The Point
Last updated: 01 May 2017.

...red sky thinking for an open and diverse left

Visit our Facebook page

Follow us on Twitter

 

Recent Articles

In Praise of Beethoven

Arthur C Clarke - A Very Modern Odyssey

Tackling Private Landlords

Investigating the Value Form

The Eternal Dark Heart of Empire

If You Build Them, They Will Come

The Peoples Railway - The Case for Nationalisation

Everyone looks to political parties to serve their interests. Likewise, corporations lobby policy-makers to give priority to their interest, for them the exclusive pursuit of profit.

The debate about the role of the state in all our lives is fundamental raw politics; the competing tensions about the extent to which the state 'interferes' in citizen's lives versus the view that a state should provide for its people.

The Scottish Green Party's mantra of 'people, planet and peace' incorporates the view that there is a 'such a thing as society' with recognition that public services, run exclusively in the public interests, are an important foundation stone of any socially just country.

The National Health Service (NHS) attracts wide support and strident defence from an appreciative public, an ever reducing number of whom have no memory of the time when access to free health care for all was a pipe dream. The return of a Conservative government means more of the neo-liberal agenda - not that involvement of the other two unionist parties would have slowed that particular direction of travel. Indeed, the result was no sooner announced than the promotion of 'private health insurance', was being trailed in one of the right's pernicious journals.

So what of our other public services? Greens value individuals, their community, and the country and wish to see public services serving the public not corporations and their shareholders.

Many whose political ideology causes them to mock the former British Rail conveniently forget the level of public subsidy that the private companies who were given our rail network by the Thatcher government, receive.

Rail franchising in Great Britain was created by the Railways Act 1993, with which any Scottish Government must comply. Franchising is the mechanism by which Scottish Ministers secure rail passenger services and by which a private operator provides rail services on the Scottish rail network on behalf of the Scottish Government. I know all this because I have been lobbying for publicly run rail in Scotland since my election in 2011 and, whilst I was never met with hostility, the proof is there was, and remains great caution to pushing the issue. I was advised that for a public sector bid to succeed the applicant would have to have a proven record of having run rail services, something which wouldn't rule out for instance a bid from the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive.

Cross-border rail services should have an input from the Scottish Government. The East Coast main line from London to Inverness and Aberdeen, long the jewel in the crown of the UK's rail services, failed twice whilst being operated under a private franchise. So, in stepped the UK Government with a publicly-run East Coast service returning £1billion over five years to the public purse, public profit for public benefit. Now many, myself included, might consider that highly successful state operated model was ripe to be replicated across the network, however, the UK Government, no matter its persuasion, will never place its citizens ahead of corporations and the franchise, and the consequential profits, and was awarded to 'Virgin East Coast.' The change wasn't even discussed with the Scottish Government.

Within Scotland the franchise operates over 2,270 train services each day, and has 86 million passenger journeys per year. The rail franchise is the single biggest contract let by Scottish Ministers, worth a total value of over £7 billion over 10 years. The contract was recently awarded to Dutch state railway firm, Abellio who, along with German and French state railways, have also been shortlisted for the Northern Rail franchise in England.

The irony that state-run bids from foreign countries are permitted surely can't be lost on anyone and the profits Abellio make will be invested on Dutch rather than Scottish public services. The Scotrail franchise returned a profit to previous franchise holders, First Group, and the notion that profit comes without public investment is errant nonsense as 64% of that franchisee's income comes from the taxpayer.

Another intriguing aspect of the present contract is a guarantee of income for the franchisee in the event of industrial action affecting their profitability. That absurd clause is a significant disincentive to ensuring good industrial relations and clearly avoids the need for willingness to ensure early resolution of disputes.

In the last Westminster session, Green MP Caroline Lucas introduced a Bill at Westminster to return the railways to public ownership, something a clear majority of Scots want.

As with many government contracts, the rail franchises have 'break clauses' meaning that 5 years into the Scotrail franchise the Scottish Government could make alternative arrangements.

We must be vigilant about the East Coast reprivatisation as the potential exists that railways are just the start of the privatisation bonanza we can expect if corporate lobbyists get their way. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the trade deal being negotiated between the European Union and the US, which would give corporations the power to dismantle public services. TTIP also poses a significant threat to workers' rights and environmental protections as will anything else that get in the way of the corporations' profits.

So where do we go from here? The Green parties across the UK ran a very successful campaign to renationalise rail and enjoy the full support of the rail unions. We must broaden the coalition of support to once again run this vital public service exclusively in the public interest perhaps by building on the EU-wide coalition opposing TTIP. Scotland's left, including members of the SNP and Labour Parties, support a public rail network and I hope they can join together with the Green parties to ensure there's sufficient political will to make it happen, our communities and our planet deserve no less."

Help or Hindrance: The Left Surge to the SNP

For a while now, particularly following the referendum, there has been a huge increase in not only people joining the SNP but socialists and those very much on the Left joining. Another election has passed in which socialist parties across Britain have polled terribly. Despite this left wing politics in Scotland specifically have become ever more popular. I wonder, is this opening the door to socialism or is it not? The question I really want to ask though is this; Has the surge of those on the Left joining the SNP been a positive in general for socialism or has it been a negative?

I don't think anyone can really argue that the SNP have been a negative force in general when it comes to their time in government. As a socialist, there are many things that I would have liked to have been done differently and many things I staunchly disagree on but as far as capitalist governments go, they have done good things for the people; Free prescriptions, free tuition, ending the bedroom tax in Scotland. They have helped lead the charge for an independent Scotland and although I will always believe it was the people not the SNP that got us the referendum, I have to give credit where it is due for the role they played.

I do however believe that there is much criticism to be levied at them for policy choices they made such as the currency, monarchy, EU, NATO, corporation tax, Offensive behaviour at Football, lack of redistributive policy, the fact the "radical" land reform act is not so radical and much more. I don't think that it is unreasonable to imagine that there will be some (but very limited) movements on these issues now though that there are more socialists within the party.

The success of RIC throughout the Indy Ref campaign helped awaken many people (particularly the young) and made them realise that they are socialists. Social media in particular was a huge help in getting people not only involved in the debate but active. The problem was though that after the referendum these new socialists didn't really have a home. People can say what they like about the SSP, be it positive or negative but I think almost everyone will agree that the SSP was and is not strong enough. While some of these socialists joined socialist parties such as the SSP and Solidarity, most of them did not. Vast majority of these new and many of the old socialists joined the SNP as they are being seen as a strong, "leftist" party. Something none of the socialist parties are being seen as.

Upon asking this question on Facebook, I got a few responses and to my surprise most the socialists who answered believed that the socialist surge to the SNP was a negative for socialism overall. I had truly believed most of those who would reply would argue it is a positive. I think one of the best replies was certainly this from David Jameson -

"This is, however, as leftwing as the SNP will ever get. As the living memory of the social movement begins to fade, so will much of the leftist rhetoric and especially policy. Most importantly for your question Conor - not really that good or that bad. More irrelevant. If socialists try and organise internally for influence within the SNP they will get booted out, and there is little internal democratic life to speak of. Apart from anything else, I've heard nothing of any plans for a leftist grouping within the SNP or any attempts to challenge the leadership on anything (both would basically be expulsion level offences). The SNP is the most hierarchical and centralised political party I have ever come across on these islands. That's one of the things that makes it so devastatingly effective"

I feel I must make note that this is not all that David touched on however for the purposes of the article this is the paragraph that I thought best used. The points he made were not only valid but very much correct. The SNP are a single issue party which has moved to the Left for the simple reason that Scotland itself is on the Left. Should the ideals across Scotland change, so would the SNP.

As the SNP gain more control in Scotland, it is vital that socialists who are members continue to support socialism and do not get carried away on the nationalist bandwagon. If they do, then socialism here has taken a massive blow and no matter what the future holds, the Left will struggle. We must give socialists a chance to have a home. The Scottish Left Project could be that home but only time will tell if those within the SNP will take the chance to have that as a home, a real home that they would truly be welcome.

Of course, there are those who believe there are positives from all of this. Socialists within the SNP can help to keep the party on the Left as best as they can particularly in a time when the other major parties are so far to the Right. The SNP can act as a gateway to those newly involved in politics by opening their eyes then as their political ideology develops they could become more and more left-wing. Without the SNP, we may ask ourselves would Left politics be so prevalent today? Would we be closer to England in terms of political thought? Victoria Heaney for example posted this in reply to my Facebook question -

"Positive its a vehicle capable of generating more social progress than any actual socialist parties kicking about at present ( going by the vote count). When it comes to health, social care, social work and penal policy we are fairing better than the south. As long as those with socialist principles hold the snp's feet to the fire over the next few years then hopefully there will be more progress"

The question I have asked is one that socialists in Scotland will have to ask themselves for a long time along with many other questions. In order to make the most of the current situation we need to analyse where the SNP have been so successful, where we have not and what we can do to change it. This is not a case of going into hiding, reflecting on what has gone wrong. No, this is a case of trying to build a stronger socialist force than Scotland has ever seen before. Learning from the mistakes of the past and the successes of others will help us do that. There are some socialists who do not want criticisms of the SNP spoken aloud. I'm afraid that is too bad. Only by criticising them can we move forward and only by moving forward can we realise our socialist goals.

Personally, I feel that the SNP have in fact been a hindrance. Though this stance will result in much criticism, I believe that the they have drawn people away from socialism. Though many socialists are part of the SNP, it seems that more and more of these "committed" socialists are going along with nationalist policy rather than criticising when they should be. Only by criticism from all angles, outwith and within, will the SNP move further left. Many seem to have forgotten this. For instance, there have been some who have praised Swinney supporting the lowering of tax for oil companies to drill in the North Sea. I also think that socialism in Scotland itself cannot move forward with so many of its "own" supporting a capitalist party. Yes, the Left in Scotland is splintered however it won't always be. But, will these socialists in the SNP decide to re-join the socialist ranks? It is yet to be seen however the more they pander to the nationalists the more they become them.

 

The aim of this piece is to get debate going within the socialist circles. Not needless debate like we have had so often in the past but constructive debate that we need to have. I hope we have many more like it.

Seismic Shift or The Feeble 56?

It is perhaps fitting that in the week following the return of a majority Conservative Government Channel 4 screened a documentary entitled "The World's Most Expensive Food". Set in London, home to more billionaires than any other city on the planet, the programme presented viewers images of the super-rich consuming cups of coffee costing £300 ("It's worth it" says the supplier), alcohol from dusty bottles at £5,000 a shot and tales of a wedding where the guests consumed over 200 "gold" hot dogs. Perhaps its most surreal moment, even more so than the focus on salmon that is smoked whilst a man entertains the hanging dead fish by playing jazz music on a piano, is an unintentional modern take on the fable of The Emperor's New Clothes. Some wealthy men are shown consuming edible gold and silver whilst one remarks that the fare, obscenely expensive, has unsurprisingly, "no flavour whatsoever." Meanwhile, back in the real world, food-bank usage soars. Let them eat cake, or perhaps smoked salmon infused with improvised swing.

All of these billionaires would no doubt have been raising and expensive glass in celebrating the return of Cameron to Downing Street. So too those investors and speculators in the city of London, those whose greed and avarice led the economy into meltdown, the price of which is still being paid by those who can afford it least. In the hours following the Tory victory, shares in Sports Direct rose by 5% as the city breathed a sigh of relief once they realised Ed Miliband's more than modest proposals to slightly increase the minimum wage and abolish "exploitative" (are there any other kinds?) zero hours contracts would not be taking place after all. Even in the earliest days of this new regime we can get a flavour of what awaits us all. Attacks on human rights, on trade-unionists right to strike and a headlong rush towards more failed policies of uber-austerity. The Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman's warnings that austerity policies had been discredited and damaging to economies trying to recover from the banking crash has been drowned out by the sound of champagne corks as the economic experts of the Bullington Club prepare to wage war on public services and the very idea of a welfare state.

In Scotland the political tectonic plates moved in the most incredible General Election of modern times. Yet even with this remarkable outcome the cold hard fact remains that the United Kingdom now has a majority Conservative Government. Labour's failure total, the return of Cameron a disaster. Labour may have abandoned any pretence of being a socialist party a long time ago, they may have continued with the failed policies of austerity, but given the ferociousness of an unchecked Tory majority Government, Ed Miliband, supported by a progressive alliance of SNP and others looked a much more palatable alternative.

There are those on the left in Scotland who argue that there is no discernible difference between the two parties. It may be a catchy campaign slogan to refer to Labour as the Red Tories, but there are significant differences between what the Government of Ed Miliband would have looked like and the one we have to deal with for the foreseeable future. Nicola Sturgeon understood this when she offered to work with Miliband and categorically ruled out any deal with Cameron and the Tories.

In the build up to the poll it looked likely that no one party would emerge victorious and instead a series of deals and agreements would have to be pursued in order for one party to form a government. In the end all the speculation came to nought. Miliband's failure was complete and within hours he had joined Nick Clegg in resigning. Labour's attempt to imply a vote for the SNP in Scotland would let the Tories in was exposed as a myth. It was their failure to win a majority of seats in England that was their undoing. Even if every single seat in Scotland had gone to Labour it would not have been enough.

Cameron's triumph may yet prove to be a pyric victory for unionism. In order to make short-term electoral gains he has opened a Pandora's Box by appealing to base English nationalism in calling into question the legitimacy of the choice of the Scottish people. In September Scots voters were asked to stay in the union and "lead." What that meant of course was stay and do what you've always done. Shut up and don't rock the boat. During the final few days of the campaign I could not help but feel that the cause of Scottish independence had been advanced more by David Cameron, Boris Johnston and the Daily Mail than Sturgeon, Salmond and the entire Yes Campaign put together.

Here in Scotland it was clear for weeks prior to the election that something seismic was going to happen. Whilst debate rages over the accuracy or otherwise of the opinion polls in predicting the outcome across the UK as a whole it was only the magnitude of Labour's failure that was in doubt. Allied to the Tories portrayal of the SNP as potential puppet masters, pickpockets and lacking legitimacy, Miliband's dismissal of the idea of any deal or coalition with a party the majority of Scots were clearly going to vote for exacerbated the Labour Party's already damaged credibility north of the border. This dismissal can be added to the long list of reasons that Labour's vote vaporised in Scotland...Iraq, PFI, siding with the Tories in Better Together, de-regulation of the banking industry and many more besides.

Labour is a hollowed out shell of a party. The result last week was an accident waiting to happen. Its leadership has progressively distanced itself from the trade unions who founded it whilst its activist base has been in decline for decades, replaced instead by an apparatchik class of councillors and parliamentary staffers. What used to be an organisation built on solid foundations of working class collectivism and participation is now a house built on sand. The antipathy and tribal hatred that exists towards the SNP is not so much based on ideology and politics but on a rivalry for careers and paid positions. Having been almost wiped out at Westminster the fear for many will be that their MSP's and councillors will be next. Can Labour honestly, with any confidence, predict a single first past the post seat it can hold in Scotland next May? Likewise across local government, a cull of Labour councillors looks increasingly inevitable. The unprecedented influx of new members and activists give the SNP a huge advantage for all future electoral campaigns. A sense of entitlement that Labour has enjoyed for decades is coming to an end as Scotland looks likely to enter a new political epoch. The first of these was dominated by the Liberals who took the vast majority of seats in Scottish elections between 1859 and the rise of the Labour Party after the First World War. A second, shorter period was dominated by the Unionist Party that preceded the current Scottish Conservatives and then finally, a period of unbroken electoral domination of Scottish Labour that began in the late 1950's and ended last Thursday. Had it not been for the combination of Ian Murray's high profile in helping to revitalise Hearts FC and the idiotic and insulting twitter ramblings of the SNP's candidate Neil Hay in Edinburgh South, there was the very real possibility of a Labour wipe-out, a situation that seems barely credible considering the dominance the party enjoyed until recently.

The predictable Blairite reaction has started already. Labour was too far to the left they cry and argue for a shift to the centre right. Yet the result in Scotland is proof positive their conclusions are wrong. In first of all electing arch-Blairite Murphy and then in allowing him to stay as leader, Scottish Labour appears to have indulged in nothing short of masochism. SNP strategists must also be rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of a UK Labour Party led by the likes of Chuka Umunna or Liz Kendall. Labour were routed not because they were too left but because hundreds of thousands of their core voters finally ran out of patience with a party they have perceived as abandoning its values and founding principles. The resignation of Johann Lamont offered a temporary break in the clouds and a chance for a reinvigorated Labour attack on the SNP from the left. They chose instead probably the worst option they could and paid the price. It was beyond defeat, it was annihilation. Amongst the bewildered throng of vanquished Labour figures in Glasgow was former MP Ian Davidson. Just a few short months ago Davidson was predicting a resurgent Labour showing following on from their referendum "success". His, "all that's left to do is bayonet the wounded" statement in relation to the defeated Yes campaign must have come back to haunt him as he stood ashen faced in the teeth of a political storm that wiped his party from their previous fortress of Glasgow.

The Blairite strategy of winning elections by placing yourself in the centre and focusing on key demographics and marginal constituencies proved to be a successful formula for a while at least. Yet it was based on an assumption that in winning over floating voters in key strategic areas you would also maintain your core vote in areas of traditional strength. It was the unshakable belief that it didn't matter if you took your traditional voters for granted or treated them with contempt they would remain loyal. In Scotland, where there is a viable and credible left of centre alternative, that plan has unravelled completely. In England and Wales the fixation of focusing on marginal seats whilst neglecting the base manifests itself in ever increasing disengagement and abstentions by what should be Labour's core vote and dalliances with the right in the shape of UKIP in recent years and previously the BNP (now an increasing irrelevance thankfully) . There are constituencies across England and Wales were turnout barely exceeds 50% and it in engaging those abstainers that the future success or failure of Labour lies rather than fixating on winning over tiny demographics. The SNP showed that by eschewing the language of the right and talking positively about immigration, wanting to get rid of Trident and anti-austerity rhetoric could be popular. If it is to learn valuable lessons Labour needs understand that the popularity of the SNP is not driven by nationalist fervour or by a suspension of the electorate critical facilities but in being seen to be different from the toxic Tories. (The 14.9% vote share Ruth Davidson's party received made it their worst result since 1965.) Instead it is likely Labour will not learn from past mistakes and take a rightwards turn. The need for a new party to represent working class people has never been more apparent.

 

The SNP strong showing had not just come at the expense of Labour however. Hopes that the individual reputations of high profile MP's and the targeting of resources could save the Liberal Democrats proved unfounded as they, like the other main parties were reduced to a single seat. Even when Alistair Carmichael held on in Orkney it was with a much reduced majority. The Faustian pact with the Tories that brought power and seats at the table of Government has proved to be fatal. There is now the very real possibility that the Liberal Democrats will become an even more marginalised and irrelevant rump in next year's Scottish Elections.

Electoral records were being broken at 10 minute intervals as news was broadcast from counts across Scotland. Commentators and psephologists struggled to keep up with swings that kept obliterating previous records. It was as if a long jumper at the Olympics became the first athlete to break a 100 year old world record, only for them to find by the time they'd completed a lap of honour of the stadium the next 5 jumpers had each gone on to improve on the distance. Given the magnitude of some of the results, (Anne McLaughlin achieved a swing of 39% in Glasgow North East) it was understandable that the significance of some others was lost.

My own constituency of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk has been either Tory or Liberal since elections began. In 1868 it was won by Sir Graham Graham-Montgomery, 3rd Baronet Stanhope who I presume was not a local mill worker and has see-sawed between various shades of Tory Unionist and Liberal candidates ever since. Following the "boy" David Steel's triumph during a by-election in 1965 it seemed that the constituency was sealed as Liberal (Democrat) for ever. In the early hours of last Friday morning, and after a re-count, I watched as the final result of the night in Scotland confirmed that we really were living through historic times. The SNP won. Michael Moore's strong personal profile was not enough to stop his vote collapsing and the majority of those, who have often voted tactically for the LibDems in the past to keep the Tories out switched to Calum Kerr of the SNP along with around 5% of Labour voters. The SNP vote increased by a staggering 27.5%. In its own way, this single result was every bit as significant as those from across Central Scotland which hogged the majority of the headlines.

Images of shell-shocked Tories, upset Lib/Dems and euphoric SNP were beamed around the country from Springwood Hall in Kelso. In the early hours of September 19th 2014 I sat in that same hall with Calum Kerr and other activists from Yes Scottish Borders as we watched results of the Independence Referendum coming in from across the country. We had the dubious pleasure of attending the count that would deliver the second worst Yes vote in the country. Only in Orkney was the percentage of No voters higher. We were surrounded by the local No campaign, predominantly Tories of the most unpleasant and boorish kind. However, joining the posh country set were also local Liberal Democrats and Labour campaigners in their "United with Labour" badges. As each local authority area across Scotland declared, the majority for No, we watched as Tory, Lib/Dem and Labour alike high-fived each other and smirked in our direction. Wealthy farmers, land owners and local businessmen cheered as traditional Labour heartlands delivered No vote after No vote. Only when results in Glasgow, Dundee, North Lanarkshire and West Dumbartonshire were announced did we have cause to raise a smile, but we knew it was not going to be enough.

We left Kelso and returned to a hall in Galashiels where Yes campaigners had gathered to watch the referendum results coverage. Minutes after I arrived a No vote was confirmed. In an attempt to console a tearful fellow activist I told her of how it felt to be surrounded by those from the parties of No. Those parties who represented greed and avarice and who had campaigned throughout the referendum with a message of disingenuous fear. In comparison our campaign had been positive, anti-austerity and fundamentally anti-Tory. Despite the disappointment of losing the vote I explained it felt better not to have been associated with those on the other side of the room that morning. Watching those same Tory faces back in Springwood Hall on TV as Calum Kerr defeated them by just over 300 votes was satisfying indeed.

Yet unlike the majority of the friends I made in the Yes campaign I did not share their sense of joy and triumph that the SNP did so well, only a despondency that the Tories had a majority. It remains to be seen if the SNP can offer a solution to the problems faced by ordinary people day and daily or if they will be an effective barrier to the worst ravages of the Tories. Whilst the rhetoric the party has employed during the campaign has encouraged this belief that the SNP offer a break from the cuts consensus of the big two at Westminster, their record in both Holyrood and in local Government does not provide proof that they can walk the walk on opposing austerity.

They have positioned themselves to the left of Labour on issues such as trident and immigration but it has only been since the election of Nicola Sturgeon that the SNP moved to drop the policy of cutting corporation tax and adopted other economic policies that brought them more in line with Miliband's Labour. Despite being in Government since 2007 and enjoying a comfortable majority at Holyrood since 2011 the party has failed to act on scrapping the unjust Council tax and replacing it, (as they had promised) with a fairer, income based alternative. This one redistributive measure alone could have made a huge and positive difference to the lives of the majority of Scots over the past 4 years. The council tax freeze is a poor alternative to scrapping an unfair and discredited policy and has put increasing pressure on local authority budgets which have in turn led to cuts in vital public services. College places have been cut whilst low paid striking hospital porters in Dundee show that the devolved NHS lacks fairness just as much as its maligned English and Welsh counterpart.

The Tories have no mandate in Scotland to implement the damaging and brutal austerity policies planned for the next 5 years. The SNP in comparison have an overwhelming mandate to resist such measures. If they choose simply to employ anti-austerity rhetoric but implement cuts in practice, then they run the risk of losing the incredible levels of support they currently enjoy. Lessons from the not too distant past show that a failure to resist unpopular Tory measures can be damaging to a party in Scotland. Despite enjoying huge popular support and returning the vast majority of MP's to Westminster, the Scottish Labour Party was roundly condemned for failing to stand up to the Thatcher and Major Governments. The "feeble 50 "as they were known played a large part in the disillusionment that haunts Labour to this day. The 56 SNP representatives currently moving into their new offices in Westminster should take heed. It won't be good enough to simply say that without Independence we cannot do anything to stop Cameron. Despite understanding the constraints imposed by the union it remains to be seen just how patient and tolerant the Scottish people will be.

Just as the SNP argued that a strong vote for them would hold Westminster's feet to the fire then there is a need for a strong showing by the left in Scotland to hold the SNP to account. The referendum campaign proved that the potential exists for socialists and other progressive forces to work together and successfully challenge neo-liberal orthodoxies and fight for a much more radical agenda. I disagreed with Tommy Sheridan and others in Solidarity and Hope Over Fear who argued we should lend our vote to the SNP everywhere in the election. My preference would have been to call for a vote instead for the candidates who were either the most left wing, openly socialist, anti-trident or against austerity. This may have meant in practice voting for SNP candidates in the majority of places anyway but not everywhere. In Tommy's own constituency the candidate Chris Stephens was a trade unionist with a reputation for being on the left. In other places, Kilmarnock and Louden for example, the candidate was a sitting councillor who has been implementing austerity as part of a SNP/Conservative coalition. It seems inconsistent to me to say you'll punish the "Red Tories" by calling for a vote for someone implementing cuts with the "actual Tories."

The Scottish Left did stand in a handful of seats last week but received the derisory results that were perhaps as predictable as they were depressing. It is telling that the left in Scotland is so weak electorally that there has been barely a commentator who has even mentioned them in the days following last week's results.

The Greens received the best results of the smaller progressive parties but they cannot lay claim to having created a significant social movement that looks likely to shake Holyrood to its foundations next year. Their best result came in Glasgow North where they scored 6.2% and they performed well in a couple of Edinburgh seats where they managed to save two deposits. Whilst it is not quite as simple to suggest that in the absence of a Green candidate voters may have instead switched to the SNP, it is nonetheless frustrating to see that in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale Constituency, Scotland's only Tory David Mundell managed to beat the SNP by the smallest margin of 798 votes. The Green vote in the constituency was 839. In retrospect it might have been a better result for Greens and environmentalists if Mundell had been removed and Scotland was a completely Tory-free zone. Patrick Harvie will be hoping that in 2016 a large number of those voting SNP in the constituency contests will switch to Green for the Regional List vote. It is unlikely that the Greens would agree to any kind of Yes Alliance or left re-groupment strategy prior to 2016.

The performance of the socialist parties was much poorer. The SSP's National Co-Spokesperson Colin Fox stood in Edinburgh South, the one seat where Labour held on in Scotland. The SSP have made much of their profile as members of the Yes Scotland Advisory Board and Fox has maintained a decent media profile since September last year. He received 197 votes or 0.4%. The SSP's best percentage result of the night was in Paisley and Renfrew South where Sandra Webster achieved 0.6% of the votes cast. In the four seats where they stood the cumulative total of all their votes did not exceed by much the number received by the Claymore wielding Independent candidate Jessie Rae in the Borders. The Socialist Equality Party accumulated 58 votes in Glasgow Central whilst in Glasgow North West the Communists managed to secure 136 votes.

The biggest left challenge in Scotland was mounted by the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) who stood in 10 seats. Nowhere did the party achieve even 1% of the vote with their strongest showing 0.7% in Dundee West for trade unionist Jim McFarlane and their weakest 0.2% in neighbouring Dundee East. In Glasgow TUSC finished behind the Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol Party in 2 out of the 3 seats where they went head to head. One small crumb of comfort was in Aberdeen North where at least TUSC's Tyrinne Rutherford beat the National Front candidate by 20 votes. Across the UK TUSC did not perform much better. Its highest profile candidate the former Labour MP Dave Nellist scored a respectable 3.9% in Coventry North West but that was as good as it got for the coalition. Trade Unionist Nick Wrack received 0.6% in Camberwell and Peckham, Nancy Taafe scored 0.9% in Walthamstow whilst in Bethnal Green and Bow Glyn Robbins polled 1.8%. In Abervan, Captain Beany, curator of museum of beans received almost ten times the vote of Owen Herbert of TUSC who polled 134. Reports have emerged of one TUSC candidate, in Rainham North, who did not receive a single vote.

These results in no way reflect either the quality of the campaigns or indeed the candidates themselves. Across the UK TUSC stood some of the best left-wing and trade union activists there are. In the Liverpool Riverside constituency TUSC stood Tony Mulhearn, one of the key figures in Liverpool City Council's resistance to Thatcher in the early 1980's. Tony polled 1.3% of the vote. In Glasgow North the candidate was Angela McCormick, an active trade unionist, community activist and anti-war campaigner. You could not get a more suitable socialist candidate standing for election. Angela's vote was 0.4%. In Glasgow South TUSC selected Brian Smith, the Secretary of the Glasgow City UNISON branch. A high profile trade unionist with a record second to none in fighting for his members and his class Brian received 0.6% of the votes cast.

Neither is it the case that the message being put forward by socialist candidates was not well received or popular. Calling for the rich to be made to pay their fair share of taxation, an end to cuts and privatisation, for public ownership and stronger trade union rights in the workplace are ideas that resonate with the public. TUSC and the other socialist organisations who stood will say they were simply laying down a marker and preparing for the potentially more rewarding proportional representative Scottish Elections next year. Thousands of leaflets were distributed, papers were sold and the message was received warmly. Results were "modest" and the left was "squeezed" in the battle between the SNP and Labour. If the left is to be treated as a seriously at future elections however, different conclusions need to be drawn.

The problem for socialist candidates under whichever banner they stand is that they lack electoral credibility. This is compounded every time they put up candidates and receive miserly and derogatory votes. The comrades in TUSC will point out that they are at least raising the standard of socialism in elections and are 100% anti-austerity. They would also quite rightly point to the fact that the coalition is supported by one major trade union, the RMT, giving them an authority no other left grouping can claim. The dilemma is however, that the more times the coalition is defeated by Captain Beany or by candidates under the moniker of "Elvis Loves Pets", (as happened in Eastleigh in 2013) the harder it is to maintain credibility, to persuade the RMT to continue backing TUSC or indeed managing to convince other unions to make the break from Labour. Whilst the majority of socialist cadres from the organisations that make up TUSC, primarily the Socialist Party and The SWP are not dispirited by such meagre results, it is harder to encourage fresh layers of new activists to either join or to stay involved when results are so poor. Modest results could be acceptable if during the campaign significant social movements were being constructed in their wake, but this is not the case.

The results last Thursday, and those in the preceding elections can lead to only one conclusion - that the left cannot go on repeating the mistakes of the past in the hope that something will change. A new strategy is urgently required.

I attended all the meetings at the RMT Headquarters in London where the TUSC and NO2EU – Yes to Democracy coalitions were formed. I represented Solidarity in negotiations with the late Bob Crow, the RMT and the other socialist organisations that came together in a bid to offer a left alternative to the Labour Party. These coalitions were created in the wake of a conference entitled the "Crisis in Working Class Representation" that the RMT organised in London in the winter of 2009. Speaking on the eve of the conference Bob made a statement that is as applicable now as it was then,

"(this) conference comes at a crucial time for working people in this country. The gap between rich and poor has never been greater... the three main parties are all spouting the same pro-bosses mantra of public spending cuts and privatisation. People up and down the country are angry that they are being told to pay the price for the recession while the speculators who created it are bailed out to the tune of tens of billions and are gearing up for a bumper round of bonuses at our expense. Millions of working class people have been disenfranchised by the political establishment. Our aim is to give them a voice."

In Scotland hundreds of thousands of working class people concluded in a first past the post contest that the SNP gave them that voice. Yet many of those, especially a younger generation engaged during the referendum campaign, will be prepared to back a more radical alternative in the list vote in next year's Scottish Elections. Unfortunately neither TUSC nor any of the current left organisations are they are constituted looks capable of making the significant breakthroughs that are potentially on offer in 2016. The various socialist organisations instead have to acknowledge their shortcomings and amend the tactics that have been employed for the last ten years or so. This requires meaningful dialogue and discussion between the various parties and movements of the left in a bid to achieve some kind of unity of purpose that avoids a myriad of different options appearing on the ballot paper. As it stands, especially in Glasgow, there could be a large number of socialist options competing on the regional list including TUSC, Solidarity, The SSP, The Socialist Labour Party, The Communist Party and The Left Project. Each one claiming that it is the authentic voice of socialism. This bewildering array of options needs to be avoided or at least a serious attempt made to reach agreements and accommodation no matter how fraught the process may be. Left unity cannot just be proclaimed by one or other of these groups. Any serious attempt cannot start with any groups being excluded or marginalised. The renewed attacks facing the poorest and most vulnerable in society deserve a co-ordinated response and fightback. To not exhaust the possibilities of re-groupment would be abdicating responsibility.

Simply re-aligning the miniscule and disparate left groups will not be enough of itself but it is a necessary starting point. Any new formation needs to capture the momentum, the energy and the drive of the referendum campaign. It must become a living, breathing social movement driven by bottom up activity and engaging meaningfully in communities rather than handfuls of cadre distributing leaflets and newspapers. The challenge for the left in the months before the 2016 election is seeing if it can set aside differences and egos and mount a unified and credible challenge offering an alternative to either the full austerity or austerity lite policies of all the main parties, including the SNP.

 

 

 

Other articles by Graeme McIver in The Point (click on the articles)

 

 Get up off our Knees - An interview with Paul Heaton

 

An Interview with John Cooper Clarke

 

Too Nice to Talk Too – An Interview with Dave Wakeling of The English Beat

 

Hillsborough – The Politics Behind the Smears

 

The Scandal of Low Pay in the Home Care Sector

 

The Dawning of a New Era – The History of 2 Tone

 

Thomas Muir of Hunterhill

 

 Tony Benn – An Obituary

 

What the World is Waiting For - The Stone Roses Live at Glasgow Green

 

Film Review - Sunshine on Leith

 

Alex Salmond and the Great Flag Stooshie

 

 So Long – The Musical Legacy of Margaret Thatcher

 

Life’s on the Line: How the Gambling Industry Targets the Poor

 

Why the Fit Can Die Young

 

Do You Hear the People Sing - A Review of Les Misérables

 

Passing on the Torch – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists Downsized

 

 

 

Why I am voting SNP

 

Socialist and anti-cuts campaigner Gary Fraser explains why he is voting SNP on Thursday for just the second time in his life

 

For more and more socialistic Scots voting SNP on May 7th is probably a no brainer yet for someone like me who is both a socialist and a public sector worker the decision to vote SNP is something I had to think long and hard about. I have voted SNP before back in 1997, the first time I ever cast a vote in a General Election. My instinct then was to vote Labour, but I remember my Dad saying that 'Blair was a sheep in wolf's clothing', a prescient insight which stayed with me right through until polling day. Fast forward 18 years later (gosh is it really 18 years!) and I shall be voting SNP for the second time in my lifetime. I will come to the reasons why in a moment. But first, some thoughts on why it's been a difficult decision.

A good friend of mine, who works in local government and calls himself a socialist (of sorts, he always adds), was astonished when I announced my intention to vote SNP. Seriously, he said, in all honesty, how can you as a socialist vote for the SNP? His argument went like this; SNP councillors voted through millions of pounds worth of cuts to local government budgets across the country, cuts passed down from the SNP Scottish Government. In addition to this, he told me that SNP councillors had supported draconian cuts to the voluntary sector, a sector often hit disproportionately because it's an easy target. Youth groups and pensioners groups have all been hammered he added. He then pointed out that across Scotland over 50 thousand local government jobs had been lost according to UNISON figures, (and he stated for good measure that putting someone into 'Switch' as it's called in local government, still means that the original job is lost!). My good friend then reminded me that in the area where he lived SNP councillors had voting records which included voting to close community centres whilst at one point considering closing libraries, swimming pools and leisure centres. I could go on, but you get the point.

These are all valid reasons as to why socialists like myself should not vote SNP. SNP Councillors have trotted into Council chambers across the land and voted through austerity measures, often touting the managerial line that there is no alternative. I even heard one SNP Councillor argue that cuts are not really cuts but 'efficiency savings'. I was reminded of that saying that when language is murdered, people or in this case public services, usually follow. The contradiction of SNP councillors voting through austerity measures whilst nationally opposing austerity is a contradiction which should not be easily ignored.

And yet, despite my friends best efforts to persuade me otherwise my mind is made up, I am going to vote SNP. There are a number of factors at play here. Firstly, and there is no point in denying this, there is the Sturgeon factor. Nicola Sturgeon is fast emerging as one of the most inspiring progressive politicians Scotland has seen for a long time. I no longer call myself a Marxist but to paraphrase the late Christopher Hitchens I still think like one and I hate to admit this; individuals do matter and Nicola Sturgeon has probably done more than any politician in recent years to help popularise left wing politics. Moreover, as others have noted, she appears sincere, a rare quality in politics these days. And yet there are always dangers; a one woman band may be fine for now, but longer term it will inevitably become a weakness. Big politics are at play here and it's clear that under Nicola Sturgeon's leadership the SNP has moved to the left. After years of neo-liberal managerialism, are we witnessing the return of ideology?

For the last five years David Cameron and the odious Nick Clegg, (and how I would love to see him lose his seat), have subjected Britain to a brutal austerity experiment, which Labour have consistently failed to challenge. Labour's persistent failure to provide a consistent and principled opposition has resulted in many people unwittingly buying into the narrative that there is no alternative. This is dangerous. The result is either de-politicisation on a mass scale or as we see with UKIP in England, the scapegoating of immigrants. And yet, Sturgeon has shown that there is another way, and this alone gives people confidence. The value of this cannot be measured. It's not true, as some argue, that neo-liberalism depends on a passive citizenry. In fact, many neo-liberal ideas involved constructing citizens as active agents; think of the shifting narratives of turning the unemployed into job seekers, or community groups working in partnership in participatory budgeting to identify where cuts should be made (bureaucrats in local government refer to this as co-production), or communities being constructed not as geographical places where people live, but rather as potential players in the public services delivery market; witness the cultural takeover of the voluntary and community sector by business values and practices whereby neo-liberal narratives encourage people to run services once funded out of general taxation. The point I making is this; when the state withdraws a neo-liberal informed active citizenry emerges, which actually enables austerity measures to be implemented.

Furthermore, austerity these last five years has been presented as something inevitable, something like bad weather, disappointing when it happens, yet unavoidable. The Tories, the Lib Dems, many in Labour, and most of the mainstream media promote this narrative daily; the anti-cuts groups which do exist have failed to permeate the public consciousness in challenging this discourse and let's be honest neither have the Trades Unions had much success either. But the SNP has punched a hole in the austerity bubble and the ruling class, if such a term still applies, are in a collective pickle, witness the attempts to portray Sturgeon as the 'most dangerous woman in Britain'. The other day in East Lothian I spoke to a well-meaning elderly Tory lady, (yes they do exist), who was out canvassing, and said to me that in her view the SNP are an 'extreme socialist party'. If only, I thought. But if Tories think this, then for my money the SNP must be doing something right.

There are of course valid criticisms on how credible the SNP's anti-austerity measures actually are; afterall they plan to increase public spending by a meagre 0.5% and they are still wedded to a an economic model which redistributes wealth between the middle and working classes, allowing the super-rich to get off Scot free. Yes, the detail is important, but sometimes what is more is more important in age of surfaces to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, is the mood music, and in this election the SNP under Sturgeon's leadership is playing an anti-austerity tune. In addition to this, they are committed to ending Trident renewal, a policy which puts clear red water between the SNP and Labour.

My other reason for voting SNP is this; Scotland's political institutions (I typed the word democratic and then deleted it), lack the powers to challenge the neo-liberal juggernaut. Tony Benn once said that the only thing worse than the corruption of power was the corruption of powerlessness and Scotland's institutional powerlessness has for too long infected our national political discourse and embroiled many a good person into delivering the austerity agenda, from social democratic politicians, to public sector managers who have ended up as reluctant administrators of austerity.

Those, like my good friend, who bemoan the SNP's record in local government also need to acknowledge, in fact they must acknowledge, the harsh political realities of trying to run Councils in a neo-liberal world. Shouting at the dupes of various party colours who vote through cuts, even though they may deserve it, runs the risk of buying into the Tory divide and rule narrative; for evidence of this, witness the bizarre bun fights and petty jibes on display in the letters pages of most Scottish local newspapers every week between SNP and Labour councillors.

I don't buy into the historically determinist argument that Scottish independence is inevitable. It's not. Yet, Britain post September the 18th is a different land. The days of the working classes blindly voting Labour are coming to an end. This doesn't mean that they will blindly vote SNP either. We are entering into a new political milieu, a milieu based on strategic thinking and temporal alliances. Of course, class is at play here but there are other factors too; age, gender, and significantly nationality which is fast becoming one of the defining features of British politics. In these post-modern times the era of mass loyalties to political parties is over and increasingly elections will be about tactics and coalitions. The right learned this lesson in 2010 and the progressive left must wake up to this social fact and turn it to our advantage. Labour are of course the biggest stumbling block to a progressive strategy and Miliband's announcement that he will do no 'deals' with the SNP is a blow to this strategy. Two things could happen; working class Scots will be frightened into voting Labour or Labour lose Scotland.

One final point. I do find it disappointing that some socialist groups have decided to field candidates against the SNP, as is there right. But this can only help Labour and now that Sturgeon has pitched her tent on solid left ground the only political space left available for socialists contesting this election is the political cul-de-sac of ultra-leftism. What is needed is not a myriad of socialist groups competing against one another for a risible vote but rather a strategic discussion about how to elect socialist MSPs in 2016. Time is fast running out. In regards to Thursday I end with this; coming on the back of the historical referendum, the 2015 British General Election is unlike any other in recent history and Labour's hegemony over Scottish politics is perhaps drawing to an end.

With that thought in mind I shall vote SNP on May 7th.

The Party's Over - An Obituary for 'Scottish' Labour

 

An Open Letter to the People of Clydebank and all Scotland (featuring. The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the General Election for Scottish Voters)

 

Hi. Can we talk?

There are a few things I need to get off my chest. Important things. Last year I undertook a journey. In a way it was a journey through time as well as space. A journey that crossed 13,000 miles and three decades. I came home. Home to the town where I grew up. It’s not a great metropolis. It’s not glamorous. It’s not particularly famous, in fact when I tell people where I come from I usually have to add some additional information. ‘Just west of Glasgow’ for instance. Nonetheless I’ve always been proud of my wee town. Sometimes, when I’m feeling that pride, and the person I’m talking to gives me a blank look, I have been known to say, “Have you heard of the Queen Mary? The Queen Elizabeth? The QE2? Yeh? Well, we built those!”

Of course, I didn’t personally build any of them. I am (and I don’t often get to say this these days) too young. In fact one of my earliest memories is that of sitting on my Dad’s shoulders in the middle of a jam packed main street when the entire town turned out for the launch of the QE2 in 1967. I was barely two years old. Even so, I grew up feeling a sense of pride, the collective pride of the town, in the achievements of its workers. In the fact that, on our little stretch of the Clyde, we had built the greatest shipyard in the world. And in that yard, the workers of the town had built the biggest, fastest, most luxurious ocean liners the world had ever seen. And those workers were union, hardcore and proud. From the rent strikes of the Teens and 20s, to the UCS work-in in the 70s they were at the forefront of the European labour movement. 

I’ve already written about the reasons and circumstances that led to my leaving in the first place in a blog called The Moment When You Know. The reason for my return at this time was the referendum. I’ve always had an interest in politics. In my day that was not particularly unusual in Clydebank, but in my case it led me to the conclusion, something like thirty years ago, that independence was the only way forward for Scotland. I have held that view, and argued for it, ever since, but I did not know if there would be an opportunity for it to happen in my lifetime. But, as we all know, it did happen. The unprecedented electoral collapse, in the 2011 Holyrood elections, of the Labour Party gave the SNP an overall majority, something that the electoral system with its proportional representation component had been designed never to produce. That overall majority triggered a manifesto commitment to hold such a referendum.

Like most of us I didn’t really know if it had a chance of succeeding. The polls, the pundits and the odds were against us. David Cameron and the Tories were convinced it was doomed to failure which, it must be assumed, was why they agreed to it as readily as they did. They hoped for a crushing victory that would kill the issue for at least a generation. I, however, would never have been able to forgive myself if I had not played my part in the effort. Win, lose or draw, I had to try. I began by starting this blog and campaigning online, but it was clear to me that in order to feel I had done everything I could, and in order to be taken seriously, I had to come home. Also, on a personal level, I just really, really wanted to stand in that polling booth and put my mark in that ‘Yes’ box (which, by the way, was every bit as satisfying in reality as it was in my imagination).

Now when I first decided to come home part of my reasoning was that Clydebank was exactly the sort of place that the ‘Yes’ movement would have to be able to win in order to carry the day. That’s because Clydebank, largely as a result of that proud trade union history, is what the pundits would call ‘Labour heartland.’ For generations it has been one of the safest Labour seats in Scotland. Until 2011 that is. Alex Salmond is reported to have exclaimed, “Fuck me!” when it was announced that Gil Patterson had won Clydebank and Milngavie for the SNP. So the clue was there, and when I arrived I was immediately struck by the number of Yes posters in windows and Saltires flying from wherever folk could string them up. Now we know that Clydebank voted Yes by a margin of at least 2:1, quite possibly the widest in Scotland. Despite the pain of losing the national vote, I’ve never been so proud of my wee town. So what happened? How did it come to this?

Well, I think this picture I took on the eve of the referendum might tell a part of the story at least:


It was taken from near the bottom of Alexander Street. The Lucky Break (formerly Woolworths) is just out of shot to the right. What’s notable about the picture is what isn’t in it. The shipyard. The main street. The place where I’m standing used to be slap bang in the centre of town. I couldn’t have taken the picture when I was growing up because there would have been a building in the way. This is a town which has quite literally had the heart torn out of it. The shipyard, around which the town grew up, Singer’s, which at it’s peak during WWII when it was a munitions factory, employed 17,500 people, gone. Even the main street, composed of the tenements where the early shipyard workers, the first true Bankies, once lived and with all of the ground floor flats converted into the shops, tea rooms, pubs, doctors’ surgeries and all the other things you’d expect of a busy, bustling, thriving high street. To be replaced by a bland, generic shopping mall, in a different place (although seen from inside it could be anywhere in the Western world), that gets locked up in the evenings. How are people supposed to see it as the town centre when it’s only accessible to them about half of the time? What effect does that have on the psyche of a community?

Anyway, with all of that went all the jobs which powered the local economy, and of course generated that sense of pride and worth I was talking about in the first couple of paragraphs. The town became a place of unemployment and deprivation. The population dropped precipitately. Of course much of this happened in the Thatcher years, and of course I know that plenty of other working class towns suffered similarly. But this one was mine. So what of the people? Well, a few weeks after the referendum I wrote this:

“However, despite all of that, what I found on returning to my home town was not despair, not a community crushed by the weight of its sadness and its loss. I found a people bloodied but unbowed, a spirit undaunted, and the flame of hope and optimism kindled anew. A sense of unity and common purpose, unknown since the UCS days, was abroad once again. It was the ‘Yes’ campaign that had united people and given them that hope.”

When you’re away you can easily fall victim to the nostalgia disease. It’s a human trait. We all tend to remember the good stuff, maybe exaggerate it even, and play down the bad. But growing up in Clydebank definitely gave me something – everywhere I’ve gone in the world (and I travelled quite a lot when I was younger) I’ve stepped out with confidence. How hard could it be? I was a Bankie, I’d cope. And I always did. Then there’s Melbourne, where I’d been living for quite a while. It’s not much like Clydebank. It’s a big city, almost 4 million people, which to me is not on a human scale. You don’t know your neighbours. It’s big, it’s alienating and at times, like the last couple of days for instance, it’s stupidly hot. I sound like I’m kind of over it, don’t I? Could it be that these things were colouring my view? Was I just looking at my past through rose-tinted glasses? But no, Clydebank people were all I remembered them to be, and more. Which brings me in, I admit, an extremely roundabout way, to the first really important thing I want to say.

Thank You Clydebank!

The town itself and all of its people. They made me, shaped my politics and taught me about resistance. I want to thank the old friends, the new, and all great the people of the ‘Yes’ campaign, who welcomed me back with open arms and open hearts, didn’t judge me for having to leave in the first place, and proved to me that Clydebank was still, and will always be, my home. And a special thank you to the people who turned out to the Lucky Break a few weeks ago, at 10 o’clock on a cold Wednesday night, and a Wednesday night on which there was a Scotland match at that, to wish me a happy birthday. It meant a lot to me, I was deeply moved and I miss you all. And I will be back. Soon. You can depend on it. Best of luck with the May Day fundraiser tonight, have a great time, I only wish I could be there and sing you a few songs, but in the meantime, for those who weren’t able to be there at the time, I was able to stay just long enough to perform at the Clydebank Yes Alliance fundraiser at the Lucky Break in late October, and by the way, thanks to the LB as well. It was/is the unofficial HQ of the Yes campaign and the guys there have been brilliant. So thanks to them and their friends at Titan Cams.

But Clydebank, we need to have that conversation. We need to talk about the elephant in the room. The big, red and yellow stripy one. This time next week we’ll be waking up to the results of the General Election. We need to discuss the Labour Party.

The Ghost of the Labour Party

As I mentioned earlier, Clydebank, or at least the various constituencies based on it (currently West Dunbartonshire) has long been one of the safest Labour seats in Scotland. Even today they hold it with a majority of over 17,000. So quite a lot of us must have been voting for them over the years. It’s okay. This is a safe space. You can admit it. Look, I’ll start the ball rolling. Hello. My name’s Derek and I’ve been a Labour voter. But that’s not all. I was once a member of the Clydebank Labour Party. For a couple of years. Hey, it was the 80s. I was a teenager, a student, lots of us were experimenting with politics back then.

I know, I’ve always said that I’m not aligned with, or a member of, any political party. And that’s true. Since then I never have been. Of course I’ve never ceased to be interested in politics, or to have strong political opinions, but I’ve never again joined a party. Now I’m not blaming that solely on my experiences with the Clydebank CLP. The fact is I realised that I was far too opinionated to ever say something I didn’t believe because someone else told me to say it, because it was the party line. Actually, being in the Labour Party in, I think, 82 and 83 wasn’t a totally alienating experience. There were some pretty good people in it back then. There were even some socialists. So it gives me no pleasure to say this, but Clydebank, you have to know, that party doesn’t exist any longer. Most of the good people and the socialists left years ago. Some were kicked out, some just drifted away of their own accord. The mass exodus started when Tony Blair drove a symbolic stake through the heart of Keir Hardie’s party by abolishing the old ‘Clause 4.’ of the Labour constitution. For quite a while now we’ve been voting for the ghost of a party that turned up its toes long ago. It is not merely pining for the fjords. It is an ex-party. It has ceased to be.

So let’s examine our relationship with the party formerly known as Labour. We’ve already talked about it’s working class roots in the local labour movement. So, given that we have been such a ‘stronghold,’ such a bastion of support, you might well think we’d have been rewarded by now with a big name candidate. An important figure in the party needing a safe seat perhaps. Or maybe a high-flyer, an up and coming younger candidate destined for future high office. Or even a strong local figure of some intellectual calibre. But you would be dead wrong. Our loyalty has been rewarded with a string of mediocrities and intellectual lightweights as our parliamentary representatives. MPs who don’t know their own opinion until somebody gives it to them.

Gemma Doyle

Last time around I suspect quite a few people must have thought this was finally about to change. The new Labour candidate was young, female and well-connected. Could this finally be our high-flyer? But the optimism was short-lived. She was quickly revealed to be just the latest in a line of deeply unimpressive time-servers and careerists, with very little to say for herself when given the opportunity. She infamously said virtually nothing, leaving all the talking to the appalling Jackie Baillie, on the one and only occasion she deigned to turn up to an indyref debate in her own constituency (in Whitecrook). Now sadly, as I’ve hinted, there’s nothing particularly unusual about that. In my day Hugh McCartney was known for having little if anything to say in parliament, and for sitting on his hands in important Commons votes. Even at constituency meetings he tended to say as little as possible, and when directly questioned was stumbling and inarticulate. But the current crop of Labour Party seat warmers, of whom Gemma is entirely typical, are far worse. They actually vote for Tory policies!


Now, that’s just one example. If you were to examine her voting record you would find dozens of such examples, but let’s just take a closer look at this one. Now I know she’s no intellectual giant, but you would have to be spectacularly stupid not to know that voting for the welfare cap is categorically and overwhelmingly not how the people of this constituency would want you to vote. So either she really is that spectacularly stupid (surely not?), or the term ‘traitor’ in the above meme is entirely appropriate. This is not about patriotism or nationality. This is good, old-fashioned class treason. And an abject failure to represent the views of her constituents. Now, she might well make the excuse that she had no choice. That it was the party line. But if your party line conflicts so radically with the legitimate wishes of your constituents, then you have to at the very least recognise that you have a conflict of interest, and abstain, or even have a ‘diplomatic illness.’ That’s why only thirty of them voted for it, the rest couldn’t bring themselves to (or at least didn’t want their names on it), but Gemma apparently suffered no such pangs of conscience (or good sense). Clydebank, you deserve better than Gemma Doyle. Much better.


So much for the local member. But what about the national leadership? Well, if you live in Scotland you could be forgiven for thinking the Jim Murphy is the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, but there are a few problems with that.

Jim Murphy

Perhaps the greatest problem is that there’s no such thing. It doesn’t exist. The Electoral Commission has no registration for any party known as the Scottish Labour Party (unless Jim Sillars’ old one is still on the books). It has no constitution, no rules, and no membership separate from the British Labour Party. There is a Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party, comprised of the Labour Holyrood MSPs. So what exactly is it that Jim’s leader of? Well it would appear that someone in the party, probably the NEC (the National Executive Committee is the highest elected body of the Labour Party, there is no SNEC), have changed the rules to allow a Westminster MP to be the leader of a parliamentary party that he’s not a member of! And he’s been going around saying things like, “If I’m elected First Minister…” despite the facts that this is not a Scottish election, he is not currently a candidate for that position, he is standing for a Westminster seat again, refusing to admit to his constituents he’s not intending to serve out his term if elected, because in order to be a candidate for FM he’d have to resign that seat and stand for Holyrood next year. He’s either very confused, or he’s trying to confuse us.

He continually confuses Westminster and Holyrood issues. He blusters and obfuscates. He directly contradicts policy statements and positions of his leader, Ed Milliband, and his shadow ministers. Despite his strident support for the Union just a few short months ago, he now seeks to distance himself, and the imaginary Scottish Labour Party, from UK Labour. Now, in their wisdom the London parties have this time around decided that voters are too stupid to concentrate on more than one policy, so they are only having one each. Not so much a policy even as a vague feeling. Whatever they rated highest on in the focus groups basically. So the Tories are running on ‘We’ll be better at managing the economy,’ Labour are going with ‘We’ll be better at safeguarding the NHS’ and the Lib Dems, well they’re sticking with the one they’ve always had, as long as I can remember, ‘We’re not Labour or the Tories.’

Now, this is a bit of a problem for Jim. He owes his position to two things: he was perceived to have had a ‘good referendum,’ and even the London Labour leadership realising they were fighting an entirely different campaign in Scotland, against a different opponent. Now, if you’ll forgive a little bit of Babel Fish editorialising, what’s happened with this reductionism of political debate to the vague feelings of focus groups is that parties have been forced to choose between appealing to the centre or to their core voters. Both Labour and Tories have gone to their traditional support. When Labour are campaigning against the Tories they traditionally invoke the NHS. When they’re campaigning against the SNP they traditionally say, “Vote SNP, get the Tories.’ Even though that is a complete fiction. And Jim consequently has to promulgate both of these things.

It occurs to me that I should explain exactly why the ‘Vote SNP, get the Tories’ thing is nonsense. Now I know many readers will have worked this out for themselves, so I won’t be offended if you skip to the next paragraph, otherwise read on. A government can only be formed if it can command the confidence of the Commons. For which it would need a majority. If the Tories can’t win a majority (and it looks like they can’t) they would need the support of enough other MPs to make up one. Since the SNP have already committed themselves not to support a Tory administration under any circumstances, any seats won by them cannot, by definition, assist the Tories in forming a government, whether they are won from the one Tory MP left in Scotland, from the Lib Dems or from Labour.

The interesting thing about this, I think, is that Labour has declined to make the same commitment. In debates Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly invited first Ed Milliband, then Jim Murphy, to rule out propping up a minority Tory administration, or even joining a ‘Grand’ Labour/Tory coalition. Neither would do so. Now, most Labour voters, and probably most members for that matter, would think such a thing an impossibility, but don’t dismiss it so easily. I’ll come to that later, when I deal with the electoral calculus. For now, it’s back to Creepy Jim.

Sorry, Jim Murphy. Couldn’t resist. But he is, isn’t he? Anyway, I said he owed his position to two things. The first was that he was perceived to have had a ‘good referendum.’ But did he really?

Jim’s major contribution to the campaign was his notorious 100 day tour. But what did he actually achieve? Well, he alienated a lot of people, particularly Labour voters, by going to working class towns, towns like Clydebank, and doing the most inflammatory thing he could do in such places, sharing a platform (or at least a couple of Irn Bru crates) with Tories! That created a lot of ill feeling, and must have contributed to his party’s current woes. And what did he say at those events? Well, not a lot really. I heard several eyewitness accounts from Clydebank, and slogged my way through several accounts of other meetings in other towns. It was hard going, though not I suspect as hard as it was for the poor souls who endured the reality of them in order to report the proceedings, so I salute them for it. The pattern seemed to be Jim mouthing slogans and platitudes, hanging onto the microphone and again blustering, obfuscating and generally confusing the issues. If a questioner proved persistent he simply used the mic to talk over them. He showed no discernible actual debating ability, something which has been confirmed this year when he has been obliged to participate in actual debates, where he has been badly found out. In the first, held at Glasgow Uni, he was even obliged to issue a clarification afterwards that he had not sniffed glue as a teenager. The great debater? No, debating is not a part of his skill set.

The only thing which rescued the entire tour from becoming a complete non-event was that all-too-convenient egg-related incident. How? By again distracting us from the real issues of the campaign and beating up the non-story of the groups of non-existent SNP/Yes Scotland thugs Jim claimed were following him around (now in my day throwing an egg at a politician was only considered a violent act if it was hard boiled, but never mind, obviously times have changed). They were being organised, these imaginary thugs, online he claimed. Strange, because you might be surprised to know (or not) that I know a great number of people who were involved in the ‘Yes’ campaign, and was very actively involved on social media. I was even on Yes Scotland’s mailing list. Yet somehow, I never got any of those memos. Not one. Quite the reverse, I read a lot of appeals for ‘Yes’ supporters to stay away, as we’d only make it look like he was drawing a crowd.

Because at first he wasn’t. He would often turn up with a handful of people and talk to an empty street. But sooner or later, whether by luck or judgement, he managed to find some streets that actually had people in them, and some would stop to see what all the shouting was about. These were the people who heckled him (otherwise known as ‘asking difficult questions’). Not organised thugs, passers-by. Shoppers.

But Jim didn’t like it, so later on in his tour he took to bussing in his own supporters, in sufficient numbers to surround his Irn Bru crate stage, make it look in the photographs as though he had a supportive crowd (unless you were one of those annoyingly observant people who realised that they were the same faces every time), and prevented any dissenters from getting close enough to be heard. Apparently our political leaders have such a low opinion of our intelligence that this was seen as such a brilliant manoeuvre that they’re all doing it now. 

Anyway, his efforts were still failing to attract much attention until the egg. Strange how he appeared to duck the first egg, even though it came from directly behind him. Almost as if he was expecting it. And as for the guy who threw the egg, I couldn’t find anyone who knew him, even after he was identified. As I said, all a bit too convenient. We’ll probably never know, but what we have, I think, identified here is one of Jim Murphy’s skills – I will allege that he has two – his instinct for self-publicism. He’ll do anything to show what a man of the people he is, won’t he?

Only he’s not. He’s been in London too long. everything he does to demonstrate his Scottishness is so clichéd, from the bottle of Irn Bru he clutched daily on his tour, to the frankly embarrassing bag of groceries he sent out as a donation to a foodbank whilst attending a £200 a plate dinner in Glasgow (Porridge oats, oatcakes, shortbread, Tunnocks Tea Cakes, etc) tell of someone who has forgotten the real Scotland and succumbed to the ‘shortbread tin’ version so popular down South. My father coined a term for it. To him, descendent of real Highland warriors, it represented everything he despised about fake patriotism, reductive and just plain offensive. He called it ‘popscot.’ Jim Murphy is a shameless purveyor of popscot. I get the feeling he’s not fooling anyone though.

So that covers the first reason he got his (possibly non-existent) position, and reveals the first of his skills. The second reason is slightly more complex, and reveals his second skill. The Labour leadership in London was obliged, in the aftermath of the referendum, to realise a number of things in quick succession. The first was that, to borrow a military phrase which has sadly come into all to common usage in recent years, they had won the war and lost the peace. They had staked their party’s reputation, and their own careers, on winning that referendum, but they were horrified to discover that despite their win that reputation was left in tatters and their careers were under threat like never before. Johann Lamont was the first to go, at the hands of her colleagues, no doubt in an effort to insulate themselves, but it became increasingly evident that her sacrifice wasn’t going to save them once Scottish voters got their hands on them. They needed a messiah, but who should they turn to?


Alistair Darling? Well, he supposedly ran the successful campaign, but remember in the polls that campaign went from a huge lead to a last minute panic that I think was very real and a result far closer than they anticipated at the outset. Now I know this because I’ve been a campaign manager, but you wouldn’t be shocked if I told you that in campaigning terms that’s not a win. The leadership’s confidence in him was always in question, to be fair, and with good reason. He was a deeply unsympathetic character and worst of all he had a shocking ‘tell’ – he blinked furiously when he lied. Which during the course of that campaign was really quite a lot, so it became blindingly obvious. So no, he didn’t come out of the campaign at all well, and made it clear he wouldn’t be sticking around to hear the verdict of his electorate fairly early in the piece.

Lying Scotsman

So if not him, what about the ‘big beast’ himself, Gordon Brown? Parachuted into the campaign at the last minute, full of personal ‘guarantees’ of ‘home rule’ and ‘as close to federalism as possible’ on which he knew he couldn’t possibly deliver. Sure he was an ex-PM, but then, as today, he was a mere backbencher, and an opposition one at that, with no authority to commit his own party to anything whatsoever, let alone David Cameron’s government. As became apparent the minute Cameron stepped out of 10 Downing Street on the morning of the 19th of September.

GordonChecksGordon checks the timetable and waits for his new powers to arrive. And waits, and waits…                 With thanks to @ChrisBulow

No, not Gordon. He had performed the last service of his political career and surrendered the last remnants of his credibility to the establishment . Should be enough to fast track his seat in the House of Lords. And maybe a few lucrative directorships thrown in. So who was there left to turn to? Certainly not one of the dismal and dreary group of Labour MSPs. No, there was only one man for the job:

Legend in his own mind, wounded hero of the battle of the Irn Bru crates, manic self-publicist and pre-eminent expert (his second skill) at sucking up. No, seriously, it’s something he is undeniably extremely good at. Let’s look at his record. This is a man who was able to remain technically a student for nine years, extending his term with a career in student politics which culminated in his becoming President of the NUS, without ever actually obtaining a degree. Such selfless service to his student members! But don’t worry about Jim, he didn’t end up on the employment scrapheap. The Labour Party took him under its wing, and it wasn’t too long before he was given the opportunity to stand in a contestable seat. Now I wonder why that was. Could it be because while he was NUS President he agreed to the introduction of tuition fees, even though he’d stood on a platform of opposition to them, because the Blair government wanted it? Far be it from me to make such a scurrilous accusation. Makes you think though, doesn’t it?

On entering parliament he fairly quickly secured advancement by dint of some more judicious sucking up, becoming more of a Blairite than Tony Blair himself. He climbed the greasy pole enthusiastically. You can’t fault him for lack of ambition. He had, as my Australian friends would say, tickets on himself. Big time. Of course the problem with allying yourself too closely to the leader became apparent when Blair retired and Murphy’s star went into decline somewhat. Brown was wary of him. For the first time things weren’t simply falling into his lap. And then along came the referendum, a golden opportunity for a self-publicist. He probably thought he should have been leading the ‘No’ campaign, but he was passed over for ‘Blinky’ Darling. Undeterred, he started a rather silly campaign of his own, and hit the streets. It is highly unlikely that his tour had any significant impact on the outcome at all, but in the absence of Darling and Brown, or any other serious contenders for that matter, he would have to do.

Or at least, that’s what he managed to persuade his London masters of. They allowed him to stand for a position that didn’t technically exist, but now seems to be real enough for him to have staff, more of which in a moment. But what has he really done, this messiah? You’d have to conclude that behind all the hype, and let’s face it, his relentless quest for exposure has been ably assisted by the BBC et al, the evidence of any actual achievement is thin on the ground indeed. He failed to finish a degree, sold out his NUS members to gain preferment from the Labour Party, when he got a seat he attached himself like a limpet to the leadership and got promoted, then he stood on some Irn Bru crates and yelled at people. When obliged to participate in actual debates, ones where it wasn’t only him who had a microphone, he was just as those intrepid reporters I mentioned earlier had described him. He would waffle, he would bluster, he would obfuscate. He would leap with the ease of a mountain gazelle from one subject to another, but ultimately he was incapable of constructing a coherent argument about anything.

“And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.” (Macbeth 5/5)

 

John McTernan

So who do you suppose a man with a record like that would choose to fill the role of his chief advisor and campaign strategist? Well, he turned to Blair favourite John McTernan. Lately returned from warmer climes, where he was disastrously Director of Communications from September 2011 to June 2013 for the Australian Labor (sic) government of Australia’s first female PM, Julia Gillard. I suppose I should tell you about that. I was there. For every excruciating day of it.


He presided over a trainwreck of epic proportions. Gillard was far from the worst PM Australia ever had, she showed promise. And despite governing with a minority, needing support from Greens and Independents, quite a lot actually got done, legislation wise. Some of it was even quite progressive. We were getting educational reform, a National Disability Insurance Scheme, a National Broadband Network with fibre to every home. There was a mining super profits tax and a carbon pricing mechanism. All gone now. Her communications strategy however, McTernan’s area, was a disaster from start to finish. Couldn’t take a trick. His leadership was chaotic and dysfunctional. Those who worked with him said he thought he was Malcolm Tucker. This was confirmed when thousands of e-mails from his office were leaked. He lost his job when Julia Gillard lost hers, removed by her colleagues who were terrified of the consistently catastrophic poll numbers McTernan’s communications strategy had produced. As a result of his ineptitude Australia has ended up with this guy:

Well, no actually this guy, but you must admit the resemblance is striking

And it’s not just the ears. If you could see him from behind when he’s walking you’d swear he was a chimp in a suit. The point is he should have been eminently beatable. As a political strategist I’d have relished the opportunity, the guy had so many negatives with the electorate it would have been like shooting fish in a barrel. With a rocket launcher. After failing to win over the cross-benchers he needed to form government in 2010, Abbott never accepted the result and indulged in what, at three whole years, is officially Australia’s longest ever political dummy-spit. But McTernan failed miserably to effectively counter Abbott’s crude populism, his three word slogans, his monosyllabic appeal to the lowest common denominator, with a hefty dollop of misogyny on top. I wrote about it at the time for anyone who’s interested. It was in no sense a great campaign, it was petty and nasty and ugly. But what does that tell you about the campaign that lost to it?

What McTernan should have learned was that you can’t out-nasty the Tories and it is folly to try. It just comes more naturally to them. The lesson he took however was that that stuff works. As The Australian reported,

“Other emails reveal him (McTernan) pointing his staff to Tony Abbott’s communications discipline as “a lesson for us” and praising the Coalition’s cohesion in sending out the same messages in key attacks against Labor.”

These are the sort of messages he’s talking about:


This is Tony in opposition. Bob Brown incidentally was the then leader of the Greens, whose support was needed to get anything through the Senate. The sign behind Tony’s head says ‘Ditch the Witch.’ This is the level of political sophistication we were dealing with. Gillard must have thought she was quids in, with her big time spin doctor, specially imported from London on a 457 visa, a category specifically designed to allow employers to fill skilled positions they cannot fill within Australia. Let’s just take a moment to consider that. By bringing McTernan in on a 457 visa, the ALP was in effect saying there was no-one available in Australia who could do what this guy could do. And what did he do? He lost. So badly his boss didn’t even make it to the election. To that. That ape. That evolutionary throwback.


Call me crazy, but I reckon there just might be a few people in Australia who could have handled the job of screwing up like that. Hey, I was here at the time and I could have wiped the floor with Abbott. So we know he’s no Babel Fish, but what else should we know about him? Well of course Scotland has seen him in action before. In 2007 Tony Blair sent him North to thwart the rise of the SNP. Well, obviously that was also abysmally successful. And then there was this:

“In January 2008, while he was employed as a special adviser to the Secretary of State for Scotland, it emerged that in 2002 McTernan had branded Scotland as being “narrow” and “racist” during the period he worked for the Scottish Arts Council. In an email to the then Labour MSP Karen Gillon, who was about to make a trip to Sweden, McTernan wrote “If you’ve not been to Sweden before, I think you’ll really like it – it’s the country Scotland would be if it wasn’t narrow, Presbyterian, racist etc. etc. Social democracy in action.”[10] The email was obtained by the The Sunday Times under freedom of information legislation.” (from his own Wikipedia entry)

So we know he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is, that he has a very low opinion of his fellow Scots, full of distortions and stereotypes, and that he is vicious, amoral, with no depths to which he will not stoop. I think I’m beginning to understand what Murphy sees in him! If by some chance he manages to survive the coming electoral disaster the polls have been predicting for a long time now, expect a brutally nasty, deeply misogynistic Holyrood campaign, personally directed at Nicola Sturgeon. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. That’s if he survives. As I said, the polls say he’s about to suffer yet another catastrophic failure, perhaps his greatest yet. And perhaps those extraordinary polls are not so surprising given that the Labour campaign is in the hands of a pair of losers like Murphy and McTernan.

And speaking of losers…


Ed Milliband

Yes, this guy is the real leader of the Labour Party. Now how can I describe him? Perhaps the nicest way would be to say he’s not a people person. He has trouble with eye contact and issues with personal space. Some have suggested he might be on the autistic spectrum, and I don’t find that inconceivable, so I’m inclined to tread carefully. Certainly we know it was a bit of a surprise to everyone including, you get the feeling, Ed himself when he was elected leader. We were all expecting his slicker, better-looking, more charismatic brother to get the nod. But Ed made his pitch on being just a teeny bit to the left of his brother and it seems that was enough to swing the union vote in his favour. Though given subsequent events, decisions and pronouncements, I mean seriously, how left wing can he be? Red Ed? Promising to continue all of the Tory austerity cuts, the ones that target the poorest and most vulnerable in society, and even to go further? Don’t make me laugh!

No, the fact is the Labour Party has been captured. Have a look at their front bench. Look at their names. Listen to their accents. They are all posh boys, members of the same narrow section of society as the Tories on the other side. If you didn’t know who they were they’d be indistinguishable. They represent the same arrogant, entitled, Eton/Harrow/Oxbridge elite. Labour is no longer a working class party, and it’s certainly not a left wing party. At best it’s centre right, and that’s being generous. The fact that Ed Milliband can be considered a leftie is merely a measure of how far to the right it has drifted. In August last year I wrote the following, also under the heading ‘The Ghost of the Labour Party,’ as part of a blog on the politics of independence:

“That’s what many Labour voters in Scotland are actually voting for, a pale shade of a once-proud party, which has over the years abandoned virtually every principle on which it was founded. It started out, back in the days of Keir Hardie, as an unashamedly socialist party. It morphed, on achieving government in the 20th Century, into a social democratic party.  In recent years, and it would be hard not to conclude that it was during the Blair/Brown years, the transformation has moved them all the way to the centre right. That is not the party Scottish Labour voters are voting for. They are voting in the main either for the Keir Hardie one, or the post-war Attlee one, which gave us the welfare state, the NHS and all that other progressive, social democratic stuff.”

I see no reason to change that assessment. Apart perhaps to remove the ‘virtually’ from the phrase ‘…abandoned virtually every principle…’ I also suggested that the SNP had won an outright majority at Holyrood by being a better Social Democratic party than Labour. Since the referendum that trend has been amplified as the SNP has been pulled to the left by its new membership, and arguably the handover from Salmond to Sturgeon, while Labour has continued its inexorable drift to the right. It’s small wonder that the most googled question on the night of the 7-way UK debate was, “Can I vote for the SNP?” And this is for the UK, so presumably mainly from voters in England! And the reason why these English voters want to vote SNP?  No rocket surgery required. Left of centre English voters too shrewd to fall for UKIP’s nonsense don’t have a credible left of centre option to vote for. So it’s not that we in Scotland, and particularly in towns like Clydebank, the famed Labour ‘heartland,’ have abandoned the Labour Party. It’s that the Labour Party abandoned us. Years ago. They left us to rot while the good times rolled for their precious floating voters in the prosperous South East. Now they expect us to pay for the excesses of that boom, pay with our children’s health and futures. Nuh. Not doing it any more. For years they’ve taken us for granted. It has suited them to keep us poor, because in their minds that locked us into voting for them. Well you can only pull that con so many times. We have well and truly seen through it.

And so we have had the spectacle of Jim Murphy trying to fight two different campaigns at once. Attacking the SNP from the left, while at the same time supporting the right wing policies of their London HQ. Like more austerity and Trident replacement. This has at times led to direct policy contradictions. Jim unilaterally (a word he doesn’t like) declared, for instance, that Ed’s signature policy, the Mansion Tax, which will be collected mostly in London where property prices are the most inflated, would be used to fund a thousand extra nurses in Scotland. Ed had a bit of difficulty swallowing that one.


For the record, like most of the ‘policies’ that Jim’s been announcing, that is not Labour policy in this election. As the NHS is an area already devolved to the Scottish Government, it could presumably be claimed to be a Scottish Labour policy in next year’s Holyrood elections (not the election he’s currently fighting though), but in reality it was just a Murphy thought bubble. And he hadn’t thought it through. When it was announced to the media the conversations went something like this:

“We promise a thousand more nurses in the Scottish NHS.”

“A thousand more than what?”

“A thousand more than any number the SNP might come up with!”

“Err…”

“So there!”

This is playground stuff. The logical conclusion of such an auction is that the entire world population could end up working as nurses in the Scottish NHS. There’s only one response to that sort of wooly-minded nonsense, and I learned that in the playground too – make sure your brain is engaged before you put your mouth in gear! Anyway, what does it all mean, all this sound and fury? It’s time to examine the entrails. It’s time for…

The Electoral Calculus (note – contains no actual calculus)

Well, not very much it would appear. The polls have barely shifted in months. The have been small variations in the Labour and Tory figures, but all within a standard deviation (3%), so basically it’s a dead heat. The minor parties vary somewhat more, which is normal given their smaller sample size. Here is a seat count from a typical poll-of-polls prediction, this one from Sky News:

Some put one side ahead, some the other, but all are around there and have been for some time. Nothing in the campaign so far seems to be shifting them. The same is true in the Scottish polls. Here’s something I wrote a few weeks ago, as a comment somewhere else, at the start of the official campaign. And kept, yes. I’m only human, I like to check on the progress of my predictions occasionally. It starts with a quote

“A spokesman for Scottish Labour said: “As the General Election draws nearer it becomes clearer every day that only Labour or the Tories can form the next UK government.” (Herald, 21/3)

No, as the General Election draws nearer it becomes clearer every day that neither Labour nor the Tories can form the next UK government unless the SNP allow it. They have already vowed that they will not support the Tories forming a government under any circumstances. As they hold only the one seat in Scotland, the Tories cannot possibly form a government in their own right unless they are able to make considerable headway against Labour in England, something they haven’t been able to do in five years, so there is no reason to suspect they can do it in five weeks. The flip side of that is that Labour can’t make any headway either. The ‘poll of polls’ reported in the Herald article only confirms that all of the polls have been remarkably stable, and remarkably consistent. It looks very much as though voters have ‘stopped listening,’ that most made up their minds some time ago, and have no intention of changing them.

The difference for Labour however is that although the polls strongly suggest that they cannot form a majority government either (unless they are able to make considerable headway against the Tories in England, something…, etc), the SNP has not ruled out supporting a minority Labour government under certain conditions. If Labour finds itself unable to live with those conditions, they have two options. They can in effect tell voters, “No, wrong, do it again!” Or they can seek a ‘grand coalition’ with the Tories. Ramsay McMilliband, come on down! And, looking to those stubbornly consistent polls once more, the only way that the Tories could possibly form a government would be with Labour support. So for Jim Murphy and the Labour Party to continue to suggest that,

“As we have said repeatedly every seat taken from Labour, by the SNP or any other party, increases the likelihood that David Cameron’s Tories will be returned to government.”

is frankly laughable. They love to say a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Tories. They’ve been telling us that for decades. But right now it is the exact opposite of the truth. The SNP will almost certainly hold the balance of power and will block a Tory government. They are committed to it. The Labour Party is not. They have not ruled out a coalition with the Tories, and several of their MPs have actively proposed it as an option. In fact it is far more likely that a vote for Labour could turn out to be a vote for the Tories.”

Well, I think the odds on that are shortening by the day. And remember, I wrote that before I heard Ed Milliband and Jim Murphy repeatedly refuse to rule it out when challenged to do so. As for the rest of it, I see no reason to change a word. He’s another quote I picked up around the same time:

‘Speaking on a campaign visit in the SNP target seat of Edinburgh South earlier on Tuesday, Murphy said lots of voters were only beginning to think about the issues at stake: “The election is only 24 hours old; there are weeks to go,” he said. “When I was elected [Scottish leader] I said the polls will turn big and the polls will turn late, when people are confronted by the choice facing them.”’

Well, we’re still waiting. And I suspect that’s because people have understood the choice facing them. Only too well. And the problem is, with Labour and the Tories, there really isn’t much of a choice at all.

   “‘It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…’

   ‘You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?’

   ‘No,’ said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, ‘nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.’

   ‘Odd,’ said Arthur, ‘I thought you said it was a democracy.’

   ‘I did,’ said Ford, ‘It is.’

   ‘So,’ said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, ‘why don’t people get rid of the lizards?’

   ‘It honestly doesn’t occur to them,’ said Ford.  ‘They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.’

   ‘You mean they actually vote for the lizards?’

   ‘Oh yes,’ said Ford with a shrug, ‘of course.’

   ‘But,’ said Arthur, going for the big one again, ‘why?’

   ‘Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,’ said Ford, ‘the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?'”                                           

                                         (Douglas Adams – So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish)

 

That is pretty much the Labour Party’s pitch to Scottish voters in a nutshell. But we’ve discovered another option. You see, Murphy’s right, but only up to a point. He says the leader of the largest party forms the government. Well, usually. But not always. What actually happens is that the Queen (yeh, seriously) ‘invites’ the leader of the largest party to form a government. If that leader’s party doesn’t have a majority in its own right that’s when the negotiations start. They have to secure enough support from amongst other parties and independents. Now, assuming the Tories are the largest party (which is by no means certain, it’s really more like a 50/50 proposition), who is going to support them? UKIP? Well, although they have been polling a quite solid third at 10-15%, that support is pretty evenly spread, which is why none of the projections have them getting more than two or three seats. The Lib Dems? They are on course to be all but wiped out. There won’t be enough of them. On every single projection I’ve seen the SNP will have sufficient numbers to block a Tory administration. Provided Labour don’t support one of course. And if they were to do that then they would have conclusively proved my point – that they have truly become Red Tories, distinguishable from the actual Tories only by their branding.

So. if the leader of the largest party is unable to secure a Commons majority within a reasonable time, usually a couple of weeks, the leader of the second largest party is invited to try. What this means is that one way or another, whether they are the largest party or not, it is Labour who will have the opportunity to form a government. But only if they are prepared to deal with the SNP. And that wouldn’t require doiing anything treasonous or undemocratic, but would mean them adopting certain policies somewhat to the left of the ones they are currently espousing. Which, I think you’ll agree, most of their Scottish voters would like them to do anyway. The conclusion has to be, surprisingly, that if you’re a Scottish Labour voter, the best way to get the Labour government you want, the one you’d vote for if it still existed, is to vote SNP. And it would appear, looking at these recent polls, that they are about to do just that. This one from the Daily Record and this from Ipsos-MORI are if anything even more dramatic than earlier ones, suggesting that there has indeed been a late swing as Jim was expecting, only it has been away from him. Both show the SNP with over 50% and over 50 seats.

The Hitchhikers’ Guide

We are about to step into uncharted territory now. In its short life this blog has covered two elections, the 2013 Australian federal election and the 2014 European election. In both The Hitchhikers’ Guide To – The European Elections (v2.0) and Your ‘Why To Vote’ Card I offered advice on tactical voting to achieve certain aims, such as keeping UKIP out, and in the Australian case I also gave a handy guide to what I saw as the real issues in the election (as opposed to the concocted, fake issues the parties chose, as so often these days. to campaign on). But unlike in the referendum campaign where I took a strong position, I have so far refrained from endorsing any candidate or party in an election. This time it’s different however. I believe, when they come to write the history of the 21st Century struggle for Scottish independence, this election will be seen as a pivotal moment. Indeed, to paraphrase Churchill, I know that’s what history will say, because I shall write it. ;-) I’ll explain its importance in a moment. Now, you’ve read my obituary for the ‘Scottish’ Labour Party, so you know I won’t be supporting them. It’s time to bite the bullet and spit it out, or some similar mixed metaphor.

The Babel Fish Blog is endorsing Martin Docherty, the SNP candidate, for West Dunbartonshire. And the SNP for the rest of Scotland too. Not because they are my ideal party, they’re not. Because I believe it’s best for Scotland, and probably for the rest of the UK too. For very practical reasons. So this time, let’s examine both tactical and strategic voting and see why.

Tactical Voting

The Babel Fish guide for tactical voters has become a feature of the blog, so here we go, by which party you usually vote for, or voted for last time.

Tory Voters – there’s really not much you can do to assist your party’s prospects, but then you’re probably used to that by now.

LibDem voters – welcome to the Tories’ world. Of course unlike them you could always get off the fence and make up your mind what you really think, then you might find a party that will still exist on May the 8th to vote for.

UKIP voters – go back to where you came from (probably the 1930s).

Green voters – I sympathise, but you are not currently in with a chance in any constituency. Your time will come next year in Holyrood. This time your best tactical option is to assist in wiping out the Labour Party by voting SNP, as the quickest and most practical way to advance your policy agenda (for reasons I’ll come to in the ‘strategic’ section).

SSP voters – See ‘Green voters.’

Independent voters – See ‘Green voters.’

Labour voters – what, still? After reading this far? Well anyway, your best option is still to vote SNP (doubly so in non-Labour seats of course) as the most likely way to get a Labour government, only with a bit more spine than we’re used to, and with a genuine interest in Scotland for a change.

SNP voters – fill yer boots!

Overall the choice is clear. You can vote for the old order, or the new politics. You can vote for business as usual, or you can vote for a veto. That’s what the SNP is offering, a Scottish veto over governments, or policies, that we can’t live with. The other side of the tactical equation is what they might be able to extract by way of concessions in return for supporting a minority Labour government. They have articulated an anti-austerity, anti-nuclear agenda which has resonated strongly with Scottish voters, and with many English voters too. If they were a business I’d say they should franchise. ‘SNP North East,’ ‘SNP North West,’ ‘SNP Midlands’ and so on. They’d probably do well. Because there’s definitely a gap in the market. So it comes down to this: how much of their progressive wishlist (no more failed austerity policy, no Trident replacement, full fiscal autonomy, etc) can they get up? Who knows? How much of it would Labour do without their influence? None whatsoever.

Strategic Voting

So what is strategic voting? Let me just float the idea. I haven’t heard it mentioned yet in this campaign. We’ve all heard a lot about tactical voting, but nothing about strategic voting. Here’s the thing – we ‘Yes’ supporters all came to support an independent Scotland at different times, and from a variety of political backgrounds. In my case it was a left wing, socialist background. I have never been what you’d describe as a ‘natural’ SNP voter. I have never described myself as a nationalist either. However, as I mentioned earlier, I arrived at the conclusion that independence was the only way forward for Scotland roughly thirty years ago. Around the same time I left the Labour party. Obviously the reasons why are complex, but I’ll give you perhaps the most basic one.

It’s not a real country. The UK I mean. To blatantly plagiarise Salman Rushdie (speaking of Pakistan), it is a country insufficiently imagined. It didn’t grow organically as a nation state. It was cobbled together out of bits that did. So what, you might ask? It was cobbled together 300 years ago, there are plenty of countries younger than that, even in Europe. Which is true, although the successful ones tend to be based on a genuine sense of shared identity, which the UK just doesn’t have. Those that have lacked it have not always fared so well (think Yugoslavia). And then there are heaps of post-colonial ones that had their borders drawn with colonial rulers by their colonial rulers (if you’ll pardon the pun). Those ones aren’t doing spectacularly well either though, are they? Quite a few seem to be coming apart at the seems in fact.

Now, if I’m right, the Union shouldn’t have caught on. Oh, wait…it hasn’t. Three hundred years and we still don’t feel British. Which would mean Scotland is still a real country, and always has been. There are plenty of cultural arguments about whether or not the Union has caught on, I’ve been a part of them in the past, but for me there would be one defining question, one clincher, that would tell you the answer. Is it (the UK) one body politic? Is Scotland part of the same polity as England? I would submit that all the evidence says no. The Scottish centre is to the left of the English centre, and we have already seen one of the ruling parties at UK level rendered non-existent for a time, and irrelevant perhaps for ever, in Scotland. The Lib Dems will certainly go the same way this year. If we could see the end of the Labour Party as a serious force in Scotland too, well I’d say that would be conclusive proof. And what’s more, it couldn’t be denied. Everyone would see and understand – we are not one polity.

This is where the thirty years bit comes in. Thirty years ago it really didn’t look like there was any prospect of independence in sight. Having reached, however, what I by then felt was an inescapable conclusion, I was obliged to think long-term, strategically rather than tactically. I hear plenty of people talking about the tactical advantages of an SNP majority. What it might be parleyed into if they got the balance of power, that sort of thing. I don’t really care so much about that. Well, I care of course, but what interests me even more is what I see as the potential historic significance of ending all the major Westminster parties, with their pretendy Scottish branch offices, as serious forces in Scotland. That is the sort of seismic event which has the potential to clear the political decks. To allow that hope of a new type of politics, the hope that cheered all of us ahead of the referendum, to return and start to actually produce practical results.

If people could really get that we don’t need to accept any of the second hand damaged goods sent to us by Westminster in our Scottish political system, what kind of a parliament might we not produce, in all our myriad colours, at Holyrood in 2016? I don’t know, but I’d be fascinated to find out, wouldn’t you? And the feeling is there to do this now. To strike while the iron’s hot. I sense a hugely important symbolic and strategic turning point is within our grasp. I say we grab it, and worry about the tactics later. Labour will say we’ll have a one party state (conveniently forgetting all the decades when they enjoyed that situation), but we know that’s not what’s going to happen. Let May the 7th 2015 be remembered as the start of the great realignment of Scottish politics and the beginning of a new Scottish Enlightenment.

Saor Alba!

Derek Stewart MacPherson

May 1st 2015  

(published first and with more stuff and videos - though roughly contemparaneously in your standard Earth time - in the Babelfish blog     https://thebabelfishblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/the-partys-over/)

We Can Win Socialist Arguments Without the Embarrassing Rhetoric

The other day I attended an SSP public meeting in which one of the audience members posed a question. As I listened, the length of the question grew. It then grew some more. This question continued to grow to the point that it became apparent that it was descending into a wee bit of a rant.

At this point, the volume slowly began to rise, the blood started pumping, and the passion displayed in this emotional monologue catapulted what originally began as a simple question into the stratospheric heights of a full blown cutting edge speech on the dire need for Socialist revolution, complete with a complimentary supply of Socialist rhetoric and terminology thrown in for good measure.

I still consider myself to be a bit of a novice when it comes to understanding and expressing what Socialism is, and more importantly, the kind of positive impact that it has the potential to have upon the majority of people's lives when actually implemented. Given the history of Socialism, the way in which it has had its name dragged through the mud in recent decades, especially in the post-Soviet era, it's no surprise that people often see it as tainted or as being dead.

It would be easy for me to go into detail about the failings of this, that or the next so called socialist or communist state. The problem with that is that it won't achieve anything productive in terms of aiding the battle out there on the streets.

As I listened to this person go on about what the Proletariat should be doing to protect ourselves against the Bourgeoisie, and they certainly made sure to employ the full catalogue of Socialist jargon during this process, what I found myself thinking was that if they were to be standing on the streets of Glasgow or Edinburgh on a busy Saturday afternoon, the people walking past this person would either dismiss them as a loony, or run away from them in sheer terror!

As someone who spends a fair amount of his spare time reading the likes of Lenin and Trotsky, I understand the arguments that this person talked about. I empathised with how they felt, with the sense of despair in feeling that you know how to change the world, that you know how to make it a better place, and yet despite this, all too often you find that no one cares much for what you think.

The problem which we on the Left have is that all too often we over complicate things. Quite frankly, the way I'm writing just now makes me just as complicit and guilty as anybody else in this matter. All too often, we on the left have a tendency to concentrate on trying to come across as intellectuals when all this achieves is that we alienate the very people with which we are trying to connect!

The majority of people which we will encounter on the streets of Scotland, whether through the anti-socialist propaganda that people naturally experience as part of growing up and living in a capitalist society, or simply through a lack of understanding or interest in what Socialism is and how it affects them, will be turned off by the over complicated rhetoric that we often employ.

It's not that we should attempt to "dumb down" our arguments so much as that we should be trying to make these arguments relevant to the day to day struggles of the working person. We must appeal to the working classes, especially those elements of the working class that don't have the time or patience to sit through tedious lectures on the intricacies of Marxism. We need to avoid using terminology such as Bourgeois and Proletariat as it distorts our message.

If we keep the message simple, what we'll find is that, on its own, our argument is strong enough to resonate with the majority of the people that we're appealing to. We don't have to dust off all the outdated rhetoric that the generations which came before us used because it is just that, outdated rhetoric.

We can be as technically correct and clever as we like in advocating for the Socialist Revolution but it won't bring us any closer to achieving our goals if the people that we need to help us build the country that we all deserve don't have the slightest clue about what we're going on about!

I know now that what I should have said to this person at the meeting is this, calm down. Keep it simple. You and I are on the same side here so let's make sure that when we're out there, when we're fighting the good fight together, that we don't forget what matters most in this ongoing struggle of ours.

We must never forget that without the working classes at our backs, we're powerless.

This article was taken from Scottish Left Projects Viewpoints section: http://leftproject.scot/2015/win-socialist-arguments-without-rhetoric/

Hope Over Fear - Why you should vote SNP on May 7th

 

Tommy Sheridan says get to the Hope Over Fear event in Freedom Square, Glasgow - and argues that socialists and progressives should lend their vote to the SNP on May 7th.

 

The #HopeOverFear event planned in #FreedomSquare next Saturday #April25th will attract thousands from the #YES community across Scotland. The Square will be jumping with Hope and Expectation. There will be live music and speakers from 11am until 4.30pm. Some will assemble at Glasgow Green and march to the Square. This part of the day has been organised by All Under One Banner who decided to bring their planned event forward a week to join up with Hope Over Fear. We will also have #Bikers4YES arriving in an organised cavalcade from Stirling. There will be a foodbank collection to be administered by Loaves and Fishes just like the last one on October 12th last year.

 

Over several hours speakers and musicians will urge those in attendance and the whole of Scotland to recognise the unique nature of the May 7th General Election and unite behind the slogan of #LendYourVote2SNPinMay. There will be many SNP members in attendance and speaking but this is not an SNP event. This is a YES community event organised by the grassroots #HopeOverFear Campaign. The groups who make up #HopeOverFear include Indy Girls, Yes Helensburgh and Lomond, Fiery Scots, Yes Hamilton, the Solidarity party, Yes 45Fife, Yes Alliance 59Gordon, Veterans for Scottish Independence, YesBikers, Yes(Storm)Holytown, Ayrshire Against Fracking, Yes Carfin and Newarthill, Independence Climber, Yes Livingstone, Cumbernauld Against Poverty, Yes Connect, Yes Clydesdale, All Under One Banner and others.

This is a grassroots event that hopes to convince tens of thousands that a vote for SNP on May 7th is a progressive and positive vote for Scotland and for ordinary folk across the UK.

A vote for the SNP is and #AntiAusterity vote. It is and #AntiTrident vote. It is an #AntiEstablishment vote. And it is of course a #Pro-Independence vote. Other smaller parties may also be against Austerity, Trident and the Establishment but in an election that is clearly going to be very close and unpredictable EVERY SINGLE VOTE COUNTS. A smaller party may attract a few hundred votes. None of them will come anywhere near winning a seat. Yet those few hundred votes diverted from the main challenger to the blue, yellow and red Tories could actually tip the balance and allow one of the cuts and austerity parties to survive. That is a negative outcome. That is a high risk. Hope Over Fear accepts the SNP is not the only progressive voice in Scotland at this election. But they are the only voice with a chance of winning. We appeal to all the other parties to put their party interests aside for this one unique election and concentrate on building an unstoppable and united YES and Anti-Austerity force to bring down the walls of Westminster.

Hope Over Fear appeals to Scotland to recognise this exceptional opportunity to upset the cosy and corrupt political consensus of the rich and powerful at Westminster. We aim to send a clear and unbending anti-austerity, anti-Trident, anti-Establishment and anti-poverty message to that den of iniquity. Westmonster presides over and promotes grotesque inequality, low pay, poverty and injustice. Let’s send a team of SNP dragons to slay that monster. Let’s also emphasise that those dragons are being sent there not to settle down but to settle up.

Next year voters in Scotland will have 2 votes to distribute. All the other progressive, radical and socialist parties and individuals can compete for at least one of those votes then. On May 7th we all have only one vote. If you are anti-austerity, anti-Trident, anti-Establishment and/or pro-independence please do not waste your vote. Lend it to the SNP. It is the ONLY party with a realistic chance of defeating the blue, yellow and red Tory parties who are all signed up to further cruel austerity and a new generation of immoral and illegal nuclear weapons. This chance for change is too good to pass up.

On May 7th vote SNP. On April 25th come to Freedom Square in Glasgow. Stand together with thousands of others and fill the Square with HOPE NOT FEAR. Listen to Gerry Cinammon live and declare with one united voice: ‘Hope Over Fear – Tell Westminster Tories That Scotland’s No Longer Your Slave’. Be in Freedom Square on April 25th.

Let’s break the Tory chains together. United for Peace, Justice and Freedom.  

Changing the Argument from Anti-Working Class to Pro-Working Class

A strong left is something which many of us crave. We have campaigned and argued for it for a very long time and there is a real hope that through the Left Project we can produce a socialist coalition which will not only help change Scottish politics but world politics.

In order to achieve this we must work together, building steady relationships across the left in Scotland. This is a very difficult task in itself. Possibly the hardest task we will face throughout the entirety of the project but winning over those on the left is one thing, how do we win over those who are not?

To win over a population you must have strong arguments, that is a given. However, in order to get into the public eye you have got to be loud and more importantly attractive to voters. For too long the left has been guilty of filling leaflets with sways of text and going into great depth when in debate. We must always keep our arguments strong and knowledgeable while developing phrases and short text which will be relevant and draw in the attention of your average working class voter.

While many viewed immigration as a problem, it wasn't until the BNP and now UKIP came onto the scene that people really began to open up and criticise it publicly. Since then the newspapers and mainstream politics have been fixated. Very much the same as welfare claimants who were rarely mentioned until the Tory campaign to label them as an underclass began. Both these campaigns are anti-working class and more importantly, they are winning. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash the left should have been at the forefront of the arguments by condemning the bankers, politicians and all their cohorts. We were not and so with no one speaking for the working classes, everyone else spoke against them. The UKIP arguments are very weak and have very little substance too them. They have rode a wave, pushing immigration into the faces of the population with (Like it or not) good sound-bites.

We must change the debate from anti-working class to pro-working class. This will not be easy of course but it is the only way to truly make an impact. Why do neo-liberal parties continue to get voted into power? Because they used their slogans and phrases wisely, then their arguments in order to make people believe it is the best option. We must do the same. If the left is to have a government that lasts more than 1 term we must move the argument into our playing field, win it and make sure that our arguments are the ones that people are discussing and believing in.

It cannot be expected that arguments that are pro-working class will enter the mainstream immediately as we all know that it is controlled by nothing more than a cartel of extremely wealthy business people and it is against their interests to publish such things. However, if we can target our slogans and phrases well enough, if we can make convincing arguments, then they will have little choice. What makes immigration and welfare claimants so often targeted? They are easy pickings for the elite and the mainstream media. It is key to ensure that our campaigns make the capitalist elite just as easy to target.

It is imperative that people are discussing what we advocate. It is one thing newspapers and BBC News reporting on it but we must have people discussing it every single day. I was recently in the car with my Grampa who went on to have a short rant about welfare claimants. This made me realise that our battlefield is not truly in the media but the cars, the living rooms and the bedrooms. We need to strive to ensure that random rants are for the working class, not against. That people rant against the bankers just as easily as they do immigrants now. Doing this will open up a new dynamic. It will mean that left wing politics is truly back in business. Many people in Scotland right now are more left wing than right. What we must do is win them over and we may never have a better opportunity.

The battle for the hearts and minds of voters will be a slog but if we manage to create a strong coalition of the left then I firmly believe that we can do anything. Activism is a big part of politics but so is coming up with phrases and slogans. RIC were very successful throughout the referendum campaign at this, hopefully we can learn from that and take it further, beyond the referendum and into everyday politics.

 

This Article was taken from The Scottish Left Projects Blog http://thepeopledemand.org/?p=1146

Vanishing Illusions

Green Party General Election candidate, radical blogger, and regular Point contributor Adrian Cruden discusses radical choices -  for Dewsbury, and beyond

 

The trainee journalist looked at me as his colleagues filmed us sitting on a bench high up in Crows’ Nest Park, part of their project on the upcoming General Election.

Some of the other parties say that the Greens don’t play the game in politics, especially when it comes to negotiating with big business,” he said, adding “But if you don’t play the game, you won’t win.

A lovely analogy to play with.

Well,” I said, my mind racing perhaps unsuccessfully for an un-cheesy response, “we don’t want to win the game. We want to change it.

The last few weeks have been a maelstrom as along with Green Party comrades I have readied for the combined General and local elections. With six council candidates, I am standing for Dewsbury Parliamentary constituency. It is a large area, stretching south from the old mill town of Dewsbury itself down through the separate, smaller town of Mirfield out in the rolling countryside of Kirkburton and Denby Dale. While the north is part of the Heavy Woollen District - the home of shoddy and mungo, perhaps the oldest form of industrial recycling - the south boasts rolling rural landscapes and the origins of thick crust pies. Small farmers and commuters to the nearby cities of Sheffield, Wakefield and Leeds as well as nearby Huddersfield, live in the country areas. While in town you find the built up terraces of the mainly Asian population of Savile Town and the more recent estates in Thornhill and Dewsbury Moor, with predominantly white communities. Both include areas with the worst poverty indices in the EU, while nearby Mirfield offers a more mixed economic profile.

Our town sits with its commercial heart sucked out of it. Once proud arcades are populated by pound shops and empty shells. WH Smith’s needed a special arrangement brokered by Kirklees Council with its landlord to stay in the town, while other buildings, sold to a fantastical developer who emptied them and then ran out of money several years ago, still largely sit vacant or underused - even McDonalds is gone, a mark of dire economics rather than anything more nutritionally positive. Meanwhile, in the country areas, access to services is squeezed under spending cuts and the problem of being “in between” larger cities.

Similarly, the local hospital is under pressure, downgrading the A&E department as part of its measures to meet the PFI debt incurred under Labour; hamstrung by ongoing private tendering of services to the likes of Boots, Virgin and even Sainsburys. The Law Centre has merged with the CAB, which has faced savage cuts at the very time of maximised demand. And of course, we are promised more to come by all three of the established parties.

Yet dotted around, often hidden away, wealthy mansions mark out the rather more affluent citizens whose votes helped return the sitting Conservative MP, Simon Reevell, in 2010 with a small majority of 1,526 over the Cabinet Minister Shahid Malik.

So now we face a contest for the political future: a key marginal in the General Election, one Labour must win and the Tories mustn’t lose (although there is some sense that the sitting MP, who earns more from his legal practice than his parliamentary work, may perhaps see the writing on the wall). With UKIP jumping up from nowhere in the last few weeks, candidates include a rather desperate Lib Dem whose main line is that his Dad was once a councillor in the locale, and the leader of Yorkshire Forward calling for a regional assembly. A Christian alliance candidate (not to be confused with the Christian Party, I think). And me, for the Greens.

Last time round, I polled 1.6% as the Green candidate, a total of 849 votes – an improvement of over 200 on the time before, but behind everyone apart from a lonely English Democrat. So, as my trainee journalist questioner asked, why stand again? Apparently, there is a possibility I might not win.

I told him it was about beliefs, about promoting a point of view that matters to me, building for the future. And besides, we are competitive now, far more than before. Over the years, our vote has been rising – long before the Green surge of the last six months, we overtook the Lib Dems in local elections. Over the constituency as a whole there are 9 Labour councillors, 7 Conservatives and 2 Greens, no others, and we also hold an absolute majority on Kirkburton parish council. At the local elections last year, we came third overall with just under 13% of the total votes cast. So we are far from irrelevant.

So where do we go from here? In the last few weeks, with the poll date known far in advance, there has certainly been much more interest than last time. Hustings meetings have taken place and local community radio has had long sessions with each candidate – my own lasting over two and quarter hours of questioning by studio interviewers and listeners tweeting and texting in. Next month, we have a 90 minute candidates’ debate on local TV, while the local press have been following the campaign in somewhat more depth than before.

But for the people who matter, the voters, the refrain continues – aren’t politicians all the same? Who is listening to us? Disillusion with politics as usual is rife. A challenge and an opportunity for anyone with a radical message.

Of course, the received wisdom is for parties to coalesce around a single agenda of neoliberalism: public services are wasteful and must be tendered out if not totally sold off; the public sector is inefficient; austerity is necessary because of a bloated welfare state; and if you are having a bad time, it’s probably because of the migrants who have taken your jobs. Don’t blame the rich – your only hope of a better tomorrow is if they beneficently deign to trickle their blessings down onto you, so whatever you do, don’t trickle them off.

Oh, and by the way, there is no money left.

Lies, lies and more lies. We live in a country richer overall now than ever before. But also more unequal than it was in the latter days of Queen Victoria. By some indicators, not even Czarist Russia matched the degree of inequality now boasted by Cameron’s Britain – a process much accelerated under Nu-Labour: remember Mandelson’s intense relaxation about people becoming filthy rich? And didn’t Labour relax big time?

In a few weeks’ time, by Oxfam’s estimation, the UK will pass the point where the richest 1% of the population will own more than half the total wealth. Just five families hold more than the poorest 13 million people combined. We are slugging it out with the United States to be the least socially just society on the face of planet Earth – quite a record indeed. And in Dewsbury and its surrounding areas, both extremes are evident.

When there was some degree of social mobility, the capitalist dream was used to sedate public opinion into a calm acceptance of inequality through the ideas that the holders of wealth must have earned it and with just a bit more hard work, everyone else could at least hope to have the same. Now, with seven years of austerity, with the vast majority of people gaining at very most a 1% pay rise since 2010 while bankers and top executives have chalked up yet a further gain of over one third in real earnings, the dream has turned into a nightmare. Yet it is one from which our battered democracy is beginning to awaken from.

How will you pay for the things you talk about?” is the most frequently asked question I get.

Tax the rich.”

Again and again, people smile and agree – especially when you set out the figures to be gained from a wealth tax (£35 billion over 5 years), increasing tax for earners over £100,000 pa (£2 billion per annum), a Robin Hood Tax (£25 billion p.a.) and, the most agreed after years of stories of rip offs: a real clampdown on tax avoidance to reclaim £70 billion p.a. (by some estimates about 6/10s of what is stolen from British citizens each year by tax dodging corporates and rich individuals). I have yet to come across a single objector, bar a neighbouring Tory MP.

But other ideas are welcomed too – our policy to increase the national minimum wage to £10 per hour is seen as common sense by most people. Yet, unlike in the past, there is little objection and a lot of agreement to our policy for a maximum wage as well – legislation to limit the wage of the highest earner in any company to 10 times that of the lowest earner.

So our agenda is simply equality – the need for it, the benefits of it – from social cohesion and personal happiness to tackling global warming and resource scarcity. And the fact that it is just right in itself.

With the national liberal press reporting on the constituency to keep the illusion of choice alive for maybe one last heave, we face the tired old “wasted vote” argument. Except it truly is exhausted now as all the old parties can offer is a sort of “bank manager” style of politics. “We’ll privatise your school a little bit more gently than the others”. “Sell off the hospital? Of course not, well maybe not quite as much of it...

Perhaps in the old days when there was some sort of choice between them, the tactic would have worked, but not now. Sick of the cynicism, there is a real, widespread sense of wanting something new and no longer caring about a “wasted vote” – but rather being offended by the very idea that such a thing should exist at all. Among younger people, this is most evident of all, with one recent national poll putting the Greens first equal with Labour on 29% of the vote among 18 to 25 year olds. Little wonder then that the Coalition has done so much to effectively disenfranchise millions of them – barely a half of those eligible are registered to vote.

I’m thinking again. The Greens are a really radical party,” one of the listeners to last week’s radio show tweeted (no, it wasn’t my wife).

Our area has great potential and people. But its decline shows the inability of free market economics to provide even an adequate way of life for most people. We need a new way forward – a sharing economy rather than acquisitive one; a local focus rather than investing hope that distant boardrooms will provide an answer. Real democracy, one that puts ordinary people in control of their communities, services and workplaces, needs to replace the hollow ritual of five year trips to ballot boxes with two big parties engaged in a false debate to coerce people into negative voting that leaves the Establishment unchecked.

The next five weeks will by turns be enjoyable, frustrating, challenging, tiring and (hopefully) exhilarating – but whatever the outcome, never wasted. Sparked by the catalyst of the Scottish referendum, change is coming, even if its form is often only dimly perceptible as yet. By taking the radical case to the streets, doorsteps and hustings here and across all the nations of the British Isles, Greens, SSP, SNP, Plaid and other progressives begin to bring a better, more equal tomorrow into focus. If we want it enough, and vote for what we believe in, another world is possible.

Budget Round Up

Young engineering apprentice and RIC activist, Conor cheyne gives his view

George Osborne released his latest budget, one in which he has claimed that Britain has recovered from the economic meltdown of 2008 and is now continuing forward. While many on the right have commended him and the job he has done, we know that in fact the opposite is true.

It may appear to some that the British economy has recovered though this is incorrect, as no economy can fully recover without the recovery of its working people. Inflation is said to fall to 0.2% this year though in reality these fig ures cannot be relied upon to tell you if the cost of living is at an acceptable level. Everything has increased so very much over the past 7 years while wages have either stagnated or not improved at all. Even when they talk of wages increasing higher than inflation, if you minus the salaries of those who lead the City of London then salaries are still lagging behind and that is using Westminster statistics. Growth is measured by GDP and this is on the up and will take over debt as a % however this too is an outrageous way to measure the success of an economy as the dealings done by the billionaires and the multi-nationals skew this figures to a great degree.

Osborne also announced £30bn worth of cuts by 2018 which will destroy our already decimated public sector. In the meantime he has told us that corporation tax will be cut to 20% in a bid to help get more investment into the country, taking money from the poor and giving to the rich as we have seen time and time again that lowering corporation tax will not result in more jobs being created. He has claimed that tax loopholes will be closed to ensure that less is lost through tax avoidance but as long as accountancy firms are creating the tax laws, we will continue to lose money through avoidance. The companies operating in the North Sea are going to see a tax reduction which – once again – will be taking money out of the peoples hands and into the hands of a select few. We also find it disappointing that John Swinney publicly supported the move, especially so soon after the SNP dumped the reduction in corporation tax policy. It is not acceptable for taxpayers money to be used to goad billion £ companies into doing what they are supposed to do!

What is very frustrating – though unsurprising – is that the media focused almost entirely on the increase in the personal tax free allowance and the news for savers. Yes, an increase in PTFA is good however is it life-changing for those who have to chose between eating or heating their homes? No, it certainly is not and do these people have the means to save £1000? No, they don't. The PTFA announcement is a usual Westminster stunt, giving the people something laughable, taking so much more yet we thank them for it.

Once again we have a budget which favours the rich and spits in the face of the working class. I will leave it to you, readers, to make up your minds on the budget but now you have my 10 pence worth.

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