Friday, 26 July 2013

The BBC Tax

Surely there is no-one who still doubts that the BBC is simply the public relations department of the British State.

In Scotland, we are subjected nightly to BBC news and current affairs programmes that extol the supposed virtues of the artificial-construct British State, with anti-independence stories given top billing, even when they are demonstrably untrue. Positive independence stories, if they are mentioned at all, usually feature well down bulletin running-orders and are frequently reported with a sneering delivery that tells viewers not to give any credence to this independence thing.

Last week there were two further examples of the BBC’s role in attempting to keep Scotland tied within the British Union. Firstly, one of the publicly-funded royal family had a wean. Of course, in reality, his wife did all of the work, which was probably right, given that she is a commoner (well, as common as the daughter of upper-middle-class millionaires can be). Certainly not in the same ‘wealth league’ as the royal family, but at least the Middletons worked for their money. I know, that last comment is stretching the point a bit: the Middleton family business is planning parties for the rich and selling trinkets to the peasants (including royal family-related tat).

The BBC was far from being alone in its over-the-top, blanket coverage of the so-called ‘royal’ birth, but it is the only broadcaster funded by a tax on viewers, even those who don’t actually watch the BBC.

Public anger against the late unlamented Poll Tax was so strong partly because it was a regressive taxation system. In other words, it was completely unfair because it was not based on a person’s ability to pay. Everyone had to pay the same amount, which, in a classic example from the time, meant that a Lord in his country estate paid the same level of Poll Tax as individual members of his staff, despite the massive disparity in incomes.

Why, then, is there no such public outrage at the BBC Tax (the broadcaster and the UK Government call it the Licence Fee)?

The BBC Tax works on the same unfair principle as the Poll Tax, everyone who has the means of receiving live television-transmissions must pay the tax, irrespective of their income, with the exception of those aged over 75. If you are blind, you get a 50% discount on the tax, which is very decent of the tax collectors, given the charge is for a visual broadcast medium. You don’t even need to have a television: if you own a laptop, tablet or mobile phone capable of receiving live television, then you are liable to pay the BBC Tax.

BBC news went into overdrive last week, telling us the whole world was celebrating the birth of a son for Prince William and his wife (apparently she is now the Duchess of Cambridge – and of Strathearn when she visits Scotland). This was nothing more than British State propaganda, the aim of which was to instill in us lesser mortals the belief that the Royal Family is a wonderful institution, sitting atop the ‘natural’ British order where wealth and privilege is to be revered and even respected. Broadcasts showed happy ‘ordinary people’ waving Union Jacks and gushing their pro-monarchy, pro-Britain soundbites. Whether or not you support the extremely biased perspective advocated by the BBC and the British establishment, if you pay the BBC Tax, you are funding such propaganda.

Before we move on to the second example of the BBC’s role in attempting to keep Scotland tied within the British Union, it is worth recording a couple of facts about the pinnacle of unearned wealth and privilege that is the British royal family. The actual annual cost to taxpayers of keeping this family in luxury and palaces is in the region of £205m, not the £38m claimed by the Royal Household and the BBC. The ‘official’ figure excludes a number of costs, including round-the-clock security, royal visits and revenue lost because the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall don’t like paying tax. The cost to the British public of maintaining the royal family is around 100-times as much as the people of Ireland pay for their presidential office. Because of the secretive nature of the royal household – don’t even think about a Freedom of Information request, they would only laugh at you – it is difficult to know exactly how much extra the Queen pocketed when she declined to pay inheritance tax on the estate of her mother, but one estimate puts it in the region of £20m. Bear in mind that is just the extra amount, not the full inheritance, and is money lost to the public purse.

Now, the second example of the BBC’s role in attempting to keep Scotland tied within the British Union saw an announcement last week that a Scottish reporter is being shipped-up from London to spearhead the broadcaster’s coverage of the Independence Referendum.

As if the British Unionist bias of BBC Scotland was not already stark enough (particularly a British Unionist Labour Party bias), the man returning to Scotland from a berth on Radio 4’s Today programme is James Naughtie. Mr Naughtie is possibly best known now for introducing former Tory Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, live on air, by dropping the ‘H’ in his surname and replacing it with a ‘C’. However, prior to that, the BBC’s new man in Scotland will be remembered for an interview ahead of the 2005 UK General Election, during which he began a question to Labour MP Ed Balls by asking, “If we win the election.....”

In addition, after axing many experienced journalists, the BBC also announced it intends to recruit 15 trainee reporters, on one-year contracts, to “learn on the job” as they cover the Independence Referendum. How many of those trainee reporters on one-year contracts will stand-up to editors who unswervingly adopt the BBC’s pro-British Union stance? How many of the young men and women hoping for a break in broadcast journalism will question decisions taken by John Boothman, BBC Scotland’s Head of News and Current Affairs? That’s the same John Boothman who for many years was a card-carrying activist in the Labour Party and is married to Susan Deacon, a former Labour MSP?

To put it bluntly, those of us who support an independent Scotland must be mad to pay the BBC Tax, through which the British state broadcaster funds its support for the British Union and the British establishment, and uses our money to pay for its ongoing and growing attempts to undermine the independence movement.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Andy Murray, Alex Salmond and the Scotland flag

The achievement of Andy Murray in securing his second Grand Slam victory last Sunday is something of which every Scot can be proud.

The fact Murray’s win over Novak Djokovic came at Wimbledon was all the more pleasing, given it is as close as he will get to a home tournament in top-flight international tennis, and it had been 77 years since a man from the British Isles had triumphed on the grass-courts of west London.

On one of the hottest days of the year in Scotland, many stayed indoors to watch Murray’s three-hour, straight-sets win over Djokovic, the world Number 1. Scottish support for Dunblane-born Murray far outstripped actual interest in the sport of tennis, but that could change, given we now have such a high-profile and successful player.

Of course, in general, support for Murray was also strong in England, where the fact he is Scottish was not allowed to detract from his achievement in ending the very long wait for a ‘British’ male Wimbledon champion – all the way back to Fred Perry in 1936.

It would be churlish to deny a share of Andy Murray’s victory to our English neighbours – but, equally, it would be wrong to gloss-over the horrible, nasty Tweets from a section of the English public, which took delight in disparaging Murray’s Scottishness prior to the final, and hoping that the “Jock c*** gets hammered by Djokovic”. Believe me, that was one of the least-offensive of the anti-Murray (anti-Scottish) Tweets amongst a very large number posted on the social media site.

Some would attempt to defend such English attacks on Murray as all that he can expect, given he once said he would support “any country playing England” in a football World Cup where Scotland was not competing. He was 19 years-old at the time, and the answer could have come from the lips of many (if not most) members of the Tartan Army, including me. There is a very long explanation – spanning 300 years of the British Union – that puts in context the difficulty many Scots have in supporting England, at anything. To cut a long story short, it comes down to Scotland having been effectively colonised and run by England since 1707, with the result that we are happy to see our colonisers get their comeuppance on the sporting field, even on the occasions where we have to take our pleasure vicariously.

None of the above in any way justifies the disgraceful abuse directed at Andy Murray on Twitter. Thankfully, though, the Scot responded perfectly by winning the Wimbledon final and ramming-shut the foul mouths of his cyber-attackers.

However, that was not the end of the Scottish/English/British ‘controversy’ relating to Andy Murray’s victory. In the VIP section (it might actually have been the Royal Box) at Centre Court, the Scot was cheered-on by David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and, sitting one row behind, by Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland. As Murray clinched the match and the championship, the BBC cut to a shot of Cameron in the crowd. There is every chance the BBC Sport producer who controlled the camera feeds had no idea who the man behind Cameron was, the man with a beaming smile and a Scotland flag.

Surely it is perfectly understandable for the First Minister of Scotland to celebrate such a fantastic sporting achievement by a Scot, and if anyone has the right to wave a Scottish flag on such an occasion, then surely no-one could object to it being done by the elected First Minister of the country?

Well, actually, the ‘Tame Jock Cringe’ exhibited by some members of British unionist political parties apparently knows no bounds. Rather than celebrate Andy Murray’s sensational win, some Scots representing British parties focussed on Alex Salmond and took exception to Scotland’s First Minister waving Scotland’s flag as a Scotsman secured victory on an international sporting stage.

Willie Bain (apparently he is a Labour MP) was reported saying, “In my experience, real tennis fans support their favourite players for who they are and how they play - let's keep the stunts out of it.” So, Scotland’s First Minister proudly waving the flag of Scotland is a ‘stunt’. Only in the very small mind of a cringing Tame Jock could a Scottish flag flying to signify a Scottish sporting victory be construed as something negative.

But Mr Bain’s comments were not the worst in the self-loathing stakes. Alistair Carmichael (apparently he is a Lib Dem MP) actually went as far as complaining to the organisers of the Wimbledon tournament, asking, “next year, can you please search him [Alex Salmond] more carefully”.

Perhaps Mr Carmichael or his British unionist party would care to expand on why the flag of Scotland should be confiscated from the First Minister of Scotland as he goes about his legitimate business of advancing Scotland’s interests or even just supporting a very talented Scottish sportsman?

On September 18 next year we have the opportunity to re-take Scotland’s political independence. Not only will independence allow us to govern our own country in the interests of the people of Scotland, it will see us re-take our place on the world stage as a normal, independent nation. No longer would we feel the need to define ourselves in terms of our larger neighbour to the south. No longer would England be in a position to dominate and run Scotland. Perhaps, then, when Scots can stand proud as the people of an independent country, we can also be confident enough in ourselves to support England in the World Cup (if Scotland hasn’t qualified) – and perhaps people like Willie Bain and Alistair Carmichael might find some self-belief and pride in their country, assuming they accept Scotland is a country and not just a region of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Protest and democracy

Rebels in Syria have taken up arms against an unelected head-of-state. The UK Government supports the rebels.

In Egypt, the military stepped-in and removed the democratically-elected President because much of the public felt he had not addressed the needs of the people. The UK Government says it acknowledges what has happened and indicates we should “move on”.

Imagine the reaction of the UK Government if people here rose up against our unelected head-of-state, the Queen, a woman who lives an opulent lifestyle while an increasing number her ‘subjects’ are plunged into poverty and deprivation. If that were to happen, it is safe to say the UK Government would not support the rebels.

Now, no-one in their right mind would attempt to equate the Queen and the House of Windsor with the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but, in reality, both enjoy positions of power and wealth with no democratic mandate. Apparently, though, in the eyes of the UK Government, people only have the right to rise-up against foreign unelected heads-of-state.

Imagine how the UK Government would react if the public here took over areas of our cities to protest that the democratically-elected government had not addressed the needs of the people. Of course, there is a distinctly Scottish element to such a proposition in a British context, given that in Scotland the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government is not democratically elected: the two parties finished third and fourth in terms of votes cast by Scots at the last Westminster Election. However, we’ll come to that Scottish element in a moment.

The UK Government has already shown it would use the police, in full riot gear if necessary, to remove protestors: and you can bet there would be no ministerial statement acknowledging the legitimate grievances of the people. Apparently, only those in foreign countries have legitimate rights to demand the removal of governments that have failed to address the public’s needs.

But what if protestors on British streets would not be beaten into submission? What if the people stood firm in their protest? What if the police could not contain the public demonstrations?

History has shown that UK Governments have not been slow to put military boots onto public streets if the ruling elite felt their vested power was threatened. Across the former Empire, British soldiers have been used to put-down uprisings by people who objected to being ruled by unelected and undemocratic governments imposed by the UK. But would a UK Government put British soldiers on the streets of UK towns and cities? And if they did, would the soldiers side with the people or the politicians?

There is a historical event that records just such an action and which raises the Scottish element mentioned before.

On January 29th 1919 a march through Glasgow by strikers culminated in a rally in George Square, from which a deputation of trade union leaders from the Clyde Workers Committee (CWC) secured a meeting with the city’s Lord Provost. The shop-stewards sought the Provost’s support for the workers and asked that the Council instruct Glasgow’s employers to introduce a 40-hour working week. Apparently, the Lord Provost asked for time to consult with councillors and a further meeting on January 31st was agreed, at which the workers would be given the Council’s response.

January 31st, a Friday, saw around 60,000 demonstrators gather in George Square in support of the 40-hour strikers and to hear the Lord Provost’s response. However, while the CWC deputation was inside the City Chambers, ranks of police waded into the crowd in an unprovoked attack. Men, women and children were struck by batons, resulting in a violent response from the crowd, which included many ex-servicemen recently returned from fighting in the First World War. Contemporary newspaper reports recorded the crowd retaliated with fists, iron railings and broken bottles.

The CWC deputation heard the commotion and left the City Chambers, only for two of the leaders, Willie Gallacher and Davie Kirkwood, to be struck by the police and arrested. Others from the CWC leadership were also taken into custody, including Emanuel Shinwell, Harry Hopkins and George Ebury.

As pitched battles took place in and around George Square, the Chief Constable stood on the steps of the municipal building and attempted to read the Riot Act. However, workers continued to drive back police assaults. Eventually, peace was restored as protestors re-grouped and marched-off towards Glasgow Green where they planned to hold a rally.

Police later stated they had intervened at George Square because demonstrators had been stopping trams in adjacent streets, but workers believed the violent baton charges had been planned to disrupt the legitimate protest and undermine the strike action.

By the time the workers’ march reached Glasgow Green on January 31st ranks of police officers were already waiting and further fights broke out, which spread to other parts of the city and continued into the night.

Alarmed by events in Glasgow, and concerned they faced a ‘Red uprising’ similar to the revolution that had happened in Russia just two years before, the British Government ordered troops and tanks onto the streets of Scotland’s largest city. The troops, believed to be 10,000 in number, were drawn from English regiments, while Scottish soldiers stationed at Maryhill were locked in their barracks: the Government feared they would side with the Scottish workers.

Some years later, the leaders of the Clyde Workers Committee acknowledged that they had not fully understood the magnitude of what happened, and what potentially could have happened in Glasgow on January 31st 1919. One said, “In our heads we were leading a strike, but we should have been leading a revolution.” Willie Gallacher added, “The soldiers at Maryhill were confined to barracks and the barrack gates were kept tightly closed. If we had gone there, we could easily have persuaded the soldiers to come out and Glasgow would have been in our hands.”

The actual outcome was to be very different. By Monday, February 10, the Joint Strike Committee of the CWC called-off the strike. They had failed to achieve a 40-hour working week, but employers had agreed a reduction to 47-hours, ten less than was the case before the strike.

The events in Glasgow on January 31st became known as ‘Black Friday’ and forever established the name of the Red Clydesiders in the history of socialist struggle in Britain. However, for many, the day will be remembered for what could have been had the strike’s leaders taken a different course of action and sought support from the Scottish soldiers stationed at Maryhill barracks.

Thankfully, 94-years from ‘Black Friday’, Scots do not need to embark on violent struggle to end the undemocratic rule of our country by Tory-led Governments in London. We don’t need to rise-up like the Clydeside workers in 1919 or today’s Syrian rebels or the people of Egypt. We have no need to fear soldiers and tanks on the streets.

To take control of our own country and build a society that meets the needs of the people, our first step is to simply turn-up at the local Polling Station on September 18 2014 and vote ‘Yes’ to restore to Scotland the status of a normal, independent nation.