Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Spain set for period of political instability following Sunday's General Election

Having begun 2015 with a visit to Athens for the Greek General Election triumph of Syriza I had hoped to end the year by accepting an invitation from Podemos to witness Sunday’s General Election in Spain. Alas the votes close proximity to Christmas meant that for family reasons that was not possible.
But the dramatic news from Madrid meant that for the first time in the post Franco era Spain will not be governed outright by either the Popular Party [Tories] or PSOE [Labour]. The remarkable breakthrough by Podemos [‘We can’] on the left and to a lesser extent by Cuidadanos [‘Citizens’] on the right was widely predicted amid Spain’s prolonged economic collapse and recent high profile corruption scandals. Spain now has a complex and polarised four party system with the PP on 123 seats in Parliament [down 66], PSOE on 90 [down 20], Podemos 69, Cuidadanos 40 and the others on 28.

The result overall was inconclusive however and even if the right-wing bloc manages to pull together a workable coalition [by no means certain] they only just make it across the 176 seat threshold needed in the 350 seat Parliament. Similarly if the left [PSOE + Podemos + the nationalist parties] can construct an agreed programme [again a major doubt] they too only just make a majority. Talk of a ‘Grand Coalition’ between the PP and PSOE, the two biggest parties, is equally unlikely. If no coalition or minority Government can be cobbled together another election must be held within three months. Many Spanish commentators believe this may be inevitable.

The political uncertainty matches the economic picture. The ‘recovery’ claimed by [former] Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is extremely weak and largely invisible to millions of poor and under-employed Spaniards. For them Sunday’s result represents more of the same. The same austerity, the same mass unemployment, the same mass emigration by the cream of Spanish youth.
And the unresolved national questions in Catalonia, the Basque country and in Galicia, are unlikely to be settled any time soon either. The views of PSOE and Podemos on the left for example, are at odds with the desire of nationalists in the ‘regions’. Neither party backs self-determination, although Podemos was forced to concede a binding referendum to Catalonia in return for support there. The right wing parties oppose outright independence for Spanish ‘regions’.
Even if any coalition Government can be patched together it will be vulnerable to Parliamentary defeats. The PP lost one third of its seats. PSOE who should have been the main beneficiary of widespread disgust with the PP Government lost a fifth of theirs.

Podemos won 69 seats in a spectacular General Election debut for this new, young party. However a note of caution may be wise as there are many questions now facing them. Given they led the polls in the Spring uppermost perhaps among the questions is why did Spanish voters not move more decisively left? And why did 80% of voters reject Podemos given the severe economic hardship and the blazing indignation at several high profile corruption scandals affecting both the PP and PSOE?

Might a more decisive rejection of Spain’s political duopoly not have been expected? And might it not be premature therefore to write off Spain’s two long established parties just yet with all their money, power and influence?
In January Podemos were ahead in the polls. They were then rocked by a financial scandal of their own. Then there were reports of internal schisms over the party's structures and its decision-making process amid accusations of a move to the right. Podemos will face intense media scrutiny now and immense political pressure from a Spanish state concerned at its rise. All of which will undoubtedly add to the wider political instability in Spanish society.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Britain is Sleepwalking into a Nightmare in Syria

This is a letter I sent to 'The Herald' today following an article by their columnist David Torrance on the prospect of UK air strikes on ISIL in Syria

David Torrance is correct to highlight the glaring flaws in David Cameron's case for UK air strikes  in Syria ‘ …the intellectual side of the balance sheet seems to me insubstantial’ in today's Herald [‘Corbyn’s style may be inept, but his argument is correct’ 30/11/15].
The Prime Minister’s plea that ‘we need to do something’ after the Paris massacre is not god enough. In fact it is no better than the case Parliament rejected two years ago. On that occasion David Cameron insisted we should bomb the Assad Government after it used chemical weapons against civilians in the escalating civil war. Had MPs taken his advice ISIL would be sitting in Damascus today running the country and the political consequences of that don’t bear thinking about.
The British Governments claim that ‘there are 70,000 moderate fighters in the Free Syrian Army’ ready and waiting to play the crucial role of ‘ground forces’ in the war against ISIL is nonsense. It ranks alongside Tony Blair’s ‘dodgy dossier’ which insisted Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003. Robert Fisk, the widely respected Middle East correspondent, ridicules Cameron's suggestion and insists the FSA is lucky if it has 100 ‘moderate Sunni soldiers’ and points out that this largely fictional ‘army’ is referred to only by Western leaders who refuse to recognise that the only forces [beyond the Kurds in their northern enclaves] capable of defeating ISIL are the Syrian Army of Bashir al-Asaad backed as he is by the Russians, Iran and Hezbollah.

David Cameron’s proposition to launch immediate UK air strikes on ISIL also undermines his oft repeated and equally reprehensible objective which is oust Assad and organise a complete ‘regime change’ in Syria. There is a brutal civil war taking place in Syria where the only force capable of defeating ISIL is the Syrian army.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Osborne's Autumn Statement reveals tax credit climbdown and extent of Tory attack on public spending

Two features of George Osborne's Autumn Statement today overshadow all others. The 'headline grabber' will inevitably be his unexpected climb down over tax credits. Just as important however are the figures revealing the reduction in state spending during his period in office. It now accounts for just 35% of the total UK economy. It was 50% when he became Chancellor in 2010.

Faced with widespread opposition over his proposal to cut £4.4 billion from the benefits paid to top up the wages of low paid workers, including criticism from scores of his own backbenchers, this aspirant Prime Minister abandoned his plan altogether. His decision says more about his own political ambitions however than any change of heart by the Tories. They still intend to slash £12 billion from other welfare provisions most noticeably Universal Credits and housing benefit. They will also proceed as planned with £20 billion of cuts to transport services, climate change provisions and justice budgets.

Over the last 5 years the Tories have systematically slashed UK state spending. They are committed as George Osborne again made clear today 'to a high wage [sic], low tax and low state spending economy'. This means passing more and more responsibility for providing social services will be passed to the private sector. And more of the real wage bill will be passed on to private employers and not the state.

So how can Osborne reconcile his u-turn on tax credits with his commitment to lowering the national debt? The Office of Budget Responsibility can provide some of the answer. He has benefited from low interest rates for paying back government debt says the OBR and higher than expected tax returns in the year ahead. But the OBR has also concluded that his borrowing will go up not down from now until 2020. So Osborne's decisions today were as much about his own political ambitions as economic 'prudence'


Tuesday, 27 October 2015


Whilst the defeat the Government suffered last night on working families tax credits was welcome it should not be seen as justification for the House of Lords itself. I watched some of the debate intermittently throughout the day and apart from the issue itself and the fact the event was televised the scene could easily have been mistaken for the 17th century. The 600 unelected and unaccountable Lords, Ladies, Earls, Viscounts, Baronesses, Dames and Bishops looked utterly ridiculous in their ermine robes and ancient setting. Their pomposity and self-importance merely reiterated just how unrepresentative they all are of the British people as a whole.
These hand picked lackeys collected up from across the UK establishment to be rewarded are not typical of the population as whole. Neither is the House of Commons of course but The Lords is made up entirely of failed and former politicians, retired academics, retired professionals from medicine, the law, the arts, science, administration, the police and armed services, captains of industry, trade unions barons and the civil service. And last but by no means least ludicrous are the church lackeys; the bishops, cardinals, rabbi’s, etc.
There they all sit on their £300/day plus first class expenses. These are the last people I would want considering the precarious circumstances of the poorest in our society.
For the debate again put into sharp focus what is wrong with ‘British democracy’. On the one hand an elected Tory Government was attacking the income of the poor without a mandate to do so – Cameron repeatedly said throughout the election he ‘had no plans to cut tax credits’ - and on the other hand Lords and Ladies of privilege who, for all their formal education, revealed they simply haven’t a clue about what life is really like for working people in 21st century Britain being paid ‘peanuts’ on zero hour contracts.
Patronising patronage.
The House of Lords is of course an affront to democracy and should be abolished forthwith. Labour, the Lib-Dems, and the Tories want to keep it to use as patronage and to reward their own 'lickspittles'. They insist unconvincingly that it plays a learned role in scrutinising Government legislation made up as it is with ‘brilliant minds' and 'experts from across various fields’. This is of course nonsense. There is no obligation on Lords to even turn up for debates and many peers were born into the seat handed to them by their fathers and grandfathers etc.
Why the Greens and Plaid Cywru take seats in the Lords I have no idea. It reflects poorly on them both and rather undermines their democratic credentials. The SNP does not take up seats in the Lords.
                                         What is to be done? 
The answer is to scrap the House of Lords altogether or replace it with an elected second chamber.
Advocates of a second chamber suggest it plays a scrutinising role on legislation considered by the main chamber but they accept it should be of secondary importance to the main elected body both in its political importance and its legislative reach.
The US for example has a bicameral system - two elected chambers - The House of Representative and The Senate. The former has members directly elected with the number of seats awarded to each state based on population size. The latter is also directly elected but Senators are limited to 2 per state regardless of population size. Whilst the issues discussed in each chamber differ key Bills need the backing of both legislatures. 

Sunday, 20 September 2015


Scottish Socialist Party Executive Committee members unveil fresh new banner at meeting in Glasgow yesterday 


‘Jeremy Corbyn is a thoroughly decent man. Everyone who has met him would describe him this way’ said the former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis interviewed on Channel Four News this week. Asked if he saw any similarities between the new Labour leader’s election and Syriza’s victory in the Greek General Election in January he said he saw the same elation but warned ‘this exuberance has to be channelled into a strong political defence in the face of an establishment onslaught.’ There are important warnings for Corbyn in Syriza’s subsequent u-turn politically too in the way Alexis Tsipras gave up confronting international capitalism and ended up managing it in Greece. Syriza, like Labour, is a coalition where the socialist left is very weak. Whilst Jeremy Corbyns’ victory was cheered across Scotland, not least for the ‘drubbing’ he handed out to his Blairite opponents, it was achieved with little support from within the Scottish Labour Party. Scotland’s sole Labour MP Ian Murray did not vote for him. Neither did Scottish leader Kesia Dugdale or most of the constituency parties here. And the weakness of his ‘Campaign for Socialism’ group in the party was again demonstrated when he had to staff his Shadow Cabinet with MP’s who do not support him politically. He has very few allies in the Parliamentary Labour Party as was again demonstrated by the cool reception he received at his first meeting as leader. This does not augur well for Corbyn’s leadership. So despite the overwhelming scale of his victory the fact is he faces huge opposition within his party. And it remains to be seen how many of those who spent £3 to vote for him will join the Party to help strengthen his position in the teeth of considerable enmity from the party machine that do not want him there. Reports suggest he and his deputy Tom Watson intend to spend one day a month in Scotland to 'rebuild Labour’s support'. He will have his work cut out for him. Since he does not support self-determination for Scotland he is not in touch with progressive opinion here far less the pro-independence left looking for a political home. In trying to reposition his party to the left of the SNP [as he must] he faces widespread disdain for Labour and wide illusions in Nicola Sturgeon. And as if to illustrate how ridiculously irrational those illusions have become a mural unveiled this week at the Edinburgh South Yes CafĂ© depicted the diminutive First Minister as Che Guevara - together with black beret and a yellow SNP logo! Fortunately not everyone in Scotland has taken such leave of their senses. The Scottish Socialist Party realises the challenges Corbynmania an Nicolamania pose but we also recognise that support for the SNP will not remain at this level as the contradictions within its neo-liberal economic programme and social democratic rhetoric are exposed. That’s why we were instrumental in launching ‘Rise: Scotland’s Left Alliance’ last month to present a more effective alternative to Labour and the SNP. RISE is the most important left unity project in Scotland since the launch of the SSP’s predecessor the Scottish Socialist Alliance twenty years ago. Local branches or circles are now being established throughout Scotland. RISE [Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmental Justice] aims to win seats in next years Holyrood elections and present a bold socialist programme favouring a second referendum. This issue features prominently in Jim Sillars’ new book ‘In Place of Failure’ [reviewed elsewhere in this newspaper]. The former MP and Deputy Leader of the SNP makes the case for a second referendum, a new electoral mandate in 2016 and for a ‘floating date’ chosen when the polls clearly indicate victory is likely. With the anniversary of the 2014 Referendum falling this week many seem to think victory in a second vote is a foregone conclusion. They are mistaken. The Independence movement cannot afford such complacency because the lessons of last year’s defeat have not yet been learned as Jim Sillars book makes clear. Moreover David Cameron only agreed to the last Referendum because he was confident he would win [as indeed he did], he will not be so amenable next time if the polls show Independence is supported by a majority. The political stalemate in Catalonia illustrates the case. The Spanish Government refuses to allow the Catalans an independence referendum because it knows it would lose. Building a mass movement for an independent socialist Scotland remains the key task for the left. And the first part of that challenge involves winning seats at Holyrood next year.

Thursday, 16 July 2015


With the Greek economy in ruins and its banks teetering on the brink of collapse the Greek Parliament last night ratified the latest bailout agreement proposed by the European financial institutions. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s victory came at a terrible price however. On the streets of Athens thousands of left-wing activists from the ‘Antarsya’ bloc demonstrated against the Government and dozens of anarchists threw petrol bombs and burned the Greek flag. Inside Parliament the scene was no less frenzied as 38 Syriza MP’s joined with the KKE [Communist Party] and the far right [‘Golden Dawn’] to vote against their Government. But the bailout deal was agreed nonetheless as opposition MP’s from the conservative ‘New Democracy’ and ‘To Potami’ parties backed it. Tsipras did not hide the punishing terms in this third Greek bailout. It means further austerity, deeper cuts in public spending and even more punishment is meted out to working class people. Syriza has agreed to increase VAT rates, increase the retirement age to 67, privatise state assets such as the port at Piraeus and ‘liberalise’ employment laws. Socialists internationally will wince at the deal signed by Europe’s most radical left wing Government since the 1930’s. The 7 point manifesto Syriza put to the people in January, its ‘Thessaloniki Declaration’, is today in tatters. They promised to get 50% of Greek debts written off and improve the repayment terms on the remainder – none have in fact been written off and they have signed up to €85billion more. They promised to increase the national minimum wage and the state pension but have delivered not a penny more. They promised no one would be disconnected from their electricity supply and yet will now oversee the privatisation of the entire industry. And yet for all that Syriza are more popular today than they were in January because the unavoidable fact is this latest deal, imposed upon it by the European Central Bank and European Union, was signed by the Greek Government because they had to. There was simply no other option available to it. In return the banks can now re-open and customers can regain access their accounts backed up by emergency ‘liquidity’ from the European Emergency Assistance programme. A further €85bn will be made available to help pay back some existing loans and help grow the economy. And perhaps the most hopeful clause promises talks about ‘debt restructuring’ - interpreted by Greece and the IMF as ‘debt write off’ - in the future. Greece is not out of the woods however, not by a long way. This latest deal simply buys them ‘breathing space’, temporary relief from the ongoing crisis. Like borrowing more money from Wonga to pay off previous loans it is offers no solution in the long term. Those who argue in favour of a ‘Grexit’ where Greece leaves the Eurozone are in a tiny minority. The Greek people have made it clear they do not have the stomach for its consequences, which would involve an even more dramatic collapse in their living standards in the short term.The re-introduction of the Drachma is not popular as Greeks believe no-one would trade with them and no funds would be lent to Greece to allow it to import the vital foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and raw materials it needs to survive. The unavoidable truth is that Syriza and 11million Greeks were powerless in the face of European institutions representing 550million people with the world’s financial institutions behind them. Syriza faced overwhelming odds and they were forced into signing a deal which not only restricts their economic and financial authority, it restricts their political authority too. Greece is crippled by ‘un-payable’ debts. Its economy is in ruins and continues to retreat in recession. With the second highest debt to GDP ratio in the world [only Chad has a worse ratio] the IMF predict this will reach 200% by the end of 2015. The Syriza Government were also isolated internationally. They failed to win the backing of other ‘debtor’ nations like Ireland, Spain, Italy and Portugal. Indeed these ‘co-debtors’ were amongst their most vociferous opponents arguing Greece should not be allowed ‘concessions’ they had not been offered. And yet most rational commentators accept a debt write off is the only sustainable solution. This means international solidarity with Greece is more crucial than ever. The challenge facing the socialist movement worldwide is to bring forward such practical solutions to help the Syriza Government as best it can.

Sunday, 5 July 2015


So much for it being a close vote! The Greek people today delivered a resounding blow to the European Central Bank's plan to implement further hardship and austerity on the Greek people. More than 60% of Greeks voted 'No'. And this represents a huge success for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and an extraordinary vindication of the Syriza Government and its record since January 25th. Despite falling living standards and increased hardship, epitomised by the enforced 'bank holiday' this week which restricted customers to €60 per day, the Greek people have again resoundingly backed their radical left wing Government. What is perhaps most remarkable about today's result is that this vote of confidence comes despite the Governments inability to deliver on its 7 manifesto promises [It's 'Thessaloniki Declaration']. Nevertheless their trenchant refusal to inflict further austerity on Greek voters has been very important and popular. They have confronted the Troika, looked them in the eye and told them straight that they will not implement their austerity programme. All previous Greek Governments have humiliated the Greek people with their acquiescence to the money men and their cuts. Syriza are profoundly different in this regard. That is why they won today. And one key reason why the No side won so handsomely is that so many young Greeks have unusually turned out to vote. And despite the combined efforts of the international money men and the threats of all EU Governments in attempting to undermine the Greek economy Syriza have strengthened their political mandate. Alexis Tsipras promised to resign if the Yes side won. Syriza made it clear they would not inflict further humiliation on the Greek people. They would have stood down and asked the Greek President to pull together a new administration. Today's referendum result is therefore an astonishing victory for Syriza and for the Greek people as the Troika will be forced to make considerable concessions. It is a defeat for the right in Greece, the Troika and for neo-liberal politicians worldwide including Britain. Of course Greece is not out of the financial woods yet, not by a long way. Syriza will go back to Brussels in the morning and renegotiate the deal they rejected last week. It was significant this week that the IMF concluded that Greek debts will simply have to be written off and that Greece will have to be given the further bank bail-outs Syriza has demanded. I expect the deal rejected by Syriza last weekend will now be renegotiated to allow both sides to step back from the prospect of a 'Grexit' they both wish to avoid. And I expect the ECB to restore further 'emergency funding' to allow Greek banks to reopen on Tuesday. Above all however this defeat for neo-liberalism strengthens Syriza's hand and will be cheered by working class people worldwide for that.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

SNP overreact to 'non-story' on monarchy's Scottish funding, why?

What a curious ‘non-story’ it turned out to be.


Sir Alan Reid, the Keeper of the Privy Purse [yes, that’s his real title] yesterday presented The Queen’s Annual accounts to Westminster. He mentioned in passing that he was worried by the decision to devolve income from the Scottish Crown Estates to Holyrood next year fearing the SNP might hold back the Queens share.

The Times and The Daily Telegraph seized upon Sir Alan Reid’s ‘concerns’ to run a story alleging the SNP intended to cut the money Scotland pays the monarchy as part of some sinister republican plot.

 Today, following the Scottish First Minister’s intervention Sir Alan is apparently no longer worried. Move on there is nothing to see here insisted spin-doctor and SNP chief strategist Stephen Noon on Twitter.

Worth every penny..?

 Now before we go any further it might be worth explaining what the ‘Crown Estates’ are and how much income they generate. The Crown Estate is one of Britain’s largest property portfolios. It has assets worth £8bn and generates profits in excess of £250m a year. This ‘portfolio’ includes some of the most expensive real estate in London and Edinburgh. It also contains Ascot racecourse, several well-known and famously lucrative urban shopping centres [including Edinburgh’s Kinnaird Park] and the entire seabed around Britain as well as half the foreshore. All income from the ‘Crown Estates’ used to go to the monarch until 1760 when George III transferred it to the UK Treasury in return for writing off the huge debts he had amassed, taking on the cost of Britain’s civil administration and providing him with a handsome allowance known as ‘The Civil List’.

Worth every penny..?

 With the passing of the Sovereign Grant Act in 2011 the ‘Civil List’ was abolished and so was the rather unseemly spectacle [for monarchists at least] of an annual debate where ‘plebs’ in Parliament got to set the budget. Instead the Tories managed to get the issue passed on to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Keeper of the Privy Purse [see above] to oversee and a ‘formula’ was agreed where a percentage of the Crown Estates annual net revenue was paid over to the Royal Household [currently it is set at 15% of all its annual profits].

Worth every penny..?

 The Times and The Daily Telegraph story that the SNP intended to ditch the formula set out in the Sovereign Grant Act and keep the money so worried the nationalists that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon herself was put up to rebut it. She was briefed to say this claim had ‘No basis in fact’ and vehemently insisted ‘By hook or by crook Scotland will pay our contribution [to The Sovereign Grant] in full and on time’.

Worth every penny..?

 So why was the SNP apparently so frightened of this ‘non-story’ that the nations First Minister had to deal with it? The answer speaks to the SNP’s nervousness about Britain’s un-elected, unaccountable and anachronistic ‘Head of State’. Any SNP Minister could have pointed out that under the ‘No Detriment principle’ enshrined in all the devolution plans out of London - The Scotland Bill 1999, The Scotland Bill of 2015, the Smith Commission and ‘Full Fiscal Autonomy’ [whatever that actually means] insist the UK Treasury is fully reimbursed for any extra income accruing to Holyrood from any new powers devolved. So any extra money received from the Scottish Crown Estates from next year must be deducted from the Block Grant.

So why would the SNP keep a penny piece when there is clearly no advantage to do so?

That’s the primary reason the ‘Keeper of the Privy Purse’s’ fears are unfounded. But the SNP’s ‘full spectrum response’ as it were speaks to its own political vulnerability.

They try to face both ways on the monarchy.

Worth every penny..?
They are aware there is a sizeable pro-Independence constituency in Scotland who wishes to replace the Crown with an elected Head of State. Indeed many suspect most of the SNP’s 100,000 members want such a republic. And yet the SNP leadership continues to reject that notion out of hand and talk up Alex Salmond’s post-Independence ‘social union with the Queen at its Head’ to appease their conservative voter base in their North East heartlands. Their naked political calculation here is that those who favour a modern, democratic republic are not as exercised on the issue as the right –wing monarchists who wish to conserve this ancient anachronism.

 For the SNP this issue remains a fault line running right through the party.

Their response to Sir Alan Reid’s claim yesterday is a measure of the vulnerability their leaders feel on this most fundamental of questions.

The question is will this ‘non-story’ mark the day the leadership’s position finally began to crack? Or will their democratic credentials continue to be ridiculed?

My pamphlet on a Modern Scottish Republic available HERE

Worth every penny.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Alexis Tsipras's Groundhog Day

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Government for 5 months faces the same dilemma over and over and over.

Tsipras: Dilemma...

Greece owes 330bn Euro’s to the IMF/ECB/EU and has no way of paying it back. For the umpteenth time he stood on the precipice again this week, looked over and backed down. If anything his situation only gets worse. The Greek economy has shrunk 25% in the last 5 years, it is currently in recession again and shows no sign of recovery. Yet next week Tsipras has to pay the International Monetary Fund [IMF] 1.6bn Euros. If he cannot do so he loses the 7bn Euros promised to Greece under the terms of previous loans.

The Greek economy simply cannot afford the loss.

 In order to secure this latest loan he had to promise the Troika [IMF, EU and ECB] further cuts in public service spending and higher taxes, all in breach of the manifesto commitments Syriza made to voters in January. He has therefore agreed to raise a further £2.7bn to pay to the Troika from Greece's crumbling economy.

This latest austerity package includes cutting Greece’s pension bill by increasing the retirement age, demanding higher contributions from workers and scrapping early retirement schemes. Additionally Tsipras aims to raise £1bn by increasing VAT rates for certain items, charging wealthier pensioners for some health services and raising Corporation tax.

None of this will be easy.

VAT for example is already at 23% and 8,500 businesses have gone bust this year alone. And in truth this latest ‘compromise’ offers little long-term solace. It simply buys Greece time to limp on to its next financial humiliation in August. The Greek economy remains in a desperate state. Its unprecedented level of debt [standing at 180% of GDP] chokes any chance of recovery. Official unemployment is at 25%, whereas under-employment is far higher. One in two youngsters is out of work. One million others have already emigrated.

 This depressing picture is all a far cry from the euphoria of January 25th when Syriza won the General Election. Back then they promised to implement a 7-point programme known as its ‘Thessaloniki Declaration’. This committed them to increase the National Minimum Wage to 751 Euros per month [£625/month], to lift the basic state pension to 750 Euros/month, to ensure everyone had electricity and no one was disconnected, to get 50% of the national debt written off and negotiate better terms on the remainder by mobilising international opinion behind Greece’s plight and convening a conference of all debtor nations to press for that write off.

Unfortunately none of those promises has been kept and for one simple reason. It has no power to do so.

The Troika [the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Union] hold all the ‘aces’. Now Syriza merely promises not to cut the National Minimum Wage or state pension and it sells that as a triumph. Maybe it is in the circumstances.

 Yet remarkably Syriza is more popular now than it was in January.

(Two podcasts I made from Greece in January)

The reason is apparently because the Greek people are pleased Syriza stood up to the Troika. Previous Governments were seen as apologists for the moneymen and they struck poor deals. This renewed sense of pride does not put bread on the table but it has won respect nonetheless. Why does Syriza not just leave the Eurozone and walk away from these crippling debts run up by its useless predecessors?

The answer is because ‘Grexit’ is not politically popular.

Syriza doesn't support it feeling that the consequences of reintroducing the Drachma would lead to even greater economic and political instability. The Greek people are hostile too because they don't have the stomach for the uncertainty and upheaval it would bring. Equally, the Eurozone’s architects Germany and France believe ‘Grexit’ would undermine the political and economic rationale behind the single currency. They believe it would be better to keep Greece inside. And therefore notwithstanding the political pressure from their own domestic electorate determined to see Greece abide by the terms of the Eurozone deal they signed Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande are determined to see Greece remain in the Euro.

 Both sides are guilty of underplaying the long and painful road Greece has to travel for many years to come if it remains inside the Eurozone. It will not be fun for anyone. Tsipras believes his Groundhog day’ will end when the Troika agree to write off some of his country’s backbreaking debt.

It has been a forlorn hope so far.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Greece - Is Syriza buckling under the pressure of the EU moneymen?

It's five months since that heady Burns Night when I witnessed Syriza - The Coalition of the Radical Left - win the Greek General Election. And the answer to the oft asked question back then 'who is going to blink first the new Greek Government or the EU moneymen?' appears to have been answered. Elected on a seven point programme know as its 'Thessaloniki Declaration' Syriza promised, among other things to : get half of Greece's 319bn debts written off as unpayable renegotiate the terms for repaying the rest with the Troika [IMF/EU and ECB] halt the privatisation programme agreed by previous New Democracy and Pasok Governments increase the national minimum wage and state pension to 751 Euro's per month and 750 Euro's respectively organise a European wide debt conference to build support for their programme of non payment. Any honest and objective assessment of the progress made on those pledges does not flatter Syriza. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his colleague Janis Varoufakis have succumbed to pressure applied by their creditors in Berlin, Frankfurt, Brussels and New York. The debts have not been written off. Indeed unaffordable repayments have all been made in full. The Port of Piraeus, the jewel in the crown of the Greek state, is to be sold off to a Chinese company. The promised increases in the minimum wage and state pensions have not happened either. The European debt Conference is nowhere to be seen. The odds stacked against Syriza have simply been insurmountable. Varoufakis and Tsipras have been outgunned on every occasion and emerge from every meeting with the Troika further compromised. The Greek economy meantime has been shrinking and shrinking. Billions of Euros have been withdrawn from banks as savers stash cash under their beds fearing credit controls will be imposed following the inevitable debt repayment failure. And yet despite all these setbacks Syriza remains popular at home. Recent opinion polls give them a commanding lead over the opposition New Democracy. They emerge with very little from the talks with the Troika but Greeks at least appreciate the fact they stand up to the creditors and conduct themselves with dignity and a never failing resolve. This is not something the previous New Democracy or Pasok Governments ever did. But as Paul Mason writes in his blog for Channel Four News this week the Coalition's partners, the trades unions and the youth who might have been expected to lead protests against the Tessaloniki failures will not remain silent forever. There are tensions and conflicts within Syriza about the failure to deliver on the Coalitions manifesto. As things stand those arguing in favour of leaving the Eurozone remain in the minority. Opinion polls suggest the Greek people are overwhelmingly against such a 'Grexit' and a return to the drachma. In these circumstances the political options open to Alexis Tsipras are extremely limited. He appears intent on shoring up Syriza's political support at least and has suggested that if the latest talks with the Troika - due to end on June 30th - fail he may call a Referendum to let the Greek people themselves decide whether to accept the terms negotiated or to leave the Euro.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Scotland Bill is trap for Independence movement says eminent economists

I’m beginning to think the Scottish Socialist Party’s exclusion from the Smith Commission - we were the only one of the 6 parties formally involved in the Independence campaign not invited to join - was a blessing in disguise. Because as Joyce McMilan states in today's Scotsman ['Scotland Bill is a challenge for SNP'] 'What's undeniable is that last November all five parties signed up to this deeply flawed settlement.' And she is right because neither the powers proposed by the Smith Commission nor under Full Fiscal Autonomy or the new Scotland Bill puts an extra penny into Holyrood’s treasury. That unmistakable fact should be obscured by no-one in this debate. Moreover under the so called ‘no detriment’ principle enshrined in the new Scotland Bill any extra revenues accruing to Holyrood are automatically deducted from the Block Grant Holyrood receives under the Barnett formula. On the other hand under what Jim and Margaret Cuthbert of Stirling University call 'the Gearing problem' the Scottish Government is loaded with many new responsibilities and a potential reduced tax base. In other words the Tories are not proposing to pass on a penny but will pass the responsibility for cuts in public services and welfare benefits to Holyrood, thus dumping political disadvantages to them. I thought Nicola Sturgeon’s 'faux outrage' at the Scotland Bill yesterday at First Minister’s Questions was a sign the SNP realises they will need to do a dramatic U-turn on their attitude to Smith because they understand David Cameron’s ‘Scotland Bill [2015]’ is a trap. And it is one the SNP fell headlong into. 'Full Fiscal Autonomy' sounds attractive but as I pointed out throughout the General Election campaign the devil is in the detail. The FFA envisaged by the Tories does not mean full tax raising powers are transferred to Holyrood, far from it. They propose in fact that most taxes raised in Scotland will continue to be sent to London. And yet they are conspicuously silent about the obligations Scotland would face in terms of expenditure; contributions to defence and foreign affairs, to Europe, for UK Embassies across the world, to UK historic debts and much more. We would continue to be responsible for many debts and not actually enjoy the full benefits of all taxes raised here at all. The Independence movement owes the Cuthberts a debt of gratitude for pointing out the trap Smith set us. We therefore need to oppose these provisions in the Scotland Bill and focus our energies on winning a second referendum as soon as possible.

Friday, 13 February 2015


Next weekend's Scottish Socialist Party National Council in Glasgow will launch our new pamphlet on UKIP, Europe and Immigration. The Scottish Socialist Party does not share UKIP’s philosophy on free market economics, on Europe, on immigration or indeed on most things. They are for a lassez-faire free market where the bosses and the rich are free to exploit whomever and whatever they like across Europe. We are for an independent socialist Scotland, a modern democratic republic which shows solidarity with all other workers across Europe as part of a continent wide federation of socialist states. We have a proud record in standing up for working class people. Indeed no other party in Scotland or Britain can match our record in challenging exploitation, racism and prejudice. We are determined to stop UKIP and others from victimising working class people whether they are immigrants or not for an economic and social crisis that had nothing to do with them. We hold the bankers, spivs and speculators who caused the 2008 financial crash responsible and insist they pay in full for their misdeeds. * The pamphlet is available to order now at £5 [incl P&P]

Monday, 2 February 2015


Here is a letter I sent to the Herald Letters page last Tuesday following an article by Iain Macwhirter wrote claiming Syriza the 'Radical Coalition of the Left' were merely populists like the SNP. The Herald chose not to publish it. Having just returned from Athens I feel I must correct several errors in Iain Macwhirter’s article ‘A New Deal could be the real deal for Greece’ [Herald 26/1/15] because, if left uncorrected, they would seriously mislead your readers. First on a point of information. Syriza forged a coalition yesterday with one of the smaller parties the ‘Independent Greeks’ [ANEL] for one reason only, to secure an arithmetic Parliamentary majority. As readers will know Syriza won 149 MP’s on Sunday out of 300. In order to prevent an opposition ‘vote of no confidence’ they moved to secure the support of another 10 MP’s. This ‘coalition’ should be seen as little more than housekeeping. ANEL, for all they are a right-wing party of small businessmen, fully support Syriza’s anti-austerity and reflationary economic programme and have done so throughout the past two years. All the other suitors were either unsuitable partners [like PASOK the Labour Party's neo-liberal equivalent in Greece] or are like the Greek Communist Party [KKE] with 17 seats bitterly hostile to Syriza. Since very few Greek Governments serve their full 4 year terms the approach to ANEL on Day 1 was a wise move. But it is Iain’s central contention that Syriza is ‘a populist coalition much closer to the SNP' that runs the risk of misleading readers most. For Syriza is not like the SNP. They are not ‘populists’, they are, as their name suggests a highly politicised ‘coalition of the radical left’. They are anti-austerity and anti-neo-liberal. The SNP are not. The two parties are represented in the European Parliament but whereas Syriza are in the unmistakably socialist ‘European Left’ group the SNP belong to the populist ‘Nordic/Green’ caucus. Iain also ignores Syriza’s socialist principles entirely when he suggests ‘..rhetoric aside their [Syriza] programme isn’t that different from Ed Miliband’s Labour’. You think? Syriza aims to confront the most powerful capitalist institutions in the world and recover 160bn of debt relief. They intend to double the national minimum wage and state pensions. They will introduce collective bargaining rights for Greek workers. They have called for a European wide debt relief conference to write off monies owed by Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland and others. They believe in practical solidarity assistance from the left across Europe. Ed Miliband doesn't support any of that nor is he ever likely too! If Iain really thinks Labour and the SNP can be compared to Syriza I suggest he has been drinking too much Ouzo at his Burns supper.

Sunday, 25 January 2015


The poll of polls published today in the Greek General election show Syriza the ‘Coalition of the Radical left’ on 35.7% of the vote meaning they would secure 147 seats in the 300 seat Parliament. Whilst this is just short of the overall majority needed to govern outright three of the smaller parties likely to pass the 3% threshold for representation [Potami, PASOK and Independent Greeks] have said they would abstain in any 'no confidence vote’ and therefore allow Syriza's Alexis Tsipras to become the next Prime Minister. After casting his vote in Athens today Tsipras forecast the result would ‘mean the future of Europe will see progress and democracy predominate, not austerity.’ It is clear Syriza has won today’s election on the most left-wing programme Europe has seen since 1945. In their manifesto, the famous seven point ‘Thessalonki Declaration’, they promise to confront the most powerful financial institutions in the world to ensure half the 319bn Euro Greek debt is written off. The ‘Troika’ [European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and EU] as well as the establishment parties New Democracy and PASOK insist the Greek people must continue to live in their existing economic, social and political purgatory for years to come. Standing up to these interests on behalf of the Greek people Syriza have said ‘No. We refuse to live under these conditions a moment longer. There is another way that protects our dignity and improves our appalling standard of living. Hope is coming. Greece will advance. Europe is changing.’ They have promised to convene a European conference against austerity to allow similarly indebted nations to jointly campaign against austerity and for debt annulment. Syriza will work with other radical left parties across Europe, including the Scottish Socialist Party, to secure concrete solidarity support for the Greek people. Meanwhile here in Greece Syriza have pledged themselves to raise the national minimum wage and state pension to 751 and 700 Euro’s per month respectively. They will also create 300,000 new jobs to get the unemployed back to work as soon as possible and have guaranteed no one will again go without food, healthcare or electricity. Greece will not be a socialist country tomorrow but socialists will be running the Government. Syriza is a left-wing anti-capitalist party. It supports public ownership and wealth redistribution and it is determined to lift millions of Greeks out of poverty and want. And that job starts tomorrow morning. Tonight however is a time for celebration both for Syriza activists and socialists everywhere. Their historic breakthrough has been achieved after many years of struggle. Moreover they realise winning the election was, relatively speaking, the easy part. For it is the preparedness of the Greek working class to struggle against the considerable conservative resistance inside Greece and the power of international capital outside lined up against it that will ultimately be decisive.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


From Syriza HQ, Leonidas, Athens, Greece The latest opinion polls here in Greece show 'Syriza' [pronounced 'CeeReeZa' and meaning the Coalition of the Radical Left] increasing its lead over the conservative New Democracy to 5.5%. This means the party looks set to become the biggest party in the new Greek parliament on Sunday. As Greece has a PR system of elections it is touch and go whether Syriza will have an overall majority to allow it to govern alone or must rely on the support of one or two smaller parties. If it does triumph it will be the first radical left-wing Government to be elected in Europe since WW2. This does not of course mean that everyone who votes for them on Sunday is a socialist, or a former Communist like Syriza's leader Alexis Tsipras. It means that Greeks have voted for the radical left because they are a the end of their tethers. Unemployment in Greece is a 27%. For young people its 65%. Pensions, salaries and the national minimum wage have been cut by 40% in the last 5 years. There is visible and widespread impoverishment across the country. Greece owes 319bn Euro's to the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund and cannot possibly pay it back. It relies to a huge extent on 'bail-out' money from these same creditors. Having voted for PASOK [the Labour Party equivalent in Greece] in the past and New Democracy more recently only to find them impose crippling austerity programmes they have now turned in desperation to Syriza. Tsipras has promised to renegotiate the ECB/IMF loans to get 50% written off and to return pensions, wages and benefits to 2008 levels. He has also promised to create 300,000 new jobs and ensure every Greek can afford electricity. The election campaign in Athens is everywhere with billboards, marquees and campaigners all over the city. Even the Community party [KKE] has its own commercial advertising billboards and bus stop posters. Tomorrow night in Omonia Square in the heart of Athens Syriza stages its final election rally with Alexis Tspras joined by Pablo Iglesias of Podemos from Spain and guess from all over Europe including the Scottish Socialist Party. It promises to be a night like no other and I will post photographs here afterwards.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015


I am delighted to have accepted an invitation from 'Syriza' [The Coalition of the Radical Left] to fly to Athens for a week to observe the Greek General election first hand. The eyes of the world will be on Greece on Sunday 25th January and I will be there. There is a strong chance Syriza will win the vote and form the next government. They are ahead in all the polls and have given a clear manifesto commitment to halve Greece's debts to the 'Troika' [The International Monetary Fund/ European Union/ European Central Bank]. They have also made it clear they do not intend to leave the EU or exit the Eurozone. Although the final result is uncertain - elections in Greece are conducted under a proportional voting system - and Syriza may have to rely on additional support from smaller independent parties, they are the favourites to win at this stage. Greek society is in crisis. The country's enormous debt, the bail-out terms imposed by the 'Troika' and the crippling austerity programme implemented by the previous conservative Government have left Greece teetering on the abyss. The country has endured a crippling economic depression that lasted 6 years. Working class people have suffered an appalling decline in their living standards and devastating cuts in public services like health, education and welfare. Greek society is heavily polarised between the left and the right. The right, represented by the conservative New Democracy, PASOK [the UK Labour Party's equivalent in Greece] and the openly fascist 'Golden Dawn', have all lost support in recent times. Meanwhile Syriza, leading the left, has seen its support grow and grow. There are smaller independent socialist groups too and the Greek Communist Party [KKE] although the latter are no admirers of Syriza. Syriza won most seats in the European elections in May. If they do win on January 25th it will be the first time a radical left-wing party has been elected to government anywhere in Europe since WW2. It will also precipitate a huge clash between the money markets and the new Greek Government. The bankers will want assurances their money will be paid back in full and will threaten Greece with all kinds of sanctions if it does not. On the other hand Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza, has made it clear he will use the democratic mandate the people of Greece has given his party to pay nothing until he receives assurances most of the existing debt is written off. The scene is set for fireworks and the ramifications will be felt far beyond Greek borders. I will be filing regular reports to this blog and elsewhere whilst I'm over in Greece.

Saturday, 10 January 2015


Do you ever despair at the way corporate organisations dress up bad news for working class people as if it was good? Take yesterday’s announcement by the City of Edinburgh Council that it intends to sack 1,200 people and cut £67m from front line services. In true Orwellian tradition the Labour /SNP Council declared their decision would make the Council ‘more efficient’ and ‘improve customer services’. That will be right! Lets speak plainly. Edinburgh City Council services are already woefully inadequate. They cannot provide the basic levels of service presently demanded of them. Taking a further £67m out of the budget will not make that service better. It will make it worse, plainly. There was a time when politicians were honest and such cuts passed down from the Government were fought. It was a time many will believe never existed. But it did, really, Councillors were honest and courageous. They stood up for their constituents and reminded Governments of the promises they made at elections to improve services and improve the quality of life for citizens. Now they would rather lie and spin than take a stand. Everyone of Edinburgh’s 56 Councillors know full well the services they provide are inadequate and have been for many years. These cuts will not result in a ‘more efficient service and better customer satisfaction’. That is a fiction even they do not believe. There was also a time when the unions would mobilise their members and the wider community to oppose such cuts to jobs and services. But now they meekly settle for assurances there will be ‘no compulsory redundancies’. That is not good enough. The unions need to acquaint those members tempted to ‘take the money and run' what awaits them when they leave. When their redundancy money is long gone chances are they will end up in insecure jobs on zero hour contracts, earning poverty wages less than the living wage with no job satisfaction and no union protection. The Labour/ SNP coalition that runs Edinburgh Council should fight these cuts, but they won't. Edinburgh is the second richest city in Britain and yet the inequalities here are as bad as anywhere. The impact of another £67m of cuts and 1,200 more redundancies will be to widen that gap between the rich minority who barely ever use Council service and the working class majority who depend on them. This issue will, I’m sure, be an important feature of the forthcoming General election campaign in the city in May.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Greece: Building a successful Left Coalition fit for the challenges of Government

A disgruntled Labour Party member I spoke to this week depressed that his party had elected Jim Murphy as its Scottish leader told me when I suggested the place for socialists was in a socialist party ‘Yes, I’d like to join you guys but the Left are never going to be in power are you? I mean it’s hard enough for social democrats like Labour to get elected, socialists have no chance.’ You come across that view a lot as a socialist. I suggested he might consider the General election campaign now under way in Greece and reconsider. The Greeks go to the polls to elect a new Government on January 25th after their Parliaments failure to elect a new Head of State [now there’s a novel idea] but the election is actually all about the country’s crippling economic problems, it’s mountainous debt and the tortuous terms set down by the European Union for its repayment. Greece’s $254bn debt is bigger than its entire economy at 175% of its annual GDP. Everyone knows they cannot pay it back. The country has just been through a devastating economic depression over the past 6 years and the consequences for working class people have been vicious. There has been an exodus of young people leaving the country. In many ways they are the lucky ones for unemployment, poverty and deprivation for those left behind are at appalling levels. The elderly have been badly hit as one might anticipate. First they lost their jobs, then their pensions and welfare benefits and finally their dignity. Amidst the gloom however has emerged hope in the shape of the ‘Coalition of the Radical Left’, or ‘Syriza’ as it is known. Led by Alexis Tsipras Syriza won the European Parliament elections in June and are now expected to win most seats on January 25th. Whether they can form a government is more uncertain. Greece has a complex system of proportional representation and Syriza will have to work with other parties in order to govern. The Greek state is pulling out all the stops to prevent that from happening by running scare stories about the economic disaster that would ensue and smears about Syriza’s leaders. But the Greek people have suffered such hardship at the hands of the right-wing ‘New Democracy’ /PASOK Government in recent years they appear to be in no mood to put up with them any longer. In the circumstances however many feel victory could be something of a ‘poisoned chalice’ for Syriza as it would inherit a dreadful financial position. If it decides not to repay the ECB/IMF loans and default on its obligations it will be kicked out of the Euro zone. Some even argue in favour of this approach as it would mean they could write off their debts and revert to using the Drachma or some new currency. But it is not that simple. The consequences of such a move could be equally disastrous. Who on earth is going to lend them a penny piece in such circumstances? Who would trade with them or risk taking their new currency? The money markets would seek revenge for their losses by speculating against the new currency and Greece would be unable to rebuild its crippled economy. Alexis Tsipras has rejected such an approach. He insists Greece will stay inside the Euro zone and 're-negotiate’ the terms of the existing ECB/IMF loans to urge that large parts of it are written off. Syriza also advocates the reversal of public spending cuts and supports economic reflation in its manifesto. But even if the IMF ‘takes a haircut’ as they say and writes off some of the debt – and this is by no means certain - the challenges facing a Syriza led Government are still considerable. The Greek people will continue to suffer terrible hardship for many years to come even after any renegotiated terms. Syriza will then be forced to defend the agreement it has reached. It is difficult to see how they can maintain popular support in such circumstances. And yet what is the alternative? Do nothing? Their challenges remain considerable. No wonder the eyes of the world are today on Greece, not least those of us trying to build an effective radical left alliance fit for Government here in Scotland.