Friday, 27 December 2013

New year - new future

Scotland is the home of Hogmanay – the celebration of putting behind us an old year and looking forward with hope to what a new year will bring. This Hogmanay, as the bells ring-in 2014, there will be an added national relevance to our hopes for the coming year.

On September 18, for the first time in 307 years, we will be given the chance to have our say on whether or not Scotland should be a normal, independent nation.

Of course, Scotland is actually one of the oldest nations in the world. Back in 1320 Scots nobles and religious leaders petitioned the Pope, seeking recognition of Scotland’s right to exist as an independent country. In the 14th Century, in addition to his religious duties as leader of the universal Roman Catholic Church, the Pope also effectively performed a role similar to today’s head of the United Nations.

After deliberation, the papal decree found Scotland to be an independent country, a status that was to be recognised by other nations, particularly England. The 1320 Declaration of Arbroath (the document petitioning the Pope) had been produced not only to state Scotland’s right to independence, but to seek an end to invasions by English armies pursuing their king’s claim to overlordship of Scotland and its people.

Almost 400 years later, in 1707, England finally achieved by economic clout what it had been unable to do through military power. Officially, England securing control of Scotland was termed an act of union, supposedly entered into willingly by both nations. However, the reality told a very different story.

Even today, many historians would have us believe Scotland was skint – a result of financial losses caused by the economic disaster of the Darien Project, which had been an attempt by Scots to emulate England by building its own empire, in this case by colonising land in the Isthmus of Panama. The Act of Union between Scotland and England was, those historians still tell us, an economic necessity – England agreed to cover Scotland’s financial losses, with the Scots accepting a unification of parliaments as the price. Far from a coming-together of equal partners, though, the terms of the union set out that the Scots parliament in Edinburgh should cease to exist, with a new British legislature sitting in the building that housed the English parliament in London.

What really happened 300 years ago has great similarities to the more recent economic catastrophe caused by the greed-motivated toxic dealings of international bankers and capitalists

Scotland, as a nation, was far from skint in 1707. The money lost in pursuit of building a Scottish empire through the exploitation of others belonged to individual members of the so-called Scots nobility. It was not Scotland’s national debt that England effectively wrote-off: in return for control of Scotland, England bailed-out individual Scottish Lords and Earls, the same people who formed the unelected Scots parliament and who dutifully kept their side of the bargain by voting for an Act of Union with England.

Ordinary Scots had no say in the matter. In fact, records and newspapers of the time show that the people of Scotland rioted in the streets in opposition to union with England. Our national bard, Robert Burns, summed-up the feeling of ordinary Scots when he described the Lords and Earls who sold Scotland to England as being “bought and sold for English gold, such a parcel o’ rogues in a nation”.

Of course, that is all ancient history. While it is important to know the facts of how the British Union came about, it should not be our past that determines how we vote in the Independence Referendum, it must be our future.

Only by taking full control of our country, through the powers that only come with independence, can we build a better, fairer, more prosperous and caring Scotland.

If we vote ‘No’ next September and remain within the British Union, we will continue to have imposed on us a Tory-led Government for which we did not vote. We will continue to have imposed on us austerity measures that are devastating communities and families. If we remain in the British Union we will continue to have no say on young Scots being sent to kill or be killed in illegal, immoral, imperialist wars. If we remain within the British Union we will continue to have imposed on us – in our waters and on our land – nuclear weapons of mass destruction that cost us billions-of-pounds. If we remain within the British Union we will be declining to take responsibility for the governance of our own country, we will be accepting that Tories should govern Scotland from London, even after we have rejected them at elections. If we vote ‘No’ next September and remain within the British Union, we will be saying to the world that we don’t consider Scotland to be a normal nation.

The ‘No to independence’ (No to Scotland) campaign will use every scare-story imaginable in their attempt to keep control of Scotland and our natural resources - but if independence was really so scary, why is it the normal state of affairs for nations around the world? If independence is really so bad, why have 59 countries taken their independence from the United Kingdom – from America in 1776 to Brunei in 1984 – with not one of them ever wanting to give up their right to govern themselves and return to control from London?

Independence isn’t scary or dangerous, it’s normal. Independence simply means the people who live in Scotland electing a government that has the full powers to implement policies to meet the needs and aspirations of the nation. Independence means being in full control of our country and our future.

Of course, it isn’t just our future we will be determining in the Independence Referendum. We may be the ones who get to put a cross on a ballot paper, but how we vote will decide the future of our children, our grandchildren and generations yet to be born. We owe it to them to retake our independence: we owe it to them to take full control of our country and build a better, fairer Scotland that delivers hope and opportunity for all.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Looking ahead this Christmas

If I told you that most of the Ministers in the SNP Scottish Government are former pupils of Ardrossan Academy, you probably wouldn’t believe me – and you would, of course, be right.

Off the top of my head, I think First Minister Alex Salmond and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill are both from Linlithgow and attended the local secondary school. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon went to Greenwood Academy in Dreghorn; Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop is a former pupil of Ayr Academy; Health Secretary Alex Neil is from Patna in East Ayrshire, while Housing Minister Margaret Burgess is originally from Fairlie. Admittedly, there is a bit of an ‘Ayrshire Mafia’ thing going on there, albeit with a relatively wide spread across the county, but there is also Education Secretary Mike Russell who was born and raised in Kent, and Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead from the north-east of Scotland.

It would, of course, be totally incredible if just one school produced a majority of the politicians that govern our country – but if we turn our focus to the UK Parliament in London, that is exactly the situation.

At this point it is worth noting that, under the devolved constitutional settlement, the UK Parliament still has responsibility for crucial areas of government affecting Scotland, such as economic policy, welfare, taxation and defence. It is also worth remembering that the current UK Government is led by the Tory Party, which was soundly rejected at the ballot box by the people of Scotland. The Tories are only able to govern Scotland because our country remains part of the British Union.

Of the Tory frontbench in the UK Parliament, no fewer than 15 members went to the same private school – Eton. From there, most went on to either Oxford or Cambridge.

Many people in Scotland will either be directly affected or will know someone who is directly affected by the ‘austerity’ measures introduced by the Tory-led UK Government. Housing charities estimate between 80,000 and 105,000 Scots are being adversely affected by the Bedroom Tax alone. The Bedroom Tax punishes anyone in a public sector rented house who has even just one room more than the UK Government says they need. Tenants in such a position are having their Housing Benefit cut by 14%; anyone with more than one ‘extra’ room in their rented home is seeing their benefit slashed by 25%. This is happening to people who are already amongst the poorest in society.

This Christmas, thousands of people across Scotland – including here in North Ayrshire – will be reliant on Foodbanks to stave-off hunger. Some Foodbanks are organising Christmas dinners and are attempting to provide at least one small present for young children who otherwise would go without because their parents are poor.

Meanwhile, the people imposing these ‘austerity’ policies – the old Etonians in the Tory Cabinet – will have no such worries.

Prime Minister David Cameron has an estimated fortune of around £3m, mostly provided by his late father who accumulated his wealth partly by ‘off-shoring’ his funds in tax havens to avoid paying UK taxes. Mr Cameron is a fifth cousin of the Queen, and is married to Samantha, daughter of Sir Reginald Berkley Sheffield (8th Baronet) and Annabel Lucy Veronica Jones (Viscountess Astor): his wife’s personal fortune far exceeds that of the Prime Minister.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gideon Oliver Osborne (he decided to call himself George when he was 13) is descended from a family of English aristocrats who were once overlords in Ireland and retain titles from that period. Osborne is married to The Honourable Frances Victoria Howell, daughter of Lord Howell of Guildford. The Chancellor has an estimated personal fortune of around £4m, mainly as the beneficiary of a trust fund that owns a 15% stake in Osborne & Little, the upmarket wallpaper-and-fabrics company co-founded by his father, Sir Peter Osborne.

Iain Duncan Smith is the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the man whose department is overseeing savage cuts to welfare, benefits and public spending. Mr Duncan Smith is married to Elizabeth Fremantle, daughter of the 5th Baron Cottesloe. The couple live in a country house on Baron Cottesloe’s estate in Buckinghamshire.

The Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – the man behind the Bedroom Tax that is punishing so many already-struggling people – is David Anthony Freud (Baron Freud). The Tory Baron, who started out as a member of the Labour Party, lives in a £1.9m four-bedroom townhouse in London’s fashionable Highgate, and retreats to his eight-bedroom mansion in the Kent countryside at weekends.

In addition, the Tory frontbench that is imposing its will on Scotland includes: Philip Hammond, Defence Secretary, estimated personal wealth - £8.2m: William Hague, Foreign Secretary - £4.8m; Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary for England and Wales - £4.8m; Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General - £3.2m; Dominic Grieve, Attorney General for England and Wales - £2.9m.

So out of touch with reality are these Tory multi-millionaires that they could not even begin to imagine what it is like to exist on inadequate state benefits. What is worse, they don’t care. We are being virtually transported back in time, almost to the period of the Victorian workhouse: once again the poor are blamed for their predicament and are punished.

On December 25th, many Scottish children will have Christmas dinner at a Foodbank. If they are lucky, Santa might provide a present. Replace ‘foodbank’ with ‘workhouse’ and a vision from history reveals the reality behind the Tories’ brave new world – a world where the gap between rich and poor gets ever wider.

In Scotland, we didn’t vote for the Tories and we didn’t endorse their manifesto of ‘austerity’. We only have the Bedroom Tax and other welfare cuts imposed on us because our country remains part of the British Union.

To their shame, the ‘Scottish’ Labour Party’s position on Scotland’s future is that they would rather see Tory millionaires continue to impose their will on us from London, than have a Labour Government in an independent Scotland.

Let’s make this the last Christmas that Scottish families are hammered by devastating cuts imposed by Tories we already rejected at the ballot box. Let’s make this the last Christmas that foodbanks are needed to prevent Scottish children from going hungry.

On September 18th 2014 we can vote to re-take political control of our country. By voting ‘YES’ to independence in next year’s referendum, we can begin the process of moving to a democracy in Scotland where we always get the government for which we actually vote – and it won’t be Tory.

This Christmas, let’s agree to turn our backs on Tory austerity and, instead, commit to building a better, fairer, brighter country for all the people of Scotland.

Independence means implementing policies to meet the needs and aspirations of those who live in Scotland. Independence is simply being a normal country.

* Originally published in

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Labour Party: a history of working class betrayal

In December 1923 Britain went to the polls in a General Election.

The incumbent Conservative Government, led by Stanley Baldwin, had fought on its policy of economic protectionism, but the party failed to secure a majority. The Conservatives had emerged as the largest party in the House of Commons, with 258 seats to Labour’s 191 and the Liberals on 159. However, Baldwin considered he had failed to receive the endorsement of the people for his party’s proposals and, as such, he declined to form a government. As the next largest party – and one that had fought the campaign supporting ‘free trade’ as opposed to ‘protectionism’ – Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald was summoned to Buckingham Palace where he accepted King George V’s invitation to form a government.

Reports at the time suggested the meeting between socialist leader and hereditary monarch gave a strong indication of what was to come from the first Labour Government. It was said that King George raised concerns over the singing of the Red Flag at a Labour rally in the Albert Hall, but MacDonald sought to reassure the monarch by indicating that Labour members had simply got into the habit of singing the song, a habit the new Prime Minister, apparently, said he hoped to break.

The election of a government bearing the name of those who made their living by selling their labour had raised great expectations within the working class. But very quickly the hopes and aspirations of ordinary men and women were to be cruelly dashed.

Despite a majority of Labour MPs being members of the Independent Labour Party, including Ramsay MacDonald and five other Cabinet Ministers, the ILP’s more socialist ideology was crushed as the Scottish Prime Minister lost no time in telling Capitalist bosses they had nothing to fear from a Labour Government. On taking office, MacDonald stated, “I want to gain the confidence of the country. I shall suit my policy accordingly.”

One of the first actions taken by the Labour Government demonstrated the chasm between the so-called party of labour and the working class who had elected it. As the Labour Party assumed electoral power a strike by rail-workers was already taking place. Privately-owned rail companies were attempting to impose wage reductions, a move that, understandably, was opposed by the workers and their trade unions. However, far from supporting the workers, the new government’s Minister of Labour, Tom Shaw MP, stated, “We have no sympathy for this unofficial strike,” and made clear that “all the resources of the Government will be used to prevent the four essential services – light, water, food and power – from being stopped.”

Days later, in February 1924, Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald himself showed his Labour Government would not tolerate even ‘official’ industrial action when, referring to a national strike by Dockers, he said, “We will take what steps are necessary to secure transport of necessary food supplies”. Subsequently, when underground rail-workers threatened to take strike action in sympathy with the Dockers, MacDonald announced that “the major services must be maintained”. On March 31st 1924 the Labour Government proclaimed a State of Emergency and, by use of ‘emergency powers’, took action to break the strike.

The disillusionment of the British working class was echoed abroad, where colonised peoples had hoped the election of a ‘socialist’ government in ‘Mother England’ would, at the very least, loosen the controlling grip of Empire.

Instead, MacDonald himself confirmed that capitalist exploitation within the British Empire would continue under Labour. In the face of Indian agitation for independence, Ramsay MacDonald made clear in a telegram to colonial civil servants and British military officers stationed in the country that “no party in Great Britain will be cowed by threats of force or by policies designed to bring Government to a standstill”. Subsequently, the Labour Government introduced detention without trial in Bengal, and put down a cotton workers’ strike in Bombay by authorising troops to open fire on strikers. In addition, Indian communists were arrested and jailed on charges of ‘conspiracy to deprive the King of his Sovereignty’.

In July 1924, a botched prosecution (subsequently dropped) by the Attorney General against J.R. Campbell, editor of the Workers’ Weekly newspaper, led to the Liberal Party withdrawing support for the Labour Government in the House of Commons. The Workers’ Weekly had published an anonymous open letter – actually written by Harry Pollitt, leader of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) – in which soldiers were urged to “let it be known that, neither in the class war nor in a military war, will you turn your guns on your fellow workers”. The failure of action to prosecute Campbell for sedition, although the fault of the Attorney General, allowed the Liberals to claim Labour was under the influence of the CPGB.

Three months later Ramsey MacDonald and the Labour Government lost a ‘Confidence’ motion in parliament. A General Election was set for October 29th 1924.

Just days before the election, both the Times and the Daily Mail published a letter, ostensibly from Grigory Zinoviev, chairman of the Comintern (the Communist International) in the Soviet Union. The letter urged British communists to promote revolution. Undoubtedly the letter had a significant bearing on the outcome of the General Election, which saw the Conservatives returned to power with 412 seats to Labour’s 151. The ‘Zinoviev Letter’ was subsequently proved to have been a forgery.

The first Labour Government had lasted little more than 10 months and its only significant legislation had been the Housing Act, introduced by Glasgow socialist John Wheatley, which began a programme of mass housebuilding designed to provide homes at affordable rent for the working class.

With the Tories back in power, the ground was set for unparalleled social and industrial upheaval, leading to the General Strike of 1926.

** Originally published as part of the Hidden History series in the Scottish Socialist Voice..

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Scotland's Future

Scotland’s Future, the Scottish Government White Paper on independence, was published last Tuesday (November 26).

Within minutes of the official launch ending, Alistair Darling, the Labour MP who leads the anti-independence campaign, appeared on television, saying, “Nothing has changed as a result of today’s White Paper. There is nothing that we found out today that we didn’t already know.”

What a guy! Within minutes Alistair Darling had read the White Paper’s 670 pages (170,000 words), including the section that contained 650 questions and answers relating to independence. Isn’t it quite incredible that Alistair Darling apparently already knew the answers to those 650 questions ahead of the government document being published? Of course, it could just be the case that it would not have mattered what was contained within the 670 pages of Scotland’s Future, Mr Darling and his friends in the other British Unionist parties would have trotted-out the same well-worn attacks on the abilities of Scots to successfully govern their own nation.

Following the White Paper launch at the Science Centre in Glasgow, First Minister Alex Salmond and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon travelled through to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, where Ms Sturgeon made a statement and took questions on the SNP Government’s independence proposals.

Again, however, it was clear the British Unionists in the anti-independence coalition (Labour, Tory and Lib Dem) had not actually read the White Paper. Again, the Unionist response was a snarling attack on the aspirations and abilities of the people who live in Scotland – we were told (yet again) that alone amongst all the peoples on planet Earth, only the Scots are incapable of running their own country. Again, the British Unionists trotted-out their mantra – that we are too wee, too poor and too stupid to be a real country, with a real sovereign parliament – and made clear that, in their opinion, it is best for decisions affecting Scots to be taken in London by a Tory-led Government for which we did not vote.

Labour’s Johann Lamont again stood shoulder to shoulder with Ruth Davidson of the Tories (and the wee eejit of a guy who currently leads the Scottish sub-section of the British Liberal Democrats) in attempting to undermine the positive case for independence. In order to promote their Scottish dependency culture (the British Union), Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats must rubbish the people of Scotland and our ability to transform our country into a normal, independent nation. Aspiring to create a better, fairer Scotland is attacked as ‘wishful thinking’ and ‘pie in the sky rhetoric’, while the Unionists offer us more austerity under a Tory-led Government we rejected at the ballot box.

The Labour, Tory, Lib Dem coalition in the anti-independence campaign tells us the British Union allows us to have the best of both worlds, but what we actually get is Scots paying millions-of-pounds every year as our contribution to nuclear weapons of mass destruction (which the majority of Scots consistently say they don’t want) while having imposed on us cruel welfare reforms, such as the Bedroom Tax, and savage cuts to public spending.

The lack of any credible input from British Unionists in the Scottish Parliament was perfectly illustrated by a question asked by former ‘Scottish’ Labour leader Iain Gray, who angrily wanted to know where the money would come from to pay for the Scottish Government’s proposed Oil Fund. Honestly, Iain, it’s not that difficult. Take a look at the name of the fund. No? Still having problems? Okay, here is a clue: small independent Norway currently has an Oil Fund, valued at £450bn, which is funded from the wealth generated by the country’s North Sea oil fields – that’s what makes it an Oil Fund. Norway, of course, discovered oil in its sector of the North Sea at the same time as bigger fields were located in Scottish waters. Scotland, however, was not (and currently is not) an independent nation. Rather than our wealth going into a fund for use by the Scottish people, it gushed into the UK Treasury in London where it was used to pay for mass unemployment in the 1980s and to fund a low-wage, low tax economy (low tax for the rich).

The Scottish Government White Paper listed a number of ‘bread and butter’ issues that, in themselves, are good reasons to vote for independence: for example – 30-hours of childcare per week in term-time for all three and four-year-olds, as well as vulnerable two-year-olds; Trident nuclear submarines and missiles removed from the Clyde within the first term of an independent parliament (four years); scrapping of the Bedroom Tax in the first year of an independent parliament; basic rate tax allowances and tax credits to rise at least in line with inflation; a review of the UK Government plan to raise the state pension age to 67; minimum wage to rise at least in line with inflation; BBC Scotland to be replaced at the start of 2017 with a new Scottish Broadcasting Service (continuing a formal link with the BBC – so we would still get Dr Who, contrary to a British Unionist scare-story of last week); Single-tier state pension of £160 per week from April 2016; Royal Mail returned to public ownership; Scottish Defence Force of 15,000 regulars and 5,000 reservists – appropriate to our country’s size and non-hostile foreign policy; British citizens living in Scotland on day-one of independence will be entitled to Scottish citizenship and passport – but it won’t be compulsory and, contrary to yet another British Unionist scare-story, no one will be told to leave and there won’t be border guards at Gretna.

However, just one of the things the British Unionist media failed to point out last week was that the policies listed above are those of just one component part of the YES campaign, the Scottish National Party, and would only be implemented if the SNP formed the government in the first independent parliament, to be elected in May 2016. The core factor of independence is that we will always get the parliament and government for which we vote (unlike under the British Union where Scots reject the Tories but have them imposed on us by voters in England).

The bottom line is if we don’t want the SNP to form the government of an independent Scotland – I disagree with some of their policies, such as retaining the Queen as Head of State – then we don’t have to vote for them in 2016. However, in order to take control of our country and always get the government for which we vote, we must first re-take our political independence. That is what we will be voting for in the referendum on September 18th next year.

The referendum isn’t about parties, policies or personalities, it is solely about deciding who is best placed to take decisions for Scotland – either the people of Scotland (independence) or the Tories with their Labour and Lib Dem partners (the British Union).