Archive for category Parties

Disorganised, hypocritical and pointless: Labour MPs

Labour brought a vote yesterday at Westminster on the bedroom tax, calling for its abolition. Great: let’s end this stain on British politics, this attack on the poorest and the most vulnerable, yet another personal cut especially targeted at people with disabilities.

On the night only two Lib Dems dared to back Labour – Tim Farron, their next leader, desperate to find the right amount of distance from his own party, plus Andrew George. But with some abstentions, the coalition only secured 252 votes for the bedroom tax. With 257 Labour MPs in the Commons, plus the backing in this case of the SNP, Plaid, Greens and more, this should have been a historic victory over a key bit of Coalition savagery.

Unfortunately Labour didn’t turn up. That would have been sufficient. Simply to turn up. Not even all of them, necessarily, although if the poor and vulnerable matter to them, this might take precedence over, well, anything else they might be doing (pairing would have been fine). But no, there were sufficient Labour absentees to save the Tories’ and Lib Dems’ skins.

Yesterday Labour were criticising IDS for not turning up to the vote. Oh, the irony. Oh, the hypocrisy. What, seriously, is the point of an opposition that works like this?

But it gets worse. For some reason I get Labour spam, and I received this shameless email from Rachel Reeves this morning. If she signed this dishonest missive off herself she doesn’t belong in politics.

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Update: the full list of those voting is here (h/t). If it turns out I’m wrong and it’s all pairing, I’ll take some of it back. But I wouldn’t have let the Coalition pair on this, on reflection.

My Journey from Red to Green

Thanks so much to Pauline for today’s epic guest post, which we will let speak for itself. 

PaulineMy name is Pauline Ward. I used to be a fervent Labour Party activist, and for just over two years I was a Labour Party employee, as a full-time researcher in the Scottish Parliament (2007-2010). This is the story of the political journey I made to Green politics and to the cause of Scottish independence.

A couple of years ago, while I was working for a charity, I started studying economics and sociology and history with the Open University (I was a scientist originally). It opened my eyes in many ways, at a time when I was enjoying the intellectual freedom of no longer being a Labour employee. It made me think about what a nation is. I learned about the way the nation states we find in Europe today were mostly born in the nineteenth century, as the manifestation of the shifting allegiances of ordinary people who had rejected the old royal rulers and ties of religion. The borders of the new nation states crystallised around the nations which people felt willing to defend with their lives. And this made me realise how I felt about the idea of Scotland having full fiscal autonomy: basically, that would not be enough for me, because I wanted the people of Scotland and the leaders they alone elected to have the final say on when and whether Scottish service men and women would be sent to fight in any war.

I had been opposed to the Iraq war. In fact, I’d actually exiled myself from the Labour Party for two years in protest over it, something which was very hard for me, given the party was like a second family to me. And at the time I did not see Iraq as a UK war imposed on Scotland – indeed, the polls told a different story. Rather, it was a war predicated on paper-thin excuses, driven through in spite of vehement opposition right across the UK, and at great political cost to Tony Blair and Labour as it turned out. But looking back now, I see that the parties elected in Scotland were more opposed to the war than those in the rest of the UK. And if Scotland had already been independent, whichever party was in power, I believe we would have sat that one out, because I don’t think our parties had an appetite for it.

And then in January 2012 Johann Lamont, my former colleague, a very intelligent woman, a nice person, newly-elected as leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, started calling publicly  for the referendum to be held early. Get it over and done with. I was disappointed. I had voted for Johann to be leader because I knew she would put the emphasis that I wanted on economic equality for people living in poverty and for women. But I had also felt reassured by the noises she’d made in the media about the independence debate during the leadership campaign: she had promised to be accepting and respectful of the decision if the Scottish people wanted independence. Johann had sounded like she understood that the SNP had a point. So I wasn’t expecting what seemed like a point-scoring exercise: it just seemed to me that she was calling for an early vote because of the polls showing a likely No vote, and because she wanted to rub the SNP’s noses in it; this didn’t feel like a more respectful, accepting debate. And I started to feel very uncomfortable about the idea of continuing to pay membership dues into this Labour Party that was going to spend the next two years primarily arguing bloody-mindedly against something I believed in. Johann had been in that Parliament at lot longer than me, listening to the nationalists quite often winning the argument: if Scotland was independent, we could make our own decisions about all sorts of things; we had more than enough resources to maintain levels of public services and so on. The sky would not fall in.

In my two years working in the Parliament, I didn’t think too much about the independence question. My job was to support the Labour MSPs, on behalf of the taxpayer, to help them put forward the priorities they’d been elected to put forward. Which primarily meant social justice, and by that I mean combatting poverty and its pernicious effects. They were decent people, just human beings, these politicians – the 46 MSPs I worked for were genuinely there to try and make things better. But they were blinkered. I didn’t think too much about independence, and neither did they. When Labour For Indy appeared recently, I knew full well they would get no comfort from the MSPs because they are on automatic pilot as far as the constitution is concerned. They’ve painted themselves into an anti-SNP corner. I was instructed and trained in saying white whenever the SNP said black. And I think the Labour MSPs are a bit unrepresentative of the Party membership in that sense. If you were thinking about standing for Holyrood on a Labour rosette over the past couple of elections, you probably wouldn’t do it if you had strong doubts about the Union. So it’s a Unionist rump that remains in Holyrood. Maybe among Labour Councillors and other members we will hear more pro-independence voices as the referendum gets nearer. I hope so.

I think that in their hearts the vast majority of the supporters of social justice in Scotland want to vote for freedom from Tory rule. That is a crucially important argument for me. Scotland consistently votes for more left-wing parties and politicians than the rest of the UK. But we keep on getting Tory governments that we never voted for. It’s happened in 8 out of the 18 Westminster elections that have taken place since 1945.

The Union means that Scotland is ruled by Tories and LibDems right now. It means austerity. It means humiliating, badly-designed, badly-administered, downright cruel Work Capability Assessments for so many people with disabilities and diseases. It means the cruel Bedroom Tax forcing families out of their homes when there are no homes of the ‘correct’ size for them. It means our supermarkets and other businesses using Workfare to grind work out of our jobseekers unpaid-for, a brazen slap in the face of the minimum wage, a shameful contribution to cheaper grocery bills for the well-off. Every little helps. It means a real-terms cut to child benefit and families being fed out of food banks, and widespread in-work poverty.

Why can’t we have an economy that works for everybody? Why can’t we have a country where work pays? Where all companies are not just expected but required to pay their taxes. And this is where studying economics comes in. Because I learned that there’s no reason we can’t have these things. We can choose governments that will re-wire the economy to do these things. But UK Labour seem to have lost the belief in themselves to make radical change to benefit the people at the bottom. Why is that? I think it’s because they need votes in the wealthy South East of England to get into power in Westminster. They can’t afford to have a politics that’s fully focussed on the kind of widespread poverty we have in Scotland.

I’m from Clydebank (and on my mum’s side from a wee farm outside a petit village in France, and I grew up in Milngavie and Bearsden, and went to school in Maryhill). My grandfather and my great grandfather worked in the shipyards as engineers, back in the day when not all engineers had a degree. And when the German bombers came, in the Clydebank Blitz, our family was huddling together in the close, not knowing if they would make it through to see the next day, and not knowing whether their dad, my (great) grampa would be coming home from the yard ever again. I think successive Westminster governments abandoned people living in poverty in communities like Clydebank, and parts of Leith where I live now. The Union has not served them well.

So I joined the Green Party. Here is a party that’s willing to make those radical changes to the economy to bring a better quality of life for everybody. Here are people who’ve read The Spirit Level and like me were delighted to find in its pages the evidence for what we’d been working for all along. It turns out societies where there’s greater equality of economic opportunity (e.g. Japan and the Scandinavian countries, compared to the UK and USA) are better off economically as well as healthier and happier. Here are people who not only accept that climate change is real but accept some responsibility and are trying to do something effective to stop it. The Greens are willing to stand up to businesses when they need to, to force them to take responsibility for their impact on the environment, among other things, they accept that there are both advantages and disadvantages to Scottish independence, and they understand and respect that all members will make their own judgment about that. And I’ve never looked back. I’ve been a Scottish Green Party member for a year and a half now, and I’m very proud to be Green. I don’t think I’ll be tempted to go back, although I’ll always reserve the right to switch my vote on principle; I want politicians to earn it.

So, to round this off, I would say that learning a bit more about how our country works (both from my studies and from being inside the Parliament, seeing change happen) made me realise how plastic our world is. Our politics, our economy, our ideas of what fairness is, these are all subject to fundamental change. They’ve always been changing, and in our digital-age-democracy they can and do change quicker than ever, because each of us has so much more freedom and power to communicate and therefore to influence. And I’ve lost my fear of Scottish independence. My history taught me that one of the things that kept us in the UK for so long was the vast range of economic opportunities the Empire offered, both in trade and in work in the colonies. That no longer applies, thank goodness. And my history taught me that powerful elites always ran the UK and made the rules to suit themselves. And they haven’t given up power willingly, it’s had to be wrestled from them.

If you look around the world, you’ll see a great number of countries which used to be joined to the UK, as colonies or dominions. Not a single one of them is clamouring to get back in. Each of them is different, sure. But ask yourself when was the last time you heard anyone from Australia, or New Zealand, or the Republic of Ireland, or Jamaica, or Trinidad & Tobago or the USA or India, Pakistan or North or South Sudan, or Kenya wishing they could be part of the UK, wishing they could join us in a currency union, or asking David Cameron to command their armed forces.

What all this boils down to is that I think independence will give our children the best possible future. A future where there’s more dignity and respect for people in different circumstances and from different backgrounds, and where everybody feels they have a say, and a stake, and a chance to make the best life for themselves. That’s why I’m voting Yes.

A trampled bagpipe

Behold the greatest contrast offered by the Dunfermline by-election campaign: the aftermath of the moment when Zara Kitson’s Green campaign was interrupted by the 3rd Viscount Monckton, notorious climate change denier and UKIP’s top candidate for Mid Scotland and Fife in 2011. Personally I think it’s brave of him to campaign in Scotland having saidthe Scots are subsidy junkies whingeing like a trampled bagpipe as they wait for their next fix of English taxpayers’ money.” I also like the fact that Zara fobbed him off with a leaflet on the Greens’ vision for an independent Scotland. No wonder the furrowed brow, as he contemplates ideas he presumably can’t distinguish from full communism.


The Westminster Party – what’s their record?

4159787227_1513c4f155Scotland’s vote in a year’s time is too important to be decided by who looks likely to win the UK General Election the year after. This isn’t about party politics, it’s about the broad sweep of history, and it’s about the institutions we vote for and which then rule over us.

Anarchists are fond of the phrase “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the Government always get in”, which is what makes the referendum such a rare and fascinating thing. For the first and probably last time in my life I’ll have a vote on whether I want the Westminster government as a whole in my life or not. So let’s put party to one side, or rather, let’s take a look at Westminster’s record as if it were a single political party, the good and bad.

The Westminster Party, for want of a better name, has been in power all my life. In fact they have (for the purposes of this argument) ruled without a break since the mid-19th century. So let’s go back a bit, rather than just looking at the last five or ten years: perhaps the last 40-50 years? What have they delivered over that period? I’ll do my best to be fair and pick a few areas to consider.

Democratic reform: Progress here has been limited at best, with the highlights being the Scottish Parliament itself and the other devolved assemblies. On the minus side the Westminster Party has defended its own interests over the decades by retaining an electoral system that’s non-proportional, outdated, and frankly favours the party’s own self-interest. The only time they’ve offered us a choice on replacing it, the alternative on offer was the smallest tweak possible, still non-proportional, and not something any of the party’s factions has ever even supported. Despite the cautious removal of some of the hereditaries from the House of Lords, we are still ruled in broadly the same way we were back in the 1860s. Oh, and the Westminster Party looks unlikely ever to offer us the option of an elected head of state. Compare to the Holyrood Party – the only level of democracy they could reform under the Scotland Act was local government, so they acted, and we now have a properly fair electoral system for our Councillors. The flaws in the Westminster Party’s record this area shouldn’t be regarded as something just of interest to wonks, either – it’s the foundation for all the policy issues below.

The economy: There’s no nice way to say this. Boom and bust, plus inequality: those are the Westminster Party’s trademarks. The booms have been unsustainable and delivered most of the benefits to the already better-off, to the city, and to London and the south-east, while the busts have been at the expense of the poorest, of manufacturing, and of the North of England in particular. It’s almost as if the Westminster Party’s policies over the last forty years have been designed to deliver instability and ever-widening inequality. Key public services have been handed over to the City, too, and so public money goes to support the lifestyles those who own the companies, rather than the services we use.

Health: If you go back a bit further than 50 years, you’d see perhaps the Westminster Party’s most shining achievement in this or any other area: the NHS. However, over the last 20 years, despite the massive popularity of a publicly-owned and publicly-run health service, the Westminster Party has chipped away at it, brought in private competition, charged for built new hospitals through dire PFI contracts, and weakened it perhaps permanently. They still charge for prescriptions and eye tests, for goodness sake. Fortunately, Scotland has missed the worst of this: the Holyrood Party, in power here since the start of devolution, has protected the NHS in Scotland from the worst excesses of this marketisation.

Education: You could almost say the primary policy of the Westminster Party here has been change for its own sake (another feature of their NHS policy): endless reorganisations, often without a clear purpose in mind. Having said that, the 1990s saw a period of significant investment at the primary and secondary level, which is to be commended. Unfortunately, at the same time the principle that higher education should be based on ability rather than bank balances was first threatened. Now the English university sector is effectively unaffordable for those who aren’t from wealthy backgrounds or prepared to get deep in debt, a principle which the Holyrood Party also ended in 2007.

Defence: This should really be billed as Interference. Or perhaps Profligacy. Defence is the only part of public spending that never gets challenged by the Westminster Party, who have also been committed to nuclear weapons for as long as nuclear weapons have existed. They never saw a military boondoggle they didn’t want to waste money on, and there’s hardly an American-led war (notable exception: Vietnam) they didn’t support or even actively take part in. Some of those interventions (e.g. Sierra Leone) have gone better than others (two recent disasters hardly need to be named), but the record here is pretty brutal, to say the least.

The environment: Despite an unexpectedly early expression of interest in the late 1980s, it’s been all coal and new motorways and business as usual. The Westminster Party leadership knows it needs to talk as if it cares about the environment, and set some meaningless targets to miss (a flaw it shares with the Holyrood Party, to be fair), but they have achieved literally nothing substantial that might protect the environment either here in the UK or internationally.

Overall, the Westminster Party’s failures of policy and governance could hardly be more clear. This what we’ve had to put up with over the last 150 years, but if Scotland votes No, it’s also what we’ll face for the next 150 years. I regret the fact that the rest of the UK isn’t being offered an opportunity to vote the whole lot of them out out, especially my friends in England who (outside London) don’t have the benefit of devolution.

But that can’t be helped. We have a chance in Scotland to push a domino over next year. Perhaps others will fall after it.

pic credit

A Niceway To Die


The ’Niceway Code’ is not just about appeasing cyclists – it is typical of a government increasingly tokenistic and out touch with the challenges it faces.

The Scottish Government recently launched a campaign to improve Scotland’s road safety record called ‘The Niceway Code’. You may have missed this due to the fact that it only has a budget of 500,000 pounds and it is so appallingly lame that Transport Minister Keith Brown’s department seem faintly embarrassed about the whole thing.

The campaign aims to reduce the number of road deaths by asking road users to be nice to one another, which is surprising in that the law already compels people to be nice to and not kill one another on the roads.

The fact that the campaign does not even remind motorists or their legal obligations (and in some cases directly contradicts what road markings tell cyclists to do as shown in the picture below) has incensed active and sustainable transport groups. One Holyrood insider even talked of how an panel of interest groups were left dumbfounded when Keith Brown’s team revealed their grand strategy for preventing death and injury on the nation’s streets. The Scottish Government’s own statistics show that 1 in 14 road deaths each year are cyclists, and only in a tiny minority of cases have the cyclists committed even minor infringements to the highway code.

Don’t go left, even though that’s where the cycle lane is.

The SNP seem to want to keep everyone happy, which is why they seem to view cyclists and cycling as an interest group and not as a genuine means of tackling some of the endemic transport and urban problems of contemporary Scotland. They will happily commit three BILLION pounds to doubling the A9 from Perth to Inverness but cannot muster the couple of million pounds it would require to radically reshape Scotland’s urban and suburban spaces to make them more liveable.

Cycling is not just about lycra and weekend hobbyists – harnessed properly it can create safer streets for children and families in particular, cut air pollution and help meet Scotland’s climate goals. It can save the government and taxpayers money, cut health bills and reduce the strain on public transport networks without extra subsidies. If even a crumb of that three billion were spent on redesigning towns and cities to make them more people-friendly the SNP would be a world leader, but for the time being they’ve just got everyone sniggering into the back of their hand. And I’m being nice.


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