Friday, 30 May 2014

Democracy UK-style

Imagine, if you can, living in one of those oppressive states elsewhere in the world, like North Korea or China or Saudi Arabia.

Actually, from a UK Government perspective, the last two are not oppressive regimes, contrary to all available evidence.  China and Saudi Arabia are good customers of the UK, so small matters like human rights, torture of civilians and state executions are overlooked.  Do an internet search and see the photos of UK politicians and the Royal Family kow-towing to visiting Saudi and Chinese ‘dignitaries’.  Do another search for Saudi and Chinese ‘government brutality’ to see the type of people with which the UK Government is happy to do business.  Don’t click on any videos unless you have a strong stomach.

North Korea, purportedly a ‘communist’ state, makes the massive error of failing to buy its military arsenal from UK companies, so it can, officially, be called an oppressive regime.  Of course, North Korea is as far from a communist state as you could possibly get, as is China, but it suits the capitalist-run western world to portray a deeply dysfunctional state as ‘communist’ – all the better to discredit the ultimate alternative to ‘greed is good’ capitalism. 

In reality, both North Korea and China are dictatorships where the general population are ruled by small elite groups.  Saudi Arabia is very similar: there, though, the ruling elite is the Royal Family.

Freedom of expression and opposition to the ruling elite are repressed, often brutally, in the world’s dictatorships.  So-called ‘dissidents’ frequently find themselves thrown into jail before being convicted of crimes against the state, which carries severe punishment, even execution.

In dictatorships, the state also controls the media – newspapers and broadcasters – meaning the people only get to hear what the elite wants them to hear.  No alternative view is allowed, and no criticism of the ‘official’ line is permitted.

In the UK, aren’t we so lucky to live in a state where we have a free press, freedom of speech and a multi-party political system that allows democracy to flourish?  You would think so, wouldn’t you?

Clearly, no-one in their right mind would attempt to equate the UK with states such as North Korea, China or Saudi Arabia.  However, if we take more than a cursory glance at our society, media and those who seek to govern us, it quickly becomes apparent that all is not as free, open and democratic as we are led to believe.

Generally we are free to move around and to express our opinions: we also get to elect governments.  So why complain? 

At this point we could embark on a wide-ranging book covering every aspect of infringement of our civil liberties - admittedly minor in comparison to the countries mentioned before – but events of last week will suffice to illustrate why we aren’t as free and democratic as we might think.

Firstly, we had the Election to the European Parliament.  In England, the far-right and racist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) won the election.  This was not totally unexpected, but not because of the hard-work and persuasive arguments put forward by members of UKIP.  The party’s election success was down mainly to the blanket coverage provided to them – and in particular their leader, Nigel Farage – by the so-called mainstream media, in particular the BBC.

Thanks to the BBC’s promotion of Farage, UKIP was propelled from an obscure far-right party of racists, homophobes and misogynists into one that secured victory over the professional electoral machines of the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats in England.  Without the BBC’s wall-to-wall coverage of UKIP in the weeks ahead of the election, this result would not have happened.

A similar thing occurred in 2010 ahead of the UK General Election.  At the time, the BBC promoted Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, which propelled that party from minority status into government with the Tories.  Now, though, the BBC is only too happy to join in the hounding of Clegg following the Lib Dems disastrous polling in the European Election, where thousands of the party’s previous supporters switched to the BBC’s new poster boys in UKIP.

Newspapers no longer have the clout and influence they once had, which is partly down to the public’s contempt for much of the industry following revelations exposed by the Leveson enquiry into phone-hacking.  Another factor is the accessibility of online news sites.  There used to be no alternative to the daily newspaper or weekly local publication, but now we can log onto the internet and access all the news we could ever want, usually for free.  Internet sites have also become expert at exposing the biased nature of the reporting carried by most ‘national’ newspapers.

Broadcasters, though, are supposed to be impartial.  In particular, the BBC – funded by what is to all intents and purposes a tax as regressive as the hated Poll Tax – still retains an international reputation for honesty and integrity.  It is a reputation now undeserved but which lingers in the minds of so many people.  For that reason, when the BBC promotes Nick Clegg or Nigel Farage by providing them with airtime denied to others, the broadcaster is working to an agenda and attempting to influence the outcome of elections.  Because many people still believe what the BBC broadcasts, the strategy has been successful – the Lib Dems secured a massively increased vote and a place in government at the 2010 UK Election, while UKIP won last week’s European Election in England.

Scotland receives a double dose of the BBC’s bias: we get the same agenda promoting particular politicians and parties, and we also have a situation were the distinctly different political reality in Scotland is ignored.  UKIP has virtually no presence in Scotland, but because of the BBC’s promotion of the party, its vote doubled north of the border, allowing it to scrape the last of six Scottish seats in the European Parliament, at the expense of the Lib Dems. 

SNP analysis of BBC broadcasts showed the corporation had provided four-times as much airtime to UKIP ahead of the election as had been provided to the SNP, which forms the government of Scotland.

The BBC in Scotland then reported UKIP’s capture of a European seat as if the party had won the election, when, in reality, it had finished fourth and took just 10% of the vote (on a 30% turnout).  Back in London, the BBC ‘national’ news reported UKIP’s victory “across the country”, but the only country in which the party topped the poll was England.  That did not stop Scotland receiving the message, broadcast into our living rooms, that UKIP had won the election.

In Scotland, the SNP won the European Election, increasing its vote by almost 70,000 from the last Euro poll in 2009, which was a remarkable feat for a party that has formed the government of Scotland for the past 7 years – governments are supposed to be unpopular.  However, BBC viewers would have struggled to unearth information about the SNP’s victory amidst the UKIP-fest that saw every ‘national’ news bulletin lead with a beaming Nigel Farage.

Of course, such BBC bias is nothing new to pro-independence activists in Scotland.  Many of the corporation’s failings in its duty to be impartial in the debate over Scotland’s constitutional future have been documented on sites such as Newsnet Scotland and Wings over Scotland, but the bias simply goes on and on.

So blatant in its pro-British Union position is the BBC in Scotland that the corporation refuses to terminate its membership of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), a right-wing organisation that continues to actively oppose Scottish independence.  BBC Scotland’s decision has been taken despite repeated requests from the National Union Journalists (NUJ) for the broadcaster to quit the CBI.  The NUJ points out that journalists working for the BBC in covering the Independence Referendum may be open to allegations of bias, given their employer helps fund and is a member of an organisation that is actively campaigning for one side, the British Unionist side.

In our free and democratic country we have a print media almost entirely owned outside of Scotland and which, with the honourable exception of the Sunday Herald, not only opposes Scottish independence but is prepared to lie in the promotion of the British Union.  We also have broadcasters, primarily the BBC, which use their power to manipulate the outcome of elections.  We could also throw in the unrepresentative nature of the people elected to govern us at a UK level – most having been privately educated and attended either Oxford or Cambridge universities – and the fact that Scotland didn’t vote for them (the Tories finished fourth in Scotland at the last UK Election in 2010).

Clearly, we do not live in an oppressive state: I will not be thrown into prison for writing this article.  We can travel relatively freely and we do have the opportunity to vote at elections.  However, when the UK government is imposed on us even after we have rejected them at the ballot box; when that government does not in any way represent or understand the people it governs; when we have ‘national’ newspapers acting against the interests of Scotland; when we have broadcasters manipulating election results, reporting issues in a blatantly biased manner and censoring what we are told by promoting certain stories and omitting others, then perhaps the country in which we live is not as free, open and democratic as those in positions of power would have us believe.

In a truly free and democratic country, a broad-based media should reflect the diverse views of the people, instead of attempting to manipulate opinion to favour the positions of multi-millionaire publishers, bankers and politicians.  

Independence is about Scotland re-taking the status of a normal nation, and in normal nations governments are elected to govern with the consent of the people: in an independent Scotland we will always get the government for which we vote – never again will a government be imposed on us by people in another country.  That is democracy.

Friday, 23 May 2014

England and Scotland are on different journeys

At the time of writing (Friday, May 23), London-based broadcasters are providing wall-to-wall coverage of the electoral advance achieved by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in English local government elections.

UKIP is also expected to do “very well” in the European Election in England, according to the same broadcasters. The European Election results for England will be announced on Sunday (May 25), after polls have closed in other member states of the European Union. Scotland’s results will be revealed on Monday, due to the Western Isles declining to count votes on a Sunday.

There are two significant issues relating to UKIP’s electoral success in England. Firstly, it has been achieved largely because the very same London broadcasters (and newspapers) have provided the party, and principally its leader, Nigel Farage, with blanket coverage ahead of the elections. Farage has appeared on more editions of the BBC’s flagship political programme Question Time than any other politician. It has also been the practice of the English media to portray Farage as ‘an ordinary bloke’ or ‘one of the lads’, mainly because they have regularly featured him having a pint down the pub.

Nigel Farage, though, in addition to holding a range of repugnant views, is far from being ‘an ordinary bloke’ as most of us would define the phrase. Like the leadership of the Tory Party he claims are an out-of-touch elitist group, Farage was privately educated and formerly worked as a stock-broker in the City of London. It was Farage and his ex-colleagues who crashed the UK and global economy.

Rolling news programmes on the BBC and Sky are now referring to a ‘countrywide’ advance for UKIP, but the country to which they refer is not mine. For London-based broadcasters and newspapers, only England matters – except, of course, when the ‘Jocks’ get daft ideas about running their own country and taking control of its wealth and resources. Then the full power of the media is turned on Scotland with a vengeance: then the media loses no time in disparaging the aspirations of Scots: then broadcasters and newspapers become little more than the mouthpieces of the anti-independence ‘Better Together’ campaign, regurgitating word-for-word – often using identical headlines – the wildly negative press releases issued by the British Unionist organisation.

The BBC has decided to remain a member of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), a right-wing, pro-big business organisation. The BBC uses £20,000 of licence-payers money every year to fund its CBI membership. The CBI recently registered as an official backer of the pro-British Union, anti-independence ‘Better Together’ campaign. However, once many of its Scottish members resigned because of that decision, the CBI said registration had been a mistake and asked for it to be cancelled. However, the organisation has not changed its position – it still opposes Scottish independence and supports the British Union, and the BBC is still helping to fund the organisation.

STV resigned from membership of the CBI because, as a broadcaster covering the Independence Referendum, it had to remain neutral and felt it could not be part of a group that was actively campaigning for one side, the British Unionist side. The National Union of Journalists has asked the BBC to resign from membership of the CBI, because its campaigning against Scottish independence leaves journalists working at BBC Scotland open to the accusation that their employer is biased. The BBC refuses to resign. In fact, in the past week BBC Scotland News reported a story in which the CBI again claimed a variant of ‘the sky will fall’ if Scotland became an independent country. The broadcaster failed to mention it was a member of the CBI and that it helps to fund its activities.

What the advance of UKIP in England has done is blow apart the claim by the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats that somehow the staunchly British Unionist party led by Nigel Farage was not part of the anti-independence campaign. The argument offered by the three so-called ‘mainstream’ London-based parties was that UKIP was on the far-right margins of politics, but the English local government elections have changed that. Now UKIP is right there in the mainstream, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg in opposing the right of Scots to govern our own country.

Such has been the effect of the English media’s promotion of UKIP that the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats have been drawn further to the right of the political spectrum in order to appear that they are willing to ‘be tough’ on the media’s favourite topic, the supposed over-running of ‘the country’ by immigrants who “come here to take our jobs and our benefits”, which leads us to the second significant issue to emerge from UKIP’s English advance.

There is now no doubt what faces Scotland if we reject independence in the referendum on September 18th.

Current polls relating to the 2015 Westminster Election – and the results of the English local government elections – show the most likely outcome for the next UK Government is either the Tories on their own or a Tory-UKIP coalition. If Scotland does not grasp the opportunity of independence, we will have a far-right government imposed on us by the electorate of England. If we don’t decide to govern our own country in our own interests, then we will be knocked from pillar to post by further devastating cuts to jobs, welfare and public spending, imposed by a rabid right-wing government in London.

The English electorate showed last Thursday that they are on a very different political journey to most of us in Scotland. England is moving further and further to the right, while mainstream opinion in Scotland embraces a moderate, centre-left position: the routes are incompatible.

Independence restores to the people of Scotland the right to govern our own country, to take decisions for ourselves, to plan our own economy and public services, and to follow the political path endorsed by the Scottish electorate.

Independence is simply being a normal nation.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Under Tory control

Despite Scotland having a parliament and a government, crucial aspects of our lives and our society remain controlled by another parliament and another government.

Scotland has not voted Tory since 1955: at the last UK Election, in 2010, we again rejected the Conservative Party, which finished in fourth place. Yet, because Scotland remains part of the British Union, we have a Tory-led Government imposed on us.

The London-based UK Government, led by multi-millionaire Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, decides how much tax Scots have to pay, how much we receive in social security benefits (and whether or not we get them at all), dictates foreign policy (including sending young Scots to kill or be killed in illegal, immoral, imperialist American wars), locates nuclear weapons of mass destruction just 30 miles from Scotland’s largest city (and centre of population), imposes punitive measures such as the Bedroom Tax and benefits sanctions, while pocketing multi-billion pound revenues accruing from oil reserves located in Scottish territorial waters.

Remember, Mr Cameron and his party have control over these crucial aspects of our lives and our country despite his party finishing fourth in Scotland and having just one elected MP.

Last week, David Cameron visited Scotland to tell us we must remain within the British Union. He told us it is the Scots who “put the great in Great Britain”. Does anyone in Scotland actually believe that Mr Cameron repeats this claim when speaking to audiences in England?

Does David Cameron really not know that the ‘great’ in Great Britain has nothing to do with being distinguished or remarkable, but, in fact, refers to the geographical area of ‘greater’ Britain, the largest land-mass of the British Isles? Of course he knows – he just thinks the Scots are really, really gullible and will fall for fake flattery.

Incidentally, why is it that Mr Cameron should have to ‘visit’ Scotland? Shouldn’t the person with total control of Scotland’s economy, taxation, welfare system, foreign affairs policy and defence actually live and work here in Scotland?

Think about that situation for a moment: think how the people of England would react if the roles were reversed. Imagine the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was based at the parliament in Edinburgh and that every aspect of England’s taxation, macro-economic policy, welfare system and defence was decided in Scotland. Imagine how the people of England might perceive a situation where their Prime Minister was Scottish, the government sat at a parliament in Scotland, and the Prime Minister merely ‘visited’ England from time to time.

Imagine, if you can, a situation where wealth generated in England had kept afloat the economy of Scotland – even creating a super-wealthy economic zone around Edinburgh – and where the Scottish, Edinburgh-based Prime Minister ‘visited’ England to tell the people that this situation should continue, despite large parts of England suffering soaring levels of unemployment and poverty. Would the people of England allow such a situation to continue, even if the Scottish, Edinburgh-based Prime Minister told them they were ‘great’?

Cameron’s ‘visit’ of last week also saw the ‘Better Together’ anti-independence campaign drop the pretence that it is not controlled by the Tories. Until now the organisation has been fronted by the ‘abominable ‘No’ man’, Labour MP Alistair Darling, but much of its funding comes from Tory sources, including many donors who live in England and do not actually have a vote in the Independence Referendum.

Cameron has repeatedly said the referendum is for people in Scotland – it is this fig-leaf he hides behind when refusing to debate with Alex Salmond – but if that really was his belief, then why do Tory Ministers ‘visit’ Scotland to tell us what we should be doing and how we should vote in the referendum? If the referendum is only for people in Scotland, then why does the ‘Better Together’ campaign accept and rely on funding from outside of Scotland?

Tory control of the anti-independence campaign was there for everyone to see last week during David Cameron’s ‘visit’ to Scotland when he used the name of former Labour leader John Smith, a Scot who died 20 years ago, to call on the people of Scotland to reject the normal national status of independence. Presumably a Tory Prime Minister would not have used Mr Smith’s name in such a way if the Labour Party had not gone along with the strategy. All of which led to the situation where a Tory came to Scotland and claimed that a Scottish former leader of the Labour Party was apparently at ease with the situation where Scots reject the Tory Party at the ballot box but have them imposed on us anyway.

The Labour Party is so dominated by the Tories within ‘Better Together’ that they are supporting a position where they would rather see the Tories govern Scotland from London than have a Labour Government in an independent Scotland.

Thankfully, more and more Scots are seeing through the absurdity of a situation where a government we didn’t vote for, sitting at a parliament in another country, has control over our lives. Thankfully, more and more Scots reject the idea that Tories should be able to impose their will on Scotland.

Thankfully, more and more members of the Labour Party in Scotland reject the London leadership’s support of the Tory-controlled and financed ‘Better Together’ campaign. Thankfully, the growing numbers within ‘Labour for Independence’ would rather see a Labour Government in an independent Scotland than have our country controlled by Tories in London.

Independence is simply being a normal country, and thankfully more and more Scots are determined to grasp the opportunity presented to us in September’s referendum.