Saturday, 19 January 2013

Labour's attack on Scots

Have you heard of a man called Anas Sarwar?

The family name might be familiar. Mohammad Sarwar became the first Moslem to be elected to the UK Parliament when he won Glasgow Govan for the Labour Party in 1997. At the 2005 UK General Election, boundary changes resulted in the constituency being renamed Glasgow Central.

Mohammad Sarwar stood down at the 2010 General Election and his son, Anas, was selected to fight the Glasgow Central seat for Labour. Who knows, perhaps he was the best candidate and the nomination passing from father to son was not some sort of undemocratic dynastic succession.

Whatever was the case, Sarwar Junior was elected to represent Glasgow Central and now sits in the House of Commons, and it was there last week that, without a hint of irony, he branded the Scottish Parliament as “not a democratic place”.

According to the relative newcomer to elected politics, our national parliament in Edinburgh is “a dictatorship of one man”. Apparently, that one man – Alex Salmond – will “do not what is in Scotland’s interests, but what is in his own party’s interests”.

The Scottish Parliament has a chamber of 129 MSPs, partly elected using Proportional Representation, which delivers a result much closer to the actual votes cast by the electorate than the First Past The Post system that produces ‘voting fodder’ UK MPs like Anas Sarwar. The fact the Scottish National Party currently has a majority in the Scottish Parliament is because that is what the people of Scotland decided they wanted. Contrary to the opinion of Mr Sarwar, that is democracy in action.

As for the SNP or Salmond not doing “what is in Scotland’s interests”: which country’s interests would Anas Sarwar suggest the SCOTTISH National Party promotes? Perhaps what Mr Sarwar meant was that independence is not in Scotland’s interests. That would be the normal position for the British Unionist coalition of Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat – the one that argues of all the peoples in the world, only the Scots are incapable of running their own country.

So, according to Anas Sarwar – a Member of the UK Parliament for all of two-and-a-bit years – our Scottish Parliament is undemocratic (despite us electing it through the ballot box) and the people of Scotland are too stupid and too poor to govern their own nation (which is too wee, in any case, to be a real country).

Given his anti-independence position, it is surely safe to assume that Mr Sarwar and his British Labour Party have an alternative vision for Scotland – and they do. It’s called more of the same. Anas Sarwar and his Labour colleagues want Scotland to remain nothing more than a devolved region of the United Kingdom, governed by out of touch, multi-millionaire, posh-boy Tories such as David Cameron and George Osborne. The so-called ‘Scottish’ Labour Party want Scotland to remain in the UK and be hammered by the savage cuts currently being imposed by the Westminster Coalition Government, comprised of two parties that were soundly rejected at the ballot box by the people of Scotland.

Incredibly, by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories and Liberal Democrats in the pro-British Union ‘Better Together’ campaign, the so-called ‘Scottish’ Labour Party is making clear that it would rather the Thatcherite Tories continued to govern Scotland from London, than for there to be a Labour Government and a Labour First Minister in an independent Scotland.

Still, Anas Sarwar is just a relatively new MP: why should we pay any attention to what he says? Maybe he was speaking out of turn and his party bosses will point out how offensive were his comments regarding Scotland’s democratically-elected parliament, and the right of the Scottish people to determine their own future in a democratic referendum.

Well, actually, Mr Sarwar might not be a household name, but he is the Deputy Leader of the ‘Scottish’ Labour Party, second only to Johann Lamont MSP (yet another politician who couldn’t lace Alex Salmond’s boots). His disparaging of Scotland’s parliament, and by extension the people who elected it, come from the top of the ‘Scottish’ Labour Party.

By contrast, pro-independence political parties – SNP, Scottish Socialist Party, Green Party – all have faith in the people of Scotland. Pro-independence parties believe Scots deserve more than the same old cuts delivered by alternating Tory and Labour governments in London. Pro-independence parties believe in democracy and the right of the Scottish people to self-determination.

At next year’s Independence Referendum, if we vote ‘No’, if we turn down the chance to govern our own independent country, we would actually be passing a vote of no confidence in ourselves. If we did that, we would remain stuck with politicians like Anas Sarwar, politicians who think devastating Westminster cuts are as good as it gets for Scotland.

Friday, 11 January 2013

The unemployed are not our enemy

Last week’s one-percent ‘uplift’ in benefits such as Jobseekers Allowance and Working Tax Credit was actually a real-terms cut in the income of the poorest people in society.

With inflation running at twice the rate of the ‘uplift’ – and with food and fuel inflation even higher than the overall figure – the poorest will be made even poorer. Against that reality, the UK Government has slashed the level at which the richest in the country are taxed – someone on a salary of £1m will be an average of £107,000 better-off.

In attempting to defend their most recent attack on the poor, Tories (and their Liberal Democrat lapdogs) have reverted to the ‘divide and rule’ tactic used in the 1980s by their ideological mentor Margaret Thatcher. Once again Government Ministers talk of ‘strivers’ against ‘shirkers’ or ‘scroungers’. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne sought to generate a split in the working class by telling those with a job that their unemployed neighbours were lying in bed all day, behind closed curtains. During the House of Commons debate on benefits levels last week, one Tory MP disparagingly referred to those who expected to live on ‘handouts’ provided by others, which is a wilful misrepresentation of the safety-net provided by social welfare.

The mainstream media, mostly owned by multi-millionaires, has been quick to take-up the government line. News reports on television have shown working class people saying it is perfectly right that those who don’t work should not get a rise in their income. One man – a Scot interviewed by the BBC in Luton – went as far as saying benefits for the unemployed should be scrapped, which he appeared to think was just the incentive the apparently work-shy needed to get them off their backsides and into employment. Interestingly, the same media outlets failed to report the findings of a YouGov poll, published ahead of the Commons vote on benefits, which showed that those who know least about the welfare system are also the most hostile towards claimants.

I don’t know anyone who would choose a life on benefits over the dignity that comes through having a job, earning a living and being able to look after your family. Obviously a person’s individual circumstances determine their level of benefits so, as an example, let’s look at the most easily-defined category: a single adult on Jobseekers Allowance currently receives £71.00 per week – just over £10.00 per day.

Of course, that single person will receive other welfare support – Housing and Council Tax benefits – but the sums involved pass straight to landlords and local authorities. The unemployed do not receive assistance in meeting charges for water, electricity and gas, all of which have to be paid from the £10.00 per day Jobseekers Allowance. Out of that £10.00 per day our out-of-work friend also has to pay for things like clothes, shoes and travel (including attending the Jobcentre to sign-on). If a washing machine or vacuum cleaner breaks-down, replacing them is way beyond the means of someone on £10.00 per day, unless they are prepared to get themselves into high-interest debt.

Tories, Liberal Democrats and ill-informed members of the public will say, “Ah but, what about the unemployed who have plasma televisions and can afford fags and booze?” For plasma televisions read high-interest debt, and if they are spending money on the ‘luxuries’ of cigarettes and alcohol, they are going without essentials such as food and heating.

You don’t have a life when your income derives from state benefits, you merely exist. You exist between benefit payments, then you buy food and pay bills.

The unemployed did not create their unemployment: benefit recipients are not skivers or scroungers, they are people who desperately want to work, who desperately want a life again, people who desperately want to be ‘normal’ members of society.

In North Ayrshire we have the highest unemployment and some of the worst deprivation in Scotland. We also have thousands of people sitting for years on housing waiting lists. To build houses requires brickies, joiners, electricians, plasterers and labourers. Embarking on a large-scale programme of social house-building would reduce both unemployment and waiting times for a house. Paying workers the living wage of £7.20 an hour would also reduce the amount paid in benefits – currently low wages paid by private employers are subsidised by the state through Working Tax Credits – and would increase the level of taxation paid to the Treasury.

Ending the flawed dependency on global capitalism would result in goods once again being manufactured in places like Scotland – particularly when we structure our economy to produce what the people need, as opposed to what makes the most profit for company bosses and share-holders.

We don’t have to condemn so many of our fellow citizens to a life of poverty on state benefits but so long as we stick with the failed capitalist economic system, that is exactly what is going to happen.

It’s worth remembering we are in the worst recession since the 1930s because of the actions taken by spivs and speculators in private banks and financial institutions. Capitalism caused this crisis. The Labour Government, followed by the current Tory-Lib Dem coalition, has used £1.2trillion of public money (and borrowings) to bail-out the failed, privately-owned, capitalist banks. Contrary to another line spun by politicians, we did not spend more than we could afford and now we have to pay it back. What ‘we’ did was save private companies, and now we are refinancing the corrupt capitalist system.

However, the biggest lie told by Cameron, Clegg and Osborne (and by Labour politicians in the administration led by Gordon Brown) is that we are all in this together.

While the spivs and speculators have received trillions-of-pounds in bail-outs, while the richest people in the country have seen their tax levels reduced and while the wealthiest 1,000 individuals in Britain have a combined fortune of £414billion, the rest of us now have the lowest disposable household income since 1921. Meanwhile, the ‘official’ unemployment figure – that’s the one fiddled by the government to give an artificially low number – is nearing three-million.

The unemployed are not our enemy, they are our brothers and sisters. We should not be fooled by the Tories’ ‘divide and rule’ tactic. It’s time we fought back against those who created the situation that is impoverishing millions of working class men, women and children.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Independence is the first step

On January 2nd Sky News began a report by stating, “The main political parties have disagreed...”

Now, you might question why political parties disagreeing is ‘news’ – isn’t that what they do? However, the reason the phrase is noteworthy relates to the parties that were disagreeing, not the fact they disagreed.

Sky chose to call them the “main political parties”, yet they were talking about Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. Once again the political reality in Scotland was completely ignored - we have a Scottish National Party Government, with the Tories and Liberal Democrats being little-more than fringe parties.

Of course, Sky is not alone in taking a high-handed, dismissive attitude to Scotland. The BBC ‘network’ news, broadcasting across the UK, often forgets to mention that stories relating to the health service, legal matters and education in some part of England have no relevance to Scotland.

To put it bluntly, in the eyes of London-based broadcasters – and politicians - Scotland does not matter unless it somehow impinges on English consciousness, such as with that independence thing. Even then, the ‘network’ perspective on reporting the move towards Scottish independence is often extremely patronising, reminiscent of the days of Empire when foreign correspondents would tell of ‘uprisings’ by colonial subjects who had the crazy idea that they might actually like to run their own country, rather than accept rule from London.

This is not a new phenomenon, it’s called cultural imperialism – a situation where a more powerful state creates and maintains structures and mechanisms that favour its position and perpetuate an unequal relationship with less powerful states. But, of course, the ordinary men and women of England play no part in their country’s imperialistic relationship with Scotland. Ask most English people about Scottish independence and they will say, rightly, that it is a matter for the Scots to decide. It is the small, ruling elite centred-around positions of power in Whitehall, and the loyal metropolitan media, which perpetuate a system that keeps the English working class in a state of struggle, while ignoring the Scots colony, other than to exploit its natural resources and people, which has been the way of imperialism for hundreds of years.

Again, the perpetuation of rule by a small, self-serving group over the majority is not new. It has been ‘the norm’ since before Scotland was brought under the dominion of England through the British Union of 1707. In all of the years since then, through feudalism to what passes for parliamentary democracy, the ruling class has manipulated society to accept its interests as being beneficial for everyone. Even today, the view of the ruling class – the British establishment and wealthy elite – is portrayed as the natural and inevitable way of things, which is why we are told that the majority must accept savage cuts to jobs, wages, services and benefits, in order that the corrupt capitalist system can be rebuilt.

The core principle of capitalism is unfairness: the system only works for the ruling elite through giving to them the power to exploit the majority, yet British cultural imperialism and hegemony is used to persuade us that this is normal and inevitable, and cannot be changed.

A more recent concept that plays a significant role in perpetuating the rule of the elite, and in ascribing to Scotland the role of a colony, to be managed and exploited, is ‘media imperialism’. All so-called impartial broadcasters in the UK give support to the pinnacle of the British ruling class, the Royal Family. Most, if not all, mainstream newspapers back the capitalist economic system that perpetuates inequality in society. All daily newspapers sold in Scotland are owned by non-Scottish companies, many take their editorial line from London newsrooms, and some even support the Conservatives, which has just one MP in Scotland and is a minority party in the Scottish Parliament. No mainstream Scottish daily newspapers support independence for Scotland.

The concept of ‘media imperialism’ relates to print and broadcast outlets being concentrated in the hands of a wealthy, ruling elite, and particularly when such media ownership is held in a larger country to the one in which news is reported. Scotland’s position within the British Union is a classic example of media imperialism at work.

Political stories and opinion columns carried in Scottish, mainstream, daily newspapers almost all adopt a pro-British Union stance, despite the fact we have a pro-independence government elected by the Scottish people. The Daily Express, the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Sun all support the Tory Party led by posh-boy millionaires David Cameron and George Osborne. All media outlets report ‘the markets’ and big business activity as if there is no alternative.

Against such seemingly overwhelming odds, it is remarkable that increasing numbers of Scots have been prepared to back pro-independence parties, particularly the SNP, to the extent that, next year, we will have a vote on whether or not we wish our country to remain within the British Union.

Restoring Scotland’s independence is the first step we must take towards ending the corrupt social and economic systems that see the majority exploited in the interests of the ruling class. Such change will never happen within the British Union.

Independence is the catalyst that will allow us to tackle the bread and butter issues that affect every one of us, every day of our lives – but this is not inevitable. An SNP Government in an independent Scotland would retain the capitalist economic system and would simply swap an English ruling elite for a Scottish one.

Only independence will deliver to us the power to govern our country – so we must vote ‘Yes’ in the Independence Referendum – but once we have retaken the status of a normal nation, if we want to put the interests of the people before the profits of multi-national corporations, we have to be prepared to break the hold of the ruling elite.

For a fairer, more equitable society, we need a Scottish republic, with a government implementing socialist policies. At that point, we also must help our brothers and sisters in England to throw-off the yolk of cultural imperialism and end rule by a self-serving, wealthy, capitalist elite.