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 Stra├čburg 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.