Saturday, 28 May 2011

Gerry Hassan review by Kevin Williamson

Kevin Williamson, Secretary of the Scottish Independence Convention, reports on a lively meeting held in the Scottish Parliament on 26th May.
The first post-election meeting of the Scottish Independence Convention was packed out to hear and discuss Gerry Hassan’s ideas on where Scotland is going next.  Over the last few weeks Gerry has managed to articulate within the mainstream media positive challenging ideas related to Scotland and Independence that need to be addressed by the whole country.  Gerry’s enthusiasm was infectious and as always he managed to provoke and stimulate – which is exactly why he was asked to speak.

It was a remarkable event for a number of reasons, not least because, while SNP members were understandably at the forefront,  the SIC brought together a disparate ensemble which included members and activists from at least four Scottish political parties (including a Lib Dem peer, the quiet pro-Independence maverick that is Jamie, Earl of Mar.)

Before the meeting I went up to Luath Books at the top of the Royal Mile to get some copies of ‘Radical Scotland: Arguments for Self-Determination’ – edited by Gerry Hassan and Rosie Ilett– to sell at the event.  The publishers only had three copies left.  I’d also asked for some copies of ‘A Nation Again’ – edited by Paul Henderson Scott and reviewed  here on Bella Caledonia – but the entire print run has sold out.  These are recent titles. It would seem there is a currently a hunger for serious ideas related to where Scotland is going.

It was good to hear from so many old timers of the SNP – some who spoke had 30 and even 50 years SNP party membership under their belts – bring their experience and ideas to the Convention.  You could feel a tangible sense of renewed optimism and purpose in the air. Their thoughts and tactical ideas were especially appreciated.

Another thing worth noting in passing was that senior figures from the Scottish Socialist Party sat among their counterparts from Solidarity and discussed, in positive terms, ways to build support for an Independence referendum, plus their hopes for an Independent Scotland.  It would seem that the renewed sense of purpose around Scottish Independence and the forthcoming referendum has managed to bring two previously warring factions of the Scottish left under the same roof for the first time in years, united in a common cause.  Its early days but these are positive signs and indicative of a bigger process at work.

The only disappointing thing was the absence of the Scottish Greens, but hopefully that was more to do with logistics and timing.  The Convention needs their input  in terms of both vision and practicalities.

Where the Scottish Independence Convention goes from here is still at the suggestion-planning stage.  But it was generally agreed that the ways of operating pre-5th May won’t suffice. The game has changed.  As the SIC’s National Chair, Elaine C Smith, said, “OMG, there’s a Yes vote to be won!”  The Convention intends to turn outwards and play its part. 


Friday, 20 May 2011

Alan McCombes and the socialist Scotland

Alan McCombes, Policy Co-Ordinator for the Scottish Socialist Party. 
Over 150 years ago, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels called on the working class of all countries to unite and fight for a socialist world.

At a time when there were no telephones, no cars, no aeroplanes, no TV and no radio, their internationalist vision represented an extraordinary feat of historical imagination.
In today’s world of the internet, satellite TV, high speed air travel, global capitalism and the World Social Forum, the philosophy of socialist internationalism no longer looks like a utopian flight of fantasy.

But what does socialist internationalism mean in practice?

“Imagine there’s no countries, I wonder if you can; nothing to kill or die for, a brotherhood of man,” sang John Lennon in his celebrated radical anthem.

Such a world may well be built sometime in the distant future by generations who are not yet born. But how do we begin to move from here to there? And how do we apply the principles of socialist internationalism to the 21st century world that we live in?

There are three key questions the Left has to address. We may not reach agreement on the answers, but even to ask the questions would at least be a step forward.

First, does socialist internationalism mean that we are striving to replace capitalist globalisation with socialist globalisation? Are we aiming to build gigantic socialist mega-states? Or should our more immediate goal be to build socialism from below - a socialism that is based on decentralisation, diversity and voluntary co-operation?

Linked to that is a second question. Should socialists be in favour of larger, broader states under capitalism? Is bigger always better? Do large-scale multinational states unify and strengthen the working class or can forced unity from above sometimes aggravate national conflict and resentment?

The third question revolves around the process of change. Will socialism be achieved as the product of a single big bang, a simultaneous, world-wide revolt of the working class and the oppressed? Or, because of differing national conditions and traditions, will social change be more fragmented and disjointed? Will it tend to develop at local and national level first, before spreading outwards?

For those who subscribe to the ‘bigger is better’ theory of internationalism, multinational states such as the United Kingdom represent historical progress. Whatever the social costs, the Act of Union and the destruction of the Scottish Gaedlltacht after Culloden paved the way for the rise of large-scale capitalism and the emergence of a powerful British working class. Any attempt by Scotland or Wales to break free of the United Kingdom today would be regressive step.

Logically the same arguments should be applied to the development of the European Union. Those trying to push forward towards a European superstate represent historical progress; while those Swedish and Danish trade unionists and women’s organisations who successfully campaigned against the euro were putting their own narrow interests above the greater historical project of internationalism.

Moreover, socialists in Canada and Mexico - and the rest of Latin America too, for that matter - should be advocating union with the United States of America on the grounds that such a continental state would unite hundreds of millions of working people from the Amazonian jungle to the Arctic Circle. After all, a manual worker in Toronto or Guadalajara has more in common with a worker in a Detroit car factory than with a Canadian banker or a Mexican landowner.

Unfortunately, all historical evidence illustrates that forced unity from above tends to inflame national division rather than eradicate it. The European Union, for example, rather than cementing international harmony has become a breeding ground for suspicion and division between nations.

The tides of anti-European resentment now surging through Scottish fishing communities are likely to foreshadow more widespread discontent as industrial communities in ‘Old Europe’ become increasingly pitted against the sweatshop economies of ‘New Europe’ after enlargement.

Swapping the Union Jack for the Saltire would not rid Scotland of inequality, low pay, pensioner poverty and the other problems inherent in any capitalist economic system. But it would allow normal class politics to develop more naturally than ever before.

Especially since the 1960s nationalism - in its broadest sense - has permeated every pore of Scottish political life. There are times when it has played a progressive role, for example magnifying the intensity of the campaign against the Poll Tax.

More frequently it has acted to deflect attention away from the real source of Scotland’s problems. Independence in and of itself won’t rid Scotland of these problems, but it would at least clear the way for politics to be fought out on the basis of ideology and class rather than on the basis of nation.

An independent Scotland would also mark an important democratic advance. From the 1980s onward, the Scottish labour and trade union movement spearheaded the battle for devolution.

Whatever the shortcomings of the Scottish Parliament, it has marked an important democratic advance, opening areas such as health, education, transport and the environment to public scrutiny and democratic accountability for the first time ever.

Yet there remains a democratic black hole at the heart of Scottish society. On the big decisions that really matter power is retained at Westminster, an institution which now has a virtually built-in, centre-right majority.

It is Westminster which will decide whether nuclear weapons remain on the Clyde, whether Scottish soldiers are sent to kill and die on behalf of George Bush, whether Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws remain on the statute books, whether pensioners should continue to be paid a pittance, whether the rich should continue to pay some of the lowest rates of taxation in the world, whether the minimum wage should be raised from its existing pitifully low level, whether asylum seekers should continue to be locked out of our empty, depopulated land.

A further reason why the Left should back independence is that the break-up of the United Kingdom would weaken capitalism and imperialism internationally. In Scotland, support for the union has always gone hand in hand with support for imperialism. Even today, the official title of the Tory Party in Scotland is the ‘Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’.

The old British Empire has long gone but Britain continues to play a key role on the world stage as the staunchest ally of the US in its drive to conquer the resources of the planet for multinational capitalism.

The departure of Scotland from the United Kingdom would mean more than just the loss of a big chunk of territory. Scotland is a vital cog in the western military machine, with vital nuclear submarine and air bases. More than 80 per cent of all European Union oil reserves are in Scottish waters, while Edinburgh is the fourth finance centre in Europe.

The tearing of the blue out of the Union Jack and the dismantling of the 300 year-old British state would also be a traumatic psychological blow for the forces of capitalism and conservatism in Britain, Europe and the USA. It would be almost as potent in its symbolism as the unravelling of the Soviet Union at the start of the 1990s.

It is no accident that big business and the conservative right in Scotland are fanatically pro-union. The break-up of the United Kingdom might not mean instant socialism, but it would mean a decisive shift in the balance of ideological and class forces. Political attitudes in Scotland are not necessarily any more left wing than in some of those regions of England which have huge working class concentrations, such as Tyneside, Merseyside or South Yorkshire.

But on a national scale, for close on half a century, the political centre of gravity in Scotland has been more heavily tilted to the Left than in England.

That is reflected, for example, in the fact that the Tories have never won an election in Scotland since the 1950s. Media pundits down south may have proclaimed Old Labour unelectable in the 1980s, but Old Labour beat Thatcher hands down every single time in Scotland.

In 2010 a Westminster Tory / Lib Dem coalition was elected and immediately enacted savage spending cuts while the 2011 Holyrood election saw an SNP government elected on an essentially left of centre social democratic manifesto.

The one legitimate fear expressed by left wing opponents of independence is that the unity of the trade union movement could be torn asunder. But that fear is groundless.

Generations after Ireland won partial independence, a number of British and Irish trade unions continue to organise on both sides of the border. There are many US-based trade unions organised in Canada. There is also close collaboration between the trade union movement across Scandinavia.

In today’s world of global corporations, trade union organisation will tend to transcend international borders, though that may well be accompanied by greater decentralisation within trade unions.

Independence is not a synonym for isolationism. In today’s globalised economy, it would be no more possible erect a new Hadrian’s Wall today than it would have been possible for Robert Burns to hop on board a transatlantic flight at Prestwick Airport.

Nor would anyone claim that it’s possible build a fully-fledged socialist society in a small country on the edge of Europe. But what we can do is push forward in a socialist direction, blazing a trail which others will then follow.

As a general rule, social and scientific progress is not achieved by waiting until all conditions have ripened to fruition. The Wright brothers didn’t wait until the jumbo jet had been invented before flying across the Atlantic. Nor did Fidel Castro and Che Guevara wait until the USA was ready to break with capitalism before leading a revolution in Cuba.

With the victory of a majority SNP government on May 5th 2011 there will be an independence referendum in the next 5 years.

That will be preceded with at least a year of wide-ranging constitutional debate on the history of the UK and its relevance today. For the Left, there will no hiding place.

Silence will not be an option. We will have to spell out where we stand. Do we stand with the forces of conservatism on the side of the Union? Or do we strike out courageously on the side of change through participation in the Scottish Independendence Convention that could eventually pave the way to a new, socialist Scotland? 


Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Post Election Election Blog - Stephen Maxwell

Stephen Maxwell is the Treasurer of the Scottish Independence Convention. 
SNP members in Edinburgh South have long consoled themselves at election times with the maxim that if they were to win their seat then the SNP could win every seat in Scotland.

Yesterday morning that consoling mantra came true – as good as. Our candidate Jim Eadie, unknown in the seat six months ago, went straight past all the three unionist parties who had traditionally dominated the seat to take it for the SNP. And while the SNP did not capture all the seats in Scotland, as if doing its best to follow the Southern script it took sixty nine out of the one hundred and twenty nine seats in the Parliament to secure an absolute majority. “Historic” “game changing”, “transformational” were just some of the superlatives applied to the outcome.

Alex Salmond wasted no time in exploiting this most sensational of all his campaigning victories. Two hours after the final result he was laying down markers to shocked Westminster politicians – a beefing up of the economic powers in the Scotland Bill, the transfer to Scottish Ministers of the Scottish functions of the Crown Estate Commissioners and an independence referendum in the second half of the five year term of the new Parliament.

Supporters of the Independence Convention could not have asked for more. The Convention was formed in 2005 to provide a forum through which the then three independence parties – SNP , Scottish Socialist Party and Scottish Greens – along with unaffiliated supporters could collaborate in developing and promoting the case for independence in a referendum. The election of the first SNP Government in 2007 put a referendum firmly on the political agenda until a combination of the Government's minority status and the opposition parties' disdain for the democratic right of the Scottish people pushed it off again. With the anti-independence parties reduced to just forty seven members in the new Parliament against seventy two pro-independence members a referendum is now assured.

But that is all that is assured. The occasion of the SNP's greatest triumph is also the moment of its greatest peril. Votes that came as easily as the swinging LibDem votes can just as easily swing away. The new Government faces a major challenge in funding its spending commitments when its block grant from Westminster will be in decline for the next four years. The Scottish economy is effectively in recession with national output some 6% lower than before the 2007 credit crunch. Recovery continues to be slow and fitful. The new Scottish Government faces a major challenge in keeping the trust of its new voters through three years or more of cuts and slow growth before an independence referendum is held.

That is one reason why the independence cause cannot rely on the Government to do all the campaigning for a Yes vote. Another is that it will need all the time available before a referendum to persuade a sceptical Scottish public. Government Ministers with urgent agendas will simply not have time to devote to a long campaign.

The Scottish National Party, as opposed to Government, will be eager to campaign but its effectiveness will depend crucially on the standing of the Government. And its capacity to clarify some of the unresolved issues around independence – notably on the currency and defence – is uncertain given the current centralisation of policy making within the SNP.

The campaign for a Yes vote must start early and build as broad a base as possible. This is where the Scottish Independence Convention can make its contribution. Even though the SSP and its Solidarity split off have faded and the Scottish Greens have been frustrated in their ambition to recover the level of representation they enjoyed in the 2003-7 Parliament the Convention continues to offer an independent and open platform from which to promote public debate on the opportunities, challenges and requirements of Scottish independence across Scottish civil society.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Final Election Blog - Elaine C. Smith

So where are we now? On the eve of the election result the signs are good for another term of an SNP government. From the Scottish Independence Conventions point of view and for all of us who believe in Independence this can only be a good thing and the work for a referendum on Independence has to continue.

This has been a long run in to polling day and I have to say that at the start I worried that Labour would win by default. if the agenda continued to be dominated by the coalition in Westminster then Labour's anti Tory message may have won  through and as ever with Scottish Labour, the scare tactics would work. I feared that the SNP victory in 2007 would be seen as an experiment and that the old tribal patterns would emerge as they did in the UK election. 

But I underestimated the intelligence and  canny nature of the Scottish electorate. 

I had conversations in January with Alex Salmond where he indicated that he believed absolutely that they could win. I was more sceptical but impressed by his enthusiasm, verve and passionate appetite for the fight ahead.... 

I had also been made aware during the UK elections by party workers that the Scottish electorate knew exactly what they were doing. They were voting Labour in the UK elections to keep the Tories out but telling SNP activists that they would  "get their vote the next time son!!!!". Again I thought it was good banter but dismissed it . I just didn't see how the dominance of the media with the coalition in London and their real refusal to properly come to terms or catch up with the fact that the UK is actually a devolved state, would keep the agenda away from Scottish issues and that would only help Labour.

However, the successful campaign by the Nationalists to shift things back onto the Scottish agenda seems to have worked and when voters are considering who they believe will fight Scotlands corner within the UK best...the answer is Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon,John Swinney, Kenny McAskill and Mike Russell and the SNP. This is not because they think that they have done everything right but because they are realistic....they have done enough right.  Another factor is that they are the party that has some vision for this country...some vision and some hope. The strategy that during times of great struggle and adversity that what the people need is some hope and light is, in my opinion, the correct one. The consistent message by the Unionists that Scotland isn't good enough, brave enough or intelligent enough to run its own affairs has turned the people off.

The electorate are also comforted by the fact that the last four years have not been dominated by a continuous fight or struggle over Independence. The scaremongering by the Unionist parties that an SNP government  would have us all painted in woad, running up and down Princes Street with Lion rampants hanging out our arses didn't come true. We didn't even have a Referendum. There has been no repeat of "We're on the march with Ally's army", no feeling of foolishness or getting too big for our boots. Even over the Megrahi episode...many may disapprove of the decision but agree that it was ours to make. Thats grown up politics for me, grown up Scotland understands that you cannot always get every decision might be rubbish but its our rubbish!!!

So when it comes down to it, I believe that the electorate feels safe with the Nationalists. And the switchback  to the the old tribal, scaremongering tactics of Labour in the last few days hasn't done the job. No doubt a few waiverers who were considering not voting Labour for the first time will be scared back into the fold, but it doesn't seem that the message has penetrated this time.

This has been helped by the Scottish media ...a phrase that I never thought I would hear myself utter!!! Maybe its that the the journalists themselves are less afraid or simply that the thought of losing an intelligent big hitting politician like Alex Salmond (who helps many others to raise their game) from the Parliament and from their political commentary is too much to contemplate. I daresay the thought of following Ian Gray around as First Minister is not one that many of our political journalists relish. They have been easier and less vociferous in their hatred and loathing ( well not the usual Labourite papers as we would expect) but the Scotsman coming out in favour of the Nats is the stuff of fantasy...yet there it is in bold print on the front page!!!
I doubt we will see a paper with a picture of a noose on its front page on election day this time around.

I realised that things had altered even more when out on the campaign trail in Govan with Nicola Sturgeon. The high esteem and genuine affection shown to her was wonderful to see....and this in a constituency that used to rip up SNP leaflets and slam the door in the face of  Nationalist workers....they too have reported a sea change in attitudes even from people who state they won't vote for them.

So it looks like things are good...but only the electorate will determine who will govern us. But there are many challenges ahead...not least the challenge to let the Parliament function and run in a better way. We have a new Parliament and again it is not and will not be perfect, but the ability to change, enhance and improve it is there for us..... and that is a great thing. 

We have a chance to continue to be a model for other countries to see what the future of Parliaments and  their countries could and should set a positive agenda and be a beacon for others as a modern social democratic country looking to the future for the good of its people, aware of its place in Europe and the rest of the world.

Lets hope we get the chance to continue on this thing is for sure, the path embarked on by the Scottish electorate in 2007 and the small revolution that took place is not going to end...and the Unionist parties have a lot of thinking and soul searching to go through over these next months and years to adjust to this new vision of Scotland.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Murray Ritchie - The Election Blog 2011

 Murray Ritchie is the former Scottish political editor of The Herald.


Not long now. Fingers crossed, it could just be that on Friday we shall wake up to a new Scotland in which we have a second successive SNP government and independence is closer than ever.

So much of the credit must go to Alex Salmond, the master tactician, who has outperformed Labour and the Unionists at every turn. He might not care too much for the comparison but Alex Salmond is now the Donald Dewar of our time, a man whose command of Scottish politics seems unassailable. The difference now is that Salmond has plenty of potential successors. Donald, we now know, did not. The future looks more inviting than ever.

It has been such fun to watch Salmond’s confused critics running round in ever-diminishing circles trying to land a blow on him. On the one hand Ed Miliband and Iain Gray have whinged about him being obsessed with independence and on the other the wider Unionist family (and a couple of dissident nationalist voices) have accused him of parking the independence debate.

But the bold Alex just smiles and carries on with his canny game of keeping the SNP inching towards another electoral success after which there is every likelihood of an independence referendum. It is at this point that finally, after all these years, we have to get serious about the route-map to independence.
Alex Salmond seems to think that by 2018 we will have done the deed. Well, that’s a little too long for someone of my advancing years. Time to step up the pressure, please, now.

If Alex Salmond finally pushes a referendum bill through Holyrood, the SNP must work on proclaiming the advantages of independence. Too many Scots are still doubters. They need to have their fears calmed with a reworked, fuller and clearer explanation of what independence will mean and what benefits it will bring.

The starting point should be a forceful response to the tired pejorative language of the scaremongers and their talk of separatism, secession and isolation, and, of course, economic ruin while “breaking up the UK”. Let’s admit it, we are not short of people who are, sadly, still moved by this dishonest rubbish. We need to dish the doomsayers with strong and positive responses that are attractive to doubters and undecided voters.

For example, if independence was won at the price of keeping the monarchy for another generation or two I would find that acceptable. Not my preference, but still worth the candle. If we became an independent state in a new confederal United Kingdom that, too, would be fine by me. I have always argued that if we are independent in Europe – a good idea in my view – then we can be independent in a reformed UK where some powers are shared with our closest neighbour. And power-sharing is the answer to separatism. A confederation of independent UK states is the least scary option for those who might still suffer from the Scottish cringe, and it is only one step beyond full fiscal control which is the final stage before devolution becomes independence.

Scotland and England were, after all, independent states under a single crown for more than 100 years after 1603. Surely it is not too difficult to adapt that constitutional arrangement for a new Union - the United Kingdoms – in the 21st century. That way we gain independence – a seat in the UN and all – but no-one can say we are breaking up the UK.

If the results of the 2011 election go as we wish and the SNP is soon back in government, then Alex Salmond’s gradualist approach will have been vindicated. And those who want a faster track to independence – the so-called fundamentalists – will find that their time has also come. This conjunction of arguments looks like a happy prospect. A second SNP government with time on its side would be wise to take a couple of years to broadcast the benefits of independence – and hold its referendum when it knows it can win.


Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Ken O'Neill - The Election Blog 2011

Ken is an independent candidate standing in Leith.

Independence: The state or quality of being independent; freedom from dependence; exemption from reliance on, or control by, others; self-subsistence or maintenance; direction of one's own affairs without interference.

As an independent candidate standing for the Lothians in this election, I can clearly see how this relates to me.  I don’t follow party lines, will not have a party whip  visit me, will have the freedom to judge any kind of proposal in Holyrood on its merits.  I can set out my own agenda and vote for what I believe is right and just.  On the other side, I will have no support from a party, cannot use the input of think-tanks, don’t have the party faithful to help me with my campaign.  However, if I want to achieve something, I will have to work together with other members of the parliament.  Independent, but interdependent at the same time.

Can we make the same analogy for an independent Scotland?  I think we can.  An independent Scotland can decide the direction it wants to go, can allocate the necessary funds for the goals it wants to achieve, without interference from Westminster.  At the same time, when we have to make unpopular decisions, such as raising taxes, we will not be able to lay the blame at the door of Number 10. 

However, with that independence, an interdependence will be created.  They say no man is an island and Scotland certainly isn't and never will be.  We will have to work closely with the neighbouring countries to build strong economical ties.  We will have to find our way into the international institutions, such as the European Union and  the United Nations.  I have no doubt a strong, confident and independent Scotland can make a difference in the world.  How well we perform on the world stage will depend on our domestic performance, which in turn will be influenced by our place on the world stage.  Scotland already has a strong image and reputation.  If we want to capitalise on that, we have to make sure our internal affairs are in order.  That means not only our economy, but also our society, our politics, our government.

Scotland can become an example for excellence, but we need to grow up.  The Scottish Parliament has to set an example and give the people the right to vote in an independence referendum.  This will need to include a national debate on the subject in a grown-up manner and with a factual exchange of opinions.  We cannot allow party political lines to decide on such an important issue.  All Scots have the right to a sensible debate on the matter, with access to all the relevant figures.  That way they can make up their own minds, independently.