Saturday, 16 November 2013

Glasgow versus Sarwar: Bedroom Tax Protests Rock Labour

Despite the refusal of the BBC and STV to cover it, there has been a huge online reaction to the Scottish Socialist Party's protest against the Timid Ten, the group of Scottish Labour MPs who made the decision not to vote against the vile Bedroom Tax on Tuesday night. 

The protest, called on Thursday evening and subsequently publicised on social media, was quickly picked up by websites such as Newsnet Scotland and Wings Over Scotland, and despite less than 24 hours notice for a demonstration on a weekday afternoon, attracted more than forty people. 

It led to huge attention as the people of Glasgow rose up in fury at the utter betrayal of Labour MPs. 

On Friday afternoon, Anas Sarwar was the target. There are another nine Scottish Labour MPs who chose to retain the Bedroom Tax. As the movement against the Bedroom Tax grows organically, it's not for me to say who may be next for protest. It might be Pamela Nash, who claimed she was unable to vote to abolish the Bedroom Tax as she was at a conference in Vienna. It has subsequently emerged that the conference ended a full thirty-one hours before the vital division. 

This afternoon, with that development in mind, and in receipt of certain information, I asked Ms Nash:

Sadly, Ms Nash did not believe the question important enough to spend her time answering: just as she believed her all-expenses-paid soirĂ©e in beautiful Vienna wasn't important enough to leave to vote to abolish the Bedroom Tax. 

So, it might be Pamela we target next. I hope it doesn't ruin her busy social life, enjoyed at public expense whilst her constituents in Airdrie and Shotts struggle to find the money to pay for the Bedroom Tax she chose to keep in place. 

It might not be Pamela Nash. We might go back to visit Anas Sarwar. He left his office staff to sit in a locked office while he hid from his constituents. 

Maybe we'll target Jim Murphy. It might be any of the Timid Ten. We won't be giving them any warning: but let me make this clear: they are Bedroom Tax enablers. They are Bedroom Taxers. They will be hounded until they answer our questions: 

1) What event did you believe to be more important than abolishing the Bedroom Tax?
2) Which Coalition MP did you "pair" with?

As part of my election campaign in Shettleston, I am committed to utter transparency. I was asked this evening to submit articles to two news outlets. I publish them in full below, and apologise in advance for any repetition in the articles.
The protest at Anas Sarwar's office was called with less than 24 hours notice, and during the day on a weekday when people would be working or picking kids up from school.

Despite that, more than forty people came to Tradeston to demonstrate outside his office, including several constituents, who were furious to find that he had hidden from his scheduled, advertised surgery.

There was a deep sense of anger at his actions in abstaining on the vote to abolish the Bedroom Tax, particularly as he has been one of the more vocal MPs on the issue. It's difficult to come to any conclusion other than that he sees it as in his best interests for the 2015 election to have the Bedroom Tax still in place, so he can "oppose" it.

While the protest was called by the SSP, it was attended by a wide range of people, from the SSP, SNP, ex-Labour members, and people of no party affiliation. It was particularly good to see dozens of drivers passing by slowing down to toot their horns in support of our demonstration, and people walking past the demonstration wishing us well.

While Sarwar hid, he left his office staff to respond to the demonstration from inside their locked office, keeping constituents out. Phone calls went unanswered as he continued to leave his constituents in the dark about the motivations for abstention.

The Bedroom Tax, in some ways, is more brutal than even the Poll Tax, attacking the poorest and most vulnerable. It speaks volumes that this privately-educated, hereditary MP doesn't see it as important enough to turn up to a workplace for which we pay him over £100k a year in salary and "expenses" to attend.

It seems that Mr Sarwar is content to use the Bedroom Tax and its victims as a political football, but when it comes to the crunch, he doesn't see it as important enough to disrupt his social life to vote against it.

People are being evicted in Glasgow. He's nowhere to be seen.

The SSP is campaigning for a no evictions policy. Anas won't even support that.

His constituents deserve answers. Instead, Sarwar is in hiding.

As long as these answers are not forthcoming, we'll be there each week to demand them. He can't hide forever.

Glasgow needs MPs to stand up for us. Anas, and the rest of the Timid Ten, failed. The Bedroom Tax would have been gone if they and their Labour colleagues had turned up to vote.

They betrayed us. We'll remember that

On Tuesday night, I sat in shock watching the Labour motion to abolish the Bedroom Tax fall by 26 votes while 47 Labour MPs, including fully a quarter of all Scottish Labour MPs - the Timid Ten - failed to show up.
One of those MPs was my MP, the privately-educated hereditary MP for Glasgow Central, Anas Sarwar. Only weeks ago, he brandished on live TV a "Bill" to abolish the effects of the Bedroom Tax.
I tried to phone Mr Sarwar to ask what was more important than voting to abolish the Bedroom Tax, a cruel and iniquitous attack on the poorest and most vulnerable in society, with the disabled disproportionately affected. There was no answer from his office. I then tweeted him and was again ignored.
So, yesterday, furious at his betrayal, I called a protest outside his office in Tradeston. In the middle of the afternoon of a working day, with only a day notice, over 40 people - SSP, SNP, ex Labour and people of no affiliation - showed up to lambast Sarwar. 
I was delighted to see drivers passing tooting their horns in support, and pedestrians giving us their best wishes. People are utterly raging about this attack on the poor.
Despite this being a scheduled, advertised surgery, Sarwar refused to show. He hid away, leaving his office staff to face both the protest and constituents. The locked doors kept constituents out, and phone calls went unanswered.
It is difficult to escape the view that Sarwar sees the Bedroom Tax not as a crime, but as an opportunity for the next election. Would it suit Sarwar more to have it abolished this week, or to use its victims as a political football in two years?
This is Labour's week of shame. More than anyone else, Labour's deputy leader, silent as to his motives for abstaining, silent as to where he was, silent as to who he was paired with, holds the responsibility for Glaswegians still having the Bedroom Tax today.
Sarwar hid this week. He can't hide forever. We'll be back. He, and the rest of the Timid Ten, will bitterly regret their treachery.

The Coalition brought in the Bedroom Tax. Labour support the Bedroom Tax. The only way to get rid of it is to rise up, united, as one people. 

And the only credible alternative to the Bedroom Tax is a vote to restore independence in September, and a vote for a Scottish Socialist Party government in the subsequent election. 

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

East End Carers Abandoned by Labour Council

I spent this morning in the company of carers and service users in a cafe in the Parkhead district of the East End of Glasgow. 

It was an enjoyable morning speaking to strong, campaigning women who clearly cared deeply about their families, and were seething with rage at the lack of support they have received in recent years from Glasgow City Council. 

Obviously I, like most other people in Glasgow, had looked on in horror as the Labour Party callously ordered the demolition of the Accord Centre, a much-loved day centre on the Springfield Road for people with learning disabilities in the East End in order to build a car park. 

Labour promised that the demolished centre would be replaced by a brand new centre locally, but as part of what I learned today was a continued attack on disabled people's services in the city, they reneged on that promise, leaving these often vulnerable people without any day care centre. 

This is in pursuit of personalisation, where the Council want to care for vulnerable people within the community at large. This is an absolutely laudable aim, but it can't be a stand-alone service: it must be backed up with day centres to avoid social exclusion, and by respite care to allow dedicated carers some breathing space. Service users are now being restricted to six hours per week and/or care to the value of £8.000 per annum. This simply isn't good enough.

They have now introduced the most punitive penalties on people with learning difficulties of almost any local authority in the European Union. For instance, I learned today that for providing any service for people with learning disabilities, the Council charges a minimum of £26, which has to be found from their benefits. 

This isn't like charging a 30-year-old man with a broken leg for a nurse to come round and change his cast: this is taking a substantial percentage of benefit every week from people with learning difficulties from the day they leave school until they reach retirement age, to provide a service which is going to be needed every week of every year of their life. 

People with learning disabilities are being used as a cash cow by Glasgow City Council. 

One of the service users with whom I spoke today said that all she wanted was a new centre, as promised. She had gone to the Accord Centre regularly, but now that it is closed, she badly misses the many friends she had made at the Accord, now seeing them only once a week. 

Imagine if you were told you could only interact with your friends once a week? You'd be horrified. So why, then, is it right for the Council to impose that isolation and exclusion on people simply because they have learning disabilities and need a little bit of support? 

Shettleston is a ward which is having war waged on its people by a council run by a party machine and a political class which operates at a complete disconnect from local people. 

It is a ward ill-served by the Labour Party diverting over half a million pounds of money intended for the regeneration of the local area into the pocket of one of their chums, Ronnie Saez, in a deal approved by three Glasgow Labour Party councillors.

And it is a ward which is to host the Commonwealth Games next year, an event which will allow the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council to bask in the reflected glory of athletic achievement, and which will benefit the people of Shettleston not one iota. 

One of the complaints about the contempt with which the Council is treating the residents of the local area which I received today was that the warm pool used by children at Tollcross Swimming Baths has been shut to prepare for the Commonwealth Games. 

I contacted Tollcross Swimming Baths today to confirm when it would reopen, and was told that it wouldn't be until at least 6. January, and that it may not reopen until after the 14-day Commonwealth Games. 

A year-long exclusion for local children and pensioners from their local pool in order to host a two week long sporting extravaganza, from which there will come no significant number of jobs for local people, nor even a free ticket to any event for local people. 

If a mother wants to take her two children swimming, therefore, she will have to do so in Easterhouse or the Gorbals, needing two buses. That's an extra £4 on the bus, plus £1,50 each for the two kids. An extra £7 for a swim before you even get your toes wet (and to get your toes wet, you'll be paying another exorbitant admission fee). 

Why shouldn't local people get free use of the facilities built for the Commonwealth Games? With £600.000.000 of our money spent on the event, surely local people should be rewarded, and not punished, for their hospitality. 

Instead, all that's been done is a bit of tarmac and paving on the London Road Zil lane (with potholes aplenty still engulfing cars and ankles alike on the Shettleston Road, to which few, if any of the visiting dignitaries and athletes will be invited to visit) while local residents get services slashed and withdrawn; victims of an event sponsored by ATOS, the very company which is telling people with terminal cancer that they are perfectly fit for full-time work. 

It seems that everyone is abandoning the East End. Shops are closing in the Forge because they can't pay the going rate for rent, leaving ugly gaps in the local area, which are being filled by pawnshops, pound shops and gambling dens. It's inconceivable that the Council would allow this to happen to St Enoch or Buchanan Galleries, so why should it happen to Shettleston or Govan? 

Labour have had half a century of running this city, and there's still dog shit dotting the streets like landmines. Their "Landscape Design Manager" let slip yesterday that she is charging ratepayers £10.000 per year to have a guy with a big stick knocking a cone off a statue's head. Perhaps that money could be better diverted to an area which has been so abandoned by Glasgow City Council and the world in general over the years that it now doesn't have a single bank, but has just had to open a foodbank.

The people I met today are inspiration people, battling for their families. 

They deserve so much better than what they're getting.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Why I Wear a White Poppy

It's that time of year again. This month sees the 95th anniversary of the Armistice which ended the Great War, the most efficient and industrialised slaughter of human beings for imperial ambition ever seen up until that point. 

In France, the fashion is to wear a bright blue cornflower to convey respects to the dead. 

In Scotland, for many years, the fashion was to wear an Earl Haig red poppy, named for the incompetent butcher who sent hundreds of thousands of working-class conscripts to their deaths on the Western Front. 

Recently, many have become uncomfortable with the militarisation of the red poppy symbol, and the pressure placed on people to wear it. It has been transmogrified into a symbol of support for the current wars; unlike the war against fascism, the only purpose of which are to act as a subservient implementer of American foreign policy in countries to which they have never been invited, and which have inevitably seen both atrocities committed against the civilian populations and Scottish soldiers killed at the side of dusty desert roads.

The slogan of the Poppy Appeal this year isn't one of commemorating the dead of past wars, or the bravery of those who fought fascism. It is Shoulder to Shoulder with all Who Serve". That isn't commemorating the men and women who saved the world from HItlerism in the 1940s: it's about supporting the military - and, by extension, its current wars - of here and now.

So with the red poppy hijacked, what of us who wish to commemorate the slaughter of war, not celebrate it; who mourn all of the victims of all wars, not just "ours"; who seek an end to war, not just to "support our troops" regardless of their behaviour?

The Peace Pledge Union's white poppy is my lapel badge of choice in the second week in November. 

The white poppy was first proposed in 1926 in an attempt, even back then at the height of Empire, to decouple the commemoration of the Armistice from a veneration of militarism. The first such poppies finally appeared in 1933 in an attempt to challenge the rush to war, and to challenge the glorification of the bloody slaughter of the trenches less than two decades earlier. 

A white poppy is a pledge to challenge the culture of militarism so prevalent in the United Kingdom today. To recognise that these working-class kids are often economic conscripts, forced into the armed forces against their better judgement because the governing class have destroyed jobs and industries in their towns: children - actual children, too young to vote, too young to marry - from Paisley, Portsmouth, Prestatyn, and Portadown have British Army recruiting officers coming into their schoolhouses and extolling the virtues of the "adventure". 

These kids, with no other glimmer of hope in a destroyed economy, are forced in all but name to "join up". They aren't told of the dangers that await them. They aren't told that there is a pretty decent chance they'll be coming back in a metal box in the hold of a cargo plane, covered by a Union Jack, their mother weeping as the box is carried off the plane, her son or daughter's life ended in the service of the United States of America. 

They aren't told of the horrors that infest the mind of those who've been sent to fight and kill for a governing class. They aren't told that it's so difficult to return to society after living and breathing violence and death for so long that two thousand of their comrades are living rough in Scotland alone. 

So for the economic conscripts, forced to fight for a cause they don't understand for a country that isn't theirs and in a country they can't find on a map, I wear the white poppy. 

Instead of the black centre of the red poppy which read HAIG FUND, the centre of the white poppy cries out the simple plea "peace", and previously "no more war". Margaret Thatcher had "deep distaste" for the symbol, recognising that an acknowledgement of the horrors of war would affect the success of the military-industrial complex of which she was such a devoted fan. 

More importantly, the white poppy, as well as emphasising pacifism and opposition to war, represents things that the military equivalent cannot. It represents commemoration of those conscript boys who, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, were murdered at dawn in a French battlefield by their "own" side. 

It commemorates the hundreds of thousands of innocents slaughtered in the bloodbath of Iraq and Afghanistan in a way that donating money to the participants of only one side never can. 

We should be saddened at every death in combat, whether it's a family in Kabul murdered by occupation forces, or a wee boy from Govan or Tollcross or Maryhill who never got the chance to live because he was seduced by the false promises of the officer class into an illegal war (as in Iraq) or a morally repugnant adventure (as in Afghanistan). But that sadness shouldn't be used to continually justify and glorify war, and in a society which is constantly being urged to see soldiers as "heroes", that is what's happening. 

I wear a white poppy instead of a red poppy because I want to commemorate the victims of war. I don't want to celebrate it. I want to demand peace, not celebrate the deeds of, to pick one at random, the Parachute Regiment. I take inspiration in this from John Maclean, the great Glasgow socialist who opposed equally the slaughter of German workers at the behest of their ruling class and the slaughter of Scottish workers at the behest of ours. And all for a war which had the single aim of deciding who would be allowed to exploit human beings across the world in their Empire. 

And isn't it a bloody disgrace that the British government is happy to send these working-class kids to be mutilated in the service of the American Republican Party, and when they come back from war, it has to be a charity that supports them?

As Maclean said, it is our business to throw off the patriotism and nationalism and to develop instead a "class patriotism", uniting Scottish workers, Irish worker, German workers, French workers, refusing to murder each other in the cause of global capitalism. 

I'm sure that if Maclean was alive today, he would be sickened by the spectacle, almost a century after the start of the Great War, the War to End all Wars, of working-class British kids are out killing working-class Afghan kids at the behest of the American Republican Party and the millionaire war-criminal Tony Blair. 

That's why I'm proud to wear a white poppy.