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.