Monday 2 March 2015

Who lives in a h̶o̶u̶s̶e̶ country like this?

Wouldn't it be awful to live in Putin's Russia?, we're asked. A place where corruption runs rampant, who you know is more important than what you do, and where opposition to the government ought to carry a health warning. 

Just imagine how awful it would be.

An agent of the Federal Security Service (the new name for the old KGB, the Committee for State Security), believed to have been on secondment from the Foreign Intelligence Service, is found dead in his locked flat in the heart of Moscow. 

The Militsiya, Russia's police force, which is directly answerable to the Interior Minister, and, through Zhitnaya Ul., to President Putin, conducts a cursory investigation, overseen by a judge who is appointed by the regime, and can be dismissed by the regime. 

Despite the fact the flat is locked from the inside, and the KGB agent's corpse is padlocked inside a bag, which is found in the bath, neither the Militsiya nor the judge find anything suspicious about the case, and put it down to a laughably-supple suicide. 

Years earlier, a lawyer, and senior opposition leader of one of the satellite republics is found dead in his car in the countryside hundreds of kilometers outside Moscow. He had been shot twice in the head. The authorities declare it a suicide. He had become a prominent critic of Soviet military policy, and was a widely-known figure calling for his republic to secede from the Soviet Union. The Interior Minister of the day, who oversaw the police investigation, and current member of the Federation Council, who served in Gorbachev's government, is publicly accused of rape and of covering up a child abuse ring. He dies suddenly a matter of months later, from a cancer which had never previously before been announced. It is the latest in a series of scandals at the top of Russian society: several well-known former members of the Supreme Soviet are unmasked as child abusers shortly after their deaths. There is speculation of a child abuse ring at the top of Russian society, with members of Putin's own family implicated in it, with one of his sons accused in court of statutory rape of a child.

In an eerily-similar case, a lawyer who was in the public eye for defending Chechen separatists was the subject of death threats not only from Russian nationalist extremists, but also had been threatened by the Militsiya themselves. The KGB were known to be following the lawyer. Amnesty International strongly criticised the Russian government for their harassment of her. When she was assassinated by a Russian fascist group, there were rumours of collusion between the Russian government and the fascists.The government, however, quickly cleared themselves of any responsibility for the murder. 

A prominent critic of the regime resigns from Putin's government in disgust at its foreign policies. Two years later, while walking in a remote region of the restive Chechnyan republic, he is taken ill on a lonely mountainside and dies. The mountain he dies on belongs to Russia's richest man, who also, by coincidence, happens to be a senior Russian military figure, in charge of the army reserve. Putin, relieved of a major internal critic, refuses to attend the funeral. 

A former wife of a senior figure in the regime and the mother of a rising star goes on holiday to a Warsaw Pact capital city where she is killed in a mysterious car crash. There is evidence of outside involvement (traces of impact with another vehicle, which was never found, were discovered on the crashed car), and witness evidence showing her chauffeur was sober at the time of the crash. There were no fewer than fourteen CCTV cameras along the route taken by the car, but coincidentally, not one of them managed to capture any evidence. And the only camera pointed at the crash scene wasn't being monitored as all of the police officers in the control room had been sent home at 11pm. The official verdict was that the chauffeur, who was believed to have had contacts with elements in the KGB, was drunk and lost control of the vehicle. 

A man who spent eleven consecutive New Years with Boris Yeltsin and who was given the Hero of Labour and Order of St Catherine by presidents over a span of decades; who spends time with the most important people in Russian government and society and is a personal friend of the second in line to the presidency, dies of old age. Within days, he is unmasked as one of the most prolific sexual predators in the history of Russia. Operating at the top of society, a friend of presidents, members of the Duma, and a top broadcaster with State TV, it emerges that he was offending in plain sight with his exploits common knowledge amongst the elite. Because of his connections to the top of Russian society, nobody holds him to account or stops the abuse. 

Yeah, it would be awful to live in a society like that. Thank goodness we live in good old transparent Britain, governed by the warm embrace of Westminster and the Windsors.

Friday 20 February 2015

Labour takes its revenge on Glasgow with Austerity-Max budget

The Labour Party was quite explicit: "vote Yes and we will punish you". Well, never let it be said that Labour doesn't deliver on their promises. 

The brave citizens of Glasgow looked around us, at the poverty surrounding us, at our life expectancies lower in some districts than in Gaza, at our crumbling roads and our shrinking housing stock and voted for something better: for independence. 

Labour told us they'd punish us for any such "betrayal", and they have taken a revenge of such calculated brutality that it almost takes one's breath away. Sure, they've taken spiteful, petty little bits of revenge ever since September 19th: Govan had the highest Yes vote in all of Scotland - so they imposed a parking tax on some of Glasgow's poorest people. To punish us. The Buchanan Steps were the focal point of the heart-lifting, soaring final days of the Yes campaign  - so they earmark them for demolition. To punish us.

Those little bits of punishment weren't enough for Labour. We betrayed them. We made Glasgow Labour look stupid in the eyes of their bosses in London. We humiliated Glasgow Labour by snubbing their desperate appeals. And it got worse: we didn't learn our lesson, and it looks like we're going to let Labour down again by kicking them out of Glasgow in May. 

And thus yesterday's collective punishment of all the people of Glasgow in the most appalling display of scorched-earth tactics ever seen in Scottish politics. 

£29 million pounds of cuts (would it be churlish to bring up the fact that Labour chose to pay Labour peer, Labour donor and Labour member, Willie Haughey, knighted by Labour, £16 million for a piece of spare land to build a motorway whilst the same Labour party chose to send its thugs to batter their way into a house to throw Margaret Jaconelli out of the home they wanted to demolish?) imposed on Glasgow by "the people's party".

The collective punishment includes schoolchildren. Labour were furious that Scottish children in primaries one to three were given a hot, nutritious meal every day, free of charge. (They think feeding children in Glasgow is an unconscionable waste of precious resources which are much better directed towards killing children in Iraq). That's why Labour voted against free school meals for Scottish kids, but for nuclear weapons, and for austerity. 

And how Glasgow Labour councillors rubbed their hands in glee as they punished Glasgow's children for their parents' betrayal of Labour in September! Red-faced with rage at the thought of "something-for-nothing" for starving children, Labour took its revenge on schoolchildren - putting the cost of school dinners for primaries four and up by 27%. For a single mother with three children at school, that £0,40/day rise per child amounts to £2.280, assuming all three children stay on until the end of S6. That's not just a punishment like losing a set of city centre steps which looked nice, that's a tangible punishment.

And if sending kids home starving wasn't joyful enough for Labour, they've also chosen to send them home exhausted as well: they've spent years trying to rip the free bus passes away from pensioners, now they've hit on a softer (and non-voting) target: weans. 

At the moment, a five year old who lives 1,9km from school is expected to walk there. Labour have chosen to increase that distance by 60%, with five year olds who live 3,2km away from school now expected to walk. 

That's Labour's budget for Glasgow. That's what they've spent two years insisting that we're Better Together for. That a seven year old girl is expected to walk a 6,4km round trip every day to school, and then sit, hunger gnawing at her stomach because her mother can't afford to pay for meals now Labour has increased it - for a one-child family - to 17% of a young mother's weekly Job Seekers' Allowance. For a 23-year-old unemployed single parent with two children - hardly an alien demographic in Glasgow, Labour is now going to take over a third of their weekly benefit just to feed the children at school - before a bill's been paid, a washing done or a pencil case bought. 

The foreign travel budget for Labour councillors hasn't been affected by the austerity, as it happens.

For those kids, whom Labour have chosen to cast into starvation and penury as part of their perverted, obscene revenge against Glasgow's children for the sins of their parents in refusing to back the Labour line in September, there is no relief from the misery and poverty of a city Labour has governed for almost the entirety of living memory.

Gordon Matheson says he's proud of Labour's budget.

Well might he be. Because while he's starving weans and forcing seven-year-olds into a 6,4km walk to school in pitch-black, below-zero January days, not a single local authority in the whole of the United Kingdom spent more than Glasgow's £983.000 on chauffeuring around people like Matheson from glitzy dinner parties in the Central Hotel to his pad in the Merchant City. 

It's not just Gordon Matheson who should be proud of Labour's budget. Other Labour councillors have merrily raided our coffers to go on foreign jaunts to the likes of India, Dubai, New York; to the Uefa Cup Final, all at public expense. 

Austerity, it seems, is for the little people. 

And if you thought it was only children who're the target of Labour's vengeance, you'd be wrong. They also like to pick on people with additional support needs. Not satisfied with seizing the well-loved Accord Centre from its long-term users in order to build a car park for their Commonwealth Games vanity project, they've chosen to hammer the most vulnerable again, closing day care centres. I expect that Groper Gilbert particularly enjoyed that one, given his form for threatening to punish those who oppose Labour by getting their disabled child sacked. A classy man, and a fitting representative for a classy party. In the same vein, grants for voluntary organisations and charities (although not those run by Labour, who award their chums to run "charities" on their behalf payoffs of up to half a million pounds) have been cut by £2.000.000. 

None of the three luxury cars Glasgow City Council bought for its officers using Glaswegian taxpayers' cash is to fall victim to austerity, just in case you were wondering.

A further £2.000.000 is to be ripped away from educational services for children in hospital (well, I guess Labour aren't getting the benefit of them having to walk to school, PLUS the scrounging bastards get FREE FOOD in hospitals. What a disgusting something-for-nothing society.) although there's been no corresponding austerity reduction in the bonuses paid to Labour councillors who receive massive financial benefits (about £400.000 in extra salaries, all told) for sitting on the boards of arms-lengths companies.

The City Council has substantial cash reserves and even more substantial goods reserves. They could have avoided further austerity and pain to Scotland's most deprived families. Instead, they chose to hammer us. They chose to hammer us because they wanted to punish us. They put the "n" into "Tory cuts". 

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Abuse, smears and threats

Language and emotion is part of political discourse. We are fighting for things we believe in, and the "other side" is fighting just as hard to stop things we believe in from happening. It's no surprise that emotions run high and badinage is exchanged. 

For the vast majority of us, that's the extent of where it goes. Sure, there's the odd death threat left by anonymous loons on blog posts, or, as one Labour supporter on Twitter drew attention to the other day, threats to "smash in the teeth" of Labour canvassers chapping on doors. Ruth Davidson has received a pile of extreme abuse, much of it homophobic. The most cursory glance through Margaret Curran's Facebook timeline shows the most horrendous, misogynistic abuse directed at her. Several SNP candidates have suffered the most vindictive, spiteful hate campaign, attacking them for their looks instead of their policies, and writing about them so much that it is close to constituting harassment. 

But this is extreme, and outside the normality of political discourse. 

On Twitter, I have a couple of thousand followers, from all sides of the political spectrum in Scotland and beyond. I engage in debate and craic with Labour supporters, Tories and Liberals, with people from Women for Independence and the Greens, with folk from the SNP, and Socialists; with people who just have a general interest in politics. I draw the line at engaging with fascists, although I imagine most of us do.

When you throw yourself into politics, from time to time people can't tell the difference between the political persona and the human being behind it. That's why people are content to send death threats to me on my blog, why female councillors, MSPs and MPs are subjected to misogynistic abuse. People begin to burn with a personal, obsessive hatred for you, and this is when it starts to get worrying. 

One individual whom - to the best of my knowledge - I have met on one single occasion is one such person. 

Last year, this individual was caught out in a smear campaign against me. This individual told people that I was going to be arrested and tried for a spoof Twitter account I operated in 2012. The individual in question actually followed people to the toilet, scuttling around the corridors of a public library and pursued them to the toilet, to drip poison in people's ears and poison opinion against me. 

I made it clear that the smear was without foundation when I challenged it to the person involved by e-mail. I subsequently made it clear by text message that I did not welcome any further communication with the person and that they should desist from contacting me. To this extent, I deleted the individual from my Facebook friends list, and blocked them on Twitter. 

A couple of weeks ago, I found that the individual in question was again smearing me to people I know. And yet again, they were caught out: the person who was the recipient of a text message containing gossip about me - nothing, of course, actionable; nothing concrete that I could point to and say "this is a lie", but a general smear - said that they would ask me about the allegations, on which the bully panicked and pleaded with them not to tell me. The individual prefers to operate in secrecy; bullying, gossiping and smearing.

Their harassment campaign against me didn't stop. Despite deleting them from my social media, they were still trawling through my Facebook. I have been told that the individual is making a quite pathetic attempt to draw up "a dossier" on me using Facebook and Twitter posts. Yesterday, I received no fewer than three comments from them on Facebook, which I deleted without reading. This is harassing behaviour - no more, no less. I have made it clear that I do not welcome communication from them, and still they persist in attempting to contact me. 

I have made a formal complaint to the party of which this individual is a very senior member, but unfortunately, it was not taken seriously. Perhaps if it had been dealt with at the time, it would have avoided events today.

This morning, I received a message from a member of this individual's immediate family. It was an unsolicited message containing abuse and aggression. It contained a direct threat of violence.

Being sad enough to spend your time trawling through someone's social media accounts to try and find something nasty they've said is one thing. Clear threats of violence is on quite another level. 

These individuals - folk who incite and threaten violence against people - have to be called out. 

Some people think online threats of violence are somehow different from threatening someone with a glassing in a pub on a Friday night. They are not. A single incident, on or offline, which is severe enough to cause alarm to a reasonable person, constitutes a Breach of the Peace.

I will be giving serious consideration throughout the rest of this week to taking this threat of violence - which was not a minor threat - to the police and asking that they investigate and prosecute this individual. 

Call me a dick if you want. Don't threaten me with violence. That crosses a line. 

Monday 16 February 2015

Should Scottish Labour dial M for Murdo?

Scottish Labour, at this particular moment, resemble a seagull trapped in a bin bag as they lurch from fiasco to disaster, panicked, and desperately trying to get back to "normal".

Since the partial establishment of democracy in 1999, the party has suffered the loss of a third of its voters in Scottish Parliament elections, and has lost power to the National party eight years ago. Nobody much would give them a chance of getting back into government next year, meaning that it's likely that by the time the 2020 elections come round, they'll have been out of power for thirteen years, having not won an election for seventeen years - a political generation. Imagine an eighteen year old woman, casting her victorious first-ever vote on the day of her birthday at the end of the school day, for Jack McConnell as First Minister. She will be thirty-five years old the next time she casts a vote to return a Labour First Minister. She could easily be a grandmother. 

In local government, the picture isn't much better: Labour have lost most of their strongholds in local authorities, and again, the direction of travel in terms of votes is downwards from election to election. In 2003, they scored 611.843 votes, coming first, with almost half as many votes again as the second-placed Nationalists. By 2012, they had completely lost that advantage, coming a poor second, with only 488.703 first preferences.

Only in elections to the Westminster parliament did their vote hold up: and they believed that would always be the case. Scotland is sound, they thought. Scots will see a binary contest and choose a Labour government over a Conservative one, they assured themselves. 


The referendum in 2014 changed Scottish politics forever. Polls suggest that Labour will lose between three-quarters and all of their seats in Scotland, as voters, repulsed by their alliance with the Conservatives in the referendum, turn away to a better anti-Conservative option.   

Scottish Labour's only hope of recovery, perversely, is that they are destroyed in the general election, and that a Conservative government is returned. This will allow them to peddle the pathetic myth that a vote for anyone other than Labour is a vote for a Tory government (neatly avoiding the inconvenient fact that they've just spend two years in a coalition with the Tories, arguing for the principle that a Labour-voting Scotland should be governed by the Conservatives for vast swathes of our existence).

The nightmare scenario for Scottish Labour is a wipeout in Scotland, and Ed Miliband falling short enough of a governing majority to require Nationalist support. Scottish Labour breathlessly tell us that of course Miliband won't deal with the SNP.

Do we really fall for that? Sure, a Gordon Brown-controlled party didn't. But let's take a look at Labour's proposed government. The only two Slabbers in the proposed government are Maggie Curran - who has as junior a post as possible while still being in the Shadow Cabinet and in any case looks likely to lose her seat - and Douglas Alexander. 

Are we really to believe that every single senior Labour MP is going to sacrifice their chance of governing - their crowning glory in their careers - to keep Douglas Alexander (who will have failed in his campaign management role) content? Are we really to believe that Ed Miliband will give up the chance of replacing Cameron and being the most Left-wing premier since Wilson to placate a Scottish Labour party which will have let UK Labour down so badly?

Is it not more likely, do you not think, that Ed Miliband's attitude to the Scottish branch office will not be closer to the Gareth Southgate approach: "you had your chance, and you fucked it up"?

If he does do that, and the National party proves a harmonious partner to Miliband and the Left of the Labour party, helping him fend off attacks from the Right of the party as the Liberal human shield did for Cameron, why wouldn't Scotland repeat the trick in the next election?

And whither Scottish Labour, then, if Miliband gives a tacit admission that the Nationalists would be a preferred partner?

In my opinion, their best option would be to dial M for Murdo and activate the Fraser Plan. 

Autonomy for Scottish Labour probably isn't enough. The veneer of autonomy they have gained since September has caused them to be even more of a laughing-stock. 

Their best option, in my opinion, would be to be a completely autonomous party in Scotland. Not a branch office, nor a sub-unit. Not the Scottish Labour to UK Labour, but the SDLP to UK Labour. 

To select their own MPs and candidates - Ed Miliband, not Jim Murphy, chooses which, if any, Scottish MP joins the Shadow Cabinet - and follow their own policies, whilst making it clear that they will generally support Labour in the Commons.

I think the best thing for Labour would be to start again. A brand-new party of the Left and centre-Left in Scotland, a Caledocentric workers' party, but always with the aim of propping up a Labour government in the UK Parliament. The CDU to UK Labour's CSU. Sure, they'd be the yin to UK Labour's yang, but isn't that better than being the Sooty to UK Labour's Matthew Corbett?

If the Conservatives in Scotland had adopted Plan Murdo in 1997 instead of pussyfooting about and then sort-of adopting it in 2014, would they be further along the road to recovery? Probably.

The Labour "brand" is now as toxic as the Conservative one in Scotland. If the Tories had rebranded themselves as the Progressive Democrats or whatever, they'd have lanced that boil in an instant, and attracted the votes of thousands of centre-right Scots who despised Thatcherism but are innately conservative and who now vote SNP.

If Scottish Labour act quickly, they can avoid the Tories' fate. Not just a rebrand, not just a restructuring, but a renewal - taking the history of Scottish Labour and the many great things they did, but leaving behind the mistakes of the past and the permanent, indelible stain of collaboration with the Tories. 

A workers' movement which wasn't so tainted by New Labour and the Iraq War, and one which - no matter the feeble protestations that they've "reset politics" - is never, ever going to attract Yes voters in any significant numbers again would be a solid and formidable force in Scottish politics. 

Who knows - if the new party as a whole was to take a neutral position on the constitution and let its members act according to their consciences on the matter as the old Labour party did on the EEC, they might find they had much more in common with the National party than they thought. And that would be an unstoppable centre-Left force. 

A Labour-supporting friend asked me on Friday if I've ever voted Labour. I admitted I had, in English local elections. They then asked if I'd ever join. I demurred, citing the referendum and the Iraq War. A new party, with a new generation, would avoid that.

Scottish Labour probably can't survive. History is littered with PA.SO.Ks, Progressive Democrats, and Progressive Conservatives who governed, and then suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of history. 

But a new, mass-movement party for workers, which didn't have Unionism as its sole aim? i'd vote for that.

Sunday 15 February 2015

On physical mechanisms for a Greek withdrawal from EMU

There's been a great deal written about the financial and social consequences of the Hellenic Republic withdrawing from European Monetary Union, a scenario which appears to have become substantially more likely with the election of a SYRIZA/AN.H coalition government which is innately suspicious of the Euro, coupled with the intransigence of the Troika. I am not going to go into the economic argument, as there are numerous articles by people with a far greater knowledge of the subject freely available.

I haven't, however, despite looking, been able to find any description of the physical mechanism for a Greek withdrawal.

As far as I can see it, there are three options for Greece, both of which have historical precedents in Europe.

The first option will be the least likely. With Greece moving closer to the Russian Federation, the European Union may find that its refusal to deal with Greece in a fair manner leaves the accountants in Athens seeking a bail-out from Moscow. It is not inconceivable, but not likely, that this will mean Greece adopting the ruble. This is unlikely for two reasons - firstly, economic sanctions on Moscow means that the ruble is currently about as stable as Britney Spears. Secondly, an adoption of the ruble means that Greece is in broadly the same unpleasant position as it is at the moment: decisions on the Greek economy will still not be made in, or tailored to, Greece, with the only change being that they will be made in Ilinka Ulitsa to suit Moscow, rather than at Ruckertstrasse to suit Frankfurt. And, whilst there has been talk of Moscow offering currency unions to Belarus and Kazakhstan, these economies are closely integrated with that of Russia, which they both also border.

Consequently, I strongly believe that the notion of Greece adopting the ruble is extremely unlikely. This leaves Yanis Varoufakis with only two remaining options: dollarisation and a new currency. Dollarisation, as used in East Timor, Panama, Iraq, Zimbabwe and Kosovo, amongst others, is the unilateral adoption of a strong currency. For an advanced economy like Greece, and for similar reasons why adopting the ruble is unpalatable, it carries enormous risks. 

The only real option, therefore, is a new Greek currency. 

There are two decent parallels here. Firstly, the emergence of new currencies following the inability of the Austrohungarian krone to continue.

This currency was essentially the forerunner to the euro, covering several current eurozone states such as Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia and Italy. When the new Yugoslavia walked away from the krone - for the not entirely unreasonable reason that the empire had collapsed and was suffering hyperinflation because Budapest had made the mistake of printing heaps of banknotes to finance the First World War - they instituted border controls to stop money entering or leaving the country, and stamped all of the krone notes in the country with an overprint to identify the old krone currency as a brand-new Yugoslav currency.

There is a slight difference between Yugoslavia in 1919 and Greece in 2015: Yugoslavia left the krone because it wanted a stronger currency, whereas Greece seeks a weaker currency. Furthermore, the krone ended up collapsing entirely and caused all sorts of hassle, which left everyone very cross indeed.

A better, and more modern, example, is the dissolution of the Czechoslovak koruna (the similarity of the krone and koruna names is incidental). 

After Czechoslovakia dissolved itself, quite by accident, into two separate states - Czechia and Slovakia - they intended to maintain a currency union. And so they did.

For a month.

Both countries stamped Czechoslovak banknotes with distinctive national designs, and in a surprise announcement, told Czechs and Slovaks that they had four days to exchange the old currency for the new, after which Czechoslovak notes would be worthless. A maximum of 4.000 Czechoslovak koruna (around £90 at the time) could be exchanged by each citizen.

Again, exchange controls were implemented to stop Slovaks (the weaker economy) transferring their money into the stronger economy of Czechia, and bank withdrawals banned.

The Czech/Slovak split will likely provide the model for Greek withdrawal from the euro, and it is almost certain that New Drachma banknotes have already been printed and are being stored in a basement in Panepistimou Street.

In the event of a decision to withdraw from the euro, the most likely mechanism will be that the announcement will be made on a Friday morning, and exchange controls implemented immediately. Bank accounts and transfers will be frozen, and a bank holiday declared for the next Monday, and possibly Tuesday. This gives four or five full days for the Hellenic Central Bank to complete the transfer.

As soon as the decision is announced and bank accounts frozen, money held in bank accounts will be redenominated from euro into New Drachma at whatever exchange rate the Bank of Greece and ECB agree on. Physical coins and banknotes held in Greece will be made invalid and exchanged for Drachmae.

There will be little need to stamp existing euro in Greece as they already all have national symbols. Coins, of course, are immediately identifiable by the national symbol on the obverse. It is, though, little-known that although all euro banknotes carry a common design, they also have an identifier of the country of issue: the first letter of the serial number. Greek banknotes have Y as their identifier. 

To protect the economy and deposits from bank runs, it is likely that all banks will be immediately nationalised.

It is not completely unlikely that the New Drachma will be a currency based, at least initially, entirely on banknotes to save on the cost of minting coins. This option is already in use in the Republic of Belarus. This also has the added advantage that when the ND collapses in value - which is, after all, the entire point of it - against the euro, it will be much easier to redenominate banknotes. 

Greece's economy is one based almost entirely internally. This will make it easier to carry out the transition, whilst also bringing in hard currency through tourism, its only major "export". It is quite likely that one will not be able to purchase or sell New Drachmae officially outside the country, which is the case with the Serbian dinar. I learned that one to my cost when I was unable to exchange my dinars for Hungarian forints in Budapest after leaving Serbia a couple of years ago. This means that Greece will be able to build reasonably substantial foreign currency reserves in short order. 

The transition from the euro to a New Drachmae will not be easy - but if accomplished quickly and in great secrecy, it ought not to be overly complex.

De La Rue, the currency printers, estimate that from order to delivery, the institution of a new currency can be accomplished in a matter of months. The Greek government took office on January 26th. I note, without comment, that all Greek banks are scheduled to close on the afternoon of April 9th and reopen on April 14th for an Orthodox religious holiday. That gives four full days of bank closures. This would be a convenient time to announce a changeover without risking a bank run.

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Why the only way Scotland can deliver a Tory government to a putative Labour-voting England is to vote...Scottish Labour

There's been an interesting explosion in cries de coeur from Labour types keening about the possibility of their erstwhile Conservative colleagues governing the UK for the next five years as a direct result of Scotland 'letting Labour down' whilst the people of England vote Labour. 

Let us lay aside the fact that Scottish Labour has just spent the last three years campaigning alongside the Conservatives for the principle that the latter party has the right to govern Scotland even if Scotland rejects them at elections, and check out the claim that Scotland could deliver a Conservative government to the good Labour-voting burghers of England.

It is an incontrovertible fact that of the two main parties in Scotland, the National party has expressly ruled out a coalition government, or any confidence and supply arrangement, with the Conservatives. Labour has refused to make a similar commitment, incidentally. 

If one assumes that Scottish Labour will not prop up a Conservative government, then it means that for all intents and purposes, a Scottish Labour MP and a National party MP are fundamentally interchangeable in terms of Commons arithmetic inasmuch as it means the election of x Scottish Labour or Nationalist MP in Scotland - regardless of yellow or red rosette - means that the Conservatives must win x+1 seats in the rest of the United Kingdom to go ahead of Labour in the rest of the United Kingdom by one seat. 

There are 532 seats in England which are being contested by either Labour or the Conservatives. Consequently, to win a majority of seats in England, the Labour Party would need 267 of them. 

If the Conservatives were to win every other seat in England, they would therefore have 265 seats in the country. 

In the unlikely event that this situation occurs, then if would need the Conservatives to win three more seats in Scotland than their opposition to have an Anglo-Scottish majority. The polls in Scotland are, to put it mildly, unkind to the Conservatives at this time. To give them that three extra seats, the Conservatives would need to win 31 seats in Scotland, a gain in seats of just over three thousand per cent. I consider this unlikely to occur. 

With Wales added in, the ridiculousness of this assertation is even more clear. Of the 40 Welsh seats, Labour currently hold 26, the Tories just 8, and the Liberals and Plaid on three apiece. If this situation remains, the Tories would need another nineteen seats in Scotland to have a majority of seats in Scotland, Wales and England, taking them to 40 of Scotland's 59 seats: an increase of four thousand per cent. The north of Ireland will probably be about eachy-peachy in terms of what Labour or Tory whip their MPs would take, but even if one assumes that Sinn Féin and the SDLP and the DUP lose all of their seats to the UUP, giving the Tory-aligned Unionists all eighteen seats in the statelet, this would still mean that the number of seats the Tories would need to win in Scotland would be 22 of our 59 seats. 

The Conservatives currently have one MP in Scotland. In the previous Parliament, the Conservatives had one MP in Scotland. In the Parliament before that, the Conservatives had one MP in Scotland. In the Parliament before that, the Conservatives had no MPs in Scotland. In the 1992 Parliament, they had eleven MPs here, in the 1987 Parliament, ten and in 1983 21. One would have to go back to 1979 where they had 22 MPs to reach that minimum number possible for Scotland to deliver a Tory government to Labour-voting England. 

Labour must think you're thick. With the National party ruling out any agreement with the Conservatives, and the latter looking set to get only one seat, the only way for Scotland to deliver a Labour-voting England a Conservative government is for Scottish Labour to win at least 21 MPs in Scotland and support the Conservatives in a coalition.

Thursday 5 February 2015

Glasgow's rejection of Labour has been a long time coming: and deserved

It might surprise some people to realise that, despite my youthful good looks, I was in secondary school at the age of 13 when the 1997 General Election took place.

I was a child of Thatcher, born a little over two years after her invasion of the Malvinas. I was born seven months after she won her second term as prime minister. It was the most emphatic election victory since Labour swept the war criminal Churchill out of office in 1945. 

My early life coincided almost exactly with the course of the Miners' Strike - it began less than six weeks into my life. My childhood - in a working-class family in which my father was a chimney sweep and my mother, before my arrival, worked in a factory - was one which was lived through a soundtrack every night of the news bulletins announcing another 'modernisation' of an industry. For 'modernisation', read 'closure'. My earliest political-ish memory is of my father and grandfather coming back from the Scottish Cup Final when I was four and a half carrying the red cards, distributed by NHS Scotland nurses outside the old National Stadium, and proudly telling how Celtic and Dundee United fans, together, waved the red cards at the British prime minister and booed her off the park, never to return to Glasgow. 

We weren't in any way a political family. As far as I'm aware, I'm the first person in my immediate family to have belonged to a political party, but we were political in the way that all Glasgow working-class families were at that time. Every time the prime minister appeared on the television, it was to disapproval. Not just from my parents, but from everyone: neighbours, aunts, uncles and grandparents. I grew up with the British government behaving towards Scotland like a conqueror, with plummy-voiced Scottish Tories telling us that what they were doing was good for us. And watching families thrown out of their homes, their possessions sold on the streets in front of them as they were evicted, for being unable to pay the Poll Tax which Thatcher imposed and Labour demanded we pay. 

When you're a kid, you don't see shades of grey. You see black and white. And in my world, and in those of my teachers, my family, my contemporaries, the Tories were bad. And if the Tories were bad, then the opposition - Labour - must surely be good. 

It's hard to explain to people who weren't alive then the joy that was felt in Scotland when in 1997, Labour vanquished the Tories. On election day, my uncle was visiting from London, and had foolishly failed to avail himself of a postal vote. He was soundly upbraided by my mother, telling him 'if the Tories get back in by one vote, we're blaming you'. In the end of course, if everyone my family knew, even remotely,had failed to vote, it should still have been a landslide defeat from the evil Tories.

I can't remember whether I hadn't the permission or the inclination to stay up for the election results - this was in a time before children had televisions in bedrooms, a time before home internet, and a time before smartphones - but I woke up to the happy news in the morning that the bastards had been thrown out. 

Every single Tory MP in Scotland was gone. They, who'd told us it was necessary to deprive our communities of jobs and hope, found that we'd deprived them of their jobs and their hope. We - Scotland - had eviscerated the Conservative Party, never to return. 

When I was woken up to get ready for school on May 2nd, the first thing I said to my mother was - and I'll always remember this - 'did we win?'. We. And my mother, who would no sooner join a political party than she would have joined the Moonies, or a circus troupe, and who'd voted SNP, said 'we did'. 

Because the Labour Party was viewed as 'us'. That wasn't just a view in my family in the south side of Glasgow - it was an almost universal view. There was a buzz around the classes that morning. The teachers could barely contain - and sometimes didn't bother to try to contain - their joy. 

So it's through that prism that people have to try and understand the extent of the betrayal working-class people in Scotland feel. 

We didn't care that Gordon Brown had promised to stick to the Tory spending plans: Malcolm Rifkind was gone. We didn't care that Tony Blair was a greasy, insincere wank: Iain Lang had been sacked. The Tories had systematically and deliberately destroyed Scotland and Labour would make it better. 

Except, they didn't. It was more of the same. Sure, they introduced a woefully-inadequate minimum wage. But they didn't do anything about bringing the buses back under public control, so none of my mates could ever afford to go anywhere. They didn't renationalise a single industry, so jobs were few, and my school friends drifted out of school at 15 and 16 and into unemployment.

The one use they had for working-class Glaswegian kids was to enlist us in an army half of us hated and send us to kill, and sometimes die, for money and power. Not for us, for them. Sure, some lucky ones got jobs or went onto higher education, but for most, it was a life of gangs, violence, the dole, the British army, the scrapheap. No better for us than when the Tories were in charge in any substantive way. An escape route would be university: but they even tried to ban working-class kids from that, imposing tuition fees no family could afford. It was a couple of grand, but it would be as well have been a couple of billion, for all anyone could pay it. 

We might have been free of Conservative government, but we still had the shadow of its destruction hanging over our shattered communities. 

Glasgow wasn't a nice place to grow up in the 1990s. There was rampant young gang territorialism. I don't think there was a year in my school where someone wasn't killed or seriously injured in gang fights. It was a direct result of us being a lost generation, thrown on the scrapheap by the Tories, and not helped up by Labour. People lived in damp, high-rise flats with no amenities, nothing to do but drink and fight. Or in condemned tenements, with three kids of different genders sleeping in the same bedroom. Did Labour embark on a massive house-building programme? No. They privatised council houses. 

Unable to afford decent food, people ate junk. People became obese, and suffered associated health problems. There's a perception that junk food is the lazy option: but it's not - it's simply much cheaper to feed a family on ready meals than it is to buy fruit and vegetables and meat on a single parent's minimum wage, or on the pathetically-small unemployment benefit pay. 

All through this, Labour took Glasgow working class for granted, that we'd vote for them always, because we literally had nowhere else to go. Or nowhere else credible: in my constituency at the 1997 general election, the SNP won less than 18% of the vote - and still came in second.

Working class communities watched Labour the Tories on the Miners' Strike. We watched them collaborating with the Tories on the Poll Tax, condemning it with their mouths but collecting it with their hands; and we flashed our red cards at Thatcher. We watched their catastrophic failure to build desperately-needed social housing.  We watched their wars, although they never directly affected us. 

And still we forgave them, because they weren't the Tories, and we wanted something better. And there was nowhere else to go.

And then we had the chance to have something better. We had the chance to never again have a Tory government imposed on us from another country who denied us the support we so desperately needed to pull our communities up from the penury and distress they'd put us into. There was somewhere better to go: a Scotland for the millions, not the millionaires. As Scotland where never again could the democratic will of the Scottish people be thwarted by a handful of rich swing-voters in another country.

And Labour turned their faces against the working-class people of Scotland and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories against us. Sure, they got the narrowest of victories, but my, what a Pyrrhic one it was. Mere minutes after the result, they sat open-mouthed in shock as they realised that they - the betrayers of the Scottish working class - had, too, been betrayed by their Tory colleagues. English Votes for English Laws is the Conservative Party doing their erstwhile partners up like a kipper. 

We forgave Labour, grudgingly, because we had nowhere else to go. We're not forgiving them now. The opinion polls show Labour suffering a 1997 Tory-style wipeout. They richly deserve it.

There are other places to go now. There's a competent, if hardly inspiring, National party government. There's a Green Party booming in membership and flowering with ideas. And there's a Socialist Party which is fighting tooth and nail for the working class, which led the campaign against the Bedroom Tax - a campaign Labour ought to have been leading - and is leading the campaign against the odious zero-hours contracts and the scandal of in-work poverty pay. These are campaigns that a community led Labour Party should be front and centre on, but on which they are largely silent. 

The betrayal of the working class is why I'm gloating at what now appears to be nothing less than the death of the Scottish Labour Party. They've done very well out of us - many of them millionaire career politicians - whilst leaving most of us in poverty, without hope. They have accepted the Thatcherite ideal that one's ambition ought to be to "escape" the working class rather than striving to rise us up as one, improving our living standards, acting collectively to ensure decent working conditions and pay. 

A Labour MP likened their Great Betrayal to one's partner having an affair. It was worse than that. For a child of the 1990s, what Labour did to us felt like being in a car slowly sinking into a river, and Superman appearing. Then having a look and saying 'sorry, pal, I've got an important dinner tonight, don't want to get the spandex wet'.

When that happens, you realise Superman's a prick. And you revel in his destruction. And so it is with Labour. 

In every single election since 2005, the Scottish Labour Party has died a little bit more. Their few remaining activists that little bit more demotivated, slipping away from active involvement. 

I'm loving every moment of it. And when I look at parts of Glasgow that have loyally voted Labour for half a century and been rewarded with child poverty above 50% and life expectancy lower than the actual fucking Gaza Strip, that's why I'll be laughing in the faces of every Labour MP who took us for granted and loses their seat in 90 days time. 

It'll be jelly and ice-cream when Labour dies.