Thursday, 8 November 2018

WHY I CHOOSE TO NOT WEAR THE RED POPPY

The red poppy was chosen as a symbol of remembrance for those who lost their lives in time of war because the flower managed to blossom and survive through the human carnage on the Western Front in the First World War.

As a child, I remember poppies being sold in my primary school and we were all given money by our parents to buy one. It was explained to us that we should be proud to wear the poppy because it was an outward sign that we recognised and remembered those who paid the ultimate price to ensure our freedom.

This belief in the red poppy as a public mark of remembrance persists for many people, but in recent years there has been a blurring of the difference between respect for the fallen and general support for Britain and the British military.

Right-wing politicians, newspapers and pressure-groups erroneously portray as a traitor anyone who criticises jingoistic, British military action - such as the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq – and, by extension, anyone who chooses not to wear the red poppy: the standard criticism is that we disrespect those who gave their lives. Actually, I have great respect for those who went off to war in 1914 and 1939: to disrespect them would be ridiculous.

In 1914, men queued to ‘take the King’s shilling’ and march-off to ‘defend’ their country. In reality, though, most were not fighting for a monarch or for a piece of land; the motivation lay closer to home. Young men were persuaded to fight in order to ‘defend’ their wives and children whom, government propaganda claimed, were at risk from marauding German maniacs: newspapers at the time carried stories of Belgian babies being bayoneted by German soldiers. The stories were untrue.

The real reason the First World War took place was the pursuit of money. Capitalists in Britain sought to further expand the British Empire, through which the ruling elite could exploit more foreign people and lands, thereby increasing their already-obscene levels of wealth. German capitalists had the same idea for their own empire and bank-balances, but there were only so many foreigners that could be exploited. One of the European empire-builders had to see-off the other. This resulted in the working-class of Britain being pitched into mortal combat with the working-class of Germany, in order that financially-cosseted capitalists, safe at home, could maximise their profits. In a situation unchanged since medieval times, ordinary men were to fight and kill each other at the behest of their lords and masters. One unattributed comment perfectly summed-up the reality of the First World War when it described the close-quarter use of the bayonet fixed to a rifle in the following terms: “A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at each end.”

Any true commemoration of the First World War should tell the story of so many lives destroyed – on both sides – working class men sent to kill other working class men, while capitalist arms-producers on both sides amassed personal fortunes running into millions-of-pounds.

Those men who marched off to war deserve our remembrance and eternal thanks for their bravery. The callous, greedy capitalists and politicians of the British Empire who sent them to war are another matter.

Today’s blurring of remembrance with support for Britain and the British military tarnishes the red poppy.

The Second World War was a conflict that had to be fought to end the global ambitions of German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Again, however, while many would have been motivated to fight and defeat fascism, most men went to war to ‘defend’ their wives and children. This time there really was a chance that an invading Nazi army could have posed a mortal threat.

The reality, though, is that the Second World War could have been avoided.

The rise of Hitler’s far-right Nazi party had its foundations in the crippling reparations imposed on Germany by the Allies at the end of the First World War. The point of the reparations was to end Germany’s ability to challenge the rule of British capitalism: the outcome was to plunge ordinary Germans into severe poverty. Hitler’s initial attraction to the people of Germany – he was democratically-elected as Chancellor – stemmed from his appeal to rebuild German pride and commerce by challenging the economic and military restrictions imposed, mainly by Britain, in 1919.

While fascism had to be defeated, the reasons for the rise of the philosophy need to be acknowledged: it was the pursuit of dominance by already-wealthy British capitalists that allowed the seed of extremism to be planted in the minds of the impoverished German working-class.

The men who marched-off to the Second World War deserve our remembrance and eternal thanks for their bravery, but, again, they were sent into a conflict caused, in large part, by callous, greedy, right-wing capitalists and politicians whose present-day equivalents are the very people demanding we show our respect by wearing a red poppy.

That said, opposition to the blurring between remembrance of the fallen and support for Britain and the British military is most obvious in more recent events.

Many Irish men and women living in the six-counties still under British control have good reason to feel aggrieved towards members of the British army and those who sent them onto the streets of their communities. In just two Catholic areas – Ballymurphy in Belfast and the Bogside in Derry – British soldiers of the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, shot a total of 39 unarmed civilians, killing 25 local residents. The Belfast killings took place over a three-day period in August 1971. Five months later, in January 1972, British soldiers opened fire on a peaceful demonstration through Derry. The protest was against the British Government's implementation of 'internment' (imprisonment without trial).

So, while many Irishmen fought in British forces during the two World Wars, large numbers of people in the six-counties will not wear a red poppy because of the blurring that places remembrance of the fallen with support for the British military and politicians.

Sadly, in contemporary Scotland, there is evidence to show sectarian, anti-Catholic organisations have attempted to take-over remembrance parades in many towns.

Of course, we are also asked to remember British services personnel who lost their lives fighting in conflicts since the end of the Second World War, including Iraq, an illegal invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation.

In Iraq, young Scots were sent to kill or be killed in an immoral, illegal, imperialist American war and, again, the remembrance of those who lost their lives has become blurred with general support for Britain, the British military and morally-corrupt politicians.

I do not wear a red poppy because I don’t want it to be thought that I endorse the right-wing, militaristic agenda of successive British governments. This does not stop me from remembering and respecting the men and women who gave their lives fighting in wars over which they had no control.

Every year I attend the remembrance service at the local War Memorial. Every year I am struck by how few people actually attend. It appears many of those who criticise me for not wearing a red poppy would rather spend their Sunday morning in bed.

Those who have deliberately appropriated the red poppy to represent a symbol of Britishness, rather than exclusively of remembrance, should be ashamed.


Friday, 5 October 2018

THIS IS GREAT BRITAIN - SLEEP SOUNDLY

A revelation that this week emerged from an almost-unreported tribunal in London should worry all of us.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal is the result of a case brought by an alliance of human rights groups – Privacy International, Reprieve, the Committee on the Administration of Justice, the Pat Finucane Centre – and is looking at the activities of Britain's security services – MI5, MI6, GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) and DI (Defence Intelligence).

The shocking revelation that has emerged from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal is that agents of MI5 (Military Intelligence, Section 5), which is tasked with security operations within the UK, have been granted immunity from prosecution and have been responsible for murder, torture, sexual assault (having sex with people on whom the agents were spying), burglary and other 'lesser' crimes.

Let that sink in for a moment. Agents of the British State have killed people in this country, and will never face a court. This means the State has become police, judge and jury, and has carried out summary executions on anyone deemed to be a threat to the State or to State interests, whatever those interests may be.

Legal oversight of MI5 agents' actions was only introduced in 2012, but the judge given this position was told he must keep his role secret and must never comment on any aspect of MI5 activities. So, no actual oversight, then.

Of course, we will be told there is nothing to fear from these unaccountable actions of MI5 agents. After all, the agents only execute bad people. However, who decides what makes someone a 'bad person'?

MI5's role is to tackle threats to the United Kingdom from within the British Isles. A political organisation that seeks to break-up the British State is seen as such a threat, which means MI5 agents have infiltrated the Scottish National Party (SNP), and have done for many years.

In April 1985, Willie MacRae, a Glasgow lawyer and leading member of the SNP, was found dead next to his car in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands. The car had apparently driven off the road (pictured above). Initially, it was thought MacRae had died as a result of the 'car crash'. However, he was subsequently found to have been shot in the head.

Officially, Willie MacRae's death is recorded as 'undetermined', with the suggestion that he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. This is despite the gun used to shoot MacRae having been found around 60ft (18m) from his body.

At the time of his death, Willie MacRae had been working on plans to prevent the British government from dumping nuclear waste into the sea. Due to his Glasgow home having been burgled on repeated occasions, MacRae carried with him at all times a copy of the documents relating to his work on Britain's plans to dump nuclear waste. The copy of the documents was not found following his death. The only other copy, which was kept in the Glasgow office of his legal practice, was stolen when it was later burgled. No other items were taken. 
 
Willie MacRae's medical reports and post-mortem data have never been released to the public. There has been no Fatal Accident Inquiry into his death. 
 
This is Great Britain. Sleep soundly.

Friday, 7 September 2018

LEGITIMATE CRITICISM IS NOT ANTI-SEMITISM

Corbyn's Labour, Zionism, Anti-Semitism and the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament.

 
Far be it for me to defend Jeremy Corbyn or the Labour Party, but the strident claims of the so-called mainstream media in Britain – that Corbyn leads an anti-Semitic party – are ridiculous.

If the press really want to find bigotry within the UK Labour Party, they need look no further than the organisation's British nationalism. Corbyn is every bit as much a British nationalist as Theresa May or Boris Johnson: he will always embrace British imperialism in order to exert England's continued control over Scotland.

In reality, rather than there being anti-Semitism within any mainstream political party, leaders of the global Jewish faith actually exert great influence over politicians, most of whom fear doing or saying anything that could see them labelled as anti-Semitic.

It is absolutely right that respect for followers of the Jewish faith is something that must be supported in every democratic country. However, this instilled respect for Judaism can also lead to the Zionist State of Israel getting a free-pass in terms of criticism, even when, as has become the normal state of affairs, Israeli soldiers are murdering unarmed Palestinians.

Criticism of Zionism, the belief that followers of a religion – Judaism - have the right to occupy land and exist as a self-governing state, is not criticism of Jews or of anyone practising the Jewish faith. There are many Jews, both inside Israel and across the world, who openly criticise the actions of Israel, particularly with regard to the treatment of Palestinians who have been driven from their homes and lands in order for Israel to exist.

It is a wilful conflation of 'Jewish' and 'Zionist', orchestrated by the proponents of Israeli propaganda and fully embraced by western mainstream media, that has led to Corbyn and others being accused of anti-Semitism. Criticism of Israel and its actions are not evidence of a hostility to, or prejudice against, Jews. Israel is, rightly, criticised because it occupies Palestinian land and imposes a military blockade around the areas in which Palestinians are allowed to live, in severe deprivation and poverty. The criticism levelled against Israel is not because it is a Jewish state, but because it is a toxic and delinquent state.

Corbyn, like many on the left of politics, has criticised the Zionist State of Israel. He has not criticised anyone's right to practice the Jewish faith. It is not anti-Semitic to condemn the murdering atrocities of Israel.

Currently, right-wing 'Blairites' in the Labour Party – many of whom are members of Labour Friends of Israel - are colluding with right-wing, Tory supporting newspapers and broadcasters in an attempt to discredit Corbyn and the Labour Party he leads. Their aim, of course, is to drag UK Labour away from the political left and to reinstate a Tory-clone 'New' Labour Party. Britain's media is only too happy to help by running endless smears against the Left, the latest of which are the claims of anti-Semitism

Let me give an example of the influence exerted over politicians by leaders of the Jewish faith in my own country, Scotland. Back in 2005, the Scottish Parliament was deliberating on the Family Law Bill, which updated a series of laws relating to aspects covering family relations. One of those laws related to divorce.

During deliberations at the committee stage, an amendment relating to civil divorce laws in Scotland was tabled by Labour MSP Ken Macintosh (left), now the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament.

The Macintosh amendment was carried in committee, with just one MSP opposed. The aims of the amendment were subsequently accepted by the Labour/Lib Dem Scottish Executive (government) and appeared as a new clause - 13a - in The Family Law Bill when it was debated by the full parliament at Stage 3.

The effect of Clause 13a was to provide powers to a Sheriff so that civil divorce proceedings could be delayed if it was the case that a religious divorce had not been agreed between the divorcing couple.

This clause had regard to Jewish religious 'law', which states that a Jewish woman wishing a divorce must receive written consent from her husband. In other words, a Jewish woman cannot divorce without her husband's permission. In circumstances where a civil divorce in Scots law was granted by a court, but where a Jewish husband had not given permission to his wife for the divorce to go ahead, the couple would be legally divorced, but the woman could not remarry in a Jewish ceremony because her religion did not recognise the decision of a Scottish court.

The Macintosh amendment, and adoption of the principle by the Labour/Lib Dem Scottish Executive, sought to enter into Scots law recognition of Jewish religious 'law', and to delay civil legal proceedings until a religious accommodation had been reached.

Despite the fact there is supposed to be a separation of church and state, when this clause was voted-on by the Scottish Parliament, only seven MSPs sought to reject the intrusion of Jewish religious 'law' into Scots civil law. In total, 118 MSPs backed the proposal, with one abstention.

The outcome of this vote in 2005 means Scottish courts hearing civil divorce cases are expected to pause any proceedings where the situation arises that a Jewish woman seeking divorce does not have her husband's permission. The pause is to give time for the husband to provide his written consent. In Jewish circles, wives who find themselves in this position are described as 'chained women'. It is also acknowledged that some husbands can withhold permission for a divorce in order to exert pressure on a wife, perhaps with the view to securing a financial payment.

After this law was passed in December 2005, it emerged the amendment submitted to the Scottish Parliament committee by Ken Macintosh had actually been written by members of the Scottish Council for Jewish Communities.

Despite there being a long-established principle that religious 'laws' should not interfere with Scots civil law, the vast majority of MSPs supported a clause that allowed religious 'law' to actually pause civil legal proceedings.

Fear of being accused of anti-Semitism was undoubtedly a factor in only seven MSPs being prepared to stand against the wishes of the Scottish Council for Jewish Communities in having Jewish religious 'law' inserted into Scots civil law.

No religion should have such power over civil national law.

Legitimate criticism is not anti-Semitism, but let's see how long it is before I am accused of being anti-Semitic for writing this article.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

THE REAL POWER IN THE UK

Over many years, as an independence-supporting political activist, I frequently made the argument that the SNP didn't just have to beat British political parties, they also had to beat the British Establishment, and that would be a far more difficult fight.

Every four or five years, people go through the pretence of democracy that represent elections to the UK Parliament. Usually, England votes for the party Scots reject – the Tories. Scotland then has imposed on us the government for which England voted, because that's the way the so-called United Kingdom works.

However, irrespective of which party forms the UK Government, the British Establishment remains in power. The Civil Service and the military do not change just because politicians swap benches in the House of Commons. The Civil Service and the military are constants, they remain in place throughout political change and are crucial elements of the Establishment-structure. While the public are told the Civil Service facilitates the smooth running of government, and the military keeps us safe, the actual role of both organisations is simply to ensure the Establishment is protected.

The head of the British Establishment is, of course, the Queen, surrounded by her family of work-shy spongers. Slotted below them on the pyramid are the so-called aristocracy, consisting of families that accrued fabulous wealth through exploiting the working class over centuries. The principal functionaries of the Establishment – Civil Service and military - are put in place to ensure real and unchallenged power is retained in the hands of the Royals and their aristocratic supporters, all of whom owe their wealth and privilege to nothing more than having ancestors who were the biggest murdering bastards of their day.

In the rigid class structure that protects the Establishment, media owners play a vital role. Ad-nauseam, newspapers and broadcasters deliver gushing reports of how wonderful the Royal family is, how beneficial they are to 'the nation', how terrible things would be if we didn't have Her Majesty reigning over us. These reports are total propaganda, designed to continue the public indoctrination that keeps the 'lower orders' from rising-up and challenging the freeloaders who enjoy an incredible life of obscene opulence, funded by the taxes of the very same 'lower orders' .

It is no coincidence that UK Civil Service mandarins, senior military officers and media owners – the protectors and supporters of the Establishment – all attended the same select schools and universities, where their place in the ongoing Establishment-structure was ordained and cemented.

Other core players in protecting the Establishment are senior officials within the UK security services – MI5, MI6 and Special Branch. Again, those senior officers generally attended the same schools and universities as the Civil Service mandarins, senior military officers and media owners. They all know and accept their place in the structure that protects the Establishment, and they all operate to ensure the interests of the ruling elite are not challenged.

For example, there is no doubt the supposedly-impartial UK Civil Service was fully operational in the dirty-tricks campaign that operated on behalf of the pro-British Union, Establishment position during the 2014 Independence Referendum in Scotland. Remember, also, the co-ordinated media reports of how the supposedly politically-neutral Queen would be 'terribly upset' if the people of Scotland exercised their democratic right to govern their own nation, even though SNP policy is to retain the Queen as Head of State in an independent Scotland.

In the so-called United Kingdom, the interests of the Establishment always takes precedence over those of the people.

From a Scottish perspective, it should also be borne in mind that there is no Scottish Civil Service. Civil Servants working to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government are employed by the UK Civil Service. Having said that, there are undoubtedly many rank-and-file Civil Servants in Scotland who, personally, support an independent Scotland. However, the position of the UK Civil Service will always reflect that of the Establishment, which is to protect their position by retaining the British Union.

So, just how far would the Establishment and its supporters go, if they felt their position was challenged? As previously mentioned, the 2014 Independence Referendum provided an indication of how Establishment-loyalists in the Civil Service and media were prepared to directly manipulate and influence events. There is, though, much clearer and more worrying evidence of Establishment interference to circumvent the democratic process in the UK.

In 1968 the UK had a Labour Government, led by Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Mr Wilson was considered by Establishment figures to be ' dangerously left-wing', a situation which, according to former MI5 officer Peter Wright, led to the democratically-elected Prime Minister being the target of an illegal campaign of destabilisation by the UK Security Services. MI5 broke into the homes and offices of Wilson aides, tapped their phones and used the friendly right-wing media to plant anti-Wilson stories, including that he was a 'Soviet asset' and an 'IRA sympathiser'.

With the Wilson Government taxing the rich at 98%, and being seen by Civil Servants and media barons as 'in the pocket' of militant left-wing trade unions, those tasked with protecting the Establishment decided to take action. A plot was put in place to carry out a military coup. Intelligence officers, Civil Servants and military officers planned to overthrow the democratically-elected UK Government. According to documents leaked some years later, the initial plan was for the military to secure a protective ring around Buckingham Palace, while seizing Heathrow Airport and the BBC. The Queen was to broadcast to the nation, urging the public to support the armed forces, and naming her cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten, as Prime Minister.

Again, in papers subsequently leaked later, it was revealed The Times newspaper had been integral in planning the coup and running fabricated anti-Wilson stories. At the time, the newspaper was edited by William Rees-Mogg, father of the current far-right Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Ultimately, the coup was never enacted, mainly because Wilson subsequently resigned, due to ill health. However, military 'exercises' were carried out around Heathrow Airport in preparation for the coup, and the Shetland Islands were designated to hold 'prisoners' deemed to be hostile to the Establishment.

In 1987, the Conservative Government led by Margaret Thatcher carried out an enquiry into allegations of an Establishment-led military coup to overthrow the Wilson Labour Government. The enquiry found the allegations were false and that no coup had been planned.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

'BAD MAN' AND THE SNP'S DARK DAYS

A young generation of political activists has grown up only ever knowing the Scottish National Party as a hugely-successful party-of-government. However, just 15-years-ago things were very different in the SNP led by John Swinney. This article reveals how bad things were under Swinney's leadership and ends with the return of Alex Salmond as party leader. Salmond began the process of turning-around the party's fortunes and, along with Nicola Sturgeon, provided the catalyst that created today's successful SNP.

The article originally appeared in 2004 as part of a pamphlet titled 'Bad Man' written by Campbell Martin. It sets out what happened when Martin, at the time an SNP MSP, publicly criticised the actions of then party leader John Swinney, calling for Swinney to resign and for Alex Salmond to return and lead the party. Campbell Martin was initially suspended by the Swinney-led SNP, and was then expelled by the party's National Executive Committee at the last meeting chaired by Swinney.

In July 2004 when I read newspaper reports of my expulsion from the SNP – after 27 years as a member – and saw in black-and-white that I was the first SNP parliamentarian to be expelled in the seventy-year history of the party, my first reaction was, 'I must be a bad man'.

Members of the public reading the newspaper reports of my expulsion must, surely, have drawn the conclusion that for the principle opposition party in Scotland to have taken such a serious and unprecedented step, my ‘crime’ must have been on an unparalleled scale. After all, politicians had been found guilty in courts-of-law of crimes ranging from Drunk and Disorderly to Serious Fraud, and had remained as members of their respective political parties.

What, then, was my terrible crime? Well, I publicly voiced serious concerns over the leadership qualities of the then SNP National Convener, John Swinney, and called for him to be replaced by someone who could rejuvenate the party and make it successful. I suggested the name of Alex Salmond as the person I favoured to return as party leader. Given the divisions within the party at the time – between 'gradualists' and 'fundamentalists' – I believed Alex Salmond was the only person who could unite the factions and turn-around the party's fortunes.

My journey to being thrown-out of the SNP had two stops. Firstly, a six-month suspension and then permanent expulsion.

Now, clearly, in any serious political party, criticising the leader – particularly one who had performed as badly as Mr Swinney – is not normally grounds for expulsion. That being the case, those behind the move to expel me had to create a 'crime'. In newspaper articles it was claimed by an SNP spokesperson that I had said in a television interview that if John Swinney stayed as leader of the SNP, I would leave the party. Setting aside for the moment that, normally, people are allowed to reflect on their own future, I never actually said I would leave the SNP. What I said in an interview with STV was that if John Swinney remained as leader, and the party continued to seriously under-perform, as the facts proved was the case, then I would consider my options.

At my disciplinary hearing before the SNP National Executive Committee (NEC) on April 25 2004, I raised the misrepresentation of what I had said in the STV interview, and pointed out that ‘options’ was plural. To insist, as the party’s National Secretary did, that I had intended options to mean I would leave the party, was nothing more than a subjective interpretation on his part. I suggested that my options could have included standing for the leadership myself or swinging behind Mr Swinney and trying to help him become a better leader. Admittedly, the latter of those two options is not one I would have considered for more than a few seconds.

At the NEC meeting, Alasdair Allan, the National Secretary, could not explain what grounds had actually given him the right to suspend my membership of the party, which he had done, unilaterally, on a Saturday night, with Mr Swinney announcing the decision to the Scottish nation the next morning in a BBC interview. No-one from the SNP had contacted me to let me know disciplinary action was being taken against me. In fact, it was the BBC’s political correspondent, Glenn Campbell, who broke the news to me in a phone call, minutes before John Swinney took to the airwaves to inform Scotland.

According to the SNP Constitution, the only grounds that allowed the National Secretary to suspend a member of the party without first seeking the approval of the National Executive Committee was in an “emergency”. When I asked Alasdair Allan what had constituted the emergency that allowed him to act, he replied that I had repeatedly criticised Mr Swinney, and he feared if he did not take action, I would continue to criticise the leader.

I pointed out that if, as the National Secretary claimed, I had repeatedly criticised Mr Swinney, then this behaviour had become the normal state of affairs and, therefore, if it was normal, could not possibly constitute an emergency. Mr Allan disagreed, as did 24 of the 28 NEC members present at the disciplinary hearing. Incredibly, John Swinney was one of the people who voted to find me guilty of criticising John Swinney.

Having been found guilty, I was suspended from membership of the SNP for a period of six months.

As I left the party's Edinburgh headquarters, I was confronted by representatives of the print and broadcast media, who wanted to know what had happened. I explained I had been suspended for six months, and questioned what the party thought it had achieved. After all, they could suspend me from party membership, but they could not suspend me from thinking and they could not suspend me from speaking. I had been found guilty of thinking about what was best for the SNP and articulating those thoughts. I had been suspended from membership of the SNP because I had hurt the feelings and bruised the ego of John Swinney, and he wasn’t a big enough man to take my criticism. What the National Executive Committee of the party refused to accept is that I was right. John Swinney was a disaster as leader of the SNP, and suspending me from membership didn’t make him any better.

MAKE IT GO AWAY

I have not a shadow of doubt that Mr Swinney was behind the action against me, and I consider the way he went about it proved he was never leadership material. A real leader would have confronted criticism from within his own party, and particularly from within his own parliamentary group. John Swinney never spoke to me about my criticisms of his leadership. He hid in his office, and if we happened to meet each other in the corridor shared by SNP MSPs, he turned his face away and walked on. Instead, he instructed the National Secretary to bend the rules of the party and take action to suspend me from membership of the SNP. Swinney wanted someone else to make the problem go away. He wasn’t big enough to do it himself.

However, suspension wasn’t to be the end of it, and the National Secretary, Alasdair Allan, was to go even further than just bending party rules in order to finally get me out of the SNP.

Despite suspending me from membership of the party and of the SNP Parliamentary Group, and despite the charge against me being nothing more than a fabrication to allow the weak Mr Swinney to hit back at the bad man who was saying 'nasty' things about him - albeit the criticisms were also the truth - it was made clear to me that throughout the period of the suspension, I was supposed to act as if I was still a member of the SNP. I was no longer allowed to take any part in SNP parliamentary activities or those carried out by my local branch and constituency, but I was supposed to support everything the party did. Incredibly, this would have meant me pretending I didn’t believe the things I had previously stated about the disastrous Swinney leadership. It really did seem to surprise the party hierarchy that I decided, instead, to stick to my principles and continue to articulate what I truly believed was the truth: John Swinney’s leadership was destroying the SNP and if he wasn’t replaced, and replaced soon, the damage he did to the party could be terminal. The ironic thing was that, subsequently, Swinney loyalists were to claim that my actions had damaged the SNP. They never provided any proof to substantiate their claim – because they couldn't – but I was able to provide them with reams of statistics from actual elections held while John Swinney was leader of the party. Those hard facts prove, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Mr Swinney presided over a period of stark electoral decline for the SNP.

Of course, John Swinney didn’t accept that poor election results were his fault. I well remember the day he blamed under-performing activists for the poor election result of May 2003, when the SNP lost eight Holyrood seats. The reason for the poor SNP result, according to Mr Swinney, wasn’t his performance as leader or the electoral strategy he and his team had put in place: instead, he believed it was down to SNP activists across Scotland not working or trying hard enough. This Swinney statement, in terms of sheer stupidity and political naivety, ranks up there alongside his report to one of the first meetings of the SNP Parliamentary Group after that 2003 election when, challenged by me over the party’s inability to pin the blame on Labour for the fiasco over the new Scottish Parliament building, he replied that he hadn’t anticipated the level of public anger over the rising cost of the building. Yet we were asked to believe this was the man who was going to inspire Scots and lead our nation to independence.

GREY AREA

My new position created a grey area for Scottish parliamentary authorities. I was no longer an SNP MSP but, as I was only suspended and not expelled, I wasn’t an Independent either. This meant that, if I wanted to speak in a parliamentary debate, my chances of being called were very slim. Parliamentary authorities considered I was still an SNP MSP, but the SNP Parliamentary Group had advised me I was no longer a member. As party whips control who is put forward to speak on their behalf in parliamentary debates, I certainly wasn’t going to be called as an SNP speaker. This presented me with a problem, particularly as I really wanted to contribute to a debate that came up soon after my suspension.

With America and the UK raining-down 'Shock and Awe' on innocent Iraqis, the SNP tabled a motion on the situation in Iraq with, not unreasonably, the intention of damaging the Labour Party in the run up to the impending European Election. As someone who had strongly opposed the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, I really wanted to make a contribution to the parliamentary debate, but the likelihood of me being called was slim, given my ‘grey area’ position. That was until I was approached by the then leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, Tommy Sheridan. Tommy simply asked if I would like to sum-up for the SSP amendment to the SNP motion. This happened two-days before the debate was scheduled to take place. Contrary to speculation fed into the media by the SNP leadership, there had been no long-standing plan for me to contribute on behalf of the SSP.

I asked to see the amendment that would be tabled by the Scottish Socialist Party and, as I totally agreed with it – more than I could say for the SNP motion – I indicated I would be happy to speak in the debate. For the record, the SSP amendment called for the immediate and complete withdrawal of all UK forces in Iraq. The SNP motion centred on a vague commitment to form a military force drawn from “preferably Muslim countries” to conduct activities in Iraq. The SNP hadn't bothered to actually ask Muslim countries if they would be prepared to carry out such a role.

Of course, it would be na├»ve to think that Tommy Sheridan and his SSP colleagues gave up some of their debating time simply because they felt sorry for wee me in my ‘grey area’ and wanted to allow me to make a contribution to the debate on Iraq. The SSP and I both knew that such a move would steal the SNP’s thunder on the issue being debated. Given the SSP truly did have a principled position against the war in Iraq – unlike the SNP’s real but not publicly-stated position, which was to support war should the UK and America fabricate a justification – I considered the SSP deserved the headlines that day. As I have already stated, I also agreed with the SSP amendment and disagreed with the SNP position. That being the case, I summed-up for the SSP in the debate on Iraq.

From that moment, for me, there was probably no way back into the SNP, certainly not while John Swinney remained in leadership. The die had been cast in terms of the SNP taking action to expel me, although Swinney’s comment to journalists - recorded by the BBC - as he left the chamber after the Iraq debate should have been significant. Asked about my speech in the debate, he replied, “Campbell Martin is not a member of the SNP, so it was an interesting contribution.”

FURTHER DISCIPLINARY ACTION

The basis of the further disciplinary action taken against me was that I had urged people to not vote SNP at the European Election [2004] and that, prior to the election, I had distributed to the media a copy of SNP Shadow Cabinet minutes from 2003. I took such minutes while serving as the SNP Whips Administrator and Secretary to the Shadow Cabinet during the previous parliamentary session (1999-2003).

Neither of the allegations were true, but that did not prevent the National Executive Committee from finding me guilty and expelling me from the party on July 10 2004.

The first allegation – that I had urged people to not vote SNP at the European Election – centred on an article I had written for Holyrood Magazine, in which I referred to SNP members, at every level in the party, telling me that for the first time in their lives, they would not be voting SNP. I reported conversations where SNP members offered the opinion that they had taken a tactical decision to not vote SNP at the European Election. I then commented that if, by their actions, they forced John Swinney to stand down and the SNP was reinvigorated under a new leader, then the cause of independence would be well served.

This was construed by Swinney and his leadership coterie as me having told people to not vote SNP. At no time did I urge people to not vote SNP. I never at any time used the phrase “don't vote SNP”. I never even offered an opinion on whether or not I would be voting SNP. I certainly did argue for Swinney to be replaced as party leader, and I certainly did argue for a successful SNP. Despite this, the SNP National Secretary, Alasdair Allan, once again confused criticism of John Swinney with criticism of the SNP and – again almost certainly at Mr Swinney’s instigation - decided to interpret my comments as me urging people to not vote SNP.

The second charge – that I distributed to the media copies of internal SNP Shadow Cabinet minutes - was also untrue.

The day before the European Election, The Herald newspaper carried a story that referred to minutes I had taken at a meeting of the SNP Shadow Cabinet prior to the war in Iraq. The minutes showed the SNP was publicly stating its 'principled' opposition to war in Iraq while, privately, was preparing the ground for a switch to a pro-war position. The minutes showed Shadow Cabinet members talking of a need for the SNP to support 'our boys' once there were British 'boots on the ground' in Iraq. Others argued that if the UK or America provided legal ‘evidence’ to justify war, then the SNP should support engagement even before there were boots on the ground.

The minutes were mine and they were absolutely accurate. In fact, they were not the actual Shadow Cabinet minutes, but rather were my notes of the meeting, which I then used to produce the official minute. Actual Shadow Cabinet minutes were kept deliberately vague and did not contain specific quotes or content. Ironically, this was done to prevent damage to the party if they were to be leaked to the media or political opponents.

The problem with the SNP allegation against me, however, was that I had not been the source of the Shadow Cabinet notes leaked to Tom Gordon, the Herald journalist who broke the story. If the SNP had bothered to even ask Tom Gordon he would, without identifying his source, have been able to confirm that it had not been me, but the SNP National Secretary and Mr Swinney had already decided I was guilty.

I should clarify that the Shadow Cabinet notes were mine and, ultimately, they did originate from me. That fact was never denied. However, prior to the Iraq war, while the SNP was publicly proclaiming its 'principled' stance against the war, but the Shadow Cabinet led by John Swinney was actually planning to adopt a pro-war stance, I believed it was vital that SNP MSPs who were not members of the Shadow Cabinet should know the true position. I therefore gave copies of my notes to three SNP MSPs I knew to be strongly opposed to a war in Iraq.

That being the case, then, I am fully aware of who did actually pass to Tom Gordon the copy of my Shadow Cabinet notes, but the charge against me by the SNP was that it had been me. It was not me, but I can understand the motivation for the leak. John Swinney and the majority of the Shadow Cabinet were misleading SNP MSPs and SNP members. It was hypocrisy for Swinney to stand on public platforms and claim a 'principled' position in opposition to war in Iraq, when he was actually leading the party's move to a pro-war position.

So, neither of the allegations made against me by the National Secretary - John Swinney’s willing little helper - were true, but that didn’t matter. What mattered, was they had control of the party, and they would make sure I was found guilty.

Of course, around the same time, the SNP had taken another hammering at the polls under Swinney's leadership. The European Election [2004] saw the SNP vote drop to just 19.7%. The 2003 Scottish Parliament Election had seen the Swinney-led SNP drop 5%, polling 23.7% and losing 8 seats. Local Government Elections held on the same day saw an almost identical drop in support for the SNP, down 4.6% to 24.1% and losing 23 councillors.

The clear downward trajectory of the SNP under Swinney's leadership was coupled with a rapidly falling membership and led to mounting pressure for change at the top of the party. The criticism I had voiced was now clearly vindicated. Swinney, though, still desperately tried to cling-on to the leadership, but the momentum for him to go was, by then, irresistible.

Eventually, John Swinney indicated he would resign as leader of the Scottish National Party. However, while the party prepared for a leadership election, Swinney made clear to friends that he wanted me out of the party before he stood down. Seeing me kicked-out of the SNP had become the condemned man’s last wish, and members of the National Executive Committee granted it to poor John.

THE FINAL ACT

I decided there was no point in attending the second NEC kangaroo court – the decision to expel me had already been made – so, instead, I attended constituency Surgeries in Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Largs. While I listened to the concerns of the people who elected me, eighty-miles away in Edinburgh John Swinney presided over his last meeting of the NEC as National Convener. It is a considerable understatement to say I was not surprised when I took a telephone call from a junior SNP official who advised me I had been expelled from the party I first joined as a 17-year-old in 1977.

It was a very sad day for me. When I think back to all the campaigns, all the leafleting and canvassing, all the speaking engagements, all the arguments trying to persuade people to the cause of independence, I certainly never dreamed my association with the SNP would end with me being expelled. However, I also believe it was a very sad day for the party. The National Executive Committee of the SNP had been misled and had been used by a failed and outgoing party leader. John Swinney had used the party’s most senior committee to facilitate his petty pay-back against a member of the party who had simply spoken-out against his disastrous leadership and the damage it did to the SNP. The fact the NEC went along with it, with a few honourable exceptions - in particular Gil Paterson - illustrates just how little backbone there was at the highest level in the Swinney-led SNP. Incredibly, I found myself expelled from the party, without as much as a verbal warning against me within the SNP Scottish Parliament Group.

What compounded the actions of the NEC in finding me guilty of unsubstantiated charges, was that they had no authority to take any action against me. The National Secretary is the person tasked with ensuring the SNP's Constitution and Rules are upheld, yet it was Swinney-loyalist Alasdair Allan who brought forward the unsubstantiated charges against me, and who allowed the Constitution and Rules to be broken, simply in order that John Swinney could see me kicked-out of the party before he vacated the office he had served so poorly.

The SNP Constitution in force at that time stated at paragraph 7:
Membership shall cease when a member is officially notified in writing (specifying the reasons for the action) from the National Secretary or Convener of his/her suspension or expulsion from the Party, intimates his/her resignation, fails to pay his/her subscription or other dues timeously, or ceases to be eligible for membership.”

By definition of the party’s own Constitution, when the SNP took the decision on July 10 2004 to expel me from membership of the party, I wasn’t actually a member. The Constitution stated that, “Membership shall cease when a member is notified in writing...from the National Secretary or Convener of his/her suspension or expulsion from the party”. On May 13 2004, I received written notification from the National Secretary that my membership of the SNP had been suspended. Therefore, as of May 13 2004, according to the party's Constitution, I was no longer a member of the SNP. Also, let's not forget John Swinney’s comment to journalists as he left the chamber on June 2 2004 after I had summed-up for the SSP in the parliamentary debate on Iraq: “Campbell Martin is not a member of the SNP, so it was an interesting contribution.”

The SNP Constitution further made clear, at paragraph 69, that the National Executive Committee had authority to expel from membership “a branch, sub-branch, constituency association, regional association, other organisation or member”. Clearly, I was not a branch, sub-branch, constituency association, regional association or other organisation, so the only way the SNP’s National Executive Committee could have had any legitimacy in taking disciplinary action against me in July 2004 was if I was still a member of the party, but they, themselves, had already suspended me, which meant, according to the party's Constitution, my membership had ceased. The NEC, therefore, had as much legitimacy in taking action against me as they would have had they decided to expel Labour First Minister Jack McConnell or Archbishop Desmond Tutu, or any of the other millions-of-people around the globe who also were not members of the SNP.

Following my suspension on April 25 2004, had the SNP leadership or National Executive Committee genuinely felt they had grounds to take further disciplinary action against me, the party's own Constitution made clear they should have waited until my period of suspension had expired, which would have been October 2004. Only once the suspension had expired would I again be a member of the SNP. However, John Swinney, Alasdair Allan and the NEC did not wait, which meant that the National Convener, National Secretary and National Executive Committee all broke the party’s own Constitution and Rules. This was done simply because Swinney wanted me out before he handed over to a new National Convener. That is why the matter was rushed, so Swinney could preside over my expulsion. Who knows, perhaps a new leader of the SNP would have decided my actions did not merit expulsion.

When the dust settled on my expulsion and I faced political life outside the party I first joined in 1977, I can honestly say I had, and I still have, no regrets. A very large part of my life had been spent working for the SNP and working for independence, but the SNP had changed. In fact, the SNP under John Swinney's leadership had changed so much that I really believe many in the higher echelons of the party were no longer fully committed to delivering independence for Scotland in the shortest possible time. Under Swinney’s leadership the party had moved from its traditional moderate, centre-left position. Instead, it adopted a moderate centre-right, pro-free market, pro-big business agenda. While this realignment may have seen a closer relationship with company directors in boardrooms across the country, it saw the SNP move away from the public of Scotland and from the majority of party members. The poor election results achieved by the party under Swinney's leadership, and the significant fall in SNP membership, reflected this reality.

Throughout what was a difficult time, I did receive support from friends within the SNP. For a number of reasons, some didn’t feel able to speak out publicly. I appreciated their private support and I respect their decision. Gil Paterson, as a member of the National Executive Committee, and Adam Ingram, as a fellow MSP, were prepared to put their heads above the parapet and I will always be grateful to them for the public support they showed.

Since becoming an Independent MSP, Margo MacDonald has been a great help to me, with advice and practical assistance. I don’t think I could take advice from anyone better or more qualified. The fact that she, too, spent a lifetime campaigning for independence and now also finds herself outside the SNP is surely an indication that the party needs to be a broader church, more tolerant of views that don't necessarily agree with the leadership.

One year on from first publicly voicing my concerns about John Swinney's leadership of the SNP, I’m happy to take on the role of an Independent MSP. I’m happy to devote my time to looking after my constituents and champion the causes in which I believe. I am happy that I stood by my principles and, while a member of the SNP, I always acted in the best interests of the party.

I’m also happy that the SNP is now performing well in the Scottish Parliament, mainly thanks to Nicola Sturgeon, the party Deputy Leader: and, of course, Alex Salmond is back as party leader. Now, let me think; a year ago, didn’t someone start some hassle by calling for Alex Salmond to return as leader?

Saturday, 4 August 2018

CORPORATE CULTURAL VANDALISM

This is what happens when private, profit-driven companies are allowed to get away with flaunting planning regulations.

The first photo shows the Customs House, which stood prominently at the entrance to Ardrossan harbour for 150-years. The second photo shows what is left of the Catagory 'B' listed building.

In 2009, the owners of Ardrossan Harbour, Clydeport (part of Liverpool-based Peel Ports Group), applied for planning permission to demolish the Customs House, which stood at the junction of Harbour Street and Dock Road since the mid-1840s. North Ayrshire Council's Planning Committee refused permission, but Clydeport appealed to the Scottish Government and an unelected official overturned the Council's decision.

As part of the consent granted by the central government official, Clydeport were ordered to take down the striking, curved facade of the Customs House in such a way that the structure could be rebuilt and incorporated into an office and residential development planned for the Harbour Street/Dock Road site. The planning consent stated that the facade should be taken down with great care and each sandstone block numbered so that it could be re-assembled in the new development. The consent also required that Clydeport must safely and securely store the sandstone blocks until the office/housing development went ahead.

The Customs House was demolished in 2010, but just months later I was alerted to the fact that the sandstone blocks from the building had been dumped on a pier at Ardrossan Harbour, adjacent to the long-disused Northern Irish ferry terminal. This matter was raised with North Ayrshire Council, which stated that Clydeport would be reminded of the requirements imposed on the company as part of the planning consent to demolish the Customs House.

I took the second photo today (August 3, 2018). The sandstone blocks are now scattered amongst overgrown weeds in an unlocked compound next to the Arran ferry terminal. There is no way the Catagory 'B' listed, curved facade of the Customs House will ever be rebuilt. 

Clearly, Ardrossan's heritage doesn't matter to Clydeport/Peel Ports, and North Ayrshire Council has simply allowed the private company to get away with cultural vandalism.