Friday, 16 June 2017

Jo Cox: One Year On.

It was at the start of the EU Edinburgh Rally - Leading not Leaving  on June 16th that Willie Rennie, the event’s chairperson, read out a statement that Jo Cox MP had been attacked in the street.  None of us knew at that time, 2:00pm, that Jo had already died of her wounds.  The pro-EU rally went on but it was not reported on.  I knew as soon as switched on a radio afterwards and they were still talking about her that Jo must be dead. 

It was a shocking attack.  As soon as reports came out that her attacker (who is not worthy of mentioning by name) was into organisations such as The National Alliance, I knew he was a neo-Nazi and that Jo’s murder was a political assassination.  I said so too, for I know The National Alliance.  I was told to shut up, that one should not speculate, that the person may have been mentally ill, but I knew.  He wasn’t ill, he was a Nazi.
How did I know? The leader of The National Alliance was one William Pierce. He used to write weekly news letters, extolling the superiority of the white race and besmirching others. His main target (since he was American) were black people, Mexicans and Latin Americans.  In the 1990s, I came across the online chat room while doing my first degree in Wales. Being blonde and blue-eyed, I took special objection to Pierce's loathsome views and argued vehemently with the racist bastard.
After Jo’s murderer was convicted and the facts were out, he was indeed proved to be acting upon ideology and not through any form of madness.  He is a terrorist who killed in order to advance the tenants of Nazism. 

This year, I went to a Jo Cox get-together for candidates in the general election.  Will such events help take the bitterness out of political campaigning?  I really hope so. I did not know Jo Cox personally but from what I hear she was a wonderful woman who stood up against injustice, although one must always be aware of the perils of hierography of the dead.  It may be enough though that the civic memory of Jo Cox lives on through such events.  It is a reminder that we have far more in common than whatever divides us and, no matter the disagreement, violence is never the answer.

Jo Cox died on June 16th, 2016.  My fiftieth birthday. I think through Jo and the coincidence of the date, the memory of what she has come to stand for will never leave me.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

On the state of Scottish Nationalism and the SNP

I wrote this as a response to the large amount of negative comments I received on my Facebook campaigns page from SNP supporters during the 2017 Spring election campaign.

The problem with the SNP is their agenda is both popularist and regressive. How can this be? The popularise bit is easy: free tuition fees, free proscriptions, opposition to London. Regressive insofar the government is purposely not using available powers to change the Westminster (Conservative) agenda. Sure, the SNP will block the bedroom tax (good) and not hand on the tax cut to higher earners (okay) but will not actually make profound changes. Ah, one might say, Barnett does not allow for Scotland to earn more that the given share. That is true, but it is totally possible to re-jig the tax system, with powers available, in order to put less of the burden on poorer tax payers and a higher burden on those richer. This is not being done nor is it likely to be. It is as if the SNP leadership are eager to pass on hardships while not using powers to ease the pressure on the people of Scotland. A cynic might say this is because that it would not be in their party interest to improve matter. Instead, the situation have to decline further in order to convince more people to vote Yes in the next referendum for independence. Consider the ongoing cuts, confirmed by such bodies as Audit Scotland for education but denied by supporters. The usual technique is to narrow the window of examination and thus present statistics in a narrow window that lets through the best possible light. Oil production is another such field were the larger picture is never presented.
Liberal Democrats support federalism. That is using devolved powers in order to improve things as close as possible to local communities. The SNP do not trust people. If they did, they would allow a diverse Scotland to emerge. Instead, we see a centralisation of power to a handful of minister in Holyrood. The police and emergency services are an obviously case. I shared a hustings stage with Kenny MacAskill in 2011 when he was musing why shouldn’t education be centralised? The popularist freezing of the council tax made councils more and more reliant upon funding by central government. Democracy has been slowly suffocated by the SNP and, while bemoaning the powers that Westminster have, power in Scotland has been increasingly sucked into Edinburgh.
Yet the SNP is not a party which encourages scrutiny and debate. It is a party of faith. Faith that only independence will solve our problems. If only we were independent, then we would be free to address the monumental issues that we all face. Those issues are not really discussed either. In 2014, such issues would be “the will of the Scottish people” following independence.
The SNP are serious about independence and they are in a hurry. Therefore any method is acceptable in order to get people to tick the Yes box the next time around. It is a bit of a reverse of 1745. In that campaign, Bonny Prince Charlie had to win every battle. A single defeat and the war would be lost. Now, the SNP can lose every battle until they win just one. It is their haste, combined with their conservative political strategy, that will be their downfall.
I am not a natural unionist. As a half-Irish Catholic, unionism isn’t a concept I am fond of. My concern over the course of Scottish independence is the effect of sudden independence will have on people. I questioned the economic basis of independence in 2014 and, come, 2019, things are not likely to improve. The glimmer of hope is that of Brexit.
Brexit might, just might, provide the shortcut that the SNP are hoping for. If the Conservatives win on Friday and pursue a hard Brexit (that is making the UK an offshore free-trade zone and basically making us into an mini-me version of the United States), then there is a case of bailing out in a hurry, whatever the economic cost. Both parties though play identity politics. If one is not a supporter of independence, one has to be a unionist. This is a false logic, for in ceding one’s identity, one hands over one’s critical faculties to others. Such-and-such is necessary in order to achieve the ultimate goal. All will be sorted out after victory.
So what must be done? The answer is simple if na├»ve: work for the good of people. Change society from what it is now. The SNP follow Westminster’s line in the hope that line will ultimately snap and with it the Union. Instead, we have powers, available now, to make a difference for good. If those powers were used and a track record achieved, this would result in one of two things. Either the rest of the UK would look to Scotland as a leading member of the Union and demand that they follow our example, or, they would continue to go their own way. If the latter, the case for Scottish independence would be made.
Neither course will suit the SNP though because it takes time, for it is the path of evolution rather than revolution. They want power and in a hurry, regardless of the effect upon us all. Instead of working to improve the prospects for the entire UK, they have given up on ever making a positive change and, instead, claim to just care about Scotland. If they really did care about us, then they know that improving the whole of the UK is just as important because, through simple geographical fact, there is no separating the reality of the links: cultural, scientific, economic. England will remain our largest trading partner, forever. Whatever happens in Westminster will always affect us here. So do we work together to overthrow the cycle of the two-party state or go it alone? The SNP has already answered that question: go it alone, regardless of consequences.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Campaign Blog 2017. Positions on Brexit

Campaigning for the 2017 general election has been very different from previous years. This time the Liberal Democrats are on the offensive. I certainly am here in Edinburgh North and Leith. Since 2014, the local party membership has almost tripled and with more volunteers, more donations and more resources, more is being done. Liberal Democrats are growing once more.
This election has been called on Brexit and it is that I will be talking about in this blog. That is not to say that the Liberal Democrats have nothing else to say. Our flagship policy is to raise income tax by a penny in the pound, in order to pay for the publics services that have been eroded since the economic crash of 2008. This would be linked to tightening up on the loopholes used by corporations and the very rich to avoid paying their fair share of taxation. In England we would see the NHS benefit from the income tax rise, while in Scotland we advocate extra revenue going towards education, which has declined drastically under the tenure of the SNP government at Holyrood. The Liberal Democrat manifesto may be read here:
On Brexit, I am really proud of the Liberal Democrat insistence that any final deal is put before the people of Britain before being signed off. The post-referendum coup inside the Conservative party and their embracing of UKIP’s hardline policies shows that the extremists have taken over. The Conservative leadership now only stand for one thing: a corporate UK where big businesses can operate free of the restraints of taxation and free of responsibility: either to people or to the environment. While business success is vital for Britain, in a decent society, it should never be business before all else. It will be though under Theresa May’s vision for a hard Brexit. She knows this will be unpopular and has been doing her very best to avoid public scrutiny. May failed to turn up to the Leaders Debate and has skipped the Women’s Hour interview. Theresa MIA - missing in action. If you don’t turn up for the job interview, you shouldn’t get the job. May has also proved to be far from competent: her handling of the dementia tax and her inconsistency on almost every important topic shows a lack of depth, a lack of self-awareness, that has even surprised her strongest critics. May called the election, put her competence on the line and she has been found wanting. I feel sorry for moderate conservatives for whom all this extremism must be deeply concerning. If they never supported UKIP previously, isn’t that exactly what they are being asked to do now?
With the reconfirmation of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, that party too has fled the middle ground of politics. Corbyn is a socialist of the Bennite tradition. Tony Benn always opposed the UK joining the European Union, seeing it as a vast conspiracy of capital against the working class. Unlike May, at least Corbyn has the credit of sticking to his principles through thick and thin. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that led to the sight of Corbyn leading his party through the voting lobby with the Conservatives to deliver Article 50, triggering the nation’s divorce proceedings with the EU. It is Corbyn’s history of opposition to the European Union that explains his post-Article 50 tweet “Real fight starts now.” What he means is that the struggle for a socialist Britain starts with us leaving the European Union. Again, central-ground Labour supporters must not be in an happy place right now.
While on the topic, one should note the Scottish Greens are a deeply socialist party. I am not saying this: they are. During hustings events here in Edinburgh, candidates in both the 2015 and 2017 espoused their pride in being socialist, with reference to the metaphor of the watermelon (green on the outside, red under the skin) being embraced. Fair play to both and it does give socialist voters a genuine choice of candidate in this election for voting between Green and Labour. Non-socialist voters will want to bear in mind that the modern Greens are not all about the environment. Scottish Greens are also pro-independence, seeing this as the most likely path to achieve their desire of a socialist Scotland. 
No one can accuse the SNP of being socialist or even particularly green. They have followed Westminster in the change of emphasis from small-scale and community energy to supporting only the large scale suppliers. They are also very happy to see the Air Duty Tax rate being slashed in half, bowing to pressure from the directors at Edinburgh Airport. When it comes to Brexit, I do believe the sincerely of the SNP leadership to wish to stay in the EU. What they failed to do in Westminster however was to support the Liberal Democrat amendment that would have allowed the people of the United Kingdom a final say. This must be the only occasion in history that the SNP does not want a second referendum. The upshot of this choice is to make Brexit another lever for independence rather that it being about the EU. Like Ireland, Scotland’s largest trading partner will be the one closest to it. Whatever one’s views on independence, it makes no sense to have trade barriers between England and Scotland. It genuinely is in Scotland’s best interest to keep England and Wales in the EU. Yet again, the SNP works to its own narrow remit. 
It is too easy for people to be sucked into the symbolic logic that if I am not A, then I must be B. Parties who go down that line must be challenged because instead of policies and issues, everything is reduced to identity politics. 
On June the 8th, I am asking for your support to the Liberal Democrats so that you can have a say on the outcome of the EU negotiations. I am asking for your support to deliver a different Great Britain than what is offered by either May or Corbyn. I am asking for your support to help me deliver a better deal for Edinburgh and Leith.