Monday, 19 October 2015

On the steelmens' job losses

Fact: the steelmens' trade union, Community, has an assistant general secretary who is a Scottish Labour activist.

Fact: the steelmens' trade union urged its members to support a No vote in the independence referendum with a poster campaign of "don't put your jobs at risk with a Yes vote".

Fact: the steelworks are now closing down. 

The steelmens' union - with its Scottish Labour-linked leadership - terrorised its members into voting No with the threat that a Yes vote would cost them their jobs, and the implied associated promise that they would be safe with a No vote. Those jobs are now gone, after a No vote. 

It's clear that neither Community, nor Scottish Labour, gave a damn about the workers. They were concerned with a No vote at any and all cost.

Would a Yes vote have saved the steelworks? In truth, most probably not. The issue is capitalism: the steelworks are owned by an Indian-based multinational, motivated by profit rather than the best use of Scotland's resources for the benefit of Scotland's people. Only with nationalisation of all of Scotland's industries can we exploit our natural resources for the common weal. 

But there is this. The No vote didn't just deliver a Scotland within the United Kingdom. It delivered a Scotland governed by the Conservative party, with only one MP here. A Conservative party which has, therefore, no electoral advantage at all in saving steelworks jobs in Scotland. The realpolitik is this: it is far more politically advantageous for the British to shift as many jobs from Scotland as possible. One can see this in their incentive to move the Young's fish-processing plant out of Scotland to northern England. 

There are potential votes for the Conservative party in England that do not exist in Scotland. 

A No vote didn't cause the job losses in the steelworks. But what it does mean is that those men are condemned to take their chances with the Tory welfare state. 

A No vote means that those men will be forced into unpaid menial labour to receive unemployment social security. The result of such unpaid labour is that those who otherwise would have worked at those jobs will not be able to. They, too, will be thrown onto the scrapheap in Tory Britain. 

A No vote means that young people made redundant from these job losses will not be entitled to Housing Benefit. They may well be made homeless.

A Yes vote wouldn't necessarily have saved these jobs. But the Yes campaign never claimed it would. The No campaign did imply that a No vote would save those jobs. This has been demonstrably false. 

The trade union, infested by Scottish Labour supporters, backed those workers being reliant on a Tory social security system in the event of their jobs being lost. 

That is what they campaigned for. 

That is what they wanted. 

That is what they got. 

They terrorised their members into voting No on the basis that they would lose their jobs with a Yes vote. They have now lost their jobs - and the consequence of a No vote is that those who have lost their jobs will fall into a safety net which treats them as shirkers and scroungers, which pays them less than £80 a week in social solidarity payments, which bans many of them from Housing Benefit.

To be afflicted with joblessness is an horrible situation. To be treated as a scrounger when one seeks only to get back from the system what one put in is worse.

The Community union and Scottish Labour got what they wanted. 

It's what we warned about. 

They should hang their heads in shame. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

Arrogance and complacency could cost the pro-EU side the vote

Us Scots know quite a bit about how to Hibs a referendum. Last year, the Better Together campaign turned a vote which it was literally impossible for them to lose into a nailbitingly-tight result which leaves them staring long-term defeat in the face. 

Indeed, there were even news reports a couple of weeks back that the Remain [in the EU] campaign had sought a meeting with the laughable Blair McDougall, head of Better Together, and the brainbox behind Scottish Labour's catastrophic election campaign this year in which they lost all but one seat, about how not to fight a referendum.

They don't seem to have listened.

Today's launch was a disaster. It actually echoed the launch of the Yes Scotland campaign, which gave the impression of being a self-satisfied back-patting session for the political, middle, and chattering classes. 

The first problem with the campaign is the name. Britain Stronger in Europe. It reads like the front page of a Conservative manifesto from the mid-1970s. But what they've failed to take into account is that there's more than 1,6m people in Scotland for whom a stronger Britain would not be a positive. There are, similarly, more than a quarter million people in the north of Ireland who would not be positively inclined to a campaign which is marking itself out as stolidly, conservatively British. 

In Scotland, the No campaign had a thirty-point lead that it could afford to (and almost did) throw away. The Remain campaign - BSE - doesn't have that. There are two million people who have been partially alienated from the get-go to a campaign which they would be naturally inclined to support. Now, I'm not saying that this is going to turn a Europhililc Scottish Green into a No, or make a Sinn Féin voter who attends IRA commemorations into a Union Jack-waving British nationalist. But in a tight finish, BSE might come to regret alienating what are its natural supporters with its very name. 

In an attempt to broaden its appeal, it is going to alienate even more people. A campaign led by a Tory peer couldn't have been better designed to alienate the millions of people who voted Yes in 2015, or those who were turned on to politics by Jeremy Corbyn's campaign. It epitomises the "sit down, shut up, do as you're told" attitude of Westminster politics that has repulsed people in their hundreds of thousands. Sticking a Blue Peter presenter on stage won't change that - it just comes across as patronising, in addition to patrician. Is "you're young, so you can't possibly understand these awfully important, grown-up debates, so here's a children's TV presenter to talk down to you" the new "shut up, eat your cornflakes, and vote No"?

So, it starts off arrogant, complacent, and patronising. It's alienated swathes of voters. It retains a lead, but not one remotely as large as Better Together started with. It is already, truth be told, in difficulty. 

I am pro-European. And I am pro-Europe. But my inclination at the moment is not to vote to remain inside the European Union, for the following reasons:

1. The British are particularly poor Europeans. They refuse to join in with things, undermining everything that the EU actually stands for. Aloof and apart, they stood away from the single currency, and refused to join in with Schengen. These two things are sort of, like, the point of the EU. They clearly don't want to play a full part in the Union, and would be happier out of it rather than inside, screeching, wailing and sobbing like "Kez" Dugdale when someone's rude to her. Britain removed to the naughty step would be better for her, and better for Europe (and in the longer term, it completely eliminates one of the Three Pillars of British Unionism). 

2. Intervention from the EU in internal political affairs of member states worries me. The previous president, JM Barroso, lost the run of himself, and believed it was his place to interfere in the Scottish referendum last year. It was none of his business to interfere - and his threats to the Scottish people (on the instructions of the British government with the promise of supporting him as Secretary-General of Nato) will not readily be forgotten. 

3. Greece's treatment at the hands of the European Union was a democratic outrage on the part of Germany. One might have thought they'd got out of the habit of punishing a weaker member of a group pour encourager les autres. Sadly, old habits die hard. 

4. Following on from 3., the unaccountability, and thus in my view the illegitimacy of the European Commission. Similarly to the House of Lords, it is a stain on democracy. The Commission shouldn't be accountable only to itself, it must be accountable to the people of Europe. If the Commissioners were appointed through the European Parliament, accountable to them, and removable by them, would they have been so intransigent toward Greece? The absence of any threat of being voted out leads to arrogance and, inevitably, corruption.

5. Again following from 3., a Europe of peoples is a great and noble idea. I would vote for a pan-European state like a shot. But this unaccountability of those who govern Europe puts me off. A Europe of peoples, united as Europeans, protecting human rights and promoting the brotherhood of workers is what we need. Instead, what we have is a Europe of conservatism. Of bankers, of spivs, of speculators. A Europe which has no hesitation in bullying her people - as it did to Ireland - or even mounting coups d'etat against her democratic governments, as in Italy and Greece. 

Change Europe, from one of the bankers to one of the workers, and I'll vote for unity every day of every week of every year for the rest of my life. But the only renegotiation the British are interested in is one which throws out the Social Chapter, to continue to grind away at workers' rights.

And for that reason, I can't see myself voting In.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Belarussian presidential election (Sunday 11th October)

Belarussians go to the polls today to select a president. 

The incumbent president, Aleksander Lukashenka, is standing again. He has been president since 1994 of the Republic of Belarus, a state whose existence he opposes (he was the only MP in the Belarussian Supreme Soviet to vote against independence from the USSR). His entire presidency has had the aim of reuniting Belarus with Russia, an aim which came closer with the coming into being of the Union State. Last year, he signed an agreement with Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to launch the Eurasian Economic Union.

The EEU is primarily a trading bloc. Whilst Russia and Belarus seek closer political, military and cultural integration, Kazakhstan is resisting. However, military integration is demonstrated by all of the members of the EEU simultaneously being members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (also known as the Tashkent Pact, a successor to the Warsaw Pact). Both Lukashenka and president Putin are on record as viewing the EEU and CSTO as being the precursor to reunification of the former Soviet states (with the exception of the Baltic republics).

Lukashenka is often referred to as "Europe's last dictator". When I was last in the CIS, I travelled to Minsk, and met with some young dissidents, one of whom mentioned that Lukashenka has the unfortunate habit of imprisoning his opponents. (Minsk, incidentally, is the most terrifying place I have ever visited, and I've been to Paisley three times).

That was certainly true of the 2010 presidential election, where the president won a fourth term in office. On election day itself, two opposition candidates were beaten by Committee for State Security (KGB) troops. Lukashenka comfortably won the vote, and the runner-up, Andrey Sannikov, who scored just over 2,5% of the vote, was arrested by the KGB and sent to a prison camp for five years. Of the nine opposition candidates - none of whom got more than 2,5% of the vote, seven were arrested by the police or the KGB within a day of the vote. Lukashenka won the election with 79,7% of the vote.

This was a drop in support from the previous, 2006, election, where Lukashenka scored 84,4% of the vote in elections described by CIS observers as "open and transparent". The OSCE attempted to monitor the election, but its Georgian observers were arrested by the Border Guard. There was no immediate mass imprisonment of opposition candidates, although the Social Democratic candidate was beaten by interior ministry troops as he attempted to enter a meeting of the Supreme Soviet. 

However, within days, a protest movement had arisen. This was soon disbanded by the police and KGB, and the opposition leader promptly arrested. 

In considering all of this, it may seem unlikely that Lukashenka will be toppled tomorrow. 

The candidates are:

Sascha Lukashenka (Independent)
Sergei Kalyakin (Belarussian Left)
Sergei Kaidukevich (Liberal Democrats)
Tatsyana Karatkevich (Tell The Truth)

The CIS monitoring mission consists of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldavia, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, the CIS Parliament, the Union State Parliament and the CIS Executive Committee. 

Opinion polling so far suggests that Lukashenka will win a fifth term in office. 

If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote in the first round, a run-off will be held between the top two candidates. But this is similar to saying that if I turn into a massive beaver named Geoffrey tomorrow, I will spend most of my day living in rivers and building dams. 

Lukashenka will retain power, there will be protests, people will be arrested, and people will die. Such is the reality of life in a country without a functioning democracy. 

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Labour's parallel universe

by DAVID CLEGG in Balado, TORCUIL CRICHTON in Morpeth and ALAN COCHRANE in Famagusta.

BUNGLING NAT CHIEFS ARE under fire today after losing the iconic T in the Park festival to Northumberland for a paltry £150k.

The festival, worth an estimated £16 MILLION to the Scots economy, was forced by the local authority to move from its historic Balado base for health and safety reasons. 

But Nats Culture supremo Fiona Hyslop REJECTED a plea from organisers to help fund the move to rural Strathallan - where former Liberal Scots Secretary Michael Moore and ex-Tory MEP Struan Stevenson were educated - despite the emergency relocation cash amounting to less than ONE per cent of the tourist bonanza the festival raked in for the local area, which is just YARDS away from a stream in which ex-Rangers hero Paul Gascoigne once fished.

Opposition MSPs lined up to attack the Nats over the blunder. Labour's Jackie Baillie rapped: "this is absolutely typical of the Nats. This wasn't in their much-derided separation White Paper. Fiona Hyslop's refusal to come to the aid of one of Scotland's most famous cultural events is a disgrace - and the Nats will pay for it at election time. The crust is starting to come off the SNP pie, believe me."

Telly personality and political expert David Torrance was STUNNED by the decision as he was interviewed on BBC Good Morning Scotland, the BBC Scotland News in the afternoon, Reporting Scotland at lunchtime, Reporting Scotland at teatime, Scotland 2015, and an emergency news bulletin presented by a grim-faced Jackie Bird, a single tear ROLLING down her face. 

Torrance, who once WENT to a music festival, SLAMMED the Nats over the blunder, saying "it's time for Nicola Sturgeon to come clean. Frankly, this is why they scraped into government in the first place. The SNP is crumbling at the seams. What's this story about, again?"

Meanwhile, Tory boss Ruth Davidson hit out: "this is absolutely typical of the Nats. This wasn't in their much-derided separation White Paper. Fiona Hyslop's refusal to come to the aid of one of Scotland's most famous cultural events is a disgrace - and the Nats will pay for it at election time".

A feeble Nats press release claiming the funding would BREACH Euro state aid regulations cut no ice with Lib Dem chief Willie Rennie, who laid the law down to the Nats, saying: "this is absolutely typical of the Nats. This wasn't in their much-derided separation White Paper. Fiona Hyslop's refusal to come to the aid of one of Scotland's most famous cultural events is a disgrace - and the Nats will pay for it at election time".

Northumberland County Council, meanwhile, WELCOMED the move, with bosses claiming the switch could be worth up to £16 MILLION to the north-east economy. Council chief Grant Davey said "this is an incredible result for the area. For just a £150,000 outlay, we've secured one of the most lucrative music festivals in Europe. The free advertising alone is going to be worth millions". 

Michelle Mone could not be reached for comment.