Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The lost cause that is Afghanistan

Herald foreign affairs editor David Pratt is correct when he writes 'We are losing the war in Afghanistan. The mission is lost' ['Now civil war looms for the lost cause that is Afghanistan' Herald 17/9/10] and the reasons for this looming defeat have been obvious for some time. Uppermost among them is the fact that the USA and Britain are occupying a country who doesn't want us to be there. The majority of Afghanistan's 33million citizens now see Britain and American soldiers as armies of occupation. The origins of this view lie in Tony Blair's decision to invade Afghanistan in 2001 claiming they were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. He knew then, as we know now, not a single Afghan was involved. He also knew the Taliban had offered to hand over Bin Laden for trial three times but George Bush preferred 'a military solution'. So Britain invaded a country guilty of no crime, has occupied it for the best part of a decade and some 50,000 innocent Afghan civilians have now been killed. No wonder they don't want us to be there!
The insurgency is winning in Afghanistan because Britain and the US, in time honoured colonial fashion, alienated the population by installing a corrupt and illegitimate puppet regime with Hamid Karzai at its head, despised by its citizens.
All the polls in this country highlight the lack of confidence the UK population have in the political leaders as 75% want to see the troops brought back home. Why, people increasingly ask, should another 340 British soldiers die in this shameful war. They will die, we are told, until the thoroughly discredited Afghan army and police force can take over. There is in reality no such thing as a National army or police force in Afghanistan only local militias and paramilitaries loyal to the various warlords and gangsters who pay their wages. All the parties at Westminster who prop up this futile 'handover strategy' are well aware of the 'back channels' opened up to the Taliban leadership just as they were with the IRA in the 1980's. So the conclusion David Pratt rightly poses is that Britain's legacy to Afghanistan is the same blood curdling civil war which followed the Soviet withdrawal of the 1980's.
The Scottish Socialist Party in contrast to the Westminster parties campaigns to bring home the troops. If Afghanistan is to prosper as a democratic and stable country the future rests with people like the remarkable Afghan MP Malalai Joya -one of the very few actually elected. She campaigns for a democratic, multi-ethnic Afghanistan and she asks of people who share her vision that we first of all withdraw all foreign forces from her country.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

SSP recruitment- four new members welcomed into SSP in Edinburgh

I had the thrill of welcoming four new members into the Scottish Socialist Party this week. Alan, Justyna, Jon and James attended their first branch meeting in Edinburgh on Thursday and it was great to have them along. The picture above shows them discussing the situation in the West Bank which was introduced by Robbie and Lynn from the Midlothian branch who have just returned from a Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign delegation there.
Alan and James live in the Liberton/Gilmerton area and joined as a result of our work in the Council by-election there. Justyna and Jon approached us - on different days - at our city centre stall which we conduct weekly against the occupation of Afghanistan.
Each of them had their own different reasons for joining the SSP of course but they all mentioned how pleased they were and favourably impressed by the fact that I had contacted them within hours of them expressing an interest in the party.
This approach to each new 'contact' is vitally important for the SSP. If someone expresses an interest we must treat it with the utmost urgency. For me the future of the SSP depends heavily on the people who have not yet joined the party. As soon as I hear someone wants to join I give them a call. I explain to them how delighted we are to hear of their interest and I ask what it was that led them to contact us. This is vitally important intelligence for the SSP not least because it shows what aspects of our message are being heard.
I then arrange to meet them as soon as possible to discuss what the party is doing, our immediate priorities and how best they can get involved.
This is the approach that has led me to recruit scores of people to the socialist movement over more the years. I want people who contact us to feel wanted and important, because they are absolutely vital to the rebuilding of the SSP. We need their help urgently and we are determined to find a place for them in our party.
The SSP has recruited more than two dozen members in Edinburgh this past year and for me that is not all there is, it merely hints at the enormous potential that is out there.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Unmistakable signs of progress for SSP in Edinburgh by election contest

The results of the Liberton / Gilmerton by election for Edinburgh City Council, where I stood as the SSP candidate, were declared on Friday :-
[1st preference votes] LABOUR 2,974
SNP 1,382
TORY 1,020
SSP 169
Ind 128
Ind 43
Turnout was just 28%.
The by-election was caused by the resignation of the sitting Labour councillor after he became the MP for Edinburgh South in May.
Labour's resounding victory was very much what we expected and the low turnout was no surprise either. Labour's success is explained by two important factors. First they benefited from the overwhelming anti-Tory mood which has gripped Scotland since May and second the SNP /Lib Dem coalition which runs Edinburgh City Council is profoundly unpopular after closing a very popular primary school in the area. Labour, somewhat hypocritically it has to be said, toured the ward campaigning on a 'NO Cuts' programme. I say hypocritical because Labour ran Edinburgh Cuty Council for 20 years until 2007 and carried out more cuts to services than any other party. Furthermore if they were in charge at the City Chambers today there is not a scintilla of doubt they would be making cuts every bit as vicious as their SNP/Lib Dem colleagues. But the fact is it's the SNP /Lib Dem coalition who are in charge and are making the cuts. They have also threatened to privatise the refuse collection services and cut other public services here with hundreds of jobs to be axed.
Support for the Lib Dems and the SNP has plummeted accordingly. The SNP topped the poll in this [multi-member] ward in 2007 now they are miles behind Labour. Most of the Lib Dems support also went to Labour in the by-election although about a third went to the Tories.
The Scottish Socialist Party vote [at 2.5%] was not great. We were entitled to hope for far more. However, it was where we expected it to be and is actually higher than we got the last time I stood in 2007. We fought a very creditable campaign. We deliver three excellent leaflets to each one of the 10,000 households in the ward. We festooned the constituency with lamp posters and we recruited new members to the party. Additionally we were able to give dozens of party members invaluable experience in contesting elections ahead of next years Holyrood poll. We can certainly be pleased to have accomplished our central goals of raising the party's banner and programme in this area. Whilst we were not able to persuade people that our opposition to cuts in services in this city is, unlike all our opponents, unblemished. Neither were we able to compete with the financial resources of the other parties. On the other hand we did make significant advances in many ways and just as I would not want to be accused to talking up a very low vote neither will I be found guilty of underestimating important advances. The truth is there are several reasons to be optimistic about the future for the SSP not the least of them being the enormously encouraging sight of hundreds [yes hundreds] of Labour second preference votes [where they were expressed ] which we saw going to us at the count on Friday morning. Whilst it is certainly true that many Labour 2nd preferences went to the SNP there was nowhere near as many as went to us. This was enormously encouraging because if we can persuade Labour voters to give us their second preferences next May in the Holyrood elections - still a big if I realise across the Lothians - then we have more than a fighting chance of winning back our seat in the Scottish Parliament.
So to all those SSP members who came to Liberton/Gilmerton to help in the campaign these past three weeks I say a big thank you, I appreciate your help and above all keep your eyes on the prize!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Salmond's surrender on Independence opens the door for the SSP

My dad used to say 'if you have a reputation for getting up at 6am you can sleep in until noon'. I am reminded of that advice when I hear hired media 'luvvies' extol Alex Salmond apparently unassailable political 'shrewdness'. Today he 'threw in the towel' on his long awaited Bill promising a referendum on Independence. The decision is even admired in some media quarters as 'statesmanlike and strategic' as it avoids certain defeat. However his announcement comes the same day a BMRB-TNS opinion poll shows the SNP trailing New Labour by 10 percentage points. This would see Iain Grey, sorry that should be Gray, become the next First Minister!
When you look at the mess the Labour Party in Scotland got into on the referendum issue, being against it, then for it, and then against it again under three consecutive leaders, it is perhaps even more remarkable how poorly Alex Salmond has played his hand here.
Last year he 'pulled' the Bill to abolish the Council tax in Scotland despite having a majority of public opinion behind him. And this year SNP Councils across Scotland have made cuts to services as bad as any other party despite being elected on a 'no cuts' platform. His claim in 2007 to be Scotland's 'progressive' alternative to New Labour lies in tatters.
Salmond's abandonment of the referendum comes as no surprise of course. It was certainly long anticipated 'in this parish', but it is still a humiliating climbdown. The polls suggest only 30% of Scots support independence, it's true, but that's not the point. Salmond did little these past 3 years to inspire and lead that constituency preferring a 'managerial' reign as First Minister. Nicola Sturgeon [tipped to take over as SNP leader within the year] is today left to claim that dumping the referendum allows for even greater democracy. Her blusters that now 'the people get to decide' the matter in the 2011 elections are palpably ridiculous. The referendum was supposed to offer the 'people' their chance to decide the matter free from all other competing issues.
The 2011 election will be dominated by the impact of the most savage economic recession in 80 years and the consequent cuts to jobs and services. The unionist parties will claim that Scotland will again be 'bailed out by the UK Treasury.'
All this affords the Scottish Socialist Party the chance to make the case for independence with renewed vigour and to tap into the mood for independence, albeit a majority, with a vision and a passion for a socialist Scotland where Scots have control of our own finances and destiny and where working people will be economically, socially, politically and culturally better off.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

SSP selects Lothians list for Holyrood

SSP members in the Lothians this week became the first in the country to select candidates for next year's Scottish Parliament elections.

I am delighted and proud to be leading a strong list of candidates; myself, Catriona Grant, Laura Bennison, Raphie De Santos, Andy McPake and Barbara Scott. We were elected at a selection conference in Edinburgh last weekend.

Each of us accepts we face a daunting challenge to get an MSP elected from the Lothians in 2011 but we are convinced nonetheless that Scotland needs Socialist MSPs more than ever. And who is to say that the election success will not happen when such dramatic changes to the country’s political landscape are clearly now under way. Most people accept that the Scottish Parliament has been a poorer place without the SSP these past 3 years. There has been no one there standing up for the most vulnerable in society as we did. There has been no one explaining that the worst economic crisis in 80 years was caused by the greed and recklessness of finance capital. Neither has there been anyone speaking out against Britain’s senseless occupation of Afghanistan and in favour of bringing home our troops.

With the Tories lacerating the public sector in Scotland it takes the SSP to point out that these services are barely adequate as it is without slashing billions of pounds from their budgets.

Edinburgh is the second richest in Britain after London and the real scandal concerns the distribution of that wealth. We intend to redistribute the enormous wealth of this city and this country to those most in need first of all and all our policies are designed towards that priority. That’s what makes the SSP unique and so vital for Scotland’s future well being. Our vision of an independent socialist Scotland is increasingly supported by significant sections of society.