Friday, 25 September 2015

The Scottish Radicals

This week in Greenock a memorial-wall was unveiled in the town’s Cathcart Street: it commemorates those who were killed in 1820 by a Militia loyal to the British government.

Eight locals were murdered and a further ten wounded when the Militia opened fire on an unarmed crowd protesting against the arrest of five members of the Scottish Radicals movement.  Later the same night, citizens of Greenock successfully freed the five Radicals from the Militia prison.

Now, if you have done your own reading on Scottish history you will know all about the Scottish Radical Uprising of 1820.  However, in modern Scotland, it is remarkable the number of blank-faces that stare back at you when the radical uprising is mentioned.  Of course, this is the reaction desired by the British establishment: to them, it is better if Scots do not know their own history – particularly where ordinary working-class people rose-up against the ruling elite.  What the 1820 Radical Uprising also shows is how brutal the British government was prepared to be when its authority was challenged. 

I wrote the article, below, in 2012 and it was first published in the Scottish Socialist Voice, as part of the newspaper’s Hidden History series.

To know who we are, we have to know where we came from, we have to know our history.


In what was to be the first tentative steps of a radical socialist movement in Scotland, many Scots came together in workers’ groups to protest against poverty wages and appalling social conditions.  Significantly, from the very beginning of such agitation, that Scotland should break-free from the British Union was identified as a prerequisite to improved wages, conditions and living standards.

Relatively recent revolutions abroad fed into the growth of working class radicalism and a belief that the power of the ruling class could be challenged.  In 1776, America had thrown-off the yolk of British colonialism and dispelled the idea that countries had to be ruled by a monarch.  Likewise, in 1789, the French revolution had shown that an entire system of aristocratic privilege could be overthrown and replaced by a viable republic that put power in the hands of ordinary people.

Buoyed by these events, and the inspirational works of people like Ayrshire poet Robert Burns, Scottish radicals began to organise in pursuit of social and political change.  However, the parliament in London and the pseudo-English ruling aristocracy of Scotland were not prepared to have their power challenged.

As the demands of radicals grew stronger and more vociferous, the British Government introduced new laws that meant individuals or groups advocating reform could be tried for sedition or treason.  As a result, workers’ groups agitating for change tended to meet in secret, but significant support amongst the working class meant that details of meetings were hard to keep quiet and government spies were able to infiltrate organisations.

By 1820 radicals had assembled a Committee for Organising a Provisional Government, which consisted of people elected from within trade unions, and which was tasked with organising and putting in place the social structures for a People’s Republic of Scotland following a planned uprising against the British state.  Unfortunately, during a meeting in March 1820, held at Marshall’s Tavern in the Gallowgate, Glasgow, the committee was betrayed by a government spy and all members – except one man who left the meeting early, a Glasgow Weaver known as John King – were arrested and imprisoned.

Despite such a significant body-blow, the radical movement in Scotland continued to organise and plan for an armed struggle to overthrow the unrepresentative and oppressive government of aristocrats in London.  It seems though that British spies had infiltrated the organisation to such an extent that when an uprising took place, the government knew every detail in advance and were well prepared.  In fact, some historians speculate that forces of the British state were so well informed - as to events and names of radicals taking part - that the ‘uprising’ may actually have been organised by agents provocateurs working to a timescale most suitable to the government.  Certainly, with the leadership committee locked up in jail, it seems the rebellion was initiated by a small group, including John King, the man who escaped arrest on the night the police raided Marshall’s Tavern.

In April 1820, told that he would be met by a 7,000-strong radical ‘army’ on the outskirts of Glasgow, James Wilson, a Weaver, led a group of 23 men from Strathaven to join the uprising to establish a workers’ government in a Scotland once-again independent of England.  Remembered to this day, the banner under which Wilson and the Strathaven radicals marched bore the slogan – ‘Scotland free or a desert’.

But there was no radical army waiting at Glasgow.  Word of the true position reached Wilson and the others, allowing them to escape the British trap and return to Strathaven.  However, government forces had been provided with the names of leading radicals, and Wilson was arrested at his home. 

James Wilson was tried for treason, found guilty and executed in Glasgow on August 30 1820.  Knowing he would receive no justice from the British state, Wilson asked simply that he should be remembered as having acted “in the glorious cause of liberty”.

On the same day that Wilson had set-off from Strathaven, two other groups of radicals were caught in British-inspired traps.  Both groups had been told to meet at Condorrat in Glasgow, from where they were to march to the Carron Iron Works in Falkirk, which at the time was a major manufacturer of weapons.

One group was led by a man called Andrew Hardie, the other by John Baird.  Under the instructions of John King, the man who had left the Marshall’s Tavern meeting before it was raided, the united group began its march towards Falkirk.  King, however, indicated he had to go ahead to bring another group to meet them.  It was the last anyone saw of him, and the only group that subsequently met the radicals was a force of 32 British soldiers who ambushed them at Bonnymuir.  In total, 19 radicals were arrested and imprisoned at Stirling Castle.

Andrew Hardie and John Baird were tried and convicted of treason: both were executed on September 8 1820 at Stirling Castle.

As a lesson to others of like-mind, James Wilson, Andrew Hardie and John Baird were hanged and then beheaded.

Another 19 radicals were sentenced to death, but this was subsequently commuted and they were ‘transported’ to New South Wales in Australia.

Despite the unsuccessful nature of the Scottish radical uprising of 1820, the actions of Wilson, Hardie, Baird and others played a significant part in laying the foundations of Scotland’s socialist and pro-independence movements.

Friday, 11 September 2015

This is why Tony Blair should be in jail

The refugee crisis currently engulfing Europe stems from actions taken 12 years-ago.

In 2003 the United States of America and the United Kingdom invaded and occupied the sovereign state of Iraq.  At the time, we were told this was necessary because Iraq, under its leader Saddam Hussein, was a source of terrorism and had weapons of mass destruction that could be launched against the west, specifically Britain, within 45-minutes.

US President George W Bush directly blamed Iraq for the horrific 2001 terrorist attack that saw two aircraft flown into the twin-towers of the World Trade Center in New York, killing almost 3,000 people.

Marches and protests against US and UK plans to attack Iraq took place around the world on February 15th 2003.  In Glasgow, around 100,000 people marched in opposition to the impending military action.  The march culminated in an anti-war rally outside the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC), timed to coincide with Prime Minister Tony Blair’s address to the conference of the ‘Scottish’ Labour Party.  However, Blair rescheduled his speech to earlier in the day, so that he could be out of Glasgow by the time protesters began arriving at the SECC.

On March 19th 2003, American bombers began the ‘war’ against Iraq by raining-down ‘shock and awe’ on the innocent people of Baghdad.  By the end of the US and UK military occupation of the country, in 2011, an estimated one-million Iraqi women, men and children had been killed.  Hundreds-of-thousands more were left horribly-maimed and injured.

In total, 179 UK armed-services personnel were killed, while American dead numbered almost 4,500.

By the end of the actual bombing and invasion of Iraq, the country was entirely controlled by the United States of America, which embarked on ‘rebuilding’ the infrastructure its own military had “bombed back to the stone-age”.  Multi-million-dollar contracts for the ‘rebuilding’ were awarded mainly to American corporations.  However, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair sought that British companies should also see a cut of the extremely lucrative commercial deals.

Mr Blair appointed a ‘special envoy’ to secure a financial benefit for UK businesses in the process of re-constructing roads, electricity generation, water and sewerage systems, schools, hospitals – all of which British forces had helped to destroy as part of the US invasion.

Blair’s ‘special envoy’ was North Ayrshire & Arran Labour MP Brian Wilson.  In March 2004 Mr Wilson proudly announced that British firm Amec had won a £600-million contract to rebuild the water supply in Iraq, telling UK media, “This is a US-funded contract and I have no doubt that, as funding sources diversify, British companies will play an even bigger part in rebuilding Iraq.”

Just over a year later, in October 2005 - five-months after Wilson stood-down as an MP - he was appointed as a non-executive director of Amec.

The first action of US forces in Iraq was to ‘secure’ the country’s oil fields – the second-largest in the world – and transfer control to American oil corporations.

The UK Parliament had backed Tony Blair’s call for British forces to take-part in the American-led attack and occupation of Iraq.  The SNP, Liberal Democrats and some Labour ‘rebels’ opposed military action, but with Conservatives backing the Labour Government, a parliamentary motion to wage war against Iraq was approved - by 412 votes to 149.

Leading the debate in parliament, Tony Blair argued for war by echoing the claim of George W Bush that Iraq harboured and trained terrorists, including those who hijacked two aircraft and flew them into the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001.

In reality, of the 19 hijackers on ‘9/11’, fifteen were from Saudi Arabia, two were from the United Arab Emirates, and there was one each from Egypt and Lebanon.  The terrorist organisation that claimed responsibility for the attack on New York – al Qaeda – was led by Saudi Arabian Osama bin Laden and had no presence in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, none whatsoever.

Blair (and Bush) also claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which, they said, made it a threat to world safety and stability.  This argument had a basis of truth: Iraq did, indeed, once have military hardware that could be described as weapons of mass destruction.  Tony Blair and George Bush knew this to be true because the weapons had been sold to Saddam Hussein by the UK and US.  However, before the UK Parliament debated the motion proposing war on Iraq, United Nations Weapons Inspectors, who had been allowed unfettered access to the country, confirmed the Hussein regime no longer possessed viable weapons of mass destruction.

Despite this fact, Tony Blair persisted with the lie that Iraq possessed such weapons.  Indeed, the UK Prime Minister went further, telling the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme that all Saddam had to do in order to avoid being attacked by the US and UK was “give up his weapons of mass destruction”.  Blair even said that Saddam could remain in power, without weapons of mass destruction, and could  “have his conventional weapons, he can have his army, he can have his air force, he can have his navy, he can have conventional weaponry of all sorts including tanks and artillery and so on.”  At the time Tony Blair made this statement, he knew Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction.

Another argument put forward by Blair in attempting to persuade the UK Parliament to support his war-mongering was that Iraq had missiles capable of hitting the UK and which could be launched at just 45-minutes notice.  The claim was carried in banner-headlines on front-pages of most English newspapers (including those sold in Scotland), and was seen as a clincher in securing general public support, at the time, for an attack on Iraq.

However, this was another Blair lie: Iraq had no such weapons.

Sir David Omand, Cabinet Office Intelligence and Security Co-ordinator to the Blair Government, subsequently told the Chilcot Enquiry into the Iraq war that the ‘45-minute’ claim had simply been “asking for trouble”.  Omand added that, if the British public had actually been allowed to see the real ‘evidence’ the UK Government had to ‘justify’ their push to war, the people would have asked, “Is that it?”

The ‘9/11’ hijackers had no connection to Iraq.  There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  There were no weapons in Iraq capable of being launched in 45 minutes or of striking at the UK.  So, what was the real reason the United States and the United Kingdom decided to attack Iraq?

In September 2000 – four-months before George Bush was elected as the American president and a full year before the aircraft were flown into the World Trade Center – an organisation called the Project for the New American Century published a document called ‘Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century’.  The document contained a blueprint for an American invasion of Iraq; America was always going to invade Iraq.

The document’s authors included Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Jeb Bush. One of those is the brother of George W Bush and the other three took prominent roles in the Bush Presidential Administration.

The invasion of Iraq was planned before Bush became President.

Tony Blair knew this was the reason for America going into a war in Iraq, but he was still prepared to send young British troops to kill and be killed in an illegal, immoral and imperialist American war. British troops were sent to Iraq for no reason other than to assist America in establishing a military presence in the Middle-East so that the US could organise and govern that area of the world in American interests, not the least of which was gaining control of Iraq’s substantial oil reserves.

As a consequence of the US/UK invasion of Iraq, the world has become a much more dangerous place.  Thanks to the actions of the Tony Blair-led government, Britain has become a target for terrorists.

Hundreds-of-thousands of Iraqi men, women and children were killed in their homes, resulting in young Iraqis being ‘radicalised’ against the invaders and driven into the arms of fanatical organisations.  Al Qaeda had no presence in Iraq prior to the American-led invasion of 2003: by the time US and UK troops left in 2011, the terrorist organisation controlled large parts of the country.

Today, al Qaeda has morphed into the even more deadly Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which seeks to repulse all western invaders from its proclaimed caliphate, which straddles Iraq and Syria.  Without the US/UK invasion of Iraq there would have been no al Qaeda in the country.  There would have been no radicalisation as young Iraqis saw hundreds-of-thousands of their fellow citizens killed, while others were tortured and humiliated in American-run jails.

Without Tony Blair’s lies there would have been no British service personnel involved in an illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.  Without the Iraq ‘war’ there would have been no al Qaeda-controlled parts of the country and no subsequent transformation into ISIL.

Without ISIL and its brutal dictatorship in Iraq and Syria there would be no mass exodus of refugees fleeing those countries, seeking the safety and protection of Europe.

This is why Tony Blair should be in jail.  The former UK Prime Minister is a lying war-monger whose hands will forever be stained with the blood of hundreds-of-thousands, including 147 young British service personnel sent to die for the profits of American corporations.

Of course, Blair currently is not in jail.  Instead, an English newspaper this year reported the former Labour MP has amassed a personal fortune of around £60-million since standing-down from the UK Parliament.  The same report revealed Blair also owns 10 properties, including a £7.5-million Grade II listed townhouse close to Hyde Park in London, a £1.7-million mews house also in London, and an £8-million Grade I-listed 17th century manor house in the country.