Lair Of A Squirrel Red


Jack Straw, Human Rights and the 21st Century by korakious
October 25, 2007, 11:24 pm
Filed under: law, Marx, Rob, Theory, UK politics

Just heard a speech by Jack Straw on ‘Human Rights in the 21st Century’, although by virtue of his position as politico the talk was of course slightly incoherent it was nonetheless interesting for several reasons. Firstly, the speech has to be read with the recent government announcement on a ‘Bill of Rights and Duties’, secondly the speech’s tone and structure give us some idea of the general government position on rights, thirdly I think Straw’s inchoate theoretical probings actually provide a useful foil for people like me. So – seeing as I had nothing else to do – I thought I’d give a rundown of what Straw said and my own opinions on the matter.The first thing that Straw was keen to stress (and something that is quite telling about his attitude towards the Human Rights Act (HRA)) was that historically and culturally Britain is a country that has been at the heart of the human rights project. He rightly pointed out that British lawyers were at the heart of developing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Further, he put forward the position that ‘human rights’ are a tradition that has been rooted in British life since the Magna Carta. Whilst I agree with the latter point as far as it goes I’m pretty sceptical about it. Although it seems clear that Britain’s rights tradition does coincide with the content of the ECHR it certainly does not have a content of positively enumerating rights and then ‘balancing’ these rights with exceptions. Rather, the British tradition of ‘liberty’ is of one where one can do whatever is not forbidden. However, the effort to ‘domesticate’ human rights is one that speaks volumes about Straw’s position, clearly Straw is attempted to combat the typical accusations of the press the the HRA and the ECHR are alien impositions foisted on Britain by an ever-expanding Europe.

However, as was rather predictable, Straw begins to move to our present ‘context’. For Straw the post-Cold War situation has been marked with the growth of an ‘enabling state’ and the spread of democracy to most of Europe. But simultaneously with this there still remain a number of authoritarian states and (dum dum dum) the growth of an international terrorist movement that operates outsides the bounds of ethics and leality. He further noted that this terrorism was qualitatively different from previous forms of terrorism because:

  • It is truly international, with non-national terrorists operating from foreign states with foreign backing
  • The terrorists have access to large and powerful weapons (biological, chemical, nuclear etc.)
  • The aims and scope of the terrorists are very different from preceding forms of terrorism

Now, I will refrain from immediately commenting upon this particular assesment of the threat of international terrorism, at least until I discuss the relevance that Straw attributes to this. What is particularly interesting is that Straw (unlike certain members of the Government and the Opposition) doesn’t seem to think that the HRA is inadequate in dealing with terrorism. In fact Straw thinks the HRA is absolutely necessary in order to ‘establish and marshall the lawful bounds of our [the government’s] response [to terrorism]’. Straw did seem to have some problems with particular decisions by the court – particularly concerning deporting people to places where there is a real chance they will be tortured (he prefers a substantial chance) – but in general he seems supportive of their overall approach. Personally, I actually found this to be quite gratifying, especially after hearing Dr. Reid’s ranting for as long as I had to. However, Straw did note that although he wishes to maintain the ‘principles’ of human rights, he thinks there are some issues with the applications.

Straw proceeded at this point to utterly demolish the Tory analysis of the Human Rights Act, this was awesome and very little needs to be said on it. The most interesting part of Straw’s lecture came in his amateur sociological examination of modern capitalism. Basically, Straw argued that there has been much deeper structural changes than just 9/11 which influence Britain’s culture of rights; basically he pinpoints two key features:

  • There has been an increase in the heterogenousness of the British population and he links this to the problem of communities ‘separating’ out etc., obviously this would lead to a decline in a national/collective/public life
  • Globalisation has made people much less deferential, independent and empowered; but this has also turned people into ‘consumers’ peoples’ primary identity therefore is not as the citizen but consumer

Straw then argued that this ‘consumerism’ is incompatible with ‘politics’ – as politics requires people consider their long-term interests, make some sacrifices for the social whole and engage in meaningful public participation. According to Straw the result of this process has been that our rights have become ‘commoditised’ (what a hideous, hideous word – has the man never heard of the term ‘commodified’!?). Rights are exercused so as to injure others, with no concern for the ‘public good’ or our collective right. Furthermore, people become covetous of the rights of others, which they view as a type of ‘possession’.

Whilst this is all very interesting I really don’t see why we need to tie it in with globalisation. The critique that Straw advanced is one that has been advanced countless times pre-‘globalisation’, in fact here is a rather famous analysis which bears remarkable ressemblence to Straw’s:

It is puzzling enough that a people which is just beginning to iberate itself, to tear down all the barriers between its various sections, and to establish a political community, that such a people solemnly proclaims (Declaration of 1791) the rights of egoistic man separated from his fellow men and from the community, and that indeed it repeats this proclamationat a moment when only the most heroic devotion can save the nation, and is therefore imperatively called for, at a moment when the sacrifice of all the interest of civil society must be the order of the day, and egoism must be punished as a crime. (Declaration of the Rights of Man, etc., of 1793.) This fact becomes still more puzzling when we see that the political emancipators go so far as to reduce citizenship, and the political community, to a mere means for maintaining these so-called rights of man, that, therefore, the citoyen is declared to be the servant of egotistic homme, that the sphere in which man acts as a communal being is degraded to a level below the sphere in which he acts as a partial being, and that, finally, it is not man as citoyen, but man as private individual [bourgeois] who is considered to be the essential and true man.

And who made this critique? Why it was Karl Marx in his On the Jewish Question. The basic structure of this critique has been voiced by conservatives, liberals etc. What I would argue here is that the vision Straw presents to us – of civil society as a collection of egoistic individuals whose main form of contact is through clashing rights – is one which is constantly reproduced by capitalist society. The whole point is that this can’t really be overcome by simply cementing new political forms over it, since these forms don’t tend to touch the social relations which produce certain forms of social life and since – as Marx notes – politics is conceived only as a means of guaranteeing or affecting one’s private, egostic sphere.

I would further argue in this vein that actually the whole idea of rights-based politics and rights-culture presupposes this state of affairs. This is where Straw really screws up in my view, the idea of rights being ‘commoditised’ (arrrgh!!!!) really seems to miss the point that the very right-form is grounded in the notion of an egoistic, individual man with an inviolable area of space, that is to say that the right-form is bound up with the commodity form:

None of the so-called rights of man, therefore, go beyond egoistic man, beyond man as a member of civil society – that is, an individual withdrawn into himself, into the confines of his private interests and private caprice, and separated from the community. In the rights of man, he is far from being conceived as a species-being; on the contrary, species-like itself, society, appears as a framework external to the individuals, as a restriction of their original independence. The sole bond holding them together it natural necessity, need and private interest, the preservation of their property and their egoistic selves.

All of this means that Straw’s solution – reminding people that rights also entail duties towards others – is kind of lame. I mean, he makes a really interesting critique (or at least I read him as doing so) but simply can’t go beyond the right’s based framework. But the point is that unless you go beyond the rights-based framework you can’t possibly transcend the notion of man as a ‘consumer’ as the defining characteristic of life. Inga Markovits traces this quite well in her examination of the differnce between ‘bourgeois’ and ‘socialist’ rights, as she first argues:

As individual entitlements, bourgeois rights confer autonomy in a limited area, which then can be exercised at the discretion of the rightholder. In a way, all bourgeois rights are modelled after property rights: they map out territory, set up fences against prospective intruders, or, to quote Marx, they delineate the elbow room of the individual capitalist.(Socialist vs. Bourgeois Rights: An East-West Comparison; (1978) 45 University of Chicago Law Review 612-636 at 614)

She then fleshes out this conception arguing that it results in a focus on dispute, precision and individualism. This critique dovetails nicely with Marx’s, and seems a hammer in the coffin for Straw’s analysis.

So, ultimately, my real issue with this bit of Straw’s speech was that he tried to present this phenomenon as something ‘new’, whereas it is one which he plagued capitalism since its outset. Further, his proposed solution is uniformly rubbish, and in facts would result in no change whatsover. Though actually this is something Straw seems to love to do. As a lawyer he oftens realises what the law is but then proposes some change to the law which is not a change at all.

Ok, I’ve written way too much, and it’s all got rather rambling, but on the plus side, at least it’s not about RESPECT!



RESPECT and SWP: Tunes of War by korakious
October 15, 2007, 3:26 pm
Filed under: RESPECT, Scottish politics, SSP, strategy, SWP, UK politics


The few, but very esteemed, readers of this blog will have probably already noticed the discussion that’s going on over at Socialst Unity on the 3 relatively high profile expulsions from the SWP. It would be entirely inappropriate for the Squirrel Vanguard and especially myself, a member of an organisation so adversely affected by its association with our not particularly dear swips, not to comment on the unfolding events.

As you probably know -if you don’t, shame on you- the Great Proletarian Hero Gorgeous George Galloway sent a letter to RESPECT’s National Council containing sharp criticism of various RESPECT practices, regarding internal democracy and organisational efficiency. Of course, coming from Galloway, there was a sense of irony about the whole thing. However, the points raised were quite common-sense arguments that had been raised by serious socialist organisations within RESPECT like Socialist Resistance on various occasions in the past.

The letter came obviously as quite a shock to the SWP Holy Synod Central Committee, especially considering that it had been “leaked” to the public domain before they had a good chance to process it, come up with a line and feed it to their rank and file. The SWP replied after a few days with a piece written by John Rees. National Secretary of RESPECT and Elaine Leigh, National Treasurer, beginning with how much they regretted that Galloway’s criticism had been “reproduced on various websites”, that is, regretting that open and active debate would have to be had. They then proceeded to reply (in a rather weak manner) to the criticisms raised by the original letter. Alas, though, the game was on. The first signs of a rupture in what was seen as a fairly stable alliance between Gorgeous George and the SWP signaled that new political opportunities were being opened up for activists and groups within and out of RESPECT to put forward their own points of view, as well as to try and stir RESPECT towards a healthier political route. People rejoined, Salma Yaqoob published an article offering her own view of the potential development of RESPECT and more importantly, the National Council approved the proposals made by Galloway. All the relevant documents can be found under the RESPECT tag at Socialist Unity.

Immediately, the SWP leadership tried to make this look like a political battle between the left (them, socialists) and right (Galloway’s group, communalists) wings of the party. In short, the SWP started attacking RESPECT using all the criticisms that have been leveled against it by the rest of the radical left since its foundation -aye, the same criticisms the swips have been rejecting as ultra leftist and whathaveyou. This was expectable as, like your average Bureaucratic Centralist organisation, the SWP cannot afford to have its One True Line criticised with legitimate arguments that might get their members thinking “hey, this is actually a valid point”. The whole existence of a Bureaucratic Centralist formation rests on the legitimacy of the Central Leadership and its ability to withhold information (of all kinds) from the rank and file, allowing to perpetuate itself by preventing any political challenges.

What came as quite a surprise to me however was the expulsion of three relatively high ranking members of the SWP, two of them working for Galloway and the other one nominated for the position of National Organiser (one of the Gorgeous one’s suggestions) which was supposed to complement that of the National Secretary, the post held by the Almighty Dear Swip Leader, John Rees. Said Swips were expelled for refusing to give up their posts and decline the nomination respectively. One would have thought that if the SWP cherished their control of RESPECT, they would not oppose the filling of yet another central administrative post by one of their own. Having mulled over it a bit while munching some nuts, it seems to me fairly obvious that the SWP could not be seen to accept the validity of Galloway’s proposals by allowing Nick Wrack (that’s his name right?) to become National Organiser, as that would in essence be an acceptance of the fact that the Light-giving Central Committee can actually be wrong, fatally compromising its prestige.

Another function served by the expulsions is that they serve as a tactic of burning bridges. The fact that the now expelled members did not submit to party discipline, refusing to give up their places indicates that a good section of the SWP rank and file might have gone native, so to speak, in RESPECT. By removing the most high profile of those from the party, the cult leadership minimises the chances of a mass defection in the event that the SWP loses the internal battle and decides to abandon RESPECT. That there is going to be a battle is of course not debatable. In fact, the SWP has already initiated operations on the ground.

It is imperative that socialists in RESPECT that do wish to see the project continue and evolve into something useful for the working class movement engage the SWP rank and file (those of them that are principled and approachable that is) in their branches and persuade them not to follow their leadership, if it chooses to abandon RESPECT. It should be clear to everyone by now that the swip leadership is not interested in building socialist unity not under its rigid and direct control. The destruction of Socialist Alliance and the split in the Scottish Socialist Party have been evidence enough of the incapability of the SWP to commit themselves to anything that is not their pet project. Whatever strategy the SWP follows if it leaves RESPECT it is bound to degenerate into nothing more than a Trot sect. Another unity project (especially one initiated by the swips, whom by now, nobody trusts) is bound to never get off the ground while an ultra left turn of going it alone and building “the Party” will lead in them meeting the fate of the WRP. In any case, it is important that the better, healthier elements within the SWP are neither allowed to be swept along by the CC, nor fall to apathy and drop out of politics altogether.

Finally, it must be said that it would be rather unfortunate for RESPECT to be rid by the SWP and then fall to Gallowayism, becoming an identity-less left opposition to Labourism, without a clear working class coordination. Any alliances socialists in RESPECT make with the filthy opportunist that is Galloway must be tactical and temporal and they should be prepared to organise themselves in a unified pole to counter any future swing to the right, whether on abortion, LGBT issues, or socialism itself.

These are my two nutshells. So long, humans.



Guest post. by korakious
June 12, 2007, 3:05 pm
Filed under: Guest posts, independence, Scottish politics, UK politics

The Lair is excited to host its first guest post. Charlie Marks, from Rebellion Sucks! made an excellent post about the growing tension between Holyrood and Westminster, with Alex Salmond seizing every chance to pick up a fight with the central government and asserting the authority of the devolved parliament. The post is reproduced here in its entirety.

We return to the national question in Scotland, as materialised in this instance by the Cheshire cat grin of Alex Salmond; victims of the Lockerbie disaster are put through more anguish; Tony Blair visits Muammar Gaddafi and agreements are reached, but not all of them disclosed; and light is cast on the murky world of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” flights and a variety of people find the whole thing disagreeable.

Calm before a storm
The SNP/Green minority administration in Scotland has got off to a steady start, cutting tolls and halting cuts in the NHS – not that this makes it any less of a bosses’ government. For sure, the SNP is financially backed by, and serves the interests of, sections of the national bourgeoisie in Scotland. (And as for the Scottish Greens…)

On the international side of things, First Minister Alex Salmond made the headlines – and the London Newsnight programme – by exposing a deal planned by the British government to hand over the man jailed for the Lockerbie bombing to the Libyan authorities. This was all without consultation with the Scottish administration or disclosure to the Scottish Parliament.

Yet Kirsty Wark, who was presenting Newsnight on Thursday, gave Salmond a hard time. Wark’s hostility is perhaps indicative of her political views; she has holidayed with Jack McConnell in the past and she could easily present the Scottish edition, but instead flies down to London each week to present the English and Welsh version.

Salmond had made an emergency announcement in the Scottish parliament on Thursday, disclosing all he knew and making a great play of his party’s openness as against the secrecy of New Labour: details of possible agreements made by the British government have not been disclosed. So it’s true that he’s milking it for all it’s worth, but the focus should be on the issues raised by the matter.

The first of many?
All of the parties in the Scottish parliament were united behind Salmond in denouncing any deal to return the prisoner, Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, currently held in Greenock jail, to his country of origin. New Labour’s Jack McConnell, who was the previous First Minister, admitted that the issue had come up while he was in power and Tony Blair was apparently warned that he should notify Scotland by the Foreign Office of the content of his talks with Gaddafi during a recent visit to Libya.

The row over the Lockerbie bomber marks the first outbreak of discord between Edinburgh and London. Outgoing Prime Minister Blair has yet to congratulate Salmond on his party’s electoral victory and assumption of the role of First Minister for the devolved parliament – though we are told that Prime Minister in-waiting, Gordon Brown, has contacted Salmond.

Previous Labour/Liberal coalitions were more closely tied to Westminster, and there were no formal channels through which Scotland and the UK government conducted affairs. The SNP are pushing for a formalisation of relations between central government and the devolved parliament: now that there is truly a Scottish government, political independence seems a step closer.

The bomb, the bomber, Blair, and BP
PanAm flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, killing 270 people, half of them Americans. The US initially fingered a Palestinian group called the PFLP-GC, based in Syria but after the first Gulf War, in which the Syrians backed the invasion of Iraq, the focus switched to Libya.

Two men were tried at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands under Scots law in 2001, but only al-Megrahi was found guilty – the other defendant, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was returned to Libya. The trial was farcical and the verdict doubtful: the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has been investigating al-Megrahi’s case for the last four years. In 2003, Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing, whilst denying it had commissioned it – in the hope that sanctions against the country would be lifted.

Blair visited the “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” for a second time as part of his farewell tour and met with its leader Colonel Gaddafi, now one of the good guys. The meeting was not merely to remind us of Blair’s foreign policy “achievements” – Gadaffi shook hands on a £900 million deal to allow British Petroleum back into Libya. For BP, the deal could be worth tens of billions, and it is something of a coup for Blair as big oil has been barred from Libya since the seventies when foreign capital was expelled the economy was taken into public ownership.

The visit was a reminder that all will be forgiven of wayward Third World leaders if they follow the neo-liberal agenda. (Take note Robert Mugabe: you can get your honorary degree back, if you want it.) The deal made between the Libyan government and BP was also a reminder of that British foreign policy is completely enmeshed with British capitalism. Like we needed reminding…

It had to be Blair meeting Gaddafi, both in 2004 and 2007: a meeting of Bush and Gaddafi would be to confusing for both the American and Libyan masses. Libya had been presented as the archetypal “rogue state” and Gaddafi the original Muslim bad boy, supposedly sponsoring terrorist groups around the world – and in 1986, the US carried out a bombing raid on Libya which was timed to make the evening news back home.

21st century gulag archipelago
Human rights groups have been invited to meet with the SNP’s Justice Secretary to discuss the issue of CIA rendition flights through Scottish airports, something else for Salmond to use to argue for independence. It is good that the Scottish government is taking the matter seriously, though the reasons for doing so are probably opportunistic.

A European Commission inquiry concluded with the assertion that the US had operated secret prisons in Romania and Poland to which they had transported terror suspects to be interrogated and tortured. A report instigated by the Association of Chief Police Officers – and revealed on the same day as Marty’s findings were announced – has pooh-poohed suggestions that CIA flights might have passed through England, but did not look into the situation in Scotland.

Members of the British government had previously denied knowledge of such an unlawful programme and suggested that it was a little far fetched; now Harriet Harman, minister for Constitutional Affairs, and contender for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party, is making noises about the scandal.

On a related matter, former US Defense Secretary Colin Powell has said that the illegal detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be shut down and the “detainees” moved into to the federal legal system in an effort to regain international faith in American justice. (This is somewhat far-fetched, especially when you consider that when the American legal system was established, black people were regarded as being three-fifths human, and now people of colour make up a majority of the States’ vast prison population. By the way, Powell is not arguing that the US armed forces exit Cuba, only that the military prison is closed.)

Turning to the British tabloid press, the matter of rendition flights has been viewed negatively by right-wing Daily Mail, which has condemned the CIA’s programme and the UK government’s collusion. Everyone will use it to their own ends, I suppose. But if the boot was on the other foot and a Tory government had been complicit in US breaches of the law, it would be a different story for the Mail.



Brownite opportunism by korakious
May 20, 2007, 1:00 pm
Filed under: Imperialism, UK politics

With the Tories making great gains down south and with the increasingly antagonistic mood of the SNP here, Brown is obviously getting worried. In a bid to regain support from pissed off Labour voters, as well as those supporting the SNP, the soon to be Prime Minister has started working on a withdrawal plan aiming to remove troops from Iraq before the Westminster general election.Scotland on Sunday reports:

One senior Cabinet minister, expected to play a central role in Brown’s first government, said an accelerated withdrawal from Iraq was one of the “foremost options” under consideration.

He added: “We are already committed to a withdrawal of sorts. The schedule can be altered so it is comfortably done within two years.”

Under the blueprint for withdrawal announced by Blair in February, the 7,100 British troops currently in Iraq would be reduced to 5,000 by late summer, with an aspiration to reduce gradually over the following two years.

But the military plans sparked by the looming change at the top involve cutting the British presence more rapidly: to 4,000 by late summer and perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 by the year end.

The ultimate hope is to draw down to a “nominal” force within 18 months, and a virtually complete exit within two years of Brown coming to power.

Michael Codner, director of military sciences at the Royal United Services Institute, said declining public support and demands had raised expectations of changes in the British presence.

He said: “There is a growing view that British forces in Iraq will be reduced substantially in the next 12 months, perhaps to as low as 1,500. The change of leadership is an obvious catalyst.”

Let’s see how this turns out.



EXCLUSIVE! by korakious
May 9, 2007, 12:58 am
Filed under: Elections, independence, SSP, UK politics

The Lair brings you the SSP statement on the election results before anyone else! Don’t you just love us?


The day Scotlands rainbow parliament turned grey

by Alan McCombes

By any standards this was a massacre for the left.

The red-green presence in Holyrood, represented by the Scottish
Socialist Party, the Greens and Solidarity was slashed from 15 to
two.

Of the six-strong group of independents, only Margo MacDonald was
left standing.

May 3rd 2007 was the day that Scotlands rainbow parliament was
turned a drab prison grey.

The wipe out of the socialist left was made all the more bitter by
the final electoral arithmetic of the new parliament.

Last Thursday marked the end of Labours monolithic stranglehold over
Scottish politics at national and local level. The emergence of the
SNP as the biggest party in Scotland by the narrowest possible margin
will not lead to instant independence, the removal of nuclear weapons
from the Clyde, or even the demise of the Council Tax.

But it is likely to open up a new, turbulent phase in Scottish
politics, a time of strife, which could accelerate the ultimate
break-up of the United Kingdom and pave the way for the resurgence of
socialism.

After the horrendous internal strife within the left over the past
year, and with the socialist movement bitterly divided, the SSP went
into this election in a brutally realistic frame of mind. This was a
damage limitation exercise. At best, the party hoped to maintain a
fragile toehold in Holyrood in preparation for better days to come.

Yet no-one expected the sheer scale of the collapse of the socialist
vote, down by 100,000 votes from 2003. The final tally of votes
appeared completely out of synch with the attitude of voters on the
streets and at polling stations, which was open and receptive to the
politics of the SSP.

The Greens too were stunned by the scale of their losses. On the
morning after the election, shell-shocked Green MSPs admitted that
they had been expecting to win nine seats.

Although Solidarity polled more votes than the SSP, the failure of
Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow was the biggest shock result of the night,
leaving Solidarity activists visibly traumatised.

At the start of the campaign, the bookmakers William Hill had offered
odds of 100-1 on Sheridan being re-elected the kind of odds that
might be offered on rain falling in Glasgow sometime in the next six
months.

Every media and academic commentator predicted that Tommy Sheridan
would retain his seat in Glasgow, while the SSP would be wiped out.

As the political pundit, Professor Bill Miller, admitted on Scottish
Television the day after the election, We all expected the SSP to
lose all its seats, but none of us expected Tommy Sheridan to lose.

Sheridan, the most famous celebrity politician in Scotland, even
enjoyed the open sympathy of the mass circulation local newspaper in
Glasgow, the Evening Times.

As well as forecasting his certain victory - and the defeat of the
SSP - the paper even carried a sycophantic double page spread in the
final week, headlined the House of Sheridan festooned with
photographs of the Sheridan family.

This election has been a serious setback for socialism; it would be
futile to pretend otherwise. It is also a tragedy for the thousands
of people who had come to rely on Scottish Socialist MSPs to deal
with their problems.

In Glasgow, for example, Rosie Kane and her caseworker met with
queues of asylum seekers facing deportation. These cases are often a
matter, literally, of life and death.

Other MSPs have tended to hide behind the coat-tails of Westminster,
refusing to deal with asylum because it is a reserved issue. Sadly
one of these MSPs was Tommy Sheridan, who refused to dirty his hands
with asylum casework after leaving the SSP to form Solidarity.

Within the parliament too, the SSP has provided a voice for workers
in struggle, and for others who were too poor or marginalised to be
of any interest to the big mainstream parties. Holyrood will be a
poorer place without the Scottish Socialist group of MSPs.

There is no single explanation for the debacle of May 3rd. The
incineration of the left was the product of a combination of
inflammable ingredients.

In the first place, all of the smaller parties and independents were
mangled in a classic political squeeze, in which two parties were
running neck and neck. In this election, the drama was heightened by
the fact that one of the two parties stands for dissolution of the
United Kingdom, thus polarising Scotland into two camps: pro and
anti-union.

These two juggernauts had vast propaganda resources at their
disposal. While the SSP was forced to fight this election on a
shoestring budget of just £30,000, the SNP had a war chest of
£1.5million - ploughed in by big business, including a £500,000
donation from the reactionary Stagecoach tycoon, Brian Souter.

Labour, meanwhile, was gifted literally millions of pounds of free
advertising from Scotlands mass circulation tabloid press, notably
the Sun and the Daily Record.

Despite the partys cosy rapprochement with elements of Scottish big
business, many left wing voters - including it appears most of those
who voted SSP in 2003 - swung behind the SNP in this election.

Alf Young of the Herald - one of Scotlands most incisive and
experienced pro-Labour analysts - pointed out the irony behind that
shift:

The far-left took out its anger over New Labour, Blair and Iraq by
backing a party which, while sharing their goal of Scottish
independence, has even less interest than Gordon Brown in bringing
the pillars of modern capitalism crashing down.

The small print of Alex Salmonds economic policies were drowned out
by the headline promises of an independence referendum, the removal
of nuclear weapons, Scottish troops out of Iraq and more immediately,
the scrapping of the Council Tax.

Labour, the LibDems and the Tories have all been tested in government
in recent times, either at Westminster or Holyrood level, while the
SNP is as yet untarnished by power.

As we go to press, the LibDems have spurned Alex Salmonds advances
to form a coalition. That means that the SNP are likely to form a
minority government, possibly with the involvement of the two Green
MSPs.

However, with the SNP up against the much larger bloc of unionist
MSPs, it is unlikely that an independence referendum can be achieved
before 2008.

The other key flagship policy of the SNP replacing the Council Tax
with a three pence rise in income tax may also have to be shelved.

The economics of the policy do not add up. It would leave a black
hole in council budgets of half a billion pounds, forcing cuts
elsewhere. Moreover, although a deal could possibly be reached with
the Liberal Democrats over the scrapping of the Council Tax, the
Greens have in the past voted against an income-based tax which
means that the policy could be scuppered by the narrowest of margins,
even with LibDem support.

Paradoxically, a minority SNP government could potentially create a
more favourable climate for a future surge towards independence. A
stable SNP-led coalition would involve backdoor deals, horse-trading
and shoddy compromises with the LibDems, allowing Labour the
opportunity to recapture some ground.

In contrast, a minority SNP government could allow Salmond to portray
the SNP as a party which is trying to introduce radical changes, but
is being blocked and obstructed at every turn by the three unionist
parties.

Either way, the sands of Scottish politics are shifting. The
socialist left may have been marginalised for the time being, but
that can change rapidly and dramatically in the future.

It is not much more than year ago that the political obituaries were
being written for the SNP after the Dunfermline West by-election
the SNPs worst by-election performance since 1982.

A procession of political pundits pronounced the terminal decline of
the SNP and the unstoppable march of the Liberal Democrats

As one commentator, Chris Deerin, expressed it in Scotland on Sunday:
Nichol Stephen is youngish, moderate and attractive. Salmond, in
contrast, wears a sullen air& the perception that they have failed to
develop as an alternative government, makes him, and them, an
unattractive prospect. The LibDems are succeeding where the SNP have
repeatedly failed& The SNP cannot turn second place into first.

Even within the SSP at the time, some members (who later left to join
Solidarity) drew the conclusion that the SNP was finished, the LibDems
were now the main opposition force in Scotland, and the idea of
independence was all but dead and buried.

Fifteen months later, and the SNP are now Scotlands biggest party
and about to form a government.

As sure as the sun rises in the morning, the socialist left will be
back with vengeance in the future. And whatever the arithmetical
breakdown last Thursday, the only socialist party with the capacity
of coming back from this defeat is the Scottish Socialist Party.

The SSP fought this election with dignity and restraint. We also
fought a highly political campaign, with a 450-point manifesto,
including the boldest and most radical policy of any party in this
election free public transport.

In contrast, Solidarity exposed itself as an embittered personality
cult around Tommy Sheridan.

The 16-point manifesto of the breakaway party, along with its other
election material, prominently featured photographs of Sheridan, his
wife and his two year old daughter. His name appeared on every ballot
paper, including even for the local council elections.

A large part of the Solidarity vote was an expression of sympathy for
Tommy Sheridan based on confusion and misunderstanding of the facts
that led to the split in the socialist movement, rather than a
conscious socialist vote.

Tommy Sheridan himself, in his manifesto, on TV, and at public
meetings repeatedly accused the SSP of lies, dishonesty and
backstabbing.

That is the prospectus upon which Solidarity was created: that Tommy
Sheridan was the victim of a plot to remove him as party convenor;
that the SSP leadership manufactured allegations about Sheridans
personal life to justify his removal; that the party leadership
forged documents to back up these allegations; that members of the
SSP conspired to pervert the course of justice and in order to
destroy Sheridan.

The entire Solidarity edifice has been built upon this fairy tale,
and will come crashing to the ground as the lies unravel and the
truth emerges.

In the meantime, for wide sections of the public, including for many
ex-SSP supporters, there is no smoke without fire. The allegations
against the SSP have not yet been disproved. At the very least,
people are inclined to lay the blame equally on both sides.

The events of the last two years have been complex and labyrinthine.
But the stark facts are these.

Like Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken, two top Tory politicians who
served lengthy jail sentences for their actions, Tommy Sheridan took
out a libel action based on a fraud: at least some of the material
published in the trashy tabloid News of the World was substantially
true.

The SSP did everything it could to dissuade Sheridan from this
insanely reckless legal case. We predicted that this grotesquely
selfish and deceitful course of action could lead to the destruction
of everything that had been built over decades by hundreds and
thousands of socialist activists.

But Sheridan carried on regardless. He dragged scores of people into
a legal toxic waste dump against their will. These included innocent
people who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and have
since had their lives destroyed to protect Sheridans right to
hypocrisy.

The SSP was also dragged into the Court of Session. Our response was
to defy the courts and face down a jail sentence.

In the weeks that the SSP was under siege, dragged through the
courts, having its offices raided, Sheridan effectively went into
hiding, failing to turn up to any of the meetings to decide tactics.

The rest of the SSP stood valiantly against the courts.

Finally, Sheridan emerged to argue that the SSP should now buckle
under and surrender the partys internal documents to the News of the
World and the courts. His capitulation was backed by those who went on
to found Solidarity. So far, so dishonourable.

But worse was to come. In an abysmal display of cowardice, Sheridan
told the courts and the media that the documents had been forged by
the SSP as part of a plot to fit him up.

To salvage his fake reputation, he denounced the SSP leadership as
liars, perjurers, forgers and conspirators, before walking out to
split the left and wreck the socialist unity project, built up over a
decade and more.

The mainstream press, cowed by the courts and the threat of libel
action and perhaps also by the fear of jeopardising an ongoing
police investigation into perjury and conspiracy to pervert the
course of justice have never been prepared to bring out these
facts.

As a result, the SSP was fighting this election under a cloud of
suspicion. To pretend otherwise would be to run away from reality.

However, two or three years down the road, the events of the past
year will have begun to fade into the mists of history. With the
removal of Tommy Sheridan from Holyrood, the Solidarity bubble will
burst.

That will be a massive step forward for the left, allowing Scottish
socialism to be rebuilt under the clean banner of the SSP.

Spoiling tactics turned confusion to fiasco

Its not who votes that counts, its who counts the votes said
Josef Stalin.

The New Labour establishment could have taught the commissars of the
old Soviet Union a thing or two about manipulating elections.

If 100,000 votes had been disqualified in Venezuela, politicians and
newspaper editors would be calling for the tanks to be sent in to
restore democracy.

In Scotland, it looks like the response to this mass
disenfranchisement of a vast swathe of the electorate will be a
whitewash, with the Electoral Commission asked to investigate the
Electoral Commission.

Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, has called for a full judicial inquiry
a call that has been rejected by the man responsible for the
debacle, the Scottish Secretary, Douglas Alexander.

In Glasgow, lawyer Mike Dailly has begun legal proceedings.

The SSP should support both of these moves. This democratic
abomination was not the result of incompetence by the Scotland
Office.

It was a product of a deliberate, cynical manoeuvre by New Labour
politicians to confuse the public and marginalise the smaller
parties.

Since 1999, Labour has consciously undermined local democracy by
refusing to separate the council elections from the Holyrood
elections. In this election, when council elections were conducted
for the first time under PR, the case for a change was overwhelming.

But it was never put before the Scottish Parliament. A Tory MSP had
begun to initiate a private members bill, but, after what appeared to
be backdoor wheeling and dealing, dropped the proposal.

Even worse was the decision to swap the order of the Holyrood ballot
papers and to include the constituency and regional votes on a single
form for the first time.

This was a deliberate subversion of democracy, designed to protect
the big parties and undermine the diversity of Holyrood.

The SNP went along with this ploy, hoping that they too would benefit
from the confusion. They opportunistically attempted to manipulate the
new arrangements by renaming their party Alex Salmond for First
Minister SNP, reinforcing the confusion that already existed.

The SSP can report numerous examples of voters including even party
members - marking their X against Alex Salmond then scrolling down the
regional list to vote SSP. All of these votes would have been
discounted.

Ironically, the SNPs tactic has almost certainly backfired on the
party. Their cunning plan was that voters would back Alex Salmond on
the left side of the paper, then be forced to vote again for the SNP
on the right side of the ballot paper when they realised that the
smaller parties were not listed on that side.

What the SNP failed to anticipate was that a large proportion of
voters would mark both their crosses on the left side of the ballot
paper.

Because the regional and constituency ballot papers were not
physically separate, tens of thousands of people appear to have
believed that it didnt matter which side they marked their two
crosses.

This would not only distort downwards the vote for the smaller
parties; it would also negate many thousands of constituency votes,
particularly for the SNP.

Without a full analysis of every paper, it is impossible to say how
the results were affected by confusion.

However it is wishful thinking for Tommy Sheridan to claim he was
robbed of a seat in Glasgow. The claim that with just a few hundred
more votes, Solidarity would have won a seat in Glasgow is pure
fiction. Out of around 10,000 disqualified regional votes in Glasgow,
Sheridan would have required 2,200 to beat the Greens and 2,600 extra
votes to beat the SNP and even that would be based on the
far-fetched assumption that neither of these parties had any
disqualified votes!

In Glasgow as elsewhere, it is likely that the vote for the SSP, the
Greens, Solidarity and a range of other small parties would have been
significantly higher, but nowhere near enough to affect the outcome.

Nonetheless, this distortion of democracy blatantly discriminates
against the most deprived voters in the poorest constituencies who
are already disproportionately excluded from electoral politics.

The constituency with the highest number of disqualified papers,
Glasgow Shettleston, was also the constituency with the lowest
turnout in Scotland just 33 per cent.

And by the way, just in case you didnt know - Shettleston also tops
the UK league table for poverty and deprivation.

This will be also appearing in this week’s Scottish Socialist Voice. I am not particularly happy that we had to mention the split again and go down the “who’s the best party line”, but given the ludicrous statement of Solidarity, I guess it couldn’t have been avoided.



Tesco, SNPs 100 and the unmarxism of left-unionists. by korakious
April 29, 2007, 9:02 pm
Filed under: independence, Theory, UK politics


Some days ago, Alex “St Bernard’s” Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, announced a list of 100 business supporters of his party’s electoral campaign, further confirming the SNP’s identity as the newest business ass licker. For left unionists, this was more proof that Scottish independence will be a disaster for the socialist movement and the working class in Britain, meaning that all principled socialists should oppose the break up of the British empire state, in the interests of working class unity (as if proletarian internationalism is created or sustained by bourgeois state apparatuses) . This of course, by extension means, for them, that we, are crap.

Soon after this glen shattering revelation however, the chairman of Tesco announced his support for the Union, saying that it has “served us well” until now. Who this “us” refers to, I’ll leave the reader to decide.

But wait a minute! Tesco is the UK’s largest and the world’s fourth largest retailer, as the infinite source of knowledge that is Wikipedia tells us. What then is wrong with the heads of this burgeoning firm’s bosses? Can’t they see what a titanic victory against the conscious working class the break up of the UK would be?

The answer’s no, they can’t. And neither can the big shots of CBI. And how could they? It makes absolutely no sense for capital to break up one of the most powerful imperialist constructs in history. All the endless “we’re too small”, “terrorists everywhere” tirades of New Labour, as well as the “we’re stronger together, please stay” Tory rhetoric are just reflections of the cold hard fact that British capital loves the British state and wants to keep it intact. That doesn’t of course go to say that British capital can’t survive if Scotland breaks away, but merely, that the fat cats would rather it wouldn’t. If they could survive the setting up of the Republic of Ireland and the death of colonialism, they can definitely tolerate Scotland breaking away. But for reasons that should be obvious to four year-olds, they would prefer to keep unitary political control over these isles.

Why then, would a section of Scottish capital wish to dissolve the Union and forfeit the benefits of having access to such a formidable machinery of violence? A Marxist analysis actually makes the motives behind the new found patriotism of Scottish capital quite clear. By Marxist, I do not mean the kind of vulgar mechanistic determinism upheld by left unionists and their sects, but an actual concrete look at the class dynamics of a given social process. The vulgar Marxism of left unionists (and many others) consists in forcing preconceived ideas, derived from the study of older situations, on the currently unfolding events. They do not engage in a “concrete analysis of concrete circumstances” as Lenin would put it, but seek to push the concrete current situation into their familiar ideological boxes. Thus, according to their black & white mode of thinking, if the bourgeoisie wants something, there is zero chance that the working class might benefit for it. But enough with those web-covered, dusty “Marxists”. Let’s take a look at what’s happening here.

The first thing to do is take a look at the synthesis of this infamous list of business owners that love the SNP so much. We should remember that the bourgeoisie is not a uniform class. It is heavily stratified internally – more so than the working class – and grasping this is a key to understanding why it may sometimes act in ways that don’t make sense if we regard it as a monolith. Now, looking at the names on the list (you can find it by following the first link and scrolling to the bottom) we find that it is predominately composed of small to medium size businesses, with tourism being a particularly large section. There are legal firms, a bed and breakfast, a tour company, a couple of management companies and… a kilt maker.

But what about the big shot supporters like the Royal Bank big shot Sir George Mathewson. What can small tourism based businesses like Hotel Ceilidh-donia and finance capital magnates have in common?

The answer isn’t that complicated. They would all benefit from a sovereign Holyrood parliament with economic powers, or even a non-sovereign parliament with fiscal independence as the trajectory of the SNP seems to suggest will soon be the case. They would also not be particularly affected by the loss of Britain’s imperialist strong arm. The existence of nuclear weapons on the Clyde as well as shock & awe all around the world are of little concern to the Linlithgow Tours company or to Kilts by Lindsay.

Big finance capital like the Royal Bank of Scotland is also not dependent on old fashioned big guns imperialism for its growth. Neo-liberal institutions and just plain unfair treaties are good enough for them. Of course, you might argue that in order for the Third World to remain in line, some sort of military bullying will always be necessary. But the RBS doesn’t care about who’s got the guns. As long as the poor countries of the world are kept weak enough to accept their shark loans, the golf playing fat cats are content. Tesco on the other hand really does need cheap fuel, cheap raw materials and of course, good ol’ child and sweat labour.

Now, apart from not being hurt by it, the RBS (and the rest of the great 100), would also benefit by the establishment of an independent Scotland. You see, they would be in a much better position with regards to the levers of power. In the UK, the Royal Bank has to compete for influence with other monsters like Barclay’s, while in Scotland, where it is by far the largest and most powerful bank, it could easily pull the strings of a St. Bernard led administration. As far Scottish smaller businesses go, they have little chance of ever gaining any significant influence on an all British scale. So why not go for independence?

We see therefore that despite Brit left rants, Scottish capital does not support independence as a gain against the working class, but as a gain against its competitors. Any analysis of the effects that Scottish independence would have on the capability for socialists to organize and raise transitional demands necessarily leads to the conclusion that the break up of the UK will be a positive thing, if socialists take an active part in the campaign for independence and strengthen their hegemony over the movement.

The left-unionist tirades about how Scottish independence is an anti working class, bourgeois nationalist project simply write working class agency off history. Some Marxism there!



Election fraud in Scotland? No, it can’t be! by korakious
April 22, 2007, 1:48 pm
Filed under: independence, UK politics

The following is from Scotland on Sunday. It appears that the British bourgeoisie has taken some lessons from its American overlords.

THE Holyrood election has been left wide open to fraud on a potentially massive scale after ministers scrapped checks designed to prevent abuse of postal votes.

With just 11 days to go, a Scotland on Sunday investigation has revealed concern at the highest level that key seats could be won by fraudulent postal votes, and that there are already widespread claims of vote-buying by corrupt party activists.

Despite an unprecedented 433,000 postal vote applications, our inquiry has established that:

• Computer checks on ballot signatures will be used in England, but not north of the Border;

• Date of birth checks on the same papers will happen south of the Border, but not in Scotland;

• The Electoral Reform Society in Scotland is “hugely concerned” about the scope for fraud;

• Allegations are circulating that votes are already being bought for as little as £20;

• Police have taken the unprecedented step of issuing every officer with a booklet on how to spot voting crimes.

The claims follow several scandals in England following the decision in 2003 to allow everyone to vote by post. In the 2004 local elections in Birmingham, party activists were accused of taking bundles of votes to ballot stations in black bags. A year later, allegations spread to the London borough of Tower Hamlets where nearly one in seven postal votes was estimated to be fraudulent.

The allegations centre on fraudsters stealing or buying other people’s postal ballot papers and signing them themselves.

As a result of this obvious weakness in the system, England’s council elections on May 3 will use for the first time equipment called postal vote identifiers which compare a voter’s signature on the application form with the signature on the ballot. A further check on the date of birth will also be introduced south of the Border.

But the Scotland Office, which monitors the Holyrood elections, decided last November not to bring it in either measure because electronic counting of votes will also be used for the first time and it was feared so many innovations might overwhelm the system.

Billy Somerville, the president of the Scottish Assessors’ Association – which administers the voting roll – admitted: “The reason it hasn’t been built in is the complexity of the electronic counting for this year. Everyone wants to focus on that, without the added complication of comparing signatures.”

Amy Rodger, director of the Electoral Reform Society in Scotland, last night warned: “We are hugely concerned about it and we do want to see these measures brought in. With the extension of postal voting we were always keen that additional measures to prevent fraud were brought in.”

Scotland on Sunday has spoken to members of the Asian community in Glasgow who claim that fraud there is rife.

Muhammad Shoaib, who left the Labour party to become an independent candidate last year, claimed there was “a deliberate campaign” to abuse the postal vote system.

He said: “Party workers put pressure on people to sign up for a postal vote. They then have a list of addresses which they know are registered for postal votes. They know when the forms arrive and go back saying that ‘we can assist you filling in the form’. There’s a lot of pressure put on people; they effectively force people to fill in the form and to vote for them.”

Another man, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed that in the last election he had been visited by three party activists. “One of them gave me a postal ballot paper and said ‘just tick here’,” he said.

The man said that the practice of literally buying votes was also on-going: “The cost would depend on how much the person knows how the system works. A recent immigrant from Poland might demand £20, an Indian or Pakistani £50, and a non-Asian who knows it’s not allowed would ask for hundreds of pounds.”

One independent candidate in Govan, Asif Nasir, claimed: “Party workers are taking advantage. There are big concerns in the Muslim community, many of whom have never voted in this [new] way.”

Both Labour and the SNP insisted last night that there was no evidence of any fraud by any of their activists. Both the parties are following a new code of conduct, which now bars party activists from handling postal ballots.

Of claims that SNP activists were handling ballot papers, Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP, said: “It is fanciful. I can’t accept that it could happen. None of the parties have heard of anything wrong going on.”

A spokesman for Labour said: “We have clear guidance sent to all candidates and agents and follow, to the letter, the guidance given by the electoral commission regarding handling posting votes. Any breaches would not be tolerated.”

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said: “What we have done is to issue police with guidance in order to aid their officers in identifying and tackling incidents of alleged malpractice. So far, we have not heard of any wrongdoing or attempted offences anywhere in Scotland.”

Police officers have been issued with a “pocket book” so they can spot voting fraud. The guide includes specific references to “false application to vote by post or proxy”.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the Electoral Commission said the guide books were intended to give “beat bobbies” assistance if and when they uncovered evidence of malpractice.

Note that the Scotland Office, which decided to scrap said checks, is a Whitehall, central UK government body, rather than a devolved one under the Scottish Executive.

Given their bleeding support, it appears that Labour hacks are trying to exploit every glitch in the system possible to maintain control over Scotland. This is yet further evidence of abuse of power on the part of the British state and demonstrates well the democratic deficit that Scotland is experiencing by being part of the UK.

The sooner this filthy imperialist construct goes down, the better; for everyone living on these islands.