There’s an Onslaught Coming

Since the outcome of the EU Referendum was announced, it seems like everything has been turned on its head. Cameron has resigned, Boris has stepped away from being a successor. Even Farage has resigned (though he has form on this). More unexpectedly, the anti-Corbyn elements in the Parliamentary Labour Party have launched a huge hissy-fit operation. Despite its ineptitude, it has been taken up by the establishment as a means of neutralising the leftward shifting Labour Party.

corbyn-4-logo-support-jcLet’s face it, Corbyn’s election victory was unexpected.  I suspected he’d put up a good fight but that the party machine would ensure that a safe candidate won.  The subsequent victory was not just a victory for Corbyn but for the wider labour movement, an expression of grassroots will against the bulk of the PLP and therein lay the root of the current crisis.

The PLP seem to think that the party is theirs.  Michael Dugher’s recent outburst, where he called the grassroots of the party a mob, is perhaps the crudest indication of this but the same sentiment abounds elsewhere too.  This is typical of a centrist party, where politics is done by professional politicians and members are only there to pay their fees and be called on to do things.

There are now essentially two Labour Parties.  One centres round the initiators of the coup against Corbyn while the other comprises Corbyn, his remaining supporters in the PLP and the bulk of the ever-growing membership.  It’s not just that they take a fundamentally different view of what politics is about and how it should be conducted.  As David Graber recently said,

For Corbyn’s opponents, the key word is always “leadership” and the ability of an effective leader to “deliver” certain key constituencies. For Corbyn’s supporters “leadership” in this sense is a profoundly anti-democratic concept. It assumes that the role of a representative is not to represent, not to listen, but to tell people what to do.

There is a strong possibility that Corbyn can see off this challenge.  The challengers have wholly mistaken who and what they were taking on.  Yet that won’t be the end of it.  In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, we have an emboldened right wing of the Tory party. We’ve seen what the Establishment has thrown at trying to remove Corbyn as the head of the Labour Party.  Can you imagine they’ll sit back and see him become PM?

So there’s our challenge.  We’ve seen how grass roots mobilisation has been essential in opposing the coup and this has been mobilisation inside and outside of the Labour Party.  If you are on the left then this is your fight too.  As someone who has not been a Labour member since the days of their failure to fight the Poll Tax, I’m not so much interested in what Labour is but what it might become as part of a reinvigorated, broad movement.  It may not be called Labour and it may not have Corbyn as leader (for long), but this is no time to sit on the fence.  If you consider yourself part of progressive politics, the struggle to resist this onslaught is yours. To paraphrase Joe Hill, What they forget to kill goes on to organise.

Poor Hurts

I’ve been reworking song lyrics again.  This time it’s Love Hurts that gets the treatment.  If you don’t know the song, Gram and Emmylou’s version is embedded at the bottom.

Poor hurts, poor scars
Poor wounds and mars
Any heart not tough
Nor strong enough

To take a lot of pain
Take a lot of pain
Poor is like a dead weight
Holds holds you like a chain

Poor hurts
Mmm mmm, poor hurts

You’re only poor
‘Cause they are rich
The time will come
To make a switch

It’s time to learn a lot
Time to learn a lot
Standing hand in hand
We won’t accept our lot

Poor hurts
Mmm mmm poor hurts

Power towers crumble into dust
‘Cause they must, yes they must
Some fools fool themselves, I guess
But they’re not fooling me

I know it isn’t true
Know it isn’t true
This is all we get
Caps off to the few

Poor hurts
Mmm mmm poor hurts
Poor hurts
Mmm mmm poor hurts

Cereal Killer: in defence of criticism

bella1Some of the completely unnecessary rubbish thrown at Mike Small, following his publication of “Eat Your Cereal” on Sunday, is the impetus behind me writing this. I’ve written on this subject before and thought there was nothing more to say but, no, some of the half-baked nonsense that I have read in relation to Mike’s article means that I’m back here again.

First of all, let’s get something straight. Not every criticism of the SNP is anti-SNP. Friends criticise each other. We wouldn’t be very good friends if we didn’t. In the run up to the referendum in 2014, we had a shared vision. It was plural, diverse, contradictory, a bit scary, but it was ours. The defeat was our defeat and we all felt it, deeply. We almost made it but almost wasn’t enough.

We should all be very proud of what we achieved, the rebirth of democratic engagement in Scotland on a scale I haven’t seen in my lifetime (and I’ve been around a bit) and it was all of us, with our friends and families, in old organisations and new, all of us, working together towards a common purpose, that got us this far.

Since the referendum things have changed. “Politics as usual” has been resumed and it’s narrow. It’s point-scoring. It’s binary. It’s trying to put that big vision in a box that can’t contain it. It doesn’t belong in a box. You’ll break it if you try. One party cannot contain indy. It couldn’t contain the indy movement in the run-up to 2014, so why should it now.

Let’s take an analogy. Two phrases I remember from school report cards – “could do better” and “easily distracted”. The is the essence of most pro-indy criticism of SNP policy. Just as my teachers weren’t anti-me, articles like Mike’s aren’t anti-SNP. They are challenging the SNP to be better, to go further, to remember the vision and not be cowed by the political establishment.

I don’t do party loyalty. I’m a member of RISE because it best reflects my ideas and aspirations but I willy happily criticise if I have to. I will even walk away if I have to. The party reflects the idea; it isn’t the idea. The party and the movement are only vehicles. We must be prepared to adapt, improve, even discard if we need to, in order to reach the goal.

This is a long-game but one which can’t wait. Every step matters and people are in need now. I spent the ’80s and early ’90s waiting for a Labour government would make things bette. I held my nose and voted Labour and all we got was Blair, Brown and the Iraq War. Seasoned politicians took us for granted and gave us nothing back.  I will not vote on that basis again.

Let’s be bold. It’s time for us to tell our politicians what we want, not to be limited by what they say is possible. In the words of Robb Johnson: “Be reasonable and demand the impossible now!”.

To conclude, I remember the hope, standing on top of Calton Hill in 2013, singing the the Freedom Come All Ye alongside everyone else. Let’s take these words as our inspiration.

calton1

Sae come aa ye at hame wi freedom
Never heed whit the houdies croak for Doom
In yer hous aa the bairns o Aidam
Will fin breid, barley-bree an paintit room
Whan MacLean meets wi’s friens in Springburn
Aa thae roses an geeans will turn tae blume
An a black laud frae yont Nyanga
Dings the fell gallows o the burghers doun.

The Ghost of ’85

In 1985, at the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth, Neil Kinnock stood up and launched an attack on Liverpool City Council.  This was the council who had stood up and defied Thatcher and Tory cuts, with the consistent backing of local people.  Kinnock’s words and deeds will be remembered amongst the worst betrayals in British Labour history.

How fitting then to parody his words and reflect on what my local council has done recently.  Just over a month ago it announced £91 million pounds of ‘savings’ were to be made.  In real terms this means 2000 jobs and massive cuts to services.  To them, I dedicate the following:

I’ll tell you what happens with broken promises. You start with passive obedience.  This is then pickled into complacency, and a sense of entitlement, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, mis-placed, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the ridiculous spectacle of Labour councillors – Labour councillors – protesting outside their own meeting before they then go in and slash public services

militant-rally-465-570408779

Liverpool fights Thatcher

 

Fence Sitting, Preparing to Jump

eu-logoAt the moment, I’m hovering about in a largely undecided state over the upcoming EU Referendum.  While I’m making my mind up, I’ve decided to gather links to the progressive cases for staying in or leaving.  This page will grow as I add new links, so do check back.

This is not an exhaustive list.

Commentary

By author

Spare Us The Cutter: Save Our Libraries

By Grant Buttars, RISE West Fife

12746594_10153906613528048_1586675461_nOn 18th February, Fife Council took the decision, to close 16 of our libraries.  Affecting many of the poorest communities in the county, this was justified with the usual excuse that they couldn’t do anything else.

To some extent at least, this was the expected outcome but it still came as a severe blow to the communities affected and to the campaigners who have been fighting to save them since the initial announcement to close was made last year. This result will see some libraries close in as little as six weeks. An alternative proposal by the opposition SNP group, defeated by one vote, gave the libraries a 12 month reprieve, while alternatives were investigated.

I have played a supporting role in the Keep Fife’s Libraries Open campaign from the start and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the tireless work…

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Whose Socialism Is It Anyway?

I’m writing this in response to a number of remarks I’ve seen or heard that seem more at home in the old days of sectarian purity than in this forward-looking, inclusive left. It’s not that I’m surprised that we haven’t fully shaken off these weights from around our necks, more that we need to be vigilant and not simply fall back into old practices.

One thing I’m also clear of – I am not immune from making unhelpful utterances.  When I do, please give me a friendly nudge and don’t just dismiss me. Hopefully I’ll just have framed something badly or need to take a second thought.

To me, this is the essence of the project.  If difference is to be our strength, knowing that none of us has a monopoly of knowledge of anything we are trying to do, we need to get better at both taking and receiving criticism.

marx

Take no heroes, only inspiration

When I say that nobody has a monopoly on knowledge that includes Marx.  This is not divine wisdom but a scientific process. But let’s look more closely at some of what’s happening on the ground.

Let’s start with the big one, the SNP.  You can’t be a real socialist if you’re in the SNP, can you?  To me this falls into the trap of seeing the world as you want it to be, not as it actually is.  This criticism tends to come from two distinct places: the residue of the left within the Labour Party and from those in proper socialist organisations.

The line goes that the SNP are a pro-capitalist party and, by implication, everyone in it must support capitalism.  From Labour there is an obvious element of hypocrisy there, especially when those voicing this criticism consider themselves to be socialist. From those outside Labour and the SNP, it is a misunderstanding of where we are, a misunderstanding not just of the political awakening around the issue of Scottish Independence but also of the longer term decline of the Labour Party as an a vehicle for meaningful social change.

Over the last few decades, the SNP has successfully moved into a political space vacated by Labour, using both left rhetoric and delivering on more socially inclusive policies, such as tuition fees and prescription charges. Yet this left-leaning stance has distinct limits – critics will quickly point to SNP local councils cutting services, passing on Tory cuts, and the less-than-clear position on fracking and related technologies.

calton

Yes rally, Calton Hill, 2013

Despite these criticisms, the SNP have hoovered up both votes and members that would have gone to Labour and are seen by many as the most progressive overall of the mainstream political offerings.  The huge influx of new members after the Referendum however was driven not simply by the pull of the SNP but of the push of political engagement and the need to find a vehicle that would maintain the momentum of the Yes Campaign.

But, and it’s an important but, the Yes Campaign was not all about the SNP.  The SNP now has amongst its ranks, members who were inspired by what was happening in that space outside the SNP, the space that dragged the entire campaign to the left to talk about jobs, poverty, Trident etc. These people can either transform the SNP to reflect their interests in the face of the party machine or, more likely, become frustrated and leave.

This is my opinion as is the fact that will be a process that endless heckling from the left will not help. By all means let’s call the SNP to account where they fail but tribal SNP bad-ism is part of the style of politics that we’re meant to have moved beyond. So, let’s continue work with SNP activists on the ground where appropriate and be critical friends.

If this is going to be an inclusive socialism, we have to deal with the question of the left in Labour and other organisations that didn’t support Yes. In the terms of the former, it’s no good just writing these folk off. I was recently challenged on this one by someone who suggested that, “Lots of RISE members will have lots more in common with Scottish Labour politicians like Alex Rowley” than certain members of the SNP.

He is quite correct but similarly Alex Rowley is likely to have more in common with people in the SNP than many in his own party, even with the Corbyn victory.  I countered:

London_Anti_Iraq_War_march,_15Feb_2003

Anti-war demo, 2003

All my adult life I’ve experienced betrayal by the Labour Party. The lack of support for the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike, the failure to oppose the Poll Tax, the Iraq war (they even de-selected my MP for opposing the war), tuition fees and standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in spreading fear and lies about Scottish independence (I could list a lot more). I used to be a member but left the party in the late 1980s. Still I cheered when Jeremy Corbyn got elected and hope he is successful. That said, I think Labour in Scotland is a spent force. 

The reawakening of grass roots politics in Scotland as a result of the referendum campaign was in opposition to Labour. Some of that has at least temporarily benefited the SNP but it is bigger than the SNP. I have no illusions in the SNP but I understand why some people do and will continue to work with them towards a common goal.

It is not that Labour opposes Scottish independence but this sense of utter betrayal that undermines any Labour revival in Scotland, even if there are some good folk still members. That is not a sectarian position. We will still work with these people, in our communities, trades unions and elsewhere.

As a member of RISE, I’m sure we will face many challenges in our bid to reconfigure left politics in Scotland. Some people are not ready to come with us yet, some may never. There is a legacy of success and failure behind us and we need to determine what to take inspiration from, what to build on and what should be left quietly on a shelf – not destroyed, but there as a quiet reminder of what we don’t want to repeat.

 

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Reclaiming Our University is a movement that wants to turn the University back as a place for education, trust, community, and academic freedom

Everything written on here are my own personal opinions. They are not in anyway to be confused with the opinions and ideology of any of the organisations I am a member of, whether it is my union, party or any other group or organisations.

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