Sunday, 25 September 2016


It is hard to see what difference Jeremy Corbyn's re-election as Labour leader makes to the crisis his party is in.
As expected he saw off the challenge of Owen Smith with ease. And as expected 200 of his MP's have told him they will ignore the result just as they did last year. Adding insult to injury for Corbyn his opponent Smith won 58% of the vote in Scotland.
So the bloody stand-off continues.
And yet for all the melodrama the $64m question remains unanswered, what does Labour actually stand for? Does it still believe we should keep Trident nuclear weapons? Does it still believe in neo-liberal economic orthodoxy when its time appears to be up even for the capitalists who employ it? Does it still oppose Scottish Independence? Does it still believe in austerity and support 80% of George Osborne's cuts? Does it still believe in military interventions in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan? Does it still support the monarchy and the House of Lords? Does it still support the privatisation of the NHS and other public services? Does it still oppose higher taxes on the rich?
This confusion means Labour remain an utterly ineffective opposition at Westminster, Holyrood and everywhere else.
It is clear Corbyn cannot heal the splits in his party. The differences are so politically profound and the bitterness now so personal. He may be a principled socialist but 80% of his MP's are not.
So for all warm words of conciliation in the days that follow such results it will be back to 'business as usual' for the Labour MP's out to oust him within the week. Although they do not have the stomach to leave Labour as their forefathers in the SDP did in the early 1980's they will nonetheless continue to undermine him every chance they get. They will neither bury the hatchet nor buckle down to defend the interests of the working people who elected them. The Labour stasis will continue for some time yet.

Friday, 29 July 2016


'Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader is a symptom of the party's existential crisis not it's solution.' That was the conclusion I reached last summer following Corbyn's astonishing victory in the 2015 Labour leadership contest. The electorate's rejection of Ed Miliband's 'more of the same neo-liberalism' was followed by equally stark warning to Labour from its own members to change direction and outline clearly what it now stood for.

In the year since that vote Labour's crisis has worsened markedly. The Parliamentary Labour Party simply ignored the outcome of the leadership vote. Morale amongst Labour members deteriorated with each Parliamentary rebellion against Corbyn. The infamous 'chicken coup' organised by members of his Shadow Cabinet was designed to force him to resign. Instead it stiffened his resolve. And it has now produced this unprecedented second contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith the agent of the PLP faction that so despise him.

There is no shadow of doubt the contest will be poisonous nor that Corbyn will again emerge victorious. Some 600,000 Labour members are determined to deliver their verdict on the anti-democratic treachery of Smith, Angela Eagle and the rest of the PLP plotters.

The entire episode highlights the fundamental division in the Labour Party which was again laid bare when Andrew Marr interviewed Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell last weekend. Labour, Marr pointed out, has always been divided between those who see capitalism as a powerful, unopposable force they seek to manage in Government and those who see it as an exploitative and at times barbarous system which must be replaced by socialism. Corbyn is of course the first Labour leader to emerge from the latter camp.

In the 100 years of its existence Labour has never in truth resolved this core conflict. In recent years it has become politically, economically and socially neo-liberal. Neil Kinnock, John Smith, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Miliband all brought it to this place. Their policies were unashamedly capitalist, pro-market and 'business friendly'. They made it clear they saw Labour as a parliamentary party that sought the acceptance of the UK establishment. Corbyn on the other hand is an outsider contemptuous of the British ruling classes who seeks to end their undemocratic and ruthless grip on power. He seeks to replace capitalism with a more efficient, fairer and more democratic political and economic system.

I agree with Jeremy Corbyn on many things, but not about Scottish independence. He does not see the progressive democratic case for self-determination. And he is also wrong in my view to foster illusions in Labour as a socialist party, even under his leadership. Nonetheless every democrat in Britain fervently hopes he wins again for those in the PLP faction who have stabbed him in the back so often and so publicly deserve to feel the wrath of party members.

But many question arise should he win a second time; above all what exactly has changed? Are his enemies in the PLP and beyond going to bury the hatchet and accept the will of the membership this time? Or are they more likely to leave and form a new party? Labour MP's fear Theresa May is about to call another General Election and most fear they will lose their seats. And they would rather lose on their own terms than under Corbyn's leadership.

There have, its true, been predictions of a Labour Party split many times over the years that came to nothing, but this time it seems unavoidable. If it does happen the implications for politics across these isles will be profound.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

High Street Banking Crooks

It's official, there is one law for the banks and another for the rest of us.

A US Congressional Report published today reveals that the Department of Justice dropped serious criminal charges against the world's biggest bank in 2013 after George Osborne intervened to warn the prosecution would lead to another 'global financial disaster'.

Prosecutors were told that HSBC chiefs had laundered $881m from Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. Yet the bankers did not face the full force of the law because they were too big to prosecute. Instead of sending them to jail they allowed these banking crooks to pay a paltry $1.9bn fine because of the fear of 'systemic risk to the global financial market'.

This episode tells us a great deal about the morality and greed that is rife in the world's biggest 'industry'.

It shows there is virtually no crime the bankers can commit that will result in jail time for these 'masters of the universe'. And it exposes the impotence of apparently powerful politicians like US Attorney General Eric Holder and UK Chancellor George Osborne in the face of neo-liberal finance capitalism.

Who can possibly doubt that 21st century capitalism is in the grip of amoral and crooked financiers? Who can doubt that these bankers act as if they are above the law? The plea bargained outcome in this case is hardly likely to act as a deterrent which will successfully curb their illegal behaviour.

The fact is the bankers have the politicians in their pockets. And only after we change that reality can we expect to see crooked bankers brought to justice anywhere.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Off to the Spanish General Election - Sunday June 26th

I am off to Madrid on Sunday to observe the Spanish General election at the invitation of Podemos.

The election has been called because it is 6 months since the last election and the Spanish Constitution decrees a new vote must be held if no party/coalition has been able to command a majority in the Cortes within that period. Since the last election on December 20th resulted in a hung parliament and none of the 4 main parties could agree to govern separately or together the June 26th vote has been called.

The latest opinion polls suggest little has changed however since December in terms of popular support. The conservative Partido Popular [PP] stands on 29% of the vote, Podemos [We Can] is on 25.5%, PSOE [the Labour Party] 20% and the smaller right of centre party Cuidadanos [Citizens] is on 14%. [Source: El Pais/Metroscopia 11.6.16]

With no party again likely to emerge with enough support to form a majority in the 350 seat Cortes on its own the pressure will mount to form a coalition. The likelihood of that happening however is poor. All the possible permutations failed to materialise last time. So there is likely to be a prolonged political impasse.

All of this is bad news for the economy and continues the journey into uncharted political waters for post Franco Spain. The country has been governed by either the PP or PSOE since the 1970's. But that all changed when the Spanish economy 'went off a cliff' following its financial collapse of 2008. The unprecedented economic crisis that followed also unearthed massive corruption and bribery at the heart of the Spanish banking sector and political establishment. The PP and PSOE leaders were caught red handed and thoroughly discredited by their financial corruption.

The economic collapse and social outrage at the corruption scandals led to the emergence first of Podemos [We Can] on the Left and then Cuidadanos [Citizens] on the Right. Both changed the face of Spanish politics.

Economically Spain remains in huge trouble. Unemployment as a whole is running at 20% and youth unemployment at 50%. The country has seen one million people emigrate in the last 5 years alone. The EU was forced to step in and bail out the Spanish finance sector. The country now has one of the highest debt: income ratio's in the world. It owes its creditors more than one Trillion Euros. The social consequences of the collapse are pitiful. 30% of the population are now living in poverty and unable for instance to afford the electricity they need to keep warm in the winter and cool in the blistering summer sun.

Podemos and their pony-tailed leader Pablo Iglesias have promised to create a million new jobs, to renegotiate EU debt repayments, invest in health and education provision and industrialise Spain's economy by moving away from the traditional sectors of tourism, agriculture and construction. Their hopes of forming Spain's first Left-wing Coalition Government since the 1930's rest with PSOE leader Pedro Sanchez. But there is no love lost between the two parties. More importantly their political differences are profound. Podemos are anti-austerity. PSOE are much more economically and socially conservative. On the crucial issue of Spain's constitution where areas like Catalonia, the Basque country, the Valencien community and Galicia the two party's share a desire to maintain the unitary state. But Podemos is in favour of independence referenda in these areas with a new constitutional settlement might loosen the grip of Madrid and devolve even more power to the localities.

In an attempt to boost its own level of support, increase the pressure on PSOE and ultimately break the deadlock in government Podemos has reached an agreement with the Spanish Communist Party [Unida Izquerida] to form an alliance for this election and will appear on the ballot paper as Unidos Podemos [United We Can].

I am looking forward to the election campaign and learning much more about Podemos's programme and strategy in the next week or so. And I will be filing regular reports from Madrid here on my blog over the next ten days.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Edinburgh Peoples Festival hosts debate on the European Union Referendum

The Edinburgh People's Festival hosts a debate on the forthcoming Referendum on Britain's membership of the EU on Wednesday at The Grassmarket Centre in Candlemaker Row.
The event offers the citizens of Edinburgh help to decide whether to Remain or Leave the EU.
Former SNP Deputy leader Jim Sillars will make the case for leaving the EU, Maggie Chapman from the Scottish Greens will outline the Remain view and Lothians MSP Neil Findlay will also join us to explain why he is as yet still undecided.
Doors open at 7pm and the debate will be chaired by Natalie Reid from the Edinburgh People's Festival. 

Friday, 11 March 2016


Free NHS prescriptions are one of the landmark achievements of The Scottish Parliament. And this needs to be reiterated as the Annual Conference of the British Medical Association's Scottish Committee convenes in Clydebank today. For a motion has been tabled at the conference by the Ayrshire and Arran branch calling for the reintroduction of means tested NHS prescription charges on the grounds that providing these medicines free is 'a drain on NHS resources and adds to GP's workloads'.

As an MSP I presented the original Holyrood Members Bill to abolish these charges in Scotland. And I am proud to have done so. The charges were abolished in Scotland in 2011. Any move to reintroduce the charges would not be in the best interests of patients or our nations health.

NHS Prescription charges were introduced in 1951. The charge of 1/- [one shilling] was intended to be temporary to help pay for Britain's war in Korea. Sixty years later they were finally abolished in Scotland but only after the charge had risen to £6.50 per item on the prescription.

The evidence I presented to Parliament in 2004 showed that tens of thousands of patients were going without the medicines they needed because they could not afford to pay. The means testing principles were illogical and contradictory. Some patients were exempt from payment on the grounds of age. Others, such as pregnant mums, were exempt on the basis of their particular health condition. There was no logic to which conditions should be exempt and others charged. It was entirely arbitrary based on the cost implications to the Exchequer. This meant that a retired multi-millionaire for example did not have to pay a penny but a low paid care worker had to meet the cost in full. MSPs on £65,000 a year were often exempt by virtue of their age or an existing health condition but cancer patients requiring multiple drugs at one time could rack up a small fortunes in medical bills.

The founding principle of the NHS, that the service be available to all citizens free at the point of need and paid for out of general taxes was of course completely breached by prescription charges.
Wales and Northern Ireland had abolished the charges years before Holyrood finally did so in 2011. Today only NHS patients in England now pay for their prescriptions. The charge currently stands at £8.20 per item. And it is due to rise again on April 1st.

Prescription charges mean the sick must pay twice for medical treatment, once out of their general taxes and secondly from this additional 'tax on the sick'. Economically the case for reintroducing prescription charges is weakest of all. NHS Scotland gave evidence to support my Bill showing that the cost of admitting patients to hospital whose condition had deteriorated through not accessing medication [£600/day] far exceeded any income they might gather from prescription charges. Leaving aside the cost to the wider economy - of days lost to prolonged sickness absence from work - the cost to the NHS of administering the means-tested system and protecting it from fraud reduced again any financial advantage further. The cost of medicines prescribed by GP's to their patients represents less than 0.5% [half of one per cent] of NHS Scotland's annual budget. 

NHS prescription charges are profoundly and politically unpopular because they undermine the fundamental principle of an NHS free to all.

 I am sure the BMA in Scotland will recognise the powerful case for ensuring patients in Scotland do not go without the medicines they need and oppose the motion to reintroduce prescription charges. And I urge them to work with their colleagues in England to see the charges are abolished there too.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

RISE is the socialist choice on May 5th

Independence is the elephant in the room as far as the 2016 Holyrood elections are concerned. It completely overshadows everything else.
RISE: Scotland's Left Alliance supports a second referendum on Independence within the lifetime of the next Holyrood Parliament. We want an independent socialist Scotland, a modern democratic republic.
Scotland was assured throughout the 2014 Referendum by the 'No' side that we would never have to endure another Tory Government we did not elect or suffer policies we did not want. But that turned out not to be true. Instead another Tory Government was foisted upon us to inflict painful cuts and punishing austerity on working people in Scotland. They preside over an economy increasingly built on poverty wages and casualization. They continue to blame immigrants and claimants for an economic crisis that had nothing to do with them. Whereas they let the real culprits the greedy, reckless and corrupt bankers carry on with 'business as usual'. They have taken us into yet another war in the Middle East, this time in Syria, that we do not support. And they plan to restrict workers rights still further by introducing the worst anti-union laws in all Europe. It is little wonder then that this hatred for the Tories is the predominant influence in Scottish politics today.

RISE is in favour of a second referendum on Independence within the lifetime of the next Parliament to rid us of this Tory menace. But the independence movement needs to be clear that a new mandate is required from the Scottish people if we are to force Westminster to concede another vote. We must not forget that the power to hold a legally binding referendum on independence still resides with Westminster! And they got such a scare in 2014 they will not, to put it mildly, willingly grant another one. They are determined to stop Scotland breaking free from British control. So we need to mobilise Scottish public opinion behind that second referendum otherwise we could see majority support for independence develop and yet be unable to seize it.

RISE are standing candidates in the Holyrood elections on the eight regional lists in favour of a second referendum within the lifetime of the next Parliament at a time of our choosing. And we are asking people for their second vote.

Working class people need socialists in the Parliament speaking up for them. RISE has an excellent chance of getting MSP's elected and we urge all independence supporters to vote for us with their second vote and help elect as many RISE MSP's as possible on the lists. RISE has put our promise of a second referendum at the centre of our manifesto pledges. And as part of our vision of an independent socialist Scotland we also support a £10/hour living wage, the replacement of the Council tax with an income based alternative that sees the rich pay more and poorer less, and a promise to build 100,000 much needed new homes for rent in the socially owned sector. We will also create 100,000 new climate jobs in renewable energy, sustainable farming and via free public transport provision. And last but by no means least all RISE MSP's will live on the average wage of the Scottish people - just as the SSP's MSP's did between 1999 and 2007. So instead of taking the £60,000 salary all other MSP's get ours will live like the majority and not the elite.
As Edinburgh's famous socialist son James Connolly said in 1910 'RISE with your class not out of it.'

And all this shows that voting for RISE on May 5th is the smart choice for working people.