Friday, 27 September 2013

Lamont's speech - disgrace and embarrassment

In early 1992 I was the SNP candidate for the local council seat of Ardrossan North. At the previous election, Labour had recorded a majority of over 900, so we faced an uphill task.

Part of our campaign involved me writing letters to the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald, pointing out how Labour had let us down locally and nationally, and how without independence we would continue to have imposed on us Tory Governments we had rejected at the ballot box.

In response to one of my letters, a Labour activist stated: “Campbell Martin is a Nationalist and a Socialist, and we all know what happened the last time they got elected.” Seriously!

It was 21 years ago, but that kind of thing tends to stick in one’s mind. Because I was a socialist member of the Scottish National Party, I was a National Socialist – a Nazi!

The crass nature of that Labour activist’s comment in 1992 came back to me last week when I heard ‘Scottish’ Labour Party Leader Johann Lamont MSP address her party’s UK Conference in Brighton. There is something particularly distasteful about a Scot travelling to another country – any other country – and making a speech that belittles the people of Scotland.

For the most-part, Lamont’s contribution stuck to the tired old British Unionist line that, uniquely amongst all the peoples of the world, only the Scots are incapable of governing their own country better than someone else. Aspiring to be a normal nation, with full control of our resources and with full powers over all aspects of government, is not for Scotland, according to Johann Lamont. The ‘Scottish’ Labour Leader told her mainly English audience that, in her opinion, it would be best if the UK Parliament in London continued to take decisions for Scotland in relation to our economy, welfare and defence. Implicit in Lamont’s assertion is that Tories should continue to have the power to impose their policies on Scotland – such as savage cuts to public spending, wage restraint, zero-hours contracts, work capability assessments, the Bedroom Tax and nuclear weapons of mass destruction – even when the people of Scotland have used the ballot box to reject the party and its policies.

In addition, Johann Lamont described the wide-ranging and cross-party movement for Scottish independence as indulging in “the politics of narrow nationalism”. As if that comment wasn’t inaccurate enough, Lamont then stated her opinion that Scotland’s national movement for self-determination is part of the “virus” of nationalism.

The ‘Scottish’ Labour Leader told her audience in Brighton that she looked forward to returning to England next year, following the Independence Referendum, at which she hopes “Scotland renews its embrace of the United Kingdom”. So, in the eyes of Johann Lamont MSP, it appears embracing the British nationalism of the United Kingdom is a good thing, but Scottish nationalism is a virus.

I was a member of the Scottish National Party for 27 years: in all that time I never came across anyone within the organisation who advocated the right-wing nationalist (supremacist) doctrine of other European nationalist movements – the virus to which Johann Lamont wishes to attach the moderate, left of centre, social democratic SNP. Her comments were a disgrace and an embarrassment.

The SNP is only one part of the broad, national movement for independence, and even the party itself has been acknowledged as a ‘broad church’ – a ‘national’ rather than ‘nationalist’ party. For Johann Lamont to associate her Scottish political opponents with the “virus” of the right-wing nationalism that spawned the Nazi Party in Germany and the Partito Nazionale Fascista in 1930s Italy shows what appears to be a dangerous detachment from reality on her part. It was bad enough for Ms Lamont to brand SNP members and independence activists as part of “a virus”, but her comments also bracketed with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini all of the ordinary members of the Scottish public who simply want to restore to Scotland the status of a normal, independent nation.

Johann Lamont is not stupid – before entering politics she was a school teacher – so we have to assume she knew it was a gross misrepresentation to equate the desire for Scottish independence with fascist totalitarian regimes in other parts of the world and from other times in history. With her party leader (the real Labour Leader), Ed Miliband, also using his conference speech to misrepresent the reality of the NHS in Scotland and England, and the care provided by both organisations, it is now transparently clear that the people of Scotland cannot believe a word Labour says. It would also seem to be the case that there is no depth to which the British Labour Party, and its North British sub-section, will not stoop in its efforts to maintain Westminster’s control of Scotland.

Incidentally, in case you were wondering, at the council election in 1992 the SNP won the seat of Ardrossan North, turning a Labour majority of over 900 into an SNP majority of 101.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The best Labour could come up with to defend their British Union

Clearly Labour Party leader Ed Miliband thinks everyone in Scotland is stupid. 

In his speech to the Labour conference today, he gave an example of a Scottish woman who took ill at a previous Labour conference in Liverpool, saying that if Scotland was an independent country the woman would have been a ‘foreigner’ and would not have got the treatment she needed at a Liverpool hospital. 

In fact, the NHS in Scotland and England are already completely separate entities, which is why the NHS in Scotland is not being privatised, unlike the NHS in England under the Tories.  The NHS in Scotland is already the responsibility of the SNP Scottish Government. 

The Scottish woman to which Miliband referred got her treatment in Liverpool because she needed it and there is a reciprocal arrangement between the NHS in Scotland and the NHS in England – just as there is with other countries, such as France and Germany. 

If the woman Miliband spoke about became a ‘foreigner’ after independence, it would be because he and his English political colleagues chose to make her one.  Even if, for some strange reason, they chose to do that, it would not affect her right to NHS treatment under the reciprocal arrangement that already exists between the NHS in Scotland and the NHS in England.

Friday, 20 September 2013

A year to go

Last Wednesday (September 18) saw us pass the year marker until the Independence Referendum.

This time next year, Scotland will either have retaken its place as a normal, independent nation or we will have decided to remain just a region of the United Kingdom, with all that entails, such as Tory-led Governments in London imposing savage cuts and policies like the Bedroom Tax.

Looking at it logically, it’s a ‘no brainer’: with independence we always get the government for which we vote, and we implement policies specifically designed to meet the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland. Sticking with the British Union means that 60% of the time we get governments we rejected at the ballot box and we have policies implemented to suit London and the south-east of England. Even when England’s voting-choice has coincided with that of Scotland (the 40% when both countries have voted Labour), we’ve had governments that have pandered to the self-interest of the City of London and have ignored what would have been best for Scotland.

Without the British media – including the BBC – churning-out anti-independence stories on a daily basis and telling us we really are too wee, too poor and too stupid to govern ourselves, the campaign for keeping Scotland within the British Union would never have got off the ground. As it is, though, with just under a year to go until the referendum, the trend in polls is unmistakable – the ‘YES’ vote is rising and the ‘NO’ vote is falling. More and more Scots are seeing through the unionist propaganda – spread by so-called ‘Scottish’ newspapers owned by companies based mainly in England, and by the BBC (the clue to the broadcaster’s position is in its name – the BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation). Despite that daily deluge of British unionist propaganda, the people of Scotland are coming to the conclusion that, actually, we are perfectly capable of running our own country and doing a much better job of it than London-based Tories, Liberals and Labour.

Personally, I believe Alex Salmond to be the most competent politician of his generation – all the other political parties who attack him would, in reality, give their eye-teeth to have him in their camp. Scotland is fortunate to have such an able politician as our leader. However, having said that, I do recognise that some of my fellow Scots do not share my opinion. I’ve heard them say they won’t vote for independence because it would be voting for Alex Salmond, and they don’t like him.

I don’t know if their dislike stems from them believing the British unionist propaganda that daily demonises Mr Salmond or perhaps they mistake his confidence for arrogance. Whatever the reason, the reality is that a ‘YES’ vote in the Independence Referendum is not a vote for Alex Salmond or even the SNP.

Voting ‘YES’ on September 18 2014 will result in Scotland retaking the status of a normal, independent nation, the status we lost when the so-called ‘Scots nobility’ sold our country into a Union with England in 1707. Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, famously described the traitor nobles as “such a parcel o’ rogues in a nation” having been “bought and sold for English gold”.

That is what next year’s referendum will decide – whether or not we restore our independence – nothing else. Voting ‘YES’ does not elect Alex Salmond or the SNP.

A ‘YES’ vote will lead to the next scheduled Scottish Parliament Elections in May 2016 becoming the first to our newly-independent parliament. We, the people of Scotland, will decide who we want to represent us in the independent parliament and who we want to form the government. At that point, if the people of Scotland decide they don’t want Alex Salmond to be First Minister or the SNP to form the government, then democracy will provide that result. Independence means we will always get the government for which we vote.

That reality exposes the absurdity of ‘Scottish’ Labour’s position within the pro-British Union campaign. ‘Scottish’ Labour politicians and activists are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with David Cameron’s Tories in seeking to prevent Scots from restoring our independence and electing governments of our choice to run our country. ‘Scottish’ Labour is campaigning to allow the continuation of a British Union that sees voters in England elect Tory Governments – Tories that Scots reject – and for those Tories to impose their policies on Scotland. Incredibly, by its actions in the pro-British Union campaign, ‘Scottish’ Labour is saying it would rather see David Cameron’s Thatcherite Tories continue to govern Scotland from London than have a Labour Government in an independent Scotland.

Since 1707 almost 50 countries have retaken their independence from Britain: all are now thriving nations where the people would never think of giving-up their independence. One of those countries is Ireland. Despite the economic problems it has recently suffered, if you were to ask the people of Ireland to give up their independence and return to being governed from London, I suspect the collective response would consist of just two words, with the second being “off”.

It is not normal to be governed by and from another country. In 1905 when the people of Norway held a referendum on whether or not their country should retake its independence from Sweden, more than 99% voted ‘YES’.

Of course, today, Norwegians have one of the highest standards of living in the world, partly-funded by the fact the country discovered oil reserves in its sector of the North Sea in the 1970s. This was at the same time as oil was discovered in the Scottish sector of the North Sea. Norway, being a small independent country, was able to use the wealth generated from its oil to build a strong, vibrant country and economy. In addition, successive Norwegian governments have invested part of the country’s oil revenues in a ‘Futures Fund’. The fund is used to benefit future generations of Norwegians and currently stands at around £170billion.

Scotland – not an independent country – saw its oil wealth sucked into the Westminster Treasury and used by successive British governments, partly to fund a low-tax, low-wage economy and the costs of soaring unemployment. Since the 1970s those successive British governments have told Scots that our country is an economic basket case, dependent on hand-outs from England, when they knew full-well that an independent Scotland could have mirrored the success of Norway.

Today, Scotland can still prosper as an independent nation: the continuing oil-wealth would simply be a bonus to a strengthening economy overseen by Edinburgh-based governments whose priorities first, last and always would be the interests of Scotland.

Independence is simply being a normal country. This time next year, by voting ‘YES’, we can transform Scotland into a normal country.

Friday, 13 September 2013

The Scottish budget and unionist hypocrisy

Last Wednesday (September 11) the SNP Scottish Government announced its draft budget for 2014/15 – it’s in draft form until it receives the backing of parliament.

Budget-setting must be a hugely frustrating exercise for the Scottish Government: SNP Ministers know what they want to do, and how much policies and initiatives would cost, but are severely constrained by the limitations of devolution.

Under the present constitutional settlement, Scotland contributes all of its revenues to the Tory-Lib Dem-controlled UK Treasury and they give us some of it back. It’s the equivalent of you handing your wages to your neighbour and them telling you how much of it they will give you back to spend over the coming year. For 2014/15 Westminster has slashed the Scottish block grant – the bit of our money they give us back – by almost 27%. The average wage is currently around £27,000 per year: imagine how you would feel if your boss told you that next year he was cutting it by 27%, taking your salary down to £19,710.

Against that reduced income you have to meet the increasing costs of feeding and clothing your family, provide and maintain a home while paying for ongoing commitments, such as transport to work and the myriad things that have us dipping into our pockets on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. Scale it up to national level – factoring in the costs of health and justice - and that is what Finance Secretary John Swinney and his Cabinet colleagues were faced with as they prepared the SNP Government’s budget.

The Scottish Parliament heard Swinney announce an investment of £1.3billion in affordable housing, with a further £8billion for infrastructure projects. In addition, £24million is to be committed for 2015/16 to create a national sports performance centre to support the legacy of next year’s Commonwealth Games.

However, most newspaper headlines focussed on what the SNP Government intended to do regarding the Bedroom Tax. In the same week that a United Nations Special Rapporteur condemned the Tory-Lib Dem policy as a breach of human rights – stating she found its impact “shocking” and calling for it to be abolished – the Scottish Government announced it would commit £20million this year to help mitigate the effects of the Bedroom Tax.

In addition, the Scottish Government has set aside £68million in each of the next two years to limit the damage caused by other Westminster cuts to welfare.

Despite supporting Scotland’s continued membership of the British Union – the constitutional position that allows the Tories and Liberal Democrats to impose welfare cuts and the Bedroom Tax – Labour’s Finance spokesperson in the Scottish Parliament, Iain Gray, attacked the SNP’s draft budget for not doing enough to tackle, in particular, the Bedroom Tax. If hypocrisy were a sport in next year’s Commonwealth Games, Iain Gray would be a clear frontrunner for a gold medal.

The Bedroom Tax was introduced by the Labour Party while in government in London: the current Tory-Lib Dem administration simply extended the policy from the private housing sector into the public sector. It is also the case that Labour, so far, has failed to give a commitment that it would abolish the tax if it ever again formed the UK Government. A recent statement by Labour’s deputy leader in Scotland, Anas Sarwar MP - “If we were in government tomorrow we would scrap the Bedroom Tax” – was not such a commitment. It was, instead, an example of how untrustworthy Labour has become, and also showed Mr Sarwar appears to think the Scottish public are not bright enough to see through his careful use of words. Labour would not be “in government tomorrow” so could not be held to scrapping the Bedroom Tax. The ‘promise’ by Anas Sarwar did not apply to any date beyond the day after the one on which he made his statement in a televised debate. On the same night, his Scottish leader, Johann Lamont MSP, appeared on another channel and point-blank refused to give a commitment that a future Labour UK Government would repeal the Bedroom Tax.

During the Scottish Parliament budget debate, Iain Gray demanded that the SNP Government “banish the Bedroom Tax from Scotland”, despite the fact the Labour MSP knows full-well that, under devolution, Scottish governments do not have the powers to scrap welfare policies imposed from London. Only the government of an independent Scotland could scrap the Bedroom Tax, but Iain Gray and his party are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories and Liberal Democrats in campaigning to prevent Scottish independence.

The Scottish Parliament debate also saw Conservative Finance spokesperson Gavin Brown MSP say the budget “should have been about the economy”, a position supported by Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie who argued that SNP proposals were “an inadequate response to Scotland's economic needs”. Again, both MSPs know the devolved Scottish Parliament (and therefore the current SNP Government) has very limited powers relating to aspects of the economy. Powers over the national economy of Scotland remain at Westminster, which results in Scotland’s economic interests playing second-fiddle (if that high) to those of the City of London and the south-east of England.

The finance spokespeople of Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats all condemned the Scottish Government for not implementing policies that require the full powers of independence, yet all three parties oppose an independent Scotland and are working jointly within the British unionist Better Together campaign to stop the Scottish Parliament ever having such powers.

Independence is simply Scotland retaking the status of a normal nation, with a parliament that has the full powers of a sovereign state and a government, directly elected by the people of Scotland, which can implement policies suited to the needs and aspirations of the country. Meanwhile, Scots within British unionist political parties continue to tie themselves in knots as they fight to retain Westminster’s power over our lives.

Friday, 6 September 2013

1914-18...Will the Home Front be remembered?

Radical socialist views grew amongst Scotland’s working class and found public expression during the human carnage that was the ‘Great War’, the First World War of 1914-1918.

Trade unions and individual socialists across Britain had hoped to avoid war by uniting with their German counterparts in a show of international solidarity. As the likelihood of war grew stronger, the call was for workers to refuse to kill other workers in an imperialist war fought in the interests of capitalism. However, once the conflict began, most of the leaders of labour in each country quickly dropped their opposition and backed the war effort. In September 1914, the Labour Party assured the Liberal Government that “the head office of the party [and] its entire machinery, are to be placed at the disposal of the Government in their recruiting campaign.”

Whipped-up into a jingoistic fervour by capitalist-owned newspapers, the working class of Britain were told they had to ‘do their duty’ by fighting for King and country when, in fact, the war was all about the imperial aspirations of the ruling class and the wealth they could accumulate through colonial expansion and exploitation. 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.”

In Scotland, the period leading up to the outbreak of the First World War had seen the birth of the movement that was to become known as Red Clydeside. From around 1910 the social and political conditions affecting the working class in Glasgow and surrounding industrialised areas produced a popular consciousness and militancy that demanded change. Labour unrest, involving both men and women, increased dramatically leading to strike action and a surge in membership of organised trade unions.

What made the activism on Clydeside different to anything seen before was the leadership and determination of shop-stewards, like Willie Gallagher and Davie Kirkwood. Alongside activists in the broader political movement, such as John Maclean, members of what became known as the Clyde Workers Committee were seen to be ‘of and for the working class’, as opposed to many trade union leaders whom it was believed were remote from the people and ‘in the pockets of the bosses’.

In the first ten-years of the 20th Century more than half of all the world’s ships were built on the Clyde. Glasgow was the ‘engine room’ of the British Empire, creating vast wealth for shipyard owners and employers while those who created the wealth - the workers - were paid poverty wages and lived in damp, overcrowded and unsanitary housing.

In 1915, while many men were fighting amongst the carnage of the Western Front in Flanders, Glasgow’s capitalist landlords sensed the vulnerability of the women and children left at home. Despite the appalling condition of much of the housing, a massive hike in rents was announced. Tenants who could not afford the increased rent were thrown onto the street.

With the men away, it was women who were most affected by the landlords’ action, and it was women who led the fight-back. Prominent amongst those who took direct action and led a rent strike in 1915 was Mary Barbour, a member of the Kinning Park Co-operative Guild: sections of the press referred to the female protestors as “Mrs Barbour’s Army”. Supported by male activists, such as the socialist John Wheatley, the women physically blocked close mouths to prevent Sheriff Officers from gaining entry to carry out evictions (a tactic repeated almost 80 years later in the fight against the Poll Tax). Contemporary reports also suggest the women frequently humiliated Sheriff Officers by a process of engaging them in dialogue while others approached from behind and pulled down their trousers.

On November 17th 1915 Glasgow saw one of its largest demonstrations when women protesting against the rent hikes were joined by thousands of shipyard and engineering workers in a parade that marched through the city’s streets to the Sheriff Court. Newspaper reports at the time described the demonstration as being of ‘near riot proportions’.

Twelve-days later, as the rent strike spread to other cities across Britain, the Liberal Government in London hurriedly introduced legislation, the Rent Restriction Act, which pegged rents to pre-war levels.

In June 1916, Mary Barbour together with Helen Crawfurd and Agnes Dollan, two other activists from the successful Glasgow rent strike, founded the Women’s Peace Crusade, which worked to bring an end to the horrors taking place on the battlefields of Flanders.

Four years later, in 1920, following the widening of suffrage contained in the 1918 Representation of the People Act – all men over 21 and women over 30 were given the vote - Mary Barbour became the first female councillor elected to Glasgow Town Council where she represented the Fairfield Ward, a shipbuilding area of Govan.