Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Scottish Labour's SNP/Tory Big Lie

The Third Parliament was an exercise in democracy which had never before been tried in Scotland, and only very rarely in any other western democracy. Minority governments are inherently unstable in a Westminster-style system: the last time it was tried in the United Kingdom, four decades ago, it lasted a mere seven months before the prime minister went back to the country to seek an extended mandate, which he achieved - a majority of three - before that, too, was whittled away as a result of deaths, resignations, and the failure of the confidence and supply agreement between the Liberal Party and Labour known as the Lib/Lab Pact.

John Major ran a similar minority government between 1996 and 1997: when he went back to the country to seek a renewed mandate, the electorate's answer to the old Tory question who governs Britain? was 'not you, matey'. 

The failure of the Lib/Lab Pact led directly to Liberal MPs voting en bloc in favour of a No Confidence motion, brought by the Opposition leader, Margaret Thatcher. The SNP MPs voted against the government that night, which fell by a single vote. Had Labour MP Alfred Broughton voted with the Labour government, Jim Callaghan would have been saved by the Speaker's casting vote. 

The fall of Callaghan's minority government was followed by a mandatory General Election in May 1979 instead of the scheduled election, which had to be called an absolute maximum of 160 days later. 

In the schizophrenic and often borderline-psychotic world of Scottish Labour, the SNP voting against Callaghan's minority government has been transformed into 'the SNP voted to bring in Thatcher'. 

Of course, it did nothing of the sort. Not only the SNP, but Parliament as a whole had no confidence in Callaghan's government, which had taken over halfway through Harold Wilson's term without asking the permission of the country. Indeed, Callaghan barely had any confidence in his own premiership, telling his Cabinet 'if I was a young man, I should emigrate'. Even the Labour Party had no confidence in Callaghan as prime minister: he was elected leader despite coming second in the first ballot, with only 26,8% of Labour MPs voting for him to be prime minister.

Callaghan had lost the support of the left some time before, massively cutting public spending and laying the groundwork for Thatcher's monetarist policies and, of course, the trade unions also lost confidence in his premiership as he forced them into the Winter of Discontent, frankly admitting in later years 'I let the country down'. Callaghan himself admitted that he himself had caused his downfall by shying away from calling an election in 1978, which was to have echoes three decades later when Gordon Brown - a similarly unelected prime minister - also shat it before losing in spectacular fashion the next year. 

However, in the tortured, crazed weirdness of the Scottish Labour Party, none of this matters. In their fevered minds, the complex web of events which led to the collapse of the government was down to one single thing: the SNP brought down a Labour government and gave us Thatcher.

Certainly, if the SNP had voted with the government - a government, incidentally, which had just overturned the result of a Yes vote in the devolution referendum months earlier in favour of retaining direct rule from London - Callaghan would have survived for another few weeks. That's not in doubt. But Labour mythologise this into a lunatic dolchstoßlegende in which Alex Salmond, cackling maniacally as he stroked a white cat on his lap, personally defenestrated a Labour prime minister and equally personally installed Margaret Thatcher in Number 10.

This is nonsense, of course. As I show above, at the very most, the SNP voting alongside the government would have caused the election to have been delayed for 160 days at the latest, giving another 130 days of a Labour government. It is almost certain that it would not have lasted that long. 

But Labour want the SNP to be the Tories' little helpers. In a way, they need them to be the Tories' little helpers. Perhaps it helps them to black out the taint to their party of their lengthy partnership with the Tories and their three-year campaign for the principle that the Conservative Party has the right to rule Scotland even if Scotland elects no Tory MPs.

Labour then use the second part of their fantasy - a very recently invented tale that the SNP was in coalition with the Tories during the Third Parliament. 

This would be news to the Tories, who in fact voted more often with Labour in the Third Parliament than they did with the government, including when the Unionist parties united to force the disastrous Edinburgh Trams project through despite the opposition of the government. How many nurses and teachers could have been funded for the money Labour and the Tories coalesced to waste?

It is the stench of their collaboration with the Tories which force Labour to do this: put simply, they are rightly ashamed of what they did. They are ashamed that Scottish Labour councils were the most enthusiastic of all when it came to implementing Thatcher's hated Poll Tax, and that Scottish Labour councils were the most enthusiastic of all when it came to implementing Cameron's hated Bedroom Tax. It was Labour councils who got their thugs to kick down the doors of those who refused to pay the Poll Tax and sold families' property on the street. It was Labour councils who evicted Bedroom Tax victims with sheer glee. 

It is the Labour Party who are in coalition with their Tory friends in a quarter of all Scottish councils. It is the Labour Party who have spent 13% of their entire time in government in Westminster in coalition with their Tory friends. 

All one needs to do is look at the parties. Any of you who have ever been to a referendum or election count will know that the shiny, suited and booted, middle-class Labour and Tory activists are distinguishable from each other only by the colours of their rosettes. Nobody who attended a referendum count will forget the sight of those suited, well-fed, rosy-cheeked, exclusively middle-class Labour and Tory activists hugging each other with delight. They fit in well together. They campaigned together. They have been hand-in-glove for so long, with Labour doing the bidding of the Tories, that they have become mirror images of each other. 

Scottish Labour needs to tell their Big Lie because they simply can't face up to the truth: that since Thatcher took over as prime minister, Labour councils did her bidding, Labour MSPs vote with Tory MSPs 90% of the time, and Labour activists happily collected data during the referendum to be handed over to the Tories for the purposes of winning Tory councillors, MPs and MSPs at election time. 

Labour need to accuse the SNP of being Tartan Tories because they just can't face up to the truth: it's Labour who are the Tartan Tories. 

There are 127 days until the next General Election. Three days less than the maximum lifetime of Jim Callaghan's government if it hadn't collapsed. It's not a long time, is it?

Yet Jim Murphy, the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, has consistently refused to rule out Scottish Labour MPs going into a Grand Coalition with the Tories again. The SNP has explicitly ruled out a deal with the Tories. That Labour refuses to signals that the real Tartan Tories - the Labour Party - are preparing to be the same Tory lapdogs they've always been.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

We're not the Socialist wing of the SNP - stop asking us to be

One of the more disturbing factors about the astonishing rise of the Scottish National Party since the independence referendum has been the tangible intolerance of a minority of their more zealous recruits. 

This has been manifested mainly in the apparent belief of some of them that the Scottish Socialist Party is a plaything of the SNP, and should behave accordingly. 

Part of my duties within the SSP is to help operate the Party's social media accounts, and we have experienced a barrage of tweets from some SNP supporters demanding that we withdraw from the general election in favour of a party with which we share almost no common ground on the basis that we share some of their views on the constitution.

One such tweet, received on St Stephen's night, read thusly:

will u ask ur members to vote in GE for the good of Scotland

Naturally, I replied in the negative. Actually, we are rather hoping that members of the Scottish Socialist Party will vote for the Scottish Socialist Party in the General Election.

When the SSP said we would stand in the General Election, as we have in every General Election and Holyrood Election since our foundation, there were shrieks of outrage from a minority of SNP supporters. Dark threats were made of withdrawal of support, with one particular genius saying ''I never vote SSP anyway and will not be giving you my second vote in 2016 if you don't step down from the General Election''. I'm unsure about how to go about rebuilding the party from this shattering electoral blow.

At this stage, I ought to point out that this is not coming from any SNP candidates, leadership, hierarchy or even activists, at least the latter not to any great extent. It seems to be coming from some of those who have barely chapped a door or done a street stall for the SNP, but seem to have lost the run of themselves during the referendum and now see themselves as a sort of tartan Che Guevara.

And I must say that it's interesting that those who accuse us of ''splitting the Yes vote'' always seem to direct their ire at the SSP - they never seem to be outraged at the SNP for standing in every constituency, nor at the Greens for standing. 

These people fundamentally misunderstand politics. 

The Independence Referendum was - and there's a clue in the name - a referendum. The General Election is - and there's again a handy hint in the name - an election. There is no Yes vote in the General Election. 

During the referendum, we worked very closely with our SNP and Green partners. During the referendum. But we don't agree with each other on day-to-day politics, certainly not to the extent that Labour and the Conservatives have, almost morphing into mirror images of one another. And even at that: when the SSP put the best interests of our party to the side and called for a Yes slate of candidates for the General Election, the SNP and Greens both refused!

I don't criticise the SNP for refusing - with 90.000 new members and looking likely to win most constituencies, they're sensible to be selfish. But their zealous new fans should consider this, and look closer to home when whining about Yes unity. 

Secondly, why should we support SNP candidates in the General Election? We're not the SNP. If we agreed with the SNP's manifesto, we'd all go and join them. We are the SSP. We believe in the full, immediate implementation of socialism in Scotland. 

We believe in a republic, where the SNP is monarchist. We believe in a Scottish currency, the SNP believe in using the Pound Sterling. We wish to withdraw from Nato, the SNP is pro-Nato. We don't believe in criminalising working-class soccer fans; the SNP think that's a jolly good wheeze. We support free public transport, the SNP don't. On a multitude of issues, we disagree with the SNP. That is the point of political parties. And that is why we have elections. 

Our aim is socialism, not independence for the sake of it. If we believed in independence for the sake of it, we'd be nationalists, not socialists. We believe in independence because it is the only way to build real socialist policies in Scotland. 

Do I want to see the Labour Party smashed to smithereens in Scotland? Yes - a thousand times yes. But it's not just the SNP hoping to win over disaffected Labour supporters to - we're hoping to sweep up some ex-Labour voters. And the discerning observer might recognise that in a marginal constituency, some Labour voters disgusted with the New Labour takeover of the party will be far more inclined to vote SSP than SNP. Indeed, our understanding is that our votes are likely to come disproportionately from Labour voters rather than SNP voters. 

We are a small party and we do not expect a great deal of success in a General Election where the system is stacked against us. But argue against us on the basis of our policies. Talk about our proposed ten pounds per hour minimum wage. Debate with us our policy of free school meals for all children. Discuss our plans for a publicly-owned Scottish Pharmaceutical Corporation to manufacture generic medicines for the NHS and to provide drugs to developing countries at cost price. Have a look at our manifesto. If you think it's pish, don't vote for us. If you think the SNP's is better, vote for them. If you think Labour's is better yet, vote for them. 

But don't tell us that we have no right to put our policies to the people at a General Election. Not the right, even: it's more than that. As Scotland's Socialist Movement, we have a duty to provide a socialist alternative to the austerity policies and cuts agenda proposed, to a greater or lesser extent, by all of the main capitalist parties, including our SNP colleagues. 

And I'll just end on this note: not only us, but the SNP, spent much of the referendum trying to drum it into voters that the Yes campaign, independence itself, wasn't just about the SNP. To then turn around less than a hundred days after the referendum and demand that we stand down from a General Election because independence is all about the SNP shows a breathtaking hypocrisy and a ludicrous sense of entitlement. 

The SNP leadership is sensible and pragmatic. I've met most of them over the years. They're nice - I've a lot of time for them. There have been no shrill demands from Jackson's Entry that we sign our party over to them - and even if we did, we don't own our voters and supporters; there's no guarantee that our act of electoral suicide would benefit the SNP in any way - and they appreciate that the Yes campaign is a multi-party effort and the next Yes campaign will also be a multi-party effort. They also appreciate, as we do, that whilst we share a desire for independence, it is over for the time being. We cannot have Scotland on pause, regardless of the shrieks coming from the zealots and extremists. 

The Scottish Socialist Party is the left wing of the Independence Movement, not the left wing of the SNP. Stop asking us to be the latter: it's never going to happen.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Why Labour Lose

I was going to write a piece comparing the outcome of the Independence Referendum and the resulting, spectacular, demise of the 'Scottish' Labour Party in its aftermath. 

My plan was to find constitutional referenda in the European Union which were close, and which resulted in the 'winning' side being obliterated at the subsequent election, and to perhaps assess, using these data, how long it might take the 'Scottish' Labour Party (Address: One Brewer's Green, London, S.W.1 - one does rather hope they don't go home for lunch) to recover from their disastrous coalition with the Conservative Party and UKIP.

The four criteria I set upon to reflect Scotland's referendum were simple: 

i) The referendum and subsequent election must take place within a democratic framework - so, for instance, I rejected the use of the Greek Constitutional Referendum of 1968 held by a military regime, which was ratified by a pragmatic, sensible and not-at-all scared 92,1% of the electorate.

ii) The referendum had to be close (are you a Scottish newspaper? Then, for 'close', read 'bitter and divisive, and continue for a thousand words about how political debate threatening the established order is evil and negative), ideally around the 10% gap produced by the Scottish electorate in September. Thus, e.g., I rejected the Icelandic referendum of 2010 which was rejected by 98,1% of the voters.

iii) The referendum had to occur in the modern era to reflect the particular circumstances in which modern Scotland finds its campaigning: the collapse of trust in newspapers and the broadcast media and the huge rise in importance of social media in modern campaigning meant, alas, that regardless of how fascinating the Norwegian Constitutional Referendum of 1905 was, it would not fall within my remit. 

iv) The referendum had to be called by the government of the day, and had to be defeated by either a single opposition party or a coalition of opposition parties - so Bulgaria's referendum last year on nuclear power, called by the opposition Socialist Party, didn't count in my calculations.

Thus armed with my frame of reference, I set out to find out when 'Scottish' Labour (Brewer's etc. etc.)  could possible expect to recover. 

And guess what - I couldn't. 

I actually had to switch the goalposts - not, perhaps, to the musteline extent which so distressed Owen Patterson - to produce a result.

There is a surprising lack of results even so: there was not a single constitutional referendum in modern Europe in which the main/nominal centre-left party supported a right-wing government in a closely-contested referendum campaign, won, and went on to form the government after the next election.

Results which don't quite fit the criteria but are still notable in our context:
  • In Finland in 1994, a vote on membership of the EU was won by 56,9% to 43,1% by the Governing Centre Party, who were promptly reduced to less than 20% of the vote at the subsequent election, losing power to a Social Democratic Party achieving the best result of any political party in Finland. 

  • The French UMP (conservative) government held a referendum in 2005 on the European Constitution which was defeated by 55% to 45%. Notably, the opposition Socialist Party held an internal referendum to decide its stance on the referendum (the Oui side was fronted by a future President, the Non side by a former Prime Minister).It is for history to decide if such a process would have avoided the exodus of members from Labour in light of the campaign in Scotland, but my feeling is that the resentment felt against the leadership of the 'Scottish party' internally at what amounts to a constitutional coup without reference to the membership cannot do other than cause ill-feeling within Labour. While this sort-of fits the criteria as a the main opposition party supporting the sovereign government on a constitutional referendum, it rather falls down as the political-class coalition was defeated. There wasn't a situation where one party was seen to be grudgingly whipping its voters along to a result they didn't particularly want, as there is now in Scotland.

  • It is a great Irish tradition to hold a constitutional referendum every third Tuesday. For our purposes, the referendum on the 30th Amendment (on the Fiscal Pact), which was passed in 2012 by 60,4% against 39,6%, is the closest to ours, albeit not in importance. Despite the scale of the victory - which still doesn't come close to the 2:1 margin the No parties in Scotland often claim they won by - the party proponents of a No vote  - all of which may be described as the establishment parties (c.f. in Scotland, the Westminster Parties) - have seen their support dwindle in the opinion polls, whilst the left-wing parties which opposed it have enjoyed unprecedented rises in support. 

  • The Danish euro referendum in 2000 saw Yes (to EMU) defeated by 46,8% to 53,2%. The far-left supported and won a No vote. In the subsequent election, the Social Democrats were swept from power, having shared a referendum platform with the Conservatives and Liberals. 


In Scotland, the Labour Party is suffering because it is in a position unique in Europe. Politically, it was of major importance in Scotland, whilst constitutionally, it is now barely of any importance at all. Labour is neither in Government in Holyrood nor Westminster, whilst in the latter it does not even enjoy the position of the second most-important party, which is the junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats.

News of Labour's poll ratings in Scotland
reaches Clive The Dug
There are no Labour ministers in the Cabinet, nor in the Westminster Government. Not even a European Commissioner to provide a modicum of relevance. It appears unlikely that Labour will ever be in government in Scotland after the 2016 elections, such is the Fianna Fáilisation of the party, and it is a near certainty that they will never be a single-party majority government, either in Holyrood or Westminster. The very best-case scenario for Labour in Scotland, therefore, is that they are out of power from 2007 to - at the very least - 2020, and much more likely 2025. A party which has no chance of power for the best part of 20 years is a party which has little chance of survival - and given that it looks increasingly likely that independence has been deferred, not defeated, Labour may only be nearing its cycle of irrelevance in 2025, in a Scotland which has become independent and in which Labour is seen as something of a national enemy, perhaps analogous to the Latvian Russian Union. 

It is a loud voice in Scottish politics, but one of no legislative relevance. Its most senior elected representative in Scotland is the leader of the Labour group on Glasgow City Council. It found itself campaigning on the side of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition government; on the side of the CBI, the BBC, the USA and the BNP. 

Where in the 2011 Scottish election and the 2010 election in Scotland they were fishing in a pool of a broadly centre-left electorate (i.e. the entire electorate minus the 10-20% of Conservatives), there are now 45% of the Scottish electorate which will not countenance - ever - voting for the Labour Party under any circumstances, the vast majority of whom are in what used to be Labour heartlands in Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Dundee. They now have a pool of voters of only 55% - but still excluding that 10-20% of voters who are committed Conservatives who would not under any circumstances vote Labour. 

Thus, within four years they have gone from knowing if they got a majority of the 80% of the Scottish electorate who might consider voting for them that they would probably be in power to realising suddenly that they have to win almost all of a vastly-shrunken pool of between 35-45% of the electorate to have any chance of being in government.

It's no surprise that the charmless Jim Murphy is writing in the Daily Mail - a pro-Apartheid, Tory newspaper - demanding that the Scottish electorate puts all this nonsense about the referendum behind us and gets back to voting Labour. 

Make no mistake about it - the referendum and its aftermath has rattled the British political class to an extent to which they have never been rattled before. They are out of their comfort zone and they don't know how to react. That's why Gordon Brown wants to 'reset Scottish politics' to a time before Labour became anathema to half the population; why Murphy wants us all to forget Labour's three-year campaign for the right of the Conservative Party to govern Scotland regardless of the fact we consistently reject the Tories. 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Scotland rejoices at Powerhouse Parliament

The following is the result of the Smith Commission to 'strengthen' the Scottish Parliament

*Scotland is forbidden from setting a National Minimum Wage
*Scotland is forbidden from setting Inheritance Tax 
*Scotland is forbidden from taxing oil and gas revenue
*Scotland is forbidden from changing taxes on fuel
*Scotland is forbidden from tax incentivisation for clinical research
*Scotland is forbidden from changing duty on tobacco
*Scotland is forbidden from changing duty on alcohol
*Scotland is forbidden from changing more than 30% of its taxes
*Scotland is forbidden from varying Statutory Sick Pay
*Scotland is forbidden from changing the Equality Act
*Scotland receives no extra money from VAT
*Scotland is forbidden from setting Guardian's Allowance
*Scotland is forbidden from setting National Insurance
*Scotland is forbidden from exploring a foreign policy
*Scotland is forbidden from changing the JobCentre network
*Scotland is forbidden from setting Statutory Maternity Pay
*Scotland is forbidden from changing more than 15% of its Welfare powers
*There is a 1960s northern Ireland-style Unionist Veto on electoral reform
*Scotland is forbidden from holding constitutional referendums
*Scotland is forbidden from setting a state pension
*Scotland is forbidden from setting Child Benefit rates
*Scotland is forbidden from changing Universal Credit
*Scotland is forbidden from removing Weapons of Mass Destruction
*Scotland is forbidden from changing the Income Tax allowance
*Scotland is forbidden from renationalising public transport
*Scotland is forbidden from abolishing Labour's Bedroom Tax
*Scotland is forbidden from setting a Bereavement Allowance
*Scotland is forbidden from extricating Housing Benefit from UC
*Scotland is forbidden from receiving revenue from savings and dividends

Monday, 17 November 2014

Last Orders for Socialism in Labour

It’s hard to believe it was only a few short weeks ago that Scottish Labour activists fondly laboured under the misapprehension that the Better Together campaign was one which had as its focus Scotland and the United Kingdom. The events of the past month have shown that Better Together doesn’t refer exclusively to nations, but also to political parties: namely coupling Labour’s vote in Scotland to the ideology of the Conservative Party.

Johann Lamont’s humiliating resignation as branch manager was something which, predictably for a machine politician with the vision and foresight of a particularly myopic cnidarian, she had failed to envisage. But make no mistake about this: Jim Murphy had secured the Scottish Labour Party leadership vacancy before poor Johann had the faintest idea that she was to be resigned. Better Together – funded and staffed until the end of 2014 (in comparison, Yes Scotland closed on 19th September) – staffers including Blair McDougall and Robert Shorthouse are running the Murphy campaign, and even the booking for the launch of his campaign was made under Better Together’s name.

A right-wing coup of an eviscerated Scottish Labour Party, governing a Scotland nestled smugly in the muscular arms of a Conservative-dominated United Kingdom was always the guiding goal of the Better Together campaign. It is no coincidence that the campaign was dominated by New Labour (or, if you prefer, Red Tory) figures such as McDougall, previously notable only for writing a series of letters to Scottish newspapers in 2003 demanding that his namesake Tony be allowed to bomb the civilians of Iraq in an illegal, genocidal war, to which the roots of today’s Scottish Labour collapse can be directly traced. Better Together failed to attract real Labour figures such as Denis Canavan or Henry McLeish, who either jumped ship to the Yes side with Scotland’s socialist movement, or stayed clear of the official No campaign whilst still supporting the union.

It is in this Better Together milieu of Red Tories and actual Tories that Jim Murphy found his political home. Murphy – notable for being educated at the same whites-only school in Apartheid-era South Africa which also produced Apartheid’s feared chemical weapon chief, Wouter Basson – was instantly at home in a middle-class, right-wing, neo-liberal setting: not surprising for a man who has close links with right-wing Israelis, and the extreme right US group the Henry Jackson Society.

Labour members should go into this leadership election with their eyes wide open: it has already been decided. Jim Murphy would not be giving up his seat in the Shadow Cabinet if he didn’t believe this. His campaign – lauded to the heavens by the Daily Record and Daily Mail (both of which are home to his undeclared running-mate Kezia Dugdale) - is reminiscent of the Better Together campaign itself: it’s Murphy who gets the first item on the news with the other two candidates lucky to get a response. Murphy’s campaign which controls the news agenda.

This is the last chance for socialism to prevail in the Scottish Labour Party, and it seems it has already been lost. Whilst decent Labour members have already fled during the period of Blairism and New Labour (many to the SSP), some remain, desperately trying to bring the party back to socialism. This cannot happen if Jim Murphy is in charge – which is why those who funded and supported the Better Together campaign have redirected their attentions to Murphy: including a donation of no less than £10,000 to Murphy’s leadership campaign from Conservative Party donor Alan M Sharr. Hear that dinging sound? It’s the penny dropping for the Scottish Labour activists duped into campaigning with the Tory-funded Better Together campaign that the concept of Labour and Tory being Better Together didn’t end with the referendum.

The Better Together campaign was desperate to prevent a fair, modern, redistributive Scotland. It was staffed and funded by a right-wing political elite from the halls of Westminster, from the right wing of the Labour Party and from the Conservative Party.
They did not give their time and money to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom to then see the Scottish Labour Party turn back to socialism. That is why they are now fighting for their man, the conservative candidate, Jim Murphy, to take control of the party. And that is why the socialists in Scottish Labour should be scared: for this is their last chance.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

It's all about talent

There's some debate about whether the present crisis engulfing the Labour Party in Scotland is a product of a lack of political talent in the serried ranks of red Tories. 

Labour say this is nonsense, that their production line of charm and intelligence has never yet failed them: why, just look at James Kelly!

I would shy from offering an opinion on the matter, but would perhaps find it instructive to reflect on Labour's first Holyrood frontbench and last month's one. Some positions have changed names and responsibilities, for example, 'Children and Education' is now 'Education'. Other positions were filled by Liberal Democrats in 1999.

Leader of the Labour group:
Then Donald Dewar
Now Johann Lamont

Then n/a
Now Graeme Pearson

Then Sam Galbraith
Now Daily Mail columnist Kezia Dugdale

Local Government:
Then Wendy Alexander
Now Sarah Boyack

Enterprise and Lifelong Learning:
Then Henry McLeish
Now Daily Mail columnist Kezia Dugdale

Then Jack McConnell
Now Iain Gray

Then Susan Deacon
Now Neil Findlay

Chief Whip:
Then Tom McCabe
Now Lewis MacDonald

Rural Affairs:
Then n/a
Now Claire Baker

Then Sarah Boyack
Now James Kelly

Is there a single position in which they are stronger now than they were then, and I include the positions which were vacant then in my question?

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Labour in crisis: but surely even they wouldn't be stupid enough....

Nothing became Johann Lamont quite like the manner of the humiliating departure which has plunged what remains into the Labour Party into not just a crisis, but a desperate struggle for its very existence.
Demitting office with howls of bilious invective, spite-filled attacks on her political opponents, and a sense that she was dancing on the very margins of reality, the Glasgow Pollok MSP left office comporting herself in much the same self-pitying, self-entitled manner in which she spent her entire time in the position.
However, it would not be inaccurate to say that there is no sense of pity abroad for Lamont. Psychologists say that it is easier to tell the truth than a lie: recall is simpler than invention. All those times Lamont came on television, was asked what she thought of, for instance, the Bedroom Tax, or Trident, and was entirely unable to articulate her own viewpoints on such questions, she came across as a complete dolt with no ability to think on the spot. And whilst that certainly is true (her cringeworthy performances at First Minister’s Questions spring to mind, where – presented with a script by her intrepid adviser Paul Sinclair – she doggedly followed it even where it was clear events had deviated from the hitherto-forseen sequence), it is also clear that her performances were borne out of an instruction from her bosses – yes, it appears that the “undisputed leader of the entire Scottish Labour Party, including Westminster MPs” has bosses – that she must not tack to the Left of London Labour before they had decided what her beliefs are.
The upshot of her departure, which – hilariously – she attributes to London Labour having too much control over their neighbours in Scotland (surely it is best that Scottish Labour pool and share their resources with the big boys and give up lots of sovereignty?) is that Labour is in crisis.
Not crisis as in when a Minister is forced to resign. Not crisis as in when they suffer mild disappointment in a by-election. Not even the normal sort of reasonably enjoyable crisis caused by the departure of a leader, or a “leader”, but an existential crisis: Labour is now fighting for its very existence, racked by civil war on a multitude of fronts.
Political history is littered with “natural parties of government” which no longer exist, or have been shattered into irrelevance. In Italy, the Christian Democrats dominated Italian politics from their inception at the end of the war until the party quite suddenly ceased to exist in 1994. A series of corruption scandals and heavy defeats in provincial and local elections coupled with a public perception that the party had lost touch with its electorate through a sense of entitlement (sound familiar?) led its remaining members to close the party down.
In Canada, there is an even more spectacular example. The Progressive Conservatives, which traces its history back to 1867 when it became the first party government of Canada and governed the country for forty of its first seventy years of existence. Virulently anti-Québec and identified with British imperialism and a closeness to the United States of America,(sound familiar?) it went from being in government to being the fifth largest party in the Commons, with only two seats. It never recovered, and closed down in 2003.
A similar example can be found in Ireland where in 2011, the Green Party went from being the junior party of the coalition government to being swept out of the Oireachtas, losing every seat in the Dáil and failing to receive any nominations to the Seanad. This may not be a direct example to the Scottish Labour Party, but to another pro-Westminster political party. However, a far more interesting Hibernian example, for Labour supporters, can be found in the shape of the once-mighty Fianna Fáil party. Founded by Éamon de Valera in 1926 as a spin-off from Sinn Féin, it formed its first government in the general election six years later. For the next 79 years, FF was in power for 61 of them. It was a mighty behemoth: “the government” was as synonymous with FF as “the Prime Minister” was with Harold Wilson for 1960s and 70s children. In the 2011 election, it suffered the worst defeat of any government in the history of the Irish state, losing 75% of its electorate along the way. FF was seen as a “big tent” party, and surveys and opinion polls consistently point to an electorate completely unable to distinguish between the Soldiers of Destiny and their perennial rivals for power, Fine Gael. It was considered to have lost touch with the electorate and have too obvious a sense of entitlement, and was punished by the electorate, losing three-quarters of its seats in the Dáil. Interestingly, once the electorate got the hang of kicking FF, they seemed to rather enjoy the experience, and continued to do it: at the recent European Parliament election, they managed to gain only one of Ireland’s 11 MEPs*. In the last Presidential Election, not only were they not able to field a candidate, but the mere suggestion that the independent candidate who was the favourite until the last week of the campaign had links to FF torpedoed his campaign, such is their unpopularity.
And so, from the Soldiers of Destiny to the Soldiers of Density. It would be crude, and it would be uncharitable, and it would be boorish to maintain that the Scottish Labour group of MSPs is the stupidest, lackwitted gang of dullards ever to have sat in a parliament in Scotland, and perhaps in the whole of western Europe. But it’s still true, nonetheless. Their caucus is a veritable Who’s That? of Scottish politics. From over-promoted councillors who accidentally found themselves in Parliament because of the collapse of support for Labour in constituencies up and down the country (hi, Hanzala!), to scabs whose commitment to the socialist cause goes as far as contributing articles to your actual Daily fucking Mail (hi, Scabdale!), to the children of Tory peers (hi, Claudia!), double-jobbers (hi, Cara!), political failures (hi, Iain! Hi, Johann!), privately-educated millionaires (hi, Jackie!) and those whose political careers owe nothing to talent and all to the nepotism which has so destroyed the Labour Party (hi, Paul! Hi, Siobhan), the Labour benches are a talent-vacuum upon which one cannot find a single figure who you’d trust to run a ménage, never mind a country. Or, indeed, a region.
So with the party suffering the complete surprise of realising that when you try to send your second-string to Holyrood, and they all lose their seats, the third team aren’t very good. And when you’re looking at people like Drew Smith and Mark Griffin and wondering whether they might be the sorts of chaps who can persuade people in the west of Scotland who have ditched the Labour Party because they see them as political sell-outs who, instead of fighting for working people attract only middle-class politics graduates in suits who have never had real jobs, one can see their problem.
They need, therefore, to look elsewhere. And with the highest-profile Labour councillor being Gordon Matheson, it’s not going to be to local Labour. To Westminster then (where the Deputy Leader and Shadow Scottish Secretary sit already) for talent. And a quick scan of the benches reveals people awaiting trial for assaulting a child for wanting independence (hi, Michael!), the man who is so collegiate and unifying that he rejected negotiations on a “Progressive Coalition” because he hated the SNP so much he wanted a Tory government instead (hi, Gordon!), a woman who refused to vote against the Bedroom Tax because she thought it more important to get pished in Vienna (hi, Pamela!), and a millionaire whose daddy bought his seat and who sends his kids to private school lest they come into contact with working-class kids (you already know who we’re waving to with that one).
The only MP who wants the job and is remotely credible is Apartheid Jim Murphy. And this is a problem for Labour for a few reasons.
Murphy sits in Westminster. Given their two most senior folk already sit there, another one there wouldn’t really show that Labour is committed to Holyrood and takes it seriously, as Lamont spat (failing, incidentally, to recognise the only reason she’s at Holyrood is because Labour don’t take it seriously). So Murphy needs a seat in Holyrood. The only problem there is that there isn’t such a thing as a safe Labour seat in Holyrood – their largest majority is just over 3.000 and it isn’t difficult to see the circumstances under which Murphy could face such concerted opposition in Eastwood (the most likely seat in which he’d stand, given it mirrors his seat in East Renfrewshire and of which the current occupant is his familiar, one Ken Macintosh) that he would lose the seat in a Patrick Gordon-Walker style scenario. This would leave the Labour Party leaderless over Christmas for a new election, probably into February. Not the best preparation for a May general election, the first since standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories against the working class and being soundly beaten in Labour heartlands across the west and central Scotland.
Other Murphy problems are more related to him as a person. For instance, it is generally acknowledged that the event which finally pushed Labour into their current condition was the Iraq War, which aftermath was partly responsible for its shattering defeat to the SNP in 2007, and failure to repent for its even more shattering defeat in 2011.
But Jim Murphy loves war. He was a cheerleader for the Iraq War. Did he know the British government’s “evidence” was a lie? I would suggest he ought to have done. He is a fanatical Zionist, who is a member of the shadowy “Labour Friends of Israel” group, through which he has developed some very worrying far-right friends in the United States of America.
And, of course, his past is shrouded in controversy. When his family chose to move to Apartheid South Africa in order to benefit from the racially-discriminatory system, condemned by the UN decades previously, he chose, as an adult, to remain at a private, whites-only school which banned black children from enrolling. His school was so extreme that it also produced Wouter Bassoon, the pro-Apartheid extremist who spent his career working at the head of a team developing chemical weapons for the Apartheid regime.
Murphy was so “distressed” by these experiences that, as he admitted at a raucous meeting in Shawlands during the referendum campaign, he took up arms and joined PW Botha’s South African Defence Forces in defence of the Apartheid system.
A Zionist ideologue with a dodgy past. A war criminal. An expenses fraudster. A millionaire with shadowy US links.
It’s just like Blair all over again. Let’s hope he gets it. A Murphy leadership of Labour would be the political version of Dignitas for them. This is Scotland’s chance to rid ourselves of an organisation which has been a malignant cancer upon the soul of Scottish society for a generation. An organisation which no longer reflects or looks like the working people of Scotland but is distinguishable only in terms of degree, not ideology, from the Tory friends they spent so long in coalition with against the people of Scotland. An organisation which is no longer wanted, or relevant.
In the first Parliament election, in 1999, Labour got 908.932 votes in the constituencies of Scotland. In 2011, that was down to 630.461. Losing a third of your electorate is not the way to survive. Alienating the other two-thirds with an alliance with the Tories and big business is an excellent way of ensuring they join the 33%.
Labour’s disconnect with Scotland, and its enmity to its people, reminds me of Berthold Brecht:
After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers' Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

* there are 14 MEPs sitting for Ireland, three of which sit in the north, in which FF organise but do not contest elections.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

BBC crisis deepens over CBI "cover-up"

The BBC is in a state of crisis tonight over the revelation that it has been a member of the right-wing Confederation of British Industry for at least three and a half decades. 

Earlier, the Unionists' in-house broadcaster, which is now under sustained pressure from its own journalists to sever its ties with the anti-Trade Union organisation, which registered as an official member of the No campaign two weeks ago, claimed that it had been a member of CBI for "ten years", paying over £22.000 per annum in membership fees.

Assuming that the membership fee has been constant and adjusted for inflation, then the latest revelation shows that the Corporation - a public service broadcaster funded by direct taxation on pain of imprisonment - has secretly funnelled at least £770.000 to the CBI, a shadowy lobbyist with close links to the British regime, the Conservative Party and Better Together: CBI's deputy director general in Scotland, a Conservative candidate, is on the BetterTogether advisory board.

The emergence of this news has come as a shattering blow to the few remaining defenders of the BBC's credibility and impartiality in Scotland, particularly in regard to the independence referendum, where it is viewed by most as an active and committed part of the Tory-funded No campaign.

It is a fact that the BBC was a member of the anti-Trade Union CBI during the period of the Miners' Strike, a time where its coverage brought widespread condemnation for its portrayal of the miners. Indeed, it was viewed at the time as an unashamed Government propagandist; going to the extent of reversing footage to portray the miners as out-of-control thugs. 

At one conflict in Yorkshire, the police and British army attacked and charged the miners, who regrouped and charged at the police themselves in retaliation. The BBC chose to broadcast the events in reverse. 

The revelation that they were a paid-up member of the CBI at this time goes some way to explaining their behaviour at the time. 

The BBC has come under sustained pressure to leave the CBI, at a time where almost all of its members in Scotland have already done so. BBC's major broadcasting rivals, Scottish Television, have already resigned, as has every Government department and university, as well as many private organisations. Its refusal to do so raises serious questions over its impartiality when reporting on the referendum. 

On an unrelated note about the BBC, I submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Corporation last week, noting that the Socialist Party has more elected representatives in Scotland than UKIP, and asking for a breakdown of how often representatives from both parties were asked to appear on shows broadcast in Scotland. There is a clear perception that UKIP are semi-permanent guests on BBC shows, and that the Corporation is desperately trying to push UKIP as a mainstream, credible party. 

My FOI request came before the revelation that the BBC was a member of CBI for over thirty years: but with the full knowledge that UKIP share many of the anti-worker policies of the CBI, including resistance to the minimum wage, Scottish devolution, maternity leave and paid holiday. 

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the BBC has refused to answer the request. 

I have therefore written to the Information Commissioner, asking that office to adjudicate. 

The BBC is in an existential crisis this evening. It is becoming increasingly difficult to justify its existence. The game seems well and truly up, and the BBC exposed for what it is: an organisation which is the creature of the British regime and big business, and which does all it can to oppose Scottish independence on that basis.

This is the largest crisis the BBC has been embroiled in since Iraq.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

On the "Interim Constitution"

It was with great interest that I watched the speech given at Cardiff by the Depute First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon last month. Of specific interest was Ms. Sturgeon’s apparently unilateral decision that the SNP will write a so-called “interim constitution” for Scotland. 

As socialists who have spent many years arguing for independence in order that working people can take control of Scotland’s industry and economy on the basis that only with independence can we ensure the communal ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, establishing the best possible administration of community ownership and control of Scotland’s industry and services, we ought to be extremely wary of this development. 

The SNP was elected to govern Scotland in 2011 with a quite astounding majority, and one cannot but respect their mandate to govern the Scottish Parliament. They are our colleagues in Yes Scotland, and we accept, in principle, that they are entitled to govern this country through the Referendum and beyond and to form the provisional government between Independence Day and the first election after Independence. 

However, we cannot and must not accept that they have any class of mandate to write, or indeed impose, this “interim constitution” upon Scotland. There was no mention of any “interim constitution” in the manifesto upon which they achieved election in 2011. Indeed, there was no mention of any such “interim manifesto” until Ms. Sturgeon’s address at Cardiff. 

From where did this concept come? When was it born? From whom - most importantly - did it come? This country has already a constitution. It is one which is certainly unfit for purpose, and its lack of codification is, to be sure, a handicap for any modern 21st century state. I have in front of me as I write a copy of the 2009-2011 Constitution of Ireland, a document which boasts 186 pages, 93 each in English and Irish. Would that our country have such a readily-accessible, simple document, laying out to each citizen our rights from and responsibilities to the State. 

But is the imperfection of the British constitution really so incredibly pressing that it requires the imposition, immediately, of an entirely new constitution without reference to the other parties which make up Yes Scotland, far less the people of this country?

Surely, following independence in March 2016, it would be simpler to retain the current Scotland Act - which serves, in effect, as the Scottish constitution - with an addendum stating that all Acts of the UK Parliament which have not been specifically repudiated are to apply to Scotland. 

The first Independence elections may provide any sort of Government: it is not for us to second-guess the choice of the electorate. But surely the Scottish constitution, the document which will serve not just our generation, but many generations to come, should not be written to reflect the opinions of a Government which is merely a snapshot of time. Even less so should it reflect that of a Government which has no mandate whatsoever to impose a Constitution.

The very point of independence for us, as socialists, is to build a Scotland which is not for the governing class. How, therefore, can a document written by the governing class ab urbe condita, achieve our aims of returning Scotland’s wealth to Scotland’s people?

Indeed, can one not argue, and reasonably, that if the SNP achieve their aim of an “interim constitution”, one which will inevitably pander to their aims of succour to corporations and the rich, and one which will equally inevitably see any references to the rights of organised labour be inexplicably overlooked, that should they - as seems likely - win the 2016 election, they would be able to argue that they have a mandate to impose the “interim constitution” as the national constitution? For this reason alone, let us be wary of false friends. Colleagues certainly, but the SNP as comrades? I think not.

The Scottish Socialist Party, as Scotland’s socialist movement, and as the Left wing of the Yes campaign, ought to vehemently oppose any moves in this direction. 

Rather, the current constitution should remain in place, and a new constitutional convention should take inspiration from that of our friends and neighbours in the Republic of Iceland after the collapse of the Reykjavik banking system: a constitution of the people - a People’s Constitution, sourced from individuals the length and breath of this land, from the ordinary working man and woman, with contributions from working mothers, from the unemployed, from carers and the disabled: and this People’s Constitution ought to exist to serve, not govern, the people. 

Surely the entire point of independence is to achieve this, rather than to have grey-suited, grey men with grey hair writing a grey, sterile constitution on behalf of a grey organisation with no mandate whatever to impose it.

If we don’t have a People’s Constitution, and instead have an SNP constitution, then what will independence have gained other than the lowering of the Union Jack, the raising of the Saltire, and a slight change in the accents of those who govern us?

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The European elections and a worrying democratic deficit

The nation awaits, agape and expectant, searching frantically for information on the various prospectuses. The feeling of anticipation is tangible, the excitement almost spine-tingling as the democratic process of a nation reaches its greatest conclusion. 

Yes, in little over a month, the polling station doors will open at 7am to relieve the pressure of a seething mass of voters desperate to make their mark on the European Parliament elections (Scotland constituency). We will have our choice to make. Shall we re-elect the sitting Labour MEPs? Or the sitting Nationalist MEPs? Quite how spectacularly will poor old George Lyon, the Scottish Liberal Democrat (at the time of writing, I mean the Scottish Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament, although at their present rate of collapse, it is quite conceivable that when you read this, he will be the only Scottish Liberal Democrat member overall) lose his seat? Will we vote for a Tory? (No). Will UKIP, the gutter-dwelling filthy remnants of the British far-right pip the Scottish Green Party to the post? (No).

Something's missing, though. 

Since Scotland became a unified constituency in the European Parliament in 1999, the one thing that has marked it out has been its plurality in terms of choice. 

In that first nationwide election, electors could choose between not only the three main parties and the Liberal Democrats, but also the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Socialist Party (declaration of interest: I'm a member of the SSP and have stood for election for them), the Pro-Euro Conservatives (hi, Ken!), UKIP, Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party (their name is the Socialist Labour Party, but they're never seen without the "Arthur Scargill's" prefix, much in the same way as one always sees "Love Rat Darren Day", "Gaffe-prone Prince Philip", and "Lee McCulloch (pen)"), Johann Lamont's chums in the British National Party (not to be confused with UKIP, who are completely different. UKIP wear purple, the BNP blue), the Natural Law Party, and a one-candidate party, Accountant For Lower Scottish Taxes (I'm not sure what his manifesto is). 

Aside from the BNP, Natural Law, and the Accountant for &c, every single party in 1999 gained at least one per cent of the vote.

In the next, 2004, election, the Acc &c had sadly left the scene. Arthur Scargill had retired to spend more time with his houses, and thus the 9.385 Scots who voted for his party had to find a new (ironically) home. The electorate of Scotland were also deprived of the mercies of the Natural Law Party. 

However, this motley crew were replaced, in part, by Operation Christian Vote (if they didn't have an advertising campaign based around putting your cross (geddit?) in the box, they're missing a trick), Scottish Wind Watch (me neither) and an Independent, one Fergus Tait.

In 2009, Socialist Labour was back, and they were joined by the Jury Team (no, sorry), and the NO2EU party, which second-last finish may have been caused by the dishonourable activities of its lead candidate's member. Fergus Tait had withdrawn, a wiser and doubtless poorer man, and was replaced as Independent candidate by Duncan Robertson (who tripled, incidentally, the Independent vote). 

The point? 

In 1999, the electorate was able to choose between eleven different policy platforms. In 2004, ten, and in 2009, a frankly erection-inducing thirteen parties. 

This year, Scots will go to the polls able to choose between only six parties. Most of which are, fundamentally, identical. 

Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats are part of a formal extraparliamentary coalition, BetterTogether, and each share a similar manifesto in terms of middle-of-the-road capitalist, austerity economics. The SNP share a similar platform, with the sole exception being that they prefer to manage capitalism from Edinburgh rather than Westminster. 

UKIP, of course, is different. A proto-fascist party similar in tone and rhetoric to Oswald Mosely (whom Labour chose to make a government minister) in its extreme-right, anti-worker polices and xenophobia, they have only twice kept their deposit in Scotland, and have neither councillors, MPs, MSPs or MEPs, this dismal political failure even despite a concerted effort by both BBC Scotland and STV to promote UKIP as an actual thing in Scotland. Their "Scottish lead candidate" is the chairman of the London Branch of the anti-foreigner party. 

The Greens are the only party which are outside the moat, and, if you vote, I would urge that you give your first preference to the Greens. I, personally, won't be voting (well, I will, but I shall be casting a blank ballot. I refuse to vote for BetterTogether, refuse to vote for the Nazis of UKIP, and I shan't be voting for the SNP for fear that it may allow Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, their third candidate and a political butterfly who has been in more parties than Paris Hilton, into the Parliament). 

But where does this leave socialists? The Greens are well-meaning, and the best of the above, but they're not a socialist party (they voted, for instance, against our Bills for free prescriptions in the Second Parliament and continue to oppose our plans to nationalise the means of production, transport and exchange). 

In previous elections, we had a smorgasbord of parties to choose from: we had the SSP, we've had NO2EU and Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour. 

Now? If you're a socialist, the best choice is the Greens. 

If you're a Nazi, you're even worse off. There's no BNP. There's UKIP, but I rather imagine that despite UKIP's proto-fascism, the proper Nazis like the security guard in the Edinburgh Co-operative with the Union Jack tattoo on his head, are sitting muttering into their jackboots about UKIP being "race traitors" or whatever. 

And if you're a Natural Law type, you're totally fucked. 

In this election, we can choose from less than half the average number of political parties that our predecessors have been able to choose from. 

This is not healthy for democracy. 

The reason, of course, is the deposit. It is free to stand in Local Authority elections. To stand in Holyrood, a party needs find £500. It's the same sum to stand in Westminster. Why, therefore, should it be ten times higher to stand in the European Parliament elections?

If a £500 deposit is deemed high enough to put off oddballs for Holyrood and Westminster, why not in Straßburg and Brussel? It seems that the system is designed to ward off smaller parties. 

People want the Scottish Socialist Party to stand in this election (we've been asked often enough). And they have a right to be able to choose us. But with a referendum to fight, small parties (and particularly ours, given our prominent position in the Yes campaign) simply can't afford to thrown £5000 at a deposit we may not get back. £5000 is a lot of money when you don't take donations from corporate donors. Perhaps that's why the threshold is £5000...

Instead of a financial deposit, which ring-fences politics for the rich, why can't we have a system where your argument entitles you to a place on the ballot paper?

Why can't, for instance, a party which receives, say, 100 signatures in each region of Scotland be entitled to a place on the paper? That would show that there is a genuine demand for that organisation to be on the ballot paper, far more than some fat wank in a suit writing a cheque for five grand does. 

It is a disgrace to the Scottish democracy that we have such a limited choice for the most important elections in our political calendar.