The Point
Last updated: 27 June 2022. sky thinking for an open and diverse left

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On The Rise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about our documentary:

To information about donations and to be involved:

You can also follow the journey in photos on instagram:

This is the link to our just giving page:

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

Hope Over Fear - Referendum Anniversary Gathering


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


 Jeff Duncan, being interviewed by the media.


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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



                Hope is kindled, Dreams never die.


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

See you there!


An Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn




Dear Jeremy,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fraternally yours,

Derek Stewart Macpherson

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And our job to counter your argument, Rev

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

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

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

Aye, and that’s going to happen...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. You can’t predict local factors.

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

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

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

4. People don’t actually like voting tactically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. The tactical vote itself is split.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Call to the Scottish Left:Show Corbyn our Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Red and Green 2016

It's almost clichéd to say that we're living in exciting times, a political landscape rapidly shifting beneath our feet and unpredictable in its destination. No sooner is one historic election out of the way but another beckons and next year's Holyrood election could certainly be that. But while we live in exciting times we also live in dark times for ordinary working people bearing the brunt of the Tories form of class war they call 'Austerity'. However next year's Holyrood election gives us the opportunity to wipe out Unionism, and by extension the pro-austerity parties, as a political force in Scotland at this time, and also build an effective opposition to the SNP from the radical Green Left.

Before I get started I realise that much of what I say may sit uncomfortably with some in the various left groups, greens and others who understandably have their own particular interests to look out for. Believe me it is way out of my own comfort zone. As a Republican I don't have any rose-tinted view of the Holyrood Assembly, given it can be abolished by Westminster at any time and has no legal right to launch another Indy referendum without Westminster approval it is little more than a Unionist institution set up to preserve the Union rather than further democracy, power devolved is power retained and all that. Furthermore as a socialist with syndicalist sympathies when it comes to fighting elections for "bourgeois parliaments" getting too het up over elections to a wee pretendy parliament, or parish council as Tony Blair described it, seems a distraction from the real job of establishing an independent workers' republic.

But... now, here, Scotland 2015-16 is not 'normal' political times. We're still riding the wave of activity and enthusiasm unleashed by the referendum and given momentum by the myriad of groups that sprung up as self-organising collectives, organisations such as Women for Indy, National Collective and RIC, where grass roots campaigners could come together and get their voices heard independent of the party machines.

RIC in particular brought together all manner of radical forces from the socialist left, from the environmental movement as well as the left of the SNP and it seems to me self-evident that we were able to achieve far more working together (and working together consensually and harmoniously for a greater good) than would have been the case otherwise.

And that offers an interesting vision for the situation some nine months later. While those involved with the nascent Scottish Left Project (SLP) have done admirable work, building on the positivity of RIC, by actually getting elements of the Left talking to each other getting past the divisions which have scarred us and set back the cause of Socialism by a political generation or more, it is clear that the distrust that still exists means this won't be achieved overnight and indeed with their own eyes set on the 2020 Holyrood elections rather than 2016 I fear they are in danger of not just selling themselves short but the needs and aspirations of the working-class in Scotland in the face of an unrestricted Tory government pursuing an increasingly aggressive domestic policy. So while the left still struggles to negotiate the legacy of the well bronzed buffer in its tracks the Greens have capitalised more on their role in the wider Yes campaign, yet their target of "at least 8 seats", while easily achievable, still falls well short of the potential for a unified radical force.

As things currently stand even if the most ambitious projections of the left and greens were achieved it would still leave them around the same total achieved in 2003 when 13 were returned from this bloc. But... a unified Red/ Green or Green/ Red or Anti-Austerity or Radical Indy (call it what you want) Alliance that was able to tap into the positivity and momentum of the Yes campaign, which we played a large role in creating, could realistically aim to take 20-30 MSPs.

This isn't based on the overly optimistic predictions of some party loyalist but simply through an understanding of the way the regional list system works in the Scottish parliament. It has an inbuilt mechanism designed to prevent any one party gaining outright control, a Unionist mechanism to prevent an SNP victory and the prospects of Independence, that worked well eh! If a party does well in the first past the post constituency section this will be balanced out by distributing seats on the list to other parties based on their support in the regional list vote. Put simply it means that if the SNP maintains its current level of constituency support they will need to poll well in excess of 50% to be in with a chance of winning any seats on the list.

Take as an example the recent TNS poll (1) which puts the SNP on course to win 70 out of 73 constituency seats. It also has the SNP at 50% on the list which they predict would give it only 3 out of 56 list seats across all Scotland, presumably in the 3 regions where they did not win every constituency seat.

Whilst obviously a lot of caveats apply and it takes no account of regional variations which always exist, if the results from this poll were applied across all 8 regions the returns would break down as follows for the 7 seats on each regional list, Labour 3 seats, Tories 2, Greens 1 and the last place going to a 3-way tie between the Lib-Dems, Greens and SNP. TNS predicts this being allocated as 3 SNP, 3 Lib Dem and 2 Green from the eight regions. So despite pro-Indy parties taking 60% of the regional vote the Unionist parties would take a 5-2 majority of seats in 4 lists, and 6-1 in the other 4.

But, in the hypothetical situation where a unified list of the pro-Indy Green/ Left was able to garner support primarily, though not exclusively, from that broad base of the Yes support who want radical change, this situation could be near reversed.

Let me explain. It's been well documented that since devolution the Scottish electorate has developed relatively sophisticated voting patterns, voting in different way in different elections to achieve different, progressive, outcomes. This situation has certainly not been diminished by the IndyRef and many Yes supporters, and others, will be only too aware that voting SNP on the list may well be a wasted vote that will paradoxically only increase the chances of a Unionist candidate being elected.

If however a unified candidate of the Green Left radical forces was standing as a realistic, credible alternative then they would be well placed to capitalise on this situation.

So using some basic maths if one third of the SNP support on the list could be persuaded to vote Red/Green (based on the TNS poll with all the caveats etc.) and coupled with the already existing Green support this could lead to regional voting figures of SNP 33%, Red/ Green 27%, Labour 19%, Tory 14%, LD 5% leading to the election of 3 Red/ Greens, 2 Labour and 2 Tories on each list. This would mean 24 Red/Greens in total making them the 2nd largest grouping at Holyrood behind the SNP, who would have already won the election based on their support at constituency level (it's probably worth noting that it would be in the interests of such a grouping for the SNP to win every constituency seat in Scotland.)

Again if one half of SNP voters supported this new grouping the corresponding figures would be Red Green 35%, SNP 25%, Labour 19%, Tory 14%, LD 5%. This could result in 4 Red/Greens being elected in each region giving 32 seats across Scotland outnumbering the combined total of all the Unionist parties at Holyrood.

Obviously there is no data to support the claim that SNP voters would support a Red/Green alliance but given the positive and committed role that socialists and Greens played in RIC and the wider Yes campaign and, as has been stated, the 'sophisticated' nature of voting in Scotland and increased levels of political activity since the referendum, I believe that this could be achievable, but only though a unified force that wasn't going to be fighting each other for the same votes.

Now basing politics on opinion polls is not generally the sort of politics that I would touch with the proverbial bargepole, it reeks of new Labour focus groups and the selling of your soul for the sake of a handful of votes in a few marginal constituencies, but this is a different situation altogether, and while compromise is inevitable it need not be at the expense of political principle.

We wouldn't need a huge unified political programme, just agreement around a set of core demands where unity already exists, opposing austerity, stopping fracking, more green energy projects, real radical land reform, ending zero hour contracts, fighting for better workers' rights, No to NATO, a £10 minimum wage, more social housing built to higher environmental standards as well as support for an independent Republic. There is plenty we have in common as we showed throughout the referendum campaign.

Realistically the left would have to accept its weakened position at this time and probably offer the Greens at least the top spot on every list, even in its Glasgow heartlands, though Patrick Harvie top of the list, a problem? I don't think so. Given the potential to elect 2/3/4 MSPs from each list perhaps the rest could be decided by some form of regional aggregates, but I digress.
Here in the Highlands the thought of standing in opposition to someone like John Finnie who played such an active role in the RIC campaign and is top of the regional list for the Greens next year is not something which appeals to me and I'm sure that similar situations would be replicated elsewhere.

Is it too late for this to happen? Certainly not. But whether narrow party political advantage will win out over the NEEDS of the marginalised and disadvantaged bearing the brunt of Tory 'Austerity' is another matter altogether.
Socialists and Greens managed to put our differences aside, in RIC and elsewhere, to work collectively for a greater good last year, surely the radical forces of Scotland can do the same for the next? Talks did take place between the Greens and the SSP before the 2014 European elections which indicate that there must be willingness, in some quarters at least, to contemplate this scenario.

But this time round the opportunity for such a bloc wouldn't just mean the election of one MEP, not even replacing the Lib-Dems as the 4th largest party, but on becoming the main opposition to the SNP at Holyrood, pushing them in a more radical direction and making sure they live up to their anti-austerity promises, the prize is potentially that big. Surely that's something worth aiming for?

(1) TNS Poll, 9 June 2015 – Regional list voting intentions for Holyrood: SNP 50%, Labour (19%), the Conservatives (14%), the Greens (10%), Liberal Democrats (5%), UKIP (2%) and others (2%)

The Media, Creators of Social Inequality

Millions of us read the newspapers every single day; The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Mirror - All popular choices, just to name a few. It is well known that newspapers have long held sway over what many of us hold true. From the war in Iraq to the hounding of immigrants, the newspapers almost decide what we are going to believe and when. They hold a very high and lofty position in our society. But while we read and get suckered in by headlines and columns it is always important to keep in mind that these so called "beacons of democracy" have their own hidden (or maybe not so, as is often the case) agenda.

The papers play a huge roll in exploiting and creating inequalities within our society. Within the last few years we have seen papers such as The Sun target the working class and immigrants like lepers. What is fairly ironic about The Sun and its ilk is that while they single out the working classes for condemnation and their readers nod their heads in agreement, it is the working class that overwhelmingly buy their paper and so it is the working class who overwhelmingly nod their heads in agreement with the lies the paper spouts. Rather ironic, is it not?

While The Sun targets working class readership, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail are very much "Middle Class". But all have a devastating effect in which they have channelled campaigns similar to that of political parties where sections are attacked at different times.

In a recent edition of The Sun, it singles out the poorest in our society with a piece called "The Welfies". In this, the Sun gives awards to those who have (according to them) have been most outrageous at claiming welfare benefit. This whole charade is nothing more than a blatant attack on the working class and the poorest in society. We have seen time and time again the results of such attacks. While David Cameron, "Red" Ed and their City of London cronies continue to bask in the delights of such phenomenal wealth, it is the poor who get the boot stuck in. For every headline the rags have had about bankers who have screwed the economy, they have had 20 for those who are on benefits. Yet, this is allowed to continue. Why? Because the reader of these papers wishes to feel that he/she is a class above those at the bottom. That he/she is – rather than working class – aspiring middle class and guess what, they do feel like that thanks to such drivel. Ach, we are all middle class now anyway, right?

In another recent article, the ever so wonderful - and in no way at all bias - Daily Mail had a headline on its website which claimed that Scots were "Robbing" millions from the Queen by taking land that belongs to her. Here we have a newspaper that has the second largest readership in Britain, telling its readers that Scotland is stealing from the Queen. Forget the nationalistic issue here as that plays second fiddle in this scenario. The real issue is that this outlet is of the belief that taking land for the benefit of the majority, out of the hands of one wealthy individual is outrageous. Yet again, people will read this and agree that such a thing is not right.

What we have is the media creating and enhancing inequality. From taking obscene cases of welfare cheats and painting them as your general benefit claimant, to robbing the rich to feed the poor as shocking. Of course, I could give you many more examples but these two do just fine. The working class is portrayed as something we must escape from. That being rich isn't a privilege but a right to those who have the wealth. We on the left denounce the Tories as being a "Divide and Rule" party. They have attempted and very much succeeded in dividing the working class, however that accomplishment could never have happened without the help of the papers. The workers are turning on each other thanks to the bile that is spewed out from the pages of rags. The use of language is a very powerful thing, after all "The pen is mightier that the sword". We are told to believe that someone is below us due to the fact they claim welfare or have 8 children. Mick and Mairead Philpott were found guilty of burning down their own home in an incident that 6 of their children died in. Following the pair being found guilty the press couldn't wait to pounce upon it, claiming that they did it for a bigger council home etc. The papers also couldn't resist using this as an excuse to attack large families as a whole, even in one case where both parents had previously worked but were out of work at that time due to being made redundant. The press twist and turn events at every corner in order. It's nothing short of b*llocks.

Thanks to headlines such as these, we now have a culture not of benefit claimants but working class hatred. Being poor no longer means that you need help, being poor means that you are a scumbag and would do better to die underneath a bridge somewhere. All this is largely down to the newspapers.

Aside from the British working class, they attack the immigrants of all class. Nearly everyday we see headlines which attack immigration and the effects it has without any real facts or figures to back up claims. It is said that immigration is having an over-bearing effect on the NHS yet NHS staff is made up of more than 40% immigrants which means without these people, the NHS would not operate. Immigration is pushed to number 1 talking point constantly even though it is something that isn't negatively impacting on our economy.

Another point that should be made is how the newspapers portray Muslims. Last year, 91% of newspaper pieces on Muslims were negative yet 91% of Muslims are not bad people, very similar to how they twist things to attack welfare claimants. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks it was stated on BBC News that it was the worst terrorist attack in Europe since the London Bombings. Excuse me for being cynical but I don't think its a poor memory that made them fail to mention Anders Breviks attack in Norway. But of course, it is not terrorism if it is committed by a white-man/Christian. It is important in these situation to look at the words used by the media as they are vital when people form their opinions on an event. The men who beheaded Lee Rigby were condemned as terrorists yet the man who killed a Muslim family in America a few months ago was portrayed immediately as "mentally unstable". There is clear inconsistencies with how the press report stories depending on who was involved. This whole concept is even more prevalent and we can spot it even easier now following the Charleston massacre. The media refused to speculate whether or not the killings of 9 black people were a hate crime when the event took place. Even when the fact became known that the murderer was in fact a racist who wished to start another "Civil War", they still did "speculate" the reasoning behind the attack. Once again, rather than terrorist the man has been labelled a "Loner" with "Mental Problems". It is refreshing though how many people are beginning to realise the sheer hypocrisy shown by the media. It has been reported as a hate crime yet should the act have been committed by someone from a minority background there can be no doubt that it would have been labelled an act of terrorism.

Of course, while looking at mainly newspapers in this article, TV news stations such as Sky and BBC are equally to blame. Just because something appears on "balanced" TV channels does not make it any less bias. In order to combat these false inequalities that the press create, we must first remember not to be suckered in ourselves as it is easy to happen. Then it is imperative that we harness the power of social media and get the message across that the papers cannot be trusted. They have too much power and they are wielding it for their own gains, no one else's. The press will never stop in the campaigns against the working class and the minorities as they are easy targets in today's society. We must stand up against it and combat it ourselves.

Rekindling the Roots of Radicalism

Since the referendum all eyes have been on Scotland. Anti-austerity and anti-Trident rhetoric has won over Project Fear because pro-independence social movements and political parties managed to create a successful counter-narrative to the neo-liberal Westminster consensus. This was evidenced not only in the incredible voter registration and turnout of the referendum, but also in the results of the election.

The next five years are going to be defining for Scottish politics. In order to ensure a left-wing agenda, the vehicles we need are: a social movement, a strong union movement, and an electoral alternative that can challenge the SNP from the left.

After the ConDem government seized power in 2010, there was a rise in anti-austerity, anti-cuts campaigning but, for various reasons, this waned. In 2012, the pro-independence framework was created in Scotland which became the most successful anti-austerity social movement in Britain. Along with the official 'Yes' campaign, groups like the Radical Independence Campaign, Women for Independence, and Common Weal generated a politicisation of Scottish society and historic levels of political engagement, pushing the SNP to formulate a generally anti-austerity, anti-Trident narrative.

We are now facing a Tory government which will strengthen the anti-union laws; yet the TUC and affiliated British unions have not made a coherent plan of counter-attack. On the other hand, the STUC, which has a much more open relationship with the Scottish Government than the TUC has with Westminster, has advocated breaking Tory anti-union laws.

The union movement in Scotland has the potential to call upon the support of a pre-existing, and growing in confidence, social movement which the TUC does not have. This has borne out in the organising of the 20 June anti-austerity demonstration. In England, this is organised by the anti-cuts campaign group, Peoples Assembly. In Scotland, it is being organised by the STUC with the support, resources, and people coming from the social movements, including Peoples Assembly and the Radical Independence Campaign.

In the next five years, we need to link action and strategy in order to ensure that the labour movement has a future. Everything from direct action and strikes, to breaking anti-strike laws, to preparing a consistent strategy focussed on young workers, women and migrant workers needs to be done by the union leadership in conjunction with the social movement.

In the months between the referendum and the election, Scottish Labour simply failed to recognise any errors it had made in the past – particularly throughout the referendum campaign. That is why it returned only one MP and its vote was down by almost 18% on the previous five years. That is why there wasn't a social movement to save Labour. That is why it was predicted that up to 70% of all young voters in Scotland would be voting SNP on 7 May.

The terminal decline of Scottish Labour brings with it huge challenges for the unions. The labour movement's resources (including people, money, and values) need somewhere to go in terms of electoral representation. It is up to the labour movement to ensure that those resources are properly directed, through open, honest, democratic debate and decision-making, but that does not mean Labour is the entitled keepers of these resources. That sense of entitlement was the single biggest error Scottish Labour made in the past few years.

Neither the SNP nor the Greens can fully articulate and represent the workers' movement. Neither have roots in the labour movement in terms of labour/working class history. Despite the SNP trade union group having more members than Scottish Labour, the unions cannot disaffiliate from Labour simply to jump into affiliation with the SNP. Scotland needs a 'third estate' that can form a permanent political force representing working people and socialism.

We know the socialist left polls extremely poorly in general elections and partly that results from the first-past-the-post. However, across Europe 'the left' polls an average of 15% – even in social democratic countries. It's not that left-wing, socialist politics don't resonate with people in Scotland, but we need a combined and long-term approach and strategy to articulate that sentiment successfully in elections. It is possible that, despite a real squeeze from the SNP, socialists can mount a big electoral challenge and become a part of the political mainstream.

In Scotland, the independence movement has changed the context we are operating in and there is only one direction of travel: independence. It is likely that the Holyrood elections next year will reflect this. The stakes could not be higher, and there is an urgent need to keep driving politics in Scotland leftwards. Not only because the SNP is currently in a hegemonic position, but also as a leftwards pull to the movement in the rest of Britain.

The Scottish Left Project is meeting with activists, campaigners and political organisations with the aim of making the space for this to happen. We want to become a hub of ideas and debate for taking the left forward, and play a role in developing a big radical left challenge in 2016. If you want to ensure that the labour movement is not left without political representation; or if you want play a part in developing a vibrant and diverse left in Scotland, then please get involved and stay tuned for further developments.


This article initially appeared in Scottish Left Review.

No Easy Answers: Reflections on the Left and Scottish Politics in 2015

The paradox in modern Scottish politics might well turn out to be the curious fact that Scotland is a more left wing country than at any time in its recent history, yet in the same period, Scotland's radical left has failed to make any significant electoral breakthrough either at local or national level. Next year's Holyrood elections present a chance for Scotland' radicals to change that story. Are they up to the challenge? The decision in the recent election to field overtly socialist candidates who consistently polled around 0.5% of the vote, once again raises serious credibility problems regarding the Scottish left, and whilst these embarrassing results can be explained away by the SNP 'squeeze', we should not forget the fact that the radical left's share of the vote has been in freefall in Scotland for more than a decade. For those, like myself, who believe that radical politics in Scotland requires an electoral face, the radical left has less than one year to get its act together. The electoral clock is already ticking. I shall come to 2016 in a moment, but first a word on the election that has just past.

I didn't stay up for the result. Disappointed by the BBC's exit poll, which set the tone for the rest of the evening, I called it a night around 1am. I awoke the following morning and my wife said there was good news and bad news (the look on her face intimated that the bad news was worse than the good news); good news - SNP landslide in Scotland, bad news - the Tories back in power. The latter felt like a sucker punch in the stomach from Mike Tyson. 'Tories back in'. It was one of those moments where you temporarily hope that what you are hearing is not true, or somehow mistaken.

It's a hard world and with the Tories back in power it's about to get even harder. I genuinely wanted Ed Miliband to be the Prime Minister; his father Ralph Miliband helped formulate some of my early political understandings, and I do believe that Ed Miliband genuinely attempted to reclaim some, and I emphasise some, social democratic territory for the Labour Party. There is an old saying that there is 1 inch of a difference between Labour and the Tories, but it is within that inch that we live our lives. I also understand the severe limitations which are imposed upon the leader of the Labour Party in Britain – in fact, there were few theoreticians better than Miliband senior in outlining the structural nature of power within the modern capitalist state.

But we are where we are. The only positive story of the night was Scotland. Something significant is happening here and I quite like the fact that I don't always understand what it is. John Lennon once sang that the older he got the less he knew for sure. I can relate to that. When I was 20, the world appeared straight forward; right and wrong or should that be right and left; capitalism versus socialism, the workers versus the bosses; in short, the politics of binary opposites. Now that I am closer to 40 than 30, the world appears slightly more complicated, as it should. I still get upset by inequality, poverty, even capitalism, although the latter can sound abstract, but I'm conscious of the fact that today's left defines itself more by what it is against than what it stands for. In light of the experience of 'actually existing socialism' in the 20th century, this is understandable, but it also points to an intellectual uncertainty regarding the essence of socialism. Again, this is perhaps not a bad thing. Recently, a young activist I know argued passionately (and convincingly) that any future 'socialist' organisation ought not to have the word socialist in the title. When I was 20, the very thought of this suggestion would have been heretical for me, yet today, battle weary from organised politics and slightly cynical about certain sections of the left, I am open to considering any strategy which genuinely attempts to navigate a way out of the neo-liberal quagmire we currently find ourselves in.

We live in an age of uncertainties, an age where people crave security as much as they do freedom. Yet, as I argued at the start of this piece, Scotland is a more left wing country than it was even 10 years ago. And whilst comparisons with Greece are best avoided, five years of neo-liberal austerity have nudged Scotland leftwards. Are we witnessing the return of ideological politics?

The SNP won its historical landslide not by talking up another referendum, but by shifting the narrative onto the politics of austerity. This narrative successfully unites three important sections of Scottish society; the worried middle classes, many of whom work in the public sector and have seen their standard of living fall in recent years; the traditional working class who feel angry and betrayed by Labour, and the poor, many of whom were given a sense of hope via the yes campaign that politics can make a difference. In fact, this latter constituency, largely absent from electoral politics in recent years, has fundamentally changed political discourse in Scotland. The challenge the SNP face is keeping that alliance together.

The SNP under Nicola Sturgeon's leadership has pitched its tent firmly on left ground and with Sturgeon at the helm they have yet to put a foot wrong. Sturgeon was right to ignore calls for a yes alliance, which would have resulted in a big bang politics that could have spectacularly backfired. I suspect that many of the new SNP members intuitively understand what I am getting at; 'we are all gradualists now', as one SNP insider framed it. From this perspective, the SNP were right to rule out any calls for a second referendum, now or in the near future, and instead of any backlash from the membership, the genuine admiration for 'Nicola' grows in abundance.

In regards to the 56 MPs, what they do next will be interesting; no doubt there will be some grandstanding and a few emerging stars (Mhari Black?); yet from where I am sitting the highly centralised SNP machine ought to ensure that few of the new MPs deviate from the constitutional game. The constitutional game, perhaps the only credible game in town as far as independence is concerned, is to gradually win enough powers for Scotland until we reach a point where Scotland eventually 'feels' independent enough to vote for independence. In fact, there are some in the SNP ranks, who would probably settle for that constitutional half-way house otherwise known as federalism.

And now onto Scottish Labour. Every now and again I have to remind myself of the fact that Labour has been wiped off the face of the electoral map of Scotland. Perceived by the political classes as too left wing to win in England (this is problematic), it is also the case that Labour are regarded as too right wing to win in Scotland (again this is problematic), creating a perfect muddle with no obvious way out. The backlash against Scottish Labour has been brewing for some time. It goes back to Blair and Iraq and the thirteen wasted years in office, whilst their participation in a formal alliance with the Tories, via Better Together, now looks like a monumental strategic mistake. But there is also something more fundamental at play here. Scottish Labour is out of touch with modern Scotland. For further reading I recommend Gerry Hassan's excellent Strange Death of Labour Scotland; note that it's the death of Labour Scotland, not Scottish Labour. The decline of heavy industry brought with it a decline in the industrial clout of the unions; the fragmentation of the working class is a part of this story, as is the break-up of strong regional government, whilst the rise of home ownership and decline in council housing changed the political demographics considerably. The material conditions which made Scottish Labour such a formidable power in the land were gradually hollowed out. Today, Scottish Labour is an empty shell, heavy reliant on its councillor base and their families, who provide what constitutes Scottish Labour's activist base. The ageing Scottish Labour Party didn't quite get the yes campaign, dismissing it as nationalism, they clung to the politics of the past, and failing all the while to recognise the mass social movement which was bubbling away under the surface. In fact, Labour's obsessional hatred of the SNP, nurtured over decades, has now been brutally exposed as a strategy of serious electoral self-harm. To hear senior figures in Scottish Labour state that Scotland is now 'post-rational', reveals the fact that many still don't get it. Perhaps, it's time for a new opposition?

And finally, where now for Scotland's radicals? There are no easy answers. I am no longer 'active' as they say, something which can bring a sense of perspective. The far left or hard left, call it what you may, is an unusual beast. For example, left parties can score consistently less than 1% of the vote, yet their leaderships never resign. Some, like the TUSC group, do not even appear to have leaders, something which may be fashionable in certain circles, but always makes me think that behind the scenes, committees of vanguardist apparatchiks are running the show. In terms of elections, certain sections of the left are akin to a football team which loses 5-0 every week but keeps on playing the same tactics regardless. Failure, it seems never matters.

The Scottish Left Project is interesting and offers a glimmer of hope. Yet for me, it requires a lot more than bringing together all of the groupiscules under the one banner – besides, the left wing humpty dumpty won't be easily put back together again, and even if it was, it requires a leap of faith to assume that 'left unity' automatically guarantees an electoral breakthrough. Furthermore, and I am going to be blunt here, there are some left groups who are better avoided and who thrive only on what Freud once called the 'narcissism of the difference'.

The SNP shift to the left and the increasing credibility of the Greens makes the terrain even more difficult for those who want to create an overtly socialistic discourse in Scotland. How big the space is for socialist politics should also be a matter for discussion. There has always been a strong whiff of romanticism (and arrogance) in those arguments which posit the Scots as a socialistic people who are just waiting on the right vehicle to awaken their class consciousness. Moreover, modern Scotland, even after the crash and five years of austerity, is a more middle class country than many of today's radicals acknowledge. And yet, there is undoubtedly a space for a new type of radical politics in Scotland.

A decent and identifiable brand needs to be established (and who knows maybe it is time to pose the young activist's question, is it time to ditch the term socialism?); the message needs to be framed in an accessible language, something which more and more people are latching onto.

In addition to this, a new generation of presentable leaders who modern Scots can relate too need to be nurtured. Moreover, the new leaders need to reach out not only to the 'general public' but also to the many socialists who are not members of any party. Some are already there; and leaders do matter – for anyone who thinks otherwise, just ask yourself this – would the SNP be making the same impact if they were led by anyone in the party other than Nicola Sturgeon?

Avoiding the shouty politics of masculine confrontation and anger would also be a good start. For example, whilst class is important, other factors are equally at play in modern Scotland, notably, age, gender, and increasingly the politics of national identity. A new left, also requires a careful rethinking of how it relates to the SNP. Sectarianism and critical opposition are two very different things. Example; I attended a left wing meeting during the election where one left candidate described the SNP as 'anti-working class', a statement which no doubt appeared absurd to a party whose Trades Union Group so I am told is bigger than the Labour Party. Furthermore, hurling insults at the SNP runs the serious risk of offending not only the many progressives who have joined, but equally one half of Scotland's electorate. This of course does not mean that we suspend our critical faculties, only that we learn to frame our criticisms in a way which is constructive and seeks to build alliances across progressive opinion. For me, there are no longer any ideological certainties in these fundamentally uncertain times. But nonetheless we do require a way out of neo-liberalism and Scotland requires an opposition. The contradictions inherent within the SNP will eventually come to the fore creating the space for an opposition to emerge. Whether that opposition comes from the right or the left remains to be seen but if the latter is to be successful, then a fundamental rethink of how we do politics is required.


This article was first published on

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