International Socialist Group (Scotland) Thu, 30 Oct 2014 00:32:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Gough Whitlam – the PM deposed by the Monarchy Tue, 21 Oct 2014 19:35:34 +0000 The former Labour prime minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam, has died aged 98. In a long life one event stands out; his dismissal as elected prime minister by the direct representative of Queen Elizabeth 11.

Whitlam opposed the US war in Vietnam and Australia’s participation in it. When he took office in 1972 he wrote to US president Richard Nixon urging a de-escalation of the war and then criticised the US bombing of civilian targets over the Christmas period. Whittlam had presided over Labour’s first federal election win since 1946. Key to that victory was his promise to end Australian involvement in the Vietnam War, to end conscription and to release those jailed for refusing the draft. This sent Nixon into a frenzy of anger. He described Whitlam’s stance as an “absolute outrage.”

In addition Whittlam had promised to normalise relations with China, having visited Beijing in 1971 (unknown to him Kissinger was secretly visiting the Chinese capital at the same time). It would be Nixon and Kissinger who in 1972, after a dramatic flight to Beijing, ended Washington’s refusal to recognise the People’s Republic of China, itself tribute to the stinging defeat the 1949 revolution had inflicted on US ambitions in the Far East. This supposed triumph (aimed at isolating both Russia and North Vietnam) did not stop the US wanting to stop Australia moving closer to China.

Before he was forced to quit the US presidency, before being impeached, Nixon wanted to break security co-operation with Australia. In a flurry of diplomatic cables President Nixon described Whitlam as a “whirling dervish” and a “peacenik, who was putting the Australia on a very, very dangerous path”.

Tape recordings from the White House, uncovered during the inquiry into Nixon’s bugging of his US presidential opponents election HQ,  have Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger agreed they would “freeze” Whitlam “for a few months” so that he would “get the message”.

More chilling are the words of a CIA officer, Victor Marchetti, who had helped set up the US Pine Gap base (equivalent to GCHQ), who told John Pilger, “This threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House. Consequences were inevitable… a kind of Chile was set in motion.”

The reference is to the build up to the 11 September 1973 coup in Chile which overthrew the left wing government of Salvador Allende, resulting in the murder of him and 30,000 leftwingers.

Under the rule of the Liberal (in truth Tory) prime minister, Sir Robert Menzies and his successors Australia had been the most loyal of the loyal allies of both Washington and London, employing anti-communism with a zeal during the 1950s. Now Whittlam seemed to be taking the country in a different election.

The Australian elite were unsettled by Whitlam’s implementation of some of the measures in his manifesto – free university education, the withdrawal from Vietnam, land rights for the indigenous population, equal pay for women and so on. Most of this happened early in the government.

The right controlled the senate and used this to lock government legislation and then funding, forcing Whittlam to call another election in 1974 which he won, albeit with a reduced majority. By now the country was swept by the first global post-war recession and the Whittlam government, like its Labour and Social Democratic counter-parts elsewhere, seemed helpless in its face.

Sensing the tide might have turned against Whittlam Washington appointed a man known as the “coupmaster,” Marshall Green as ambassador in Canberra. He had played a central role in the 1965 coup against President Sukarno in Indonesia during which the Indonesian army butchered up to a million communists and nationalists, using lists supplied by the CIA and MI6. By now MI6 was bugging cabinet meetings on behalf of the CIA and US operatives were present in the upper echelons of the Labour Party and the trade unions.

One close CIA ally was the governor general of Australia, Sir John Kerr, Queen Elizabeth 11’s representative (the Queen was and is head of state of Australia). On 10 November Kerr visited the headquarters of the Defence Signals Directorate (the equivalent of the NSA) for a security briefing; afterwards he spent 20 minutes on a secure phone talking to someone unknown.

The next day Whittlam was set to announce the extent of CIA infiltration of the Australian state machine and government in parliament. Before he could do so he was informed by Kerr he had been sacked as the elected prime minister. Kerr was using the powers vested in him as representative of the Queen. The Queen still has the power to appoint and dismiss the prime minister of the United Kingdom, and the governor general in Commonwealth countries where she remains head of state exercise that power.

In her “Gough Whitlam: A Moment in History,” Jenny Hocking points out that two months earlier Kerr had discussed the possible dismissal of Whitlam when both attended Papua New Guinea’s independence celebrations, and the heir to the British throne reported back on this conversation to Buckingham Palace.

After Kerr announced Whitlam’s sacking and the appointment of the Liberal leader, Malcolm Fraser as premier, workers downed tools, marching to protest rallies, and laying siege to the parliament building in Canberra.

In Melbourne it was reported that “more than 50 policemen engaged in a running battle with demonstrators” who “clambered over the police cars, kicking and denting panels, smashing lights and brawling with uniformed and plain clothes police.”

According to the Australian, “seamen walked off the job, tying up ships around Australia, waterside workers struck for 24 hours from midnight, metalworkers in factories throughout the country held spontaneous strikes and employees in railway workshops in Sydney and Newcastle also walked off.” In New South Wales coal miners struck for 24 hours. A number of NSW coal mines stopped for 24 hours, with the Miners’ Federation leadership calling for pit-top meetings nationwide. There was talk of union bans to stop ballot papers being printed for an election many saw as undemocratic.

Protests continued on the next day with protesters storming the stock exchange in Sydney. Twenty four hours later after another trade union rally the crowd marched on the headquarters of Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire – Murdoch had backed the coup – only to be blocked at the front entrance by police. The workers then got in through another entrance and began throwing bundles of papers off their delivery trucks and setting fire to them.

The biggest protest was in Melbourne, where the unions called a four-hour stoppage on Friday, 14 November. 400,000 workers walked out.  50,000 thousand rallied in City Square. After growing impatient with the speeches 10,000 followed the lead of the revolutionary left in marching on the state parliament and then the stock exchange.

The Melbourne paper, The Age, warned, “business leaders fear that a new Government might not be able to govern”.

The head of the trade union federation, a future Labour prime minister, echoed this saying “cool it.” Trade union leaders warned against any indefinite strike, and importantly Whitlam added his voice calling for restraint. He demanded a general election demanding energies be focused on “the campaign for the election now to be held and until polling day.”

The radical left was calling for a general strike but it was too weak to deliver. Whitlam, Hawke and the other trade union leaders were able to carry the day. Faced with a virulent campaign against him, with warnings of economic chaos if Labour were returned, Whitlam lost that election.

Looking back he was a right wing social democrat who believed in welfare and alleviating poverty, and understood Vietnam was a disaster. That was enough to earn the hatred of the Australian ruling class and Washington. The coup which removed him is a warning of where power lies in society, that the British monarchy is not some neutral presence and was one of the key moments when the ruling class began to recover from the scare inflicted on them by the world working class and the national liberation movements between 1968 and 1974 and began to plot their revenge. We’ve been living through the years of revenge ever since.



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Day-Mer: Kobane Needs International Support Thu, 09 Oct 2014 13:08:53 +0000 Isis is turning Iraq and Syria into a bloodbath. The imperialists wanted to use Isis to redesign the Middle East for their own goals, and now the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane is singlehandedly fighting to defend itself against Isis.

About four months ago, IS armed forces started their advance towards the east aiming for Baghdad. They quickly took over the city of Mosul, a major city in Iraq. In the areas of the advance and in Mosul, Sunni Iraqi soldiers put up no resistance and handed their weapons over to IS. Some joined in the ranks with IS and some fled to the east. While IS was advancing on Baghdad, the Shiite leader of the Iraqi government was replaced, the US provided the Central Iraqi government with arms and military experts, and supported them with air strikes against IS. The IS reaction was to do a U-turn and advance on the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Syria. The Barzani forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Northern Iraq could not withstand the IS onslaught and retreated, abandoning their positions and weapons.

The Isis forces have been massacring and displacing the Yazidi minority of the Shengal region of Syria, and are now focusing on the Kurds of Rojava. Situated in northern Syria, Rojava’s predominantly Kurdish population have created a new political formation, where they are trying to enable peoples of all faiths and national identities to live together in peace. This example is an expression of how people in the Middle East can live freely. However, the Isis militants are trying to destroy Kobane at the heart of Rojava, while the Kurdish people are waging a struggle for life to defend their homeland, without any support from the Coalition forces, including Turkey.

The Kurdish people in Northern Iraq, in Kobane, are now face-to-face with one of the largest humanitarian tragedies of recent history. Since 19th September 2014, the people of Kobane, old and young, men and women have been putting up an honourable resistance to the Isis gangs and their ongoing attacks. Their only source of support has been the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) forces. In Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) forces (which have been waging a war for 30 years against Turkey until the recent ceasefire) confronted the IS forces and managed to halt their advance in some places. IS forces got closer to the Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital Erbil and the important oil town of Kirkuk and they overran the Yazidi city of Shengal. Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled Shengal and have taken refuge in Turkey.

The US support helped stop the IS advance on Iraqi Kurdistan and following this, IS began to increase its attacks on Kobane. It is now surrounded on three sides by IS forces in the east, south and west, except for the border with Turkey in the north. The IS forces have tanks and heavy artillery while the YPG/YPJ forces in Kobane only have light infantry rifles. The elderly, women and children in Kobane have escaped to Turkey. Tens of thousands are in the town of Suruc in Turkey, camping in the open and going hungry. Kobane wants arms to defend itself against the IS. They want Turkey to open a corridor for them to bring tanks and heavy artillery abandoned in the Eastern Canton of Rojava by the Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi military forces and seized by the YPG. The IS forces are now within 1km of the YPG positions.

Meanwhile, the Turkish government has joined the US coalition against the IS and wants to create a 40-50km buffer zone in Rojava, along the Turkish-Syrian border to settle the Syrian refugees that crossed the borders into Turkey during the civil war. Populations in this zone will be disarmed (hence PYD and YPG will lose control and influence in Rojava and the coalition forces, including Turkey, will supposedly defend the area against IS and the Assad forces).

As the latest reports from the mainstream media also confirm, Isis has surrounded Kobane. However we are also hearing from sources in Kobane and on the border that the honourable struggle of Kobane continues. Kurdish people living in Turkey together with progressive forces have been on the border since 19th September. Over the last weekend, just like their brothers and sisters in Kobane, they have also been attacked by the Turkish army and police who have never been shy of expressing their support for the Isis forces.

We, as Day-Mer believe that in the current situation, international solidarity and support for Kobane is of vital importance. We have therefore called on all political parties, organisations and the public opinion to show solidarity with Kobane and Rojava. We think that solidarity with the peoples of the region against imperialist plans and attacks is one of the most urgent political tasks. Today we are starting our next solidarity campaign with this press release. We are hoping that in the coming days, we can further strengthen this solidarity initiative by organising the lobbying of parliament, meetings and pressure groups to achieve the best possible support for people of Kobane and people of Middle East.

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The Landscape of ‘No’ Scotland Wed, 08 Oct 2014 11:13:50 +0000  

There are times where the basic course of history can remain unchanged for years, decades or centuries. Where the material conditions in which people live are replicated over and over in a near identical fashion with no reason for alteration. Once every so often though, seemingly unexpected confluxes of events occur; producing contradictions in the current social order that present opportunities for wider social change.

The independence referendum was one of these opportunities. Either the progressive political forces in Scotland allied with the nationalists would win independence or the British state, its compliant media and self-serving political parties, would shut down the threat to their privileged positions in society. In the end the latter won, the onslaught was immense; every possible political weapon was deployed against us from the outrageously biased media corporations to the boot boys of the Orange Order. The most shameful role in this defeat for the Left lies with the Labour Party which allied itself to the most despicable and reactionary elements of British politics.

The prospect of breaking the union of the United Kingdom offered colossal domestic and social gains which could have improved and preserved countless lives. A break with austerity Westminster could have allowed the perusal of a socially fair living-wage economy, where the productive forces of society are harnessed for a more equitable social settlement. The end of Trident could have sparked a new wave of the movement for global nuclear disarmament, and a severely hampered British military would be curtailed from the engaging in the normal bombing campaigns of its US ally. Already the British government is engaging new military action in Syria and Iraq, safe in the knowledge that the Scottish No vote gives a free hand once again to destroy the region all over again.

But the Left can spend no longer on regrets for a world that could have been. The referendum has been lost, but the larger picture must be taken account of. Each of the major players in Scotland has fared perhaps incongruous to the referendum outcome itself and the course of Scottish and British politics has been permanently affected.


Pyrrhic Victory

The aforementioned defeats for the Yes campaign aside, by far the biggest losers from the referendum are Scottish Labour. The idea of Home Rule espoused by Labour forefathers such as Keir Hardie died long ago within the Labour Party, along with most other working-class principles. The party bureaucracy is now so wedded to the UK state and access to power that it can tolerate no threat to its own privileged position within society. Social and economic arguments to dissuade the population from voting for independence are manufactured as required.

Labour and the rest of the Westminster establishment may have won this referendum, but this victory will cost Scottish Labour in particular dearly. The working class which they long ago abandoned voted in droves for independence. Fortress cities such as Dundee and Glasgow, along with West Dumbartonshire and North Lanarkshire voted Yes, whilst scores of other working class constituencies came within a few percent points of following suit. Those voters will not forgive Labour for their self-serving stance in the referendum; they will punish the party hard at the next Scottish elections in 2016 – the latest Survation poll putting the SNP on 49% of the vote. This would see an increase in the Scottish Government’s majority on 2011.

Further to this, on announcing her intention to stand for leader following Alex Salmond’s resignation, Nicola Sturgeon announced that 26,000 people have joined the SNP since the referendum bringing a total party membership to over 50,000. That figure now stands at over 75,000. The Scottish National Party is now the UK’s third largest party. The SNP’s student wing, at 4,000, is larger than the Scottish Liberal Democrats. The Scottish Greens and Scottish Socialist Party, who joined the SNP in the Yes Scotland coalition, have also reported thousands of new members are swelling their ranks. Compare this to Scottish Labour’s undisclosed membership, estimated to be as high as 13,000 or as low as 5,000.

The forces of Yes are reconfiguring, where the pieces end up remains unknown, they will not automatically accrue to the SNP. Scottish Labour’s electoral fortunes in the Scottish Parliament had already been decaying since even before the 2007 SNP victory. Their support for a No vote, their allegiance to the Tories, Orange Order, Ukip and the rest, have alienated much of their traditional voter base – perhaps permanently. Scottish Labour now faces the abyss. But their annihilation in Scotland can only be achieved if a new, unified, convincing party of the Left can be formed to win over those who Labour abandoned. Only then, in concert with a continued social-democratic stance from the SNP, can Labour be forever removed from the Scottish parliamentary political arena.


Where we go from here

The progressive social forces that backed the Yes movement have been assembled and awoken; they remain mobilised but quickly require political direction less they pursue dead-end political avenues such as the notion of an immediate second independence referendum. It is now incumbent upon those organisations such as the Radical Independence Campaign and others to shepherd that energy in a useful direction to where we can exert the maximum pressure.

On Saturday 22nd of November, the Radical Independence Campaign will host a national conference. Here, the activists and supporters of the progressive forces who backed independence can now take the chance to hold Westminster to account for the frantic promises of more devolution that they promised. The prospect of full independence has been forestalled , we must now argue for real Home Rule. Demands like these, and continued grassroots organisation through initiatives like RIC and others are necessary but insufficient. Aside from RIC, a new vehicle must be created to carry forward the explosion in working class organisation and activism – that vehicle must be a new socialist left political formation.

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Britain is still in crisis Mon, 06 Oct 2014 15:28:57 +0000 The crisis of the British state has taken a major jump forward in the last month or so.  All the elements of this crisis flow from the irreversible decline of British power, which the ruling class has not been able to stem let alone reverse in over a century.

The first element is one which has only sprung to the fore in little over a decade – the possible break up of the British state. It seems a lifetime ago that the independence issue in Scotland was the pursuit of a minority; just over a quarter of the electorate, at most, supported independence until quite recently. The UK elite might have dreamed prior to 18 September that a No vote to Scottish independence would bury the constitutional issue but that has proved wide of the  mark.

Firstly, the unionists must be well aware the No vote only won a majority among the over-55s – time is not on the side of the Union. The working class base of the Yes vote means the independence issue can easily become tied up with social unrest, opposition to austerity or war, for example. Doubts will grow that the issue of independence is not done and dusted, casting a long term shadow over belief in the stability of the UK in Washington, Brussels and beyond.

In addition, their referendum victory came at a cost. Gordon Brown’s last minute promise of more powers for the Scottish parliament was matched by David Cameron’s questioning of why Scottish MPs at Westminster should vote on English matters. At the Tory Party conference he then promised “English votes for English laws”. How any of this is going to be delivered remains unclear at best.

Tactically, in the short term Brown was thinking of preventing defeat and Cameron of strengthening his position in relation to UKIP and his own backbenchers. But in the longer term it opens up the possibility of a federal Britain. In ruling class circles that must be seen as a further weakening of the British state – if not a stepping stone to its break up.

The second element of the British crisis is the European issue. Since 1945 the British ruling class has been divided on Europe, although a majority favours EU membership, recognising that it’s the UK’s biggest trading partner.

In the 1970s, after a Tory government under Edward Heath secured membership of today’s EU, the argument seemed most polarised within the Labour Party and on the left. After Harold Wilson was re-elected premier in 1974 he decided to call a referendum on British membership, calculating a win for Yes to EU membership would isolate his left wing critics, principally Tony Benn, who opposed the EU on solid democratic grounds. That’s what happened, but the decision of the Labour left and their Communist allies to block with right wing anti-Europeans like Enoch Powell meant the No campaign was fought on the terrain of national sovereignty. That helped ensure the debate on Europe ever since has been dominated by right wing arguments.

That was reinforced as the European issue became increasingly fractious in the Tory Party under Thatcher. It effectively wrecked John Major’s 1992-1997 government, continued to fester during their thirteen years in opposition and has re-emerged full force during Cameron’s tenure in office. The emergence of UKIP means that this issue is not going away. In the week before the Scottish referendum Chatham House released a poll saying voters in London and Scotland would opt to stay in the EU if a referendum was held but the rest of Britain would choose to quit. Nicola Sturgeon, set to become Scottish First Minister, has said she favours another referendum in that event.

Its hard to see Cameron winning next year’s Westminster election, certainly not outright, but its hard to get excited by the prospect of Ed Miliband winning the key to Downing Street. He’s pledged not to call an EU referendum, but success for UKIP could alter that. If his premiership relies on Scottish Labour MPs that opens another can of worms.

Britain’s economic decline leaves it ever more dependent on finance and financial services, to a greater extent than even in 2008 when the banks crashed. High levels of  investment abroad  is accompanied by low investment at home resulting in low productivity. Britain is a low wage, low skill economy as a result.

Despite George Osborne’s hype about economic growth, domestic debt levels are high, the budget deficit has grown on his watch and there’s no export boom. When polls began suggesting the Scots might back independence Sterling fell because of doubts over the financial position of UK PLC if it lost oil revenue from the North Sea. In other words the British economy is trapped in decline. The current property boom can pop if overseas investors decide the UK is not stable enough for them to park their money and the economy is very exposed to further financial turmoil.

Lastly there is something pathetic about Britain’s involvement in a fresh Iraq war. It’s committed just six ageing warplanes, less than Denmark. Yet Whitehall clings to the belief it’s Washington’s “special” ally in a delusional way. As we saw in the Scottish referendum campaign, it matters to the UK elite that Britain is still regarded as a “power.” But that relies ever more on clinging on to the USA’s tail. Iraq and Syria form one morass into which this new “coalition of the willing” is being drawn. Obama and Cameron have both said this will be a long – and costly – war.

Already unpopular, a long military campaign against a background of continuous austerity, with no recovery in living standards in sight, can only add to the problems facing Britain’s rulers, and reignite opposition to war. Over the last few months the pro-independence campaign in Scotland and the protests over Israel’s assault on Gaza shown how quickly movements can erupt.

The crisis which faces Britain will become intertwined with the whole issue of Scotland’s position within the UK. Of course things will play out in separate ways north of the border but the intensification of the British crisis will impact in varied ways. For the radical forces involved in the referendum campaign its crucial to stay together in order to resist war, austerity, Westminster going back on the Home Rule pledge and much else – because the deepening crisis of the British state in which we remain for now require us to organise and resist.

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A Scottish Podemos Wed, 24 Sep 2014 11:12:16 +0000 For over 700 days, the people of Scotland were hammered by a fear campaign orchestrated by the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and of course, the Labour Party. If the working class were the only ones to vote in the independence referendum, there would have been a Yes vote on September 18th. In Scotland’s poorest areas, all of which are traditional Labour heartlands, the argument for independence to create a socially just Scotland was won. A Yes vote became a revolt against the alienation of the British state and the British economy.

All analyses of the referendum result have agreed that there is a linear relationship between unemployment, poverty and a higher Yes vote. That relationship is much stronger than, for example, the difference between men and women or between SNP areas and Labour areas. Four out of the six poorest constituencies in Scotland voted yes.

The voter turnout was so high because for once, how you voted actually mattered. The referendum proved that when people are given a vote which genuinely makes a difference to their lives and to those around them, they reached out and not only voted but shaped the entire substance of the debate.

Working class people in Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire and Dundee are now acutely aware and have made it explicitly clear that Labour does not improve living standards, while the party’s commitment to continued austerity has caused the party’s traditional base in Scotland to collapse. For two years, Better Together told people in Scotland that we would lose our jobs, homes, pensions, and that the cost of living would rise. Yet over one and a half million still voted yes; so many in the poorest areas voted yes. In spite of this fear, people had hope.

The real cutting edge of this debate was democracy – focusing on disengagement, disenfranchisement and the so-called “missing million”. Well, the missing million aren’t missing anymore and it is a safe bet to say that they won’t be voting for the Labour Party anytime soon. A full 70% of those voting Yes ranked what is essentially the principle of “home rule” as their primary reason for their decision.

Gordon Brown has whipped up the notion that Scotland can achieve home rule with a no vote. But very quickly, we’ve seen the cracks appear within the Labour party on this very issue. Labour cannot deliver on this basis. In the same way it cannot deliver on social justice, it cannot deliver democracy for those who have been shut out of the political process for decades.

The movement for change must remain, and in the context of a No vote, we must demand Home Rule for Scotland, not the devolution of austerity from Westminster to Holyrood. David Cameron is quickly trying to consolidate Conservative power in Westminster. His promises of devolution mean devolving the axe. There will be no increased revenue intake or new borrowing powers for Scotland. But again, this goes beyond an economic argument – Home Rule is the notion that people in Scotland can at least make decisions over their domestic affairs.

For those of us on the left who campaigned for a Yes vote, our case for independence was not that it was a vote for a flag but a vote for radical transformation of the lives of ordinary people in Scotland. That is as relevant today as it was on the 18th of September. We won the traditional Labour heartlands, and we’re not going to give them back to Labour without a fight. The battle for ‘Red Clydeside’ has only just begun.

Paul Mason (writing in the Guardian last week) is right: there is a generation of young people looking for a political home. And there are also thousands of working class Yes voters looking for a political home, too: they wont find it in the SNP nor in Labour.

Because, for me, what we need is a further expression of the amazing, youthful energy of the grassroots independence movement. This must be a political expression which captures the very essence of the fight for democracy that shaped it. None of our existing organisations are capable of doing that, so we need a new radical party. If the left fragments again into its constituent parts, then it will let down all those new activists who have created the most incredible social movement that Scotland has had for decades. And if we want to keep the debate about democracy flourishing in Scotland, as we have seen over the past 2 years, then we must create a more diverse polity in Scotland with the views of those who want to radical redistribution of wealth and power properly represented, not just in Holyrood but rooted in communities.

To do this we will look for inspiration from home and abroad. We need to learn from the likes of Podemos in Spain who emerged out of the Indignados movement and is currently unseating the Spanish Labour Party all over the country. We need to tap into the old labour radical traditions of the Independent Labour Party in Scotland who, led by Keir Hardie then James Maxton, had a vision for Scottish home rule to create a socialist Scotland and eradicate poverty and hunger.

Labour have given up the right to their own history and now, we will reclaim the best parts of that radical tradition. It was not nationalism, nor Scottish identity, nor certainly the SNP that powered the momentum behind the Yes campaign. The truth is that the movement for Yes was powered by class politics. And as the Labour party has turned its back on these ideas, we will challenge them on it in the heartlands, and undoubtedly, we will beat them.

From Bella Caledonia

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Labour living on borrowed time Mon, 22 Sep 2014 17:39:26 +0000 “Scottish Labour is fucked,” says a shadow cabinet minister, who traveled north to campaign in the referendum. “They’ve proved they can’t organise a piss-up in a brewery.” So reports the political commentator Mehdi Hasan.

I could not put it any better. Hasan adds:

“Some senior Labour figures aren’t happy with the style or substance of the pro-union effort. ‘The truth of the matter is that we couldn’t have designed a worse fucking campaign,’ a disgruntled member of the shadow cabinet tells me. ‘It was shocking.’ “

Elsewhere one “high-profile Labour politician” said: “I have never been so grateful for the Tories. They got their supporters out in middle-class areas and saved the Union, while our people were switching to Yes.”

The knives are out in particular for Douglas Alexander, drafted in to run Better Together’s campaign, and Alistair Darling, who fronted it up, for frittering away a 20 percent lead and running a disastrous campaign.

It’s true that Gordon Brown managed to staunch the flow of Labour voters from No to Yes, by campaigning in the final fortnight on a Labour ticket, rather than under the Better Together banner. Being quoted to the effect that Better Together was ‘the problem’, he sought instead to dredge up words like “solidarity” and “socialism” from the distant memory of his youth. But the idea that he is now the kingmaker is way overstretched. He relies on Ed Miliband and David Cameron to deliver the promise he made of a rapid introduction of “Devo-Max,” but neither will want Brown to take the credit for move, while both have difficulties in delivering it.

Cameron in particular sprung a trap on the hapless Miliband with his instant demand on the morning of the referendum outcome for “English votes for English laws” at Westminster. The Labour leadership failed to see this was the natural response to proposals to increase the powers of the Scottish parliament, had not prepared any coherent response and took fright.

Labour can win at Westminster on the basis of English votes as it has done in the past, but Miliband is struggling to look like a winner at next year’s UK general election, while the idea that Scottish MPs could be left with a vote on not much other than foreign policy and defence frightens him.

Some of these hard truths may slowly be hitting home at the Labour conference in Manchester, but no-one seems to be able to confront just how bad the results of the referendum were for Scottish Labour. The Yes vote centred on the party’s traditional bastions on Clydeside and in Dundee. In Labour leader Johann Lamont’s own seat of Glasgow Pollok, the Yes vote was 53.9 per cent. The evidence suggests that it is going to be difficult for Labour to rebuild in these areas.

Who Voted Yes?

Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos MORI, points out in Monday’s City AM that:

“Support for Yes came much more from the young than from the old, from men than from women, and from deprived areas than from affluent areas. And while past SNP supporters were naturally in favour, the bulk of Labour and Lib Dem voters were against, as were almost all Tories. A big part of support for independence came from those who hadn’t voted before at all.”

He’s broadly correct but underplays the significance of those Labour voters who opted for Yes. According to Lord Ashcroft’s poll it was 39 percent (Scottish Labour predicted 25 percent) but even that’s probably an underestimate, based as it was on people recalling how they voted in the 2010 Westminster general election.

But what was crucial to the success of the Yes vote in these areas was that it gave a voice to the discontent and disillusionment across swathes of working class Scotland.

Dundee Radical Independence Campaign reports the Yes vote in their target areas: Charleston 70% Yes, Happyhillock 75%, Dryburgh 70%, Kirkton 72%, Fintry 72%, Menzieshill 60%; pointing out “it is clear that communities left behind by Westminster voted Yes”. We await the ward by ward figures for elsewhere but I would wager it’s the same story across the country.

The referendum could have been won if RIC had been stronger and could have doubled or trebled the number of wards it targeted with its mass canvasses. Simply increasing the 75 percent turn out in Glasgow would have boosted the Yes vote.

In key working class areas which came close to voting Yes a RIC presence could have tipped the balance: in Inverclyde 50 percent voted Yes, North Ayrshire 49 percent, Fakirk, South Lanarkshire and East Ayrshire 47 percent,  Clackmannanshire 46 percent, West Lothian and South Lanarkshire 45 percent.

The SNP will try to capture this Yes vote. One reason for Alex Salmond standing down was that he wanted to pass the leadership onto a new generation. His deputy Nicola Sturgeon fits the bill, and having a woman as First Minister represents a major step forward, but the SNP failed to win in its core rural areas and will not find it easy to build on the estates and the former mining and steel towns of the central belt. The Greens had an admirable campaign but the lowest percentage Yes vote was in Kelvin, their strongest area in the city, and, as was shown in the European elections earlier this year, they struggle to win support in these working class areas.

The radical wing of the pro-independence campaign has the potential to get back into these communities, to fill a space created by the car crash of the old Scottish Socialist Party nearly a decade ago. We need to think how we move on now and how any serious electoral challenge must reflect the nature of the Yes vote. For instance the Yes vote may have been lower among women, but women were to the fore in the campaign and that must be recognised. It must give voice and profile to the young, the working class and to the Muslim community, where the Yes vote seems to have won out.

None of this will be achieved easily. But it’s necessary. Meanwhile spare a thought for the big losers gathering in their self-denial in Manchester. Mehdi Hasdan quotes one Labour ‘strategist’ saying that the party is “living on borrowed time. We’re losing working-class supporters all the time; in the north to the Scottish nationalists and in the south to Ukip.”

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The Referendum: Winners & Losers Sun, 21 Sep 2014 11:08:30 +0000 The Scotsman columnist George Kerevan wrote a column friday morning with which I broadly concur and which echoes my initial assessment of the referendum result.  The big losers are Labour for a simple reason: the traditional heartlands of Red Clydeside voted Yes. Consider Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire, where the Vale of Leven was a Little Moscow run by the Communists and the Independent Labour Party in the inter war years, plus North Lanarkshire. Added to that is Dundee, which has a magnificent history of working class struggle of its own. Where the left should have carried the day, in Clackmannan, Stirling, Fife and elsewhere reflects a lack of organisation by the radical left – something that must be remedied.

The Labour led No campaign heaped abuse on Yes voters and it’s unlikely that those working class people who voted Yes are going to return to Labour any time soon. The Scottish National Party has some soul searching to do after it failed to mop up Yes votes in its rural heartlands in Perth and Kinross, Angus and the North East. The extent to which the SNP is consumed by licking their wounds remains to be seen. The Greens campaigned well but, as was shown in the European elections earlier this year, they struggle to win significant support in working class communities.

The fact is that the Yes vote was centred on key working class areas. Yes won in every Holyrood seat in Glasgow and it carried a majority in all the age groups except the 55-65 year olds and the over 65s. This reflects the success of the radical wing of the pro-independence campaign. For a long time No was winning among the 16-18 year olds, but that was reversed. The mass canvasses of working class estates, initiated by the Radical Independence Campaign, played a huge part in winning these working class estates and in giving a voice to working class communities deserted by Labour. Radical Independence comes out of this a winner in a campaign which left few winners.

Does Labour in Scotland and at Westminster understand what’s happened? I doubt it. In the early hours of Friday morning John Reid lectured Professor Michael Keating, who pointed out the loss of their traditional heartlands left Labour with a problem, that people didn’t vote Labour because of tradition or family ties. Reid seems to genuinely believe that his party and its vacuous policies are actually popular!

If Cameron is intent on creating decentralised power in England, and if he can win that, then it leaves Labour with another big problem. How can Douglas Alexander hold a ministerial position in a Westminster government if he can’t vote on health, taxation and a raft of other things? He might just be waking up to the fact his career prospects are going up in smoke.

It is clear that Labour at Westminster is very suspicious of decentralising power in England because they fear it will weaken them. Miliband’s appeal for us all to unite to get him elected doesn’t cut the mustard, in large part because he doesn’t look like a winner. Welsh FM Carwyn Jones has already called for increased funding and powers for the Cardiff assembly and devolution for the regions in England. Labour aren’t all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Cameron might gamble that he can face down his opponents on the Tory back benches and cut the ground from under UKIP by backing de-centralisation. He has a mighty battle to achieve that and, if so, a major constitutional crisis looms. The panicky promise by Gordon Brown for more powers ignored the fact Westminster has no plans in place to achieve that and the timetable to get them through Westminster will run up against the fact that a UK general election looms next year.

The big issue for the Scottish radical left is what powers we want for Holyrood. I would suggest the radical pro-independence forces should campaign now for Scottish Home Rule in the tradition of Kier Hardie, John Wheatley and James Maxton, a Scottish constitution decided by an elected constitutional convention, for a federated Britain and that we back those in England demanding the recreation of those democratic institutions of local government abolished by Thatcher – “Bring back the GLC and the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire!”

If Cameron orders airstrikes in Iraq, Holyrood should vote on whether or not Scotland wants to be embroiled once more in disastrous military adventures at the behest of Washington.

If we were to campaign for Home Rule we could counterpoise the faux Devo-Max on offer from Westminster and build an alliance with those in Labour and the trade unions who, although they did not support independence, wanted more powers from Westminster and disliked Better Together’s fear factor campaign. On a more general level we need to repeat again and again that the 45 percent vote for independence was overwhelmingly not for nationalism but for greater democracy.

The democratic issue was not resolved in the Nineteenth Century and four decades of neo-liberalism have seen a hollowing out of what little democratic rights we’ve won over the last century and a half. It’s a key issue for a generation of young anti-capitalists. The radical left has much to say on what sort of democracy we envisage – we should be shouting about it from the rooftops.

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10 thoughts on Scotland post #indyref Sat, 20 Sep 2014 20:56:39 +0000 1. We lost to a dirty campaign. But we lost. Anymore time squinting at piles of ballot papers is wasted time. The majority of Scots voted to remain in the Union. Furthermore, this was always the likely result. 45% Yes is a truly stunning result.

None of that detracts from the venality of the campaign that was run against us. Total economic collapse, civil war, permanent dictatorial rule by celibate ethnic nationalists, invasion from space, plagues of locusts – all but the last was threatened by the No campaign. This is what the organised persuasive force of the ruling class looks like.

2. There is not going to be another independence referendum. At least not in the short or medium term. 45% Yes to 55% No is not a sturdy foundation for the future of the Union – and the continued movement through devolution, however extensive or limited initially, is the prelude to the ultimate break-up of Britain. But not for a long time.

Of course the SNP are in a strong position to win the next Holyrood elections – and being a nationalist party and one whose central policy concern is constitutional change, there could possibly be a referendum on some form of devo max. But full independence is off the table for now.

3. We thought we were in a shorter game. Now we know we are in a longer one. For the bulk of Yes support this referendum was not about independence for its own sake, but as a means for progressive social change. We now must pursue our aims of social justice through other means, though in coming months and years constitutional matters will remain a central concern.

4. SNP vs Labour is a trap. Don’t get caught in it. If you were on the Yes side the attraction of the SNP is enormous. They are a stable and strong political entity who delivered Scotland’s greatest ever national democratic moment. And they can hurt Labour.

The Labour party have played a filthy role in the referendum – threatening their own working class constituents, running in the pack with Tory, Liberal and Orange hounds. But descending into an unthinking hatred of Labour won’t change that, and if anything is a demobilising impulse.

SNP, denude of their central constitutional and policy mechanism, represent a busted flush for the Westminster turd. Their capacity to resist austerity, without their characteristic threat of secession, is severely blunted.

It’s also clear that the referendum was delineated predominantly on class lines, rather than traditional party support. The SNP are not necessarily capable of burying Labour in working class areas with high yes turnouts, just as Labour won’t be taking Angus, Aberdeenshire and Perth & Kinross from the SNP any time soon despite a substantial No majority in those areas.

5. Scottish Labour is in real trouble. For all the reasons stated above, Labour has greatly weakened its standing amongst the Scottish working class.

We can still expect Labour to ride the anti-Tory mood to Westminster in six months’ time. But that’s because of the savvy of the working class – rather than the class character of Labour.

The Yes vote took Dundee and Glasgow, the two historic cities of the Scottish Labour movement. This is a seminal moment in the long disintegration of the Scottish and British Labour parties.

6. We can’t assume any degree of devolution from Westminster. We have to fight for it. The much vaunted timetable for constitutional reform has already been abandoned. Gordon Brown’s baseless assertions of a new Home Rule settlement have been completely forgotten. Tory backbenchers at Westminster are rebelling against new powers. Ed Miliband’s focus on new powers for England is about pandering to right wing anti-Scots chauvinism rather than concern for English cities.

It oughtn’t be the preserve of politicians to preside over constitutional reform amongst themselves. The lessons of the Yes movement need to be re-applied to the new constitutional questions. We only extracted the promise of devolution through mass self-activity. Only such activity can draw the greatest new concessions.

7. The Yes vote has greatly exacerbated the generalised crisis of the British regime. The entire political establishment is in complete disarray. They were not prepared to have their most basic entitlement, the entitlement to rule – challenged in this way.

In opposite and equal fashion the democratic empowerment of the Scottish people will leave its own mark – especially amongst the 45%, the more politically conscious section of Scottish society. We will be more difficult to rule hereafter.

8. The Unionist rioting in Glasgow, and general reactionary tenor of the No campaign proves that not all nationalisms are the same. The Yes movement was as progressive as the No camp reactionary. The elements of the left fond of drawing a comparison between the two sides or claiming both are an irrelevance to class politics are living in a cartoon world, and should be ignored.

9. We need a new radical left party. None of the existing political parties in Scotland are in a fit state to continue what was begun with the Yes movement. The left has forged a new political basis through the campaign, most organisational divisions which existed before the referendum and even up to the 18th of September are now redundant and arbitrary. It would be grossly irresponsible for the left not to launch a new credible challenge on both a societal and parliamentary basis.

10. The whole left ought to attend RIC 2014. Whether committed to a new party or not, indeed whether having been a Yes or a No. The unity and discipline the left has extended until now has been an inspiration. We go on from here.

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Don’t like the SNP? Vote Yes Wed, 17 Sep 2014 11:35:46 +0000 ‘Scotland’s on hold’ is a slogan that is rightly rejected by the Yes movement. As the whole world can see Scotland is not on hold but, as Patrick Harvie has said, Scotland is on fire. We are witnessing the birth of a new democratic polity. Anyone wincing at it isn’t cut out for democracy and oughtn’t maintain any interest in the affairs of the people.

But if there is a No vote on the 18th of September then Scotland’s huge popular momentum will be slowed to a crawl. The situation will continue to be in flux, but the moment of total rupture will have passed. There are two reasons for that. The first is the British State, whose maladies have been covered extensively here and elsewhere in our movement. The second will be the SNP.

The SNP want to win the Yes vote, but they a very well prepared for a No. They are briefing internally right now, as you read this article, to pull the inevitably huge Yes vote over into a vote for the SNP in 2016. And they have the machine to do it.

It is likely that the Yes campaign has done well enough to win a Yes vote. It is also likely that it has done well enough that if it is a No vote the blame will not fall on the SNP but on the institutions representing the British state – the banks, the BBC, but most of all Labour. The leadership of the Labour party have played a disgraceful role in the referendum, threatening their own working class constituents with punitive measures, like the removal of the pound, should they vote Yes.

As a result, and according to consecutive Polls, anywhere between 30% and 40% of Labour voters are voting Yes. That is the death knell for the Scottish Labour party – but only if there is a No vote. The SNP will be able to deflect almost all criticisms onto the Labour Party – at once keeping themselves above reproach and smearing their only possible opposition half to death.

Under the conditions of No, the SNP will be in a perfect position to win another majority administration at Hollyrood, but will be in no position to call another independence referendum. They will continue to hold the ring of Scottish society, by devolving Westminster austerity in Scottish communities, parrying what blows they may. The disintegration of Westminster authority is making a dynasty out of the SNP.

If we want this to stop, independence is the only choice. We want the constitutional matter behind us, rather than amongst us, frozen as we are at this juncture in history.

This entire campaign has been about momentum for change against the inertia of reaction. The further forward the momentum goes the more it will expose reaction, nascent or active. The SNP contains many neo-liberal elements, hidden by our movement’s concern for victory on the 18th, a victory over open reaction. In the conditions of a Yes vote the SNP’s internal contradictions will be exposed.

If there is a Yes vote, the SNP’s dynastic strength will likely dissipate. There is no comparison with post-colonial countries where the party of liberation remains in power for a generation. The SNP are no ANC – which inspires the loyalty it enjoys by a common sheading of blood during the struggle for freedom.

If we can manage a Yes in the next few days a whole new vista opens up before us, of which the SNP and Labour are just two features on the landscape. The poisoned relationship between Labour and the SNP and the vicious cycle by which Labour ineptitude lends to SNP authority will be broken.

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Know Your Enemy Sun, 14 Sep 2014 15:57:58 +0000 Corporate Britain – from John Lewis and Marks and Sparks to the CBI and the big banks – vociferously want a No vote and threatens increased prices, job losses and a plague of locusts if the Scots dare to vote Yes. The unanimity is striking and the threats a reminder of what capital will do if it feels threatened.

Cameron addresses the CBI conference

Cameron addresses the CBI conference

Cameron, Clegg and Miliband are passionate in demanding a No vote, as are the three living former prime ministers – Major, Blair and Brown. The reasons for this – as with big business opposition to independence – is because it will weaken the Brittish state and its power. John Major is brutally clear about that. Corporate Britain is tied to the UK state in a hundred and one ways. The military chiefs yearn for a No vote because Yes will decrease UK military power and the loss of Trident would be a humiliation.

After last weekend’s poll showed a slender lead for Yes there was panic in Westminster, the City of London and corporate board rooms. For 24 hours Cameron, Clegg and Miliband “love bombed” Scotland, with the Saltire raised over 10 Downing Street, and then it was back to Project Fear with a vengeance.

Its not just the UK elite who abhor Yes though. Obama and the Americans appeal for a No vote because Yes will weaken their most loyal ally. Once more Cameron is preparing to fall in behind the White House by bombing Iraq (but only after 18 September).

Israel cheers on a No vote because the Westminster government stood by it when it laid waste to Gaza. The Scottish government sided with the Palestinians. Having even one government in Western Europe prepared to denounce their aggression is something Israel does not want. It relies on the unconditional support of the USA, Canada and Europe.

John Prescott campaigning for a No vote in Glasgow

John Prescott campaigning for a No vote in Glasgow

The racism we are witnessing powered towards migrants and Muslims flows from British nationalism, as espoused by UKIP and the British state. Islamopobia is the driving force behind the ongoing war on terror, and anti-immigration laws are rooted in racism. For anyone claiming to be anti-imperialist and an internationalist to share a platform with Tories or the New Labour architects of the Iraq debacle in defending the UK state is unfathomable.

It’s true there’s plenty wrong with Scottish nationalism but there are two ponts we need to bear in mind. Firstly, support for independence is not based on nationalism. To state that is to deny the nature of the debate in Scotland or to fail to understand why Yes is set to win in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee (as the polls suggest). It is becoming increasingly apparent that working class people are voting Yes to escape Tory rule, austerity and permanent war. Secondly, a cursory glance at the history of the Empire shows us that the crimes of Scottish nationalism are nothing compared to those of British nationalism.

The “shock and awe” campaign we are enduring in these final days is a reminder of just how nasty and bullying the British ruling class are.There is a strong element of class war in it. The British elite see working class support for independence and hate and fear it at the same time.

Know your enemy. Vote Yes.

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