Monday, 12 December 2011

Cold Hard Truth


This appeared in today's Herald Diary.

Colin Fox, leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, tells us it's 25 years since Margaret Thatcher privatised British Gas.
He was chatting about this with some pensioners in an Edinburgh post office who recalled that the advertising slogan to encourage folk to buy shares always had the line: "If you see Sid, tell him."
One of the pensioners chipped in: "Nobody sees Sid any more. He doesn't get out of bed much as he can't afford to turn on his fire!"

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Striking To Secure Greater Dignity In Retirement

Wednesday sees the biggest strike in Britain for decades as more than three million public sector workers are expected to join forces in protest at Government plans to severely reduce their pension entitlement.
I fully support all those admirable men and women on strike in Unite, Unison, PCS, EIS, NASUWT and all the other unions involved because they face a three pronged assault on their chances of enjoying some kind of dignity in retirement.
The Government insists the country can't afford public sector workers' 'gold plated pensions'. But I see little evidence of such a thing. The purported generosity in current schemes is a mirage since the average woman in the local government pension scheme for example receives only £3,500 a year when she retires or £70 a week. The Government suggests that is too much for the country to afford! They are wrong.
They want to renege on an agreed pension agreement and force people to pay in much much more contributions over the years, and work much much longer before they can claim it and finally to expect much much less money than currently when they finally retire. Not an attractive proposition at all is it?
This 'triple assault' is necessary, claim the Government, because the country can no longer afford public sector workers pensions.
But I for one am not impressed by the Governments arguments. Tory Pensions Minister Francis Maude appears to justify the changes on the grounds that private company pensions are nowhere near as high as those in the public sector. But instead of drawing the conclusion that we the need to bring them up to an adequate level he proposes the opposite 'direction of travel'. Millions of people across Britain must face poverty in retirement. I prefer the more obvious connection, the one showing that where there is high levels of unionisation pensions are better. If the private sector provides poor pensions there's an answer. Join the union and make employers face up to their responsibilities.
See you on the picket line, Wednesday morning.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Frank's done it again...


If there's a wittier cartoonist in Scotland than Frank Boyle (of the Edinburgh Evening News) then they are in hiding, because I've not seen them and I read all the papers.
Frank has won the coveted cartoonist of the year award several times and no wonder. His work never seems to lose its now legendary biting satire, sarcasm, wit and above all its irrepressible humour. To me it is often the wee remarks tucked away in the corner of the scene that crack me up the most and I often ask myself 'How on earth did he get that into the Evening News?'
Frank has joined forces with Argyll Publishing again to present his third compendium of cartoons, curiously entitled 'Boyling Point 2'. As anyone who reads the paper will testify, he is, day in day out, by miles the best thing in the Evening News - apart from those rare occasions when it mentions the Scottish Socialist Party of course. [Are you reading this Evening News Editor Tom?]
The book is now available priced £8.99. With more than 100 cartoon it's the ideal Christmas gift for socialists everywhere, as it pokes fun at all the targets we do, within and beyond Edinburgh. My favourite shows Cameron and Clegg kicking in social services office windows as a couple of frightened elderly bystanders look on and dismiss them as 'Just a hooligan minority'. Then there is the 'Holyrood takeaway' with the 4 party leaders offering food 'with added cheese...pure mince...something fishy and shaky' respectively. It reminds me of a very similar idea the SSP had in its 2010 election material where all four neo-liberal parties offer different flavours of greasy pizza. Mind you, that's Frank Boyle all over, he's forever stealing our cartoons!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

SSP 'Day of Action' over gas and electricity bills is a huge success


The Scottish Socialist party had one of its most successful days in years on Saturday as branches across the country reported enormous levels of support from the public for our petition to curb fuel poverty.
I was on Princes Street with Paul, Norman, Allan, Eddie, Jim, Sean and Rob [Jim and Sean are new SSP members and couldn't have hoped for a better 'baptism' in party activity]. We were all completely blown away by the fantastic response we got to our call for the power companies to be condemned for recent increases in charges. I have been campaigning on this issue for months but have seen nothing like this level of support before.
Indeed in 30 years campaigning I'd compare yesterday with stalls I have done against the war in Iraq in 2003 and against the Pol tax in the late 1980's. People were queuing up three deep around our table to get the chance to sign our five petitions in the mild November sunlight.
Over a couple of hours we collected more than 800 names [50 petition sheets with 17 names on each one]. We also met Renata and Claire who were so impressed by our efforts and the support we enjoyed that both now want to join the SSP. We sold all the Voice newspapers we had. By any measure this was our best result in many years.
It is clear that our demands - expressed through the loud-hailer, leaflets, notice boards and petitions chime with a widespread public mood.
People are furious both at power companies they see 'profiteering' at our expense, and at Governments who appear to be 'asleep at the wheel'. Government do not appear to understand people are furious at increasing bills and falling incomes. And it might be argued Government is in fact getting off lightly since they have cut the winter fuel allowance to pensioners and cut programmes giving grants towards household insulation and energy efficiency schemes.
With one million Scots families now living in fuel poverty [the Scottish Governments own figures] the situation is now critical.
The SSP has demanded that Government acts to reduce these bills, to increase financial help to the most vulnerable and extends the funds available for household energy efficiency.
But if we are to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland - and we must - we need to diversify away from expensive and harmful fossil fuels, build 100,000 new homes annually to the latest energy efficiency standards and return the energy industry to public ownership.
As far as the campaign to achieve these objectives is concerned the next SSP EC on December 3rd will discuss the matter in some detail.
In the meantime all credit is due to those SSP members who participated in yesterdays efforts. I want to thank them. Those of us who have been campaigning on this issue for the past 6 months have been vindicated. We, in the SSP, saw this conflict coming and we had the courage of our convictions to stand up to some of the worlds biggest corporations and Government.It's clear the overwhelming majority of Scots are now behind us on this matter.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Gas And Electricity Bills Now People's No 1 Worry

I attended Energy Action Scotland's annual conference this week. The conference was entitled 'A Fair Deal for the fuel poor' and it brings together all those aiming to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland.
Amongst the workshop speakers was Simon Osborn from the consumer organisation 'Which?'. He referred to a study they had carried out in October which showed that energy bills are now the number one concern people now have in Britain. This tied in with a report published on Friday by the British Retail Consortium and Neilson which drew the very same conclusion.
And no wonder.
There are now seven million households in Britain living in fuel poverty, i.e families who do not have £1,500 for combined gas and electricity bills.
One million of those are in Scotland. Most analysts believe the Governments figures significantly underestimate the scale of the problem. Indeed the latest figures from the Scottish Government show the average family here is now paying 14% of its income on gas and electricity bills - 10% is the official definition of fuel poverty! So the average family in Scotland now has very real difficulty heating its home.

Politicians at Westminster and Holyrood are now scrambling to keep up with public anger on this issue. But their empty rhetoric is in such sharp contrast to the 'triple whammy' which confronts working class people. Rising energy bills, falling incomes and Government cut backs - on programmes designed to alleviate fuel poverty- all add up to a very potent anger.
And politicians playacting with figures instead of bringing forward meaningful measures is only likely to 'fan the angry flames'. SNP Infrastructure Secretary Alex Neil for example was caught out trying to deceive the EAS conference with claims he is increasing support for those aiming to install new boilers and household insulation when in fact his Government has cut the funds available from £71m last year to only £49m now.
And what struck me about this EAS gathering of industry professionals was the pessimism they demonstrated about the chances of eradicating fuel poverty in this country any time soon. It's true to say most expect the situation to get worse and worse and worse.

The UK Governments 2012 Green Deal was described by several delegates as a 'car crash' which will do little to help the fuel poor. At a time of record indebtedness and falling incomes this Government scheme suggests people should take on further loans to insulate their homes.
There is of course much to be said for a thorough going public programme of insulation and energy efficiency in Britain. After all we are light years behind the Scandinavians who although they pay more than us for gas and electricity, they consume much much less because their homes are far more fuel efficient. Norman Kerr, Director of EAS, estimates Scotland needs to spend £200m annually to bring our housing stock up to adequate levels of energy efficiency. The Government currently commits only £40m/year to this end.

Governments have repeatedly been caught cold on fuel poverty. In 2000 the Westminster Parliament passed the 'Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act' which included a statutory commitment to eradicate fuel poverty in Britain by 2015/16. Unfortunately this is another promise MPs will fail to honour [just as they have now done with child poverty promises]. Their forecast is now in tatters as they mistakenly calculated that energy bills would rise by 5% between 2005-2010. In fact they have doubled, risen more than 100% and fuel poverty has now reached record levels.

Perhaps the most startling figure to emerge from the conference was contained in Professor John Hills report, commissioned by Government that more people will die of fuel poverty/cold related illnesses in Britain this year than die on our roads.
Derek Lickorish, Chair of the UK Government's Fuel Poverty Advisory Group believes the problem will get worse and worse as prices rocket, incomes fall and Government programmes are increasingly not fit for purpose.

The Scottish Socialist Party National Council in Glasgow yesterday committed the party to a 'day of action' on the issue of fuel poverty on Saturday 19th November and all SSP branches will be offering the public a chance to vent its anger in town centres and shopping centres everywhere.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

St Andrews Rector Election 2011

The result of the St Andrews Rector election announced last night was as follows;
1 Alistair MOFFAT 48%
2 Michael FORSYTH 20%
3 Colin FOX 17%
4 Abeer McINTYRE 7%
5 Pat NEVIN 7%
Turnout 48% [2008 Turnout was 25%]

When the first set of transfers took place it was clear Alistair Moffat had secured a substantial win and I offered him my congratulations.

As the Left candidate in the election I was very pleased to gain such a substantial share of the vote. Almost one in five students at St Andrews gave us their first preference vote and opted for our programme of;
-Opposition to fees and the increasing indebtedness of students Education is a right not a privilege was our slogan [Borrowed from Red Clydeside legend John Maclean]
-For fairer rents and better student accommodation at St Andrews
-Opposition to cuts in University funding and facilities and indeed all public services
-Support for the Universities Wind Farm at Kenly which is under attack
-And support for the ethical investment of University finances

I would like to thank my campaign team - the Left Society at St Andrews - James, Amanda, Callum, Patrick and Ben who did a power of work over the past 10 days and ran a first class campaign. They were always enthusiastic, highly principled, always polite, exceptionally clever and tireless in their herculean efforts in the face of considerable odds.
We did very well to come such a close third, just 100 votes behind the Tory candidate Lord Michael Forsyth in what is after all a socially conservative place. Lets not forget St Andrews is now the most expensive University at which to study in the whole of the UK given the fees, price of accommodation and the cost of living in this small Fife town. That has an inevitable impacts on social background and outlook of those students who can afford to go there. It's not that long since Prince Willie left here after all!

The 'Fox For Rector' campaign can be and are understandably proud of the efforts we put in and the way we raised 'the scarlet standard high' amid 8,000 students at St Andrews and I'm sure the Left Society will continue to do so.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Fox For Rector


I am proud and honoured to have been nominated by students at St Andrews University this week for the position of Rector.
The post is elected by a secret ballot of all 8,000 students and the Rector's job is to champion students interests on the University Court, its governing body. The successful candidate serves a three year term and chairs the Court meetings.
I stood for the position 3 years ago and we polled a very creditable 28% of the vote, coming second to Kevin Dunnion the Information Commissioner and current Rector.
The students promoting my candidacy have again presented a programme which restates our shared central belief that access to the best possible education should be a right afforded to everyone rather than a privilege reserved for those who can afford it. This principle is particularly important in this election as St Andrews has one of the lowest levels of admissions from the state sector.
The University authorities recently decided to impose the maximum possible £9,000 fee on students from the rest of Britain studying there. When you add in the cost of accommodation and other living expenses it becomes the dearest place in the country to study. That cannot be a good label to wear.
These are serious times for students. Who can forget the anger expressed by hundreds of thousands this time last year when the tuition fees introduced by New Labour were further increased by the CON/DEM coalition. The escalating cost of living, the enormous indebtedness and the immoral package of public sector cuts has inevitably been felt at St Andrews. The University has made cuts to accommodation arrangements and library improvements, all of which makes life harder still for students.
I do support the sustainable energy programme the University has embarked upon and it's ground breaking ethical investment portfolio.
But serious times demand serious candidates and I have pledged to be a 'hands on' working Rector.
I see the role as being very important indeed in these difficult times and I'm committed to standing up for students and improving the quality of life they experience in their time at St Andrews. I have pledged to hold regular surgeries where students can come and raise their concerns directly with me. I also plan to produce a regular bulletin/report explaining the issues developing and the decisions I have taken on their behalf. These are commitments I made [and kept] to my constituents when I was an MSP between 2003-07.
The Rector election takes place online between Wednesday and Friday of this week. The result is declared on Friday evening. There are five candidates standing and I am very much looking forward to the contest.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Eating Away At Your Pension Rights


I was up in St Andrews today meeting students and staff. Whilst there I was invited to come along and enjoy some cake in a lunchtime protest with a difference. Staff from the UCU [University College Union] were protesting at management plans to eat away at their pension rights.
The University pension fund is made up of contributions from staff and employers. Management are demanding that lecturers pay in more in contributions, work longer before receiving their pension and get less money when they do eventually retire. Its a triple whammy.
The union estimates staff could lose up to £100,000 over the course of an average 20 year retirement through the new proposals compared to present arrangements. To add insult to injury the University hierarchy - Principals and Vice Chancellors etc - would not suffer any such diminution in their pensions. So the overall share of the pension 'cake' [get it] for staff is being reduced, which Marie Antoinette's remains unaffected. 'Let them eat cake' indeed!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Irate Energy Customers At Boiling Point

This letter appeared in yesterday's Scotsman and Herald

OFGEM's revelation that the big 6 energy firms have increased their profits 8 fold since June will undoubtedly make millions of irate customers even more furious. After all these profits come as the Government tells us there are now one million Scots households living in fuel poverty,i.e. unable to afford the £1,345 now demanded of them for gas and electricity.
And the reasons for their plight are plain to see. Energy bills have doubled in the past 5 years, whilst wages, benefits and pensions have not.
The combined bill for gas and electricity now also includes 20% VAT which means we are paying some of the highest energy prices in the world. And all this at a time when living standards are plummeting.
As readers of this newspaper are well aware the Scottish Socialist Party has been campaigning on this issue for many months. Like millions of Scots we believe fuel poverty is an affront to our society. People are going without the heating they need with bitterly cold weather round the corner. Mothers are foregoing evening meals in order to provide for their children instead. Cold related deaths are set to soar.
We demand the Government acts to cap these bills, that anyone paying more than 9.95% of their income should receive an immediate winter fuel allowance to prevent them toppling into fuel poverty.

The Government must also reverse the cuts made at both Westminster and Holyrood to programmes designed to support people in these difficult times. Chancellor George Osborne may wish to reflect on the wisdom of his decision to cut the winter fuel allowance paid to pensioners. And Alex Salmond should likewise reverse his decision to withdraw help to those trying to install more efficient heating systems and improved household insulation.
The timing of the SNP Government's decision earlier this year to abandon the promise it made in 2007 to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland by 2015 plainly couldn't be worse. Yet if this objective is ever to be delivered then the industry clearly must be returned to public hands, only then will the provision of essential heating and lighting to everyone again be the uppermost objective, ahead of multinational corporate profiteering.



Saturday, 8 October 2011

Me and Tony Benn in Glasgow Again


I've been on wetter demonstrations, I assured SSP colleagues last Saturday. But actually I don't think I have.
The STUC march through Glasgow attracted 15,000 people, the organisers claimed, in protest at the cuts to public sector jobs and
services being carried out by the CON DEM Government. If it had been dry I'm
sure the turnout would have easily been double the size.


Given the atrocious weather the organisers rightly curtailed the long list
of advertised speakers. In the end Tony Benn was the only one. And
it's fair to say he was listened to avidly by the soaked assembly who hung
on his every word and would have happily listened to him for much longer.
I spoke to him briefly on stage and expressed my continuing admiration for him
and all he has one for our great movement.
I first met Tony 30 years ago as a young socialist when he was running
for the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party against Denis Healey. He was
speaking at a meeting in Glasgow University one Sunday morning and I travelled
in from Motherwell to hear him. He is one of the main reasons I got involved
in left wing political activity. I have kept in touch with him ever since.
Now in his late 80's and increasingly frail he remains one of my heroes.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Fury Grows at 19% Rise in Gas and Electricity Bills


SSP Public meeting in Bathgate

Together with my SSP colleagues Eddie, Susan and Paul I have been campaigning in Livingston and Bathgate these past few weeks gathering support for our petition against the gas and electricity charges and the need for action to counter worsening fuel poverty problem in the area.
We have all been overwhelmed by support from the public who are understandably furious that gas and electric bills have gone up 19% [almost 4 times the rate of inflation] whilst their wages, benefits and pensions have not.
We have arranged a public meeting in Bathgate on 5th October to draw people together and establish a local fuel poverty action group.
The details are on the leaflet below.
This is an issue which is growing in political significance daily. The anger in the population is palpable and the consequences of such increases are serious as more people will die of cold related deaths this winter than ever before.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Scotland's Modern Democratic Republic at Hand at Last!


This official billboard announcement outside the National Gallery of Scotland at the Mound heralds the great day when monarchy is finally ended in Scotland.
I cant wait.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Former MSP Campbell Martin Joins The SSP


I'm delighted that Campbell Martin the former SNP MSP has joined the Scottish Socialist Party.
I have known Campbell for many years. We were both in the Scottish Parliament together as MSPs. He is a hugely talented socialist activist, widely respected and highly principled. He was expelled from the SNP in 2004 for speaking out against the party's move to the right under John Swinney. A path it has continued to plough under Alex Salmond.
I have been a huge admirer of Campbell's for many years. Like the SSP he is passionate about the need for an independent socialist Scotland. I am sure he will make a great impact in politics in Scotland. I am also sure there are many more people like him looking for a party which puts working people first and champions the case for an independent socialist Scotland, particularly as the country's economy continues to stumble, people's living standards continue to fall and inequalities widen.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Salmond's Cold Comfort to Millions of Scots Facing Fuel Poverty



Here's the reply I received from First Minister Alex Salmond to my letter containing a 2,000 signature petition demanding action to eradicate fuel poverty.

I thought you should see it.

It arrived on the same day as Britain's Fuel Poverty Action Group told Channel Four News the governments figures on fuel poverty grievously understate the extent of the problem. Mr Derek Lickorish, Chairman of FPAG, revealed there are now 6.6 million households in Britain experiencing fuel poverty [defined as spending 10% or more of household income on gas and electricity] with more than one million of these in Scotland.

Scotland has a significantly greater problem pro-rata than south of the border. But Alex Salmond's letter, as you can see for yourself, offers cold comfort to those facing real hardship. His government, in common with his counterparts at Westminster, have cut funding to programmes aimed at reducing fuel poverty. Indeed the SNP made a cast iron commitment in 2007 to eradicating fuel poverty in Scotland by 2014, but this promise has now been abandoned.

The 'agreement' he refers to in his letter 'to spend up to £10million upgrading insulation and heating systems' is unfortunately a pittance in the circumstances. The average household bill for gas and electricity is now almost £1,500 so £10million, even if it was spent on the one million households in severest need, amounts to very little indeed.

Come on Alex, this isn't what you promised us and it certainly isn't what the people of Scotland voted for on May 5th!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

2,000 Sign SSP Petition On Gas and Electricity Bills


I sent this letter sent to First Minister Alex Salmond, MSP today

Dear First Minister,


Please find enclosed a 2,000 signature petition gathered by Scottish Socialist Party members in Edinburgh in the past few days expressing public anger at the escalating cost of gas and electricity bills. These signatures illustrate the depth of feeling that exists on this issue. With almost one million families in Scotland now suffering fuel poverty that anger has reached boiling point. Scottish Power, British Gas, SSE and Eon have increased prices by 19%, pushing the average bill for gas and electricity up to £1,500/ year.


This was not therefore the time for SNP Housing Minister Alex Neil to be cutting £20m from programmes designed to combat fuel poverty in Scotland. As if this ‘double whammy’ of increased prices and reduced Scottish Government support was not bad enough George Osborne has also cut the lifeline winter fuel allowance to pensioners by £100.


Our enclosed petition urges you to act now and to help those one in three households in Scotland in such dire need. It is time the bills were capped. Wages haven’t gone up, benefits haven’t gone up and pensions haven’t gone up, so power companies cannot be allowed to force more and more people into fuel poverty!


The people of Scotland demand you intervene to provide far greater help to those in need. Doubling the winter fuel allowance to pensioners would help, as would ensuring families on pre-payment cards get a discount rather than paying most for gas and electricity as at present.


I look forward to receiving reassurance from you that working people in Scotland will be given help by the Scottish Government rather than abandoned to market forces and rapacious multinational companies.


Yours sincerely


Colin Fox

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Power to the People


It will have come as no surprise to anyone following the great British energy swindle that the third of our big six energy companies has just announced another 18% rise in the price of gas and electricity.
Scottish and Southern Electric [SSE], formerly known as Scottish Hydro, has followed Scottish Power and British Gas in increasing charges by almost 4 times the rate of inflation for its 9 million UK customers. The company blamed the rising cost of gas on world markets for their decision. However, unlike the previous two companies they also took a swipe at Government legislation which forces them to contribute towards fuel poverty initiatives like the 'Warm Home Fund' blaming such 'mandatory environmental and social schemes' for eating into their profits. Heaven forfend anyone poor should get in the way of SSE's record profits, up 50 % in the past 5 years to £1.3bn or the £8m bonuses paid to its top four Executives for that matter!
No wonder public contempt for the energy companies is now at such unprecedented levels!
These companies have forced more than 10 million families in Britain into fuel poverty and have done so with undisguised contempt. SSE, for example have just been found guilty at Guildford Crown Court of using illegal sales methods to mislead people about their price tariffs in a concerted effort to win 'vulnerable' customers away from other suppliers. In a move only matched in its rapidity by Murdoch's decision to close down the News of the World, SSE wound up its sales division with the loss of 900 jobs before the full implications of this particular 'Pandora's box' could be fully inspected.
Scottish Power's charges go up 18% from August 1st. British Gas and SSE have announced similar rises. It is only be a matter of days now before Eon, EDF and Npower each make the same announcement and force millions more hard pressed families into fuel poverty in Britain.
This situation makes a mockery of the free market and privatised power as the price of essentials like gas and electricity rises beyond the reach of millions of families. And perhaps the craziest news yet is that UK investment in gas fired power stations is at record levels as the so called 'diversified energy policy' with its 'basket of energy sources' is rendered useless by the continued and prolonged 'dash for gas'. The answer to this increasingly brutal situation is of course to invest not in gas but in renewables and for the entire energy industry to be brought back into public hands. But that won't happen under the Tories, Labour or the SNP who persist with an energy policy based on greed not need.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Fuel Poverty Worsens As Prices Rise

Scottish Power's 19% hike in gas and electricity charges last month has now been followed by British Gas's 18% increase this month. The other four energy companies - EDF, Eon, Scottish and Southern and NPower - are widely expected to announce similar increases soon.

Perhaps the energy companies or the Government can explain how people are supposed to pay these exorbitant bills when wages have not gone up, benefits have not gone up and pensions have not gone up?

According to Edinburgh Council figures, half the pensioners in this city are now experiencing fuel poverty [i.e. spending 10% of their income on this bill] and there are one million households in Scotland living in such dire circumstances. And with the SNP Government cutting £20m from fuel poverty programmes and the CON-DEM coalition at Westminster reducing the winter fuel payment by 25% this shameful situation is unlikely to improve any time soon.

First Minister Alex Salmond promised to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland by 2015. He is now further away from his goal than ever.As someone who campaigns on this issue regularly on the streets of Edinburgh I can report that people are absolutely furious at this situation. It is time the Government intervened to ensure bills are capped and to diversify away from burning fossil fuels as part of an affordable and sustainable energy policy.

[Letter published in the Edinburgh Evening News 12 July 2011]

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Edinburgh People's Festival Programme Unveiled


The Edinburgh People’s Festival today unveiled our August 2011 programme which has a mixture of history, music, poetry, literature, lectures and comedy.

We are delighted to present this our ninth annual Edinburgh People’s Festival which runs from Sunday 7th to Friday 12th August. Our shows this year contain a mixture of old favourites and new attractions. We have for example another chance to join our popular walking tour of Edinburgh’s radical past taking in those sites in the city not covered by the tourist board. And we again pay tribute to the legendary Hamish Henderson, poet, essayist, folk singer songwriter, intellectual and activist who founded the People’s Festival back in 1951.

As well as those regular features we also present several new shows. We have music from the city’s Spanish community courtesy of ‘Gallo Rojo’ to celebrate protest songs and their spirit of resistance. We gather in the Scottish Poetry Library to conflate poetry and humour in an evening in memory of William McGonagall ‘the worlds worst poet’ who although long associated with Dundee was born here and is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

For John Rebus fans we have a literary tour of those landmarks made famous by Ian Rankin’s fictional detective and finally as our ‘grand finale’ we present an un-missable comedy night in Gorgie with 5 of the funniest comics in the city at prices to make everyone laugh.

Most shows are, as usual, absolutely free. And we thank the city’s trades union movement for its ongoing and generous support for making this possible.

Full details of all the shows in this years programme and how to get tickets are available at The EPF website - www.edinburghpeoplesfestival.org

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Edinburgh's Tram Fiasco


The opening of Scotland’s newest motorway yesterday under budget and ahead of schedule, makes painful viewing across the country in Scotland’s capital.

At roughly the same time Glasgow decided to plough ahead with a further 6 miles of the M74 to ease its traffic problems Edinburgh opted for 6 miles of tramlines. Unlike Glasgow the Edinburgh project has grossly exceeded its budget, up from £545m to around £770, is still years behind schedule and is now much reduced in scale from the original plan.

The budget failure and delays are bad enough but it is the utter incompetence of the project management TIE [Transport Initiatives Edinburgh] that has most disgusted people here. After 5 years of disruption, upheaval and contractual conflicts officials from TIE this week supplied Councillors with three options for the future and scrapping the entire scheme altogether- at a cost of £750m- was one of those choices. That’s right, we can choose to spend three quarters of a billion pounds and have nothing at all to show for it!

And it is a strong sign of the antipathy felt towards TIE and the entire project that 37% of people voted in an Edinburgh Evening News poll for that very option.

This issue is set to dominate next years Council elections and the recriminations are flowing thick and fast. The SNP blame Labour for coming up with the tram idea in the first place. Labour in return blame the SNP/LIB Dem coalition in charge of the City Council for the past 4 years of abject incompetence. In truth all 58 Councillors stand condemned as none of them were on top of the project as it veered off course.

And lest anyone think this doesn’t affect those living outside Edinburgh think again because £500m of the initial £545m budget comes from the Scottish Executive. They also face an additional extra demand.

I support trams in principle. I can see the merits they offer in cutting down congestion and CO2 emissions. I have travelled on the very successful and popular tram networks in Sheffield, Manchester and Croydon. But the problem with the Edinburgh scheme is that it was demanded by the city’s ‘business community’ not the people. Business leaders wanted to get to the airport quicker without having to use the bus. For the overwhelming majority of Edinburgh’s population the tram line network offered doesn’t come anywhere near us.

Furthermore the priority for Edinburgh is not a tram, regardless of whether it is £545 or £770. The people of this city need public housing, help with education and training, jobs and economic support as well as better health care. So as well as condemning the city fathers to charges of incompetence the tram fiasco also shows them to be completely out of touch they are with the real needs of the people of this city.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Democracy or the House of Lords

It's perhaps only natural that the debate on the Governments Bill to reform the House of Lords should further illustrate how out of touch our Peers of the realm remain. When the Tories are cast as the defenders of democracy you can tell how ridiculously skewed the debate has become.

David Cameron proposes that 80% of the House of Lords should be elected. And you might be forgiven for thinking the controversy centres on why only 80%? After all we don't elect 80% of the Commons do we or our Holyrood Parliament or our Councils? But this is no ordinary conflict. No, the Labour Party is against any elections at all!

There are many political issues where you would be hard pushed to spot any difference between Labour and the Tories.They are almost identical and reactionary on imperialist wars, privatisation, neo-liberal globalisation,savage public spending cuts, assaults on the living standards of working people, pensions, political corruption and nepotism. I could go on and on but here's one issue where Labour is substantially more reactionary than even 'the blue rinse brigade'.

In the past the Tories defended hereditary peerages and argued against an elected second chamber. This way they kept their inbuilt and substantial majority there. Labour meanwhile, for almost a century, rightly called for the abolition of the House of Lords. Now in a complete reversal of positions the Tories support democratisation, albeit partial, and Labour opposes it.

Labour's position is almost unbelievable. Ed Milliband's opposition to an elected second chamber is, like Blair and Brown's before him, based on the spurious argument that the power vested in the House of Commons would be undermined by other politicians given a mandate by the electorate. Labour wants to keep an appointed House of Lords in order to prevent it becoming a bulwark against decisions taken by the Commons.

You might think extending democracy would be a better argument, but no. And the Liberals are no better. I heard the preposterous Lord Steel of Aikwood argue on Radio Four this morning, that the public do not want 'politicians appointed by political parties sitting in the upper House'. This from David Steel an old buffer who picks up his £350 per day having been leader of the Liberals and appointed by Tony Blair on a grace and favour basis for service to the corrupt political establishment.

Countries all over the world have bicameral Parliaments with two elected chambers. The extension of such democracy would undoubtedly be a good thing for Britain but of course it rightly sounds the death knell for the nonsensical privilege and unelected placemen and women in the House of Lords.If you think the composition of the House of Commons is completely unrepresentative of the British population, and it is, the House of Lords is another world of aliens altogether.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Salmond Must Act Now To Cap Energy Bills

Scottish Power has just announced a 19% rise in gas and electricity bills -the whole country is up in arms at this latest hike in charges - and it's likely it will not be the only energy company to do so. But with one in three Scots families already in fuel poverty [up from 293,000 in 2002] the situation is now critical.

Gas and electricity charges have risen more than 80% in 3 years. The average household bill is now over £1,500 a year and Scottish Power wants to raise them by another £200. The SNP Government promised to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland by 2014. This pledge now lies in tatters.

Shelter Scotland, the housing charity,reports that families living in poorly insulated homes are the worst affected as costly heat escapes through badly insulated walls, windows,doors and roofs. They want the Scottish Government to build 100,000 fuel-efficient council houses each year to reduce energy bills and tackle chronic homelessness. Last year the SNP built just 6,000.

I have written to the First Minister, Alex Salmond, demanding he steps in and caps gas and electricity prices. People in Scotland do not have the money for another 19% rise, not when incomes are being held down. Wages have not risen, pensions have not risen, benefits have not risen and yet Scottish Power wants another 19% out of us!

Well they are not on. This really is the last straw.In the long term the Scottish Government must step up investment in renewable energy in order to diversify away from gas, oil and coal. Taking the power companies back into public ownership must be a priority, in order to ensure the profits this industry makes from the public benefit everyone. But people cannot wait that long, Alex Salmond must act now to cap gas and electricity bills and say enough is enough.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Fond Farewell Karly


Sadly the Scottish Socialist Party had to say a fond farewell to our dear friend and comrade Karly Oliver [appropriately shown to the left] who this week has returned to her native New Zealand after 2 years with us here in Edinburgh.
Karly was a fantatstic comrade, the branch secretary of the SSP's Edinburgh North branch. She is a highly talented young woman who helped steer the SSP in the city through some fairly rough times. And she always did so with patience, diplomacy, utter professionalism and dedication to the cause she loves.
Karly was a joy to know and to work with. She will be much missed here, fondly remembered and above all warmly welcomed back because of the outstanding contribution she made to advancing the socialist cause in Scotland. New Zealand's gain is our great loss. To all my Kiwi comrades I say 'You have won a watch there, make sure you take good care of her.'

Sunday, 29 May 2011

A War To Help The Libyan People?

Speaking in London this week Barak Obama warned that Qaddafi must ‘stand down and leave Libya to the Libyan people.’ It was another fine example of the doublespeak Obama is famous for. Obama certainly has no intention of leaving Libya to the Libyans. He intends to help BP, Total and Fina steal their oil.


In March the UN Security Council authorized a military ‘no fly zone’ allegedly to protect Libyan civilians in response to reports Qaddafi was about to butcher those in Benghasi who had rebelled against him - inspired no doubt by the uprisings in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia. But NATO’s military action has escalated from enforcing a defensive ‘no fly zone’ to become in effect the armed wing of the Libyan rebels. British, American, Italian and French aircraft have been bombarding and killing Libyans for over two months now flying 6,000 ‘sorties’ and firing more than 250 Cruise missiles. Britain alone is on course to spend £1billion on the conflict.


NATO commanders admit killing Qadaffi and replacing him with a more pliant, pro-western alternative is now their main objective. This is not only beyond the terms of UN Resolution 1973 it is expressly prohibited under international law. Yet ‘regime change’ in Libya is precisely what warmongering Obama has in mind. He has deemed ‘all legitimate military targets’ to include Qadaffi’s official Government residencies. A bloody civil war now looms in a country divided between NATO backed rebels in the east and Libyan Government forces in the west.


Several important questions arise from NATO’s latest war. Uppermost among them perhaps is how Qaddafi has survived in the face of such overwhelming military odds? The continuing loyalty of his armed forces is one factor but his ability to play on the deep-seated hatred for western Imperialism and the United States in particular has been even more crucial. The civilian population of Tripoli for example has predictably been drawn in behind Qaddafi by its hatred for Western Imperialism, NATO and their daily bombardment.


BBC and SKY News reporters go out of their way to deny the seething contempt that exists towards Western Imperialism throughout the region. Thankfully there are superior news agencies which convey how the Arab masses see the invasion of Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan and the persecution of the Palestinians as an affront to democracy, international law and to themselves.


For half a century the US has backed every tyrant and despot in the area. Obama continued with this strategy until the ‘Arab Spring’ began. Western Imperialism stood full square behind tyrants like Mubarak. The uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Bahrain have rather exposed them. And it ill behoves Obama to claim, as he did in London this week, that Britain and the United States are the worlds ‘moral guardians’.

Britain and the US never saw the Arab Spring coming far less fostered it as Obama tries to imply. Therefore NATO’s support for the rebels based in Benghasi, the self styled Transitional Council, will hardly ingratiate them to the rest of the Libyan population.


The Libyan Transitional Council are in truth a mixed bunch. They have legitimate grievances against Qaddafi having faced years of discrimination and under development. But they belong to

tribes common only in Eastern Libya who have always been hostile to Qaddafi. Many of them call for the restoration of the disgraced King Idris whom Qaddafi overthrew in a popular uprising in 1969. Idris was a corrupt, brutal and above all plaint western stooge every bit as hated as Qaddafi. He was famous for the deals he signed with Western oil companies – British, French and Italian – wherein Libya received the lowest rate in the world for a barrel of oil taken from its deserts. Al Qaeda are also reported to be involved in the rebel group (they have long been sworn enemies of Qaddafi) although not a significant size.


And of course oil is at the heart of all Obama’s calculations. The French have been the most belligerent of all voices on Libya. It’s clear their motivation is not humanitarian but the prospect of securing precious oil fields across the rich Libyan dessert.


Whilst Qaddafi is without doubt an idiosyncratic despot who rules, not through democratic structures as he claims, but via a rigged political system aided by a ruthless police state funded by the country’s huge oil wealth. Nonetheless he has never been tamed by Western Imperialism and they now see their chance. ‘Regime change’ however for democrats remains the sole and inviolate right of the Libyan people alone, not NATO, not the USA, not Britain nor anyone else.

Obama, Cameron, Sarkosy and Berlusconi are not motivated by humanitarian concern for the Libyan people they aim to impose yet another puppet who will promise them access to the huge oil reserves in the Libyan desert. This conflict then is not a war to help the Libyan people its a war to help BP steal their oil.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Scotland's Political Climate Changes Utterly

As landslides go the 2011 Holyrood election was huge. Scotland has been shaken to its political foundations as voters again voiced their contempt for the Tories, their coalition partners the Lib-Dems and New Labour. The Scotsman described Thursday’s result as a ‘victory of hitherto unthinkable proportions’ for the SNP. Even The Scotsman can be right some of the time!


In truth the extent of the victory surprised even the SNP. They emerged with 45% of the vote [their largest ever], 69 seats [out of 129] and the first overall majority in Holyrood’s history. At counts across the country SNP candidates arrived expecting third or fourth place and walked out hours later ‘as the newly elected MSP for the said constituency’. The front page of Saturdays Edinburgh Evening News said it all. It led with a photograph of the newly elected MSP for Edinburgh Southern emerging from a bookmakers with his £750 winnings after he put £50 on himself to win at 14/1 just a fortnight ago. That former Lib Dem seat was, according to all received wisdom, Labour’s for the taking.


It is impossible to underplay the scale of the SNP victory. Even the ‘certainties’ of the D’Hont PR system employed to distribute Holyrood seats were swept aside. So many people voted for the SNP on Thursday that after wining all the constituency seats in some regions they also got MSPs on the same regional list! Legends are made of this. The SNP’s message, albeit deceitful, that ‘the list vote elects the First Minister’ brought them huge dividends.


The SNP’s sophisticated, multi-million pound election campaign, with its navigational tools for activists and social networking operations completely outstripped the once powerful Labour machine. Pollsters YouGov report that 80,000 Labour voters across Scotland switched to the SNP in the final 36 hours in disgust at its increasingly negative campaign and incessant targeted mail shots. When they had constituency activists on the ground Labour knew when to leave people well alone!


BELEAGERED and BELABOURED

Can it really only be a year since every Labour MP in Scotland increased their majority? This time the all-conquering Labour Party of Lowland Scotland fell to pieces like a Laurel and Hardy car. If definitive and final proof were needed that people vote one way in Westminster elections and another for Holyrood this is it.

In Labour’s Central belt ‘heartlands’ its seats toppled like ninepins. And comparing Thursday’s results with the notional results from 2007 [itself a bad night for Labour] does not sufficiently explain the scale of their collapse. A better comparison would be to look at how Labour’s five figure majorities from last year poured into the SNP corner.


Labour imagined the Lib Dem protest vote would go to them, so why didn’t it? The answer is that Labour like the Con-Dem Coalition also support public spending cuts and tuition fees. They offered no real alternative. Former Lib-Dem voters were also seduced by Salmond’s claims of managerial competency at Holyrood. These SNP’s achievements in wooing disenchanted Liberals should not be regarded lightly. There is little love lost between the two parties, but on this occasion the support the SNP won from the Lib-Dems was the difference between winning and winning an overall majority.


As it turned out even the so-called ‘rogue’ poll of April 21st ,which first suggested the SNP had an overall majority, underestimated their support. And let’s not forget that Labour started this election campaign with a 15% lead!

The fact is Salmond attracted votes not just from disaffected Lib Dems, but also Labour, Green, Tory and SSP supporters too.


EPHEMERAL OR EARTH SHATTERING

The central question is how much of this change is ephemeral, a one off, a freak result, and how much of it has broken the political mould?

Those who tentatively suggest the former must reckon with the 5-year term the SNP majority now has in this Parliament. That’s certainly not superficial. Neither is the scale of Labour’s collapse.

On the other hand those who suggest we are now in permanent new territory must ask how can the SNP keep seats like Edinburgh Pentlands and Edinburgh West when they have virtually no activists there and little natural support as its political opponents wait to pounce? And what will be the consequences in next years Council elections after a year of public spending cuts?


There are those of course who argue that the result on May 5th illustrates a certain ‘political promiscuity’ by voters who voted for Labour in huge numbers last year and opted for the SNP equally emphatically this time. This demonstrates, so it is argued, an inherent volatility in politics because there are no ideological differences between the 4 establishment parties. And this is certainly true if you examine Alex Salmond’s economic programme, his business plan, or international policy in regards to say Libya or Afghanistan. And the public spending cuts which he delayed until after this election sit in his in tray awaiting his scissors.


THE CUTS

Above all it is the issue of the cuts which will now test Salmond’s popularity most. Popularity levels like his can only go one way. Ask Nick Clegg! And the SNP has very difficult choices now to make during continued economic stagnation. It faces making severe public spending cuts. And it has as a party no compunction in voting for them, unlike the SSP. It votes through cuts every day in Councils across Scotland and it will do so again at Holyrood. Of course Salmond will try valiantly to pin the blame on Cameron and Clegg. And rightly so, but in the end he will not fight the cuts, he will make them. That brings huge public opposition and with it huge opportunities for the left.


Salmond must make £3bn of cuts over 5 years and these will be severe and unpopular. A shrewd and cunning political operator he might be - look at the way he announced his five year Council tax freeze for example at the same time as he unceremoniously and largely unnoticed dumped the SNP’s commitment to an income based alternative- but he will make them nonetheless.

Neither will an SNP Government confront the employing classes or redistribute the great wealth of Scotland. Salmond may be a populist but he will defend the interests of big business in Scotland as mercilessly as anyone else.


The message from the people of Scotland to Alex Salmond however remains unequivocal - these cuts are utterly unnecessary and indefensible and he must fight them! The economic crisis wasn’t caused by the greed and recklessness of working people and the poor after all.


‘The SNP has been good for Scotland’ boasted Salmond defending his 4 year record at Holyrood. But which Scotland does he mean? The 200 businessmen who endorsed him on polling day? Sir David Murray? Sir Jackie Stewart? Sir Tom Farmer? The Scottish Sun and News of the World whom also blessed him with an endorsement? The Scottish Sunday Express? They all believe the SNP has been good for them and that’s why they backed Salmond on Thursday!

‘Alex Salmond has been good for Scotland’ they said in unison ‘That’s why we support his re-election as First Minister.’ John Swinney welcomed their backing and said ‘Captains of Industry have benefited from the SNP.’

The Sunday Times Rich List came out at the weekend and what’s remarkable about the table of Scots billionaires and millionaires is the number who came out last week in support of the SNP. As New Labour found to its cost you can support the millionaires or you can support the millions. Getting it wrong has devastating consequences electorally.


So there’s the rub. Millions of Scots voted for the SNP to fight the cuts and to stand up to the Tories but the SNP now supports a regressive council tax freeze, cutting corporation tax and cuts in public services, jobs, pay and £3.3bn off the budget over the next 5 years.


INDEPENDENCE

Undoubtedly the most profound impact of last weeks astonishing is made on the likelihood of a referendum on Independence. The SNP did not present the Bill in the last Parliament they said because they had no majority. Now they do. Independence just took a great leap forward as Mao might have said.

There is no doubt that the case for independence took a battering during the election campaign itself as the SNP leadership barely rose to its defence whilst the unionist parties, sensing a weakness in the SNP’s armour, poured endless cold water on it. In these circumstance its little wonder the polls show support now down below 30%.

Supporters of Independence like the SSP therefore have a huge task on our hands to win the argument for Independence outside Holyrood in the pubs, clubs, community centres and workplaces across the land. But it can and must be done. The case for independence must be won before the referendum is called.


This offers an unprecedented opportunity for the left. The SNP is incapable of delivering a majority for independence on its own and to be fair it has acknowledged this frequently in the Independence Convention which the SSP joined.

It remains our job on the left to outline the alternative vision for independence. The alternative to neo-liberalism, warmongering, privatisation and profiteering. How many of the 69 SNP MSPs for example will protest at having to swear the oath of allegiance to the Queen? The party favours independence with the Queen as Head of State.


Alex Salmond is undoubtedly a shrew politician who closely courts popularity but he also supports the NATO attacks on Libya and the British occupation of Afghanistan. He also supports the monarchy and cutting corporation tax for employers and retaining the unfair Council tax. The SSP are better able to persuade progressive Scotland of the case for Independence.


THE LEFT

Given the huge swing to the SNP which swept all before it, taking dozens of seats from Labour, Liberals, Tories and Greens [polls suggested the Greens could get 8 seats] alike it is hardly surprising the left’s vote was squeezed on Thursday. We were also entirely eclipsed in the way the media covers this big money election.

The left was never at the races. In Glasgow George Galloway got 6,500 votes but never looked like winning and he has gone back to where he came from leaving nothing behind pretty much as usual. The Socialist Labour Party got the biggest left vote with 10,000 but they have been unable to coalesce the left in Scotland up to now and that will not change. The SSP vote [8,722] was also disappointing and down from 2007. This was inevitable after the fiasco of the Sheridan trial in January. Solidarity, as expected, were the biggest losers given their disgraced leaders incarceration for lying.


It is also true that nowadays the left’s resources are minuscule compared to the millions spent by Labour and the SNP and this disparity makes an uneven contest all but impossible.

For the SSP and the left as a whole the task must be to build up support for the socialist case again and to act with others to establish new fresh ideas and a potent political base of support in communities, workplaces and amongst those fighting the cuts There will be many opportunities presented to us in the weeks, months and years to come. We need to roll up our sleeves and take the socialist case to new generations of political activists.


The electoral plain is but one of many in politics and the 2012 Council elections offer an opportunity for a breakthrough. But as SSP Councillor Jim Bollan put it to me during the election you have to lay foundations before you put up the walls and take your seat. This time last year I met the team behind Green MP Caroline Lucas’s success in Brighton and asked them what they put their victory in getting Britain's first Green MP elected- down to. They each said ‘25 years hard work at ground level’. After last Thursday, the Greens are the biggest Party on Brighton and Hove Council.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Yesterday I Delivered This Speech At The Edinburgh May Day Rally

May Day 2011 will be remembered for the SNP's truly historic and extraordinary election victory at Holyrood. Like it or not the implications for the labour and trades union movement and for the prospects for socialism in Scotland are profound.

The overwhelming political issue of the moment remains the appalling cuts planned by the CON-DEM Coalition in London and their impact on the living standards of working people. The question is, can we rely on the SNP Government to fight those attacks, because that undoubtedly means confronting the employing classes and redistributing the great wealth of Scotland.

Our message to Alex Salmond today remains clear - these cuts are utterly unnecessary and indefensible AND HE MUST FIGHT THEM. We do not accept that an economic crisis caused by the greed and recklessness of our banks and global corporations means working people and the poor must suffer a severe cut in their living standards.

And let's make one thing clear. We are not 'all in this together'. Times are not hard for everyone - not when some are paying £25,000 a year for schooling their children at Fettes
- not when the Registers of Scotland reveal houses in Belmont Drive, Murrayfield, sell for £2.3m
- not when the Royal Bank of Scotland awards it's CEO a £7.7 million salary
- not when Edinburgh, with it's stark inequalities, remains the UK's 2nd richest city, with £3 trillion worth of equity managed here.

Yet David Cameron, Nick Clegg and David Milliband insist 'There have to be cuts in the standard of living of millions'. They are wrong. They are ideologically motivated. They intend to ensure the filthy rich keep their excessive wealth whilst the rest of us pay heavily for something we didn't do.

It's our job in this labour and trade union movement to outline the alternative, to explain that the books can easily be balanced by making alternative decisions;
- like ending the tax evasion which robs the country of £20 billion a year
- or raising corporation tax to the same level seen in the rest of Europe
- or scrapping Trident nuclear weapons to save £100 billion
- or ending the occupation of Afghanistan, which costs £5 billion a year
- or taking the banks' profits into public ownership, not just their debts and losses
- or replacing the council tax with an income based alternative to bring in another £1.5 billion.

This issue is about morality and justice. Those who caused the crisis should pay for it.
Not the poor, elderly, sick and disabled, nor the one in three children already living in poverty.
Not the 850,000 low paid workers earning a pittance in Scotland.
Not the pensioners struggling to get by on wholly inadequate incomes.

Alex Salmond is a very shrewd politician, but he supports the NATO attacks on Libya and he supports the British occupation of Afghanistan. He supports the monarchy and cutting Corporation Tax for employers whilst retaining the unfair Council Tax.

Working people have put the SNP on watch; Alex, will you implement Tory cuts or refuse?
Will you stand up for the 1 in 3 youngsters in Scotland living in poverty or ignore them again?
Will you help the 850,000 people struggling to get by on the National Minimum Wage as you tout Scotland around the world as a low wage economy?
How you answer these questions will truly determine whether our country has entered new ground or not.

Last month I joined half a million people in London on the TUC demonstration against the cuts entitled 'There is a better way'. Indeed there is, and the people of Scotland need it desperately.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Time To Abolish The Council Tax - Not Freeze It

The opinion polls suggest Labour and the SNP are neck and neck in the race for Holyrood 2011. Interestingly both parties now support a freeze in Council Tax bills for the next year. They arrived at this 'freeze' via different routes however.

Like the Scottish Socialist Party the SNP are opposed to the Council Tax in principle, believing, as the majority of Scots do, that it is unfair and hits the less well off disproportionately hard. The Council Tax is indeed a regressive tax that bears no relation to a person's income. Consequently the least well off are hit hardest as the wealthy pay coppers. Since they have not been able to replace it with an income based alternative, the SNP have settled for second be stand 'freezing' the current charges.

Labour on the other hand has no principled objection to the Council Tax. They argue for a freeze on the grounds that they purportedly want to 'help hard working families in this time of austerity'. Most people believe that it has more to do with avoiding being politically outmanoeuvred by the SNP. Either way freezing the Council Tax does nothing to address it's fundamental unfairness. Indeed it may be argued a freeze helps the rich most of all.

As things stand the wealthy in Scotland pay a tiny tiny percentage of their income on this bill. For example,Stephen Hestor (the CEO of RBS) was just awarded a £7.7 million pay package for the coming year. Living in Edinburgh his Council Tax bill will again be frozen at £2,338 or 0.03% of his salary whilst some pensioners are paying 25% of their income on theirs.

The Scottish Socialist Part believes this is utterly unacceptable and this week we will highlight our fully costed proposals for a local income tax to replace the Council Tax. Our plans would mean the burden would be lifted from the shoulders of of pensioners, low paid workers and the poor and at the same time force the wealthy to pay their fair share for a change.

Here's how it works. Each individual in Scotland will pay towards the funding of local services but the more you earn the more you pay. So, for example, if your income is less than £10,000 you are exempt. That's too low to force people to contribute. Thereafter, on incomes over £10,000 and up to £30,000 you pay 4.5%. So if you are on £200,000 your bill is £450 [4.5% of the earnings over £10,000] If you earn more than £30,000 you pay nothing on the first £10,000, 4.5% on the next £20,000 and 10% on the earnings over £30,000. The next incremental step is to 15% on earnings over £50,000 and 20% on earnings over £100,000. This graduated rate (which the SNP opposes) is fairer and ensures that as your income goes up so does your tax obligation.

Economists at Paisley University who scrutinised these figures found that 77% of Scots will be better off compared to now. Furthermore, using the latest Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs figures, they are able to demonstrate that these proposals would bring another £1.5 billion into Holyrood's Treasury.

So, not only would this tax be fairer and redistributive, it would also halt the need for any cuts to public services in Scotland. And that's a freeze we DO need.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

For a Modern Democratic Republic

All across Scotland political parties are vying for votes and spending millions of pounds trying to engage the electorate in the 'democratic process'. Glossy leaflets are being distributed left, right and centre whilst 'hustings' take place in church halls and community centres as political activists strive for most votes. But regardless of who wins the 129 seats on May 5th all the successful candidates must start their new job by defying the democratic principles they have just publicly espoused.
I well remember my first day as an elected MSP, I was legally compelled to tell a lie, a great big lie in front of the entire country. And when I refused I was expelled from the very Parliament I had fought so hard to enter. The reason? The Scotland Act compelled me to swear an oath of allegiance not to the people who had just elected me but to 'the Queen, her heirs and successors'. I refused. My allegiance I insisted was to the people of Scotland. But the Parliamentary authorities made it clear to me, and to my fellow MSPs, in no uncertain terms, that if we refused to take the oath we would not be legally permitted to sit in Parliament. [This requirement also faces MPs at Westminster].
How can our democratic process be so quickly and categorically usurped in this way? What about the declaration made by the Returning Officer that I 'had been duly elected to serve the people' of the Lothians?
The answer is that Britain's constitution has a monarch as our Head of State. Furthermore our unelected monarch and unelected House of Lords help enact laws referring to us as her 'subjects'. The monarch is 'attended' by her Lords, knights, aristocrats and the landed gentry. Our armed forces fight for and express loyalty to their 'Queen and country'. The law of the land upholds 'Her Majesty' as the ultimate legal authority. She is not accountable to, or elected by, anyone. It's no wonder people across the world who know of the UK's antiquated constitution are prone to ask incredulously 'Is this the same country that haughtily lectures the rest of the world about democracy?
Those who defend the Queen's role as our unelected Head of State insist hers is a largely benign and symbolic position. But this is patently untrue. Her powers can hardly be described as 'benign' if, when you don't declare your complete obedience to her, you cannot take up the seat the people elected you to.
But Parliament has the power, insist the monarchy's defenders, adding that the House of Commons is sovereign and the Queen cannot interfere in their political decisions. But strictly speaking she could, that's the point. She could, if she insisted, even refuse to allow a Government to be formed. She could refuse to sign Bills into law. This may appear unlikely in the present circumstances, but what if there was a political or constitutional crisis? We saw a glimpse of this last summer when after a hung Parliament emerged out of the General Election it took quite a while to form a Government. Into such circumstances 'benign' powers are often seen to emerge! Ask the people of Australia. They well remember a greater constitutional crisis in the 1970s when the so-called 'benign powers' of the Queen were evoked to remove the elected Labour Government of Prime Minister Goff Whitlam.
Furthermore Tony Blair infamously took us to war in Iraq by dint of the Royal Prerogatives given to him by the Crown and without a vote in the House of Commons. And the Queen's Privy Councillors exercise powers that outstrip those available to the House of Commons. Their administration of many of the world's tax havens, for example, is beyond the reach of MPs.
Constitutionally, power in Britain doesn't ultimately rest with the people. Britain is not a fully functioning democracy but a constitutional monarchy. As a democrat this worries me. I support a modern democratic republic for Scotland, not an outmoded feudal anachronism. And the polls suggest the majority of Scots agree with me. Our constitutional arrangements are urgently in need of root and branch reform. A modern democratic republic would establish the clear principle that we, 'the people', equal citizens in a free country, are ultimately in charge. We demand the right to elect our MPs and our Head of State in free and fair elections. That Head of State must be accountable to the people alone.
I once watched Alex Salmond get himself into a 'right Royal fankle' trying to explain the SNP's policy of 'a people's monarchy'. Try as he might he couldn't square two contradictory concepts. You can have rule by the monarch or rule by the people, but not both. There can be no place for hereditary privilege in a modern Scotland.
In 2005 the Queen came to open 'her' new £440m Holyrood Parliament. All MSPs and their families were 'cordially invited to meet 'Her Majesty''. But we six Scottish Socialist Party MSPs headed for the hills. Calton Hill in Edinburgh City Centre to be precise, where with thousands of others, we read out a declaration calling for a modern democratic republic for Scotland. To us those three words, 'modern', 'democratic' and 'republic' are inseparable. 'Modern' is something the monarchy is not. And I'm not just referring to the castles, palaces and titles or to their horse drawn carriages, robes, crowns and double breasted suits. I'm referring most of all to their attitudes and principles, their unearned positions, class ridden hierarchies and political controls.
'Democratic' the monarchy can of course never be. You either have the 'divine right of Kings' and their 'hereditary privileges' or you have free and fair elections, you simply can't have both.
A 'republic' is by definition a state in which 'supreme power resides in the people' not a monarch. To me it is the essence of democracy. An elected Head of State is a prerequisite in modern democracies. If you look around the world at other leading economies; France, Germany, Italy, Russia, China and most of the others, they all dumped their monarchies centuries ago. And America never had one, not unless you count Elvis!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

SSP's Holyrood Manifesto


The Scottish Socialist Party launched our manifesto for the 2011 Holyrood elections yesterday at a press conference in Glasgow. With me at the launch were the other top of the list candidates from across Scotland. Frances Curran (Glasgow), SSP Councillor Jim Bollan (West of Scotland), and myself briefly outlined the main points in our magnificent manifesto [which can be downloaded from the SSP website] for the assembled press pack.
We gave the people of Scotland a cast iron guarantee that if they elect SSP MSPs on May 5th we will not vote for cuts to public services, to jobs, wages or conditions. This is a very important commitment because this will be the first Parliament faced with a reduced budget so MSPs will either vote for cuts or fight them.
The SSP has never, in twelve years, voted to cut public services or the standard of living of working people and we have no intention of starting now.
Second we stressed that we are committed to scrapping the hated and unfair Council Tax. We intend to replace it with an income based alternative which sees the wealthy pay more and the poor exempted.
And last, but by no means least, is our support for an independent socialist Scotland, a modern democratic republic. Whilst other parties dilute their commitment to independence we remain passionate about it. And as we will endure the sycophants cooing over a Royal wedding in the last week of this election campaign we felt it important to restate our commitment to a modern democratic republic for Scotland.
The press conference was well attended as the picture shows. As well as the BBC and STV film crews, several other photographers and journalists were present and their questions reflected their growing recognition that support for the SSP is increasing noticeably.
The coverage of our manifesto launch has, as usual, been patchy; some good, some bad, some non-existent. STV news carried a full interview and the greatest column inches were found in the Aberdeen Press and Journal. So, hats off to them for fair coverage and Dunces Caps to the BBC, The Daily Record and the other tabloids for ignoring us once again.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Prescription Charges Abolished in Scotland After 50 Years

After my election to Holyrood in 2003 I launched a Private Members Bill to scrap prescription charges. The SSP's Bill won the backing of hundreds of health groups, unions and patients groups across the country. It even won the support of the Scottish Parliament's own Health Committee.

It was voted down by an unholy alliance of Labour, Lib Dem and Tory MSPs, otherwise this double tax on the sick would have become law 6 years ago.

I am delighted nonetheless that our visionary idea has, at last, been realised and that a great injustice has been eradicated. The NHS promised, back in 1947, to provide health care free at the point of need paid for out of general taxation. Prescription Charges broke that promise to patients. Without our Bill, and the SNP Government's decision to pick it up, prescription charges would be £7.40 per item today as they are in England.

This achievement shows the people of Scotland what a difference SSP MSPs at Holyrood make to their lives, and in particular, to those of the low paid, sick and vulnerable. I hope people will remember this on May 5th.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Coalition Government Faces Mass Trades Union Opposition to Public Sector Cuts Plan


On Saturday I joined the protest march through London opposing the Coalition Government's austerity programme. This was no standard march, it's organisers, the TUC, said there were almost a quarter of a million people on it, I could well believe it. Our contingent, from Edinburgh, took nearly 5 hours to walk just three miles from the Embankment to Hyde Park and at no stage could we see the beginning or end of the parade.

It was a magnificent display of strength by the much ignored British trade union movement. It was uplifting to be part of it and illustrated again just what the TUC is capable of when it gives a clear and uncompromising lead.

Not only was the protest huge, colourful and vibrant, it was clear that there were tens of thousands who had never been on such a march before. It was the largest protest of it's kind since 2003 and the outbreak of war in Iraq.

Our message was also clear. These cuts are unfair, they are vindictive and politically charged. The current economic crisis was precipitated by the greed and recklessness of Britain's private finance industry. These self styled 'Masters of the Universe' insist they are so important to world capitalism that they are 'too big to fail'. What they mean of course is that they are too big for governments to allow to fail and therefore public money, vast amounts of public money, must be found to bail them out every time they go bust.

Sadly all four capitalist parties in Scotland agree with them. They all accept that the public purse must be emptied to stop private banks going to the wall. That public money is currently being spent on far better causes - caring for the sick and vulnerable, educating people, housing the homeless and feeding the hungry.

These cuts are both brutal and unnecessary. To balance the books we should stop spending £100bn on Trident, stop allowing the rich to evade taxes, stop occupying Afghanistan and stop bombing innocent Libyan civilians.

Of course, the issue goes far deeper. The Liberals and Tories are ideologically opposed to the public sector. They prefer private individuals and unaccountable companies to deliver services and employ people. They have no qualms about the services being sub-standard and the wages being woeful. They don't use them nor do they work to provide them.

The TUC now has to consider what it does next. Saying 'Wait for a Labour Government' simply wont do. We had one of those before and they were useless. It is pointless and defeatist to repeat that mantra and gets us nowhere, not least because Labour also favours cuts. So it's over to you Brendan Barber!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Poll Predicts SSP Holyrood Advance

The latest YouGov poll on voting intentions for the Holyrood elections has the SSP on 4% for the Regional List Vote. Perhaps the most striking element of this is that support for the SSP amongst the over 60s stands at 9% and they are the age group most likely to vote.

The poll comes after Jimmy Kerr trebled the SSP's share of the vote in a Paisley council by-election (compared with 2007).

Both polls indicate that support for the SSP is growing again, and this is most encouraging as the Holyrood campaign kicks off in earnest.

We are asking all our members and supporters to spread this message amongst their friends, family and work colleagues.

We have shown over the past decade that our policies can can make a real difference. NHS prescription charges have now been abolished in Scotland as a result of the ground breaking work the SSP did on the issue between 2003-07.

We are asking our members and supporters to campaign strongly to get out message across over the next 6 weeks.

We are also asking for donations towards the cost of our campaigning. You can donate to the SSP by sending a cheque made payable to the SSP to SSP, 8 Alloway Loan, Edinburgh, EH16 6XH or by paying it in directly to the SSP's a/c.

As the campaign gathers momentum I'll keep you posted on what's happening and how you can support Scotland's Socialist Party.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

US Government denies visa to Malalai Joya


The United States Government have denied a travel visa to Malalai Joya, former member of Afghanistan's parliament. She was set to begin a three week US tour to promote her memoir 'A Woman Among Warlords'. Joya's publisher at Scribner, Alex Gargaliano, said "We had the privilege to publish Ms Joya, and her earlier 2009 book tour met with great acclaim. The right of authors to travel and promote their work is central to freedom of expression and a full exchange of ideas."

Joya's memoir has been translated into over a dozen languages and she has toured widely including Australia, the UK, Canada, Norway, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and the Netherlands in support of the book over the past two years.

Ms Joya presented herself at the US Embassy and was told she was being denied a visa because she was "unemployed" and "lives underground". Malalai Joya was the youngest woman elected to Afghanistan's parliament in 2005. Because of her harsh criticism of warlords and fundamentalists in Afghanistan she has been the target of at least five assassination attempts. "The reason Joya lives underground is because she faces the constant threat of death for having the courage to speak up for women's rights. It's obscene that the US Government would deny her entry" said Sonali Kolhatkar of the Afghan Women's Mission, a US based organisation that has hosted Joya for speaking tours in the past and is a sponsor of this year's national tour.

Joya has also become an internationally celebrated critic of the US-NATO war in Afghanistan.

Events featuring Malalai Joya are planned, from March 20 until April 10, in New York, New Jersey, Washington DC, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and California. Organisers of her speaking tour are encouraging people to contact the Department of State to ask them to fulfill the promise from the Obama Administration of "promoting the global marketplace of ideas" and grant Joya's visa immediately.

Noam Chomsky said "Malalai Joya leaves us with hope that the tormented people of Afghanistan can take their fate into their own hands if they are released from the grip of foreign powers"

The Irish Times described Joya's book as " A fascinating account of Afghanistan's political reality...Malalai Joya has been compared Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi"

The Daily Telegraph commented that Joya was "Unwavering in her mission to bring true democracy to her country...Women have been known to walk for miles just to touch her. For them, she is their only real hope for a better future"

Friday, 18 March 2011

Ken Loach's Route Irish

I had the very great pleasure of meeting the acclaimed and prolific film maker Ken Loach on Wednesday, when he was at the Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh showcasing his latest work 'Route Irish'. Ken is a very good friend of the Scottish Socialist Party and has been for many years now. Many people will have seen him on Newsnight recently where he tore Michael Hesletine, former Deputy Leader of the Tory Party, to shreds over the attacks on working people being made by the Con Dem Government. He was superb and I'm sure he lifted the spirits of every Socialist in Britain who watched the programme.
The film, 'Route Irish' focuses on the role of private security companies in Iraq and tells the story of two Liverpudlian friends, Frankie (John Bishop) and Fergus (Mark Womack). Frankie dies in highly suspicious circumstances whilst travelling along the most dangerous road in the world - the one between Baghdad International Airport and the city's diplomatic 'Green Zone' - which is known as Route Irish.

The film is a powerful piece of work and is again a collaboration between Ken and screenwriter Paul Laverty. It is well worth seeing for the dexterous way it exposes how the murky world of modern imperialist warfare and private profiteering connect within the 'military industrial complex'.

Route Irish goes on general release today.

[picture : Craig Maclean]


Sunday, 13 March 2011

Dont 'freeze' the Council tax, shovel it away

This weeks u-turn by Labour's Iain Gray in favour of a Council tax freeze may put him on a par with Alex Salmond but it does little to challenge the essential inequity of the tax itself.
The overwhelming majority of Scots want to see the Council tax swept away altogether like the unwelcome snows of the weekend, not kept and frozen.
Since the tax bears no relation to one's income or ability to pay it is the poor who are inevitably hit hardest. Some senior citizens for example must pay 20% of their entire income on this one bill.
Iain Gray would therefore be well advised to examine the Registers of Scotland report published this week showing how the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer when measured via house sales in the past year. Houses in Belmont Drive, Edinburgh, for example, currently Scotland's most expensive street so we are told, were sold for £2.3million in 2010. Householders in that part of Murrayfield pay just £2,338 in Council tax whereas those householders in the city's average Band F properties, valued at less than 1/10th of the price, face a bill of £1,688 or 70% as much. Clearly neither Labour nor the SNP's Council tax 'freeze' does much to help the poor and the low paid who continue to shoulder by far the heaviest burden.
In 2007 the SNP manifesto for Holyrood accepted the fundamental injustice of the Council tax and pledged to scrap it altogether in favour of an income based alternative. They have moved far from such a commitment insisting the better off face up to their responsibilities, to simply 'freezing in' the unfairness. Its no wonder then that industrialists like Sir David Murray are happy to back them in May. Not only did the SNP not deliver on their 2007 election promise they didn't even put up a fight. They chickened out of submitting a Bill to Parliament replacing the Council tax for fear it would be defeated. This attitude is in stark contrast to the record of the Scottish Socialist Party which presented 2 Bills in consecutive sessions.
The SSP remains committed to an income based alternative to the Council tax which shifts the burden from the shoulders of pensioners and the poor onto those of say Mr. Stephen Hestor the now £6.6million richer CEO of RBS and his neighbours in Belmont Drive and elsewhere who can plainly afford to pay more.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Edinburgh Divided

Registers of Scotland published a report this week showing 15 of Scotland's 20 most expensive streets are in Edinburgh. Houses in Belmont Drive, Murrayfield, the country's most expensive street start at £2.3million. There are seven of them.
These figures remind me of a speech I made in the midst of the 1990's housing boom to the Edinburgh Tenants Federation AGM. 'Million pound houses are ten a penny now in Edinburgh' I quipped. It appears the the luxury housing market has barely been effected at all by the 2009 financial crash as prices continue to soar. Far too much money is still chasing too few houses. And since its 25 years since Edinburgh built council housing in any meaningful numbers the chronic shortage is unlikely to disappear any time soon.
Working class people have long been forced to leave the city in search of more affordable locations in West Lothian and Fife.
Last year The Guardian, looking at the impact of the 2009 financial crash,concluded that Edinburgh remained the second richest city in Britain. With almost £3trillion worth of equity managed here on a daily basis this city of 460,000 sits behind only London with 7 million people in the UK wealth league table.
But Edinburgh, as anyone who lives here will attest, is a city of shocking contrasts. Geographically compact, enclosed by the Firth of Forth to its North and East and the Pentlands Hills to its south, Edinburgh's affluent never live far from its impoverished. Life expectancy i Belmont Drive for example is 10 years higher than Craigmillar [East], West Pilton [North], the Calders [West] or Burdiehouse [South].
Last week more than 300 families on the Council's waiting list applied for a modest three bedroom house in Saughton under the tenant transfer scheme. The 299 unsuccessful families must therefore continue to endure unsuitable and overcrowded conditions a while longer. Belmont Drive although only a stones throw from Saughton might as well be on the moon for them.
An it is not only housing inequalities which feature starkly in Edinburgh's deep social divide.
Nearly 25% of children here go to private school, paying up to £25,000 for the privileges. Tony Blair, Alistair Darling and Iain Gray all went to them. Edinburgh City Council meanwhile whether Labour, Liberal or SNP controlled, has closed dozens of state schools in he past 10 years and forced class sizes in the remainder to levels twice that of the private sector.
So claims that 'We are all in this together' made by those other private schoolboys Cameron, Clegg and Osborne ring hollow in these parts. We have heard such noises many times before.
Neither the Con-Dems, Labour nor SNP [with the backing of industrialist Sir David Murray, himself a resident of one of Edinburgh's richest streets] has the slightest intention of challenging inequalities, indeed they are part of the problem not its solution. So the question remains how do we turn round this obscene wealth divide?
The Scottish Socialist Party knows how. We can start by insisting the better off pay their share of tax for a change. Look at how the Council tax exacerbates the grotesque wealth inequalities in Edinburgh, and beyond. The residents of Belmont Drive in their £2.3million houses pay a Band G Council tax of £2,338. Those city residents living in the average Band F property pay £1,688. That's right 70% as much as their richest neighbours who are likely to be people like Mr Stephen Hestor the CEO of RBS. The country's biggest publicly owned bank this week awarded him a salary of £6.6milion for the coming year- for running our bank!
The SNP's much vaunted Council tax freeze- now backed by New Labour-means people like Stephen Hestor benefit most. The Scottish Socialist Party's plan to replace the Council Tax with a Scotland wide income tax means the owners of Belmont Drive face a much more realistic bill- 20% 0f their income over £100,000 a year. Meanwhile those struggling to get by on low wages -850,000 Scots- we be exempt from obligations until their incomes rise. That's the enlightened attitude Edinburgh was once famous for across the world before the city became synonymous with obscene social divisions and indefensible inequalities.