Workers Unite

Ah, consensus. What is the deep satisfaction that comes from working harmoniously with others but the balm of humanity itself? Brothers and sisters together in search of peace and shared destiny…

It makes you wonder how St Francis would have fared as a politician. ‘The Hon Member for Assisi Central is asking like-minded MPs from different parties to join together to prevent Brexit.’ For it is in giving that we receive

You can argue that being together in a political system and voting in a chamber, albeit for different policies, is a form of co-operation and it is certainly true that under the skin of a parliamentary institution, agreements are reached between groupings and individuals whose precise form is rarely divulged to voters. It’s probably the case that without such clandestine channels, the system itself would seize up.

What we rarely see is an outward display of partnership in which selfish interests are subjugated in favour of a wider common good – in the way everyone except the Tories combined to deliver devolution as the expressed will of the people. Twenty years ago they showed it could be done because there was a manifest public majority for what had been a long-anticipated initiative and because, briefly, their interests aligned.

Aren’t we approaching a similar place today? Accepting the primacy of world peace and climate change as global challenges, it remains the fact that EU membership and the UK’s continuing engagement with the European institutions is the single most important issue confronting the country. Given that it was essentially an internal Tory Party game of Cleudo that led to the referendum being held at all while continuing EU membership was for most liberals and conventional conservatives a comfortable fit, is it not remarkable that those same forces have not coalesced to save the country?

The evidence of decline is pretty much universal from the Bank of England to the Resolution Foundation to the TUC. There is as much unanimity among economists as there is on climate change among scientists. To disagree is join the flat-earthers.

What happens when there is a gathering threat to the country – it’s economic and social health, it’s international relations and its defence? Coalition was the response in the face of German aggression. And what should happen when there is common agreement – co-operation.

Is the problem that in Britain there is no agreement on how to proceed? Well, it’s surely tricky for democrats that in a free vote the people have spoken. My question though is what did they vote for? Yes, it was to leave but how many knew and accepted it would mean lower living standards, higher food prices, greater bureaucracy, fewer jobs and travel restrictions? Some polls now say the majority would vote to stay in having been confronted with the evidence they were denied during the referendum process.

But even if we accept that the UK must now ‘leave’, does that also infer departure from the areas that guarantee us free trade and market access? Has anyone ever voted knowingly to make themselves poorer? It is around the customs union and single market where the non-Conservative parties should now be talking to each other to produce a common front. I’m pretty confident some discussions do take place one-on- one and views are synthesised into party positions but the great enemy of all politics is the people, or rather how the politicians view the people. Most are terrified of public opinion and would rather do the hokey-cokey in a chimpanzee onesie than fall foul of voters’ wrath. It is fear of the public, and of course the newspapers they read, that prevents much honest discussion of issues or the implementation of policies that will face short-term hostility. The maintenance of a united public front is paramount.

The block of progress here is of course the Labour Party. Or more specifically, the leadership. I don’t doubt the nationalists, Green and Liberals at Westminster would combine to form a united front, however gingerly they worded the text. But to change government direction, the Opposition needs to be on board and yet, watching Corbyn, it’s hard to know if he’s up or down the gangway, if he’s committing to sailing at all or if he’s just about to be seasick. This isn’t an issue on which prevarication is acceptable. There has to be a principle behind his position, a stance in which he believes and a bottom line which he will not breach. What is it? How can we have come to far in the Brexit saga and yet still be in doubt?

The conclusion has to be that in principle, he agrees with Brexit – it would be best if we were out. He sees a state free to interfere in the market at will and to plough subsidy into the holes he identifies without Brussels diktat. Just how much of industry and services there will be after Brexit is another question. His natural stance is to be at war with business and it is the power brokers of the conglomerates imposing globalisation who have the ear of the Brussels bigwigs. That’s the narrative except for those pesky EU-inspired rules on tax havens, meeting corporate tax obligations and ensuring workers’ rights.

Currently Labour are contorting themselves to make this look like pragmatism even to hiding division but organising Brexit out of a vote at conference. A government-in-waiting it is not.

Weirdly, Labour appears drunk on hubris as if an election had been won and the conferment of a laurel wreath on the leader’s brow was formality awaited. They look very silly, worse even than the Lib Dems pretending those years of coalition for no discernible return, never happened. Instead of looking for allies, instead of thinking strategically in the wider interest, all we hear from Brighton is sound and fury with student politics warning that they will smash the SNP and ‘return Scotland to Labour’ – all deeply unfortunate and misguided when the need is for unity in the face of both austerity and Brexit. High on their own rhetoric, they have forgotten the people and ignored the national interest. The language is designed to insult Labour folk who have switched or who seek independence – despite it being shelved for the time being. This is not a party of partnership or maturity. It is not a party of European social democracy. Labour has become a left-wing UKIP, self-regarding, inward and disruptive. It is having too much fun for serious politics.

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Armagegeddeddon !?

Earthquakes in Mexico, a fusillade of hurricanes in the Caribbean, the unstoppable warming of the Earth, a Dr Strangelove President threatening total nuclear wipe-out, jackboot authority restored to Catalonia and an economy-crashing Brexit imminent as a shambolic government devours itself.

Oh, and Kezia resigns…

If this isn’t Armageddon, I don’t know what is. Why Trump missed out Kezia’s resignation from his address to the UN will be debate by historians. I can only assume his advisers thought it best avoided in case he was asked to endorse her replacement.

‘You mean it’s a contest between a Communist and a Muslim?’ You can see his dilemma…

Of all these global crises – Kezia apart – climate change is the most terrifying to me because it fits into a long-term worldview that mankind’s destiny is to ‘progress to destruction.’ In other words, we will develop science to the point where it wipes us out. We constantly create without weighing up the downside. So we discover nuclear fission and create a super efficient power source from it, nuclear energy. But we still haven’t worked out what to do with the dangerous waste it generates, therefore we pretend it isn’t really a problem.

We produce a mass means of water distribution – plastic bottles instead of cans, glass bottles or animal skins – but don’t know how to destroy the empties. The result is that millions of tons of tiny plastic particles are now in drinking water and in the sea. We don’t know what impact it will have on human health. But it’s definitely killing life in the oceans.

We invented what our ancestors would regard as time travel – airplanes that whiz us around to view the dazzling panorama of life of Earth yet those same planes are killing wildlife. Sixty seven per cent of all wild animals will have been wiped out in three years time.

Eighty per cent of rain forest in Ivory Coast has been destroyed to make way for cocoa because of our love for chocolate.

Sperm count in western males has halved probably due to lifestyle – mobile phones, smoking and diet – while science allows women to have children later when the risks are higher. Combined, the two trends point long term to human extinction.

As Ruth Davidson might say: ‘What is the First Minister going to do about it?’

Measured against the scale of issues confronting us, Scottish politics can seem miniscule and irrelevant. It isn’t of course, because the only hope we have is that every one and every group do whatever they can to support life. And no one will do anything without leadership.

The way to change the world, as it were, is to change the culture of thought. You may remember the days before seatbelts in cars when there was an agonised outcry at such breach of civil liberties in demanding that ‘perfectly safe’ drivers would be forced by law to buckle up. That quickly changed with rational debate about the dangers – and, of course, cheeky Jimmy Savile.

Smoking indoors was another No Go area that the public would simply defy. Who was going to tell a pubful of boozed up blokes to stub it out? And yet…

The only way I can see of making effective progress is through political partnership. That means agreeing on areas where it is possible and being prepared to compromise in these areas for a common good. Where there is a principle at stake, the agreement is to disagree.

For example I never understood, apart from hubris, what prompted the disastrous decision by Ming Campbell, Tavish Scott and Nicol Stephen to refuse coalition with the SNP in 2007. Sure, they gambled the Nats would fail but what blinkered them to the possibilities of a combined programme for government with a red line clause on an independent referendum? They could have withdrawn from government if the SNP tried to legislate for it. They put self-interest and personal bias before national interest and have never recovered.

Mostly, of course, when it comes to the vote, there is compromise and mostly the government gets its policy enacted because, in truth, there is little between the parties on the bulk of domestic policy. Labour and Liberals dance to the same Nationalist piper and have to look for ways to differentiate themselves from the SNP. (There shouldn’t be a national police force and tampons should be free to ALL women).

Most uneasy of all is Davidson who is canny enough to know the Scots have a soft spot for centre left ideas while her own hardcore voters are as right wing as UKIP and would happily wave in Trump to nuke Holyrood if the fallout didn’t reach Morningside.

There is a centrifugal force which drives the parties together and often the only brake is tribal resentment and personal animosities (although these are, in my experience, rarely as toxic as the pantomime behaviour in the chamber would lead you to believe).

Which is why I’m bemused by the rejectionist approach of the Labour contenders who are both bitten by the same bug and infected by the delirium that Labour folk hate the SNP and don’t want to work with them. Quite how they square a refusal to work with the party of government on matters of shared interest with a passion for progressive policies, I can’t for the life of me see. I also don’t believe it’s true because the pressures to do the right thing can’t be ignored for long – as the idiotic Tories are discovering over Brexit. Learn the lesson of Canute. So I assume all the No Deals, No Alliances talk of Sarwar and Leonard is for the Labour loyalists who are the electorate in this case and have found they need to reject the SNP in order to conform to Corbyn’s One Britain agenda.

That’s fine as in-house posturing but it will look limp when the brothers and sisters vote with the SNP anyway. It also stores up a serious problem for the new branch office manager because a united front for Scotland is going to be needed to resist the Tories’ power grab of devolved responsibilities. It’s one thing for Labour in Westminster to moan about it but it’s in Holyrood where should-to-shoulder work will be required to resist the onslaught. That implies joint agreement, private talks, public shows of solidarity and a sense of 1999 cross-party unity that sits at odds with the current leadership narrative. Scots admire those who appear to put their country above party and it was failure to do so that led to McConnell’s demise in 2007. Labour voters should hope the No Pact emissions are just that – hot air.

I think the leadership contest this time points to a real split in Labour affiliations in a way that Kezia and Ken McIntosh simply didn’t two years ago. The old Labour pragmatists are facing a Militant-style insurgency (albeit more polite in tone). The Corbynistas are as shameless in approach as any Blairite machine – witness the windy rhetoric over equal pay AFTER it is addressed by the incoming SNP in Glasgow having been resisted for decades by Labour and subsidised by taxpayers. It is a familiar trick true to type – forget reality, just deliver the message. It says there is only one way and it’s our way. We start at Year Zero – the politics of Pol Pot.

Yet the overarching message chimes with the times in seeking to overturn the privileges of the few in favour of the many. As a message that works but it looks like it’s all Jeremy has got, that slogan, as his silence over Catalonia and the Spanish state authoritarianism resonates and confusion reigns on his true position on Brexit.

Leonard will struggle though against the party machinery which favours Sarwar. His family tentacles and patronage run right through Labour in Glasgow and he is clearly a driven man, of a sort Kezia simply isn’t. (I honestly thought we were told she was in this for the long term, that she was the new generation). Sarwar may be motivated by social justice but he has the look of a son put on a gilded path and expected to match the father’s achievement. The only thing he does have is staying power – no amount of rejection will deter him. He failed in 2007 when no Labour candidate made it through on the list and lost the Westminster seat in 2015. So he keeps on coming back which means he isn’t a quitter.

A lifelong Labour member told me she voted for Murphy in 2014 despite disliking him and what he stood for because the party needed a known quantity in charge, someone with experience, not a rookie.

The same looks likely to happen this time when known entity Anas Sarwar can lay claim to the experience and background of an old hand not in the pay of the unions, someone who, along with Jackie Baillie, will wind up the Nats remorselessly and give the entrenched Labourites something to cheer and chuckle about.

Shared platforms for progressive policies? You can them two a penny at the cash and carry.

Labour has still not resolved its dilemma over Corbyn – witness Sarwar sucking up having denounced him previously. The vein of antipathy will still run after the leadership vote and we will thrill to the sight of Anas bending history to claim he is a Corbynista too.

But none of this will get us near a new kind of politics in which we confront together the gathering clouds of the inevitable crises buffeting Scotland. No Pacts. No Referendum. No Alternative. That isn’t going to do it.

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China Doll

Well it shook me, I have to say. When I heard there was to be a re-launch, I groaned. What that usually means is we would be the ‘best ever’, we would have the ‘boldest’ ideas and be ‘really radical – honest’. Every re-launch I can remember was 90 per cent marketing, nine per cent desperation and one per cent content. It’s what you do when your tea’s oot and nobody can think what else to do. (Labour’s annual leadership contest is always a re-launch in which everything bad is going to stop – until it doesn’t.)

But, contrary Nat that she is, La Sturgeon surprised me and just about everyone else by flourishing a dazzling Chinese fan of proposals and fluttering her eyes at us all. How we gasped as each exotic delight was unveiled. OK, I’m exaggerating, but when the UN head honcho on the environment, Erik Solheim, tweets his approval, you know you’ve hit the mark. At least, you’ve got the nod from the kind of people who matter rather than the kind of support Ruth Davidson attracts from, say, the leader of the Orange Order.

To be fair to the *Unionist opposition for a change (these are turbulent times), it does raise the question of where has all this come from and why have we waited til now to see it? Have eyes been off the ball too long? Was too much time spent in the war room not the work room?

I suppose the truth is that it’s always possible to invent new ideas when necessity is playing mother. And it’s not a moment too soon. They have grasped the initiative at the start of the political year, going a significant way to meeting Green demands and at the same time leaving in their vapour trail the policy-free Tories and the internally-riven Labour Party.

I like the mix of big vision and small-scale – moving to electric cars and pollution-free zones while giving discounts on returned bottles. Lifting the 1 per cent pay cap will give hope to those struggling with two jobs and on benefits while free care for the vulnerable is another of the many humane steps the SNP have taken to improve living conditions.

There was even the lollipop for the Daily Mail of implied tax rises – horror – which lets them avoid writing up the positive measures and just insert last year’s budget article with a new headline. Over at the Times, they missed the tax rise gift and instead wondered allowed how it will all be paid for. As you can see, there is no way the SNP can win.

I don’t think they will be dismayed by the Herald front page majoring on the tax hike because that really punches home the message that this is truly bold and is taking no prisoners. One suspects this is the real spikey wee Sturgeon getting serious about what she believes Scotland should be, like giving up on K.T.Tunstall and going back to Guns ‘n Roses. If there’s a consistent riff driving this programme along, it is progressive rock – her own Glastonbury debut but with left-leaning ideas she can actually implement, not Corbyn’s wishful thinking. It is, when you think about it, the one thing Sturgeon has over Corbyn, the ultimate ability to implement policy from a position of power. She is in government. He is not.

I don’t know about outflanking Labour, but the breadth of measures here allied to intent –as underlined by tax rises – poses a problem for the party and those sometime Nationalist voters tempted by Corbyn’s rhetoric. What more do you want, we may ask. This is a devolved administration checked by an overbearing state apparatus and yet it produces eye-catching policies both macro and micro. Indeed the flip side is that Sturgeon may have weighed in the balance the aspirations of middle class Scots and come down against their interests, potentially risking cementing the desertion of one-time voters in the North east and the Borders.

I’ve always supported the concept of the left-right balancing act because it’s important to create the idea of governing for all. The well-off and the wealthy have a stake in society too and their votes have been necessary to achieving the ultimate objective. I thought the decision not to raise their taxes but instead not to pass on the personal allowance increase was just such a balanced option. But it looks like the last election has added some crucial ounces to the scales and tipped them in favour of higher taxes. Bear in mind that this is exactly what the Tories planned when they drew up the last Scotland Act – virtually the only power Edinburgh has is in personal taxation. Mundell wants Scottish taxpayers to feel the pinch and punish the Nationalists at the ballot box. It isn’t about good governance, it’s about rigging the system.

Yet the mood surely is turning away from the budget-slashing Thatcherite horror show we have endured for 30 years – it gives us third world infrastructure outside London, underpaid and deserting nurses, family breakdowns, benefit sanctions, loss of personal dignity, wealth accumulated with the already wealthy and it gives us Grenfell. That is the heart of Corbyn’s appeal – the simple message that this has to stop and society gets rebalanced. Perhaps the realisation is dawning that for all the sacrifices, the national debt climbs, the deficit grows, the currency bombs and economic disaster beckons via Brexit. But Jeremy can’t rescue Scotland from this Armageddon and indeed has shown no interest in doing so. The effect of Brexit will be to make uniform the internal organisation of the UK to make a single harmonised trading bloc, ironing out differences not acknowledging them.

The coming weeks will, if a real debate is allowed, bring much of this to the fore as the Labour leadership contest unfolds. But I suspect neither candidate will seek to emphasise Brexit as it will merely underline how powerless and exposed Scotland now is.

The questions now are:For Labour voters – Is this good enough? How much more do you want and do you really think Scottish Labour would do better? For Tory voters – do you still believe the mess Britain is in and the disaster it’s heading for can be sorted by Ruth Davidson’s bluster and without tax rises? For Nationalists – Is this the flame that lights the fire and rekindles the belief?

*(And if you’re still backing Brexit, the leaked Home Office immigration paper demonstrates how, with your support, apartheid is planned for Britain with different categories of citizen based on country of origin and professional qualification. A whole new bureaucracy is needed to police the foreign population. Gastarbeiter will be categorised as acceptable and not acceptable with preference given to native workers. It will mean the state saying British Workers Preferred. For the low skilled – an absolutely essential part of the workforce – it means banishment. No Low Skilled Foreigners Wanted Here. Highly skilled staff will need to show their passport to get access to work – perhaps a sign could be painted on their coat. And don’t think about making your life here because the family who can join you will be severely restricted. Maybe reconsider coming to the UK at all. This of course will have no knock-on effect at all on British staff going to other European countries where they will be welcomed with open arms…

If Britain thinks it can make second class citizens out of European allies, it will come up against the full weight of the EU’s defences. This document will already have damaged the UK’s chances of a good hearing and an early trade deal. It is the clearest sign that Britain is turning into a racist state – Britain First – which every other nation will shun. The UK under the Tories is an international embarrassment and Theresa May revealed as a sinister right wing schemer with a hatred of foreigners which transcends the national interest. She means to stop fellow Europeans at any cost to the country.

Is this the Brexit that some independence supporting Scots voted for? Is this why they turned against the SNP in the election? Because I’d like to hear what they thought they were getting instead. If this apartheid state is the kind of Scotland you want, you can count me out. We are either internationalist and pro-European or we are nothing.)

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