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Last updated: 19 June 2017.

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How Did We Get Here (& What The Hell Do We Do Now)?

Derek MacPherson, Clydebank Yesser, Australian citizen, and Babelfish blogger attempts a 3 part answer to the biggest question of the day.

Part 1

Seriously. We're all asking ourselves one, or both, of these questions, aren't we? How exactly did a group we'd never heard of a few short years ago, a group we can't even decide what to call (I'm going to use 'Daesh' because apparently it annoys them), become, in such a short time, such a massive headache for, well, most of the world? And what can we possibly do about it that won't just make matters worse. These are serious questions. Deadly serious we might say. I will attempt to give answers to both of them, but first there's a bit of housekeeping we need to take care of. I had, as the title suggests, intended this piece to be about the past and the future. But the present elephant in the room can't be ignored. Recently David Cameron finally got his wish, got the vote through the Commons and started bombing in Syria. And now I have to talk about that before I can go on to talk about how we got into this mess in the first place, and how I, as opposed to David Camoron (mis-spelling entirely intentional), think we should proceed from this point on. It's not a good point to be at, but unfortunately this is the only reality we've got. That's going to be the really interesting bit, for me to write anyway. But first, Cameron and his approach (to call it a strategy would be a gross abuse of the language).

So, things we need to consider about current government policy, in no particular order. Cameron's stated reasons for doing it, his arguments – laughably irrational. It will make us safer. How, exactly, and in what possible universe could it make us safer? All logic and all experience tell us the opposite. Every time, every single time, we get involved we make matters worse, we make more enemies, now and in the future, as a generation of children grows up with horrific memories and missing parents, brothers, sisters. And every single time we end up more at risk. There are a lot of reasons why we continually intervene and continually screw up, but that's what parts 2 and 3 are about. For now let's just take it, because I think it's pretty self-evident, that that's what we do. So will we be safer? Not remotely. We just drew a big target on our backs. C'mon, admit it, you've had that thought too, haven't you?

We have to defend our friends and allies, pull our weight, do our bit. Well sure, but does that still apply if your friends and allies are making a serious mistake? Wouldn't it be better to be honest with them? A bit like the way you'd take your friend's car keys off them if they were drunkenly brandishing them and telling you to get in? Now I'm not suggesting our elected representatives are drunk at the wheel, although when you look at the quality of their decision making, and the size of the Westminster bar tab, you do sometimes wonder. But in this case, as with every other time they've intervened in the Middle East, they clearly don't know what the hell they're doing. They've got no goals, they've got no contingency plans, they've got no exit strategy. What they have got is the unholy trinity of bad reasons for doing anything. 1) Somebody had to do something. 2) We had to be seen to be doing something, and 3) It seemed like a good idea at the time.

So what are we/they doing? They are waging an air campaign. Now, you'll possibly have heard a lot of phrases about air things. Air defence. Air support. Air cover. Air superiority, even air supremacy. Here's one you've never heard though: air victory. There's a reason for that. There's no such thing. Nobody ever won a war, or even a battle, with air power alone. You can check. It's never happened. And yet so many people seem to think, as some of them did in 2011, that it's better to do something rather than nothing, even if you have little or no idea what the results will be. It's not! I was thinking about this earlier, and I remembered an interview I saw many years ago with the captain of a British Airways 747 which unexpectedly flew into a cloud of very fine particles of volcanic ash somewhere in the neighbourhood of Indonesia. At first the crew were transfixed by the eerily beautiful light show created by the tiny particles hitting the nose and windscreens of the aircraft. They had no idea what was causing it as none of them had ever seen anything like it before, but as they were discussing it one by one, but in quick succession, the engines started to shut down. Now as the captain explained, a quadruple engine failure at cruising altitude is a very rare thing indeed, but the first thing you do, if it should ever happen to you, according to the training he'd received, is this: sit on your hands. The thing is going to glide, and when you're six or seven thousand feet higher than the peak of Mount Everest it's going to glide for a while. What you absolutely must not do is to panic, and react before you've had a chance to consider the situation and to make some sort of a plan. To do so might very well make matters worse, maybe even catastrophically worse.

So the other thing we need to get out of the way is what, in the situation we find ourselves in, we don't do. What we must not do. This will be quicker and easier than answering my two questions, but it does have to be done. The simple answer is that you never do what your opponent is trying to provoke you into doing. Now there are a number of things which fall into this category. I'm going to make a short list.

Be afraid. We cannot allow ourselves to be afraid. Remember who we are. Since when were we afraid of anybody? They are terrorists. The clue's in the name. Their objective is to create terror. As soon as you're afraid of them, they win.

Let it affect our lives in any way. As soon as we do that, perhaps by asking ourselves should we really go to that match, that rally in the square, because there's a remote chance there might be a terrorist attack (and by the way, you're still far more likely to be struck by lightning, and you don't go around worrying about that), they win again.
Let it affect our attitudes to refugees. It shouldn't need saying, but it does. The Syrian refugees in particular are the people who are fleeing Daesh. Seven million people have been displaced by that conflict. Hundreds of thousands have already arrived in Europe, soon it will be a couple of million. And people are worrying, no they are actually saying they are afraid, because one or two of them might be terrorists. One in a million! If you are seriously saying that, if you are really that fearful, then this next bit's just for you. See item 1, drink a cup of concrete and harden the fuck up! Think this through. If we turn our backs on these refugees, what lesson are they supposed to take away from that? "Hey, Daesh were right! These people are complete bastards! And they hate us!" And what are we going to do with them anyway? No, you haven't thought that one through either, have you? Is it just going to be Somebody Else's Problem? Whatever country they happen to be in at the moment, that's their tough luck? Or are you suggesting we drive them all back into the sea? Or perhaps you think we should keep them in camps? Millions of people, in Europe, in concentration camps. Ringing any bells yet? Win number 3 for the terrorists!
 

Let it affect our attitudes to our own Muslim community. That would be disastrous. And disgraceful. In Scotland we have not experienced the same social problems that have plagued England, and France, the US, Australia, or any one of a number of western countries. We haven't had hundreds of young people running off to Syria to join Daesh. Why not? Because we haven't, so far, made young people of Muslim background feel alienated in the way those other countries have. Forty years ago, when I was growing up in Clydebank, the first migrants from Pakistan were just beginning to arrive, and yet we already had a distressing level of toxic sectarianism. You know what I'm talking about – competing groups of Christian extremists. Now hang on (I can already hear the Christians protesting), that really had nothing to do with religion, it was more akin to some form of tribalism and a whole bunch of teenage boys bursting with testosterone and spoiling for a fight. To which I respond, "Your point being?" Because isn't that exactly what is fuelling the present Daesh phenomenon? Now we like to believe, with I think some justification, that we've moved on from those days, that things have got better. We may well be just about the only country that over that period of time has acquired a Muslim minority and yet seen the level of religious conflict decline. We have always enjoyed good relations at both the personal and community level. This is something we've got right that those other countries have not, and not just recently either, something we got right 30 or 40 years ago. Here's a radical idea - let's keep it that way! Otherwise the terrorists win again!
 

Lash out ineffectually and indiscriminately, because we had to do something. Like by launching air strikes for instance. It's an incredibly bad, no worse than that, a spectacularly stupid idea. For a number of important reasons. The first, and unarguably most important reason, is that airstrikes are not, can never be, 'surgical.' That is a myth put about to make us feel better about ourselves, to allow us to look the other way as our governments slaughter many, many times more civilians, more children, more innocents than any terrorist group could ever hope to. Because that's what's really happening down there, on the ground. Let's not kid ourselves. The very term 'terrorism' was coined to describe aerial bombing of civilian populations. Real people are really dying down there, because of our pathetic, hand-wringing cries that we 'have to do something!' Which brings us to the second reason – it doesn't work. You'd think it would, wouldn't you? Think about bombs falling everywhere around you. It must be terrifying. And yet, it doesn't terrorise people, it just pisses them off. As I mentioned, I'm from Clydebank. The Blitz is a big part of our history, our mythology. We were bombed more heavily than any other place in Scotland, second worst in the UK, after Coventry. Did we all become advocates of surrender to Germany? We did not. Certainly it must have been a terrifying experience for those who went through it, but once it was over those feelings very quickly began to turn to anger. A cold, hard anger, and a steely determination to fight back. If that's the effect it had on us, then why would we imagine for one moment that it would provoke a different reaction amongst a different bunch of people?


Thirdly, you can't defeat a terrorist group by conventional military means. That's why it's such an effective strategy (and we will discuss alternative ways it can be countered in Part 3). Terrorists don't tend to wear uniforms and they blend in with the civilian population. If you use conventional military means against them you're pretty much bound to kill more civilians than combatants, thereby committing a war crime. Especially when you're using an instrument as blunt as air power. But as they say, when all you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail, so our leaders go ahead and do it anyway, and invent the myth of 'precision' bombing and 'surgical' strikes, to deny their shame. But ok, let's say you manage to get some of the people you're actually aiming at. The question remains: is the number of enemies you manage to take out greater than or equal to the number you create as a result of your bombing? Well, the evidence is in, because Western governments have been doing this for quite a while now, well over 20 years at least. What do you think? Are we safer? Do we have fewer enemies? Are there fewer terrorists and potential/wannabe terrorists in the world today than there were a quarter of a Century ago? Are we in the West better-liked, more respected, thought of more favourably in the countries of the Middle East, or in Muslim countries in general, than we used to be? Have you had enough rhetorical questions yet? Because I think my point is made. We are doing exactly, exactly what Daesh were hoping we would do. As Frankie Boyle put it in his own inimitable style, in his recent article for the Guardian, 'ISIS wants an insane, medieval race war – and we've decided to give them one.'

So, now that we've got that out of the way, what should we be doing? Well the detail will have to wait for Part 3, however that may be no bad thing. For the time being, we need to accept that doing something is not necessarily better than doing nothing, not when you don't know what you're doing! We need to learn from that 747 captain (who, incidentally, was subsequently able to restart his engines, make an emergency landing, and save every single life onboard) and sit on our hands. And of course, as the picture at the top says in large, friendly letters (and it's good advice at any time), Don't Panic!

 

Part 2 follows shortly.

RISE National Conference - Report

Saturday 5th December saw just under 300 people attend one of the largest conferences of it's type for the Scottish left in many years. The first National Democratic Conference for RISE – Scotland's Left Alliance took place in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall with much hype around the event, more so as The National carried a front page the day before with Jim Sillars explaining why he will be giving his list vote to RISE.

The days events began with co-founder of the Radial Independence Campaign, Jonathon Shafi, announcing that after only 3 months RISE currently has 300+ members, excluding members of affiliate organisations such as the SSP and RCN. He also explained "Today is not a showcase, it's not for the media. It's for us to work out radical policies for 2016" and some radical motions were passed.

First section of motions debated were that of the structures of the organisation, a section which was facilitated by former SSP MSP Francis Curran. It was passed that all RISE elected MSP's will take a workers wage which is something that the SSP has long advocated, MSP's will also only be able to serve a maximum of 2 consecutive terms. The first real debate took place over a motion moved by Motherwell and Wishaw Circle which looked to see Circles have the autonomy to stand candidates on the candidate section if they so wish. Craig Paterson, a key RISE organiser argued against the motion stating "First Past The Post is an undemocratic system. It gives power to the Tory party and something we should not advocate by standing in it".

One of the most radical motions passed within the Structures section was that there will be plural leadership bodies. Five "Action Teams" (Secretarial, Finance, Media, International, Women) will form the "Leadership". People are elected onto these teams, can be recalled and are held to account by the National Conference. They will also be accountable to the monthly National Assemblies in which delegates from all RISE Circles can attend, delegates from each Circle must be gender balanced. RISE already currently have a Women's Network and a Trade Union Network however motions were passed to see a Youth Network and a LGBTI+ Network.

After a break up for lunch in order to give those at the conference an opportunity to attend the anti-war rally in which Colin Fox spoke, Kevin McVey facilitated the next section on Draft Policy Programme. During this section there was much passed, some of this included a pledge to build 100,000 council homes, put companies handing out zero-hour contracts on a "Shame" list, radical land reform which would see a cap on the amount of land any person or organisation could hold, a Landlord tax, a pledge to oppose all forms of Fracking, scrapping Council Tax in favour of more progressive taxation, policies on anti-racism and immigration, disability rights and care, public ownership, Land Value Tax, minimum wage for apprentices, Living Wage for all carers and much more.

We were joined by a member of the Catalan radical left party (CUP) who stated in their speech "We will work together with RISE for independence and socialism across Europe". Jordan Daly, co-founder of the TIE campaign(Time for Inclusive Education) put forward a motion on stopping the discrimination of LGBTI+ groups when it comes to giving blood, he argued "All blood donations are screened. There is no reason for LGBTI+ people to be banned from donating". This motion was passed along with another which sees RISE officially affiliate to the TIE campaign, this seen the conference break into a loud round of applause yet again.

After a long day of debate and discussion, Pinar Aksu, Colin Fox, Jean Urquhart MSP and Cat Boyd closed out the day. Colin Fox, co-spokesperson of the SSP stated in a impassioned speech "RISE offers working class people opportunities that no one else can.... So proud our parliamentarians will take a workers wage. They will be incorruptible." Pinar Aksu who spent time in Dungavel Detention Centre and has campaigned for it's end ever since said "People should not have to die in the seas around Europe. We should be sending help to Syria, not bombs". She also ended her speech calling for a welcoming, socialist Scotland. Jean Urquhart MSP spoke of the need to make RISE a national movement that reaches people from the Highlands and Islands to the boarders. "We need a radical alliance from the countryside to the towns". The last speaker was another co-founder of the Radical Independence Campaign, Cat Boyd who gave a speech that captured everyone in the room "Our society is ruled by a corporate and political class. We will not stop until we have taken it back for the people... We have got 5 months to win Scotland. We will do it street by street, door by door... Today is a testament to our strength. Let us rise".

At the end of Cat's speech, there was a standing ovation. It may have been directly after the speech but it felt like it was an applause for the whole day and what was achieved, radical policies which genuinely look to put the people first and fight for a more equal Scotland. There is a long way to go for RISE, but the future looks promising.

The Benefits of Doubt

The Benefits of Doubt

Whilst the media focuses on benefit scroungers, each year in the UK billions of pounds of benefits go unclaimed by those who need them most. Graeme McIver examines a system which is confusing, complex and daunting and arrives at the conclusion that it is deliberately so in order to save the Government money regardless of the personal and social consequences to those who desperately require money to which they are entitled.

A cursory glance at television listings any night of the week highlights that a new type of reality programme has muscled its way onto our schedules. Alongside the poverty porn of Jeremy Kyle you can easily find Benefit Busters, Benefits Britain, Benefits Street, Can’t Pay We’ll Take it Away, Skint and On Benefits and Proud each night as you flick through the myriad of channels available. It makes one pine for those halcyon days when tornadoes, sharks and Nazis dominated TV listings.

These programmes, allied to a right wing assault in the tabloid press and cyber space paint a picture of the UK economy crumbling under the weight of benefit scroungers, dole cheats and fraudsters that threaten to bring the country to its knees. Radio phone in’s, discussion programmes and Parliamentary questions follow in their wake as the benefits culture is thrust under a spotlight afforded to few other political issues.

The Government has expended vast sums of money on advertising benefit fraud hotlines where you can shop a neighbour or work colleague who you believe is guilty. There are no consequences to anyone making spurious or false claims.

Read more...

Amazon is a Thief - Boycott them this Christmas

 

It's time to boycott tax dodgers Amazon, argues Solidarity's Bill Mair

 

"It's a steal!" In a twist on the phrase often used to emphasise the perceived value of a supposed bargain, Solidarity, Scotland's Socialist Movement, has used it as an accusation against Amazon, and has called for a blanket boycott.

The online retailer is often used for Christmas shopping, as it promises a wide range of goods at cheap prices. However, research reveals the many tricks and ruses employed by the multinational company to avoid a level playing field when competing with more ethical organisations.

First up, tax avoidance: that murky, grey area at the fringes of legality. According to business watchdog Ethical Consumer, in 2014, Amazon's UK subsidiary paid £11.9m in corporate taxes on sales of £5.3bn - a rate of less than 0.3%(1). The company pledged in 2014 to voluntarily pay more tax, but the total amount paid since has been little better(2).

There have also been many stories(3,4) in the media recently about poor pay and dreadful working conditions at the company's UK distribution plants. Scotland's main distribution centre, in Dunfermline was itself the subject of a recent exposé of harsh working conditions, with allegations that staff, on zero-hour contracts and minimum wage, were "intimidated and treated like cattle"(5,6).

Amazon staff are non-unionised and the company strenuously resists efforts to introduce union recognition agreements.
So, while it may appear at first glance that goods are cheaper from Amazon, once you factor in that they are paying little to no tax on the billions they make, you realise the false economy. It's a wee bit like the story of the couple whose house is broken into and their television taken, only for them to spot it the following weekend at a street market, on sale for half the price they paid for it. That's not really a bargain if it was stolen from them in the first place. So it is with Amazon: if they are dodging tax, they are stealing from us with one hand and offering us cheap goods with the other.

Solidarity is urging consumers to find alternatives to Amazon for presents this Christmas. The Ethical Consumer website (1) displays lists of reputable online retailers to assist the shopper with a conscience.

Tommy Sheridan, co-convenor of Solidarity, and list candidate for Glasgow, said:

"We must boycott Amazon and other companies which don't pay their tax, but the government could make this problem go away overnight by closing loopholes in tax legislation. Why don't they? Because the big political parties are in the pockets of the big corporations. Solidarity is not funded by corporate donations so we are the independent voice of the working class. We have no impediment to speaking out against shady business practice.

"In an independent Socialist Scotland Amazon and the like could pay up or get out. For the moment we will name and shame them and keep our money out of their hands."
Of course, it is not just Amazon who are guilty of these ugly practices when filing their annual corporation tax returns. Big names such as Apple, Boots, Cadbury, Caffe Nero, Ebay, Google, Ikea, Johnnie Walker, Starbucks, TopShop, Vodafone and Zavvi are all exposed by 38 Degrees in their Guide for Spotting Tax Dodgers (7). It's a big problem."

According to Tax Research UK, which quotes a 2014 report by PCS, the union for most staff at HMRC, £19 billion is owed to HMRC (that is you and me and everyone in the country) in tax avoided(8). Worse, openly illegal tax evasion cost us £82.1bn in 2013/14 (8).

By comparison, the Department of Work and Pension's own official figures show that just 0.7% of total benefit expenditure was overpaid due to fraud(9). This totalled £1.2bn: 1/16th of the tax avoidance bill or 1/68th of tax evasion. Nevertheless, we are bombarded with television and radio adverts, bus-shelter adverts, billboards, letters and Facebook ads, urging us to snoop on our working-class comrades and shop them to the HMRC benefit fraud hotline.

We see very little evidence of the tax authorities cracking down on the more lucrative targets of multinational corporations.

What can we do, as individuals? This takes me back to my opening proposition: boycott Amazon. It's easier to do that than may at first appear. Consumers may choose to buy at local shops, which is an excellent way to support the local town centre economy. Determined cyber-shoppers could use the Ethical Consumer website, mentioned above, but there is an even more subversive option available. As a result of Amazon's shady reputation I rarely shop online at all nowadays but when I do, I browse Amazon for the products I want and then note the suppliers listed under "Other sellers on Amazon." I choose a supplier, note their name and then proceed direct to their website to buy. It gives me a quiet sense of satisfaction to think that I am using Amazon's system against them.

Whatever you do this Christmas for gifts, if indeed you submit to the pressure of buying any at all, please consider doing your bit for us all and avoid the tax avoiders.

Bill Mair is the parliamentary candidate for Solidarity, Scotland's Socialist Movement in the Mid-Scotland & Fife region, which takes in the main Scotland Amazon distribution centre, in Dunfermline.

On The Rise?

Alongside hundreds of others I attended the launch of Rise in Glasgow on Saturday. Rise stands for 'respect', 'independence', 'socialism' and 'environmentalism'. Effectively an alliance between the SSP and the organisers of the Radical Independence Campaign, Rise's launch on Saturday was billed as the most important left unity initiative in a generation. Of course, in a context in which the SNP has pitched its tent firmly on social democratic ground, and Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour leadership looks increasingly likely, it may sound counter-intuitive to launch yet another left wing initiative. This may well turn out to be the case, but I say this; Scotland is in the midst of an unprecedented period in its modern political history, and simply put, anything is possible.

In regards to Labour, most of the people I spoke with on Saturday were supportive of Jeremy Corbyn but they understand that winning the Labour leadership is the easy part. Once elected Corbyn faces an organised backlash from the Labour right, who will undermine his leadership from day one. The Blairites will be as loyal to Corbyn as he was to them and the emerging civil war will not be a pretty sight. In Scotland, Kezia Dugdale fails to convince; from what I have seen she is cut from the same political cloth as say Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper, and in a time when Jeremy Corbyn has put ideological politics back on the agenda, managerialists like Dugdale are literally struggling for air.

Rise's relationship with the SNP is more problematic. Rise activists differ from the SNP leadership on a range of issues; the monarchy, NATO, and industrial policy. But from what I heard on Saturday, if there is a dividing line running through the independence movement it is likely to be found on the question of public sector cuts. Many of those present on Saturday have witnessed the impact of cuts first-hand; community campaigners spoke of seeing libraries, day centres and community centres close. Many trades unionists spoke of their fight to save jobs and judging by the fact that over 50 thousand jobs have been lost in local government it is a fight that is being lost. The bulk of the anger is directed at the Tories, but it is also directed at MSPs and councillors, SNP ones included, who have passed on the cuts. For many people, the narrative that 'we must wait until independence' is just not good enough. One young activist said to me that 'David Cameron couldn't give a damn if the SNP are opposed to austerity, so long as the policy is carried out'. I thought it was an astute point.

Yet, I understand the SNPs dilemma, and political activists must always be wary of the thin line which exists between principled opposition and cynical opportunism. There was fighting talk on Saturday demanding that SNP Councils set 'needs budgets', in effect deficit budgets, although how this demand translates into actual practice was never explained. Sloganeering is easy when not in power. Furthermore, rather than being 'neoliberals with a heart', the modern political experience suggests that social democrats find it very difficult to avoid being in government without some form of collaboration with neoliberal practices. Just ask Alexis Tsipras? The great French cultural theorist Pierre Bourdieu understood this only too well when he wrote that 'the strength of neoliberalism is to be put into application...by people who call themselves socialists'. However, there has always been a strand of left wing thought which finds it more comforting to talk about betrayal than it does to confront the nature of power and rule in modern society.

But Rise is correct to raise these issues and they are correct to scrutinise the relationship between the SNPs rhetoric and its actual performance. The biggest challenge facing Rise is to spell out its vision with a set of detailed policies which they are capable of delivering on. Electoral politics is not everything, but without electoral representation, a group's politics, however well-intentioned, lack credibility. The Rise leadership also faces the daunting challenge of keeping the alliance together. From what I saw on Saturday, there is a new politics of the left emerging. A discursive shift, for anyone who pays attention to these things, can be detected. For example, in an age where ideology is problematic, socialism has given way to that ubiquitous of terms, radicalism. Moreover, the obsession with 'the working classes' is less profound, hinting that the left is beginning to find a language which recognises the fragmentary and contradictory nature of people's social existence. In addition to this, loose networks based around computerised connectivity have replaced the political party, which is often constructed by modern activists as an outdated organisational form.

The way forward for Scotland's radicals will not be easy. Anyone familiar with electoral politics will tell you that it requires discipline, organisation and clarity. Endless consultations, workshops and participatory exercises, however well-intentioned, must also be married to a coherent strategy which provides leadership and direction. And whilst social movements are important, it is also the case that thinking of the world only in terms of movements, all too often leads to a lifestyle politics trapped in a never ending echo-chamber which is disconnected from the lives of 'real people' the movements claim to represent. Election results can be a cruel reminder of this reality.

And it is with elections in mind that I finish this article. The voice of groups like Rise ought to be heard in Scotland's parliament. Those who say that it's bad for the SNP, betray the fact that the dominance of one party in the yes campaign was a weakness not a strength. But there is one problem. There was an elephant in the room which was ignored on Saturday. The problem is this; the Scottish left is sleepwalking into an election where radical left groups are going to end up competing against one another on the regional lists. To borrow a phrase from the Cold War, the outcome of this scenario is 'mad' – mutually assured destruction. The desire to be MSPs should always be tempered with a consideration of what's in the best interest of the cause. It may not be possible in every region, but I do hope that activists on the ground can put pressure on their respective organisations to consider the case for not splitting the radical vote. Failure to do so may result in the squandering of the best opportunity in a decade for the radical left to gain parliamentary representation.

From Calais With Love - A First Hand Account of the Refugee Crisis

I've been thinking all day about how I can find the words for what we experienced yesterday.

An hours drive from my house, then half an hour on the Euro-tunnel, and we were in the world's worst refugee camp in terms of resources and conditions, yet we were welcomed with open arms. It's amazing how only the people who have nothing really know how to share.

The 'jungle' (as the camp is known), is loosely and naturally divided by country, with every one of the worlds war-zones represented. We walked through 'Afghanistan', 'Syria,' 'Eritrea' and 'Sudan,' all living peacefully alongside each other. This struck a chord with me – it was immediately clear that these people, fleeing war and persecution, want anything but conflict. The 'mosque' (a wooden frame), next to the church (some wood and tarpaulin, crowned with a wooden cross), right next to each other, representing that we are all the same, regardless of religion or race.

Nothing could have prepared me for hearing the stories of these people first hand.

A man from Afghanistan told me how he had fled his country with over 100 other people with the aim of walking together to England. Many people (mainly women and children) died along the way. They were so hungry they ate grass, and one night, walking through Bulgarian woodland in the dark, he tripped and a stick pierced through his eye. He spent 2 weeks in hospital in Sofia and the group left him behind. He carried on alone and had finally made it to Calais.

Then we met three Eritrean brothers aged 14, 13 and 10. They were alone. Sent by their parents to escape conscription to compulsory, indefinite military service, which is basically slave labour, they had made their way from Eritrea on foot.

And then, a 23-year-old from Dafur, Sudan. He told me that the Gangaweed had come to his village on horseback when he was 18, burnt it to the ground and brutally shot many people, including his dad, just for being black. He was arrested, accused of opposing the government, and put in prison for two years. As soon as he got out, he went back to where the village once was, desperate to find his two little brothers, little sister and mother. He was told his sister was alive and in a nearby town so he went looking for her. She wasn't there. He searched towns and cities until he was again arrested, as travelling through the country is not permitted. Unable to face any more time in prison, he spent all the money he had to be smuggled to Libya. Here he started his journey, on foot and alone to England.

England; where everybody is always smiling and no one has problems, he told me. "Is it this cold in England?", he asked in the middle of a sunny day in August. His expectations, and the reality of his life if he ever does make it to England, make my heart hurt.

He told me he doesn't feel the hunger (the refugees get one free meal a day they have to queue for hours for), or the cold (I cant even begin to imagine winter in this camp), he just feels the pain of his lost family. Each time he spoke the word family, his voice broke and he put his head in his hands. Crying, he told me that every time he closes his eyes, he sees his mother, telling him he is a good boy, and that he is doing the right thing. 'Why then, am I living like an animal?' he asked me.


Every night he walks a few miles to the tunnel in an attempt to make it to England, although he told me he was taking a couple of days break from trying to allow his leg to heal. He proceeded to show me a huge bruise on his calf from where he had been hit by a police baton. Many many people from Sudan tell the same story. Persecuted for being black, many have seen their entire family killed in front of their eyes. We sat for ages in the Sudanese part of the camp. The guys here searched the surroundings to find the most mismatch selection of chairs, and even made us tea over an open fire. 'You are our guests' they told us, in front of the opening to their makeshift tents.

Yesterday I realised that the people in this camp don't WANT to come to England. They have no choice.
These people aren't migrants...these are REFUGEES. They can't go back, but they can't go forward, they are stuck, trying to create some kind of normal life from a bit of tarpaulin and a blanket.

And they are heroes. Their stories show more determination, strength and courage than anything I have ever heard from anyone in the UK. They should be an inspiration to us all...yet they are portrayed by our media as a drain on our society, scrounging our benefits. This couldn't be further from the truth. These people WANT to work, want to earn enough money to pay tax, and want to be given the opportunities they deserve.

These people are desperate. On the one hand we commemorate holocaust Memorial Day, yet on the other we turn away at people facing as extreme persecution as the Jews, right on our doorstep.

What the actual fuck?
A sign in the camp read 'we must all learn to live together like brothers, or we will die together like idiots'.

This needs to happen, and quick.
Many people didn't want us to take their picture, scared of the negative media representation, but also in case their families face repercussions under repressive governments back home. They are also ashamed; ashamed to be living in such an undignified manner.

We'll be going back next week to start filming a documentary, as sensitively as possible, with the aim of sharing the stories of these inspirational people. We're also stocking up on men's shoes, men's clothing, SIM cards, old phones (people are desperate to call home) and anything else people many be able to donate...

For more information about our documentary:
https://www.facebook.com/theworldwidetribe

To information about donations and to be involved:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/CalAid/511805962302888?fref=ts

You can also follow the journey in photos on instagram:
@theworldwidetribe

This is the link to our just giving page:
https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/CalAid

We need to do something. Turning your back on this tragedy on our doorstep is literally unforgivable.

Hope Over Fear - Referendum Anniversary Gathering

 

Steve Arnott interviews Jeff Duncan, one of the principal organisers of the up and coming Hope Over Fear Rally in Glasgow's Freedom Square on Saturday Sept 19th.

From Dundee, Jeff has a background in organising public rallies and marches, including three rallies in Dundee, Edinburgh and London for the Save the Scottish Regiments campaign in 2004/2005 and more recently the successful Scottish Independence march and rallies in 2012 and 2013 which took place in Edinburgh.  

He is a vocal supporter of animal welfare and recently took up allotment gardening. He lives with his partner Kieron and Jake, their dog.  I caught up with him during a relatively quiet moment in cyberspace.

 

Tell us a bit about the Hope Over Fear event coming up, Jeff. What’s the thinking behind it and what should people coming along on the day expect?

 

It is all in the name of the event – we should never fear the future but so many of us do. We fear for our jobs, our lack of job prospects, we fear for our children’s future, we fear for our health service, we fear for the most vulnerable in society being hounded and penalised for being sick, poor or both.  With the Tories in power at a UK level and Labour not able to win General Elections for the foreseeable future we need Hope. 

Only by breaking free from London and becoming an Independent Scotland can we put aside fear and look to the future with hope.  People will hear inspiring speeches on what hope looks like and why we can do radically better for ourselves as an independent nation, singers, bands and much more.  But most importantly it’s what you leave with – a sense of renewed purpose and the beginning of that future built on hope and refusing to allow fear to take its place. We are the key to our future.

 

You were at the heart of organising the two big YES rallies in Edinburgh that were such markers for people and for building confidence and activism in folk during the referendum campaign. Are you hoping this Anniversary gathering can have the same positive effect?

 

 Jeff Duncan, being interviewed by the media.

 

Yes. I am expecting people to leave feeling energised and full of hope.  The one thing that emerged from 2012 was the number of people who had never publically taken part in any kind of activism.  Invariably, everyone I spoke to said actually getting onto the streets and demonstrating their passion for a cause said it ignited self-confidence in their belief of an Independent Scotland and most importantly the building of connections and friendships with like-minded people which endures years later and will continue to do so.

 

There are some people who claim Hope Over Fear is just a Tommy Sheridan vehicle, or a Solidarity front. What’s your view on that and what would you say to people who might be influenced by that kind of negativity?

 

Levelling that accusation at Tommy Sheridan is I think a cheap shot as Tommy Sheridan’s track record on Scottish Independence speaks for itself. People who gleefully engage in such tactics are I think more afraid that Tommy Sheridan can speak freely on all issues, including Independence, and he does not have to toe a party line which in other larger parties is tightly controlled by a small group of party chiefs.

I sense a growing feeling amongst those who lent the SNP there vote in 2015 that they could well become disillusioned if the SNP do not include firm foundations and a plan for a second referendum very soon. With a wide and varied range of people speaking and attending the rally it is clear the Hope Over Fear rally encapsulates many people’s desire and appetite for a second referendum with the next 2-3 years. It’s time to focus on the real goal of attaining Scottish Independence and not the petty party politics of mud slinging. It’s time to come together on the 19th September regardless of what party you support.


As you’ve said it’s the first anniversary since the referendum. How soon do you think we should have another one?

 

Since the SNP effectively have a complete Westminster mandate to speak on behalf of Scotland and with Holyrood 2016 likely to see similar gains I have no doubt in my mind the SNP should include in there manifesto a second referendum.  Surely the SNP cannot think that overnight they converted so many new members solely based on their other policies!  Of course many, many thousands joined because they expect a second referendum and soon – not a vague acknowledgement and kicking into into the long grass.

 

 What’ll it take, specifically, in your view to win it this time round?

 

In my opinion that YES campaign was far too timid and far too late with their campaign.  Faint hearts and overly polite responses to outright lies, which were constant daily features of the NO campaign, needed to be robustly challenged and by a wide range of speakers representative of the broad church of YES campaigners.


Its one thing to campaign in the positive and another to be almost scared to show passion in your arguments and beliefs for an Independent Scotland.  In short the YES campaign lacked fire in its belly – not from the ordinary folk, and there were hundreds of thousands of them, but from politicians who took too much heed from external advisors on how to position themselves in relation to the media.

 

You were until recently a member of the SNP but you’ve now left and joined Solidarity - which on the face of it is a much smaller pro-indy party. What was you’re thinking behind that?

 

Solidarity really are the only party in Scotland driving forward Scottish Independence and given that its almost a year after the referendum I find that astonishing.  Any party that cannot realise and acknowledge they have in no small part been elected in such large numbers because of the driver of Scottish Independence is either deluding itself or worse paying a great disservice to those people who put an X next to SNP candidates.  I get it of course there was no other choice for pretty much anyone – who were we going to vote for?  Labour, Tory, Lib Dems – not a chance.  The SNP got the full post-referendum dividend but have so far not paid out to the voters.  I put my faith in Solidarity to drive the Independence agenda moving forward into 2016.

 

Are you still on good terms with your old SNP comrades?

 

Well to be honest I wouldn’t know – the day after the March & Rally was pretty much the day the communication ceased! A lot of back slapping on the day from the hierarchy of the SNP but today’s news is tomorrow’s fish n chip papers.  That in itself didn’t not bother me.  However, I think the YES campaign and the SNP’s decision not to have a 2014 Rally in the first week of September was a huge mistake.


A couple of final questions then, Jeff. There’ll be three pro-indy parties competing for the list vote in next May’s Scottish elections – the Greens, Solidarity and the new formation RISE. What’s your pitch to our readers for a vote for Solidarity.

 

Oh great another political party! No seriously, good luck to all parties who support Scottish Independence.  I have engaged with pretty much all levels of all political parties in Scotland and despite the socialist and green credentials of some of them there is at the heart of all them, for me, a deeply uncomfortable feeling of elitist club status.  That is to say your voice as a fully-valued member of that party is not real.  Yes you’re a party member but is your voice being listened to by the party decision makers?  NO is what I concluded, However, I immediately knew that in Solidarity there was true transparency and democracy at work. 

In Solidarity we are people first and getting to the heart of the matter, whether it be Scottish Independence or poverty is actually pretty straight forward – people always come first.  To me that is where Solidarity truly are different.  So if you want to be represented by an MSP at Holyrood how serves it up as it is and doesn’t sugar coat reality of peoples lives then Solidarity are the party for you.

 

And lastly, but most immediately, in a single sentence explain to YES voters why they should come to Hope Over Fear on 19th September.

 

It’s simple – if Scottish Independence matters to you then you will be there.

Forget your individual party politics for a few hours and show both London and Edinburgh that Scotland’s people will set the agenda for the second referendum. Don’t let anyone, including your own party, prevent you from proudly coming together for the biggest Rally since Calton Hill in 2013.  In fact, its even more important that we all get to Glasgow on the 19th – a lack of support will send a signal that a second referendum is not important enough an issue anymore - even for YES supporters.  Is that true?  I doubt it.

 

 

                Hope is kindled, Dreams never die.

 

Thanks, Jeff. It’s been a pleasure, and all the best for the rally on the 19th.

See you there!

 

An Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn

                              

 

 

Dear Jeremy,

I write to you because the time has come to repay an old favour. A very old favour indeed. You see, you and I met once. It must have been in the summer of 1982. I went to a demo in London, in support of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, with a bloke called Dave Nellist. When we got there he introduced me to you. You were both first term MPs at the time. I was a 17 year old Labour Party member (I only lasted two years) and intellectual sponge, soaking up information at every opportunity. Now I didn’t know much about the Tamils at the time (hey, most people still don’t) but in 10 or 15 minutes you and Dave explained to me, simply and succinctly. I was always grateful to you for taking the time to do that. For seeing something in me that made it worth taking the time. For that I thank you.

So it is in that same spirit that I want to speak to you now about Scotland. Now you may possibly think that you know pretty much all there is to know about Scotland. That is a commonly-held belief in England. I suspect your understanding to be more sophisticated than most, however that does not mean it is complete. There are a few things you need to know, and they are things your Scottish Labour colleagues will not tell you. The first thing, well, there’s no easy way to put this, so brace yourself for bad news. It’s the Labour Party in Scotland. It’s dead. It passed away last year after a long illness, although like Monty Python’s Black Knight yelling, “It’s only a flesh wound!” it remained in denial till the last. Some parts of it are still refusing to lie down, but it would be a mistake to listen to their ghostly voices. They will be telling you it’s not too late, that under your leadership [insert platitudes here], and they will be renewed, reinvigorated and normal service will be resumed. Their former leader Jim Murphy certainly thinks he can rise again. But is it possible for a soufflé to rise twice?

Now I would be the first to admit that your values accord more with those of Scottish former Labour voters than those of any Labour leader in my lifetime. Perhaps if you had become leader earlier... But it’s too late. The party in Scotland broke faith with their supporters, and with their grassroots membership which has mostly evaporated, by taking us for granted and neglecting us for too long. Far too long. They blew the last remnants of their political capital on winning last year’s referendum, only to find that all they had won was... round one. A battle, not the war. Of course they might be said to be in good company there. The BBC springs to mind. They abandoned all pretence of objectivity and became a grotesque sort of Pravda parody. They apparently saw an independent Scotland as such an existential threat that they sold their reputation and their credibility for a temporary reprieve, and lost the trust of their Scottish audience in the process. It was bizarre, and saddening to me personally. A few years ago I’d have said the Labour Party and the BBC were two of the best arguments proponents of the Union had. Now they have become two of their greatest liabilities. If you have been relying, to any extent at all, on BBC analysis of Scottish politics then you will have been severely misled.

One of the ways they have been very good at misleading people is with their use of terminology. I’m sure you are familiar with the work of Noam Chomsky. Scottish independence was only ever called ‘separation’ (because independence sounds like a good thing, like leaving home when you grow up, whereas separation sounds like a marriage break-up, an unpleasant experience for most people) and supporters of independence were invariably referred to as ‘nationalists.’ They implied the ‘N’ in SNP stands for ‘Nationalist’ (it’s actually ‘National’). The problem with that is that the term has very different connotations in England. It is associated with UKIP, the BNP, and other neo-nazi groups. But that’s not us, not remotely. We are not racists. We are not nationalists. We are patriots. That's a good thing. We don't hate anyone, we just know who we are and we're comfortable with it. We have two flags, and neither one is the Union flag. We'll be flying thousands of them in Freedom Square (we’ve renamed George Square by the way, the Labour council doesn’t know yet, but then they won’t be around for long to worry about it) on the 19th of September. You should come along, it’ll be great. Seriously, you would be inspired. And you would, I think, understand that we are passionate, we are motivated, we are positive and we are strong. We are, in short, winning. It’s only a matter of time, and there’s no time like the present, but we can be patient if need be, because we know we are on the right side of history. We’d love you to join us there too.

But what, I hear you ask, of internationalism. Well, many of your Labour colleagues in Scotland (despite the fact that they have been reduced to a right wing rump, as evinced by their election of a Holyrood front bench almost identical to Jim Murphy’s) will say, “I don’t support nationalism. I’m an internationalist.” Well, I am an internationalist too. There was a time, maybe six months or a year when I was in my teens and just refining my own political ideas, when I was somewhat sympathetic to that argument. This was before I had read Trotsky’s Theory of the Permanent Revolution, and understood his argument that national liberation struggles must be supported as a step on the road to transforming society. I’m from a place called Clydebank, and Clydebank’s own legend of the class struggle, Jimmy Reid, once answered the question of internationalism, when he was challenged on his conversion to support for an independent Scotland, by saying that in order to be an internationalist first you need a nation. We in Scotland are a nation in so many ways, not least in our own minds, our own sense of national identity. However we lack the instruments of policy, of decision making, enjoyed by every other nation worthy of the name on this Earth. We do not control our own finances, neither the revenue side nor, in reality, the spending side. Nor can we speak with our own voice to the world. This situation is simply intolerable for a proud 1200 year old nation, and it has to end.

This brings us to the crux of the matter. We in Scotland are not one people with those in England. We don’t hate you, we’re just not the same as you. After 308 years of the Union, wouldn’t you agree that if we were going to become one people it would have happened by now? And yet it has not. A lot of people in England imagine that it has, but they are simply confusing Britishness with Englishness. Many people use the terms interchangeably. But the UK, as Salman Rushdie once said of Pakistan, is a country insufficiently imagined. It’s not working for us. We’re just not feeling it. We don’t feel British, no more today than we did in 1707. We are a separate and distinct people and nation, and what’s more we are a willed nation, a nation by the ‘due and lawful consent and assent’ of its people, something the UK simply cannot claim. How can we tell? Well, for one thing because we are clearly and demonstrably not one electorate, not one body politic. This has become self-evident since we have been able to express our political views through the medium of a Scottish parliament. We don’t vote for the same parties. Only the Labour Party was a significant player in both electorates, but people in Scotland were not even voting for the same Labour Party anyway. They were voting for the party of Keir Hardie, a party which hasn’t existed for a very long time. Given the political realities of a UK-wide electorate, where Wales and the North of England, amongst other areas, are in reality more similar to Scotland than they are to the prosperous South East, but where due to demographics and the fact that the South East is where all the ‘floating voters’ are, that is where the Labour Party have had to direct their policies in order to have a chance of winning government. And the policies that appeal to those South Eastern floating voters are not the policies that voters in Scotland would wish to support. They’re just not. In Scotland’s version of the two party system the Labour Party became by default the right wing alternative to the modest social democracy of the SNP. It is already clear that the independence debate has seen a wholesale realignment of politics in this country, we have in effect hit the reset button on where the political centre lies and a new politics is beginning to emerge.

We are not one economy either. England is an importing country, Scotland is an exporting country. England has a structural deficit, Scotland has an underlying fiscal surplus. I could go on, but the point is that the two are sufficiently different that they cannot be managed as one without serious detriment to one or the other. And given our relative sizes, guess which one that would be. For years we have been told that wanting to control our own finances is selfish, that we should pool our resources in the interests of solidarity, and that this will make everyone better off. At the same time we have been told that we are subsidised and that we couldn’t survive without it. Two highly contradictory arguments when you think about it. Neither of which, incidentally, stands up to even the most cursory examination. We have tried, we really have. We have shared our resources with another nation ten times our size for a very long time now. What has it got us? De-industrialisation on a massive scale and a quarter of our children growing up in poverty. We are, it has often been remarked, the only country in history to strike oil, and get poorer!

Now Jeremy, I know you are a decent man. I think I even believe you when you say you are still a socialist. But the fact is that any policy you attempt to bring in that has the slightest whiff of socialism about it will be trenchantly opposed by your colleagues at Holyrood, and I use the word ‘colleagues’ advisedly. Your comrades they are not. Most socialists in Scotland have long since left the Labour Party, and most of those who remained have left since the referendum. We have gravitated to other parties or remained independent like myself. Now we have formed an alliance, RISE, to take the place of Labour as a left opposition to the SNP. Because every democracy needs an effective opposition and the Scottish branch office of Labour is no longer fit for purpose.  Jeremy, I wish you all the best, and I hope you win, I really do, but what if you lose? Or, perhaps more pertinently, what if you are not allowed to win? We’ve all heard the rumours of a palace coup if you are victorious in the leadership contest. I’m just not sure the Eton/Harrow/Oxbridge establishment could ever tolerate someone of your politics and values leading a major political party. At the very least you will be vilified as much as we Yes supporters were, and maybe you’ll find there will even be a little war. Somewhere far away, against someone who has neither the capacity to hit us back nor the zealotry to blow themselves up. The Falklands fitted that bill perfectly in 1982. Don’t put it past them, they’d do it in a heartbeat of you looked like actually winning power.

In conclusion I must reiterate, so that there can be no possible misunderstanding, our movement is not against anyone. It is not anti-English, no matter what you may have heard, and let’s face it, we’ve all heard that accusation many, many times. But it is a lie. Our movement is progressive, inclusive, positive and absolutely of the left. As I have written before, I myself am a great admirer of English culture. The name I chose for my blog, The Babel Fish Blog (thebabelfishblog.wordpress.com), is ‘un homage’ to one of my favourite English writers, and a former constituent of yours I believe, Douglas Adams (although even he used the terms ‘English’ and ‘British’ interchangeably on occasion). I am not an admirer of the political system or the ruling elite, but then neither are most English people I know. It is my fervent hope that our example will be a positive inspiration to the ordinary, decent people of England, showing by demonstration that there can be another, better way. I would very much like to see those people act to liberate themselves from the yolk of that parasitic ruling elite which impoverishes them as well as us, and which has turned the UK into a kleptocracy. Perhaps then they might even elect someone like you. It is my firm view that the Union is beyond reform or redemption. England is not, and I wish you and all of our English friends nothing but the best as you strive to achieve the reform you seek.

Fraternally yours,

Derek Stewart Macpherson

Max the YES: tactical voting for Holyrood 2016 - yes or no?

 

INTRO

As regular readers of The Point facebook page will know, we’re rather fond of posting the occasional piece from the excellent ‘Wings Over Scotland’. The Rev. Stu’s demolitions of unionist media silliness are often a delight. Recently though, the Rev and some others have been trying to rubbish the idea of mass tactical voting for the 2016 Holyrood elections: an idea put forward by some YESSER’s which can basically be summed up as 1st vote (constituency) SNP, 2nd vote (list) Greens, Solidarity or RISE.

This position, which has been vigorously promoted by Steve Arnott of The Point, and is referred to by the Wingsmeister as the ‘Yes Alliance’ position, has inevitably led to a bit of a reaction.

On the Wings site of Wednesday 25th August, a comprehensive ‘refutation’ of the very idea of tactical voting appeared, authored by the good Rev. himself. In the interests of democracy and discussion, The Point has invited Steve Arnott to reply to the piece, point by point. Consequently all of the Wings main points are below, with replies from the ‘YES Alliance’ position by Steve. In the interests of absolute fairness we also carry the original link to the Rev’s full article at the end.

We intend to circulate this as widely as possible amongst the YES networks and fb pages to encourage debate on this vital issue for Holyrood 2016.

In this version the Rev Stu’s points are in standard font, and Steve Arnott’s replies will be in italics

 

THE ARGUMENTS

What our analysis yesterday and on Sunday concluded was that it’s extremely hard to “game” AMS by voting tactically – which is unsurprising because it was deliberately designed that way.

Actually, the Additional Member System was designed to make sure the terrible Nats never won a majority, and create permanent coalitions in a devolution settlement ‘that would kill independence stone dead’. The FACT that the intentions of the systems creators have now been superceded by the wishes of voters is plain to see in two SNP Governments, and an indy ref that was never meant to happen. The beauty of the AMS system is that voters can use their two votes how they wish. They can vote for one party down the line, or they can vote differently in the constituency and on the list, or even view their vote as a first and second preference if they so choose.

But advocates of a so-called “Yes Alliance” aimed at maximising pro-independence MSPs argue that there’s a “sweet spot” in which list votes for Yes parties other than the SNP can tilt the balance in the Holyrood chamber.

Yes, we do. And the same advocates of the YES Alliance – when it became clear there wasn’t going to be one for the Westminster General Election largely buckled down, worked and called for a vote for the SNP in the best interests of the YES movement and the weakening of the political forces of unionism. There was a sweet spot there too. And boy did we hit it.

The reasoning is that with current polls suggesting that the Nats will win 70 or more constituency seats, the AMS divisor mechanism will reduce their list vote so severely that it’ll be too low to have a chance of winning any list seats.

Actually, we have always qualified that much more carefully. We say that it becomes ‘very difficult’ for the SNP to win seats. Even if everyone who votes SNP in the constituency vote votes SNP in the list – which is highly unlikely – they can at best win a few seats, and, at worst, none.

Therefore, runs the theory, any list votes cast for the SNP will be wasted and should instead be “lent” to the Greens, RISE, Solidarity or other parties of the pro-Yes left in order to defeat Unionist parties.

Yes – and we also make the case that that is the best way to ensure that there are less unionist places won on the list and that both the Scottish Government and a significant chunk of the opposition will be pro-independence. A strategic advantage that goes beyond narrow party interest

It seems an attractive case. It has the advantage of “truthiness”, which means that it’s easy to get over in a couple of sentences, it sounds logical, and it takes quite a lot of time and detail to explain the flaws.

It is an attractive case, and it has ‘truthiness’ because it is true. It sounds logical because it is logical. Yes, our case for a specific appeal to SNP voters to lend their list vote to Solidarity, the Greens or RISE on this one occasion does depend on the polls for the SNP in the constituencies staying high and SNP voters having the confidence when they go the polls that the SNP will have an outright majority to form a Government on the constituency vote alone. That is why many of us who are not SNP party members are calling for a vote for the SNP in the constituency from the smaller pro-indy parties and the non-aligned YES voters.

It’s not simply a one-sided ‘lending of votes’ being proposed. It is a political act of reciprocity to continue the process of weakening the forces of unionism and strengthening the forces of independence in the run up to the next referendum – whenever that may be.)

By rank carelessness, we seem to find ourselves in a position where (opposing the 'YES Alliance' position our job.

And our job to counter your argument, Rev

The argument’s great appeal is that in an abstract theoretical sense it’s true – there IS a statistical point where tactical votes could deliver more pro-Yes seats. The fatal weaknesses are that (a) that spot is incredibly narrow and to either side of it you do more harm than good, and (b) it’s absolutely impossible to predict it in advance and tailor your vote accordingly.

No evidence is offered for these objections. And with good reason. The proposition that it is easier to win list places for independence by dividing the independence vote between SNP in the constituencies and Greens, Solidarity, RISE on the list is mathematically irrefutable, given the pre-condition that the SNP will win all or the huge majority of constituency seats. To answer the argument on predictability – you can be abstract and say nothing is ever truly predictable – but in pragmatic reality SNP voters will have a good idea going into the polling both whether the polls have held up. And we know from the General Election experience that a second SNP Tsunami in the constituencies is likely.

To understand it, we need to start with first principles, namely the fact that under AMS, if you get 100% of the list vote you get all the list seats, even if you’ve already got all the constituency seats.

Aye, and that’s going to happen...

This tells us that it IS possible to get list seats even in a constituency landslide – to find out where that stops being the case, we just need to work out exactly where the cut-off point below 100% is.

Nobody has said it isn’t possible, simply that a vote for one of the smaller pro-indy parties has much greater weight in this instance because they won’t stand in – or more importantly win – any constituency seats.

Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no way of doing that, for several reasons.

1. You don’t know what percentage of the vote the landslide party will get.

Polling is a snapshot, not a prediction. Even in the last month before the 2007 Holyrood election, polls found SNP leads of anywhere from 12% to just 2%. In late August of 2006 – almost exactly the same distance we currently are from the 2016 election – a poll had Labour 8% in front.

Basing any sort of 2016 voting strategy on current polls, then, is idiotic. Even days away from the vote, let alone months, it simply won’t be possible to reliably say what any party’s list vote will be. (You’d think the mass failure to predict the Tory majority in May would be proof enough of that, but seemingly not.)

Talk about the advantage of ‘truthiness’, Rev Stu… spoilt by use of the pejorative idiotic this almost sounds like a coherent objection, but it’s not when you stand back and think about it. We have never said anything other than it will be up to the voters to decide which way they vote and they will undoubtedly take a number of factors into account. Our appeal is for voters to vote SNP in the constituency, ensuring an SNP Government and Greens, Solidarity or RISE in the list to ensure a majority of pro-independence opposition MSPs. And dragging in the vagaries of the English voter and the wholly different first past the post system does seem a bit desperate.

2. A constituency landslide doesn’t prevent list seats.

Even on current polling, though, SNP list seats look probable. The party got list seats in all but one Scottish region in 2011, even where they won most or all of the constituencies – they got one in North East Scotland on 52% of the vote despite winning EVERY constituency seat, and three list seats in Highlands & Islands on just 47% of the vote despite winning six out of eight constituencies.

Earlier this week the Electoral Reform Society projected, based on current polling figures, eight list seats for the SNP on a 54% vote share, even after sweeping up 71 of the 73 constituency seats.

If you get one list seat in a constituency landslide you’re also more likely to get more, because the ongoing effect of the divisor is much less dramatic.

First of all, 2016 is NOT 2011. You cannot wind the clock back in terms of the consciousness of the YES movement. In 2011 the SNP was the only serious game in town. In 2016 the Greens will pick up many more list places and RISE and Solidarity will mount well funded, energetic and coherent efforts.

And your statistics show that even if the SNP wins 54% on the list vote, it can ‘at best’ win one list seat in each region. That leaves six other potential seats that could go to the unionist parties on each regional list. If even half of those SNP votes were divided equally between the smaller pro-indy parties, however, every list would see at least 3 pro-indy places filled on the list and possibly four in Glasgow, leaving the unionist parties to scrabble for just 23 or 24 list seats for the whole of Scotland, and creating a real chance of a pro-indy opposition as well as a pro-indy Government. Is that not a vision worth fighting for?

3. You can’t predict local factors.

Even amid this year’s overwhelming SNP victory at Westminster, one MP from each Unionist party resisted the Nat tsunami – Ian Murray in Edinburgh, David Mundell in the Borders and Alistair Carmichael in the Northern Isles.

As we discovered on Sunday, any single constituency seat can affect the list outcome in unpredictable ways. In a hypothetical example using totally random figures, we saw how a Conservative constituency win brought the Tories no overall gains, but gave Labour an extra seat at the expense of the SNP.

So the SNP may not win EVERY constituency seat, but it’s on course to win the vast majority. The ‘Yes Alliance’/Steve Arnott’ position is one of organised reciprocity in the YES movement. If you are a YESSER but aren’t naturally SNP strengthen their hand in the constituencies by voting SNP. If you are a YESSER and an SNP voter and you are confident the SNP are going to win an outright majority, vote for one of the smaller indy parties on the list, for all the reasons outlined above

4. People don’t actually like voting tactically.

(Evidence shows that people can and will vote tactically when they believe it can achieve positive outcomes)

The “SNPout” campaign in May’s UK general election was highly motivated, organised and funded, and was also relentlessly publicised and supported by a sympathetic media. Yet its effect was almost zero, despite the fact that in most Scottish constituencies it was incredibly easy to tell which party was best placed to defeat the SNP.

The unionists are disunited and split so we should be too…what kind of argument is that?

At the end of the day, people are simply reluctant to vote for any party other than the one they really support. You’ll be lucky to get as many as 5% to do it, and for tactical list voting to start to work you need figures closer to 40%.

Again – you are conceptually returning to politics as normal. But if we had politics as normal the SNP would not have won 56 seats in the General Election. Loads of voters – who did not previously support the SNP voted SNP. The referendum and the YES movement changed everything. For a huge section of the electorate independence is the number one issue and ending austerity a very close and inttertwined second. For the prize of decisively weakening unionism, having a more diverse indy voice in the parliament and possibly having a pro-indy opposition, our appeal can and will have relevance. Simply stating that it will never happen because…er, it never happened before no longer washes in these post referendum times.

Tactical voting is hugely more effective in FPTP elections than AMS ones like Holyrood, but even with every possible advantage the Pouters failed dismally. A tactical Yes vote at Holyrood would be orders of magnitude more difficult.

Eh? Scrabbling about a bit for an argument now, surely…the only thing that appears to be making this difficult appears died in the wool SNP party interests that want to put the wider YES movement back in its box.

5. The tactical vote itself is split.

And of course, none of those advantages will apply next year. The pro-Yes but non-SNP vote will be divided among several parties. The small number of voters prepared to vote tactically in the first place will have to decide whether their list vote goes to the Greens, Solidarity, the unknown factor of newcomer RISE, or someone else.

We already know from Monday’s article what happens when an “anti-X” vote can’t agree which direction to attack from – as well as the hilarious slapstick farce of the Pouters, we also saw how SNP and Green votes cannibalised each other at the 2014 European elections and let UKIP steal a Scottish seat.

UKIP won a Scottish seat because of the UK media’s constant hyping of them as a main party and the incessant coverage they received, not because the SNP and Greens cannibalised each other.

And diversity is a strength for us, not a weakness. The smaller indy parties are looking for a much smaller level of pro-indy success than the SNP, and its deliverable. 10 list seats for the Greens and 5 apiece for Solidarity and RISE would be regarded as a great success and might be enough to ensure they out-populated Labour in the Scottish Parliament.

We apologise if we’re repeating ourselves. And once again, we’re not telling anyone how to vote – if you want a RISE or Green or Solidarity MSP, vote for them.

But “the sweet spot” is a fantasy. It can only be identified in retrospect – standing in the polling booth you have no way of knowing what your vote will do. You may as well lob a brick into a bouncy castle blindfolded and hope it hits a child molester.

Lovely metaphor, but it doesn’t even pass your own test of ‘truthiness’. The sweet spot as you call it exists, but the better metaphor is that of an open goal for the YES movement to stroke one in - to put YES in the political Champion's League and leave the unionists struggling in second tier competition. All that it requires is for the polls to stay good for the SNP, a non-party visionary approach to what can be achieved in 2016, and for sufficient numbers of YES voters to grasp the historic possibilities when they go to the polls.

 

 http://wingsoverscotland.com/the-sweet-spot/#more-74839

A Call to the Scottish Left:Show Corbyn our Support

Oh how the tables have turned! 10 years ago Britain was as right wing as they come. Labour were in power not only in England but Scotland too, with the vast majority of Scottish MPs flying Labour's banner. They also controlled the Scottish Parliament too, albeit in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. There were moments of hope during this period. The Scottish Socialist Party won 6 MSPs and things looked on the up.

However, this was not to last and the reign of the right continued. The growth of the SNP has been a positive although for many socialists it has been far from the answer and we are now facing another 5 years of Tory rule on top of the 5 already faced.

However the future is far from gloomy. The referendum put a lifeblood back into politics and there have been renewed calls, particularly in Scotland for a move away from the neoliberal agenda passed down by Westminster. The SNP are looking to have a more social democratic model, which although not my own personal choice, is an improvement on the current situation. There has been a rise in those who are members of socialist parties, with the SSP membership increasing and of course we have the Greens - who are currently hold the middle ground between the SNP and SSP - whose numbers have also swelled. Up until now there has been one problem though, all of these increases in support for parties against the neoliberal agenda originate in Scotland. England on the other hand voted overwhelmingly in favour of not only an Establishment, neoliberal party, but the worst one out of the lot.

So we come to the Labour leadership contest and what a contest it has been. We have seen 3 candidates reeling off the same nonsense that lost Labour their support in the first place. People are bored of them trying to out Tory the Tories. It would make anyone become uninterested when both major parties agree along almost every line.

Then there is Jeremy Corbyn. A man who has sat on the back benches for 3 decades, spanning such events as the miners strike, the conflict in Northern Ireland, the Iraq war and the referendum. The public knew little about this man when his name came up as a contender however the imaginations were captured once they heard what it was he actually stood for. He was against austerity, against Trident, against the Iraq and subsequent wars. He is for equality, for taxing the rich, for building social housing, for economic growth by funding the people. But what has separated Corbyn from the rest more than anything is the fact that he is a real person that the public can relate too. He travels the bus and tube, he claims little to no expenses and he speaks to people, he doesn't speak as if he were above them.

But on to my main point; Corbyn and the Scottish left. The majority of the socialists in Scotland are very much on the side of Independence and Corbyn's stance on Independence could (some would suggest) prove a sticky wicket when talking of supporting him. However this should not be the case. We will not get independence for minimum another 5 years while austerity is shattering lives now. We must act in order to end austerity as soon as possible as it is not possible to just wait until we gain independence. There have been some who have suggested that Corbyn should not be given support due to his allegiances to the United Kingdom but I would put this to you, Corbyn's real allegiances are to the people of Britain, not the Kingdom.

I will not suggest for one minute that I believe Corbyn to be the saviour of the British working class. Should he be elected as leader and then PM, I am highly doubtful he be able follow a socialist agenda whereby he collectivises businesses and corporations to be run by the people for the people etc. What he will do though is give the working class a shot at the best socialist agenda we could have in Britain. His plans for a National Investment Bank are very much welcome along with plans to nationalise utilities and the railway. To invest in people rather than banks is something that we as socialists have longed to hear from a Westminster politician and for these reasons we must give Corbyn our support.

Many forget that between now and the time of Scotland gaining its independence, there is a country to run. Some would like things to get even worse to further the cause of independence but if the cost of independence is the suffering of the workers, it is surely not worth it? I would argue that as Internationalists we would work with many people across the world in order to further the cause of the working class, we would work with many who may not have the same list of priorities as us and I'm positive Scotland would not feature as highly on their list of priorities as it does on ours. We must put this same reasoning behind our decision to support Corbyn. Yes, Scottish Home Rule may not be high up on his list of priorities but there's something even more important that is, improving the lives of the people. I do not call for a mass vote for Labour however I think it is important that we should be publicly backing Corbyn at this point and take it from there as we are at a vital point, a point in British politics that has not been seen for a long time, where the left is actually making some inroads.

Corbyn gives the left someone to rally behind, however I think the most important aspect of his success so far is to bring socialist politics back into the mainstream. While the other candidates bitch and moan about how much of a disaster he would be, Corbyn continues to advocate the policies he believes in. One of the reasons left wing politics have suffered for so long is because they have not been in the mainstream. They have been shoved away in a corner and left to rot with only we activists trying to keep them alive. But, with Corbyn there is a real chance to keep left wing politics in the spotlight and that will help the cause of Scottish socialism no end. It is for this reason alone that I am advocating and calling on the Scottish left to support Corbyn.

Look past the Unionist party he is a member of, look to the future where there is a possibility he could help make a real impact.

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left

Greenpeace

The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

Word Power Books