The Point
Last updated: 19 June 2017.

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

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In Praise of Beethoven

Arthur C Clarke - A Very Modern Odyssey

Tackling Private Landlords

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The Eternal Dark Heart of Empire

If You Build Them, They Will Come

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Vanishing Illusions

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

 

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

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

A lovely analogy to play with.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tax the rich.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wave Power - The Quiet Nationalisation

Nick Durie tells the story of Wave Energy Scotland, the Saltire Prize, and the battle with British monetarism

Total nuclear generating capacity in Scotland:1000 MW capacity Hunterston B, 1364 MW capacity Torness

Total potential capacity of wave power in Scotland: 14000 MW

Scotland has no major operating wave power stations. Yet. As a technology wave power is in its infancy.

During the 1970s and 1980s Scotland pioneered wind turbine technology, but the UK Government's failure to support the early wind power industry meant that this early technological lead was squandered. Wind turbines are now largely built by Danish, Chinese, and German companies, and what little domestic manufacturing and maintenance we have based in Scotland has been the result of Scottish Government investment in what is a mature industry.

Part of the issue for this is that private investment capital pours into technologies where there is likely to be a proven return on investment. The UK's poor industrial productivity is as a direct result of the state's insistence that private enterprise shoulder an increasing portion of the burden of risk. This means that despite cutting edge science, new industries and technologies often have to play the lottery of 'the dragon's den' to secure support, often with ludicrous targets for achieving profitability to satisfy the spivs fronting the cash. The direction of travel from the UK is for even more of this reliance on the private sector in future, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer seeks to bring state spending into line with post-Wall Street crash austerity.

In Scotland we have seen a rather different story. With co-ordinated development planning industrial sites have reopened. Nigg - once the major industrial employer for much of the Highlands - has reopened, following its closure under Labour. 1000s of jobs and apprentices are based there now. Scotland was subject to shock and awe style deindustrialisation in the 1980s, but the moderate success story of Silicon Glen which was achieved under the Major regime was squandered by the Labour government's lack of support for industry. The result: 130,000 manufacturing jobs lost under Labour.

In addition to setting the most ambitious renewables targets of any government in the world, part of the Scottish Government's programme to reverse this industrial decline was its support for the development of wave power. A centre for marine renewables research was established in Orkney by the UK government in the noughties. In 2008 the Scottish Government moved to consolidate the research base there, announcing the Saltire Prize. To be considered for the £10 million award teams must demonstrate, in Scottish waters, a commercially viable wave or tidal stream energy technology

"that achieves the greatest volume of electrical output over the set minimum hurdle of 100GWh over a continuous 2 year period using only the power of the sea."'

In 2012 Dr Richard Yemm, CEO of Pelamis Wave Power, was awarded the annual Saltire Prize medal for scientific contributions to date. No individual or institution has won the Saltire Prize yet. The next assessment period ends in 2017. Pelamis is seen by many to have developed the sectoral leading technology. The numbers involved in such a critical industry appear small, because they are. This is an industry in its infancy, which is not significantly supported by the UK government. The Scottish Government as we know operates a fixed budget and is unable to borrow money in a conventional way (although it can access private finance through the non-equity distributing PFI of the Scottish Futures Trust, but those of us on the left will appreciate this is far from satisfactory) nonetheless, testimonials from those in the industry draw significant distinctions between the attitudes of Holyrood and Westminster.

Nonetheless the spivs want their money back. For leading wave power developers Pelamis Wave Energy this was to prove decisive. In November of last year, the money ran out. The company was placed into administration and a buyer sought. None was forthcoming. Any buyer would inherit the debts as well as the assets. Administrators KPMG said of the process:

"Following the sales process, I am pleased to confirm that Highland and Islands Enterprise has been appointed preferred bidder in relation to acquiring the assets of Pelamis Wave Power Limited. Over the coming days we will be working to finalise the sale and are hopeful that the transaction can be concluded in the near future. Unfortunately, as no going concern solution has been found, the remaining staff will shortly be made redundant. We are working with government agencies to ensure employees obtain as much assistance as possible."

In the end the company assets were purchased within days by this directorate of the Scottish Government. The Holyrood administration faced widespread criticism for failing to nationalise the debt stricken company. It nonetheless moved immediately to acquire all of its property at auction. The Scottish Government then set up Wave Energy Scotland. This would be a new public body dedicated to research into wave energy. The assets bought by Highland and Islands Enterprise were transferred to this body. In the following weeks it was announced that Dr Richard Yemm would be taken on to lead the new public vehicle, together with the 11 lead researchers. £14.3 million of funding for a year's development was put in place to move forward. In effect, Pelamis was nationalised on the cheap.

Had the company been bought when it went into receivership the state would also have carried all the debts of the firm. Effectively this allowed these millions of pounds to be written off. Dr Yemm has been tasked with 'captur[ing] the knowledge of the Pelamis technology development path for the wider benefit of the wave energy sector.' Professor Stephen Salter, who first pioneered wave energy in the 1970s, noted of the deal "I am also very glad that we were able to deliver on our aspiration to capture the know-how from device development and retain some of the best brains working in marine energy in Scotland."

The move also drew praise from industry bodies. Scottish Renewables and Renewable UK both issued a note of thanks to the Scottish Government. What the whole tale exposes though is that without the ability to borrow to invest, with a Government completely committed to the renewables sector, prepared to step in with cash to make things happen, working with industry partners, and attempting to concentrate investment capital and innovation, we are still developing these industries with our hands tied behind our back as a nation. In other countries, less constrained to a monetarist development framework, who don't have to battle hostile Governments filled with climate change deniers whom they legally must swear fealty to, many of these problems simply would not exist. Science and technology innovation would not have to rely on commercial risk, but the public sector could accelerate research.

The Scottish Government took pelters for not immediately nationalising Pelamis when it went into receivership, but there is little doubt they played the best of a bad hand, and should be rightly praised for doing so. Imagine how much more could be achieved with control over grid charging, energy regulation, and full access to government borrowing?

That's why these issues, and not just 'priorities' are central to Scotland's re-industrialisation. Political will can and has achieved a lot. Political power will achieve a whole lot more.

Nick Durie is a professional community organiser and activist, based in Maryhill, Glasgow

Cameron's Free School Scam

The Tory party are on full-out attack against the education system in England with their Free School models. John Westmoreland looks at the impact it is having for children and the education system as a whole. We in Scotland must remember that just because we have control of our own education, it doesn't mean this shouldn't be a matter of concern for us. 

The announcement that a future Tory government would create another 500 Free Schools came at the same time as Cameron has cut 24 per cent from the budget for Adult Learning.

The cut to Adult Learning will have a devastating effect. Colleges that have built up Access to Education courses, which offer a second chance of education, are being forced to sack lecturers and close courses. There will be a knock-on effect for many working class communities. People who want to retrain or achieve personal fulfilment will be denied the chance. Many adults use education as an opportunity for meeting new and interesting people as well as rebuilding their lives, and studies show that adult education can be a refuge for women in abusive relationships too. The attack on Adult Learning is an attack on our right to education for life.

Cameron's announcement of 500 free schools was a blatant attempt to take the focus off his cuts to education. Nevertheless he wants Free Schools to form the dividing line of policy between the Tories and Labour. The calculation is that Labour will offer half-hearted criticism but will draw back from threatening to take them back into local authority control, largely because the cuts have wrecked the ability of councils to run education effectively.

However, the facts don't support the Tory narrative. Free schools do not improve education or provision, they damage it. The Tories have allocated £1.7bn for Free School funding for 2014-15. This is one third of the funding allocated for new school places in England overall. The Tories pet project is therefore damaging education as a whole.

Thirteen per cent of teachers in Free Schools are unqualified and as Free Schools lag behind other schools in providing quality education according to Ofsted statistics.

Therefore we can say categorically that the Tory arguments for Free Schools are completely wrong. However, the campaign against Free Schools has some way to go too.

The problem for those of us campaigning against Free Schools is that where schools are over-crowded and staff are demoralised as a result of government cuts, a new school that seems to stand outside the chaos is still attractive to parents who are not familiar with the arguments we make.

The Tories can find examples of Free Schools that seem to make a difference to the community. This often happens in towns where there is real poverty and unemployment. One such example is Blackburn with Darwen. In a town with a high level of unemployment there are thirteen secondary schools, five of which are free schools.

It must be a joy to the Tories that Labour MP and corporate friend Jack Straw has played a significant role in bringing Free Schools to Blackburn. A recent article in the Guardian cited the Headteacher at the Tauheedul Educational Trust which runs two Free Schools in the town as saying, "When you have these new places and new schools, they do lead to innovation within those new schools. But it also means – and I've seen it – that schools around you raise their standards." Thus a beneficiary of privatisation becomes a Conservative spokesman on education. Straw helped set up both the Tauheedul schools.

To oppose Free Schools and the privatisation of education we have to wake up to the fact that the Free School project is not simply about education. What Cameron wants to do is use the issue of Free Schools to argue that the wider values of free market capitalism are beneficial and offer a way out of the poverty his government has created.

The Tory narrative around Free Schools is that state-run education has failed. Initiative and creativity have been stifled by local government bureaucracy and defensive teaching unions. In contrast Free Schools are claimed, whatever the actual evidence, to free up creativity and give parents choice and empowerment. The ideology behind Free Schools we must point out, uses the same logic that drives austerity, namely that the private sector can succeed where democratically elected bodies have failed.

If working class people can be made to believe that Free Schooling is more likely to meet the needs of the community than state schooling then the Tory values of competition between schools and private management over public sector education can be used as an exemplar for further privatisation, and more cuts to schools run by local authorities. The madness of the market is presented as magic on condition that Labour fail to offer any meaningful criticism, and their record of supporting the privatisation of education makes this depressingly likely.

It is not just education that will be affected. Once we get used to the idea of Free Schools, why not Free Hospitals too? To break the cycle of cuts, privatisation and more cuts we need to lock the arguments in defence of education to the arguments in defence of the NHS.

The work of the Peoples Assembly is now more urgent than ever. We need to make the case that Free School logic is exactly the same as the logic for austerity. If you want to save the NHS, stop war and end inequality you have to be for a fully funded national education system free at the point of delivery.

 

This article was taken from "http://www.counterfire.org/articles/analysis/17724-cameron-s-free-school-scam"

As an article written by John Westmoreland

Remove the Royals - Why we need a Republic

The Point continues its policy of giving young writers a stage as SSP member Daniel Yahia Mohammed gives reasons as to why it is time to dump the monarchy like so many other nations have. 

 

Hopeless, draining and worthless. No, that was not me describing the latest Scotland match but our tainted 'Royal' Family. Truth be told, there is nothing royal about these elitists. They drain the hard working tax payers' money, they despise democracy, they encourage feudalism and are the root of many of the problems facing this country. With thousands on the streets, with the NHS on the verge of collapse and a quarter of kids in poverty surely it is time to emit the problem? Change needs to come. I'm not advocating a Bolshevik style revolution, but you don't need to be a political analytical expert to realise what is unfolding in front of our very eyes is wrong.

The dictionary definition of a constitutional monarchy is "a form of national government in which the power of the monarch is restrained by a parliament, by law, or by custom". Basically that means the monarch can't interfere within the political spectrum. The UK has a constitutional monarchy. Or does it?

The Telegraph revealed in January 2014 that at least 39 bills had been vetoed by senior royals in the past year or so. These were not on small issues, but highly contentious ones. I'm talking Iraq and the NHS. These bloodsuckers insisted on Middle Eastern intervention along with possibly many other important issues. Should this not be a democratic decision? That's right; a country which prides itself on dominating the developed world is living in the 9th century. Condemning Middle Eastern countries for their lack of democracy yet living without is hypocrisy at its finest. And unfortunately for the lavished lords and ladies, the tirade certainly doesn't end there.

May I ask you, how many times has there been an election to designate our head of state? Here's a clue, the number is the same with how many benefits there are of the monarchy. No need for the calculator, the answer will arrive faster than Prince Charles after a mention of elephant tusks. Zero. That's right, how can we herald ourselves as modernised and democratic if we cannot choose our ruler? We lament Syria, Lebanon and China for not being able to pick their leaders. I mean, even Germany democratically elected Mr Hitler.

The Diamond Jubilee and the Royal Wedding, sure they allow for days off school, but that is where the "benefits" cease, unless that it is you get a thrill out of the widening gap between the posh and the proletariat. The Diamond Jubilee cost the taxpayer the grand some of £1.3 billion. This could have given full time work to many new health workers, surely this would have been of greater benefit? Our National Health Service is crumbling. Our National Health Service is dwindling. Our National Health Service is at the end of its tether. So why are we forking out billions of pounds for an elaborate celebration of a medieval tradition? The Royal Wedding cost businesses in Scotland alone £5 billion, more than double the current education budget in Scotland. It is scandalous that one family is taking higher priority than the hard working and deprived pupils of Scottish schools. You think that is bad, I am just getting started! For what taxpayers pay to the Royal Family, 9000 nurses and 8000 policemen could be employed on full time contracts. Why is it that unemployment is less of an issue than lords, ladies and lacrosse? No need for answers on a postcard, I will do so for you. We are living in a medieval, feudalistic society, in which the millionaires matter, not the millions.

Many of us agree that this island is open to folks from all backgrounds, whether that is people from different countries, people from different religions or people from different sexual orientations. Wrong. Alas, the spearhead of this great nation is gender discriminative, our ruler, or should I say our unelected ruler for centuries has prevented Catholics from taking the throne. I'm not talking about a loyalist paramilitary but in fact this very covetous family. Granted, Catholics are now allowed to marry into the Royal Family, but for hundreds of years they haven't been able to. Not the kind of barrier you would have been expected to restrain Britain as late as the 21st century. How can you expect the subjects to rid the streets of bigotry and sexism if the all mighty one cannot? That's not a typo; we are just subjects. Minor dots on a map, names on a sheet. Men will always take priority over women 'candidates' in the race for Buckingham Palace. Hardly something Great Britain should want to be associated with if it as it claims itself as a superpower and leader of the world. The Queen herself is in a position to further the cause of gender equality yet has done nothing!

There will be many who claim the Monarch is a luxury, and we are lucky to have them. To these people, I shan't reject your beliefs out of respect, but I shall recommend you to some form of work in the comedy sector. These 'subjects' - remember that is what we are to Her Majesty - argue that the Queen is the catalyst for millions upon millions who visit Royalist landmarks. You know the ones, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Balmoral. To those who have visited these attractions, how many times did you actually see the Queen or other prominent members of the most out-dated and obsolete thing within this island? You didn't, of course. "But they bring in more than they take out" chant the royalists. That makes it ok does it? Does that ease the pain of the 27% of kids in poverty in this country? Does that soothe the agony of one million attending food banks every week?

Do we really need the monarch for tourism to boom? Tourists can say they flock to see the Queen, but they never actually do so, yet they still delve into gift shops and museums alike. France is a country we can look up to. France is a Republic, yet Louvre, once home of its royal family rakes around 115 million euros a year, more than any monarch related tourist point in the UK. 24 million tourists gather at Louvres every year, not to gawp at walls, but to admire the paintings, portraits and pictures of the past. If Louvres brings so much in without having a royal family, why can't we adopt the same strategy?

Another frequent argument made by those who hold the Queen and her cronies in high regard is tradition. Tradition, the cheek of it! By tradition do they mean sectarianism? Granted, Catholics are now allowed to marry into the Royal Family, but for hundreds of years they haven't been able to. Not the kind of barrier you would have been expected to restrain Britain as late as the 21st century.

It can be concluded therefore that a Republic is the way forward for our nation. We should be putting the proletariat first, we should be doomed with discrimination and we should be encouraging equality. It's 2015, a time of missions to Mars, not needless Nobility. If we want to improve the economy, then remove the Royals as it is the first step. Even as a symbol it would have massive implications. Tourism will not fall, it will thrive! If the French can do it, why can we not? Why are we funding their frills? With one million in poverty in Scotland alone, it is time we put the people first, not the princes.

Syriza and Scotland: can there be a radical coalition of the left here?

 

Scottish Socialist Party national spokesman Colin Fox was in Athens for the Greek General Election. He reflects here on Syriza's victory, its subsequent climb-down in its debt negotiations with the Troika, and assesses the prospect of a Scottish 'Coalition of the Radical Left' contesting next year's Holyrood elections.

 

What struck me above all in Athens amid the euphoria surrounding the election of Europe's first radical left-wing Government since the 1930's was how far we in Scotland are from such an achievement. The same socialist movement that inspired Syriza's formation back in 2004 with our cohesion and strength of purpose is today fragmented, weak and outmanoeuvred by a resurgent SNP.

Marxists, anti-capitalists and radical environmentalists in Greece work together inside a 19 partner 'Coalition of the Radical Left' and on January 25th they secured mass popular support for a bold socialist programme. Here in Scotland there is no such anti-capitalist coalition and yet another neo-liberal party is sweeping all before it.

Greece proves that in the right circumstances with the right approach the radical left can win elections. Syriza triumphed because Greek capitalism is weak and rotten to the core.

The ruling classes borrowed 319BN Euros to bail out their banks and now cannot repay it. The economy has shrunk by 25% in five years. Greece is in a prolonged economic and social depression akin to the USA after the 1929 crash. Unemployment stands at 27% with the youth rate above 60%. One million people [out of a total population of 11million] have left the country and have been replaced by refugees from Syria, Iraq and Africa. Rough sleepers and beggars are everywhere in Athens. The majority of Greeks, ground down by 7 years of plunging living standards and insults to their dignity, had exhausted every other political option open to them. They turned to the 'Coalition of the Radical Left' because it posed an alternative to neo-liberal austerity and to further humiliation they could believe in.

Syriza's climb-down

But politics is a serious business where difficult decisions must often be made under enormous pressure.

It's a month since Syriza celebrated its famous victory but it must seem like a lifetime to Alexis Tsipras and his Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. In signing the agreement with the Troika they have effectively rescinded their commitment to the Greek people. Their enforced u-turn was painful to watch. Much of the shine has been taken off their glittering prize.

Syriza's 7-point election manifesto, or 'Thessaloniki Declaration', pledged to: -

1 Renegotiate the terms of Greek debts with a promise to get 50% of it written off
2 Secure improved repayment terms for the remainder of their 319BN Euro debt
3 Return the state pension to 700 Euro's a month addressing Greece's 'humanitarian crisis'
4 Return the National Minimum Wage to its 2008 level of 750Euro's per month and restore collective bargaining rights for Greek trade unions to improve their industrial strength
5 Restore electricity to all those disconnected through poverty since 2008
6 Organise a pan-European debt conference where all severely indebted nations can come together and present a united position on debt write off to their creditors
7 Call for solidarity action from all across Europe in support of the Greek people

Yet the deal they agreed with the Euro-zone Finance Ministers on February 22nd achieves none of those objectives. It rules out the first two entirely. The best that can be said about it is that it buys Syriza a little time. Four months to be exact. They faced [and still face] an imminent collapse of the Greek banks. That outcome at least has been averted, if only for 4 weeks. They also secured the 3.2BN Euro loan Greece was promised under the existing 'Memorandum of Understanding' [an agreement Syriza openly despises], which allows it to pay its most urgent bills.

The deal is a poor one and yet there was little alternative open to Syriza given the fragility of the Greek economy, the imminent collapse of the banks and the huge power imbalance they faced in the negotiations. None of the other debtor nations – Portugal, Ireland, Italy, or Spain - supported them in their negotiating positions.


Tsipras and Varoufakis are pinning their hopes on growing the Greek economy and phasing in minor improvements in pensions paid for out of increased Government revenues secured by clamping down on tax evasion by the wealthy.

Nonetheless the deal means Syriza must give up thoughts of a debt write off or of introducing significant improvements in pensions or the national minimum wage any time soon. They must also abide by all agreements signed by previous Greek Governments. This means the privatisation of state assets such as the electricity industry and their regional airports cannot be rescinded. And their hands appear to be tied over plans to sell off the lucrative Port of Piraeus to a Chinese or Danish consortium. The headline in the English language Greek Daily newspaper Kathamerni summed up the deal from a Greek perspective by announcing 'Germany gives an inch Greece gives ten miles'.

For the moment Syriza has not paid much of a political price at home for its climb-down. Its popularity actually increased because it was at least seen to stand up to the Troika and restore Greek pride. This is something neither PASOK nor New Democracy – the two previous administrations - accomplished. But such ephemeral popularity does not 'put any souvlaki on the table' in poor Greek households and it will not last.

The strains within the Syriza coalition [representing 19 different groups from Euro-Communist to Greens] on the other hand are intense. The elation of January 25th has given way to bitter disappointment. For all Alexis Tsipras tries to spin the agreement positively claiming 'We [Syriza] won the first battle but the war continues' the mood of the rank and file was summed up rather better by the 86 year old former resistance leader and now a Syriza MEP Manolis Glezos who, after reading the terms of the deal, said on TV 'In renaming the Troika 'Institutions', turning the Memorandum of Understanding into 'the Agreement' and creditors into 'partners' you do not change the previous situation as is the case in renaming meat as fish. On my part I apologize to the Greek people if I have contributed to this illusion.'

You only have to listen to the criticism levelled at Varoufakis and Tsipras by their own MP's to recognise the widespread unhappiness there is with this deal within the Coalition. The Greek Communist Party [KKE], which also has a mass base in Greece, particularly among the unions was even more scathing. Describing Syriza as 'left wing capitalists' - it is not, as you might guess, part of the Coalition – they condemned the deal as a betrayal of Greek workers.

Some commentators have accused Syriza of naiveté. Others of presenting a false prospectus full of promises it was clearly incapable of delivering. Such accusations may of course be valid but critics must be careful what they wish for. For if the Syriza Government falls, and most Greek Governments do not complete their 4-year terms, the far right party 'Golden Dawn' may be the biggest beneficiaries. They were third in January's election. And given the widespread disgust with the so called 'mainstream' parties PASOK and New Democracy it is not likely to be the left that gains from any Syriza collapse.

And those dogmatists who abide by the hackneyed formula that demands the 'mobilisation of the Greek working class to take over the commanding heights of the economy' might reflect on the weakness of that movement in Greece today and the lack of any 'commanding heights'. Only 60% of the electorate turned out to vote and most didn't choose Syriza. The 27 General Strikes that have taken place since 2013 are signs of the weakness of the labour and trades union movement not its strength.

Leaving the Euro

Leaving the Euro is not something Syriza will entertain. It believes this avenue offers no better alternative and that Greece cannot cope with the economic and social 'heart attack' that would immediately follow such a course of action. Leaving the Euro is presented simplistically by most of its advocates as a way for Greece to rescind its enormous debts. That is a highly dubious scenario because if they did walk away from their 319BN Euro debt their banks would collapse and the question immediately arises where are they going to get the necessary credit to import the food and energy they rely on? Or the oil to power their ferries? Or the investment needed to improve its ailing tourist infrastructure? Greek society is close to collapse as it is. The economic, social and political ramifications of a 'Grexit' would be fatal for Greek society. The political crisis would rush throughout Europe like a contagion. It is for these reasons Greeks have overwhelmingly rejected leaving the Euro-zone.

None of which should by contrast suggest their present choices offer them a 'bed of roses' either. All the options Syriza faces are bad but leaving the Euro is considered the worst.

So what happens now? Syriza will try to grow the Greek economy as best it can, to increase State revenues and crack down on tax evasion. But it has now committed itself to meeting all its debt obligations in full and to make what limited improvements in living standards its revenues allow. In other words it will work within the tight financial and economic straightjacket imposed upon it while desperately trying to win concessions from its creditors. Whether this strategy holds remains to be seen. It will come under increasing political pressure in the next few weeks not least from within its own disappointed ranks as it implements economic and social conditions it has previously condemned. Politics is, as I said, a serious business where difficult decisions made under enormous pressure have consequences.

Lessons

So what lessons are there for the Scottish Left from Syriza's victory? First, that the economic, social and political situation in Greece today is very different to Scotland. Second, that the Left in Scotland are a million miles away from forming a radical left-wing Government any time soon. Third, that Syriza was a project that took 10 years to build. Fourth that the class struggle in Scotland today is at a low ebb. Illusions in capitalism are widespread. Strikes are uncommon and the predominant mood among many workers is the fear of losing poor jobs often on zero hour contracts.

Consequently a number of 'leftists' have run off and joined the SNP. They would rather kid themselves that Nicola Sturgeon is a socialist and that the SNP is a workers party than buckle down and build the genuine left-wing mass party Scotland so badly needs!

So where does that leave us? The Scottish Socialist Party will continue to offer a vital alternative to the neo-liberalism of New Labour and the SNP. We are standing candidates in the General Election in order to tap into the unprecedented rejection of the Labour Party in Scotland and to offer a socialist alternative to the all-conquering nationalists. We are under no illusions about the difficulties inherent in this approach but we are confident we can continue to build the party as a result of engaging in the election.

Scottish electoral alliance

We will also consider a request to participate in an electoral alliance for next years Holyrood elections at our conference in Edinburgh in May. We know from experience such joint work only succeeds if it is based on a clear programme, employs mutually agreed tactics and works with honesty and respect.


Our participation in any alliance will, of course. come with conditions. We would want it to support Independence, anti-capitalism, anti-austerity, anti-racism and equality. We would also want it to support a radical redistribution of wealth, an orientation to the working class, measures designed to enhance workers rights and incomes, oppose war and nuclear weapons, give a commitment to workers wages for its MSPs and support a modern, democratic republic.

The SSP's participation in any electoral alliance would also be dependent on democratic accountability of any elected MSPs.

As the biggest force on the left we would expect full representation in the alliance reflecting our strength, and guaranteeing our right to function freely and openly as a campaigning party with our own well established programme and party structures.

We take a principled and pragmatic view of broader Left alliances. We were approached for example by sections of the Scottish Green Party leadership ahead of the 2014 European elections about forming a Red/Green Alliance for that contest and we agreed. Unfortunately the Greens backed out which was disappointing for progressive advance not least because neither they nor the SNP were able to stop UKIP winning Scotland's last European seat.

Any Scottish 'Coalition of the Radical Left' or electoral alliance clearly cannot succeed without the SSP. We remain the country's most successful socialist party and its biggest force on the left with 30 branches committed to building a mass base for socialism. Our invaluable experience in the working class movement in Scotland goes back decades to the Miners strike of 1984/5 and beyond. Our activists were involved in both 'Yes Scotland' and the Radical Independence Campaign at national level. In Jim Bollan we have Scotland's only Socialist Councillor. And we publish Scotland's only socialist newspaper.

We are confident we will continue to grow whether we stand as the SSP in next years Holyrood elections or as part of a wider coalition. We look forward to the deliberations that unfold at our conference in May without prejudice. In the meantime we are focused on the 2015 General Election and again carrying the left's torch in Scotland.

 

Argy-Bargy: Scottish Public Ownership of Scottish Oil?

 

 Slippery Brown calls for Brit State theft of Scots oil - a final insult?

Gordon Brown's call for part public ownership of Scotland's offshore oil by the UK Government in the Scotsman this week
http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/gordon-brown-unveils-plan-to-keep-oil-flowing-1-3705731 might be unguardedly welcomed by some on the left – but wait a minute this is not the 'Red' Broon of the seventies but the City loving, independence hating, and PPP/PFI promoting Broon of the 21st century Blairite Labour.

This is the Janus-faced Broon who told Scots before the referendum that the infamous 'Vow' would mean home rule/devo max/near federalism, then after the referendum said it meant nothing of the kind.

From that perspective doesn't this just look a bit like resource colonialism?

Our oil should of course be publicly owned - but by the people of Scotland in an independent or Devo Max Scotland. Anything else is just continued misappropriation of a vital national asset for foreign state interests.

Agree or Disagree?

Micro-Point: Open Letter to SNP Strategists

Steve Arnott writes an open letter to SNP strategists on the May election

Fellow independenistas


The polls are still looking very good for the SNP in May, but a word of caution is necessary - or rather, three paragraphs of caution, and an urge to action.


Firstly, as the election draws nearer the intensity of the media gaze will, as it always has done for Westminster elections, focus in on 'the main parties' - by which the UK media (and its obedient satellites) mean; the Tories, Labour, Lib-Dems (and UKIP). Despite a victory over the television debates issue, this should not be underestimated


Secondly, while the decisive polling shift to the SNP and away from Labour continues to look real and substantial, it would not be true to say that there has been no Murphy bounce. There has been - even if it is only very small . It's not due to manic Murphy, of course, but to a servile BBC Pacific Quay Pravda and the Daily Rancid. But - and this is what Labour's strategy is based on - it doesn't have to be a big bounce. Labour would only have to continue its current 2-3% point rate of recovery through each of the months of March and April to put a large tranche of Labour seats beyond the ability of the SNP to win.


Lastly, this Labour push will be based on breathtaking lies (we ain't seen nuthin' yet), told to the least politically aware and more conservative (with a small 'c') sections of the working class community, and aimed mainly at that section of the community which still receives its information overwhelmingly from the mainstream media. That 'mainstream' media can be largely relied upon to 'do the business' for Scottish Labour and the Union. We in social media will do our best to be a counterweight to this tendency, but, frankly there are parts of the electorate we just don't reach.


The solution: learn the lessons of the YES referendum where not enough money was spent PRIOR to the official twelve week period inoculating potential, but wavering, YES voters against the inevitable msm assault from the unprincipled supporters of the status quo. 'Memes' are a slippery concept to be sure..but the longer your opponents have to lay down their 'memes' in the neural pathways of a large section of the electorate, the more chance their strategy has of succeeding.


Consequently, if you really, really want to seize this 'once in a lifetime' opportunity to replace Labour as the default party of choice for the mass of working class people in Scotland, do not allow the mainstream media bias to go unchallenged for a second longer. You need to be spending significant tranches of your election budget NOW and going forward - on billboard, bus stop and newspaper advertising, and really good 'through the doors' constituency and national leaflets.


Don't wait till mid-April - it might be too late.


Yours, for a crushing blow to Scotland's Red Tories in May,

Steve Arnott

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left

Greenpeace

The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

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