18 Jun 2013

The Bedroom Tax: SNP - Earn The Right To Be Free

I see SNP supporters and others are enthusiastically sharing an article from Inside Housing reporting Alex Salmond's pledge to abolish the Bedroom Tax in an independent Scotland, Good news. But big deal?

Because the very earliest this can be done is 2016, and more realistically it will be 2017-18 before any law changes are enacted. So over four years from now. Does anyone really think any but a tiny minority hit here and now by the Bedroom Tax will survive by then? So a near meaningless pledge. And a real cheap one, given the numbers by then involved

So tokenism. As token as the pledge from all SNP Councils (and some Labour ones) not to evict any council tenant for bedroom tax arrears in year one of the tax, And note, this pledge only apples if a tenant “co-operates”, however that is defined by a Council official. But, co-operation or not, it takes about a year to evict someone anyway.

And more fundamentally, many of the Councils committed to this pledge have near no social housing to evict anyone from. SNP Argyll and Bute for example has not a single council house – all transferred to local Housing Associations years ago, and all Housing Associations are completely exempt from local council non-eviction pledges.

So SNP folks and others, you are being sold mince here. Scottish mince – but mince.

What the Scottish Government can and must do, beyond the extra £5m already allocated to advice welfare advice services centres, is as follows:

(1) Increase significantly the Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) funds to Councils over and above the £10 million allocated by the Westminster Government to help those worst affected by the Bedroom Tax. The Scottish Government can legally top this fund up by up to one and a half times, so immediately the fund could rise to £25 million – near on half the amount Scots are set to lose as a result of the Bedroom Tax 

(2) Increase by a similar or greater amount central grant funding to social landlords to enable met to more realistically carry, and in some case write off debt incurred by their Bedroom Tax affected tenants, Many of these tenants simply can't pay, and widely available statistics are now showing they are not paying in significant numbers 

(3) Give serious consideration to The Govan Law Center proposed amendment to the Housing Scotland Act which would offer enhanced increased legal protection from eviction to tenants in rent arrears incurred as a result of the Bedroom Tax. And SNP whips could make a start by telling its committee members who control the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee, which meets on Tuesday 25h June to consider the GLC amendment, to allow the main petitioner, Mike Dailly, Director of the Center to speak to his own petition. Hardly a radical idea. Kind of a self-evidently sensible one. And totally cost free.

But the first two elements of this three part package, they would cost. Around £50 million would be my estimate, much the same sum as calculated by Shelter Scotland and the Scottish TUC. Not a trivial sum. But a findable sum for sure. Less that 0.1% of the Scottish Government's total block grant. A block grant SNP and previous Labour administrations have succeed in underspending by this amount and more in near every year since devolution.

So do this Alex, and poor people – real poor people, amongst the poorest in Scotland - might warm to your pledge to abolish the Bedroom Tax altogether come independence: The final step in a process you will have already started with them. And can start tomorrow.

In the words of one of my recent songs, “Earn the Right to be Free”!


28 May 2013

Margaret Curran's Strangly Disfunctional Memory

DEREK BATEMAN ( BBC Radio Scotland): What do we make of Denis Healey admitting that when [North Sea] oil was discovered, Labour – a Labour government, ahead of a referendum, interestingly, on the constitution of Scotland – misled, deliberately misled the Scots about the value of oil?
MARGARET CURRAN MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland) : Well, Derek, I don’t know anything about that, those times, I don’t know the basis on which Denis Healey said that, I don’t know the argument, I don’t know the papers around that.
DB: But you’re the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland! You’re a senior Labour figure, I mean, he was a Labour chancellor.
MC: I know I’m getting on a bit, but I wasn’t around in Denis Healey’s days.
Oh yes she was.

Unless it was another Margaret Curran I met who was Secretary of Glasgow University Labour Club, the biggest in the UK, when Healey was Labour Chancellor in the Callaghan Government. This would have been in 1978, two years after Healey had made global front page news and labour movement noteriety after he went to the IMF for a bail out in exchange for huge public spending cuts.

Indeed not only did 20 year Margaret know who he was, but was sufficiently angry with him to be calling for his resignation. Because, difficult though it may be to imagine, Margaret was at that time was a prominent supporter of the Labour left opposition . And her, "not around" line is as credible as David Cameron claiming he was "not around" when Thatcher introduced the Poll Tax: As credible as would the current Secretary of Oxford University Conservative Association claiming in 30 years time he was "not around" when George Osbourne slashed welfare budgets.

So what is it about today's Scottish Labour Party that makes decent enough people, spout such untruths on Scotland's national radio station? Deny their own past? Be "not around?"

I think on this one it is obvious. Because Margaret well remembers that, in addition to being in the middle of an economic crisis in 1978, the Labour Party in Scotland, and grassroots activists like her in particular, were under immense political pressure from the SNP, which with 11 MPs at Westminster and opinion poll rating s touching 40% threatened to wipe Labour out whenever the next UK General Election came around. It had already near done it in the Council elections on May 1977, where for the first time in decades Labour had been swept from office in Glasgow. Or were you 'not around" for that either Margaret?

Like, me she will certainly remember spending the best part of the Spring of 1978 campaigning for Donald Dewar in the knife edge Garscadden by-election, where the SNP started as clear favorites to take Labour out in one of its west central Scotland heartland seats, a success that would have left every last one of them vulnerable. The SNP rallying cry at the time? "It's Scotland's Oil", backed up by detailed proposal on how a national oil fund in an independent Scotland could transform our country and deliver prosperity and social justice for folks in places like Garscadden and beyond. Folks like Margaret indeed.

Scottish Labour, with an able candidate in Donald Dewar, set about the nationalist claim with some gusto and effectiveness, and as a participant, I went along with this, genuinely believing the SNP claims were way over-hyped. I am sure Margaret then was little different from me in this respect.

But we now find - 36 years down the line -  not only that the SNP was correct, but that the entire Labour Cabinet at the time, Healey, the Chancellor of the Exchequer especially, knew this but decided not to tell anyone, including Labour activists like me and Margaret.

Now I am long out the Labour Party, and have been lied to so often by Labour that I feel I am kind of immune to being shocked or outraged. But this one is so close to the bone, so central to my first experiences of serious political campaigning that it has shocked even me.  "I spent all that time, all that energy, money I barely had, took all those early morning buses to Drumchapel, missed out on all these social events, that Elvis Costello concert in Edinburgh, to campaign on a lie, a lie known to the people who led that campaign?" And not just the 1978 Garscadden by-election, but the 1979 Referendum too. Our best argument was denied to us - by our own side.

But Margaret was "not around".

Yet she most certainly was. Because I do remember, even if she chooses not to. At that time Glasgow University Labour Club, with over 300 individual members, was the largest in the UK by far. It was "on the circuit". Everyone who was anyone spoke there - Tony Benn, Neil Kinnock, Michael Foot all regulars, as were all the leading lights in the Labour Party in Scotland. And Margaret, as Labour Club Secretary was their first point of contact, the facilitator. But according to her"not around". Maybe she organised it all on the internet!

One other detail I must mention before I conclude. Margaret was a leading light on campus in the "Labour Yes" campaign for the 1979 Referendum. The "Labour Yes" campaign mind, not "Yes for Scotland", the all party campaign, where those pesky "nats, liberals and commies" were also involved. But her direct university and Labour club comrade and friend, Johan Lamont was not. She was a leading light in the "Labour Vote No" campaign. You read that right: Johan Lamont, in 1979 actively campaigned against the ever so modest measure of devolution her own Labour Government offered the people of Scotland.

Go ask Johan. Or maybe she was "not around" either.

But believe me, they both were, and very much so. Key Labour student activists, earmarked as ones to watch by Helen Liddell the then Scottish Secretary of the Labour Party, situated in Keir Hardie House just 5 minutes walk away from Glasgow University. And Margaret and Johan, even in these days were on relaxed first name speaking terms with Donald Dewar, John Reid, Brian Wilson, Robin Cook, John Smith, George Foulkes, Bruce Milan......the list goes on. "Not around?"  They were part of the show.

Which comes back to my initial question. Why is Margaret denying this?

Simple to answer: Because she needs to. Without that denial, her credibility and the credibility of her entire generation that is now running the Labour Party in Scotland is shot. They were mugged. We were mugged - because I was part of it too. Scotland was mugged. Poor working class people in Garscadden were mugged.

Some folks learn from history.

Others deny it. Repeat it.

One is the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Alan Smart. Glasgow Univesity Labour Club, 1976-82. Chairperson Glasgow University Labour Club, 1980-81, Chairperson of Scottish Organisation of Labour Students, 1981-82. President NUS Scotland 1984-86, (elected on Labour Student ticket)

Margaret Curran: Glasgow University Labour Club, 1975-80. Secretary Glasgow University Labour Club. 1978-79. Chairperson Scottish Organisation of Labour Students 1979-80)

For Margaret (That history degree she got don't seem too have done her much good) :
Denis Healey. Chancellor of The Exchequer, 1974-79. Deputy Leader of the Labour Party 1980-83.

Here in full is what Dennis Healey told Holyrood Magazine in May 2013:

Footnote: Many have commented that, with the exception of the bold Derek Batemen on his BBC Radio Scotland programme, and unlike the rest of the media, including STV,  BBC Scotland's coverage of this major admission by arguably the most important Labour politician of the late 1970s early 80s period has been near non existent, especially on TV. There may be many explanations for this. Here is a possible one:

John Boothman, Present Head of News and Current Affairs, BBC Scotland: Chairperson of Strathclyde University Labour Club 1979, Chairperson Scottish Organisation of Labour Students 1980-81. Chairperson of the National (UK) Organisation of Labour Students 1981-2.  Around at the time? For sure.


20 May 2013

Galloway - Plays the Sectarian Card Once Again

"I’ll tell you what would happen when an independent Scotland proved to be a chimera. Scots would turn inwards, turn on the English and turn on each other. First they would come for the ‘unionists’ as they describe people like me. We would become a ‘fifth column’. Soon other scapegoats would have to be found. Catholic schools, judging by the cyber-nats-speak, would have to succumb. Then it might be the immigrants, brown as well as white who would be ‘taking our jobs’, ‘our houses’, ‘marrying our women’ and the rest. We would become an embittered people, the very opposite of the Scottish internationalist we have been for so long"  George Galloway, Red Molluca, 19th May, 2013

Sound familiar? The same shit spouted on Twitter by my bother Ian Smart in his disasterous Twitter foray barely a week ago. I am just waiting for Jack McConnell to directly join in: He is supportive enough to re-tweet their musings.

Because it is no co-incidence that these old chums spout the same smear. Their evidence-free and baseless assertions come from failed generation of Scottish Labour activists who, having delivered near nothing - but managing to enrich themselves in the process - will now spend their later years attacking all things nationalist. The irony is though, nationalism was a horse they themselves were happy to ride, until the good people of Scotland clocked they could do better than be led by these self-serving poseures, who only played the card to gain them some tactical leverage in their internal battles within the Labour Party. Self-determination for them always meant to be on their terms and within parameters of the British labour movement.

This more than anything else explains their later day extreme unionism, so extreme that even the Better Together campaign has all but disowned them: I do wish though Better Together would just do this in quite unequivocal terms. Tell them this is just unacceptable. Slap them down, so as the rest of us can have a sensible debate on Scotland future, uncontaminated by these sad and time-warped sectarians. How about it, Alastair?

Because as I said in my last blog about my brother, this stuff really is the gutter. The politics of Enoch Powell: Stir up a sectional fear for a cheap headline and narrow political gain, not remotely thinking through the potential implications and consequences of your spoutings.

Galloway's latest article is written under the pretext of defending Nigel Farage's right to free speech, following the over-zelous harassment of him by members of the Radical Independence Conference last week in Edinburgh. Now you can view this incident in a number of ways, and certainly I can think of better ways of combating UKIP in Scotland than confronting its leader having a quite pint in a Royal Mile pub. But Galloway don't just make that point, but rather goes into altogether murkier territory, which amounts to a smear on the entire national movement in Scotland.

We are told "cybernats" - and I presume I am one - are " the mirror image of the Faragists"  But he get worse.....

"It was once said that anti-semitism was the socialism of fools. So too is the idea that Scotland broken from the rest of this small, island of English- speaking people will somehow lead to some kind of progressive beacon of hope for the world"

So a man who has spent a lifetime dodging the unsupported smear that he is himself anti-semitic, equates supporters of independence, and the left leaning ones in particular, as being little better than anti-semites. Just how low can you go George?

I am kind of aware Galloway's stock in Scotland is now about as low as Farage's - that 2% of the vote in Glasgow in the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections took some doing. But I am also aware that beyond Scotland, near universally amongst people who have never worked with him, he retains a significant cult following. So for their benefit, it might be useful to end with a simple list:

Parties in Scotland who support Scottish Independence

The Scottish National Party
The Scottish Green Party
The Scottish Socialist Party
The Socialist Workers Party
The International Socialist Group
The Scottish Republican Socialist Party

Parties in Scotland Who Oppose Scottish Independence

The Scottish Labour Party
The Scottish Liberal Democrats
The Scottish Conservative Party
The British National Party
The Scottish Defence League
The Orange Order

Figure that out..........


We've Earned The Right To Be Free


7 May 2013

Ian Smart, My Brother

My brother Ian Smart is not a racist. He is worse than that. 

A racist is normally someone with a grievance, who out of ignorance, and fuelled by urban and media myths, wrongly blames ethic minorities who have absolutely nothing to do with whatever their problem might be. My brother Ian has few problems, is rather well healed, well educated and mixes amongst the very highest echelons of the Scottish establishment. So when he asserts that there will be some sort of pogrom against the Polish and Pakistani communities (and presumably others) in a post independence Scotland, he is not doing this out of ignorance or prejudice, but out of political calculation. The calculation that if he asserts it loudly and often enough Scotland's ethnic communities and others can be scared into voting No.

This is called playing the race card. It is one of the most dangerous things an individual can do in any context, and of course normally done by politicians of the far right. But for a Labour blogger to do it in Scotland, where there is a hard worked for  and commendable cross-party and cross-society consensus against racial prejudice, and inject it into the highly charge debate on independence is despicable.

No better that Enoch Powell in 1968: Allow fair non racial immigration into the UK and there will be “rivers of blood” he predicted, with no evidence and no basis in reality as events have proven. Vote for Independence in 2014 and my brother predicts something similar for Scotland.

And what has been the reaction of the Scottish Labour establishment to the gratuitous playing of the race card by one of their own? At best silence, and in the case of old chum Jack McConnell supportive. Because sadly, Ian, the leading Labour blogger in Scotland and a regular TV pundit on this basis, is an outrider for more than a few of them.

Apologise and retire. All the advice I can offer.

And Ted Heath sacked Enoch Powell, Johan and co please note.

A Postscript: This is my first blog post here for near on a year, My last one below is on a similar theme. A response to George Galloway playing the Green Card in a near identical context. Same time warped and unsupported bullshit from a washed out "lefty" And hear that silence from the Laborites on both occasions.


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