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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Steve Arnott writes an open letter to SNP strategists on the May election
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,
Each week in the new look Point we'll have a short rant or article espousing a specific idea. This week Steve Arnott calls for a Scottish Government Commission on
An idea whose time has come?
The SNP have undertaken a consultation with their thousands of new members on policies for the 2016 Holyrood election.
The Point is a left, pro-indy platform with no party allegiance, but undoubtedly we have many readers within the left of the SNP...so we'll throw our half a groat in and hope some lefts in the SNP pick it up and run with it.
We would like to see the next Scottish Government truly turn back the tide of Thatcherism and neo-liberalism by establishing a public commission tasked with three things
1) establishing what industries/services should, in principle, be in public ownership/de-privatised/protected from privatisation in an Independent or Devo Max Scotland (the banks? energy companies? public transport? oil and gas exploration? etc etc)
2) to spell out in detail the economic and social benefits and arguments for public ownership
3) and to establish how - as cheaply as possible, and in the shortest time scale - the Scottish Government can take the necessary assets into public ownership and shield others against any possible future privatisation.
The commission should include leading left pro-indy academics such as Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, Prof Alyson Pollock, Prof Mike Danson, as well as trade unionists and people with both public and private sector experience. It should begin with a mandate to work within the principles established by the Common Weal movement, and the substantive understanding that there are in life things we all depend upon and need that should be be publicly owned and directly accountable, and not subject to the profit motive.
It should report by the middle of the next Parliament, and its findings, if accepted by the democratic will of Parliament. should be written into a future Scottish Constitution at the first opportunity.
How about that for a policy that could change the social and economic map of Scotland, and expose Scottish Labour's new found 'left' credentials as the shallow thing that they are.
Gary Fraser argues that the left in Scotland should embrace change and get organised.
While there is no doubt that anyone who has ever lived finds their own times interesting, these are especially interesting times to be living in Scotland. The 'yes' campaign, which captured the imagination of so many, does not feel or act like it was on the losing side – witness the growth of the pro-independence parties, the recent rallies including Scotland's First Minister's tour of the country and the gathering of Scotland's Radical Independence Campaign at the tail end of a historic year.
Yet, I sense that the referendum dust is beginning to settle and we are now entering a new phase in Scottish politics. This article is concerned with how Scotland's radical left moves forward in 2015 and beyond.
Terminology is important here. By 'radical left' – and I do accept that the term 'radical' is somewhat nebulous – I am thinking of all those positioned outside the mainstream parties, including the SNP. I regard myself, reluctantly sometimes, as a part of this broad constituency.
For what it's worth, I still consider myself a socialist, usually out of conviction, but sometimes, to paraphrase the late Christopher Hitchens, because no other label will do. Recently, an old Marxist friend bemoaned the fact that the Radical Independence Campaign had not defined its politics in ideological terms. This I believe, contrary to my Marxist friend, is one of RIC's strengths.
In an age which some political scientists refer to as 'post- ideological', ideological labels are without doubt problematic. For example, many of the people labelled 'left of centre' are quite often, complacently uncritical of the status quo. Rather than a genuine centre-left, they constitute more what Tariq Ali refers to as an 'extreme centre'.
The same can be said for much of what passes as 'social democracy', once understood as re-distribution of wealth coupled with an interventionist state. Today, the most consistent social democrats I know are those who get labelled by others as being on the 'far left'.
The general point I am trying to make is that ideological pigeonholing is problematic. Moreover, I quite enjoy the fact that we live in a political world that evades capture by competing 'isms' and perhaps this is something that Scotland's new radicals ought to embrace.
The referendum has been good for the left. Just how good remains to be seen. There is an argument, and I have heard people prominent in the 'movement' make this point, that radical ideas are now a part of the mainstream. I can see why people say this, but I'm sceptical.
For me, despite the optimism generated, the 'yes' campaign represented what Ralph Miliband said, in describing another context, was a tactical difference within a strategic consensus. That strategic consensus, if it is to have a label, can be broadly defined as neo-liberalism.
'We are not yet done with neo-liberalism' said the late Stuart Hall commenting on the financial crash of 2008. For me, as someone influenced by the Marxist tradition, I find it interesting how the dominant narrative of Scotland's radicals in the twenty first century is the narrative of Scottish nationhood.
Something significant is at work here. It is not the abandonment of socialism for nationalism as often crudely framed, but rather a response to the institutional failures and historic defeats of the traditional working class movement to change society.
Since the late 1980s politics in Scotland has been filtered through the prism of national identity. Of course, inherent in this discourse is some lazy thinking. For example, the tendency to see everything that 'Westminster' does as innately bad implies that there is something inherently good about Scotland. The fact that we Scots no longer vote Tory in significant numbers has led some of us to the conclusion that this is proof that neo-liberalism is an alien ideology imposed on 'us' from elsewhere.
I have heard key people on the left argue that Scottish independence would 'unleash the forces of social democracy', whilst others assert that the Scottish people are ready for socialism – all that is required is finding the correct vehicle. These assertions are problematic for a number of reasons.
Firstly, they ignore the extent to which neo-liberal ideas permeate the upper echelons of Scottish society, from the mainstream parties to our public sector institutions. In regards to the latter, I am thinking about the Scottish Government's obsession with managerialism in education, health and local government or the draconian cuts to budgets in Scotland's thirty two councils.
We also need to think carefully about the ways in which neo-liberal practices permeate public consciousness and behaviour, from mass home ownership to the rise of the consumer society. I often get the impression from listening to the left that neo-liberalism is something that is done to people, which forgets the fact that at root, neo-liberalism involves a complex set of internalised social relationships.
Strategic thinking about the way forward requires a broad discussion about what it is Scotland's radicals stand for. The 2014 RIC conference spelt out clearly, and sometimes obviously, what we are against, and that list is endless.
But I can't help but think that the Scottish left is often trapped in the language and narratives of another era. For example, the constant need to talk about how much we hate Thatcher (I was 12 when she left office!) or 'new' Labour, or to construct our own politics cloaked in a romantic nostalgia for the post-war welfare state.
The 'we know what we are against narrative' can be found on many issues. It leads to a safe politics with a tendency to think in slogans. Take the issue of welfare reform for example. We know that the left is against the 'bedroom tax' or the scandal of ATOS yet the wider arguments around 'workfare' or what universalism means in a world of targeted provision are seldom discussed.
Neither have we spelled out a coherent strategy on job creation, shifting the narrative from employability, a current obsession with the Scottish Government, to decent employment and the role of the state. I am, of course, making a generalisation here, and I do accept that groups such as the Jimmy Reid Foundation and now Common Weal are starting to grapple with these issues.
Returning to more immediate priorities my own view is this: Scotland's radicals need to move beyond the national question and engage in a strategic discussion about how we best develop a radical policy agenda within the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament.
There is a sense that it's only a matter of time before Scotland becomes independent. As someone sceptical of any claims that history is pre-determined, I'm not sure I agree. But I do know this. When compared to history our own lifespans constitute the blink of an eye. The first phase of devolution lasted from 1997 until 2014 and who knows how long the second phase can last.
One way forward might be this – we need to park our current talk of 'yes alliances' and talking up spurious strategies on how we arrive at independence in five years' time. We need to get over Gordon Brown and the so-called Vow, the BBC, and the pre-occupation with 'wiping out the unionists' at the next election. Our goal should be to develop a radical and realistic (the two are compatible) policy agenda which helps to increase the electoral representation of the radical left in the Scottish Parliament in 2016.
This strategy is problematic. My own view is that the constituencies of the Greens and especially the current crop of socialist groups are too narrow to achieve this aim to the full. The argument made by some in the SSP that socialists were excluded from the Smith Commission because the establishment was frightened of them is merely wishful thinking. The sad fact is that the SSP was not invited to Lord Smith's table because it has no parliamentary representation.
In conclusion, I came away from the RIC conference with the nagging thought that social movements are one thing, but they bring with them the danger of creating a lifestyle politics big on opposition but lacking in influence. Furthermore, social movements without democratic structures are always in danger of developing the characteristics of what Gerry Hassan calls a 'soft vanguardism'. The issue Scotland's radicals need to address is the organisational one. If we can resolve that, then I am hopeful that parliamentary representation can follow.
Gary Fraser is a PhD student at Edinburgh University
This article first appeared in the Scottish Left Review
Reality check on the ‘new reality’: Scottish politics after the referendum
The reaction by Yes campaigners to the defeat we experienced in the referendum has genuinely taken me by surprise. There is an old saying that ‘victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan’. I woke up that awful Friday morning on the 19th definitely feeling like an orphan. Before discussing the result with anyone I had taken down the window poster, removed the car sticker and started to think of a life beyond the yes campaign.
I had anticipated that others would experience a similar reaction to this historic defeat and would be planning their gradual retreat from political hyperactivity into a period of quiet cynicism and eventual disengagement. However, for the time being, the opposite is occurring. It seems that the Yessers are not quite ready to give up. The SNP’s membership has doubled to quite spectacular figures. The Greens and the SSP are also reporting thousands of new recruits into their ranks. Social media is buzzing with articles, papers, strategies, boycotts, meetings and planned gatherings. In addition to this, local yes groups, so I am told, continue to meet. The Common Weal project has produced an entire raft of interesting ideas. RIC is in a flurry of excitement – reporting high attendance at branch meetings and a November conference which is apparently so big that it might be impossible to find a suitable venue to house everyone.
Some are arguing that we can have another referendum in six years’ time. Robin McAlpine has already provided a detailed strategy on how we arrive at another date with destiny. Only this time, we win. Meanwhile, a proposal is underway for a Yes Alliance in 2015 to ‘wipe out’ the ‘unionists’ once and for all – no easy task mind you, given that the ‘unionists’ are over 2 million strong and won a majority of support in 28 out of 32 local authorities.
It seems the movement is on high alert, what military commanders call ‘war footing’. How close this is to reality I don’t know - even as I write this, I’m aware that too much time spent on Blogs distorts one’s view of reality.
My own view is that we need to stand still for a moment. Scotland is fast emerging into a new political reality with the sands constantly shifting. We know that the yes campaign, without doubt the most progressive campaign in living Scottish memory, has changed the political face of modern Scotland. Yet, it’s too early to judge the lasting extent of these changes, and any conclusions based alone on what yes campaigners say should be treated with caution.
I am also concerned that the hyperbole of the past few weeks cannot, indeed, will not be sustained and that despite the current buzz, the political, social, economic and psychological effects of this defeat could last a generation. Barely a week after ‘winning’ the British establishment is embroiled in another war in Iraq, in the same week that those on benefits are told that their benefits are to be frozen for two years. Meanwhile, devolution max remains as uncertain and messy as ever. The ‘vow’ looks likely to be a broken one, but then again reaching a quick solution on such a complex array of issues was always problematic. And now that Cameron has opened up the question of English votes on English laws, Britain could be discussing constitutional processes for a very long time.
The nature of yes is also problematic. Hitherto, I have described it as a campaign as opposed to a movement. A movement certainly exists within yes, but its size is probably smaller than many make out. The movement is not the 45% of Scots who voted yes. The Scots faced a binary choice, and one that a majority didn’t want to make – we know that ‘devo max’ or ‘fiscal autonomy’ is the preferred option of the Scottish people. The 85% turnout is more than impressive, especially from those alienated from traditional politics. But again, a note of caution. This was a referendum of historical proportions, and there is no guarantee that people will continue to stay involved in the political process. In fact, defeat could make some even more cynical.
The biggest component part of yes is the SNP, who delivered this historic moment which has transformed our political landscape. For this we owe them a great deal of gratitude. Yet, despite delivering the referendum there was always a number of problems with the SNP. The first one is obvious, namely that the SNP won power which enabled them to deliver a referendum but a vote for the SNP was a protest vote and not a vote for independence per se. The SNP is used by conservative (small C voters) in rural areas to punish the Tories and Lib Dems, and in the central belt they are seen by many as the best way to punish Labour. The SNP has played this game of political chess well, but in so doing they lost sight of the scale of the pre-figurative work that is necessary to win the masses to independence. This counter-hegemonic project, to use a Gramscian term, is unlikely to succeed in a two year campaign, although we came pretty close.
The lack of pre-figurative work, was demonstrated by the fact that certain SNP policies were never popular, even amongst campaigners, most notably the currency union which was a constant headache. If there is one policy that cost us votes it was this one. Jim Sillars, ‘nonsense of stilts’ – perhaps the most memorable one-liner of the campaign, and one that helped our opponents and for that reason was probably best kept private, nonetheless summed up the mess. Too be fair it was the best of a bad option. I firmly believe and did so throughout the campaign that a country that is not confident enough to have its own currency is a country not ready for, or wanting independence.
Other policies were also problematic, for example, their insistence on cutting corporation tax, their lack of clarity on the future of local government and their refusal to engage critically with the nature of Scotland’s relationship to the EU, which looked at times as if they wanted to substitute one democratic deficit for another. I’m not saying that Scotland should leave the EU, but perhaps a list of alternative options could have been provided. Moreover, the constant desire for ‘positivity’ a term I dislike, a tactic inspired from the SNPs 2011 General Election campaign, might with hindsight have been a mistake. I would have liked to have seen more substance mixed in with a more bellicose style – one of the leaflets I handed out actually looked like a travel brochure, whilst their newspapers were an exercise in banality. In the final analysis fear won over hope and perhaps we should have had our own project fear. This is a serious point. It was only towards the end of the campaign, when we played our own fear cards, the biggest being NHS privatisation, that we started to shift the polls in our direction.
The post referendum SNP is going to be an interesting beast to observe and it is this beast which is going to determine the direction of the independence movement in the years ahead. The cynic in me thinks that those 70,000 or so who have joined in recent weeks and are expecting to turn the SNP into a social movement or a quick vehicle to deliver another referendum will soon be disappointed. I suspect that they will discover that the SNP is a top down machine with a professional bureaucracy that has to reach out to broader constituency for its own survival. Nicola Sturgeon has already stated that she will be First Minister for all of Scotland and not just the 45%. This strategy is not about winning the 55% to independence but reassuring them that for the time being, and it could be a long time that the SNP parks the national question. Senior figures in the party are already arguing that it would be ‘crazy’ to go into the 2016 election promising another referendum.
In this context, the idea of a Scottish wide Yes Alliance in 2015 is highly unlikely. For starters, those outside the beast, despite the hype, are not in a strong enough position to demand it. Furthermore, my guess is that any hint of anything involving the word ‘yes’ will undermine the SNP’s strategy of ‘reaching out’ (Sturgeon’s words) to the 55%.
In addition to this, a ‘Yes Alliance’ is fraught with difficulties because the SNP runs the Scottish Government, which in turn controls local government. This means that the SNP will inevitably become embroiled in the messy business of managing austerity which in time will allow their left critics to characterise them as ‘neo-liberal’. Too be fair to the SNP they are in a difficult position. As we said repeatedly throughout the campaign, they are in office not in power and the democracy (or lack of!) argument was the beating heart of the campaign. But there is no easy way out of the trap. The idea of demanding that local authorities set ‘needs budgets’, in effect illegal budgets, is misplaced adventurism; easy slogans to make when standing on the side-lines but simply put, it is not going to happen; besides there is no real demand from communities for such a strategy – witness the poor council election results for those anti-cuts campaigners who advocated such a position.
The SNP could ‘educate’ their constituents on the nature of the democratic deficit and link this to independence. In this scenario, every single councillor could issue a statement saying that they are voting through cuts under duress. But again this is an unlikely scenario. Instead what we are likely to get is a managerial response from SNP politicians about ‘competent governance’ and ‘tough decisions’. I already know of some SNP councils who are discussing ‘buildings rationalisation programmes’, e.g. someone somewhere in a council bureaucracy near you has a list which includes on it the potential closure of your library, your community centre, your leisure centre or any other public building that could be axed.
How we take forward radical politics in a practical way in the new reality is going to be a challenge.
The yes campaign constructed a narrative that the British state was incapable of reform. In this simplistic narrative, everything we disliked could be blamed on Westminster. Now in the post referendum reality, there is a real danger that this narrative could lead us down a blind path to the fatalistic conclusion that no progress can be made without independence. This is a nationalist dead end.
The reason, I believe, why the yes vote was impressive was not because of any set of specific policies - in fact, the policies as previously noted were problematic. The reason why almost half of the Scotland voted yes was that the campaign sparked, especially amongst the poor, a radical imagination, that ‘another Scotland is possible’, even a marginally better one.
Yet, even had we won the extent to which a small country like Scotland could reverse three decades of neo-liberalism, whilst continuing to swim in a neo-liberal sea, was always a difficult proposition to make. The Nordic examples we looked too for inspiration all started from a strong social democratic base which is being constantly challenged by neo-liberalism. The idea that we could start from a neo-liberal base and work our way towards some form of social democracy, never mind socialism, always looked like a mountain that was too big to climb. In reality, what the SNP was offering was a different version of neo-liberalism from that served up by Westminster. I have heard this described in the book ‘The SNP From Protest to Power’ as ‘neo-liberalism with a heart’. It was a variation on a theme or in the words of Ralph Miliband describing another context, a ‘tactical difference within a strategic consensus’. It is in this context that we need to frame the SNPs position on the currency union, their insistence that the Scottish economy would be dominated by the Bank of England, the position on the EU, NATO and the reduction of corporation tax. I still think it was the more progressive option, principally because it opened the door to other possibilities, but we need to remember that on the fundamental issues of the day we were arguing about more about emphasis than we were substance.
I want to end with some thoughts on the future of the left outside of the SNP. This referendum has been good for the radical left, which appears to have finally turned a corner. Where it goes next will be interesting. We also know who the real enemy is in Scotland; Labour. As I have written before the Scottish Labour Party is a vehicle for keeping the poor, and the poorly educated sections of the working class in line. A cursory glance at the yes vote reveals that it was those with the least stakes in the neo-liberal system who voted yes. But the left needs to talk to a broader constituency than just the poor. And it needs to talk that talk in a new language which acknowledges the diversity of modern Scotland.
What form this takes I’m not sure. Common Weal sounds interesting, although slightly manic, but I do like the idea of a ‘think and do tank’ and reading between the lines the narrative has shifted beyond the stale binary socialist versus capitalist narrative, and the obsession with the word ‘class’ that has dominated radical left politics for too long.
RIC may also hold the key to a new left. But if, as I believe, that the independence moment is parked, then RIC will require not just a re-branding but equally a rethinking about its core purpose. I have heard some in the RIC movement say that we need to ‘reach out’ to the poorest communities who voted yes. Okay, ‘reach out’, but what exactly are you offering them? If it’s a wish list of radical left fantasies then I pretty much guarantee you now that this will lead to nowhere.
For me, the real task is to try and increase the number of lefts in the Scottish Parliament in 2016 and this requires serious thought about organisational issues. There are a number of possibilities out there – a Podemos model sounds interesting; but we need to avoid getting too carried away with the politics of what has been described as movementism. This is a politics big on opposition but lacking in influence and all too easily it descends into a life style politics that is exclusive to people who cannot devote their entire lives to politics i.e. most ‘normal’ people. Furthermore, it is quite often based on simplistic analyses and lazy slogans and quickly fizzles out leaving the activists only talking to one another. Despite its claims to be democratic the politics of movementism also contains within its own narrative what Gerry Hassan has referred to as a ‘soft vanguardism’ a point that should be carefully thought over, especially as some will inevitably position themselves for a political career. Nothing wrong in that, but they need to be accountable. I don’t see the point of creating a new party either and I don’t think the existing parties will want that either. If you are a socialist, or consider yourself too left for the SNP, then you ought to join the SSP or the Greens, although an electoral alliance or electoral pact might be worth exploring.
In conclusion, I’m still not sure if we are at the end of something or the beginning of something. I hope it’s the latter. Describing the fall of Communism, the philosopher Claus Offe in a clever, and very post-modern comment, remarked that we had entered a ‘tunnel at the end of the light’. If the light was socialism then we are still crawling around in that tunnel and who knows it might be an endless one, certainly endless in terms of our own life spans. I can live with that. The age of big bang ideological politics is over. This does not mean that change cannot happen only that radical change will need to be thought out in realistic terms. I apologies for ending with an acronym from the lexicon of managerialism but we need change that is SMART, i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and targeted. The referendum contained each of these ingredients and significant sections of our country men and women demanded change.
We need to respond; if we can find the right vehicles, adopt the correct strategies, and develop real policies that can be fought for in the here and now then we can keep the Scottish radical imagination alive.
An Idea whose time has come?
So the referendum is over. Let us pause. Let us consider. This is a moment for the most careful and delicate reflection. We Scots have created, in the last two years, the most extraordinary political movement this ancient nation of ours has ever seen. It has fallen just short of its first objective and so we are now faced with the question - where do we go from here? Perhaps we need to start with first principles, and ask if there are any possibilities we can easily rule out. I think there is one obvious one on which I hope we can all agree.
It Is Never Over
We Scots have been in this game for a very long time. The best part of 1200 years in fact, ever since our country was formed through the historic alliance of the Picts and the Scots. Or perhaps I should say since England was formed, shortly after us. Ever since then our neighbours have been seeking to conquer and subjugate us. They have never been able to do so militarily. Bribing, blackmailing and cajoling us into the union in 1707 has been by far their most successful strategy to date. Even so, in 307 years the union has proved incapable of submerging our Scottish identity beneath some invented 'British' one. Britain is, to quote Salman Rushdie, 'a country insufficiently imagined.' If there is one thing we have learned from all of that history, it is this: it is never over. Last month we had a bad day, but we've had bad days before. We lost a battle, but the war never ends. We will return. So if you were a 'No' supporter, and are in any way tempted to think the 18th of September's result was in some way final, I'm afraid we're going to have to disappoint you. We will never give up, never go away. Why?
"For so long as there shall be but one hundred of us remain alive we will never give consent to subject ourselves to the dominion of the English. For it is not glory, it is not riches, neither is it honour, but it is freedom alone that we fight and contend for, which no honest man will lose but with his life." - Declaration of Arbroath, 1320.
Do not make the mistake of thinking this is somehow no longer relevant in this day and age. It is well over twice as old as the union, but it is every bit as relevant today as it ever was. This is because many of us still take it deadly seriously. Feel ourselves bound by it. And there are a hell of a lot more than a hundred of us. Upwards of 1.6 million in fact. "For so long..." It is a statement in perpetuity. "Never..." Is that clear enough for you? No matter what anyone says, or does, we will fight on. And we will raise our children to do the same. Best everyone understand that now and save us all a lot of time and trouble. It. Is. Never. Over.
A Death In The Family
That's what the morning of the 19th felt like, I know, to many of us. However do not be dismayed. Since then we have licked our wounds, picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and got ready to start all over again. The first thing that was decided, in many cases, was to keep the teams together. All of the facebook groups, pages, websites and, most crucially, grassroots organisations on the ground, will keep going. This is important because it is vital not to lose the extraordinary levels of political engagement the referendum campaign engendered, especially amongst our young people. Let's not teach them, as many of us were taught in our youth, that politics is futile. That is what the forces of reaction want them to believe. Let's keep them involved. Not to do so would be a betrayal, not only of them but of everything we have worked for together for the last two years.
So What Next?
Since the referendum tens of thousands of people have joined the SNP and the other pro-independence parties. This is further evidence that the movement isn't going anywhere but is here to stay. The next electoral test will be the Westminster General Election next year. There is a considerable appetite amongst grassroots 'Yes' activists, particularly those in the Labour heartland areas which returned the highest 'Yes' votes, to take this opportunity of punishing the parties (and politicians) which behaved so disreputably in the campaign. It's not just payback though. It's another chance to show those young people that participation in politics can make a difference. We are already seeing the formation of a 'YES Alliance,' intended to be a co-ordinating movement for all the local 'Yes' groups, all the pro-independence political parties and the many independent indy supporters and activists who have been a part of the campaign up to this point.
What Kind Of Movement Will This 'YES Alliance' Be?
So far there seem to be two schools of thought regarding how the national movement should proceed from here. Both have focused on next year's Westminster election. One which has been mentioned a lot is that we should all get behind the SNP, as the largest pro-indy party, in the hope of securing a majority of WM seats at that election. The other proposes that the alliance should take a more prominent role in co-ordinating and ensuring that the SNP and other pro-indy parties and independents do not end up fighting each other, thereby splitting the pro-Yes vote. I have been an advocate of such a broad movement, even prior to the referendum itself. Had we been successful, I argued that the nation would be best served by as many as possible of us coming together, at least initially, to guide us to independence and accomplish those things on which we could all agree. Now, given the outcome of the referendum, I believe it is even more imperative that we stand together. The movement in the lead up to the referendum was so exciting precisely because it was so broadly-based, because we were all united to a common purpose. We must not lose that now.
There is still much we can accomplish. The time for parties to campaign on their differences will be in the 2016 Scottish elections. Holyrood has PR (proportional representation), which allows for a diversity of views to be represented. That is a good and healthy thing. However the point we need to make, in the first-past-the-post Westminster elections, is that our movement has not gone away and is still capable of uniting for our common goal. This means ensuring the maximum chance of victory for pro-indy candidates in all constituencies. Now while it may be true that the SNP has the best chance in the majority of seats, this will not be the case in all seats. There are some where I know the Greens believe they are better placed, and there are some in which others may stand the best chance. I am thinking, for instance, of places like my own home town of Clydebank. Let me take a moment to say a few words about Clydebank. As some may be aware I returned from a lengthy exile in Australia in order to take part in the referendum campaign. I returned to the town I was brought up in. When the referendum was first announced I thought it might be difficult for us to prevail in such places, because they constituted the Scottish Labour heartland. I was wrong.
My Home Town, 'Yes' Central
Clydebank has a proud radical history. It was once, of course, a shipbuilding town. The shipbuilding town, home of the legendary John Brown's yard, builder of the greatest liners of the 20th Century. The famous rent strikes of the 1920s made it the epicentre of 'Red Clydeside.' The UCS work-in cemented that status. By the time I was growing up there in the 60s and 70s this had, by a process of evolution, made it one of the safest Labour seats in Scotland. However, by the time I arrived home it had become clear that, despite the trenchant opposition of the Labour Party, Clydebank was going to deliver a resounding 'Yes' vote. And this was indeed borne out by the result. West Dunbartonshire was, as you're probably aware, one of the four council districts that returned a 'Yes' vote, 54%. The town of Clydebank itself however was more like 65-70%. How had it come to this? Well, this photograph I took on the eve of the referendum may offer one clue:
A lot of people, from many different places, liked the photograph. I like it. I was lucky with the light of course, and the Titan crane is an iconic image of the town. Clydebank people liked it too, but for them it was also tinged with great sadness. The reason for that sadness is that it's a photograph I could never have taken when I last lived in the town. Not because of what's in it, but because of what's not in it - the shipyard. The shipyard which gave birth to Clydebank! Now it's 'the famous Titan crane,' but when I was growing up it was just one of a forest of cranes. One of the former operators told me last year that to him and his colleagues it was simply 'Crane Number 6.' It wasn't even the tallest, several others reached higher to dominate the skyline. Even so, I couldn't have photographed them from that vantage point, because the southern side of the town's main street would have been in the way. All of that has gone now, the heart of the place torn out, leaving just that single memorial to a riverside that was alive with the sound of an industry that is now dead and gone. When the opponents of independence gravely warned that a 'Yes' vote would be the death of shipbuilding on the Clyde the response from Clydebank was a hollow laugh. "What shipbuilding?"
A New Hope
However, despite all of that, what I found on returning to my home town was not despair, not a community crushed by the weight of its sadness and its loss. I found a people bloodied but unbowed, a spirit undaunted, and the flame of hope and optimism kindled anew. A sense of unity and common purpose, unknown since the UCS days, was abroad once again. It was the 'Yes' campaign that had united people and given them that hope. And how was this achieved? By 'Yes Clydebank' being a broadly-based, non-party political movement of ordinary Bankies! Not party activists, real people. Labour bussed in their people to put up posters and the like, but they couldn't compete with all the posters, stickers, signs and Saltires put up by the townspeople in their own windows, in their gardens, on their cars, and anywhere they could find to put them. The party animals returned on referendum day to hand out leaflets at the polling stations, but were greatly outnumbered by the local campaigners who of course, being locals, knew many of the voters they were canvassing. The adults proudly took and wore the proffered 'Yes' stickers, and their kids grabbed the balloons as quickly as they could be supplied. From 7am when people were waiting as the doors opened, right through until 10 when they closed there was hope and optimism and even joy in the air.
After the polls closed many of us repaired to the Lucky Break snooker club, unofficial headquarters of the 'Yes' campaign, to watch the results come in. I hadn't had a chance to eat until then, so by the time I arrived the place was already packed. And what an atmosphere! Hundreds of people had packed the place, which occupies the building that was once the Woolworths store in our former high street. There was singing and dancing, flags were being waved, it was genuinely exciting and exhilarating. And all this for a vote, an exercise in democracy! I have never known anything like it in my entire life. I have literally nothing to compare it to. It was unique. You could never get such a thing for the sake of a political party, no matter how progressive or honourable it might be. This was people power, of a kind my generation, and those younger than mine, have only ever glimpsed rarely, on our TV screens, from far away places.
And that is why I am urging you, wherever your political sympathies may lie, please don't throw that away! We must not return to politics as usual. We must keep that spirit alive. It is bigger than any party, bigger than any politician. We must not have Yes parties and Yes supporters standing against one another in the Westminster General Election. We must stay united, and we must do that by building on the grassroots organisations like 'Yes Clydebank' that have been the great success of the campaign. By standing together, by speaking as one next year. That is the way to nurture this movement, this thing of beauty we have created, and that is the way to send the strongest, loudest, clearest message possible to Westminster, by ensuring a strong 'Yes' majority and a rout of the unionist parties all over this land.
Let's build this Yes Alliance, build it out of those grassroots movements that energised so many people who have never been involved in politics before, and then let's give it a victory!
Derek Stewart MacPherson
The Point marks 21 days to go till the referendum with a magnificent seven appeals to undecided voters from both rank-and-file activists and leading figures in the YES movement.
Colin Fox is national co-spokesperson of the Scottish Socialist Party and sits on the YES advisory board.
With voting now underway in the Independence Referendum – the first postal votes went out this week - there can be no doubt the ‘Yes’ campaign has engaged the people of Scotland on this issue in a way never seen before.
The last two years have seen Scots debate crucial political questions to an unprecedented extent. The level of political participation has been extraordinary and that is down to the ‘Yes’ side. ‘Better Together’ would rather this entire discussion was not taking place.
Sitting on the ‘Yes Scotland’ Advisory Board I am privileged to observe this phenomenal grassroots movement with hundreds of energised and motivated local groups up close.
Despite seventy polls over the past 2 years predicting a No vote on September 18th the result hangs in the balance because there are so many unknown quantities, not least the level of turnout in Scotland’s huge working class communities.
The received wisdom has it that the higher the turnout the better it is for a Yes vote. Both sides expect 80% of voters to cast their ballots. The turnout in Holyrood elections is usually around 55%.
The Scottish Socialist Party has been the standard bearer of the left in the Independence movement for the past 16 years. Together with the SNP and the Greens we founded the Scottish Independence Convention in 2005. Our case for an independent socialist Scotland has added an important political dimension to ‘Yes Scotland’ and helped to build the biggest grassroots movement this country has ever seen.
The socialist case for ‘Yes’ is simple and clear. Working class people will be better off economically, socially and politically. An Independent Scotland could be the world’s 14th richest country [measured by GDP per capita]. We would finally be able to address those appalling social problems Westminster ignores; the child poverty, fuel poverty, food banks and chronic shortage of affordable homes.
And there is a profoundly important democratic question at the heart of this debate. Britain is not a country. It is that most unusual phenomenon in the world today, a political union of 4 countries. Scotland on the other hand is a country. We are a nation. We are not a region or a province of anywhere else. We are therefore just as entitled to self-determination as any of the world’s other 270 nations.
Supporting Scotland’s democratic right to self-determination doesn’t therefore make you a Scottish nationalist. It makes you a democrat. The SSP stands in the same democratic socialist tradition as the ‘Red Clydeside’ leader John Maclean and Edinburgh’s James Connolly executed by the British for his part in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916.
A Yes vote brings forward great opportunities for working class people. The relative balance of political forces is far more favourable to Scotland’s social democrat and socialist ‘centre of gravity’ than the ‘neo-liberal, warmongering consensus predominant at Westminster.
The ‘No’ side says, in effect, that ‘ this is as good as it gets’. ‘Scotland gets the best of all worlds. We have a strong Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and vital influence at UK level via Westminster’. But this is not true. We don’t have a strong Parliament at Holyrood. My daily experience as an SSP MSP from 2003-2007 was to be told what I couldn’t talk about by the Presiding Officer. He would rule ‘you cant talk about unemployment and under-employment in here….you can’t talk about the worst anti-union laws in the whole of Europe in here…. you can’t talk about pensions in here….or the national minimum wage…or Iraq…or Trident. Those are matters reserved to Westminster.’
And if we had ‘vital influence at Westminster’ as Alistair Darling suggests we would not have had Scottish soldiers killed in Iraq, or the bedroom tax imposed upon us against our will, or Trident, or the privatisation of the Royal Mail, or the poll tax before that.
Of course none of the economic, social or political advances inherent in the Yes vote will happen automatically. They will need to be fought for. But a ‘Yes’ vote represents a huge political opportunity to advance the left of centre, progressive, social democratic and socialist vision the majority of Scots want to see. For the socialist movement independence is about profound change. A ‘Yes’ vote unleashes powerful forces demanding change.
The SNP leadership has sought to convey the message to ‘middle Scotland’ that independence is nothing to be alarmed about, that they will preserve their way of life and their privileges. ‘We will keep the pound, keep the Queen, remain in NATO, keep the BBC, maintain the hegemony of finance capital.’ And in his proposal to assemble ‘Team Scotland’ Alex Salmond aims to pack the negotiations with ‘pro-business’ voices from the SNP and the ‘No’ camp. Needless to say he has offered no place to the SSP or the Greens despite our crucial role in ‘YES Scotland’.
Despite Salmond’s wishes the left is well placed to influence those negotiations. If we can mobilise those huge new political forces energised by the ‘Yes’ campaign we can ensure all the promises of ‘prosperity, fairness and democracy’ made to the working class majority are delivered. For whilst I have no doubt the corporations will aim to pressurise the SNP after September 18th, we on the left can bring our own pressure to bear by mobilising those working class forces who will have delivered victory in the Referendum itself.