Friday, 28 December 2012

Raise your glass to Scotland

At this time of year we inevitably look back over the past twelve-months and forward to what lies ahead.
Scots around the world will think of home: some will shed a tear as the bells ring-out. Wherever their travels have taken them, whatever life they have made for themselves in a new country, for many the pride of being a Scot still burns strong, as it should.
For a nation of just five-million, the contribution Scots have made to the world is remarkable, and is something of which we – all of us who claim Scottish nationality - can be justly proud. In the fields of engineering, law, academia, business, entertainment and sport, Scots have excelled for generations and continue at the fore.
Of course, we don’t have a God-given right to excel, nor are we pre-disposed to success by virtue of being born within the borders of Scotland: the fact so many of our citizens continue to struggle in poverty disproves such a proposition. However, what history and contemporary achievement show is that, given the opportunity, Scots can prosper.
Those of our fellow Scots who have built a life for themselves elsewhere will raise a glass at the bells, and many will tell anyone who is prepared to listen of the great country in which they were raised. They are proud of their country, proud of Scotland. Those exiles will talk of their family, the people who loved them, raised them, educated them, trained them, made them what they are today. They are proud of those people, proud of the Scots.
It is, therefore, ironic and very sad that, back home in Scotland, some of their fellow Scots are prepared to rubbish the country and belittle the skills and abilities of its citizens.
As we enter 2013, Scots who favour our continued membership of the British Union are already resorting to scandalous scare stories in their attempts to frighten us from re-taking our political independence. In attempting to justify their position, those Scots-born Unionists tell us we are too wee, too poor and too stupid to govern our country. According to them, uniquely amongst all the peoples of the world, only the Scots are incapable of running their own affairs.
I have absolutely no doubt Scots are capable of successfully governing Scotland. Already, the SNP Scottish Government has proved itself very capable in the areas of power devolved from Westminster. Yet, if we think back to the devolution referendum of 1997, Scots-born Tories told us it would be a disaster for Scotland if we took even the limited powers on offer at the time. They told us we were ‘better together’ within the British Union. They were proved wrong.
Now, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have joined with the Tories in another ‘better together’ British Unionist campaign and they are telling us, again, that it would be a disaster for Scotland if we took all the powers of independence. They are wrong, again.
The sky didn’t fall in when we voted to take the powers of devolution, and it will remain firmly in place when, in 2014, we vote to take back the powers of independence, powers that the people of every other nation on the planet take for granted, powers that simply make us a normal country.
As they talk-down the ability of Scots to run their own affairs, the absurd position adopted by the so-called ‘Scottish’ Labour Party is that they would rather see multi-millionaire, posh-boy Tories govern Scotland from London, than have a Labour First Minister and a Labour Government in an independent Scotland.
In the last couple of weeks the Scots-born British Unionists have latched onto what they describe as ‘uncertainty’ over the position of an independent Scotland in relation to membership of the European Union. Apparently, any such uncertainty should mean that we vote against running our own affairs and just let the Tories take decisions on our behalf. In reality, there is no uncertainty: there is no legal mechanism for expelling people who are already citizens of the EU, and Scots have had that right since 1973.
Personally, I would rather Scotland was not a member of the European Union: the organisation has travelled far from its original ideal of raising the living standards of peoples across the continent, and is now little more than an adjunct of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the multi-national capitalist financiers who create poverty and misery (and profits for themselves) wherever they go.
Of course, until we retake our political independence, Scots will not have the power to decide on such issues.
We have also recently seen an intervention by a Scot living in England, no less a figure than the Labour-supporting manager of Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson. The former Govan boy told us it is unfair that he will not have a vote in the independence referendum.
Sir Alex will not have a vote because he is on the Electoral Register for the Cheshire constituency in which he lives, the same reason he has not had a vote in the Scottish Parliament elections of 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011.
Everyone registered to vote in a Scottish constituency will have their say in the independence referendum, irrespective of whether or not they were born in Scotland, and that is fair. Of course, if Sir Alex genuinely felt so strongly about the matter, and was not simply trying to muddy the waters on behalf of the British Unionist political party he supports, then he could actually forego his vote in his local constituency and, instead, apply to have his name entered on the Electoral Register at an address in Scotland. Don’t hold your breath.
In around 20 months’ time, the future of Scotland will be in the hands of the people of Scotland – all of the people of Scotland, not just those who happened to be born in the country. All residents of Scotland, 16 years of age and older, will have the right to vote in the independence referendum.

Meanwhile, wherever you are, raise a glass at the bells and toast the re-emerging nation of Scotland.

Happy New Year!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas

As Bart Simpson once said, we all seem to have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Santa.

Personally, I don’t hold religious beliefs, but I respect those who do. Faith is a very powerful conviction, and those who believe in the birth of Christ, the son of God, clearly derive great benefit from their religion. For practising Christians the ‘season of goodwill’ is about celebrating a miracle and a core tenet of their beliefs.

However, in the 21st Century, Christmas has been almost entirely taken-over by capitalist commercialisation, the pursuit of profit and, on the part of the general public, a belief that happiness can be achieved through the giving and receiving of largely expensive presents.

Before anyone begins to think this article is a ‘bah humbug’ socialist denunciation of the ‘joy of Christmas’ in its various forms, let me state for the record that I enjoy the festive season. I succumb to the commercialisation, I love the feeling of togetherness when families and friends share gifts and, more importantly, time. I have even attended midnight Carol services in local churches, both Roman Catholic and Church of Scotland. Does that make me a hypocrite?

If I am, then there are a lot of us around.

Whatever our personal beliefs, Christmas offers an opportunity to reflect on our lives and to spend time with the people who matter most to us. Scots, in particular, have perfected the extension of the ‘feel good’ atmosphere of the festive season by carrying it through Hogmanay and into the New Year. But, of course, for some there is little respite from the struggle that life has become.

Parents who are unemployed will do whatever it takes to give their children a Christmas, which often involves spending money they don’t have. Loan sharks, including those who advertise on television, will be only too happy to offer the cash for presents. Come the cold light of January, however, the loan will have to be repaid, and for those already-struggling parents the depressing spiral into unaffordable and unrepayable debt becomes a reality. In an increasing number of households, the joy of Christmas doesn’t last long.

Some years ago I came across a video in the discount bin of the Woolworths store in Saltcoats. It was marked-down to £1.00, so was worth buying. The film was one I had seen many years before and it had made a big impact on me, so I parted with a pound and took home a copy of It’s A Wonderful Life.

Since then, the 1946 movie has become fashionable. It’s now cool to say It’s A Wonderful Life is one of your favourite films, but I wonder how many of the recently-acquired fans actually understand the message of the story.

On the face of it,
It’s A Wonderful Life is a feel-good Christmas story, with the added religious element of an angel (second-class) earning his wings through helping George Bailey, the story’s main character. However, there is a much deeper dimension to the film, one for which the director, Frank Capra, was denounced by Hollywood right-wingers and US government agencies as ‘a socialist’ and ‘communist sympathiser’.

It’s A Wonderful Life, while culminating in a happy ending set around Christmas-time, actually tells a story of how much each of us touches the lives of others. We may be individuals, but how we live our lives and the actions we take impact on our family members, our friends and our communities. In one of the film’s classic scenes, George Bailey decides it would have been better for everyone if he had never been born. On a blizzard-swept bridge, George decides to commit suicide by jumping into the icy river below. However, he is rescued by Clarence Odbody, who we later discover is an angel not yet ‘fully qualified’ and so without his wings.

Clarence then shows George how things would have been if he really had not been born. Every member of his family, his friends and people they in turn interacted with would have been affected, many adversely, if George had never existed. The message is that, often without even knowing it, we, as individuals, contribute to the greater good of our families, communities and society.

The other main storyline in It’s A Wonderful Life involves the triumph of the community-backed Building & Loan Company over the capitalist, profit-driven bank operated by the corrupt Mr Potter.

Behind the human story and the feel-good Christmas message lies a narrative about socialism versus capitalism, a story that has never been more relevant than today. The impact each of us makes on others, and the huge shared benefits of working together for the greater good, produce a better life and a fairer society when compared to the inequality and struggle of the majority that results from the capitalist system operated by the Mr Potters of the world.

Whatever your circumstances and beliefs, I hope you have a great Christmas – and if you get a chance over the festive season, watch It’s A Wonderful Life, preferably on Christmas Eve. Whether or not you endorse the film’s socialist message, you can’t fail to enjoy the feel-good Christmas mood it generates.
Happy Christmas!
As Bart Simpson once said, we all seem to have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Santa.

Personally, I don’t hold religious beliefs, but I respect those who do. Faith is a very powerful conviction, and those who believe in the birth of Christ, the son of God, clearly derive great benefit from their religion. For practising Christians the ‘season of goodwill’ is about celebrating a miracle and a core tenet of their beliefs.

However, in the 21st Century, Christmas has been almost entirely taken-over by capitalist commercialisation, the pursuit of profit and, on the part of the general public, a belief that happiness can be achieved through the giving and receiving of largely expensive presents.

Before anyone begins to think this article is a ‘bah humbug’ socialist denunciation of the ‘joy of Christmas’ in its various forms, let me state for the record that I enjoy the festive season. I succumb to the commercialisation, I love the feeling of togetherness when families and friends share gifts and, more importantly, time. I have even attended midnight Carol services in local churches, both Roman Catholic and Church of Scotland. Does that make me a hypocrite?

If I am, then there are a lot of us around.

Whatever our personal beliefs, Christmas offers an opportunity to reflect on our lives and to spend time with the people who matter most to us. Scots, in particular, have perfected the extension of the ‘feel good’ atmosphere of the festive season by carrying it through Hogmanay and into the New Year. But, of course, for some there is little respite from the struggle that life has become.

Parents who are unemployed will do whatever it takes to give their children a Christmas, which often involves spending money they don’t have. Loan sharks, including those who advertise on television, will be only too happy to offer the cash for presents. Come the cold light of January, however, the loan will have to be repaid, and for those already-struggling parents the depressing spiral into unaffordable and unrepayable debt becomes a reality. In an increasing number of households, the joy of Christmas doesn’t last long.

Some years ago I came across a video in the discount bin of the Woolworths store in Saltcoats. It was marked-down to £1.00, so was worth buying. The film was one I had seen many years before and it had made a big impact on me, so I parted with a pound and took home a copy of It’s A Wonderful Life.

Since then, the 1946 movie has become fashionable. It’s now cool to say It’s A Wonderful Life is one of your favourite films, but I wonder how many of the recently-acquired fans actually understand the message of the story.

On the face of it,
It’s A Wonderful Life is a feel-good Christmas story, with the added religious element of an angel (second-class) earning his wings through helping George Bailey, the story’s main character. However, there is a much deeper dimension to the film, one for which the director, Frank Capra, was denounced by Hollywood right-wingers and US government agencies as ‘a socialist’ and ‘communist sympathiser’.

It’s A Wonderful Life, while culminating in a happy ending set around Christmas-time, actually tells a story of how much each of us touches the lives of others. We may be individuals, but how we live our lives and the actions we take impact on our family members, our friends and our communities. In one of the film’s classic scenes, George Bailey decides it would have been better for everyone if he had never been born. On a blizzard-swept bridge, George decides to commit suicide by jumping into the icy river below. However, he is rescued by Clarence Odbody, who we later discover is an angel not yet ‘fully qualified’ and so without his wings.

Clarence then shows George how things would have been if he really had not been born. Every member of his family, his friends and people they in turn interacted with would have been affected, many adversely, if George had never existed. The message is that, often without even knowing it, we, as individuals, contribute to the greater good of our families, communities and society.

The other main storyline in It’s A Wonderful Life involves the triumph of the community-backed Building & Loan Company over the capitalist, profit-driven bank operated by the corrupt Mr Potter.

Behind the human story and the feel-good Christmas message lies a narrative about socialism versus capitalism, a story that has never been more relevant than today. The impact each of us makes on others, and the huge shared benefits of working together for the greater good, produce a better life and a fairer society when compared to the inequality and struggle of the majority that results from the capitalist system operated by the Mr Potters of the world.

Whatever your circumstances and beliefs, I hope you have a great Christmas – and if you get a chance over the festive season, watch It’s A Wonderful Life, preferably on Christmas Eve. Whether or not you endorse the film’s socialist message, you can’t fail to enjoy the feel-good Christmas mood it generates.
Happy Christmas!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Hammering the poorest again

Britain continues to be an economic basket case. This was confirmed in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn Statement.

Savage cuts to public services and jobs will continue to be imposed – in fact, they will be increased –and will last, at the very least, until 2018.

If you listen to George Osborne MP, the multi-millionaire Chancellor of the Exchequer, the country is in this mess because ‘we’ spent more than ‘we’ could afford over many years, and the debt now has to be repaid. I don’t remember spending more than I could afford, so it must have been you. No? Who, then, is the ‘we’ to whom Mr Osborne refers?

It was, of course, spivs and speculators in privately-owned banks and financial institutions within the City of London. But if the banks are privately-owned, why are ‘we’ paying the debts they accumulated through their greed-motivated dodgy deals? Well, that is because, as the politicians tell us, ‘we’ are all in this together.

The Labour Government of Gordon Brown used billions-of-pounds of public money to bail-out the failed private banks. The result of which was that private debt became public debt. The Tory-Lib Dem Coalition Government carried on with the same strategy and, as Osborne confirmed last week, things are going from bad to worse.

In theory the private banks will repay the public money that was used to prevent them going bankrupt, but I wouldn’t hold your breath while you wait for that to happen. Meanwhile, the unscrupulous bankers and dealers continue to rake-in lottery-winner levels of cash through inflated salaries and bonuses.

Against that background, the Chancellor said his Autumn Statement was fair, but it wasn’t.

Osborne announced that the poorest people in the country, those on state benefits, would have rises to their income pegged at 1% in each of the next three years. That figure is well below the rate of inflation, which means the poorest will actually receive a cut to their income, making them even poorer. In 2010, when the Chancellor changed the economic index to which benefit rises were linked, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (hardly a bunch of Lefties) stated that the move would drive an additional one-million British children into poverty. The latest cut for benefit recipients will exacerbate that situation further.

Reacting to the Autumn Statement, Anne Marie Carrie, Chief Executive of children’s charity Barnardos, said, “Yet again it is children from impoverished families who are unfairly suffering most under the government’s austerity measures. By effectively breaking the link between benefits and inflation in his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor has ensured a bleaker and bleaker future for Britain’s poorest families. We know that children growing up in low income households are more likely to suffer from chronic illness, do less well in education and struggle to find work on leaving school.”

George Osborne also announced that wage rises for public sector workers – the people who deliver the services we all use and need – will also be pegged at 1%. Again, as the figure is below the rate of inflation, this means a real-terms pay cut.

Elsewhere in the Autumn Statement it was revealed that the UK Government will impose cuts totaling £5.18bn to welfare spending, which is in addition to the £18bn of cuts already announced.

None of the people on the receiving end of these devastating cuts was responsible for creating Britain’s economic mess.

So, what of those at the other end of capitalism’s pyramid, the fat-cat business elite who deal in the same murky world as the bankers and financial speculators? For them, the ‘fair’ Autumn Statement brought a cut to the rate of taxation paid by their companies. Osborne announced Corporation Tax would be immediately reduced by 1%, and slashed by a further 2% over the next two-years. Proudly the Chancellor of the Exchequer boasted, “This is the lowest Corporation Tax rate of any major Western economy.”

Britain’s right-wing newspapers were only too happy to take-up and repeat the Tory-Lib Dem spin of a ‘fair’ Autumn Statement, citing as evidence the Chancellor’s commitment to secure £2bn from corporations who currently don’t meet their full obligations under the taxation system. What both the UK Government and their supporters in the media chose to ignore, is the actual figure lost to the country every year from tax avoidance and evasion by corporations and company directors – a staggering £120bn. This figure was calculated by staff within HM Revenue & Customs, workers who would happily go after those who don’t pay their fair share in taxation. But, like every other public sector organisation, HMRC has been devastated by cuts to funding and job losses, which mean staff no longer have the time or resources to pursue the tax dodgers.

The reality is that if the rich paid their fair share (the £120bn they currently keep every year), ‘we’ could create 4.8-million new jobs paying £25,000 a year.

‘We’ did not spend money ‘we’ didn’t have, and ‘we’ are certainly not all in this together.

The capitalist system is corrupt and works only to make a very small group of people extremely wealthy at our expense. In their pursuit of more and more wealth, the rich caused Britain’s economic crisis, yet it is the poor who are paying for it.

Capitalism cannot be amended to make it fairer, its core principle is unfairness. Those at the top of the capitalist pyramid can only accumulate wealth by exploiting the majority through paying us less than the value of our labour, and then charging us inflated prices for the goods and services we produce.

Capitalist political parties – Tory, Labour, Lib Dem, even the SNP – will never change the system that rewards their big donors. If we are to create a truly fair society by putting the needs of the people before the interests of profit-driven corporations, we need socialism.

Friday, 23 November 2012

When Ardrossan was 'the key to the Clyde'

Exactly one-hundred years ago, Ardrossan was the centre of an action that was to impact not only on Scotland but the entire UK.

I’ve written before of my anger that the once-thriving port of Ardrossan was allowed to die, replaced by a yachting marina. My father was an Ardrossan Docker, so I declare an interest and readily admit my bias. In my opinion the ending of commercial operations at Ardrossan harbour – save for the Arran ferry – ripped the beating heart from the town.

I was the Councillor for Ardrossan North in the early 1990s, when a yachting marina was first proposed. I was the only Councillor who objected to the plan. At the time, I was told by those behind the marina that commercial shipping operations were a dying trade and that the transformation into a yachting facility would bring hundreds of jobs. I didn’t believe them.

Some 20 years later the essential equipment of a commercial port has been removed – meaning a return to such work is impossible – and only a handful of workers are employed to service the needs of the weekend sailors who moor their yachts at Ardrossan.

In 1912 the port of Ardrossan was growing – the previous 12 months had seen over 1-million tonnes of cargo shipped through the dock, with between 200 and 250 men employed to load and unload ships from all over the world. Exports from Ardrossan mainly consisted of coal, much of it mined at Stevenston. In addition, the coming of the railway brought more coal from Lanarkshire mines and passengers for steamers to Arran, Belfast, Dublin and Liverpool.

The early years of the 20th Century saw a rapid rise in membership of trade unions as workers sought to improve their wages and conditions. Initially, the Ardrossan Harbour Company had refused to even speak with representatives of the Scottish Union of Dock Labourers (SUDL), far less were they prepared to enter into negotiations.

However, in October 1912 the SUDL informed the Harbour Company that 20 coal-trimmers employed at Ardrossan were seeking an increase of one-quarter of a penny (a farthing) per shift. Coal-trimmers were Dock Labourers who entered the hold of a ship and, using shovels, evenly distributed the cargo of coal. A farthing extra a shift would have brought their pay into line with other coal-trimmers at ports on the Clyde.

Ardrossan Harbour Company refused to pay the extra money and the union indicated strike action would begin on October 29 1912. The very same night ‘scab’ labour from Glasgow was brought to Ardrossan to break the strike, suggesting the Harbour Company had been well prepared and was ‘up for a fight’. Documents from the time show that port owners saw the Ardrossan dispute as an opportunity to break the growing power of trade unions and once-again establish ‘free-labour ports’ where the bosses could hire and fire as they pleased, and could drive-down wages and conditions.

It quickly became clear that Ardrossan was to be the battle ground in the fight between capital and labour. Joseph Houghton, Secretary of the Scottish Union of Dock Labourers, coined the phrase that was to describe the dispute – he said Ardrossan was “the key to the Clyde”.

Although the initial issue involved just 20 coal-trimmers, all Dock Labourers and other workers at the port of Ardrossan took strike action from October 29. The strike was also strongly supported by the people of the town. One story, reported in the local and national press at the time, told of Ardrossan Dock workers and local people meeting a train bringing ‘scab’ labour from Glasgow. When the strike-breakers emerged from the Town Station onto Princes Street, they were attacked, beaten-up and put onto the next train back to Glasgow.

Eventually, as still happens in disputes between capital and labour, the police were brought-in on the side of the bosses. Officers were deployed along the railway line into Ardrossan to prevent local people from stoning ‘scab’ trains, while others protected strike-breakers at the Town Station and guarded the dock where the Glasgow men were billeted.

Despite these efforts, the total support of all Dock Labourers and Cranemen at Ardrossan, with sympathetic action by the Seaman’s Union, meant the port owners struggled to continue operations. The Scottish Union of Dock Labourers met the cost of strike pay for those who withdrew their labour, and also paid the fines of Dockers convicted of ‘breach of the peace’ and other offences in relation to the treatment meted-out to the imported ‘scab’ labour.

After ten-weeks of strike action, representatives of the Ardrossan Harbour Company agreed to meet with officials from the SUDL. After negotiations, a compromise was reached that saw coal-trimmers receive a farthing extra, but only when working night-shift. The concession on the side of the bosses was that they agreed to re-employ all workers who had taken strike action.

However, the real winners of the battle that became known as ‘the key to the Clyde’ was organised labour. Ardrossan Dockers, with the total support of their trade union, defeated the strength of port owners in their attempt to ‘de-unionise’ the Clyde.

Such was the national significance of the Ardrossan strike that leaders of organised labour in Britain, including trade unionists such as Ben Tillet and Tom Mann, travelled from London to address strikers and local people. Had the Dockers been defeated at Ardrossan, port owners around the coast of Great Britain would almost certainly have seized the opportunity to take on and defeat the unions.

In contrast, the successful strike at Ardrossan played a significant part in bringing together into one trade union Dock Labourers at all British ports. In 1922 the Transport & General Workers Union (TGWU) was formed, with Ardrossan strike-leader Joseph Houghton one of the original executive members.

Twenty-five years later, in 1947, the post-war Labour Government acceded to proposals from the TGWU and introduced the National Dock Labour Scheme, which ended ‘casual’ labour in the docks and, for the first time, introduced a guaranteed minimum weekly wage for Dockers.

The Scheme survived until 1989 when it was scrapped by the Tory Government led by Margaret Thatcher. Within ten years the commercial dock at Ardrossan was dead.

----
A full account of the 1912/1913 Ardrossan dock strike is told in the booklet ‘Ardrossan – The Key to the Clyde’ (ISBN 1 897998 00 7), written by Saltcoats-man Billy Kenefick. Dr Kenefick is now Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Dundee.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Who are the terrorists?

At the time of writing, Israel is calling-up thousands of military reservists to augment its full-time army. Soldiers and tanks are being sent to the border with Gaza. The signs point to another possible Israeli invasion of the small Palestinian enclave.

The last major Israeli offensive, over the 2008/2009 new year period, resulted in the deaths of around 1,500 Palestinians, including women and children. That invasion saw Gaza bombarded from the air by Israeli military jets and on the ground by missiles fired from tanks. Gaza is one of the most heavily-populated places in the world – 1.7 million Palestinians live in the area just 25 miles long and between 3.5 and 7.5 miles wide. Israel knew then – and knows now – that its aggression would result in the deaths of civilians.

A majority of Gaza residents are refugees, forced from their homes and their lands to make way for the State of Israel and for Jewish settlers. Although electing its own government, Gaza is under the control of Israel, which enforces a blockade – air, land and sea – and polices the border.

Against such oppression – both historic and current – some sections of the Palestinian population in Gaza attempt to ‘tweak the nose of the giant’ by firing rudimentary rockets into Israel. Against the state-of-the-art military hardware of Israel, the Palestinian rockets are more like a Blue Peter version – home-made using washing-up bottles and sticky-back plastic. Most of the rockets have no guidance system and fall harmlessly onto Israeli countryside (land stolen from Palestinians).

That is the reality of the situation, but western media, including the BBC, regurgitate Israeli propaganda by reporting that the Jewish state is simply ‘protecting’ its population and ‘retaliating’ to ‘Palestinian attacks’.

The current Israeli military build-up on the border of Gaza comes after some rockets were fired from within the territory – again the Israeli spin-machine has portrayed this as Palestinian aggression, and western media reports the story from that perspective: the headline on the BBC News web site read – “Gaza rocket fire kills Israelis”. However, the untold story is that more Palestinians were killed by Israeli rockets in Gaza on one day last week than Israelis killed by Palestinian attacks in the past three years.

Palestinian rockets were targeted at Israel last week after the Jewish state killed Ahmed al-Jabari, described as a ‘military leader’ of Hamas, the political party that forms the democratically-elected government of Gaza. al-Jabari had actually been involved in talks with Israel to broker a peace deal. He was travelling in his car with others when an Israeli air-strike wiped him out, along with his companions and civilians who just happened to be nearby. The attack was filmed by the Israeli military and was posted by them on YouTube.

In this action, Israel is following the lead of its staunchest ally, supporter and funder – the United States of America. Since the supposedly liberal Democrat Barak Obama was first elected President in 2008, America has embarked on a policy of extra-judicial killings. No longer does the USA seek to bring ‘the bad guys’ to justice: now it simply ‘takes them out’, often by blowing them up with missiles launched from unmanned drones. Somewhere in the Pentagon an unidentified military officer sits with a joystick, guiding his drone to its kill, in much the same way as adolescents sit in their bedrooms playing computer games – but the Americans, and the Israelis, kill for real.

When countries like America and Israel abandon the rule of law, when they set-aside due process and small things like accumulating evidence of wrong-doing, presenting it to a court and securing convictions, then there is little to differentiate them from those they brand as ‘terrorists’.

If Israel embarks on another military offensive in Gaza, firing American-made missiles into residential streets where Palestinian children cower in fear, then that will be nothing more than another act of state-sponsored terrorism.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Britain's obscene killing machines

In 1996, the International Court of Justice declared that to use - or threaten to use - nuclear weapons is illegal in almost all conceivable circumstances. The one exception would be in retaliation to a nuclear attack.

However, where two countries embark on a nuclear war, the outcome is known as ‘MAD’, which stands for Mutually Assured Destruction. The two countries which used nuclear weapons against each other would see millions of their citizens killed and their national infrastructure would be blown back to the stone-age. To all intents and purposes those countries would cease to exist.

The most heavily-armed nuclear country is the United States of America, closely followed by Russia. In fact, the two nations possess 95% of all the nuclear weapons on the face of the planet. Their arsenals are mainly a legacy of the Cold War, which ended around 20 years ago. Both America and Russia (and the United Kingdom) claim their nuclear weapons of mass destruction act as a deterrent, preventing other nations from launching attacks against them. However, terrorist groups have not been deterred. Nuclear weapons, which kill indiscriminately and on a mass scale, could not have been used against those who carried out murderous attacks against New York, Moscow and London.

Nuclear weapons cannot be used, yet nine countries – including the United Kingdom – continue to spend billions-of pounds creating and maintaining them.

Last week, Philip Hammond MP, the UK Defence Secretary, came to Scotland and used his visit to announce the British Government will spend £350m on designing new nuclear-armed submarines to replace the current Trident boats. This spending commitment is in addition to £350m previously announced for the same purpose. In total, therefore, the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition Government will spend £700m of our money designing new submarines to carry nuclear missiles that can never be used. This money will be spent despite the fact no decision on replacing the four Trident subs will be taken by the UK Parliament until 2016, a year after the next scheduled Westminster Election.

During his visit, Mr Hammond also made clear that the UK Government does not intend to make any plans to move Britain’s nuclear base from Faslane on the Clyde. Despite a majority of Scots consistently indicating their opposition to nuclear weapons being located on Scottish soil or in our waters, and despite the very real possibility that Scots will retake our national independence in 2014, the London-based British Government arrogantly presumes their costly weapons of mass destruction will be staying where they are.

All of the main pro-independence political parties – the Scottish National Party, Scottish Socialist Party and the Green Party – are committed to removing nuclear weapons from Scotland, including our territorial waters. The SNP’s recent conversion to supporting membership of the nuclear-armed North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has perhaps clouded the issue, but the presumption still has to be that the government of an independent Scotland will take action to permanently remove Trident submarines and their missiles, whether or not that suits the agenda of a pro-nuclear government in London.

The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (SCND) has produced a detailed document explaining the timescale for making-safe Britain’s nuclear missiles and ultimately removing them from Scotland. The document, widely acknowledged as being accurate, states that Trident (the missiles on all four subs) could be deactivated within seven-days, with most of the time taken up by waiting for the return to base of the subs out on patrol.

The next step would be to remove warheads from the missiles, which SCND has calculated could be done in about eight to ten weeks.

Overall, SCND states the safe removal, storage and verification of warheads, missiles and submarines could take around two-years, meaning Britain’s nuclear arsenal could cease to exist by 2018 (two-years after the first election to Scotland’s independent parliament created as a result of the 2014 referendum).

If Westminster politicians want to retain their hugely expensive weapons of mass destruction, then perhaps the arrogant Mr Hammond and his Tory-led Government should start showing some respect for the will of the Scottish people.

In addition to the already-committed design costs of £700m, it is projected that to build and maintain a new missile system to replace Trident will cost UK taxpayers between £72bn and £120bn. One bonus of Scots re-taking our political independence, therefore, would be a financial saving of up to £12bn from not creating more weapons of mass destruction.

However, the greater benefit would be in making the world a safer place. Currently, with the existing Trident system, the UK has four nuclear-powered submarines, three of which are always operational. There are 14 nuclear missiles with forty-eight 100kiloton warheads on each submarine. This can be increased to 96 warheads, giving a potential total of 384. One Trident warhead is eight-times more powerful than the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Therefore, the existing UK nuclear arsenal is capable of producing 3,072 Hiroshimas. There were around 140,000 people killed by the Hiroshima bomb (not including those who died much later as a result of the nuclear fall-out). Right now, the United Kingdom has the capacity and the capability to kill in the region of 43,000,000 people using missiles on Trident submarines based in Scotland.

Scots don’t want these obscene killing machines.

Just one more reason to vote for independence.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

The truth behind allegations that Salmond lied



Friday, 19 October 2012

We are the Scots who can make history

Last Monday (October 15) was an historic day for Scotland, and not just because the sun shone in October.

An agreement signed by Alex Salmond and David Cameron means that, for the first time, Scots will be asked their opinion on Scotland’s future. What actually happened as a result of the UK Prime Minister and Scotland’s First Minister appending their names to the ‘Edinburgh accord’ was that powers under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 were transferred from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament. Those powers remove legal barriers that prevented the Scottish Parliament organising and holding a referendum on the constitutional future of Scotland. All of which means there will be an Independence Referendum in 2014.

I’ve campaigned all of my adult life for Scotland to retake the status, powers and responsibilities of a normal, independent nation – and now, at last, I will get the chance to vote on that proposition.

The fact we have reached this historic stage on our nation’s journey marks a remarkable achievement for the independence movement and, in particular, the Scottish National Party. It is not so very long ago that the SNP was considered a fringe party in Scottish politics, but now it forms our country’s government and one with an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament. To have made such a transformation speaks volumes for the party, particularly when we consider that not one of the ‘national’ newspapers sold in Scotland supports independence.

At the last Scottish Parliament Election, in 2011, some newspapers reluctantly gave support to the SNP, mainly on the basis that Alex Salmond was considered the best candidate for First Minister, and the principle party of opposition, Labour, offered no positive vision for Scotland. However, while backing the SNP/Salmond ticket to form the devolved administration at Holyrood, the same newspapers stopped short of supporting independence.

Media support – even in some cases just a lack of hostility – certainly helped propel the SNP to its great victory in May 2011, but now most newspapers will take-up a strongly anti-independence position, which will make all the more difficult the fight to restore to Scotland the status of a normal, independent nation.

Our so-called ‘national’ newspapers are mainly owned by companies based in England and take their editorial positions from head-office. Like the pro-British Union political parties – Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat – these pro-British Union newspapers support independence and the right to self-determination for every nation on the planet...except Scotland. This opposition to Scottish independence is couched in paternalistic language - the benevolent English nation is saving us Jocks from ourselves.

The British Unionist line is that Scotland without English financial support would be an economic basket case, and such indoctrination has been very successful, which is why you will hear Scots of all ages repeat the mantra that we couldn’t stand on our own two-feet, we are too poor. Of course, if we really were such a weak and poor country, that would actually be an argument for independence, given our economy has been run by British Unionist governments for the past 300 years.

The reality, though, is that if Scotland was an economic drain on England they would have parted with us long ago. Scotland, with our abundant natural resources, is the cash-cow that keeps the entire British economy from bankruptcy. Anyone who doubts this proposition should Google the ‘McCrone Report’, the 1970s document that looked at the potential economic future of an independent Scotland. Needless to say, the report was classified ‘Top Secret’ by the British government and locked away in Whitehall’s files until it recently came to light as part of a Freedom of Information request.

More contemporary figures show an independent Scotland, with control of our North Sea oil reserves, would be the 6th wealthiest nation in the world. The standard of living enjoyed by Scots would be far superior to that currently experienced as part of the British Union, where 1-in-4 children live in poverty and over 2,000 pensioners die every winter because they are poor and can’t afford to pay gas and electricity prices charged by private companies.

The figures showing an independent Scotland would be the 6th wealthiest country in the world – the UK is currently 16th – come from the Annual International GDP per capita data produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Estimates of annual Scottish GDP levels produced as part of the Scottish National Accounts Project (SNAP), Annual Scottish population estimates produced by the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS), and Annual GDP and population figures for the UK produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Norway, with a population smaller than Scotland, also discovered oil in its sector of the North Sea in the 1970s but, as an independent country in full control of its own affairs, it has built-up a ‘Futures Fund’ that now stands at over £300bn and which is used to the benefit of the Norwegian people. Norway is currently the second most-wealthy nation in the world, while Scotland – a devolved region within the British Union and without control over our own affairs – has some of the highest unemployment and worst deprivation in Western Europe.

Ah but, the oil is running out, the British Unionists tell us. In fact, they’ve been telling us that for forty years, while the true position shows that, today, around 40% of the total oil reserves in the Scottish sector of the North Sea remain to be exploited, which represents a wholesale financial value in the region of £1trillion – and that is the main reason UK governments of all persuasions want to keep Scotland in the British Union.

Currently, Scotland contributes 9.6% of total UK taxation but receives back in public expenditure just 9.3%, which means we are paying £1,000 extra for every Scottish man, woman and child – yet the British Unionists have the cheek to tell us we are ‘subsidy junkies’ and that we are too poor to stand on our own two-feet as an independent nation.

Back in 1707, Scotland was sold into a political union with England. More accurately, England took control of Scotland and has governed us ever since. The ordinary people of Scotland rioted in the streets in opposition to the formation of the British Union, but their opinion was ignored and, in the intervening 305 years, not once have Scots been asked whether or not they wished to remain within that British Union. The Independence Referendum in 2014 is our first opportunity to have our say.

Over the next two years, British Unionists – political parties and the media – will bombard us with every imaginable lie, distortion and dirty trick in their efforts to keep control of Scotland and our wealth. For our part, we must overcome the Scottish cringe, the inferiority complex that has seen so many Scots meekly accept that, alone amongst the peoples of the world, it is only us who are ‘too wee, too poor, and too stupid’ to govern our own country.

We have nothing to fear from once-again becoming a normal, independent nation. We owe it to our children, our grandchildren and future generations of Scots to get off our knees and build a better, fairer Scotland.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Some things never change

There are few things in life that don’t change. We all get older, our children grow up, we move house, we change jobs and careers, but throughout the ever-changing landscape of our lives, the Conservative & Unionist Party remains nasty.

You can rely on the Tories to advance policies geared towards making the rich even richer, usually by grinding the poor ever further into the dirt.

At the Tory conference over the past week, we have seen and heard Government Ministers roll-out a raft of new initiatives designed to appeal to the out-of-touch, right-wing party faithful, such as the plan to slash the welfare budget by a further £10bn (on top of already-announced cuts totalling £18bn). In addition, under-25s are to be stripped of their entitlement to Housing Benefit.

To excited applause, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne repeated the lie that we are all in this together, only to then rule out forcing the rich to pay their fair share. According to the Chancellor, “It's an economic delusion to think you can balance the budget only on the wallets of the rich”. So, instead, the poor are to continue paying for the economic crisis caused by super-rich spivs and speculators in the City of London.

Slipped-out under the radar while the Tories were meeting in Birmingham was a change to sanctions that can be applied to an unemployed person who fails to meet the requirements placed on them by their Jobseekers agreement. A breach of the agreement includes: failing to take part in a mandatory work activity programme, failing to take a ‘suitable’ employment opportunity, and refusing or failing to apply for a job notified to them by an employment advisor. From October 22, failure to comply with any of these ‘requirements’ could see someone having their Jobseekers Allowance removed for 3 months, 6 months or 3 years.

Of course, supporters of the Nasty Party believe that everyone who is unemployed is a work-shy freeloader, so, to them, leaving someone without an income for 3 years will sound like a fair sanction if the Jobseeker refuses a position. The reality, though, is that because of the crippled economy created by the collapse of the corrupt capitalist system, more and more people are finding themselves without work, a situation exploited by unscrupulous employers who advertise vacancies offering no wages.

Have a look at the Jobcentreplus website and you’ll find hundreds of ‘commission only’ jobs where the employers get round minimum wage legislation by stating that it is possible to make its equivalent, but there is no guarantee. There is even at least one vacancy paying commission only but where a monthly ‘administration fee’ of £125 has to be paid to the employer, so a worker could end up owing money to the company. If a Jobseeker declines such a position, is it fair they would then have their benefit stopped for anything up to 3 years? Members of the Tory Party think it is perfectly fair.

As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, the leader of the Conservative & Unionist Party in Scotland, Ruth Davidson MSP, took the opportunity of her address to the mainly English audience in Birmingham to attack her fellow Scots. Pandering to Tory prejudices, Ms Davidson announced that only 12% of Scots contribute to the nation’s wealth. The rest, apparently, are spongers, receiving more from the state than they contribute.

The idea of the Scots ‘subsidy junkies’ was debunked in the 1980s – official House of Commons figures showed Scotland contributes more to the Westminster exchequer than we receive back through public expenditure – but Ruth Davidson was prepared to tarnish the name of Scotland in order to ingratiate herself with her London-based party bosses.

To reach the conclusion that 88% of Scots are dependent on the state, Ms Davidson included everyone who actually works for the public sector. According to the Tories, these workers are nothing more than state-spongers: that includes civil servants, council staff, police officers, nurses, doctors, ambulance crew, fire-fighters, teachers and members of the armed services. Also included in the Tory list of spongers are pensioners, most of whom paid taxes throughout their working lives.

In reality, Scots more than pay their way. Ruth Davidson also chose to ignore corporation tax and business rates raised in Scotland, not to mention the two biggest annual contributors to the Westminster exchequer – revenue from North Sea oil and from the Scotch Whisky industry.

Ms Davidson is relatively new to politics: she was only elected to the Scottish Parliament in May 2011 and, because of the extreme lack of talent in the Tory Party, found herself leader of the North British sub-section just six-months later. However, she has been quick to show that while she may present a new, young face, the party she leads has not changed.

The Tories are still the Nasty Party, and with the willful connivance of their ‘tame Jocks’ they remain an entirely anti-Scottish party.

We should bear in mind it is with these people that the Labour Party is standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the campaign to prevent Scotland from re-taking the status of a normal, independent nation.