Friday, 29 May 2015

The noisy neighbours have arrived

The 56 SNP MPs have caused a bit of a stir in the House of Commons over the past week.

Of course, that is exactly what they are there to do – ensure the rest of the UK hears Scotland’s distinct voice.  However, the two incidents that thrust the MPs onto the front pages of UK newspapers did not relate to any political actions or demands.

What upset London-based editorial writers and political commentators was that SNP members had the temerity to ‘claim’ particular seats in the chamber and, shockingly, they applauded their group leader when he slapped-down a Labour MP who complained about the seats issue.

Are things really so quiet at Westminster that the metropolitan media has to manufacture outrage over such matters?

The SNP is now the third-largest political group in the UK Parliament: it therefore has every right to expect its 56 members are accommodated in accordance with that status.  The media anger over where the SNP sit is not actually about particular seats, it’s about certain right-wing newspapers and broadcasters wishing the SNP – more accurately Scots in general – were not in England’s parliament at all.

Of course, Westminster houses the parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but the reality is that, after the parliamentary union between Scotland and England in 1707, the Scottish Parliament ceased to meet, while the English Parliament in London continued as usual, with some extra Scottish members accommodated as part of the agreement.

Westminster is England’s parliament and, for over 300 years, Scots have been tolerated within its environs, just so long as they kept relatively quiet and knew their subservient place.

The democratic decision of the Scottish people last May 7th changed that arrangement.

No longer is the Scottish contingent mainly comprised of British Unionist MPs whose loyalty is to parties headquartered in London.  In fact, just three of Scotland’s 59 MPs now represent Unionist parties.

It is the democratic wish of Scots that our MPs now put first Scotland’s needs and aspirations: in particular, we elected SNP MPs because we want change, we want things done differently, we want elected members who will not be quiet and will not accept a subservient role at the Palace of Westminster.

Scotland’s MPs are now Scottish rather than British in political outlook, and if that fact ruffles feathers amongst the Westminster elite, then tough.  Which brings us to the second ‘major’ incident of last week – those SNP MPs who clapped their approval instead of braying “hee-ah, hee-ah”, which is the accepted convention in the English Parliament.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, looked fit to burst as he chastised SNP members for their ‘unacceptable’ behaviour.  His outrage at such ‘discourtesy’ by supposedly Honourable Members implied that he was struggling to comprehend how these oiks had been allowed access to the establishment’s seat of power.

Get used to it, Mr Bercow, the SNP is at Westminster to settle-up, not settle-down.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Power, privilege and allegiance

The remarkable success of the Scottish National Party at the UK Election has changed Scottish politics for ever.  In fact, it may be that the reverberations emanating from the political earthquake of May 7th will result in a very different United Kingdom.

Of course, left to the BBC – the official propagandist of the British State – you wouldn’t notice things had changed.

The SNP, with 56 MPs, is now the third-largest political group in the House of Commons.  However, on its first Question Time programme since new MPs were sworn-in (May 21st), it was business as usual for the BBC.  The SNP was not represented on the panel of politicians and pundits, but there was one MP each from the three ‘main’ parties – Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat.   The Lib Dems now have just 8 MPs across the whole of the UK, but the new political reality in Britain does not appear to have registered with the BBC.

Ironically, Question Time, seen as the BBC’s flagship political programme, is listed as being made by BBC Scotland.  The cost of making the programme is taken from BBC Scotland’s funding, even though Scottish towns and cities are rarely used as locations, and even though content often relates to issues that have little relevance to Scotland – the English NHS, UKIP, English education, UKIP, immigration, UKIP, English transport, UKIP.

The three ‘main’ political parties in the UK are now Conservative, Labour and SNP: let’s see how long it takes for the BBC to notice.

Last week’s swearing-in of MPs – including the 56 from the SNP – illustrated, yet again, the deeply undemocratic core of the British State.  Every person democratically-elected by the people to serve in the House of Commons had to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen before being allowed to take their seat.

I’ve experienced that situation myself, because the same procedure applies to the Scottish Parliament.

The swearing-in of MSPs is a classic example of how all-pervading is the influence of the British establishment, and how the monarchy is not the benign entity we are told it is.  Despite being elected to parliament by the people of Scotland, MSPs are required to swear an oath of allegiance to ‘Her Majesty the Queen, her heirs and successors’.  Any MSP who holds republican views and declines to swear the oath of allegiance to an unelected monarch is barred from taking their seat in parliament.

I was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2003 and, like other republican MSPs, I prefaced my oath-taking by stating my allegiance was to the people of Scotland, and therefore I took the oath under protest.  Basically, I let them know I didn’t mean a word of the oath I subsequently took.

Think about that: in a supposed democracy, where candidates have been elected by the people, those newly-elected MSPs would be barred from office if they did not swear allegiance to a London-based monarch who considers the people of Scotland to be her subjects.  There is no debating the point: no oath of allegiance to the Queen (and her hangers-on), no seat in the Scottish Parliament.

The monarchy, and forcing people to swear allegiance to someone and something in which they do not believe, are anachronisms: there is no place for such things in a modern, democratic country.

Of course, not all of the SNP’s 56 MPs would have a problem swearing allegiance to a hereditary monarch.  After all, the SNP is not, and never has been a republican party.

The SNP’s position is that the Queen would remain Head of State in an independent Scotland.  Under current policy, the monarch’s heirs would succeed her in Scotland’s top constitutional role.

However, there is provision within SNP policy for a referendum to be held, at an unspecified time in the future – and if desired by the people – to decide whether or not Scotland should remain a monarchy or become a republic.

Back in 2003, when I was forced to lie and take an oath of allegiance to the Queen, I was part of an SNP Group of 27 MSPs: just 12 of us prefaced our oath-taking with a statement indicating our allegiance was actually not to the Queen but was, instead, to the people of Scotland.

So, does it really matter that our elected representatives are forced to swear an oath of allegiance to an unelected monarch – or to give her the full title she bears, “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith”?

I believe it matters very much.  I despise the elitist idea of monarchy.  I believe there can be no place in a democratic society for an unelected, hereditary Head of State who owes their position of privilege to nothing more than the fact their ancestors were the biggest murdering rogues of their time.

I cannot begin to imagine why one human being would obsequiously bow or curtsy to another, nor why someone would expect others to kowtow to them in such a manner.

In a country where people’s lives are being devastated by unemployment, poverty and deprivation, I believe it is an obscenity that one family, whose members are already multi-millionaires, continue to live extremely cosseted lives funded from the public purse.

I feel no personal ill-will towards Mrs Windsor and her family: I don’t know them, so it would be irrational to have any personal animosity towards them.  However, I can find no logical argument for why I should be forced to contribute financially to the Queen and her family enjoying a lifestyle of privilege, opulence, palaces and worldwide first-class travel.

Actually, lavish public funding of one particular family while hundreds-of-thousands live below the poverty-line is just one aspect of my objection to the concept of hereditary monarchy.  Another is the line we are spun that tells us the Queen and the royal family are simply benign figure-heads.  In fact, the Queen is the pinnacle of a British establishment that comprises a small elite group of faceless bureaucrats, civil servants, senior military personnel and members of the royal household.

It is this British establishment that holds ultimate power across the United Kingdom, and it is this reality that results in those we democratically elect to represent us in the UK and Scottish Parliaments having to swear allegiance, not to us, but to an unelected person living in a palace in London.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

This Thursday, for Scotland's sake, vote SNP

The SNP is more than a political party, it is a national movement.

Even during the ‘wilderness years’ of the 1980s, when Labour had 50 Westminster MPs against just 2 for the SNP, party activists resolutely continued the fight for national self-determination.  SNP members knew exactly what that fight entailed and the ultimate goal.

Labour members wanted their party to replace the Tories as the UK government and to implement some different policies.  Ultimately, though, the goal for Labour activists meant power was retained in London.  Even with devolution, introduced by a Labour Government, the Scottish Parliament was legally enshrined as subservient to the UK Parliament in London. 

The British Labour Party – there is no such thing as the Scottish Labour Party – has always viewed Scots as voting-fodder.  While SNP members fought to deliver to Scotland the power to radically transform Scottish society, Labour Party activists fought to deliver the ‘Scottish vote’ for British Labour.

Today, with Labour facing a near wipe-out in Scotland at the UK Election, sources within the party tell me their English colleagues are exhorting them to get their fingers out and to not let (British) Labour down.  The motivation is not what is best for Scotland, but what the London-run Labour Party requires of Scots.

The SNP, as a national movement, is driven to deliver the best for Scotland.  Not all members agree with every policy, but the ultimate goal is shared – the creation of a sovereign Scottish parliament, which meets the interests of Scots through the implementation of progressive policies that deliver a better, fairer, more successful and caring country.

Last week the leader of the British Labour Party, Ed Miliband, explicitly stated he would prefer to see a Tory Government at Westminster than have his party even just co-operate with the centre-left, social democratic SNP.  For many Scots this was the final betrayal from a party they had supported at election after election.

Part of the reason Labour faces electoral oblivion in Scotland is because the party stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories during last year’s Independence Referendum.  The Tories are toxic in Scotland for very good reason: that Labour was prepared to campaign alongside the party of Thatcher, and was seen to advocate the same position - denying Scots the right to govern themselves in an independent parliament - will never be forgotten or forgiven by many.  Miliband’s confirmation that he would prefer a Tory Government to a Labour one supported by the SNP has made clear to Scots that last year’s partnership with the toxic Tories was not a one-off for Labour.

Over the past week I have seen, first-hand, both SNP and Labour campaigns on the street.  I’ve looked at both sides as objectively as I can.  The ‘national movement’ and ‘fighting for the good of Scotland’ attitude adopted by the SNP continues to produce committed and energetic activists.  Labour, however, appears to have lost its confidence.

Clearly, month after month of opinion polls showing your party is going to lose will inevitably have impacted on Labour activists, but SNP members faced that for years and still got out campaigning and fighting to win. The Labour activists I’ve recently seen seem to be going through the motions, waiting to be put out of their misery on polling day.

Perhaps Scottish Labour activists have realised their party no longer represents what the people of Scotland want?  Campaigning on the side of the Tories and listening to your party leader say he’d prefer to see a Tory Government than a Labour one with SNP support, must surely, at the very least, have raised doubts in the minds of many Labour members.

One incident I witnessed last week saw an elderly man – I would have characterised him as a traditional Labour voter – tell a party campaigner, “Labour cannae win”.

Now, that statement will undoubtedly have been formed, in part, by newspapers reporting opinion polls showing the SNP streaming ahead.  However, once the perception that Labour “cannae win” becomes a person’s reality, then there is no way back for Labour, certainly in the foreseeable future.

I can remember campaigning for the SNP in the 1980s and hearing very similar comments – “I’d like to vote for you, son, but ye cannae win.”  I told the person we would win if they voted for us.  However, it took longer than I would have liked for us to persuade people of that reality.

Back then, Labour had the trust of people in Scotland and the SNP had a tough task to earn that same trust.  Such work was done by party activists in campaign after campaign and by elected SNP councillors, MPs and MSPs.  Today, the SNP forms the government of Scotland, elected with an overall majority in 2011 because the minority administration of 2007 proved itself a success and earned the trust of the people.

The SNP has worked tirelessly to build a national movement that will deliver for Scotland.  Labour, meanwhile, has taken Scots for granted.  The Labour Party in Scotland has worked at delivering the ‘Scottish vote’ for British Labour, instead of putting first the interests of Scots.  For that reason – and the party’s closeness with the Tories – Labour in Scotland faces its worst-ever election result this Thursday (May 7th).

To be frank, Labour has lost the respect and trust of the Scottish people.  The party does not deserve our support.  For campaigning shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories and choosing another Tory Government over a Labour one with SNP support, the Labour Party deserves to be wiped-out north of the border.

At the UK Election the only way Scots can ensure our voice is heard in Westminster’s corridors of power is to send to London as many SNP MPs as possible.

This Thursday, for Scotland’s sake, vote SNP.