Thursday, 30 July 2015

Sheridan and the Left

I found Mark Scott's article on the Left's chances of progress in May's general election intriguing, well-written, well-meaning, and entirely wrong in terms of Realpolitik and on matters of fact. 

I was involved at the heart of Socialist politics in Scotland for some years, serving in the collective leadership of the Scottish Socialist party between 2014 and 2015, and standing for election as a Socialist candidate in the East End of Glasgow, so perhaps I can be of some assistance in clarifying some of Mark's conclusions which, as he says, have been gleaned through watching from afar. 

Firstly, he correctly observes that any electoral alliance with the Scottish Green party is a non-starter. This is not because such an alliance would be electorally unsuccessful, but because the Greens have calculated that their chances of success are better without the baggage of Scotland's socialist parties.

Furthermore, while the Greens, as a party, support independence and were a valued part of the Yes campaign, there is a strong Unionist undercurrent in the party. Former leader, Robin Harper campaigned actively for a No vote, while between a third and 40% of the membership backed the Unionists. In many constituencies, the local Greeens refused to campaign for a Yes vote.

In the run-up to the 2014 European election, the Greens and Socialists had talks about a Red-Green alliance. The Greens vision of this was a Green party candidate, with Socialists delivering their leaflets. There was no consideration, on their side, given to any sort of candidate selection process. It is my opinion that the Greens negotiated in bad faith, stringing the Socialist party along to ensure that it would be too late for the Socialists to get their act together and stand a candidate. Ultimately, the Greens, without Socialist support, fell short, resulting in the election of a fascist MEP in the final slot. 

However, that is water under the bridge, albeit that my understanding is now that the Socialist leadership would be wary in the extreme of conducting such negotiations with the Greens again. And in the short term, the Greens don't need it - opinion polling has them winning up to ten MSPs in May and potentially becoming at least the fourth, and possibly the third, party.

Should the SNP fall short of a majority, they would be the likeliest candidate for a coalition partner, with excellent, dedicated minds in Government. This dilution of SNP hegemony would be a most positive development in Scottish politics - majority government invariably produces poor government, and insular decision-making. 

Much more important, though, is the latest in a series of siren calls for the inclusion of "Solidarity" in any Left electoral alliance. 

Mark states that if the party was excluded from the alliance, there will be the same old vote split. Let us be clear on the understanding, here. Solidarity does not need to stand in this election. If it wanted to avoid splitting the Left vote, it is at perfect liberty to stand down. It is completely at liberty to seek an agreement on standing in some areas in return for standing down in others. 

But Solidarity is not interested in that. Why? Because their raison d'ĂȘtre is to split the Socialist vote. Tommy Sheridan, the perjurer and misogynist who rules the party, was quite explicit - on the front page of that renowned friend of Independence and the Workers, the Daily Record - that his political motivation was to "destroy" the "scabs" of the Socialist party. 

The exclusion of Tommy Sheridan from the mainstream radical Left is not a "personal vendetta". It is because the guiding force of Socialism in Scotland must be to treat all of the children of the nation with equal dignity and respect. If that is not our crusade, then what is? 

The Socialist movement in Scotland is responsible for, and has been left badly wanting in the past in, providing a safe space for women to take part in politics. It is not enough to tolerate women. 

We must be a progressive, feminist movement, not just grudgingly open to, but actively seeking to promote, women in politics. 

A space in which Tommy Sheridan is present cannot be a safe space for women. Because of Tommy Sheridan's actions in using his position of leadership to achieve sexual dominance over young women for his gratification; because of the behaviour of Tommy Sheridan in causing a situation in which a woman was cross-examined about her most intimate relationships in the High Court in front of the global media, Mr Sheridan disqualified himself from access to any movement or organisation which seems to be a safe space for women. 

I bow to none in my admiration for Tommy Sheridan's oratorical skills. He is a fine public speaker. He can rouse a crowd like no other man in Scottish politics. But if we, as a movement, disregard his treatment of women because of his talent as a speaker, then what we do is to prioritise what he can do for us over the damage that his presence will cause those who have suffered at his hands. 

Mr Sheridan has divided every movement of which he has been a part. He took the most successful Socialist movement in Scotland in generations to a husk. He divided the anti-Bedroom Tax movement, inveigling himself into it and splitting it. On being refused access to the Yes campaign, he sought to split that by launching his own rival pro-Independence campaign, Hope Over Fear. 

When the SNP won't give him a platform, when the Left Project, Radical Independence, Yes Scotland and the Scottish Socialists won't countenance his involvement, isn't that a clue that the cordon sanitaire isn't a failure on the part of 99% of the mainstream, but of failures of Mr Sheridan's bevahiour?

The Left in Scotland has many structural and systemic problems which stop us from gaining the influence Scotland's working class needs us to have. A lack of money, a lack of direction and leadership, a lack of trust internally, and a carefully-forstered division by the enemies of the working-class in infiltrating Socialist movements in Scotland with the intent - successfully - that we speak within ourselves rather than to those who have no voice and desperately need us to be their voice are all amongst them. 

The inclusion of a misogynist and criminal who leads a tiny party which has never won a seat in any election ever is not a reason, much less the reason, for our continued failure and irrelevance. 

We have much to discuss, and we must discuss our future in a comradely fashion, always with the goal of representing our communities and rising with our class out of penury and poverty.

But Tommy Sheridan cannot be party to that discussion. We can have unity, or Mr Sheridan. We can provide a safe space for all members of our society, or we can have Mr Sheridan. But we cannot have both. The circle cannot be squared.

If Mr Sheridan wishes to assist the workers of Scotland in throwing off our shackles, the best thing he could do would be to absent himself from the public discouse and the public consciousness. His time has been and gone. 

His treatment of women renders him unsuitable to participate in our great class struggle. He is a distraction. A fine orator, and a wasted talent. But the fault is Mr Sheridan's. 

He must recognise the damage he has done, and he should atone for it. 

And for those who will inevitably talk about forgiveness and second chances: its not for me, or for anyone else other than those he abused and traduced, to forgive the man. But surely, to win that forgiveness, he must first show at least the smallest degree of contrition for his actions. 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Hours after Sewel quits, Dugdale embroiled in "lie" scandal

A matter of hours after Scottish Labour peer John Sewel was forced to resign after being photographed snorting cocaine from a prostitute's James Kellys, Scottish Labour is embroiled in scandal once more.

On the 14th of June, comedy "leadership" candidate and part-time Daily Mail columnist, Kezia Dugdal told Scots that disgraced Scottish Labour election candidate Ian Smart had been suspended from the party after a series series series of racist rants on the micro-blogging site Twitter.
  Tonight, Mr Smart's blog states that he has a vote in the Labour leadership election.

Either Dugdale or Smart is lying. 

If it is Dugdale, can someone exposed as an outright glib and shameless liar continue as an MSP?

Monday, 27 July 2015

Reassurance and retrenchment

Buoyed by the success of the tactic in May's Westminster election, the Unionists are already fighting next May's Scottish general election on the scaremongering tactic of "Vote SNP; get another referendum". 

This tactic is designed to put the National party on the spot. Admit to a second referendum, and it'll scare SNP-voting No voters off, goes the thinking. Deny it, and put Yes voters off the Nationalists in enough numbers that it splits the Yes vote and allows Labour through the middle to deny a pro-independence majority.

As far as I can tell, there is one relatively simple way for the SNP to defeat this tactic. In its manifesto, a promise: "the people of Scotland gave their opinion on the Constitutional settlement in September 2014. We respect that decision. Should this party win a majority, there will be no referendum on independence called by the Scottish Government, under any circumstances, in the Fifth Parliament. However, should there be a material change in circumstances provoked by the actions of the British government, this Government will resign, and will oppose any alternative government. If, in accordance with the Scotland Act, this leads to early elections to the Sixth Parliament, we reserve the right to campaign in that election on a platform of holding a new referendum to take into account the changed circumstances".

Friday, 10 July 2015

Labour's extinction event

North Lanarkshire is the birthplace of J. Keir Hardie, but more so than that is regarded as the cradle of the Labour party itself. 

Last night, voters there sent the clearest signal yet that the end of the road has been reached for Scottish Labour, the Unionist party. 

In 1990, the SDP - like Scottish Labour, a small gang of right-wingers who had publicly turned their backs on socialism and the people to disastrous effect - dissolved itself after an humiliating by-election defeat in Bootle where they came behind the Monster Raving Loony party. Bootle, in Merseyside at the height of Conservatism, was fertile ground for the SDP - but the campaign was a disaster.

What similarities to 2015. 

Thorniewood - a solid little community in the former constituency of late Labour leader John Smith - is the most fertile of fertile territories for Scottish Labour. 

The day after the first Conservative budget in two decades systematically hammered communities like Thorniewood, and with the National party in its ninth year of government, the going should have been great for Scottish Labour - even more so with no Liberal candidate. This seat had a seventy per cent first preference vote for Scottish Labour back in 2012, before the referendum campaign. It is the sort of seat where Scottish Labour traditionally install a lumpen, whey-faced nonentity to sit for the rest of his life, acting loyally on the party's instructions and holding no autonomous views of his own. 

But this is post-referendum Scotland, and this is a Scottish Labour party on the verge of extinction. 

So while Labour activists were strutting around polling stations on the day telling anyone who would listen that they would "walk" the seat, the voters were thinking and acting differently. 

While the former provost of Cumbernauld was trying to fight with Socialist activists after they reported him for illegally leafleting on council property, local children were setting about a giant cardboard cut-out of the Scottish Labour candidate. 

Make no mistake about this, Scottish Labour desperately wanted this seat. It would have been a signal that everything was fine. Everything was back to "normal". They threw the kitchen sink at it. 

UK leader Harriet Harman, a millionaire solicitor, was dispatched to the ward to knock doors and remind people of their responsibilities to the party. Gordon Matheson, council leader extraordinaire and Scottish Labour's most prominent figure in local government, was hardly out of the place. Labour's remaining elected representatives, the local MSPs, chapped doors. 

But nobody was listening.

People who once looked to Scottish Labour to defend them from the Conservatives now see the party as an indistinguishable adjunct of the hated Tories. And they know that Scottish Labour don't want to elect councillors to serve the people, but to dominate them in the cause of Unionism. To know their mission statement, just look at how they  promote themselves, what they see the primary point of their existence to be, even now, ten months after the referendum. 



Scottish Labour have convinced themselves that everything is alright. That the Westminster election which wiped them out in every community in Scotland except Morningside was an isolated event. That all of the Holyrood voter polls showing them forty or more points behind a second-term government, struggling to hold onto second place, and looking likely to emerge without a single constituency MSP, are blips. 

But like when they elected war criminal and Apartheid fan Jim Murphy as their branch manager, and tried to convince themselves that he was credible and powerful while the rest of the country were rolling around pishing ourselves laughing, their belief is based on hope, not reality. 

Why would people in a Yes-voting district like Thorniewood want to vote for Scottish Labour, a party which primary motivation is Unionism? Why would working-class voters go out in the rain to support a party was responsible for George Osborne's vile budget extending to Scotland?

The short answer is, they didn't. And they don't look like they're going to do so any time shortly. 

Scottish Labour is critically endangered. The public perception of them as Tory lite, and therefore toxic, is hardening. They have not won a Scottish parliament election in more than a dozen years. In ten years, at all levels, they have won just one solitary election (the 2010 Westminster election). 

They are about to elect Kezia Dugdale as their leader based on nothing more than a hope that Scottish voters will take to a nasty careerist whose only qualification for the job seems to be that she is a committed Loyalist. This would be a mistake. 

The Thorniewood by-election was only a council by-election on a rainy day to elect a single councillor which wouldn't change the leadership of the council. But it's a signal that the Westminster election wasn't the end of their suffering. The people - at least in Yes-voting communities - haven't tired of kicking Scottish Labour, and may have abandoned them for good. 

And If I was Scottish Labour, I'd be noting that every constituency MSP except comedy acting leader Iain Gray, rejected "leadership" candidate Ken MacIntosh, and privately-educated Elaine Murray represent seats which voted Yes last year. And I'd be trembling. 

When campaign against your own constituents, you're on borrowed time. When you join the Tories to campaign against your own electorate, you're dead.

And Scottish Labour is the party which died of shame.


Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Naw-sterity

Today, a British finance minister whose government was utterly rejected by Scots at a general election two months ago imposed a budget upon us of Dickensian proportions. 

George Osborne has launched a brutal attack on our poorest and most vulnerable citizens, and will destroy a generation. 

He has abolished Housing Benefit for 18-21 year olds. This means that an 18-year-old, working full-time on a minimum wage contract will not be able to apply for Housing Benefit. An 18-year-old suffering sexual abuse at the hands of a stepfather will be forced to stay under the same roof as him, or be homeless. 

Osborne has also viciously attacked the "overbreeding" of the working class, and has decided, apparently at random, that working class people will be restricted to two children. Any more children, and child benefit will be withheld. For a family with one child, this is a tax on twins.

For those working in the public sector, the news is grimmer yet. For the remainder of this parliament, they will be restricted to just a 1% pay rise. With a cost of living crisis and many full-time workers unable to afford to heat their homes, this is a disaster for millions of people. Westminster MPs, incidentally, are to have an 11% pay rise.

It's the young who bear the brunt of the first full-frontal Tory attack budget since 1996, though. Student grants for low-income families: abolished. Tuition fees: raised. But £50.000.000 has been found to fund the British Army going into schools and enticing children into the armed forces.

The working poor didn't get off either. With no real-terms rise in the minimum wage, many rely on tax credits. These have now been abolished, to fund a cut in the amount of corporation tax paid by big businesses - many of whom don't bother paying tax anyway - to 18% (substantially less than the 20% paid by nurses and teachers). £9bn in tax credits cut.

Oh, and the annual overall amount Scots can claim in social solidarity payments has been slashed to just £20.000 - regardless of individual need. And they'll never see the vast majority of that cash as it goes directly to wealthy landlords. 

Universal Credit for those in work is to be slashed as well, and the rate at which a household's credit is slashed as they earn incrementally more is to be increased. All working-age benefits are to be frozen (in real terms, cut) for four years.  Most people who receive working-age benefits are actually in work, just underpaid. 

The total cuts to those who are most disadvantaged totals £12.000.000.000 per annum. This helps to pay for very rich people to have their inheritance tax cut. 

For disabled people who are medically unfit to work, they are to suffer a £30 per week cut. In terms of the overall budget it achieves almost nothing. But what it does do is send that message home to our most vulnerable citizens: "you're a burden. You cost too much. You're not worth it". 

It is a budget which deliberately sets out to savage the poorest in society and make us pay for enticements and inducements for big business and the rich. 

We were warned in September last year that if we were young, poor, old or ill, we would be gambling our very lives in that ballot booth. 

I hope No voters are proud today. They are the anvil upon which George Osborne has just hammered Scotland's poorest and most vulnerable people. 

George Osborne delivered today's budget. He doesn't have a mandate to do this to Scotland. But No voters, Scottish Labour and the Liberals gave him that mandate. 

Thanks, guys.