Thursday, 28 January 2016

A Daunting Prospect...Time to Stand Up to Tory Austerity

“A daunting prospect...” in which “there will be pain.” The summation of the new projection of cuts to Dundee City Council budgets by the council Finance Spokesperson Willie Sawyer.

Just when we thought the damning verdict in October from the council, in which they would need to cut budgets by £28 million over the next 2 years. The closure of Menzieshill High School and review of all other schools which have another facility within 3 miles of it. How much more could be stretched? How much more could the people of the city if Dundee suffer? With already the highest percentage of welfare sanctions, unemployment in the city continuing to rise as local communities are being left desolate to rot on the sidelines.

As it turns out, this was just the precursor. The Financial Statement by John Swinney in December and the subsequent 3.5% to council budgets has left DCC a wider hole to fill. Despite the announcements of £350 million investment in Health and Social Care partnerships, £70 million to maintain the Council Tax freeze and £88 million to maintain teachers numbers; Dundee City Council have announced that they must now cut £23 million in the year 2016/17 alone. Already more than 6000 council staff have received written offers of voluntary redundancy in a bid to reduce costs. This will mean more vital public services, more support lines for communities, seniors and youths that will be understaffed, reduced service or cut altogether.

It is clear that the current situation is not working. Yet other political parties in the council only contribution is to demand that the council tax freeze be lifted. A motion denounced by the SNP members of council as it would invoke financial penalties from the Scottish Government of up to £1.75 million. This proposal, while increasing the budget slightly, would do nothing to address the startling inequality of the Council Tax.

The very nature of the system ensures that hard working families and larger groups are punished by having to rent or buy larger houses, sometimes through great financial hardship in itself due to outlandish rental prices. Within the current model of local authority tax, a couple with 3 children both working full time on the living wage living in a rented 3 bedroom house would pay significantly more in Council Tax than a single occupant on £75,000 a year living in a bought studio apartment. In no way is this tax fair or progressive, neither does it indicate one iota of understanding for working families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet.

Since the SSP last had members in the Scottish Parliament, we have campaigned for the removal of the council tax to be replaced by an income based Scottish Service Tax. With this we would radically tackle the current injustice and unfairness of the current model. This tax would ensure that those earning the least, would pay the lowest or nothing at all. While those earning the most would be charged a greater fee based on their income. Not only that but it would greatly increase the financial budgets of local authorities bringing in almost double what the Council Tax currently nets (£1.8bn) to £3.5bn a year.

Despite the SNP Scottish Government announcing the budget cut and the SNP led majority council voting it through, the blame cannot solely fall on the Nationalists. More than £3 billion in the last 3 years has been cut from the Scottish Government by Westminster. Yet if the SNP wish to claim to stand up for Scotland then it must do more to reject austerity than to limply condemning the Westminster Governments actions and impose a defiant stance against austerity and cuts. It’s time for the SNP and the rest of the opposition parties to stop bemoaning the Tories and stand up for the people they are so desperate to represent. The Scottish Socialist Party are proud to stand up with activists, Trade Unions and fellow Dundonians to march this Saturday against these cuts, to stand up for a no cuts budget, to protect vital services and to ensure that there is an alternative. Yes, the cahllenge is a daunting prospect, but to do nothing will only lead to pain. We hope to see you there.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Statutory Instruments, Fracking and Beyond!

Earlier this week the Independent produced an article highlighting the real and sudden increases in the Governments use of Statutory Instruments in order to push through legislation quickly, bypassing the democratic process of the House of Commons.

Introduced in the 1940’s Statutory Instruments were introduced to free up members of the House’s time by allowing common procedural changes to laws to be passed without due process and debate in the Parliament.

Throughout the years the use of this instrument has generally plateaued at around 1,100 per year. Only in recent times has this sky rocketed to a staggering 3000,

This upsurge, occurring mainly after the Conservatives returned to government in 2010 has seen a worryingly altering agenda from rudimentary law changes to now becoming a means to push through a radical right wing agenda by this Conservative Government.

As noted in the Independent article;

“Since the 2015 election the SIs that have been introduced by the Government include changes to the electoral register that could result in more than a million people being denied the chance to vote, allow fracking under national parks and heritage sites and withdraw winter fuel payments from British pensioners living abroad.

Most famously, George Osborne unsuccessfully tried to use an SI to force through more than £4bn-worth of tax credit cuts without a debate on the floor of the House of Commons.”

All of this is concerning, indeed for a citizen of the UK this shows a direct disregard for the democratic principles that the British Government and media has long purported. Worse still as a citizen of a nation that once again rejected only to again have a Conservative Government, the news that they are usurping an legal opposition is particularly hard to swallow.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Moving On

Last week I resigned from my position as a member of the Scottish Socialist Party’s Executive Committee. Upon informing the National Secretary I chose to share my resignation letter on social media. (Available here.) I understand that to some in the party they may have this an attempt to discredit the party. I want to assure all of my comrades within the SSP that this was not the intention nor do I believe the impact of my letter. Rather it was important to outline the reasons why I took this difficult decision. Important to explain to members who I greatly appreciate having elected me to that position and also to the wider left movement. 

This past year has been a difficult one for me politically. I have tried to be enthused by an attempt at left wing unity. But the more I see of this, the more it proves to be an oxymoron. The left will never unite in the same way that the right will never unite. When did you last hear Nigel Farage calling for unity from back bench Conservatives to EDL supporters. We have to recognise and understand that the left endures similar far reaching schisms and any attempts at unity can only further divide.

What attracted me to the Scottish Socialist Party was the broad church under one banner. I have enjoyed being able to debate with comrades who would probably consider me too centrist in certain policy areas, while I consider their views as merely a step too far too soon for todays voters. I have enjoyed many such debate with passion, respect and tolerance for each others views. Since the creation of RISE left alliance this tolerance and respect has seemingly gone out the window. Labelling those who dare to utter an opinion not of your own an ist or scab does not endear your arguments to anyone. Nor will it appeal to voters on the streets.

My Resignation Letter from the SSP Executive Committee

It has been on my mind for some time now as we progress closer towards the Scottish elections the first conference we had where I was very fortunate to speak to the party and was warmly welcomed into the party and excited by what we could achieve With 3000 new applications for membership, a motivated growing group of activists meant the SSP were placed to be the party of those who needed a real voice, to help communities that needed support.An opportunity to be a force in Scottish Politics.
It is just over 15 months later and things have not went according to plan. 2015 has been all about a divisive decision to join an electoral left alliance with RISE. Rather than address the weaknesses we have as a party over that time to prepare for 2016 we have instead chosen an alliance which is far weaker and with far greater detrimental capabilities than the SSP. At the time of conference as you know I was against the idea. I felt it was not the right road for the party nor for ensuring our continued work in the communities to be maintained. Nonetheless the democratic will of those who attended the National Council ensured that the SSP would be involved. Within the EC meeting before that vote I was the first to say that the leadership should be united and so accepting our decision I supported the motion despite my personal misgivings.
Since then I have supported the decision as much as possible and persuaded many members not to leave the party because of this. I had hoped during this time that while opinions differed there would not be a fractured relationship amongst comrades on real issues which we should be addressing. What has followed has not been the case. Debates on real issues have been cast aside to be replaced by personal attacks. This is not solely a RISE issue, rather one which invades our own party.
What I have seen during these debates and discussions which mainly fall on social media, only because it gives those lacking in confidence in real debate a forum to offend. The issues are there, I have been saddened and at times sickened to see members of the same party be labelled all things to all people. Scab, misogynist, sexist, racist. These words just roll off the tongue of members of our party who with respect, have little knowledge of the implications and meanings of these words. Unfortunately this also includes a small number of members of our Executive Committee. This is the brave new world of left wing politics?
The more I have sat and watched the infestation of RISE and the response by members who support this alliance, (who unfortunately due to the raft of resignations from the party are becoming a much larger group within what is left of the party). The more difficult it is to maintain any kind of support for the decisions we have made as a party. Furthermore it is clear that with ill thought out policies like maximum income, this alliances version of equality is a race to the bottom not working class aspiration as I believe we should strive for.
I believe that members of the Executive Committee should stand by the decisions of the party regardless of how wrong they believe it to be. As I can no longer with good conscience maintain this stance, I believe it is only right that I resign my position as a member of the Executive Committee. This decision has not been taken lightly in fact it is with a heavy heart. I was immensely proud to have been selected by members for this position and I feel I have tried to follow through my duties with the best of my abilities.
It is also important to say that I had seriously considered leaving the party entirely but for my strong belief in what this party can achieve should it become organised, modernised and grounded in the communities that badly need our party to be a voice for them. I do not believe RISE is capable of doing this, nor do I believe the SSP will survive long should we continue to stay aligned with the group after May. It is therefore my intent to campaign for the party to remove itself from this alliance after this election and would see no place for myself in the group should we opt to remain.
On a final note I would like to thank you and fellow members of the executive for your professionalism and comradeship. It has been a pleasure to serve in the EC and perhaps will have the honour again in the future.