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).

Friday, 22 November 2013

Reality behind the IFS report on independence

Last week the London-based Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) produced a report titled ‘Fiscal Sustainability in an Independent Scotland’.

It has been virtually impossible to miss the IFS analysis as the British print and broadcast media screamed its contents from every front-page and lead-item in news bulletins. Needless to say, the report’s findings – that an independent Scotland would have a fiscal deficit and in order to balance the national books would either have to impose spending cuts or raise taxes - were reported as fact.

In reality, the IFS report was based almost entirely on British Government figures and economic strategy. It was, therefore, largely a piece of British unionist propaganda. However, that did not stop the British State broadcaster, the BBC, running the anti-independence assertions unchallenged.

The BBC is now beyond a joke. It is acting as an organ of the British State and is complicit in disseminating pro-British Union propaganda. Notice even the little things, such as anything the pro-independence ‘YES’ campaign says is reported as ‘claims’, while pro-British Union stories are stated as fact. Last week’s IFS report was a classic example. The outcomes of the organisation’s analysis were presented, not as ‘claims’ by a London-based think-tank, but were stated as the factual position that would be faced by an independent Scotland.

Much was made by the British media (including its Scottish sub-section) that the Institute for Fiscal Studies is a “respected” and “independent” organisation. Scots politicians and activists within the British unionist coalition of Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrats also majored on the ‘independence’ of the IFS. Isn’t it strange how independence is a good thing, except for the nation of Scotland?

There is little more unedifying than Scots joyously lavishing praise on a report that rubbishes the abilities of fellow Scots and the potential of their own nation. That, however, was the sight that greeted viewers as Labour and Lib Dem politicians rushed into TV studios to side with their Tory partners in attacking the prospect of a successful, independent Scotland.

The British unionist message remains clear: uniquely amongst all the peoples of the world, only the Scots are too wee, too poor and too stupid to govern their own country.

Without as much as a questioning glance, British unionist politicians and the media in Scotland accepted the IFS’s assertions that an independent Scotland would have to either impose cuts to public spending or raise taxes in order to balance the books. The same politicians and media also overlooked the fact the IFS stated the UK would be in a similar position for the next 50 years.

Now, notwithstanding that no credible economist would attempt to predict what will be happening in 2063, the IFS projections for the UK point to the fundamental flaw in its assertions about an independent Scotland. The Institute for Fiscal Studies report was based on the government of an independent Scotland continuing to pursue the failed economic policies of UK Governments, which would be extremely unlikely, to say the least. Under the IFS model, an independent Scotland would still be paying billions-of-pounds towards the creation and maintenance of nuclear missiles, and would still fund overseas military actions like the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the other side of the IFS’s flawed analysis, income to an independent Scottish exchequer from oil fields in the north sea is marked down to the very lowest estimate (from the UK Government’s Office of Budget Responsibility), while no provision is made for the development of new fields around the north and west coasts of Scotland.

In fact, to be fair, the IFS report does actually highlight how things could be very different in an independent Scotland, but that part – surprise, surprise – was overlooked by British unionist politicians and the media. The report states: “These factors are inherently uncertain and could also evolve differently if Scotland were independent rather than part of the UK; in addition, they could be substantially affected by the policies chosen by the government of an independent Scotland.”

It is also interesting to note the Labour Party’s lauding of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, particularly the use of “respected” and “independent” to describe the organisation.

The IFS was formed in the late 1960s by four men – Will Hopper (a banker and Conservative politician), Bob Buist (an investment manager), Nils Taube (a stockbroker) and John Chown (a tax consultant). The think-tank is regularly described as advocating right-wing, neoliberal economic policies – Tax Research UK is on record saying, “The Institute for Fiscal Studies is a body that persistently recommends tax increases that benefit the wealthiest in society at cost to those who make their living from work and the poorest in society”. In addition, tax analyst Richard Murphy said the IFS has “a bias towards the neoliberal view that suggests labour should be heavily taxed whilst capital is left virtually tax free”.

Already standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the toxic Tories, it appears there is no right-wing organisation the London-controlled Labour Party will not cosy-up to in its attempt to prevent Scotland becoming a normal, independent nation.

Meanwhile, respected individual members of the Labour Party in Scotland are taking a very different view. Last week, Alex Mosson, the former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow said: “This referendum is all about us, the people of Scotland, and our right to self-determination. Once we achieve independence I'm sure people will start to regain their interest and engagement in politics, and that will be a good thing for democracy. But first we need to find our self-confidence and become a successful, more prosperous and fairer nation. I am totally convinced that only a Yes vote will get us to that point.”

Friday, 15 November 2013

Bedroom Tax vote: Labour's disgrace

After last week’s House of Commons vote on ‘Abolition of the Bedroom Tax’, it would be difficult for the Labour Party to sink much lower.

Let me explain why I’m singling–out Labour for criticism, when, of course, it would seem more logical to praise the party, given the motion seeking abolition of the hated Bedroom Tax was tabled by Labour, and that it was defeated by the votes of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Clearly, the reason the Bedroom Tax is still in place – still punishing the disabled, the poor and those with no alternative accommodation to which they could move – is because Tory and Lib Dem MPs couldn’t care less that the legislation is entirely unfair.   Rightly, the Liberal Democrats are likely to be wiped-out at the next election for their treachery in propping-up the most right-wing government in living memory.  The administration led by posh-boy millionaire David Cameron is even further to the right – even more uncaring – than the largely-despised Tory Governments of Margaret Thatcher. 

So why criticise the party that sought to end the Bedroom Tax: because Labour never had any intention of ending the Bedroom Tax.  The party’s motion was nothing more than playing politics with the lives of thousands of vulnerable people in towns and cities the length and breadth of the so-called United Kingdom.  Labour built-up the hopes of people affected by the Bedroom Tax, but then entered into a ‘pairing’ arrangement with Tories and Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons, which meant it was impossible for the motion to receive sufficient support to allow the tax to be scrapped.

‘Pairing’ is an unofficial practice that operates in most legislatures.  It is used by parliamentary groups to facilitate the absence of members without it affecting the outcome of votes.  For example, the Tories in the House of Commons could have two MPs who are ill or who may have pressing personal business to which they must attend.  In such circumstances, and where issues being debated in parliament are non-contentious, the Tory Whips Office (the body tasked with enforcing discipline within parliamentary groups) would approach the Labour Whips Office and ask if they had a couple of members who would be prepared to absent themselves from the debate and the subsequent vote.  If agreed, this would mean four MPs (two from each side) were absent with permission from the Whips and the outcome of the vote would not be affected (the government’s majority would remain intact).  The UK Parliament makes clear that “Pairing is not allowed in divisions [votes] of great political importance”.

In total, 47 Labour MPs were absent from the House of Commons last Tuesday night, missing the debate and vote on ‘Abolition of the Bedroom Tax’.  Some, if not all, would have been ‘paired’ with Tory or Lib Dem MPs.  The motion was defeated by just 26 votes.

By agreeing to ‘pairs’ – agreeing to reduce the number of Labour MPs that would vote – Labour knew it would not have enough support to defeat the Tory-Lib Dem Government and scrap the Bedroom Tax.  By agreeing to ‘pairs’, Labour accepted that, according to the UK Parliament’s own definition, ‘Abolition of the Bedroom Tax’ was not an issue of “great political importance”.  For thousands of people adversely affected by the Bedroom Tax there is little of more importance, but the Labour Party was playing political games: it was posturing, pretending to do something about the hated tax, but actually doing nothing.

Amongst the Labour members who had something more important to attend to last Tuesday and who missed the debate and vote on ‘Abolition of the Bedroom Tax’ were 10 MPs from Scotland, representing almost one-quarter of all Scottish Labour MPs.  This group included former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Anas Sarwar (Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party), and Shadow Ministers Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy.  Also missing was Brian Donohoe, Labour MP for Central Ayrshire, which includes Irvine.

In September 2012 revealed that Brian Donohoe had submitted one of the highest expenses claims of all MPs in Britain.  In addition to his salary of £65,738, Mr Donohoe charged the public purse a further £147,217, which included a total of £16,041 for ‘Accommodation’ and £21,539 for ‘Travel & Subsistence’.  The Labour MP also made a claim to cover ‘secretarial work’, which cost the taxpayer between £10,000 and £14,999.  The name of the ‘secretary’ was recorded as ‘Christine Donohoe’.

Two-months ago also revealed there were 1,765 tenants of North Ayrshire Council – some of whom will be constituents of Brian Donohoe – who are deemed by the UK Government to be ‘under occupying’ their homes and, as a result, could have their Housing Benefit cut as a consequence of the Bedroom Tax.

Brian Donohoe has become a wealthy man on the back of his constituents since first being elected in 1992.  Sadly, during the time Mr Donohoe has represented Central Ayrshire (and before that Cunninghame South), local unemployment has soared and parts of the constituency now have some of the highest levels of poverty and deprivation in Scotland.

The Labour Party’s actions last week were a disgrace.  To play politics with the lives of thousands of people suffering the affects of the Bedroom Tax was a disgrace.  For Scottish Labour MPs to be absent from the House of Commons while the motion on ‘Abolition of the Bedroom Tax’ was being debated was a disgrace.

We know the Tories and Liberal Democrats are not to be trusted.  We now know Labour also cannot be trusted.  Westminster cannot be trusted.

Scots can rid ourselves of the Bedroom Tax by re-taking our independence at next year’s referendum.  No political party advocating anything like the Bedroom Tax would ever be elected to form the government in an independent Scotland.     

Friday, 8 November 2013

Hidden History: John Maclean (Part 2)

In December 1918, just weeks after the armistice that ended the First World War, Liberal Prime Minister Lloyd George signed papers authorising the release from prison of socialist John Maclean. His campaigning against the carnage that pitted worker against worker had led to him being ‘convicted’ of actions likely to undermine the war effort.

Although his health had been badly affected by his incarceration and the treatment he received while in prison, Maclean immediately threw himself back into campaigning, but found his position to be at odds with some who had previously been his closest colleagues. Both the British Socialist Party and the Socialist Labour Party favoured the creation of a British Communist Party, while Maclean passionately believed in the need for a Scottish Communist Party, arguing that the flame of socialism burned stronger in Scotland than in England. It was Maclean’s belief that Scotland was fertile ground for a workers’ revolution, which he saw as the first step towards a similar uprising in Britain as a whole. Because of these differences, Maclean did not join the Communist Party of Great Britain when it was formed in 1920.

Willie Gallacher, one of the leaders of the Clyde Workers Committee, had travelled to Russia, where he had meetings with Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. On his return to Scotland, Gallacher indicated the position of Lenin was that there should be only one Communist Party in Britain. Gallacher also said the Comintern (the Communist International) was now the ‘official’ voice of international socialist revolution and it, too, favoured a British Communist Party.

However, the position of Lenin and the Comintern was possibly little more than a reflection of how invisible Scotland had become as a nation entirely subsumed into the British Union, ruled and overshadowed by the larger partner, England. Indeed, Nan Milton, John Maclean’s daughter, recorded that Lenin had once referred to her father as ‘Maclean of England’.

John Maclean remained loyal to the Bolshevik revolution but believed the views expressed by Lenin and the Comintern regarding there being only one Communist Party in Britain were based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the actual situation in Scotland. Point 17 of the Theses and Statutes of the Third International said there could be only one Communist Party in each country, and so the Lenin/Comintern/Gallacher position was based on the acceptance that Scotland was not a country. This was a perspective rejected by Maclean, as he explained in an article carried in the December 1920 issue of the socialist newspaper Vanguard:

“We in Scotland must not let ourselves play second fiddle to any organisation with headquarters in London, no more than we would ask Dublin to bend to the will of London. Whatever co-operation may be established between the Revolutionary forces in the countries at present composing the ‘United Kingdom’, that co-operation must be based on the wills of the free national units.

“Nothing in Point 17 precludes the formation of a Scottish Party as Scotland is a definite country.”

John Maclean worked unremittingly for the cause of socialist revolution in Scotland, to bring an end to the capitalist system that punished the working class, condemning ordinary men, women and children to a life of poverty and deprivation. However, he paid a very heavy personal price for his commitment.

Prevented by the authorities from working as a teacher, Maclean’s very limited income came from collections at public meetings and from the sale of his political pamphlets. Struggling financially, his wife and family had gone to live with a relative in the borders. His wife, Agnes, returned to the family home in November 1923, with the intention that the children, two girls, would follow as soon as a settled income could be established. Agnes had pleaded with John Maclean not to stand as a candidate in an upcoming General Election, but he was determined to continue the fight.

When she returned to Glasgow, Agnes Maclean found her husband in very poor health. Almost starved, he had continued to address outdoor public meetings in the depth of winter. His only overcoat he had given to his friend Neil Johnston, who was from Barbados and, Maclean believed, needed the coat more than him in a Glasgow winter.

In late November John Maclean collapsed while speaking to yet another street meeting. He was carried from the outdoor platform and taken to his home in Pollokshaws. Maclean was diagnosed as suffering from double pneumonia and died on November 30th 1923. He was just 44 years-old.

An election leaflet, written by John Maclean days earlier, was published carrying the date on which he died. An extract perfectly summed-up his passionate belief in the working class and the need to establish an independent Scottish socialist republic as a step towards a ‘socialist international’ spanning the globe:

“Scotland’s wisest policy is to declare for a republic in Scotland, so that the youth of Scotland will not be forced out to die for England’s markets. I accordingly stand out as a Scottish Republican candidate feeling sure that if Scotland had to elect a parliament to sit in Scotland it would vote for a working class parliament.

“The Social Revolution is possible sooner in Scotland than in England. The working class policy ought to be to break up the Empire, to avert war, and to enable the workers to triumph in every country and colony.

“Scottish separation is part of the process of England’s imperial disintegration and is a help toward the ultimate triumph of the workers of the world.”

* Originally published in the Scottish Socialist Voice.