Monday, 20 October 2014

Labour just can't stop lying

 Fresh from their ‘success’ in lying to the people of Scotland in order the ‘save’ the British Union and keep the Tories in power at Westminster, the Labour Party is now deploying its lying strategy in the campaign for the North Ayrshire Council by-election in the North Coast Ward (Largs, Fairlie, Skelmorlie and Cumbrae).

The leaflet for Labour candidate Valerie Reid contains a section with the headline, “What has Labour ever done for the North Coast?”, under which are three sub-headings, apparently revealing what Labour has done for the North Coast – “Protected our Marine Station...Affordable Housing...Magnus the Viking”.

So, if we were to believe the Labour Party, it would seem its members have been busy boys and girls, particularly Largs-based Labour councillor Alex Gallagher. 

In relation to how Labour “Protected our Marine Station”, the by-election leaflet states, “When the SNP looked like giving up the campaign, Katy Clark MP brought experts to the table for the council report...and it was Alex Gallagher who raised the need for action at the Council.  This saved much needed jobs.”

Labour saved the Cumbrae Marine Station, then?  Well, actually, no they didn’t.

In fact, the University Marine Biological Station Millport, run by the University of London, closed on October 31st 2013.  The reason the facility closed is because the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government –Labour’s partners in ‘saving’ the British Union – completely withdrew the £400,000 funding previously provided to the University of London to fund operations in Millport.

After intense efforts by the SNP Scottish Government, SNP-controlled North Ayrshire Council and other public agencies, an agreement was made in January 2014 to transfer ownership of the Marine Station to the Field Studies Council.  Now called the Millport Field Centre, in May 2014 a package of £4m was announced to allow a comprehensive programme of development and refurbishment at the facility.  Again, major contributors to this essential funding were the SNP Scottish Government and SNP-controlled North Ayrshire Council.

Next on Labour’s list of what the party has done for the North Coast is “Affordable Housing”.  The election leaflet reads, “Labour Cllr Alex Gallagher initiated the Council policy to buy-back ex-council houses, resulting in dozens of new houses added to the council housing stock for affordable rent in the North Coast.”

So, maybe that claim is true.  Not quite.

Labour did have a hand in initiating a buy-back programme for ex-council homes sold under the Tories’ ‘Right to Buy’ scheme.  However, the initiative was begun by the Labour-Lib Dem Scottish Executive (Government) in 2006.  Alex Gallagher was not elected as a Labour councillor in North Ayrshire until May 2007: on the same day, in fact, that the people of Scotland kicked-out Labour from government and elected the SNP.

The SNP Scottish Government retained the programme allowing councils to buy-back ex-council homes, and continued it when the party was re-elected by a landslide in 2011.

In August 2012, (now reported:

With demand for housing in the local area continuing to rise, North Ayrshire Council’s SNP administration is to invest £1million to buy back some of the housing stock sold by the previous Labour-run authority.

Explaining the initiative, Cllr Anthea Dickson, SNP Cabinet spokesperson for Health and Social Care, said, “Several areas in North Ayrshire have a high demand for affordable housing but a shortfall in the number of suitable houses available.  We are committed to providing affordable homes for our residents and are building 500 new Council houses over the next decade, but while this is a significant investment, we are aware it will not meet the overall demand.”

Cllr Dickson said that by agreeing to purchase former local authority housing, the Council administration was “showing a willingness to explore every possible avenue to tackle this ongoing issue.”

So, the right of councils to buy-back ex housing stock is maintained by the SNP Scottish Government, and the decision of North Ayrshire Council to actually fund such a buy-back was taken by the SNP Cabinet that runs the local authority.

That, of course, leaves just one chance for Labour to tell the truth in its claims about what it has done for the North Coast.  The third claim, under the heading “Magnus the Viking”, says, “Councillor Gallagher was instrumental in rescuing the giant Viking statue from a yard in Kilmarnock and having it placed on the prom where it has become an icon of the town.  Alex also chairs the successful annual Largs Viking Festival.”

There doesn’t seem to be any doubt with that one, then.  The Magnus the Viking statue was apparently abandoned, maybe even rotting in a yard in Kilmarnock and had to be rescued, with the instrumental contribution of Labour councillor Alex Gallagher.

Wait, though, let’s just check what the people behind the Largs Viking Festival were saying in August 2013:

Largs is to have a magnificent giant Viking sculpture as a commemoration of the 750th anniversary of the 1263 battle of Largs.  North Ayrshire Council is presenting the statue to the town as a culmination to the 750th anniversary year of celebration and as a legacy for this special year.

The giant statue is some 16 feet (5 metres) tall and has been constructed of galvanised steel by David Ogilvie Engineering of Kilmarnock. The sculpture is to be called "Magnus" in honour of the first Patron of the Viking Festival, Magnus Magnusson, and the current Patron, Professor Magnus Fladmark.

Directors of Largs Viking Festival visited the factory where the statue is being created by David Ogilvie.

Well, that is a bit different from the version in the Labour election leaflet.  Magnus didn’t have to be “rescued” from a yard, he was actually being lovingly created by David Ogilvie Engineering, and representatives of the Viking Festival actually visited the work while it was ongoing.  

Then there is that other bit about “North Ayrshire Council is presenting the statue to the town”, rather than the Labour version that had Alex Gallagher being instrumental in having Magnus “placed on the prom”.  So it wasn’t a Labour councillor that delivered the iconic statue for Largs, it was SNP-controlled North Ayrshire Council.

Just one more thing, in the same Largs Viking Festival statement about Magnus the Viking from August 2013, the organisation’s  chair, Labour councillor Alex Gallagher, said of SNP-controlled North Ayrshire Council, “We are extremely grateful to the Council for all the financial and in-kind support it has given to the programme of events in Largs this year and in particular for the support that has been shown in preparation for this year’s very special anniversary Largs Viking Festival.”

Post-democracy Britain

In terms of politics within a UK context, we are now living in the ‘post-democracy’ phase.

The decision by the Labour Party to support the Tory-led Government’s cap on social security benefits is a classic example of this reality.  Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrats, recent partners in opposition to Scottish independence, are now offering virtually indistinguishable social and economic policies.

Labour’s move to the right of the political spectrum, onto Tory ground, began long before Tony Blair ascended to power within the party.  Back in the 1980s, Labour led by Neil Kinnock rounded on Militant, a socialist platform within the party.  Militant, at that time, was fighting a losing battle to keep Labour on the left, advocating policies that put first the interests of the working class.  Kinnock and the party leadership were committed to ‘modernising’ Labour and moved to distance themselves from its socialist past.  Some members of Militant were expelled by the Labour Party, others left of their own accord.  A small number stayed as Labour members in the misguided belief they could take the party back to the left.

In Scotland, members of Militant were instrumental in forming the Scottish Socialist Alliance, which developed into the independence-supporting Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).  Advocating radical socialist policies, the SSP became one of western Europe’s most successful parties of the left, securing 6 MSPs at the Scottish Parliament Election in 2003 and introducing Bills that paved the way for nutritious free school meals and an end to the poindings and warrant sales that had been such a feature of the hated Poll Tax. 

Although non-political matters were to bring a shuddering halt to the initial progress and success of the SSP, the party is now in the process of rebuilding across the country and received a significant membership boost following the role it played in the pro-independence ‘YES’ campaign.  In addition, the moderate centre-left SNP Government has embraced policies first advocated by the Scottish Socialist Party, such as scrapping NHS prescription charges.

In England, however, the rightward movement of Labour, started under Kinnock, continued through the brief leadership of John Smith and accelerated at breakneck speed under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.  Today, the Labour Party, with Ed Miliband at the helm, is happy to side with the Tories in acts that will savage the welfare state.  The forward-thinking and caring socialist members of the Labour Party that actually created the safety-net of social security will be spinning in their graves.

By voting for the Tory policy of imposing a cap on total welfare spending (excluding pensions and Jobseekers Allowance), Labour MPs will be complicit in making the poor even poorer.  The respected charity Save the Children has calculated that an extra 345,000 children in the UK will be plunged into poverty over the next four years because of the welfare cap.  That is an additional 345,000 children, on top of those already growing up in households without enough money to make ends meet.

Many families dependent on social security benefits have at least one adult in employment.  Their intense hardship is caused by poverty-level wages and employment practices such as zero-hours contracts, which do not guarantee any hours or pay.  By their actions in backing Tory policies, Labour MPs are prepared to make the lives of those people even harder.  Needless to say, the welfare cap will impact even more on the disabled and the unemployed.

In the House of Commons, asked if a future Labour Government would cap the same benefits and use the same financial numbers as appeared in the Tory Budget, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls replied, “Yes”.

Labour’s movement to the right, snuggling up beside the Tories, has moved the political centre-ground in England to such an extent that the racist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), formerly on the far-right, is now considered by many to be mainstream.  With Labour policy now geared to appeasing the right-wing press in England, there is no chance of the former People’s Party ditching its Tory clothes and re-embracing the principles that saw it established – to provide a parliamentary voice for the working class.

With all of the mainstream UK political parties – Tory, Labour, Lib Dem, UKIP – now crowded onto a small space on the right of the political spectrum, advocating broadly similar right-wing policies, the pretence of democracy is at an end.  People will still vote to elect governments, but when all the parties represent the same Tory policies and values, with only marginal differences, then we have reached a post-democracy elected dictatorship.  If the people have little or no choice – just varying degrees of right-wing parties – then the free-market capitalists and their mouthpieces in the media have managed to undermine the democratic process.

Thankfully, here in Scotland, we do still have choices.  The SNP is a moderate, centre-left, social democratic party: we have the left-leaning Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party.  Even the Labour Party in Scotland could be saved if it embraced independence, seizing the opportunity to break-free from right-wing London control and establish itself as a real ‘Scottish’ Labour Party.

When we entered the polling booth on September 18th to cast our vote at the Independence Referendum, we were asked just one simple question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”  However, what we were actually deciding was whether or not we wanted to put the interests of ordinary men, women and children before those of multi-national corporations, bankers and financial speculators.

Independence would have delivered all the powers we need to build a better, fairer Scotland.  Rejecting independence handed those powers to the right-wing, London-based parties that are united in imposing further hardship on those already struggling to survive in ‘post-democracy’ Britain.

* This is an updated version of an article originally published in March 2014.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Better Together? Really?

If you voted ‘No’ in the Independence Referendum because you wanted to see public spending and services slashed, further attacks on the poor and tax cuts for the rich, then you must be very happy.

On the other hand, if you voted ‘No’ because you believed we are “Better Together” and that Scotland remaining in the British Union would allow us to have “the best of both worlds”, then you might, by now, have realised you were conned.

You could be one of the people who had intended to vote ‘YES’ until you changed your mind when former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a speech promising extensive new powers for the devolved Scottish Parliament and that he would “ensure” those powers were quickly delivered after a ‘No’ vote.  You, also, were conned.

Brown is a backbench Labour MP: he has no authority to promise anything and no power to deliver.  ‘YES’ campaigners pointed-out this major flaw in the ‘Brown saves the Union’ stories that newspapers and broadcasters were only too happy to carry in the days before the referendum.  ‘YES’ campaigners also warned the ‘vow’ of more powers, made by the leaders of the three main British Unionist political parties, would not be fulfilled after a ‘No’ vote.  Throughout the two-year-long referendum campaign, ‘YES’ supporters explained that rejecting independence would hand power back to the Tory-led Government in London, which would result in further austerity and savage cuts impacting most heavily on the already-struggling poor.

What has become absolutely clear since the vote on September 18th, is that Labour’s Gordon Brown did not ‘save the Union’: he simply saved the political career of Tory Prime Minister David Cameron.  Of course, the London-based Unionist party leaders have ignored Gordon Brown’s pre-referendum promise of maximum devolution, which this week saw the Labour MP in the humiliating position of asking Scots to sign a petition calling for the powers he previously said he would “ensure” were delivered.

In the days since the referendum we have seen conferences from the Tories and Labour.  Both reaffirmed their commitment to forcing the poor to pay debts run-up by multi-millionaire bankers and financial speculators in the City of London. 

At the Tory conference, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced his plan to “eliminate the deficit” by partly imposing a further £3bn of cuts to welfare spending.  The Tory faithful cheered and applauded a move that will inflict additional pain on the poorest members of society.

Osborne also announced tax cuts for the rich and the raising of tax allowances, which will benefit the highest earners by four-times as much as the poorest.

The Labour conference tried to portray the party as different to the Tories, their recent partners in the anti-independence campaign, but we know that Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls is committed to retaining austerity measures and Tory spending levels.  In addition, Shadow Secretary for Work & Pensions, Rachel Reeves, a former Bank of England economist, has stated a Labour Government would be tougher on welfare than the Tories.  Ms Reeves told the unemployed, “If you can work you should be working, and under our compulsory jobs guarantee if you refuse that job you forgo your benefits.”  So, Labour would continue to punish the poor for the crimes of the rich, while the unemployed would be forced into destitution if they refuse a job, however inappropriate or unsuitable the offer might be.

Is this really what British Unionists meant by as being “Better Together”?  It’s certainly what a ‘No’ vote has delivered.

Meanwhile, the Tory and Labour conferences made clear that Scots should not hold their breath waiting for the promised ‘significant additional powers’ for the devolved Scottish Parliament.  Labour said they would stick to what they said during the referendum campaign, but, like their ‘star’ performer Gordon Brown, they are not in power and cannot deliver anything.  Of course, Labour tells us they will be in power after next May’s UK Election, but the latest English opinion poll shows the Tories ahead.  So, what is Labour’s ‘Plan B’ for Scottish devolution if they don’t win the Westminster Election and the Tories are returned to power?  Come on, Labour...what is your ‘Plan B’?

For the Tories, the party’s Scottish Leader Ruth Davidson made their post-referendum position perfectly clear when she told conference that devo-max was “a non-starter”.

It’s little more than two-weeks since the referendum, when we were promised more powers and a better life within the British Union, if we just said ‘No’ to independence.  In the short time since, we have already had both the Tories and Labour commit to further austerity alongside cuts to public spending and services.  We’ve seen UK forces join another ‘war’ in Iraq; we’ve seen the London-based UK Government make clear it would overrule the Scottish Parliament to allow potentially dangerous, unwanted and unnecessary fracking in Scotland; we’ve had the UK debt continue to rise, which, of course, increases the amount apportioned to Scotland; we’ve seen an announcement that already inadequate benefits will  be frozen for a further two-years, which represents a real-terms cut when seen against the rate of inflation; we’ve had plans to scrap Human Rights legislation; we’ve had distancing from promises of maximum devolution of powers to Scotland; we’ve had continuing privatisation of the NHS in England, which negatively impacts on funding made available to Scotland through the block grant; and we’ve seen a continued increase in English support for the far-right UK Independence Party. 

So, is this what British Unionists meant by us being “Better Together”?  Again, it’s certainly what a ‘No’ vote has delivered.