Friday, 29 April 2011
Luke is a student representative from Swansea, Wales. Former chair of Plaid Cymru's youth and student section and current bureau member of the European Free Alliance Youth.
“For once we find ourselves swimming with the tide of history,” Adam Price concluded in his recent article on the economics of Welsh independence. Unsurprisingly I agree, but I also believe that the tide of public opinion is starting to turn in our favour too.
On March 4th this year we saw Wales united in voting yes for Wales to have primary law making powers. Monmouthshire was the only constituency to vote no, with a recount and by the smallest margins.
That’s in stark contrast to the result of the 1997 referendum when Wales was a nation divided over the question of a National Assembly. Wales was split right down the middle, the cultural divide of East and West evident for all to see.
What a remarkable change in just 14 years, the mindset of the Welsh people has been transformed. And just a day later I was equally excited to see the results of an ICM poll on BBC Wales which put support for independence at 16%. What a difference a day makes.
Unionists were probably relieved to see the words ‘Wales will never be independent’ emblazoned across the front of our one national newspaper a few weeks later. The Western Mail’s survey on independence asked people whether they thought Wales would ever be independent, 53% said never, 38% said yes and 9% didn’t know.
But break the figures down and we have cause to be optimistic. For example, young people were more likely to believe Wales would be independent, 40% said they thought they would see an independent Wales whilst 47% disagreed.
Women, people in lower social classes and the people living in Wales’ most disadvantaged areas along with young people were more likely to believe Wales would be independent.
To me the survey results show a clear theme - it’s the fat cats who have most to lose in an independent Wales. It’s the people who reap the rewards of London’s unregulated capitalism at the expense of young people, women and working people who don’t want to see Wales break away from London rule once and for all.
The alternative is the economics of independence that Adam Price made the argument for so clearly in his recent article. But that’s not a new message.
In 1966 Carmarthenshire sent shockwaves through Wales and the World by electing Gwynfor Evans as Plaid Cymru’s first MP. Gwynfor made a historic broadcast announcing Wales was still alive, in it he said: “We’re not puppets at the mercy of economic forces, we can control events, we can control economics and we can control politics - they should serve our community, no destroy it.”
Gwynfor went to London alone for Wales, swimming against the tide of the Labour movement in Wales but he wouldn’t be silenced. My party, Plaid Cymru, has delivered so much in government over the last few years which we should be proud of, not least the referendum. But we shouldn’t lose sight of our history, for most of it we have been outside the mainstream and alone in calling for Welsh solutions for all of the people of Wales.
We should learn from our own history that opinion changes, sometimes quickly and sometimes there’s slow progress but if we don’t lead the debate it won’t ever happen.
Wales looks set to vote Labour to ‘protect us from the Tories but it’s another false dawn for the people of Wales, there’s only one way to liberate ourselves from colonial capitalism and that’s independence.
Wednesday, 27 April 2011
Stephen is the Treasurer of the Scottish Independence Convention and retired Assistant Direct of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.
Many of Scotland's established commentators are in a state of despair about the Election debate. Take this sample from the pages of The Scotsman over the last two weeks.
Writing from a temporary refuge in Tunisia Michael Fry contrasts the excitement of “lively and searching” late night debates among supporters of the Jasmine revolution with the “pork barrel politics” and “miserable trivialities” dominating our grey northern Election.
Jim Sillars bemoans SNP's neglect of the case for Scotland breaking free of the crisis stricken UK in favour of making spending pledges to “every interest group they can identify” while intoning the mantra of “more powers”.
Despair, scorn,hair tearing frustration or straight disbelief dominate the contributions of Gerry Hassan who believes that the social democracy which is the default mode of Scottish politics is “in tatters “ throughout Europe, John McTernan surely the last living Blairite in Scotland and Joyce Macmillan the most persisitent champion of an ethical policis for Scotland as of academic commentators such as Professors David Bell, Gavin McCrone and Stewart Sutherland.
The avatar of despair and scorn is Bill Jamieson, The Scotsman's own Executive Editor. “This Election is heading to be one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated on the Scottish public....... How has Scotland the country that shone the torch of Enlightenment, the nation of Adam Smith, been brought to this?”.
There will be few champions of independence who do not sympathise with some at least of these sentiments. But we should be aware of their very different political premises.
Michael Fry is an idealist free marketeer who supports independence and believes that the national movement has “enough mental vigour and conceptual depth” to redeem its current failings. Jim Sillars is a professed “unreconstructed fundamentalist” who holds that SNP's current gradualism is misconceived. Gerry Hassan is an intellectual entrepreneur who is continually stretching for the next Big Idea. Joyce Macmillan is a champion of a value based politics who has been persuaded to support SNP for this Election by its defence of public service universalism.
McTernan and Jamieson present altogether different challenges to the Scottish mainstream. They share a frustration at the refusal of Scottish politics to accept the UK's fiscal crisis as the grounds for abandoning its consensual social democracy for
more radical change. McTernan, a former senior policy adviser to Tony Blair, wants Scotland to take up the Blairite programme of reforms to the NHS and education. Without radical reforms to the public sector and the abandonment of universalism Scotland will fall further behind a more dynamic England.
Jamieson targets the size rather than the shape of Scotland's public sector. We must cut our spending to the exigencies of the UK's fiscal crisis. Election promises to maintain let alone extend public spending are “lollipop politics”, an insult to the intelligence of the voters which will breed yet more cynicism towards politicians. While he has expressed support for greater fiscal powers for Scotland he sees these first of all as a way of confronting the Scots with the hard financial realities rather than an escape route from the UK's decline.
The policy challenges presented by this sample of commentators will survive the Election. Whether their common scorn for the quality of the parties' policy offerings is shared by the voters will be shown by the turnout on May 5th.
Monday, 25 April 2011
Peter McColl is Convener of the Edinburgh Green Party, previously he was Convener of the Scottish Green Party's Elections and Campaigns Committee. He blogs at www.brightgreenscotland.org and is on the Editorial Board of the Scottish Left Review.
This election has been characterised by a remarkable focus on the personalities of party leaders, on the UK coalition and by little focus on the powers of the Scottish Parliament. I had hoped that 2007 marked the point where the Scottish Parliament was taken seriously and the extensive powers over tax, education, health, environment and planning were acknowledged by the Scottish press. But this campaign has thrown that hope into doubt. The significance of the welfare reforms being pushed at Westminster is one reason for this. I was given some inspiration by this wonderful video of an RSA seminar:
It’s important to consider how these ideas of autonomy can help to make the case for more power to be given to people, communities and the Scottish Parliament. By empowering people and communities we can increase people’s quality of life and lay the groundwork for an independent Scotland. Giving people more autonomy can make clear the benefits of independence.
The value of autonomy in increasing an individual's quality of life is fundamental to my belief in Scottish independence. Powers should be devolved as close to the individual and community as is practical. That might mean local currencies in addition to national currencies; it might mean more powers being given to communities over planning or other significant decisions. If we can build a movement that seeks to increase the power held by individuals and communities we can embed a culture of autonomy that will deliver more power to Scotland. This is particularly relevant at a time when the media is even more antagonistic than usual to the idea of an independence referendum.
One of the ways in which autonomy can be seen in the Community buy-outs in the Highlands. Assynt, GighaEigg have shown how communities can be much more effective at running their own affairs than either the state or private landlords. The power to buy community assets is one we must extend to urban communities – so we can multiply the benefits of community buy-outs. and
We must learn lessons from how neo-liberal right made its ideas an inevitable solution. In the 1982 preface to “Capitalism and Freedom” Milton Freedman says “There is enormous inertia—a tyranny of the status quo—in private and especially governmental arrangements. Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”
The neo-liberal right developed a worldview that answered any problem, from stagflation to a banking crisis with a simple prescription of more privatisation, lower taxes and less welfare. That's how we've ended up with a government that sees the destruction of the welfare state as the answer to a crisis of global capitalism.
It's clear to anyone who uses a service, works for a service provider or has contact with private companies that there is little advantage to privatisation. The purported cost savings regularly fail to materialise. Often privatisation displaces very significant costs to other public services. But time and again our politicians resort to privatisation as a fix-all solution. This is the product of the embedding of the customer-provider relationship in society. It has become our dominant mode of relationship with each other and the state. In society empowerment and autonomy lies only in the ability to buy things.
One way to fundamentally reconfigure the relationship between the individual, community and state may be to explore concepts like co-production. This will embed social democracy much more deeply in the fabric of our lives. Co-production is an idea being promoted by think tanks like NESTA and the New Economics Foundation. It means placing service users at the heart of services. It allows a move away from the bureaucratic and municipalist models of service delivery that frequently alienate service users. It promotes self-help and services tailored to the user.
In Edinburgh, Green Councillor Maggie Chapman was able to convince Edinburgh Council to allow the community in Leith to control the small grants programme. The £eith Decides day involved over 400 people in a carnival atmosphere. Rather than decisions made behind closed doors, people were able to see how voluntary sector projects improved their community. We should aim to widen participatory budgeting projects like £eith Decides to determine much more of state spending. Similarly, we should spread the right to buy land to urban communities.
This could be at the heart of a new way of doing government. By empowering people to design and contribute to their own services and government spending we will be able to deliver better services. We will also embed an idea of autonomy in our society that is not centred on the consumer-provider relationship, but on a more humane model of community empowerment.
By freeing people and communities from control by the bureaucratic state and the power of big business and the ultra-rich we can make the case for autonomy. This will allow us to promote the inevitable solution to the next crisis not as destruction of the welfare state, but full powers for the Scottish Parliament, and a more significant role for our communities and voluntary associations in creating better lives for everyone.
Saturday, 23 April 2011
Bill Kidd is SNP Candidate for Glasgow Anniesland
Scotland and the Wider-World – should we know our place?
Too wee, too poor, too stupid. Is that how you see our country? Is that how we should bring up our children to think of themselves and their communities? It’s how the British Establishment, both north and south of the Border, depict us, like Alice through a concave mirror. Therefore it’s vital that we take every opportunity to promote Scotland’s right to participate in the wider-world through international organisations and on platforms of particular interest to us here.
A couple of months after election to the Scottish Parliament in 2007 I joined PNND (Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament) which operates in the parliaments of over 70 countries and has over 800 members. I am now the first Scot to sit on the 15 Member Global Council of PNND and this has afforded me the opportunity to speak at international gatherings at the UN on four separate occasions and a chance to question NATO politicians and diplomats on the future of Trident at Partnership for Peace in Geneva.
Having been a member of a delegation which met with Ban-Ki Moon to discuss his Five-Point-Plan for a World Without Nuclear Weapons and had a personal interview with Ambassador Cabactulan, President of the NPT Review Conference 2010, it has been made abundantly clear to me that Scotland’s place in the world and our popular and parliamentary opposition to Trident is known and understood at the highest levels. We need to make this awareness known to the Scottish People in order that they can gain the self-confidence that comes from being taken seriously by high-profile people of integrity on the world-stage.
I have to say that not only is it unquestioned by politicians and diplomats from across the world that Scots should appear at conferences and speak on behalf of delegations at international convocations but, to be fair to them, it is also accepted by ambassador level staff of the British State and we should not be shy to make ourselves known in those circles. For example, H.E. John Duncan the U.K. Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva is a career diplomat who hails from Rhu and a genuine gentleman, and although he is very precise in his promotion of Trident as a deterrent and of its use in multilateral negotiations he well understands my belief in unilateral nuclear disarmament but has still been very helpful in introductions to other attendees at nuclear disarmament conferences. If we take ourselves seriously then others will too.
Scotland needs the full powers of a sovereign nation over defence and foreign affairs and to take our place on the world-stage in the promotion of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament as well as in peace-keeping and serving as an honest broker in international disputes. Until that approaching day arrives we must as a matter of importance promote our nation as one which has something to say and to contribute on the matters of state which affect all existing members of the United Nations and the peoples of the world.
Thursday, 21 April 2011
James Robertson is a writer, whose latest novel And the Land Lay Still received the 2010 Saltire Society Book of the Year Award
Two and a half weeks to go till polling day, and the Scottish Labour Party must be desperately looking around for an enormous banana skin to drop in the path of Big Eck. Not much else looks like stopping him right now – not Labour’s own lacklustre campaign ,with its non-credible bleat that they alone can save Scotland from the Coalition’s cuts (who would you rather have standing between you and the bad guys of Westminster and Whitehall, Alex Salmond and his gang or Iain Gray and his?) ; not the LibDems, however much clear blue water Tavish Scott may be trying to put between himself and his southern counterpart; and not the Tories, much though one appreciates Annabel ‘Commonsense’ Goldie, the perfectly acceptable but still unelectable face of Scottish Conservatism. Only the Greens have put up a show that matches the SNP’s for professionalism and pizzazz: coincidentally, only the Greens have the courage and honesty to propose a rise in income tax to help secure the kind of society most Scots want. It looks highly possible that when the dust settles on 6th May Eck and Patrick Harvie may be sitting down over a mint tea to discuss renewables of various kinds. A Nationalist administration nudged and nipped at by an enlarged group of Green MSPs looks rather an attractive proposition.
The SNP, of course, have made something of an art of governing as a minority, and only have to pick up one or two extra seats to be able to claim a huge victory. If they can keep the lid on any tendency to adopt a cock o’ the north strut, and maintain their commitment under fire to a range of popular policies such as no student fees, free NHS prescriptions and a council tax freeze – and let’s face it, their only serious rivals for power aren’t chucking missiles at any of these – they’ll not only get their own loyal support out but sweep up loads of disaffected LibDem and Labour votes too. Even more astonishingly, so long as they keep that old chestnut – and the party’s raison d’etre – independence firmly off the election agenda, they’ll draw in committed Unionists of all hues who know in their hearts that nobody will look after Scotland’s interests within the union better than the Nats. Are there any skeletons in the SNP cupboard? In the absence of banana skins, anyone who doesn’t fancy another Salmond victory had better release them now.
Meanwhile, what about that other vote that’s being foisted on Scotland on the same day as our parliamentary one? The one about Nick Clegg’s ‘miserable little compromise’, the AV voting system? It’s not looking good for AV, according to the latest poll. Trouble is, we already have a better (not perfect, but certainly much better) form of PR for Holyrood elections, so the AV referendum looks like we’re being asked to decide between two stale, plain biscuits in a shop window 500 miles away when we’ve already got used to our own locally sourced caramel wafer.
In these circumstances, a pro-independence cynic might be tempted to vote for first-past-the-post just to ensure continuing differences between Scottish and UK politics for the next decade.
Until recently, my own gut instinct was to spoil the ballot paper, on the grounds of both systems being unacceptable. But then I heard that nice John Reid saying that first-past-the-post is ‘the British way’ of doing things. This reconciles me to FPTP much as the Cleggeron’s considered opinion that it would make sense to give wee royal lassies succession equality with wee royal laddies reconciles me to the principle of monarchy. Thanks, Lord Reid, for sorting that out for me.