Friday, 20 February 2015

Ukraine: Propaganda instead of news

UK mainstream media is complicit in a very dangerous and worrying strategy – the escalating demonization of Russia.

Those of us who grew up during the Cold War were used to what was then the Soviet Union being portrayed as an evil empire just waiting to invade and enslave us, if not vaporise us with their arsenal of nuclear missiles.  We were told the UK had to spend billions-of-pounds on our own nuclear weapons of mass destruction in order to deter the heathen communist hordes from sweeping across the plains of western Europe.

Led by the freedom-loving United States of America, the narrative we were fed had us as the ‘good guys’, while the ‘baddies’ were the secretive and repressive dictators plotting world domination from the Kremlin in Moscow.

Then, along came Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988, with his westward-looking policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (change).  Suddenly, the Iron Curtain was being dismantled: communism crumbled as Russia embraced the capitalist economic system.  The Cold War was over, and the West had won.

The Soviet Union was broken-up and independent nations were established as a wave of democracy swept over eastern Europe.

Russians had free elections, in which the Communist Party was replaced by pro-capitalists who began privatising previously state-run industries. 

Governments and media in western countries portrayed the transformation as an entirely positive story, extolling the new warming of West-East relations and talking excitedly of the economic opportunities sure to flow from the collapse of the evil communist regime that had stood for so long against freedom and enterprise.

Actually, the government of the Soviet Union and countries of the Warsaw Pact could not have been further from communism.  The Soviet bloc was a totalitarian dictatorship, which served the interests of a ruling elite.  When the structure collapsed, many members of that elite simply ditched their Communist Party cards and reinvented themselves as free-market entrepreneurs.

Hugely successful Russian industries, such as oil and gas production, were handed-over to former Soviet officials and their friends.  People like Roman Abramovich, now owner of Chelsea Football Club, found themselves instantly transformed into billionaires.  Meanwhile, ordinary men and women in Russia discovered the concept of unemployment as their former state-provided jobs were scrapped by newly-privatised companies seeking to maximise profits.

At the head of the new capitalist Russia was Vladimir Putin, formerly a Lieutenant Colonel in the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB), the Soviet Union’s notorious secret police.  This was not a man known for embracing freedom in any of its forms.  However, so long as he was prepared to allow western companies to exploit the Russian people through the international capitalist system, and was prepared to sell oil and gas to the west, then Putin’s faults and repression of minorities and opponents were not seen as important issues.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the new Russia was no longer seen as a threat to the West (primarily the United States).  In fact, it was now part of the global community of capitalist exploiters. 

Even as America and Britain launched illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia did little more than tut disapprovingly on the sidelines.  However, these wars were to have a profound effect on the views of Washington’s own ruling elite.

The number of Americans who died in their country’s ‘war’ to steal Iraq’s massive oil resources was seen to be too high by those in the corridors of power on Capitol Hill (and by ordinary Americans), so a new plan of action had to be developed.  Instead of sending-in the Marines, America would fund and supply indigenous groups in countries where Washington wanted to see regime change, with new pro-America administrations installed.

A complicit western media then reported these developments as the ‘Arab Spring’, reporting how ordinary people in countries such as Libya and Egypt had suddenly risen-up against dictators, had surprisingly found themselves in possession of massive quantities of weapons, and were determined to hold democratic elections to return power to the people.

Of course, the silly Egyptians got the democracy thing wrong at their first go: after having removed President Hosni Mubarak, effectively by way of an American-backed military coup, the people then democratically voted for a new government containing the Muslim Brotherhood.  This, though, was not the pro-America regime Washington wanted, so there had to be another ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt to overthrow the new democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi.  Egyptians got the message and in the second ‘democratic’ election they put in place the leader America wanted.

With this tactic apparently working well, the Washington military-hawks turned their attention to Europe. 

Former Soviet Union states and Warsaw Pact countries had been drawn into membership of the western capitalist club through being accepted into the European Union, where social and economic influence is exercised by three American-dominated organisations – the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). 

Former communist states now EU members include: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.  Not so long ago all of these countries were satellites of the Russian-controlled Soviet Union.

However, the next step in America’s European hegemony was seen by Russia to be much more serious.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) – the nuclear-armed international military body that had stood for generations against the Soviet Union – began expanding eastwards, accepting as members the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania and Croatia (in that order).

Russia began to see a pattern emerging and, in 2013, when the European Union offered an Association Agreement to Ukraine, the prospect of the EU - almost certainly followed by NATO – edging right up onto the Russian border became a distinct possibility.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the offered EU Association Agreement, which would have meant his country agreeing to IMF controls, including cuts to public services, wages and privatisation of publicly-owned industries and assets.  Instead, Yanukovich looked east to Ukraine’s neighbour, Russia.  Putin immediately offered cheap loans to Ukraine.

America, through its European proxy, the EU, could see the unravelling of its plans to remove Ukraine from Russia’s orbit, so all of a sudden there appeared a ‘popular uprising’ by Ukrainian people determined to overthrow their democratically-elected President.

Heavily-armed and well-funded groups of protestors appeared on the streets of Kiev, including neo-Nazi, fascist organisations.

Of course, America denied any involvement in this European version of the ‘Arab Spring’, but an official document, subsequently leaked, showed US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland admitting that the United States had ‘invested’ over $5bn in supporting anti-Russian groups in Ukraine since 1991.

Backed by the US, the armed pro-western militias forced the resignation of the democratically-elected president, Viktor Yanakovich.  Ukraine’s leader had been removed by an American-funded and resourced military coup.  Western governments and media referred to it as a ‘democratic revolution’.

The reality, however, was exactly what Russia had feared – a pro-American regime, including right-wing extremists, was now in power in a nation right on its border, in a country with a large ethnic Russian population, particularly in the east (the part of Ukraine bordering Russia).

This seizure of power and the overthrow of the democratically-elected president caused fear and panic in those areas of Ukraine where the majority of people spoke Russian and considered themselves to have much more in common with Russia than the west.

In Crimea, which had once been part of Russia, a referendum on the region’s future was held.  The outcome showed 96.77% supported the creation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea affiliated to the Russian Federation.  Western governments and media reported this as Russia having annexed Crimea.

In other areas of eastern Ukraine with large Russian-speaking populations, such as Donetsk and Lugansk, people also rejected the governing regime put in place following the American-backed military coup and decided to resist the imposition of rule from Kiev.  This continues to be described by western governments and media as pro-Russian separatists or terrorists bombing and killing other Ukrainians on the orders of Vladimir Putin.

Rather than the eastward expansion of the EU and NATO, newspapers and broadcasters in the UK report the conflict in Ukraine as Vladimir Putin seeking to re-establish a ‘Greater Russia’. 

NATO is, and always has been, a front-organisation for American imperialism, while the European Union is now simply a conduit of US capitalism.  Putin’s Russia could reach an accommodation with the EU but fears the military expansionism of NATO. 

Consider how America would react if Putin reached an economic and military agreement with either Canada or Mexico.  What would Washington do if it faced Russian troops being stationed on its border?

Of course, we know how America reacted in October 1962 when the Soviet Union located missiles on Cuba.  President John F Kennedy was prepared to initiate a nuclear war.  This was despite the fact America had already deployed its own missiles in Italy and Turkey, all of which could strike directly at Moscow.  The world was saved from a nuclear holocaust when the ‘evil’ Soviets agreed to remove their weapons from Cuba.

Russia is far from being a perfect state, but the picture of the country we are currently receiving through our newspapers and broadcasters does not reflect the reality of its position and actions.

How often do we hear on our news bulletins about the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) or the 90-page document it published in September 2000 –‘ Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources For a New Century’?

PNAC was the right-wing organisation that shaped the presidency of George W Bush and, today, the people behind it still hold massive influence in relation to US government policy.

Contained in the PNAC plan for the 21st Century is the following statement:

“[We require] a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the past century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.”

The document also states its goal is to “promote American global leadership,” and asserts that “American leadership is good both for America and the world”. 

The current demonization of Russia is part of a plan to once again portray that country as evil, while the American-led west are supposedly the ‘good guys’.  In fact, it is America and the west that has expanded its influence to the very doorstep of Russia.

UK broadcasters are complicit in the misreporting of what is happening in Ukraine and other parts of the world.  We are receiving propaganda in place of objective news.

Monday, 16 February 2015

SNP success at the UK Election will be good for us all

The SNP is not, and never has been a socialist party.  However, today’s SNP, led by Nicola Sturgeon, is reclaiming a left-of-centre political position that has English newspapers screaming fearful warnings of a Scottish Marxist mafia set to influence who forms the UK Government after May’s Westminster Election.

The far-right Daily Mail last week had a banner front-page headline proclaiming that the SNP is set to “hand the keys of No. 10 to Red Ed”.

Notwithstanding the ridiculous assertion that Ed Miliband is in any way socialist, let’s be absolutely clear where the SNP stands politically: it is a moderate, social-democratic party.  The SNP’s policies are of the centre-left – social-responsibility coupled with free-market economics – but it is not socialist, nor does it claim to be.  The fact so-called mainstream English media sees the SNP as a dangerous, subversive left-wing threat to what passes for democracy in the UK, simply reveals how far to the right much of England has moved in political terms.

There are now very few socialists in the Labour Party: it would certainly be impossible to square Labour’s policy agenda with socialist beliefs.  Ed Miliband leads a Labour Party that is a virtual clone of the Conservative Party.  If the SNP finds itself in the position of kingmaker after the UK Election, and if it decides to support a Labour administration, then it will not be handing the keys of No. 10 to anyone of a ‘red’ political persuasion.

If the SNP sees its number of MPs substantially increased, as all recent polls predict, and if it allows Miliband to form a minority Labour government – with SNP backing on a ‘confidence and supply’ basis (vote-by-vote) – then England will have the SNP to thank for reigning-in Labour’s right-wing policies.  That, however, will not amount to a socialist agenda across the UK.

What the SNP will seek from Labour in the above circumstances will amount to an end of austerity and a return to capital investment to stimulate the economy; full financial autonomy for the Scottish Parliament; Scotland to have a national veto on any UK-wide decision to remove the UK from the European Union; scrapping of the Tories’ proposed Health & Social Care Act, which would impact on the Scottish NHS; and removal from Scottish land and waters of the UK’s nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

Of those issues, Labour currently supports further austerity cuts, opposes the Scottish Parliament having full financial responsibility, and backs spending around £120bn on building and maintaining a new system of nuclear missiles to be based on the Clyde.

The changes Labour would have to make to secure SNP support for a minority Miliband administration would, therefore, amount to common-sense rather than any sort of red revolution.  The moderate, centre-left policies of the SNP are also a lot closer to the political beliefs of many Labour activists in Scotland than those advocated by the London-controlled ‘Scottish’ Labour Party.

Rightly, the SNP has ruled-out any support for the Tories, a decision based on the severe damage that party’s policies have caused to Scotland over the years, and, of course, on the fact Scots consistently reject Tory policies and candidates.  Such a decision, however, does not mean the SNP has already committed to backing a minority Labour government.

If Ed Miliband is to oust David Cameron from No. 10, his party will have to accommodate the SNP’s proposals, which will benefit not just Labour, but also the people of Scotland and England.

According to opinion polls, a Labour Government acting with SNP support is the favoured option of most Scots in terms of the outcome from the UK Election.  That will only happen if Scotland returns substantial numbers of SNP MPs.

The same polls certainly predict a surge in support for the SNP as we head into the campaign for the May 7th election.  If Scots want to have any influence on the UK Government, then, this time, we have to vote SNP.

The Labour Party knows it is facing wipe-out in Scotland, a situation that has come about because of its right-wing policies, the party’s anti-independence coalition with the Tories, and the extremely poor quality of many Labour MPs and candidates.  This reality has resulted in Labour falling-back on a well-worn UK Election mantra in Scotland – ‘You have to vote Labour to keep the Tories out’.  Of course, the facts show this assertion to be absolute nonsense.

In recent political times, Scotland voted Labour (to keep the Tories out) in 1970, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992 and 2010 – on each occasion we got a Tory Government imposed on us by voters in England.  Within the British Union, every person in Scotland could vote Labour, but if England backs the Tories, then our votes will be ignored and we will have a Conservative Government.

Another lie being peddled by the Labour Party is that a vote for the SNP will benefit the Tories by reducing support for Labour and allowing David Cameron into Downing Street ‘by the back door’.  Labour argues this will be because the largest party gets to form the government.

Of course, we only have to go back to the last UK Election, in 2010, to see that statement isn’t true.

The Tories formed the largest party after that election, but it didn’t stop Gordon Brown from trying to continue as Prime Minister by cobbling together a coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.  Contrary to what Labour want us to believe, it is the party commanding a majority in parliament that gets to form the government, not necessarily the one with the most MPs.

It is this situation that means the SNP can support Labour, giving it a working majority in parliament and securing significant Scottish influence on policy at the same time.

At this election, a vote for the SNP is the best option for Scots.

The next Scottish Parliament Election will be held in a year’s time – May 2016 – when we can support whichever party most-closely represents our personal political beliefs – pro-independence voters can choose from SNP, Scottish Socialist Party, Scottish Green Party – but at this UK Election the Scottish interest is best served by us uniting behind the SNP.

It’s time for Scotland’s voice to be heard, loud and clear, in London and across the UK.

Friday, 6 February 2015

UK Election: North Ayrshire & Arran

With just three-months until the UK General Election, poll after poll indicates the SNP is set to make substantial gains.

The Labour Party is predicted to be the big losers, but the Liberal Democrats are also likely to take a hammering.

The most recent opinion poll, carried out last week by Ashcroft Polling, is the most extensive yet done, involving one-to-one interviews with 16,000 Scots across the country.  The main result showed an average 25% swing from Labour to the SNP in seats that were formerly considered to be Labour’s heartlands.

The lowest swing from Labour to SNP in the poll was 21%, which, if translated into votes at the election on May 7th, would see the SNP take 35 of 41 Scottish seats currently held by Labour.  Amongst those who would lose their seats are Douglas Alexander (currently Shadow Foreign Secretary), Margaret Curran (currently Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland) and Anas Sarwar (former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland).

Further north, Alex Salmond would comfortably win the Gordon constituency, which is presently held by the Lib Dems, while Danny Alexander, current Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, would be trounced by the SNP in the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey seat.

Such poll findings are, of course, quite remarkable, particularly given that it is only five-months since the SNP’s principle policy of independence was rejected by a 10% majority of Scots.  However, the Independence Referendum has turned-out to be a watershed moment in Scottish politics, and not in the way most would have anticipated.

The ‘losers’, the pro-independence side, has seen substantial increases in party membership: the principle element in the ‘YES’ campaign, the SNP, is now the third-largest political party in the UK, with around 100,000 members.  Meanwhile, the ‘winners’ have seen their fortunes and membership starkly decline.

One reason for Labour’s demise is that the party is now seen to be just another part of the Westminster establishment.  Having fought alongside the Conservative Party to prevent Scotland re-taking the status of a normal independent nation, Labour has since voted with the Tories to impose a further £30bn of austerity cuts on the public, and to spend £100bn on building and maintaining a new generation of nuclear weapons of mass destruction, which, of course, would be based on the Clyde; a move that will continue to prevent exploration of oil reserves located off the Ayrshire coast in waters used by nuclear submarines travelling to and from their base at the Holy Loch.

The anti-independence campaign was heavily funded by London-based Tory supporters, but it was Labour Party activists in Scotland who distributed the leaflets and did the groundwork to retain a system that continues to see Scots governed by and from London.  Even Gordon Brown’s last-ditch promise of ‘home rule’ for Scotland if we rejected independence is now seen to have been nothing more than a lie.  All Brown’s intervention did was to help Westminster and the Tory-led UK Government keep control of Scotland and our resources.

The Labour Party long ago abandoned any pretence of representing the interests of the working class.  Now, it is seen as simply a red-rosette-wearing version of the Tory Party.  Labour has betrayed Scots who voted for it over many generations.  As a consequence, the party and its representatives are no longer trusted.

Locally, the constituency of North Ayrshire & Arran, which has been held by Labour for 28 years, is now appearing on lists of seats that could fall to the SNP in May.

If events since the Independence Referendum and the results of opinion polls are stripped- out, the bare facts relating to North Ayrshire & Arran indicate that incumbent Labour MP Katy Clark should have nothing to worry about.  Indeed, Ms Clark maintains she is confident of retaining the seat, and with a majority of 9,895 from the last UK Election in 2010, her confidence would seem to be well placed.

However, it is not possible to discount the political changes that have overtaken Scotland since last September.  The lowest swing from Labour to SNP in last week’s Ashcroft Poll was 21% - in North Ayrshire & Arran the swing required for an SNP victory is 12%.  Normally, a 12% swing would be a massive result to achieve, but seen against the nationwide surge of support for the SNP, it no longer looks so formidable.

That said, there are other local factors that come into play.  The first is the personal vote built-up by Katy Clark since she became the local area’s MP in 2005. 

In her favour, also, is the tag she has acquired as a Labour rebel.  There is no doubt Katy Clark is firmly on the left of the Labour Party and has regularly broken the party whip when her colleagues were voting with the Conservatives.  However, her brand of old-style Labour values was firmly rejected by party members when she stood late last year for the position of Deputy Leader of Labour in Scotland.  Instead, Labour members, MPs and MSPs backed Kezia Dugdale, a Regional MSP seen to be on the centre-right.

Labour’s rejection of Katy Clark’s deputy leadership bid has led to the SNP arguing that voting for her in North Ayrshire & Arran would not deliver her left-wing policies but, instead, would simply contribute towards the number of MPs secured by the Tory-clone, London-run, Ed Miliband-led Labour Party.

So, with three-months until polling day, the election in North Ayrshire & Arran will see a strong fight between Labour and the SNP.

The Scottish Nationalists last week selected Patricia Gibson as their candidate.  Mrs Gibson is a former teacher and SNP councillor in Glasgow.  She is married to local SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson and the couple live in Kilbirnie.

May’s contest is therefore a re-run of the 2010 election, when Ms Clark and Mrs Gibson also represented their respective parties. 

Patricia Gibson and the SNP took second place in what had ‘traditionally’ been a Labour-Conservative contest.  However, a significant factor contributing to the outcome in North Ayrshire & Arran in 2010 was the expulsion of Tory candidate Philip Lardner during the campaign.  Mr Lardner had made comments relating to homosexuality, which the party found to be unacceptable and meriting expulsion.  Given that the closing date for electoral nominations had passed, this meant the Tories could not replace Philip Lardner as their candidate, although they did not work for his election.

Those circumstances prompted the Patricia Gibson campaign to take the controversial step of writing personally-addressed letters to local members of the Conservative Party, asking them to vote SNP as the Tories had no ‘official’ candidate.  Such courting of Tory votes will be something the Labour campaign this time will no doubt seek to exploit.

Make no mistake, on May 8th North Ayrshire & Arran’s MP will be either Katy Clark or Patricia Gibson: the local constituency will have a Labour or SNP representative at the Westminster Parliament.  No other candidates have any chance of success.

What makes this North Ayrshire & Arran election exciting is that it is the first time in 23 years the seat could change hands.  Whether or not it does, is entirely up to us - every vote will count.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Police

In the past I’ve criticised the police – mainly in relation to the policing of legitimate public protest - but today I acknowledge the role officers play in society.

As journalists were being murdered yesterday at the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, everyone in the vicinity fled from the sound of gunfire.  That is entirely understandable, even logical – but police officers ran towards the scene where two gunmen were spraying automatic gunfire from AK47s.  Two of those police officers were killed.

This morning, police were again attacked in Paris, with another officer killed.

We all criticise the police, often with good cause, but in moments of crisis in our life, it is the police we want to see coming round the corner. 

Of course, we could probably all tell stories of the police not turning up when called or of officers sitting in cars outside nightclubs while drunken idiots knock lumps out of each other (summed up in the exchange between an older cop and his young colleague in the Greenock-based Peter McDougall play ‘Just A Boys Game’ – “Sit where you are son, we’ll pick up the bodies”).  However, for every one of those stories there are others recording the bravery of ordinary men and women who happen to be police officers, like the ones who ran towards the gunfire in Paris yesterday.

Not every cop is a hero, in the same way that not every member of society is a hero, and that is a crucial point when considering how we look at the police and what they do.  The police work for us.  Officers are recruited from amongst us.  Individual police officers have the same likes, dislikes and prejudices as us.  They are us.  Yet we expect them to do things most of us would not.

We expect them to protect us, even if that means running towards gunfire.  We expect them to deal with the bad guys most of us wouldn’t go near.  We expect them to take control and act rationally at the scene of incidents such as the Clutha helicopter crash or the bin lorry nightmare in George Square, when the natural reaction is horror and shock.  We expect them to attend often gruesome murder scenes, some involving children, and then to just get on with their lives.

There are, of course, some bad apples amongst the ranks of the police, as there are within society in general, but the vast majority of officers are like the ordinary men and women in Paris who have lost their lives because of the expectations we place on police officers.

In the future, I will criticise the police when it is justified, but today I am grateful for the job they do on our behalf.  Paris over the past couple of days has shown how society would be a much more dangerous place if we didn’t have men and women prepared to put on a uniform and run towards gunfire when everyone else is heading in the opposite direction.

Friday, 26 December 2014

We can make history

As the bells ring-in a new year it’s common to reflect on the past 12 months – and 2014 will certainly be remembered as a momentous time for Scotland.
We had the opportunity to re-establish our country as a normal independent nation, but a majority decided to remain governed by and from a parliament in London.  A referendum on a country’s independence is a truly historic event, and the result stemming from it - support for continued membership of the British Union – will rightly be accorded significant historical status.  However, what has happened since the referendum on September 18th is now more likely to be the foundation on which historians will write the defining chapter in Scotland’s story.

We now know victory for the British Unionist side was secured through scaremongering and lies.  What swung-it for the London-based Unionist coalition was a ‘vow’, made just days before the vote, which promised to deliver significant new powers for Scotland within the UK.  Their argument was that, if we rejected independence, Westminster would give us so much power over our own affairs it would be as if we were independent but without any possible constitutional upheaval.

The ‘vow’, as it was called on the front-page of the Labour-supporting Daily Record, was signed by the leaders of the three main British Unionist political parties – David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg.  To add supposed additional ‘credibility’ to the commitment, it was endorsed and promoted by former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown who promised he would “ensure” it was delivered by Westminster following a ‘No’ vote in the referendum.

Brown said the ‘vow’ would deliver “as close to federalism in the UK” as possible, arguing this would give Scotland control over virtually everything, with a continuing UK-wide shared responsibility for issues like defence and foreign affairs.

Within days of Unionists securing a 10% majority in the referendum vote, the ‘vow’ disintegrated and Gordon Brown was reduced to asking people to sign a petition supporting the commitment he previously said he would “ensure” was delivered by Westminster.

On top of a campaign that, from day-one, used scare-tactics to frighten Scots from taking the powers of independence – powers virtually every other nation on the planet takes for granted – we now had Unionist victory being secured with blatant lies. 

What has emerged from Westminster, and by way of the Smith Commission, since the referendum is a proposal to devolve some additional powers to the Scottish Parliament, which, while a small step in the right direction, leaves the Scottish Government without control over vital areas, such as our national economy, most taxation, welfare, employment policy and pensions.  The ‘vow’ to deliver significant powers was a lie: Gordon Brown’s “close to federalism” was a lie.

To London-based politicians, keeping control of Scotland and our vast natural resources was absolutely essential: without Scotland’s annual financial contribution to the Westminster exchequer, UK plc would be bankrupt.  In that situation, scare-stories and lies were just ‘tools in the box’ to be used in ensuring victory for the British coalition of Tories, Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP and other far-right, racist, sectarian, bigoted organisations.

However, the British victory has come at a severe cost to those involved in what many Scots now see as a betrayal.  People who trusted Gordon Brown and believed the ‘vow’ quickly saw they had been used.

The anti-independence Better Together campaign was funded by rich, mainly London-based Tories, but it was Labour Party activists who did the organisation’s dirty-work in Scotland.  By standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the toxic Tories, by arguing for the right of the Tories to continue governing Scotland from London (even when Scots have rejected them at the ballot box), Labour is now seen as just another part of the British establishment, willing to lie to Scots in order to maintain Westminster’s control over our country and our lives.

Since the referendum, the Tory-led UK Government has announced further ‘austerity’ measures, cuts to social security and continued below-inflation wage rises (which are actually real-terms wage cuts).  Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne argues these policies are necessary to continue his proclaimed ‘economic recovery’. 

However, a close look at official UK Government figures released last week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals the true nature of Britain’s ‘economic recovery’.  The UK Government is continuing to borrow billions-of-pounds, despite claiming it would reduce the national deficit: this is additional debt that has to be repaid.

Meanwhile, the ONS data shows median income in the UK has fallen by 1.4% to £23,300 – the lowest level since 2003 – while income inequality has continued to grow.  The reality, therefore, is that any ‘economic recovery’ is being enjoyed by the already rich, while the poor continue to get poorer.  Mike Danson, Professor of Enterprise Policy at Edinburgh’s Heriot Watt University, described the situation, saying, “Most of the population are worse off in real terms than they were a decade ago, and those on lower incomes are significantly poorer.”

Remember those Labour Party activists campaigning with the Tories and telling us we should reject controlling our own affairs because we are ‘Better Together’?

The true nature of the Labour Party has been exposed – it has become just another part of the London-centred British establishment. Even the party’s new leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy MP, reflects the Tory-clone nature of what Labour has become, having previously backed benefit cuts, the introduction of tuition fees for students and the illegal American-led war in Iraq.  

Labour’s scaremongering and lies on behalf of the Tory-funded Better Together campaign has resulted in Scots rejecting the party.  Poll after poll shows support for Labour is down to around 25%, while the SNP is recording unprecedented highs of up to 50% - and these relate to voting intentions for next May’s UK General Election.  If those levels of support were translated into seats, the SNP would almost certainly hold the balance of power in the UK Parliament – and party bosses have already ruled-out any support for a Tory Government.  Labour, meanwhile, could be reduced to just a handful of MPs in Scotland.

Without a shadow of doubt, Labour’s partnership with the Tories in the referendum campaign, and the fact they were prepared to lie to the people of Scotland in support of continued Tory austerity imposed from London, are major factors in the demise of the party.  Labour betrayed Scotland, and Scots no longer trust them.

The referendum was the most historic event of 2014: and when history books are written they will show the British Unionist side won.  However, the results announced in the early hours of September 19th were not the end of Scotland’s fight to restore our national independence and the full powers that come with it.  In fact, the sunrise that autumn morning shone light on a new beginning for Scotland.

The referendum transformed our country.  More and more people are now ready to re-take control of Scotland and of their own lives.  More and more of us believe in our own abilities to build a better, fairer country.

There will be another referendum, and it could be as early as 2017: Scotland will be a normal independent country.

In the meantime, the May UK General Election gives us the first chance to strike back at the Scotland-based Unionists who betrayed Scottish interests.  If everyone who voted ‘YES’ in the referendum backs their local SNP candidate at the election we can unseat Labour representatives who worked in coalition with the Tories.  It’s vital we don’t split the pro-independence vote: we can vote SNP, Greens or Scottish Socialist Party at the 2016 Scottish Parliament Election, but at the UK Election we need to unite behind the party best-placed to beat the Unionists, and that is the SNP.

May 7 2015 – it’s payback time!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

American torture - who knew?

What surprised me about this week’s revelations that America tortured prisoners was that anyone was surprised.

The Senate report certainly provided previously unavailable details of exactly what the CIA was prepared to do in order to extract answers from people it held – people often detained illegally – but the fact America was involved in torturing prisoners is not news.  Neither, by the way, are subsequent media stories reporting that the UK ‘may’ have been complicit in US actions.

Of course, we are now hearing the defence that, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, the US had to take the gloves off to counter an enemy that did not play by the rules.  Actually, America and the UK have a long history of ignoring ‘the rules’ when it suits them.  It was, of course, the British who first used concentration camps to hold prisoners, while US use of napalm during the Vietnam war resulted in horrific injuries being inflicted on the civilian population.  Then there is the illegality of the attack on the sovereign state of Iraq in 2003, a country that had nothing to do with the Twin Towers attack of two years earlier, despite that accusation being the ‘justification’ given for bombing Iraq back to the stone age.

We are also hearing the public relations spin on what is actually the torturing of human bodies and minds: the US Government has acknowledged that the CIA carried out “enhanced interrogation techniques”.  The Senate report details some of those enhanced techniques, such as detainees being forced to stand on broken limbs for hours; others kept in complete darkness, deprived of sleep for up to 180 hours.  Prisoners were subjected to “rectal feeding” and rectal examinations were conducted with “excessive force”.  

The report also refers to mock executions, US agents threatening to sexually abuse a detainee’s mother, and to physically hurt prisoners’ children.  We’re not talking here of being slapped about a bit.

As for the ‘suspicion’ that the UK may have helped the CIA as it picked-up ‘targets’ on the streets of European cities and transported them to worldwide torture centres, well, evidence to support that claim has also been available for some time.

The US and UK governments say they knew nothing of the CIA’s torture and abuse of people, many who had actually not committed any crime, but they did know.  They just thought if they ignored long enough those of us who called for enquiries and legal action, we would get fed up and go away.  They were wrong.

Just for the record, this is my contribution to a Scottish Parliament debate held on December 22nd 2005.  It was on a Motion proposed by the Scottish Socialist Party and related to ‘rendition flights’, the method used by the CIA to pick up and transport people to be tortured.  Remember, the debate took place 9 years ago.


Campbell Martin (West of Scotland):
No one in Parliament endorses or supports torture or kidnap. I am sure the people of Scotland expect Parliament to emphasise that we do not support such practices, so I cannot understand the reluctance to carry out at a Scottish level an investigation to determine whether Scottish airspace or airports have been used to facilitate torture and kidnap.

Yesterday, Tony Blair said at his monthly press briefing that he would not initiate an investigation or allow one to be initiated because he had seen no evidence, which takes the man to a whole new level of hypocrisy. He was not too bothered about evidence when he joined his American buddy to rain ‘shock and awe’ on the people of Iraq, and he is not too bothered about the lack of evidence to justify people being disappeared from streets in Europe and taken to third countries, apparently to be tortured, but he wants to see evidence that Scottish or UK airports have been used to facilitate torture flights.

Let’s talk about what we know: there is a Gulfstream V turbojet, registration N379P, and independent witnesses have confirmed that Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed was bundled onto that aircraft and taken to Jordan. He subsequently stated that he was tortured there.

The Swedish parliamentary ombudsman has said that Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zari were taken from Sweden to Cairo aboard the same aircraft. They claim they were tortured in Cairo.

That aircraft has been photographed on more than one occasion refuelling at Prestwick airport in Ayrshire, which is a ground for suspicion that a crime might have been committed on Scottish soil. I would like to think that Scotland's police forces might investigate that.

The New York Times stated earlier this year that, as far as it can determine, the CIA owns 26 aircraft, 10 of which have been purchased since 2001. The newspaper has also established that the CIA is behind seven shell corporations - not Shell the oil company, but front-companies for the CIA - one of which is called Devon Holding and Leasing Inc. The New York Times investigated the company and discovered it has no employees and no presence at its registered address, yet it apparently owns aircraft that have refuelled at Scottish airports. Surely that is a ground for suspicion that something a wee bit dodgy is going on? Perhaps Scottish police forces should be investigating why such aircraft are landing at a Scottish airport.

Colin Powell, the former United States Secretary of State, has been quoted saying, “The thing that is called rendition is not something that is new or unknown to my European friends”. By the way, if nothing else comes from this debate, let’s make it clear to Colin Powell that his name is pronounced Coll-in, not Cole-in.

If rendition is not new and it is not unknown, why are we so reluctant to investigate it? Why are we arguing about who should hold the investigation? We have a separate justice system in Scotland, so if crimes are being committed in Scotland, why are we reluctant to investigate them? Why do we not authorise our police to go onboard those aircraft to establish whether crimes are being committed?

Italian judges have issued 22 arrest warrants for people who are suspected of being CIA operatives; Germany has initiated an investigation and the European Commission has initiated an investigation.

If a crime is suspected, surely we should investigate to establish the evidence to prosecute? If there is a suspicion that Scottish airports are being used – and there certainly is – then we should investigate in order to bring to justice, not just those who carry out torture but those who allow it to be carried out.

It is an extremely sad day for Scotland if that suspicion reflects badly on us because we will not allow an investigation.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Women - A personal view

I know some people – particularly men – will think this is not sincere, but it is.
As I have got older, my respect for women has continued to grow, and I decided to write this after seeing statistics that shocked me.

I’ve never understood why some men assault women, particularly women they claim to love. In just 12 months there were 51,926 incidents of domestic abuse recorded by police in Scotland. Of course, some women don’t report being physically or psychologically abused by their partner. On average, women are on the receiving end of domestic abuse 35 times before they report it to police or social services.

North Ayrshire has the highest rate of domestic abuse in Scotland: a report by the local council putting the annual cost of dealing with the ‘problem’ at around £2.9million.

Between 2003/04 and 2011/12 the rate of domestic abuse incidents responded to by police in North Ayrshire increased by 90.5% - from 996 to 1,897. Worryingly, the Council records that the high rate of domestic abuse has not translated into increased ‘homeless’ applications for housing, indicating that in many cases victims are remaining in the home where abuse has occurred.

North Ayrshire Women’s Aid reports that in 2012/13, 95 women and 60 children stayed in local refuges operated by the charity. In addition, 588 women were provided with counselling support.

Alcohol plays a part in men assaulting their partners, but that is no excuse. No-one forces men to get drunk and then take out their frustrations by physically assaulting women. One formidable woman I have worked with in the past, Kay Ullrich, summed-up the paucity of the “But I was drunk” excuse, by asking, “So why did he wait to get home before he decided to punch someone’s face in? Why didn’t he batter the big guy standing next to him in the pub?”

In my life there have always been strong women. My maternal granny was a socialist activist in the Independent Labour Party in the Saltcoats area. My paternal granny was undoubtedly the boss in a household that included a husband and six sons.

My mother was my staunchest defender and supporter – she could criticise me, but no-one else was allowed to do that: she was physically small, but she would have faced a lion to defend her two sons (albeit one needed more defending than the other).

I’m delighted that my daughter is following in the tradition: she is beautiful, intelligent, articulate and funny. She is more than a match for any man.

The human race would have expired centuries ago if child-bearing was not something done by women. Men could never endure the physical pain and stress of giving birth.

Women raise families, run households, have careers and now, in Scotland, run the country. Amazingly, they also find time to ‘look good’, because men expect that of them, even while our beer bellies swell and forests of hair emerge from our ears and noses.

In the early days of the Scottish Parliament I was the only male who attended meetings of the SNP Parliamentary Group Management Team. Other attendees were Kay Ullrich, Nicola Sturgeon, Shona Robison and Fiona Hyslop. No sane man would attempt to stand-up to those women individually, never mind as a group.

During my time as an MSP the Scottish Socialist Party had six members, including Carolyn Leckie, Rosie Kane and Frances Curran. As with the women in the SNP, they were there entirely on merit and proved themselves to be amongst the best politicians in the country.

Then there was my pal, Margo. Despite suffering from a terrible debilitating illness, Margo MacDonald was the brightest star in the parliament. She was so intelligent, so articulate and so funny.

None of these women needed any form of positive discrimination, they achieved their positions through ability and a determination to prove their gender was an asset not a hindrance.

Perhaps it is a misconceived belief of superiority that leads some men to think women are less than their equals. From my experience, in work, in politics, in life in general, women constantly prove themselves to be more than equal to men. When a problem arises, men will form a committee to look at setting-up a focus group that could examine possible options for inclusion in a brainstorming session to set-out ideas that might feed into a matrix of potential solutions. Women will identify the cause of the problem and sort it out.

There is no doubt in my mind that women are the stronger sex. Of course, physically, men are generally bigger and stronger, which is a major factor in the appalling statistics relating to domestic abuse.

So, to any men who might, in the future, find themselves feeling they want to hurt a woman they claim to love: please pause, take a step back and be a real man. Real men don’t hit women.

Alternatively, contact me and I’ll come to take your partner’s place. You can then throw a punch at me instead of her. Of course, I will hit you back.