Friday, 30 December 2011

Christmas

It is ironic that many Christmas cards we send and receive carry images of festive scenes from the Dickensian era.

Candlelight flickering through frosted windows; a father in heavy coat and top hat, trudging through thick snow, carrying presents for his family; a horse-drawn carriage passing along snow-covered cobbles, flakes of falling snow shimmering in the yellow light cast from gas lamps.  ‘Traditional’ Christmas scenes that give us a warm glow and make us feel good as we look forward to spending time with our family and friends.

The irony is that the Dickensian era, fondly depicted on Christmas cards, was actually marked by extreme poverty, a situation to which contemporary Britain is returning. 

The works of Charles Dickens were set mainly during the reign of Queen Victoria, a time when a small, elite group built fabulous wealth through the exploitation of the majority.  The Dickensian scenes on our festive cards depict the Christmas enjoyed by the wealthy: but for the majority of the population back then, Christmas was just another day of bitterly cold temperatures, insufficient food, grinding poverty and a future without hope.

Today, in North Ayrshire, a growing number of our fellow citizens are without work.  The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government in London is implementing a series of measures that will reduce the amount of benefit received by the poorest members of our communities; many claimants are forced to work for £10.00 per week on top of their benefit, a scheme the government describes as ‘work experience’, but which is actually a means of supplying large companies with a workforce that is paid a real-terms rate far below the minimum wage. 

North Ayrshire has the highest unemployment in Scotland, and some of the worst deprivation in the country: a recent report by the respected charity Save the Children revealed the local area now has the second-highest level of children living in severe poverty.

In Scotland - the European Union’s biggest producer of oil - every third family is now living in ‘fuel poverty’, which means they have to spend more than 10 per cent of their disposable income to heat their homes.  The level of ‘extreme fuel poverty’ – spending more than 20 per cent of income on heating – is rising steeply.  Lucy McTernan, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Bureau Scotland, was recently quoted saying, “There can no longer be any doubt that fuel poverty in Scotland is approaching crisis levels.”

After generations of social advancement, where governments strove to achieve full employment; where safeguards were put in place to prevent people falling into poverty; where standards of housing were improved; where barriers were removed from educational and workplace attainment, the Tory Government of Margaret Thatcher was elected and set about deconstructing the ‘social contract’.

Under Thatcher, all that mattered was making money: people were expendable, workers were to be exploited once again, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.  Her ideology was fully embraced by her successor, John Major, and by New Labour Governments under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.  Now we have the Tories back in power – with the help of the Liberal Democrats – and things are going from bad to worse.  The gap between the wealthy elite and the rest of us is returning to levels not seen since Charles Dickens was writing books and Jack the Ripper stalked the streets of Victorian London.

Tory Government Ministers don’t care about the plight of the poor.  Of course, they won’t admit this in television interviews or in newspaper articles, but it’s true.  Many of the Tory-Lib Dem Cabinet are millionaires: they are the Dickensian father in heavy coat and top hat, trudging through thick snow, carrying presents for his family.  They will enjoy the warm, happy Christmas depicted on festive cards.  Like the Dickensian wealthy-elite, the super-rich of today can’t begin to imagine how the poor will spend Christmas, and won’t devote much time, if any, to considering how parents feel when they know they’ve failed their children, simply because they lost their job, through no fault of their own, and can’t afford what is now perceived as a ‘normal’ Christmas.

The Tory-Lib Dem Government led by David Cameron is returning us to the dark days of fabulous wealth for a tiny minority, contrasted against an unremitting life of deep poverty for more and more of our fellow citizens.  We, the people, must not allow that to happen.

Another traditional Christmas favourite shows us a shining example of a better way, a better society, and again there is an element of irony to it.  The 1946 Frank Capra movie It’s A Wonderful Life – made in the USA, the most capitalist of societies – tells the story of one man’s feeling of failure because he believes he let down his family and the people of his home town.  In true Hollywood style, when the man, George Bailey, says he wishes he’d never been born and attempts to end his life by jumping into a raging river on Christmas Eve, his guardian angel, Clarence, saves him and goes on to show how so many people’s lives would have been poorer if George had never lived.

If you get a chance over the Christmas period, watch the film.  Irrespective of how many times you may have watched it before, it will still be inspirational.  It’s A Wonderful Life is not just a story about one man’s troubles and how he overcomes them, it is a metaphor for a better society, a socialist society.

Each of us touch so many lives in our journey from the cradle to the grave.  We can help or hinder our fellow citizens, we can decide to be selfish and look after ourselves, to the detriment of others, or we can work together to build a better life for us all. 

Saturday, 10 December 2011

The fight we have to win

Last week, in his Autumn Statement, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne revealed the Tory-Lib Dem Government is intent on waging war against the working class of Britain.

Surely, it can now be only the wilfully delusional who believe the Tory mantra of ‘we are all in this together’. The range of economic measures introduced by Osborne showed he and the Coalition Government he represents are determined the poorest should pay the debts run-up by multi-millionaire bankers and financial speculators. While those same dealers in the financial markets continue to take home six or even seven-figure salaries and bonuses running into millions of pounds, the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government announced measures that will punish the poor, including the decision to scrap a proposed rise to the Child Tax Credit, a move that will result in an additional 100,000 children being pushed into poverty.

The pro-capitalist politicians in the Tory-Lib Dem Government are content to see children go hungry in order to make financial ‘savings’ that will go towards paying the UK’s national deficit, a sum of money borrowed by the Westminster administration and used to bail-out banks that had gambled on ‘the markets’ and lost. To be fair, it was the previous Labour Government that borrowed the money to bail-out the banks, but there is no doubt the present Tory-Lib Dem administration would have taken the exact same course of action. Capitalists caused the collapse of their own economic system, but the children of working class families are being punished and made to sacrifice what little they have in order that capitalism can be re-financed and the whole corrupt system can begin all over again.

Last Wednesday, St Andrew’s Day, over 25,000 people marched through Glasgow in protest against UK Government plans to force public sector workers to pay considerably more in pension contributions, work years more than they had expected, and yet receive a much lower pension once they retire. Similar marches took place in virtually every city across the UK.

Public sector workers have every right to be very angry about the way they are being targeted by the UK Coalition Government, and those of us who work in the so-called private sector should learn from history: if we don’t support our sisters and brothers in the public sector, who will speak up when the Tories come for us? Contrary to the Tory-Lib Dem propaganda, we are not all in this together, but all of us who sell our labour to make a living – the working class – are definitely all in this fight together.

The day before the one-day strike, George Osborne’s Autumn Statement also included the news that the Tory-Lib Dem programme of savage cuts to public spending and services had resulted in higher unemployment and a stagnating national economy. So, what do the UK Government propose as Plan B? Bigger and deeper cuts, that’s what.

Previously, the government of millionaires predicted their ‘austerity measures’ would result in 310,000 public sector workers losing their jobs. Callously, that figure tripped-off Tory and Lib Dem tongues without a thought for the consequences, such as families losing income and having to exist on poverty-level benefits. Now, though, that figure for public sector redundancies has been revised...to 710,000. Notwithstanding the personal misery this will create for the workers concerned and their immediate families, we should consider those vulnerable members of communities across the country who rely on public services. Put simply, it will be impossible to continue delivering these vital services with a workforce reduced by almost three-quarters of a million.

Just for good measure, Osborne also announced that pay rises in the public sector will be capped at 1 per cent for the two years after the current pay freeze expires. With inflation running at over 5 per cent, the pay freeze and a cap at 1 per cent – in other words, a maximum pay rise of 1 per cent – means public sector workers are faced with four years of real-terms pay cuts, which could represent as much as a 16 per cent reduction in salary for some.

One of the most-quoted lines by Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs in the run-up to last week’s one-day public sector strike was that increased pension contributions were necessary because we are all living longer and therefore current pension provision is no longer affordable. That is a bare-faced lie. In general terms we are living longer, but the Hutton Report, on which the UK Government bases its current reforms, shows public sector pension payments peaked at 1.9 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – national wealth – in 2010-11, and will gradually fall over the next fifty years.

In addition, a closer look at public sector pension funds shows workers are already contributing more than is currently paid in the form of pensions. Presently, almost £300million more is paid into local government pension schemes in Scotland than is paid out to public sector pensioners. The largest scheme, the Strathclyde Pension Fund, of which most North Ayrshire Council workers are members, currently shows a surplus of £117million.

Successive UK Governments – Labour, Tory and Lib Dem – have raided these pension funds to help pay for a range of government initiatives, including rescuing the failed capitalist system.

The reality is that around three-quarters of a million public sector workers now face losing their jobs; those who remain in employment will see their wages significantly cut, and they are being told they must pay more in pension contributions, despite their retirement schemes being in surplus and the overall cost to the public purse is falling.

Like all of the other ‘austerity measures’ being imposed by the Westminster Government, the attacks on public sector workers are not necessary, they are entirely ideological. Even without the collapse of global capitalism and the ensuing economic crisis, the Tories would be attacking public sector workers and slashing public services - it’s what Tories do. This time they have the backing of the Liberal Democrats, and that party is currently receiving exactly what it deserves for its treachery: it was reduced to just four MSPs at this year’s Scottish Parliament Election and can expect to be wiped-out at next May’s Council elections.

Meanwhile, those of us who sell our labour – the working class – must stand together and fight together as we face attack after attack from an uncaring government in London, a government comprised of two political parties that we in Scotland soundly rejected at the ballot box. The capitalists may be the millionaires, but we are the millions. If we stand and fight together, they can’t beat us – and this fight is not just for our future, it is for the future of our children and grandchildren.

Monday, 21 November 2011

'The markets' and the November 30 strike

Having plunged much of the world into economic crisis, the faceless money-men of ‘the markets’ are now deciding who should run individual countries.

Already they’ve engineered the demise of the democratically-elected prime minister of Greece – ‘the markets’ let it be known they would be ‘very unhappy’ if the Greek people were asked their opinion on the imposition of even more ‘austerity measures’ in order to pay debts owed to foreign banks.  Then, just days later, ‘the markets’ turned their attention to Italy.

Silvio Berlusconi is an easy person to dislike, but he was democratically elected as prime minister by the Italian people.  Such things don’t bother ‘the markets’.  The money-men decided Berlusconi had to go, so interest rates on Italian loans were raised to ‘unsustainable’ levels, and ‘the markets’ let it be known the prime minister was the problem.  If Berlusconi resigned, they argued, the rate at which Italy had to repay loans would be reduced.  Otherwise, the country – the third-largest economy in Europe – could face a situation where it was unable to meet its financial obligations…to foreign banks.

So, Berlusconi announced he would step down, but that wasn’t enough for ‘the markets’.  They want to be sure whoever replaces him will do exactly as they want, so the punitive interest rates charged to Italy remained in place.

‘The markets’ and those who operate them caused the economic crisis, and now they’re dictating how countries respond.  The measures demanded of individual nations always include slashing public spending, throwing hundreds-of-thousands out of work; forcing-down wages, pensions and benefits, cutting public services and selling-off public assets...all to ensure private companies can infiltrate the public sector, maximizing their profits by driving-down wages, conditions and levels of service, while the bankers who operate ‘the markets’ are re-financed, allowing them to begin again their financial gambling.

Thankfully, in Scotland and across Britain, the fight-back is beginning.  Many trade unions representing public sector workers have balloted members and have received a mandate to take strike action on November 30.  The unions have made clear they are available – any time, any place – for talks with the UK Government, but it is unlikely the Tory-Lib Dem administration will be persuaded to end its attacks on ordinary working men and women.  Even if there had been no collapse of global capitalism, the Tories would still be attacking the public sector – it’s what Tories always do.  The Liberal Democrats, supporting the Tories every step of the way, will be wiped from the political map for their treachery, which is exactly what they deserve.

On November 30, in addition to the large public sector trade unions, such as UNISON and the PCS, strike action will also be taken by the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS), which means we will see the first strike by Scottish teachers in 25 years.  Although the Royal College of Nursing is not involved in the proposed action, many nurses are members of other trade unions and have supported the strike.  Of course, as has been the case in the past, nurses and unions will agree levels of cover for the day of the strike to ensure no patient is put at risk.

No-one takes strike action if it can be avoided, so we can be sure those who will withdraw their labour on November 30 feel they have no option.  Striking is the last resort, a very serious course of action taken in an attempt to get through to the government in London.  However, the chances that the Tory-led Government will listen are not good.

The attitude of Cameron and Clegg was emphasised by the Government’s response to the unions’ mandates to strike.  Immediately, Ministers attempted to split workers by announcing that those within 10 years of retiring could keep their previously-agreed pension levels, but everyone else would have to work beyond the age of 65, pay increased contributions, and receive less when they finally do retire.

The attempt won’t work, workers know this isn’t just about pension entitlement: it is about a sustained attack on the public sector and on ordinary men and women.  The Government’s action is about slashing public expenditure, but not because it has to be done – the UK’s debt as a percentage of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is currently much lower than it was for the majority of the 20th Century.  Nor is it about public sector pensions being ‘unaffordable’ – the current bill is less than 2 per cent of GDP – and the current average pension paid to a local government worker is just £4,000.

The reason the UK Government is slashing public expenditure, throwing hundreds-of-thousands of people onto the dole, and is increasing the pension contributions of teachers, nurses and local government workers is to generate ‘financial savings’, which will be redirected to provide liquidity for private banks – the same banks that caused the economic crisis – and to finance ‘the markets’ operating out of the London Stock Exchange.

One final point: the UK Government and the right-wing media will attempt to split workers by telling those employed by private companies that their counterparts in the public sector are getting one over on them by having better pensions.  Here is the reality: directors in the UK’s top 100 businesses currently rake-in pensions of more than £200,000 per year.  The most senior executives at these firms are sitting on pension funds worth £5.2million – giving them a yearly pension of £333,400.  Bosses are robbing their own workers to feather their pension nests, while the Tory-Lib Dem Government attempts to convince us that the solution is a race to the bottom, by dragging-down the pensions of public-sector workers.

The Westminster Government of Toffs – the original Cabinet after the 2010 General Election had 23 millionaires and 4 ex-bankers – is waging war on ordinary men, women and children.  They are attempting to force us to pay for bailing-out their well-heeled friends in ‘the markets’ – we’ve already contributed over £1trillion.

It’s time we fought back.  Support the striking workers on November 30.

Only told what they want us to know

Broadcasters are supposed to be impartial, but night after night we are subjected to indoctrination on television news programmes.

The BBC is not the worst offender, but it does frequently take sides rather than simply reporting the facts of a news story.  Supporters of Scottish independence will be aware of countless occasions over the years where the BBC has failed to impartially present the facts on issues relating to Scotland’s constitutional future.

Almost every night, in our so-called ‘national news’ broadcast from London, we hear stories about law and order, the health service and education, none of which have any relevance to Scotland.  Those areas of government policy are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, yet the BBC broadcasts English news into Scottish homes.

‘National’ news bulletins on the British Broadcasting Corporation also frequently refer to something having happened in ‘the north’, but they don’t mean Ullapool or Inverness.  In fact, while we have Reporting Scotland, the ‘local’ BBC news programme for a region located over 100 miles south of Ayrshire is called ‘North-West Tonight’.

For the past few months we’ve had BBC, ITN and Sky reporting from Libya on how heroic freedom-fighters were attempting to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi and his murderous thugs.  We were also informed of how NATO forces, including from Britain, only became involved to prevent a bloody slaughter of civilians in Bengazi.

In reality, what recently occurred in Libya was a civil war, and while Gaddafi was without doubt a brutal dictator, his regime also retained significant levels of support amongst a large section of the Libyan population.

None of the UK-based news organisations told the true story of what was happening in Libya: instead, they reported the UK Government line.  One very serious question broadcasters should be forced to answer, is why they did not report on the bloody massacre and total devastation that happened in Sirte, as rebel fighters, supported by NATO air strikes, closed in on Gaddafi.  Why was it imperative to protect the ordinary people of Bengazi but not Sirte?

With the murder of Gaddafi, London-based broadcasters are now telling us that Libya is moving towards its first democratic elections in over forty-years, but what they aren’t telling us is how America and Britain are working to ensure the next government of the country – which will include former members of the Gaddafi regime – will be supportive of western interests, in particular with regard to accessing Libya’s abundant oil fields.

NATO’s involvement in Libya had nothing to do with democracy or saving human lives, it was all about securing access to oil reserves, as was the case with the illegal invasion of Iraq.  However, those who rely on Britain’s London-based broadcasters for their news will have heard little of the truth.

Perhaps, though, the biggest misrepresentation of the facts by British news organisations occurs when they report on the current economic situation.

Again, the BBC, ITN and Sky News are guilty of carrying stories that portray capitalism as the only viable economic system.  We are told how European governments must impose severe austerity measures in order that funding can be provided to save international banks and financial institutions.  Even when acknowledging it was the banks and financial institutions that caused the economic crisis, television news reports tell us there is no alternative to a programme of refinancing them.  How often have you heard news reports recently warning that ‘the markets’ will not be happy if some country or other does not impose savage cuts to public spending?  These markets with such power over entire nations are the very spivs and speculators that caused the collapse of global capitalism – and let’s get that fact absolutely right: it is the corrupt capitalist system that has collapsed not individual nations.

Just the other night a BBC news reporter warned how action by the Greek Government could plunge Europe into disaster.  So, what catastrophic move was planned by the administration in Athens?  They planned to ask the people of Greece whether or not they agreed with an economic plan that would mean further savage cuts to public spending – resulting in more job losses and increased poverty – in order to repay loans to mainly American-owned banks.

Contrary to the BBC reporter’s dire warning, Europe would not have been plunged into disaster if the people of Greece had been asked their opinion, and had decided to put the interests of their society before those of global capitalism.  The world should not be operating to make a small elite ever more wealthy, while the majority struggle to survive.  Capitalism is all about exploitation: the rich exploit the poor, ‘the markets’ exploit entire nations; the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation work to increase the profits of banks and multi-national corporations, while forcing relatively poor countries to impose strict austerity measures and to privatise their publicly-owned assets, including their water supplies.

Capitalism causes inequality, poverty and ecological devastation, yet our ‘impartial’ news organisations tell us it is the only game in town.  How often have you seen politicians on news bulletins given free rein to advance their argument that there is no alternative?  Contrast that with how often you been allowed to see opponents of capitalism given airtime to explain the viable alternative?

Currently an anti-capitalist protest in London has received headlines because it has caused problems for St Paul’s Cathedral – but the protestors have no axe to grind with St Paul’s.  They actually wanted to take their protest to the London Stock Exchange, the heart of capitalism in the City of London, but the forces of the establishment were deployed to prevent that happening.  Police threw a cordon around the Stock Exchange to protect the capitalist system from the general public.  How often has that been explained by our ‘impartial’ news organisations?

Meanwhile, don’t expect to hear anything about the socialist alternative to the corrupt capitalist system.  Our ‘impartial’ broadcasters also practice censorship...censorship by omission.

Monday, 15 August 2011

David Cameron's 'big ideas'

Prime Minister David Cameron has outlined his ‘big ideas’ for reforming society, so that there is no repeat of last week’s riots.  His plan is to introduce compulsory ‘national service’ for all 16 year-olds, and to stop benefits and remove tenancies from anyone convicted of ‘anti-social’ crimes.

The ‘national service’ is to be non-military, and would involve all 16 year-olds having to attend three-week courses in abseiling, canoeing or some other ‘outdoor activity’.  The teenagers would also be expected to take part in a ‘community project’.  So, in reality, Britain’s young people are to be forced onto outward-bound schemes, and are then to work, for no pay, on tasks that otherwise would be done by workers receiving a wage.

What is to happen if a 16 year-old decides canoeing or hanging-off a rope somewhere is not for them, or what if a teenager understandably objects to being forced to work for nothing?  Will there be sanctions?  Will parents be punished if their 16 year-olds – adults in the eyes of the law – decide not to take part in Cameron’s jolly wheeze?

Where are the qualified and vetted instructors going to come from in sufficient numbers to provide outward-bound courses for every 16 year-old in Britain?  Where will these courses be run?  How much will taxpayers have to fork-out to pay for them?

This is the big idea of the man who is running our country.  Seriously?

Notwithstanding the fact that Cameron’s scheme does not take account of the very different circumstances of each 16 year-old in Britain, there is the small matter of how abseiling or canoeing is supposed to stop disadvantaged and marginalised teenagers from reacting angrily to the reality imposed on them by distant and out-of-touch politicians.

Then there is the plan to stop offenders’ Social Security benefits, and to terminate the tenancies of anyone who has a family member convicted of an ‘anti-social’ crime.  Are we really being asked to believe that the prime minister of this country thinks putting people out on the street with no money will transform them, and their families, into model citizens?

The problems that have created so-called ‘feral’ youths and marginalised communities started under the Tory Government of Margaret Thatcher.  They continued under New Labour – the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown oversaw a rapid expansion of the gap between the rich and the poor in Britain – and are getting worse under the present UK administration.  For 32 years successive British Governments have considered ordinary working class men and women to be expendable.  When young people see no jobs, no opportunities and no hope of a better life, is it any wonder they are angry?  Is it any wonder they react against ‘the establishment’, the politicians and the ruling elite who have created a society that has designated them as worthless?

Removing Benefits and throwing entire families onto the street will only make things worse.  Compulsory outward-bound courses and forcing teenagers to work for nothing will benefit very few, other than the private companies running the courses and ‘community projects’.

If we want to create a society where everyone adheres to the laid-down social ‘norms’, then we need to allow everyone to live a ‘normal’ life.  Living a normal life means having a job, being able to support yourself and your family, knowing the dignity of work, having a pride in your community and your part of it.  Living a normal life for our young people should be seeing opportunity ahead, knowing they are a valued and respected member of the community and of society – but that is not the life Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and Clegg have created for our teenagers and young adults.

Only when we put people before profit, only when we structure society to meet the needs of ordinary men and women rather than the profit-driven interests of multi-national corporations, will we get back to a national situation where everyone is valued, where no-one is written-off and marginalised, and where no-one feels so alienated they believe they have to riot to get their voices heard.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Riots

The scenes of rioting in the past week, firstly in London and then across other major cities in England, will have shocked many. At first glance there appears no legitimate reason for such destruction to property, with associated violence and theft, but many of those responsible feel their actions are justified.

So, how can that be: what possible justification can be made for the lawlessness we have all seen on nightly news bulletins? Actually, there is no justification, but if we fail to understand why some individuals firmly believe their actions are legitimate, then we will continue to produce a level of society that sees rioting as a valid expression of its anger.

Recently I took part in a discussion about poverty. One of those also taking part was a journalist from the BBC and, nice man though he was, his input starkly illustrated how out of touch with reality he, and so many others, remain. In well-paid, full-time employment, the man from the BBC thought living on benefits meant ‘tightening your belt’ and ‘having to go without some of life’s luxuries’. The discussion took place at West Kilbride public hall and I invited the BBC journalist to go with me to Asda in Ardrossan, where he would see a queue at the ‘marked down’ section, with people desperately trying to snap-up items reduced in price because they were about to pass their ‘sell by’ date.

Living on benefits doesn’t mean ‘tightening your belt’, it means not being able to afford a belt. Living on benefits doesn’t mean ‘having to go without life’s luxuries’, it means having to go without food. Living on benefits means not being able to buy shoes; it means hoping the washing machine doesn’t pack-in; it means not being able to afford clothes – even Primark’s low-cost range; it means eating until the money runs out and then living on whatever food is left and hoping it will see you through to the next benefit payment. Living on benefits is an existence, not a life.

When you are on benefits the only way to buy high-cost items, like televisions, washing machines, cookers, laptops and mobile phones, is by borrowing money – and the only people that will lend you money are those that charge the highest interest. If you are on benefits, banks won’t even consider offering you a loan, so you have to turn to those who will, such as Wonga.com with its APR rate of over 4000-percent, club books where prices are two and three-times those of shops, and illegal money-lenders, where interest rates are sky-high and failure to make a repayment brings a little more than an angry letter in the post.

Living on benefits means living in poverty, and living in poverty places you on the margins of society. On the margins you become isolated and totally disenfranchised. You cannot take part in ‘normal’ social activities. Going for a social drink is out of the question; the cinema is way beyond your reach; running a car, no chance; going to the football, even a Junior game with an entrance fee of £4.00 is beyond your reach. Then there are the necessities: new clothes for kids going back to school; paying gas and electricity bills; trying to give children nutritious meals – all to be achieved from benefits that can be as low as less than £10.00 per day.

Of course, anyone ‘feckless’ enough to be unemployed should just get off their lazy backsides and get a job, shouldn’t they? In North Ayrshire, at the last official count, there were 27 Jobseekers for every vacancy, and that doesn’t take into account the skilled nature of some of the vacancies. It doesn’t take very long on the buroo to eat into someone’s self-confidence: see how worthless and isolated you feel when job application after job application is unsuccessful, and when prospective employers don’t even deem you worthy of a reply.

With your hopes and aspirations smashed, with the knowledge that you are a failure for not being able to support yourself and your family; with no money; little food; holes in your shoes; and no positive role in society, how do you get your voice heard?

One of the criticisms levelled at rioters in English cities is that they are smashing-up their own communities, but that is not the case. The areas being attacked are town centres and shops – parts of towns that the dispossessed rarely visit. Looters are helping themselves to the things ‘normal’ people buy from shops but they, as sub-normal, can’t afford. The rioting is an expression of the anger felt by those our society has placed on the margins.

London, where the rioting started, has an additional racial element. A young black man in London is seven-times more likely to be subjected to ‘stop and search’ by the Metropolitan Police than a white man of the same age. Compound the anger of being placed on the margins with the belief that you are being targeted by those who police the society that has discarded you, and a volatile mix is created, just waiting to be ignited. Last week’s shooting-dead of Mark Duggin by police officers in Tottenham was the spark that lit the flame.

The immediate reaction of politicians has been to call for tough action against those who have rioted: water-cannons, plastic bullets and long jail sentences are just some of the initial proposals, but none of the highly-paid MPs and Government ministers has stopped to question what lies behind people taking to the streets and violently expressing their anger. Put quite simply, happy people don’t riot, and the reason so many people are extremely angry is because of the society created by politicians.

The young men and women who have rioted over the past week did not create their own unemployment, they did not put in place the capitalist economic system that has all-but bankrupted the Western world; they did not create the consumer society, where credit has financed purchases of ‘must have’ high-cost items; they did not build sub-standard housing; they did not waste billions of pounds on unusable nuclear missiles and on illegal foreign wars; they did not create a society of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’; they did not allow the marginalisation of entire communities. These things are the result of policies put in place and carried out by politicians.

No-one should attempt to justify violent disorder and lawlessness, but we do need to understand why people are angry, and why they feel that rioting is the only expression of anger to which politicians take any note. Sadly, rather than addressing the issues that have created the anger, politicians seem intent on cracking-down even further on society’s marginalised communities, thereby making the problem even worse.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Fascists hounded out of North Ayrshire

For the previous week the knuckle-draggers of the Scottish Defence League (SDL) had been posting their perverted, bigoted bile on far-right web sites, promising to descend on Irvine.  The date for the SDL ‘protest’ in North Ayrshire was last Saturday (July 30) and, on the day, around 40 intellectual and social inadequates managed to find their way to the Bridgegate, outside the shopping mall  in Irvine.

Once there, the small group attempted to hand out their leaflets of hate, but few of the North Ayrshire public wanted anything to do with them.  In fact, as he refused a leaflet , one Irvine man loudly said, “If that’s the master race, God help us!”

The SDL claims to be defending Scotland from Islam - they apparently believe we are in danger of sleepwalking into an Islamist State governed by Sharia law – and they target their hate-filled campaigns at areas of high unemployment and poverty, hoping to persuade locals that their fate is the fault of some all-powerful Islamist conspiracy, rather than because of the capitalist economic policies pursued by successive British governments.

The SDL is an offshoot of the English Defence League, and both populate the far-right of the political spectrum – they even hate the British National Party (BNP) for being too ‘namby-pamby’.

Put quite simply, these people are fascists.  They are racists, bigots and too stupid to understand why ordinary, decent human-beings find them totally repulsive. 

In Irvine, the SDL was outnumbered by three-times as many anti-racism protestors, and by officers from Strathclyde Police.  Then, after being shunned by the people of North Ayrshire, the right-wing troglodytes scuttled away, back to their hate-filled, inadequate wee lives.

They can now add North Ayrshire to the areas of Scotland that have rejected them and their perverted message.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

News of the World

The News of the World died as it had lived....destroying people’s lives.

As a member of the National Union of Journalists, I’m appalled that so many reporters and newspaper production staff have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.  It was not rank-and-file Journalists or sub-editors or printers who hacked into people’s phones, including those of murder victims and members of their immediate family.  The senior editors and executives who sanctioned such heinous acts are still in their jobs, but around 400 dedicated staff members have been given their P45s, without consultation or just cause.

Rupert Murdoch, the arch-Capitalist who runs News Corporation, the News of the World’s parent company, took the decision to close the tabloid newspaper because of the general public’s reaction to how its bosses had behaved.  People were shocked and angry.  Businesses pulled their advertising.  Murdoch looked at the situation and decided to close down the News of the World before it affected other parts of his global news corporation.  The action had nothing to do with any contrition or feeling of having done wrong by Rupert Murdoch and his senior managers: the motivation was financial.  Murdoch wanted to safeguard his profit margins, and staff members who had nothing to do with the scandal that engulfed the News of the World were considered to be expendable and paid with their jobs.

Already there is speculation that Murdoch saw an opportunity to reduce staff numbers and production costs by closing the News of the World and rescheduling working-time rotas at the Sun, moving that paper to seven-day publishing and introducing a ‘Sun on Sunday’ to replace the News of the World.  It would seem that, when you are a money-grabbing Capitalist rogue like Rupert Murdoch, even dark clouds cast by your company being caught hacking into the phones of murdered schoolgirls and dead soldiers can have a financial silver lining.

Of course, I’m biased in this matter.  I’m a Journalist and a socialist.  I stand on the side of ethical journalism.  I stand on the side of the people’s right to know and of full disclosure.

Readers have to be able to trust a newspaper’s content and know that reporters have secured information on a legitimate basis. 

However, the News of the World appears to think ethics is a county in England.  Along with its sister title - the Sun - the News of the World was most responsible for the low esteem in which tabloid journalists are held by much of the public.  Yet even those who already despised the newspaper and its gutter content must have been shocked at the latest revelations regarding the phone-hacking scandal.

What started as a run-of-the-mill story about a private investigator working for the News of the World and listening into the voicemail messages of Z-list celebrities and wannabes, suddenly became extremely serious.  Allegations that News of the World bosses sanctioned the hacking of mobile phones belonging to murder victims and their immediate families took the paper to new, previously unimaginable depths.

It’s also been common knowledge that certain newspapers will pay for a story, but disclosure that the News of the World broke the law by paying serving police officers for information about live investigations raised issues of corruption at the heart of an organisation the public must be able to trust.  The demise of the News of the World leaves unanswered questions, such as, who was calling the shots in these investigations, and to which paymaster were police officers answering?

In addition to the latest revelations, the News of the World had a long history of what it liked to call ‘stings’, where covert recordings were made of celebrities or public figures making unguarded or tactless comments.  Another word for what the paper did is entrapment.

Meanwhile, at the time of writing, it was being speculated that the former editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson – who was subsequently head of the prime minister’s press office – might be facing arrest.  Certainly, evidence now exists that suggests Coulson perjured himself at the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial.  It would seem Mr Coulson doesn’t do irony.

When asked by Tommy Sheridan if the News of the World had ever paid corrupt police officers, Andy Coulson replied, under oath, “Not to my knowledge.”  Unfortunately for him, though, the News of the World had apparently retained copies of e-mails that record Mr Coulson as the senior official at the newspaper who signed-off payments to individual police officers.  Perhaps the former Downing Street spin-doctor will argue he gave an honest answer to Tommy’s question, on the basis that when he authorised the payments the police were not corrupt, but they were when they pocketed the paper’s money.

Journalists need to cultivate sources, and must be prepared to protect those who speak-out and reveal issues that are of public interest.  However, there is a world of difference between legitimate sources providing information to substantiate a story, and what the News of the World did – which apparently included manufacturing stories, corrupting officials, illegally intercepting personal phone messages and even possibly misleading investigating police officers and grieving parents.  Nothing can condone or legitimise the News of the World’s actions, and Murdoch’s decision to sack the workers, while retaining the bosses behind the phone hacking and bribing of police, simply compounds the disgrace.

Few will mourn the passing of the News of the World – but the wrong people are paying the price of Rupert Murdoch’s greed and the malicious and unforgivable behaviour of his senior executives.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Unionists working together against Scotland

In May’s Scottish Parliament Election, the Liberal Democrats got what they deserved – next to nothing!

This is the party that eagerly jumped into bed with the Tories and signed-up to the most savage public spending cuts since Thatcher’s attack on ordinary men and women in the 1980s.  So keen were the Lib Dems to get their backsides on the backseats of ministerial motors that they happily ditched their principles and policies, including the commitment to not raise student tuition fees in England.

Also, we should not forget that through their coalition deal with the Tories, the Liberal Democrats ensured Scotland would be governed from London by parties that finished third and fourth, in terms of votes cast in Scotland.

Reduced to just five MSPs after May’s election – five too many – the Lib Dems had to seek a new leader in Scotland.  They didn’t exactly have a lot to choose from, which probably goes a long way to explaining how someone called Willie Rennie came to replace Tavish Scott.

Willie who?   Willie Rennie.  He lost his Westminster seat at the 2010 UK Election – having won Dunfermline & West Fife at a by-election in 2006.  He then managed to scrape into the Scottish Parliament this year, despite polling just 5.9% in the Mid-Scotland & Fife Regional vote.

Now Mr Rennie has decided he will defend the British Union and has taken it upon himself to ‘warn’ the people of Scotland that, “Because Alex Salmond is crafty, he may well get people over the edge before they know it.”

Apparently, Rennie is talking about independence and the proposed SNP Government referendum on the subject.  He, as a British Unionist, is against the Scots being allowed to govern themselves, and makes his position clear in a Sunday Herald interview when he says, “Our vote and the Tory vote are quite against independence.”  So, not only are they in bed with the Conservatives in London, the Lib Dems have also now fully signed-up to the Tory’s anti-Scottish agenda and will work with them in attempting to stop Scotland from becoming a normal, independent nation.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

No Team GB!

The announcement from the British Olympic Association (BOA) that it had reached an “historic agreement” with the football associations of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales regarding the fielding of a Great Britain team at next year’s London Olympics was a classic illustration of the problem with a Union of nations where the largest dominates the others.

Britain is not, never has been, and never will be a nation.  The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a union of nations, just like the EU is a union of nations.  Part of the indoctrination Scots have endured over 300 years within the British Union has been the instruction that our nationality is ‘British’.  It isn’t! We belong to the nation of Scotland, which means our nationality is ‘Scottish’.  Saying your nationality is British is as daft as claiming you belong to a nation called Europe and your nationality is ‘European’.

The BOA’s “historic agreement” also came as a shock to the football associations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, all of whom immediately issued press statements making clear they had reached no such agreement.  In fact, the three associations have consistently stated they would have nothing to do with a Great Britain football team at the Olympics.  The reality was that the British Olympic Association had decided to overrule them and attempted to bounce them into allowing Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh footballers to play as Great Britain.

Football is one of the areas where Scotland is recognised as a nation.  However, FIFA, world football’s governing body, has a number of members who resent the fact that Britain is allowed four separate ‘national’ teams.  A number of FIFA delegate countries have made clear their belief that if Britain is a nation, then it should have only one national football team.

The action of the football associations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, in not taking part in a Great Britain team, is to safeguard the footballing independence of each nation.

So, what is the answer?  It certainly isn’t to allow Scots to play football for a fabricated, pretendy nation called Britain.  Scotland is recognised as an independent nation in terms of international football, we should have the same status in terms of Olympic participation.

Team Scotland for the Olympics!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story

Between 1998 and 2004 the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) went from little more than a left-wing protest movement to Europe’s most successful socialist political party.

Building from one MSP elected  in 1999 – just a year after the party was formed – the SSP surged into Holyrood in 2003 with six members, having received the support of over 150,000 people at the ballot box.

To many of the general public the SSP was Tommy Sheridan, the party’s charismatic convener, but the reality was five other extremely hard-working MSPs, their equally committed staff and thousands of party members the length and breadth of Scotland.  Tommy was undoubtedly the high-profile frontman of the cause, but the SSP’s success was built on foundations created by so many other members who worked in the background, away from the limelight.

In reality, though, Tommy Sheridan’s impact on the SSP and on the public perception of the party was such that, were he to fall, the resultant crash would be of sufficient strength to severely weaken even the strongest foundations. 

Of course, Tommy did fall, in spectacular fashion, and the resultant damage to the SSP was almost fatal.

Much has been written about the ‘Sheridan trials’ – first when Tommy sued the News of the World, then when he was prosecuted for perjury arising from the first trial – and most people will have formed an opinion as to who was right and who was wrong.  Was Tommy right to take on the News of the World and the Murdoch empire over their salacious stories about his private life?  Were members of the SSP leadership right to refuse to lie in court?  Ultimately, who was responsible for actions that seriously damaged the cause of socialism?

One man who was at the centre of the devastation that befell the SSP in 2004 was Alan McCombes, a friend and political ally of Tommy Sheridan for twenty-years and formerly the party’s national policy and press co-ordinator.  In ‘Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story’, Alan McCombes sets out in detail what happened at SSP meetings and describes the two trials and their impact on those involved and on the socialist movement in Scotland.  It’s a fascinating story. 

I was an MSP through much of the time described in ‘Downfall’ and was relatively close to SSP MSPs on both sides of the divide that emerged in the party.  I, too, had formed opinions about what happened, but Alan McCombes’ book reveals just how little I actually knew.

It’s well worth a read.

Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story
Alan McCombes
Birlinn
ISBN:9781841587592

A modern democratic Scotland

This may be jumping the gun just a wee bit - given that we have yet to negotiate the Indpendence Referendum and a campaign that will see the British State unleash every dirty trick in the book to keep control of our country’s resources - but we really should start thinking about the kind of Scotland we want to see after we have retaken our independence.

Independence is the normal status for a nation.  It will give Scots the power and the right to govern our country in our interests, and not before time.  For over three-hundred years we have been a very subordinate partner in a British Union that removed power from Scotland and handed it to a ruling elite in London.  Don’t be taken-in by the facade of democracy that allows us to vote for Members of the British Parliament – the so-called United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is run by, and operated in the interests of the British Establishment, at the head of which sits the English monarch.  No amount of devolution will change that fact.

Within the current constitutional settlement we have a devolved parliament in Edinburgh, but that legislative body is entirely subservient to both the British/English parliament in London and the English monarch, Queen Elizabeth II (she’s the first Elizabeth Scotland’s ever had, so how come she’s Elizabeth II).  Every Member of the Scottish Parliament – democratically-elected by the people of Scotland – must swear allegiance to “Her Majesty the Queen, her heirs and successors” before they are allowed to take their seats.  Should any MSP decline to take such an oath, they would not be allowed to sit in the Scottish Parliament.  So much for a modern democracy!

Once we retake our independence and the right to govern ourselves, we really should drag Scotland into the 21st Century.  In a modern democracy there can be no place for unelected heads of state who live opulent and privileged lifestyles, paid for from the taxes of men and women, many of whom struggle to survive from day to day.  Today, if anyone tried to sell that idea from scratch, they would be told in no uncertain terms where to go.  Can you imagine: “Right, here’s what we’ll do.  We’ll pick this one family and we’ll all chip-in so they can live in a palace, maybe even two or three palaces.  Then we’ll give them an income that makes them amongst the richest people in the world, so they will never have to worry about a bill or how their children will be looked after.”  Aye, right!

In an independent Scotland we also need to put in place a social and political structure that prevents unscrupulous capitalists from gaining control of the nation’s economy – they would only bankrupt us again.  Take a look at history: the current collapse of capitalism is far from being the first.  Every time the capitalist system has crashed, ordinary working men and women have had to bail them out.  The lesson we should take into our modern Scottish democracy is that capitalism doesn’t work.

So, we definitely need to take control of our own country, and to do that we need to vote for independence when the SNP Government gives us the chance in its Referendum, probably around 2014.  But, when the dawn breaks on Independence Day, let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past.  There is no point in establishing an independent Scotland just to build a Scottish version of the failed British model. 

Our modern, democratic Scotland should be a fair and equitable society that puts people before profit.  Our new country for the 21st Century should be a democratic Scottish republic.