Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Time for a Change

This past Saturday I was overwhelmed by the welcome I received by my new comrades at the Scottish Socialist Party conference in Edinburgh. I made the comment to someone throughout the day that it was so nice to see members of a political party enjoying each others company, respectfully debating issues and uniting in the common good of the people they have set out to represent.

I am delighted to have joined the SSP at a time of great importance within the party. I believe we stand at a crossroads in which we have seen a rejuvenation in not only the party but also what it stands for.

Since the referendum more than 2500 people in Scotland have applied to join the SSP. New branches are opening all around this country. A packed conference this weekend was testament to the fact that new ideas and possibilities were boundless and welcomed within the party and it’s leadership.

When you compare the position the party is in to that before the referendum, it is truly remarkable. Many considered the party to be a spent force, unable to recover, yet throughout the campaign, led wonderfully by the thoughtful, passionate and principled leadership of Colin Fox and Sandra Webster. The party has reinvented itself. The very fact that it has done all this despite little to no media attention to being shamefully snubbed by the Smith Commission as the only political party to be involved in the referendum not invited to take part in the debate, is an even greater herculean effort.

Yet the resurrection of the party is perhaps less impressive as to how, along with Labour for Independence and Radical Independence and individuals such as Dennis Canavan and Jim Sillars they have been able to resuscitate the term of socialism.

I have spoken before of the effect of the Cold War in bastardising the definition of socialism. I have also often described the great attempts made by the Labour Party to dilute the name or only to rekindle it in times of great need, yet the reality never seems to match the promise. (see The Vow, New Labour, autonomy in Scotland)

The reality is that socialism is coming to the fore again in Scottish politics in spite of the death throes of the Labour Party. This is in part due to the fact that they would not listen to LFI and those who wanted change; the 40%. This is why they are now in disarray. They may have won the battle of September 18th but the war is far from over. Yet socialism is now an acceptable term again. This rejuvenated, energised politically active nation has come to terms with the definition that socialism is not Trotsky or Lenin or Stalin; rather the betterment of the many than the few. We are now having grown up discussions on how best to change our country and socialism is becoming more and more popular...

In truth, it always was, we the Labour voters, the traditional Labour voters, the Real Labour voters were told our values, our morals, our beliefs that have been prevalent in our society for generations. We were told that these values were distinctly Labour. Now though, now people realise these values and beliefs, this Real Labour IS SOCIALISM. Our beliefs haven't changed in the referendum all that has changed is that we no longer accept the word according to the Labour Party.

The Labour Party however has changed. The odds on favourite to become Scottish Branch Secretary is Jim Murphy. Let us look at Jim Murphy’s record.

Since 2001 Mr Murphy has claimed over £1 million in expenses
Mr Murphy voted to cap benefits in March 2014
Mr Murphy failed to show up for the vote against the Bedroom Tax
Mr Murphy voted for tuition fees
Mr Murphy went on 100 day tour of Scotland campaigning for a no vote, which meant leaving his Eastwood constituency without an MP for almost 1/3 of a year. Yet claimed over £200,000 in Westminster expenses.
Mr Murphy is a major figure in Labour Friends of Israel (The uncool LFI), who refuses the recognition of the state of Palestine.
The man who strongly supported the illegal invasion of Iraq and strongly unaligned himself with Ed Miliband’s apology of said invasion.
Most worryingly Jim Murphy has never rebelled against the party line in Westminster.

This, comrades is Labours future, not just in Westminster, but in Scotland too.

The hardest thing I have ever had to do was to leave the Labour Party, it was my home politically, my families home through to my great grandfather. But I’m glad I did because it is a shell of the party that was created. Even if by huge chance they pick someone other than Murphy there is little chance of recovery. Remember this is the party who needed a year to decide that the Bedroom Tax was a bad idea. Nye Bevan, Jimmy Maxton, James Keir Hardie; to use the great Dennis Cannavan’s words... must be burlin in their graves.

Friends and comrades who are still in the Labour Party I have only one thing to say... You owe nothing to a political party, you may have been Labour all your life but they are not Labour anymore. You believe in traditional Labour, old Labour, Real Labour then you are a socialist and the only party that is a socialist party in Scotland is the Scottish Socialist Party.      

You can hold on for what never will be again or you can be a part of the party for the people.

 Join us and create the party we were waiting for all these years.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Why I Left Labour and Joined The SSP

For the last two and a half years I have campaigned within Labour for Independence to win a yes vote at the referendum. Not only did I feel that this was an incredible opportunity for Scotland and it’s people but also it provided a real chance to return the Labour Party to it’s founding principles. Back to becoming a real Labour Party again. 

Throughout the campaign, debating with the likes of Margaret Curran, Lynsay Roy and Anas Sarwar has made me realise that a yes vote was the last chance to save the soul of the Labour Party. Unfortunately the referendum result did not go our way; and after much soul searching I realised I could no longer be a member of the British Labour Party. The final straw for me personally was seeing the Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont outside Asda, smiling for a picture because they had announced raised prices in an independent Scotland. What a vile act for someone claiming to be Labour, let alone the leader of the party. Regardless of her voting preference the fact she should take enjoyment out of rising prices that will effect the poorest and the working class the hardest is unconscionable. 

 I am incredibly proud to have been the co-convenor of Labour for Independence throughout this campaign and look forward to continuing within the group as it becomes a campaign and political education based organisation. 

Personally I feel that there is a void that needs to be filled by a major political party in Scotland. The position is the real Labour values or to put it another way.. Socialism. At the post referendum LFI planning meeting I made my opinion clear that due to dramatic influx of members into other Yes parties that while there is a prospectus of huge Real Labour/Socialist vote in Scotland. It would have to come from one of the existing Parties. 

Throughout this referendum I have been especially impressed with the hard work, commitment and cross party work of members of the Scottish Socialist Party. It was a great pleasure to have worked with them throughout this referendum. As most people are aware the party have had issues which has held them back in the past but thanks to the terrific leadership of Colin Fox and Sandra Webster they have helped to bring socialism back to the political debate in Scotland. 

I was pleased to hear that the party’s membership has risen rapidly since the referendum. It is clear that they are the only party which reflect the traditional or real Labour sentiments which so many in the Labour Party still cling to... Put it another way, they are the only political party that represents socialism and the inherent values which was the basis for creation of the Scottish Labour Party in 1888  

 It is for this reason that I have decided to join the Scottish Socialist Party. I do so as I believe they reflect the real socialist values that I have campaigned during the referendum campaign and throughout my life as a Labour Party member. 

I am aware that the SSP is currently considered a minority party in Scotland, however I am confident after speaking with many within the party that there is real determination to create something much bigger. I am delighted to add my name to this and work hard to ensure the SSP becomes a major player in Scottish Politics. 

John Smith once said that to succeed in politics you have to be prepared to take a risk. It is time for the Scottish Socialist Party to step out from the comfort zone of the political fringes, to begin to campaign for the 40% of Real Labour socialists who are lost and without a home, to step into the political mainstream bringing forth our values and ideas, showing the Labour movement that the SSP is the home you have been looking for. 

The referendum debate created a more involved, more democratic people, the opportunity for serious, sensible socialism is at hand. I am fully confident that with the leadership of Colin Fox and Sandra Webster we can further professionalise our operations, create a political thunderstorm and put socialism back at the forefront of political life in Scotland. I am committed to doing all I can to further our cause both at local and national level.

While disappointment prevails after the referendum, there is much to be hopeful about. After September 18th we were plunged into darkness but we should not fear. Darkness is just the other side of light it’s what comes before dreams. Our day in the sun is yet to come comrades, we will have an independent socialist republic in Scotland and the SSP will continue to play a major role in that. I look forward to working with you all to achieve a better way. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

My Submission to the Smith Commission

As part of the wider Yes movement Labour for Independence campaigned for the opportunity to create an independent Scotland. As founder of this organisation this is written on a personal level. I, within the wider movement accept the democratic will of the majority of Scots to stay within the UK. However I would argue that the closeness of the result and subsequent reasons why many voted no determines that great developments must occur.

In order to satisfy the will of the 45% who voted yes and the great number who voted no only after being assured of more powers it is my submission to the committee that all domestic economic and social powers should be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament, with defence and foreign policy matters being held at Westminster. 

All economic control should include oil revenues, air passenger duty and all tax powers. Social powers shall include those already devolved to Scottish Parliament and include social security, pensions and the right to nationalise public services such as energy, transport and the Royal Mail.

In addition to this the right of a Scottish Parliament should be enshrined into a written constitution and should no longer have it's existence or legislative powers altered on a whim of current Governments in Westminster or the House of Lords. Additionally the Human Rights convention and our alignment to this should be determined by the Scottish Parliament not altered via Westminster. 

In delivering true Devo Max, the commission will be representing the wishes of the people of Scotland on both sides of the debate. As federalism may be the saving grace of a union, the Scottish Parliaments powers and remits should be reflective of this. 

Allan Grogan 
Labour for Independence Founder. 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

An Opportunity Missed

Part of the success of the yes campaign was that we were able to convince a great number of people that Scotland was capable of running our own affairs. That we were capable of taking hold of the key issues and institutions which were crucial in the development of a Scottish society. One which enhanced the case of fairness and equality. 

It then comes as surprise to me that the Scottish Government has awarded the franchise to run Scottish railways to Dutch state owned Abellio. 

I have seen many on social media rush to defend the SNP over this policy but the truth is regardless of how good a deal this was and it does look like a reasonable deal regarding the living wage, apprenticeships and Union members on board. It does refute an opportunity for Scotland to nationalise their railways, incorporate all the good within this deal, ensure that this is actually followed through and ensure all profits are going into Scottish Government rather than a combination of Dutch state and Serco. 

I fully back RMT when their General Secretary Mick Cash said: 

 “There is no question that this whole franchising process could and should have been halted, pending the ratification of the post-referendum devolution settlement, instead of rushing headlong into a deal that will deny the Scottish people ownership and control of their railways for many years to come.”

I do not buy this notion that we had to make a decision right now. Theses issues have a habit of being delayed and with an understandable reason of unknown powers during this time has meant that an extension of Scot Rails franchise for 6 months in extraordinary circumstances. 

For those that are arguing the 1933 Railway Act prohibit us from nationalising the railways this is however not true. 

ASLEF say that:
" The key to doing anything is the powers under Section 26(z)(a) of the Railway Act 1993 

This section applies where either: The Scottish Ministers receive no tenders; or “It receives a tender but considers that the services would be provided more economically and efficiently if they are provided otherwise under a franchise agreement entered into in response to the tender.” In those circumstances the Scottish Government can enter into a franchise agreement with someone else (by definition if the alternative agreement is more economic and efficient) or, under Section 30, the Scottish Government will be under a duty to run the franchise themselves as an operator of last resort"

What the Scottish Government has done today is to remove an excellent opportunity for Scotland to further differentiate ourselves from Westminster Government. That we take notice of what the public want. A vast majority of the public not only in Scotland but UK as a whole support nationalising of railways. It also puts the profits back into the peoples hands. It ensures that the benefits of any deal are offered by ourselves guaranteed rather than hopefully kept by a company, which if their running of East Anglia Rail does not bode well for our railways. 

To those who have argued that we couldn't afford it. We currently run Prestwick Airport which despite an additional £10 million being invested this summer is losing over £2 million a month. This was a decision I fully supported incidentally. This was not a huge sum required £30 million which would have began through rejecting other bids as muted by Aslef. 

Perhaps a more worrying notion I have seen appear is that all decisions by the SNP and the Scottish Government must not be questioned for fear of ruining the Yes movement. It is a ridiculous suggestion that anyone should not be permitted to question their governments actions for the sake of winning GE in 2015. This critique is not coming from a Labour member (anymore) nor will I vote for Labour in the General Elections. RMT supported a yes vote and don't fund Labour so any accusations of siding with Labour on this are also false. 

This decision was wrong, would it have been different had there been a yes vote? Probably, but we cant continue to blame a no vote to inflict bad policy. The truth is there were ways in which the Scottish Government could have made our railways nationalised they didn't. We cant blame losing a referendum for this, nor should we hold our tongues because it is the SNP which made this choice. When statements like this start coming out, an Orwellian future is never far behind. 

Friday, 3 October 2014

I am a Socialist... Reflections of a Referendum

As a newly qualified primary school teacher one of the key aspects of our teaching is now focussed on becoming reflective practitioners. To engage in what went well. What we could have changed to improve and what we learned about ourselves. There could be many articles written about the experiences I had as Co-Convenor for Labour for Independence during this campaign. Those are for another time, the pain of the battle lost is perhaps too raw for that. In terms of what I learned about myself is something that I would like to explore.

Throughout the campaign I had the honour of sharing a platform with many incredible speakers and personalities. Yet throughout the two and a half years, 2 comments from other speakers really stood out. The first was by Jim Sillars, he said that throughout this campaign we are all on a learning journey, you(the audience) hopefully learn from us and we (the speakers) also learn from you and each other. To make this statement stand out might make me seem arrogant, it wasn’t the case. I knew personally that I was learning from audiences and fellow speakers, Yet only through reflection did I realise how much my political psyche was changing.

My beliefs in what is fair and what is right haven't changed in these last two and a half years, I still believe in social justice, equality, in the theories of justice set out by John Rawls; yet there are two major factors which have been altered.

(i) How I project my beliefs.
(ii) How I come to regard myself.

(i) How I project my beliefs.

Throughout the campaign I was asked to speak throughout Scotland. Initially in many areas such as Dundee, Clydebank and Glasgow I was comfortable in making the ‘Real Labour’ case for independence. In other parts of Scotland, Angus, Borders, Highlands I held back my own beliefs to promote the reasons why the majority of people in that area should vote yes. Often I would use lines such as; The Scottish Government has said...  I did so not to mislead voters but rather to project the wider Yes message to constituents who would be dismissive of the type of independence I and a great many others in this nation would wish to see. Undoubtedly this was an easier time for my fellow panel members from Yes Scotland HQ and the SNP., but it didn’t hold true to my own ambitions for what this country could achieve.

Throughout the course of the referendum I learned to be true to my own values, I learned that while people in Auchterarder might not like my vision for Scotland, at least they would know the truth. There is nothing worse than hearing people talk of things that they don’t believe themselves. During the campaign I learned to be truer to my convictions and be frank that whichever way the public voted there would be differences of opinion in how to move forward. Sometimes this had unexpected results. In my home town of Carnoustie, no bastion of socialism, I recalled a speech from Simon Bolivar to wide applause, in other areas it met stony silence. Regardless I felt the audience respected me more for giving my honest opinion than a set Yes line.

Perhaps the reason this springs to mind is that in a meeting I attended this week the issue was raised as to whether the Scottish Government should have mitigated the effects of the bedroom tax, that perhaps the public would have voted yes had it been further subjected to the brutality of Westminster.

This is perhaps an argument for another day, but were we to abandon our political ideals and human decency for the ultimate objective? Was independence worth seeing the poorest in our society suffer more? I believe the SNP made the right choice there. I can say that as the Labour for Independence Executive Committee called for it 3 months before Scottish New Labour did.

It raises the point however, that we must keep our own beliefs and principles throughout. That we must not give in to sacrificing any in our nation for the purpose of the greater good. I am glad I learned the importance of remaining true to myself through this campaign and believe I made better arguments for yes because of it.

(ii) How I come to regard myself.

I was brought up in a traditional (or as I have likened it ‘Real Labour’) household. I have been steeped in Labour since a very early age. Yet from an early age I have no real knowledge of real Labour in power. My first political act at the age of 8 was to campaign for Labour in the 92 General Election. But the leader I was supporting paved the way for radical centre/centre right reform of the Labour Party.The difference at that time was that there were ‘Real Labour’ politicians still within the throngs of power. It can be argued that the saving of the Labour Party, at least for a while was losing that election and the election of a Real Labour man as leader in John Smith.

Whether we would have seen a true Labour Government had Smith lived to be elected, we will never know, but the fact is by the time I was old enough to join the party New Labour were in their second term. The reality was that I joined the party based on the ideals of the past than the evidence of the current.

Most of my adult life I regarded myself as something I am not. I fell into the trap set by New Labour, UK Governments and the United States to believe that the tag I am closest defined by, does not fit me at all. The ‘S’ word. Something that is only okay to use if you add Democrat at the end.

It is not only within the Labour Party that this terminology became common. Chomsky stated that the term socialist had been ‘bastardised’ by both America in their capitalist agenda that socialism equated to Communism and by the Soviet Union that Socialism was the cover for a totalitarian regime.

In truth socialism is the pursuit to ensure the betterment of lives of the many rather than the few. This was the ideals of the Labour party in it’s creation. It is shameful Labour have moved so far away from this.

I mentioned two speakers at the beginning of this post. The second was Jeane Freeman. She said that we do not owe political parties anything. What we have to do is to be able to look into the mirror everyday and say that I live by the beliefs and ideology that I believe in.

It was this statement more than any other which permeated my thinking in the aftermath of September 18th and was a major reason why I resigned from the Labour Party.

I am a socialist. I have learned throughout this campaign that I am proud to say so. I have learned that socialism is not dictated by Marxism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, these terms are only reproduced by the neo-liberals who seek to split the power of the people in creating a fairer and more equal society.

Through reflecting on this referendum campaign my thoughts are this. If you are a socialist, embrace that. This campaign has taught us we can unite for common goals without losing our own ideals. We believe in a better Scotland but disagree in how to achieve it.

My point is this; If you are a socialist don’t give yourself up to fear by holding on to something you don’t believe in. Since the referendum all Yes Parties have gained support. The SNP more than most. I know a great deal of socialists who have joined the SNP... But I ask, with no disrespect meant to the SNP.. Why? The SNP aren’t socialists, they have never claimed to be. Don’t let the notion of a greater good disregard your own views or the betterment of your nation.

Reflecting on this campaign, I know I have learned a great deal. I have met many great people from all walks of the political spectrum. More importantly I have learned to embrace who I am.

I have accepted and embraced these past two years that I am not Labour... Not in the current vein.. I am Real Labour, a position lost within the Labour Party. I am a socialist.. We must embrace the lessons learned in this campaign. Whether for me this means joining a socialist party, waiting for something new, or walking alone within politics true to my own beliefs. That remain to be seen.

But for those within the Labour Party who thought a no vote would kill the revolution of social justice and socialist thought on the wider left and within the party... They will be in  for a stark shock.

We will have our independence, but we cannot let those who suffer most be the sacrifice to that goal.