Tory top dog Malcolm Rifkind.
Some of the most affluent suburbs in the city are in this seat. People in Colinton, Craiglockhart, Juniper Green and Baberton have done very well indeed out of New Labour. Typically these areas contain large suburban houses in heavily manicured grounds with two cars in the driveway usually a Mercedes, BMW or Porsche.
At the heart of this wealth is the fact that Edinburgh is Europe's 5th biggest financial centre after London, Paris, Frankfurt and Milan. More than £3 trillion worth of equity is under management here.
Those who benefit from this 'management' may not be natural Labour voters but they have been well looked after by Alistair Darling’s government. Edinburgh is now Britain's second richest city after London. Quite an achievement for one with a population of only 440,000.
Of course the vast majority of the electorate don’t inhabit that world. Life expectancy in working class areas like Wester Hailes, Oxgangs, Broomhouse, Sighthill, Parkhead, Stenhouse, Gorgie, Dalry, Fountainbridge and Clovenstone is ten years less for males than it is in the wealthier neighbouring suburbs.
For them this election offers a grim choice of spending cuts and sackings or spending cuts and sackings with the only questions being how soon will they come and who will implement them.
Unemployment in Edinburgh South West has doubled in the last year. At 5.9% its not the highest in Scotland by any means. On the other hand Edinburgh had a chronic labour shortage for most of the past decade.
Employment in the public sector—the local council, NHS,civil service and the Royal Mail—is vital to working class communities and independent figures show that, on any likely outcome after May 6th, a 100,000 public sector jobs would be at risk in Scotland from cuts.
That’s why the SSP has opposition to cuts at the centre of our campaign. We challenge the pro business and anti public sector agenda of Alistair Darling.
Nor can the supposed alternative of Liberal Democrats and SNP offer much to working class voters.
The SNP/Liberal Democrat Council has announced £80m of spending cuts this year and has targeted a number of community facilities in the working class districts of Edinburgh South West for closure including Longstone After School Club, Colinton Mains Community Centre, Gorgie Memorial Hall, Sighthill Community Centre and the 'Platform' Adult Learning Project in Wester Hailes. Needless to say people in these areas are disinclined to vote SNP or Liberal Democrat – Nick Clegg or no Nick Clegg.
Labour Councillors who turn up at protest meetings offering support are invariably treated with suspicion since they ran the Council until 2007 and have a record of cuts as bad as anyone.
The constituency also contains the city's two army barracks Redford and Dreghorn. Hundreds of military families live in nearby accommodation. Afghanistan therefore remains a huge issue. And in two important regards; first hundreds of young boys are recruited from working class communities into the army and second military personnel themselves frequently approach SSP campaigners on Princes Street to sign our petition for withdrawing the troops. This suggests the recent Independent on Sunday poll which found 77% of people believe the war to be unwinnable and want the troops brought home tallies with our daily experience on the doorstep and city centre stalls.
In contesting this election therefore we are highlighting the need for an alternative to cuts, sackings and warmongering. Our alternative puts the people and the planet before profits and bonuses for bankers and not just in this election but in the battles which will surely follow May 6th.
Specifically we are highlighting the urgent need to unite trade unionists, communities, campaign groups and service users in opposition to cuts which will be worse than those Thatcher implemented in the 1980's.
Elections, including those on May 6th and for next year’s Scottish Parliament, can play an important part in this process of unification but for the Scottish Socialist Party a mass movement of resistance needs to be built around this issue. That was why our recent national conference called for such a movement with delegates recalling how, 20 years ago, a similar movement defeated the poll tax.
Faced with attacks to vital public services we in SSP will put all our resources into building such a resistance.