Posted in Scottish Politics

The Youth Fetish of the Left

It’s often said that the SNP lost the referendum because they failed to convince the people of Scotland that they had a plausible vision for independence. There is certainly a lot of truth in this. Their arguments were at times perplexing and self defeating. They wanted independence but not independence from the monarchy; independence but not independence from the Bank of England; independence but not independence from NATO. This was the SNP’s undoing and something I hope, but don’t expect, they will address for any future independence referendum.

It is, however, overly simplistic to say that the SNP alone lost the referendum. There were many groups campaigning as part of Yes Scotland, and SSP and RIC activists were easily the match of their SNP counterparts in terms of commitment and input to the cause. Importantly, these groups were anti-monarchy, anti-NATO and in favour of a new Scottish currency (although perhaps in the long term rather than immediately after indy). So while the SNP’s self defeating stance would certainly have cost the YES vote considerably it can’t be the whole story. On the left we must also look at what went wrong and what we need to address for any future vote.

The reasons are of course complex and many of them have been discussed at length elsewhere. There is one problem with the left’s campaigning during the indy ref that hasn’t been discussed much, and that problem was the over-reliance on young activists. On the left we don’t enjoy large donations from millionaires from which to finance our campaigns. This is just a fact of life, and during the indy campaign as with any other it meant that we had to work with what we had; and what we had was a lot of excellent motivated and intelligent young activists. Every party in the country would love to have our activists, it’s the one thing money can’t buy. Just look at the Scottish Labour Party, funded by millionaires but during the recent election had to rely on paid staff to deliver leaflets through the doors because of a total absence of activists.

An over-saturation of young activists becomes a problem, however, when they are required to talk to older generations. Many of them just haven’t developed those skills yet. It’s a combination of a lack of life experience and that irritating habit teenagers have of thinking they are right about everything. We’re often told that the current politicians need to be replaced because they are out of touch with real life. That argument isn’t very convincing if it’s being made by a 16 year old who has never had a proper job and doesn’t intend on getting one for about another 10 years (once he gets his gap year, uni and post grad out the way).

This isn’t just an exercise in hindsight; it has become a genuine problem for the left that a lot of people don’t want to acknowledge. Within a couple of weeks, the Scottish Socialist Party, with a handful of other individuals, will officially launch a new left wing alliance for Scottish elections. As of now, the SSP are the only credible group in this alliance but we hope to attract more to it as time goes by. Indeed, we’re already talking with some other groups. There are a number of things that need to happen for this alliance to be successful, but one of those things is that we must not inherit this “youth fetish” from RIC and the left of the YES movement.

During the indy ref the strong youth element that the left brought with it certainly won the argument among the younger generations. The statistics show that young people voted for independence. On the other hand, the older generations voted overwhelmingly against and we have to accept that the reason for that is our message failed to resonate with them. It failed to do so primarily because it was being delivered mostly by teenagers and young people, who were just unable to connect with the older generations.

The challenge for the left in the future, not just for any future indy referendum but in general, is to ditch this youth fetish. On the left we have a lot more to offer than just a lot of young faces, but a belief has crept in from somewhere that all we need to do is connect with the “youth” and we’ll be victorious. The result of the indy ref should have ended this belief but for some reason it still persists. Let’s just quickly examine the demographics here: the youngest generation eligible to vote is also the smallest in terms of numbers (and therefore potential votes). Further, it is the generation whose members are the least likely to vote. So while there are undoubtedly votes to be won in that demographic, it isn’t hard to see why pinning all your hopes on the youth vote isn’t exactly a strategy for success.

I should point out that I am not anti-youth. In my younger days I was the youth organiser for my branch of the SSP, so I can totally appreciate the hard work all our young activists put in. I’m certainly not calling for an end to their activism or criticizing their commitment. We can’t, however, expect everyone to be convinced by them. In a recent debate about the EU I was told by a teenager that I just don’t “get it” because I’m too old but that if I listen to him he’ll explain it to me. Now let me get this off my chest. I’m not too old! I’m 34. Older, but not old. Am I to seriously accept that someone who believes being in your mid-thirties is akin to having zero intellect is somehow “more in touch with real life” than New Labour or Lib Dem MP’s? I can’t believe many in the electorate will be convinced. That approach (the “thinking you know best about everything just because you’re a teenager” approach) might work when speaking to other teenagers (who of course share the belief that teenagers know best about everything and that no one else’s life experience is ever relevant to political debate), but it only annoys older people. Older people who, let’s not forget, make up a much bigger proportion of the electorate than the youth.

Posted in Political Philosophy, Scottish Politics

Socialism for a Modern Scotland

Socialism

Socialism was an alternative to free market fundamentalism throughout most of the 20th century. Its influence on world development is enormous. Over the past decades, the world has changed dramatically and continues to change rapidly. However, the rapid development of technology has not made the world more just, or freer, or more united. There are millions of people living in extreme poverty, and a continuing trend of deepening social inequality. The processes of globalization have shown even more clearly the barbaric nature of capitalism. Global free markets have created a new injustice, and their “invisible hand” is increasingly transformed into an iron fist. The world economy is divided, into affluent centres and poor peripheries. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. Whole countries have been turned into raw material appendages of the multinationals.  There exists a huge gap between rich and poor countries and it provokes conflicts such as the ugly phenomenon of international terrorism.

The inefficiency of the current market, which rules via an unchallenged monopoly, was apparent even in the middle of the last century. Capital is becoming more speculative as money turns into more money without being tied to production. Hundreds of billions of dollars are carried around the world in search of profit. The pinnacle of the liberal “creativity” became the global financial crisis and the ensuing recession. This is the third large-scale economic crisis in the last quarter century.

To socialists, the current catastrophe being suffered by the international financial system was obvious long ago. The world pyramid of fictitious capital has reached such proportions that it threatens to collapse and crush beneath it the real sectors of the economies of many countries.

Now even the most orthodox adherents of the free market are beginning to speak the language of social democracy, although the need for state intervention in the economy has not even been discussed. What the discussion should really focus on is how to make government regulation of the economy most effective.

The world lives today, not just in times of change, but at the time of the change of epochs. Financial, economic, social and environmental issues should be part of a single progressive political plan, and its priority must be the interests of the people.

The Scottish Socialist Party recognises that in our modern age there exist not only serious threats, but also a huge opportunity. To take advantage of this opportunity requires the active use of public resources to stabilize the markets, which is unacceptable from the ideological positions of liberalism. Therefore, the alternative to the old world order can only be a socially oriented economy and a rejection of liberalism. The economy must be subordinate to the interests of society.

Only the socialist and social-democratic parties are able to take current global processes under public control, as well as protect the social rights of the common people and the national interests of their countries. Only they can create a more just and secure society, a society in which the interests of the people come first.

Socialism is not an abstract project; it is a necessary tool with which to reconstruct reality. Its current agenda is the humanization of the social and economic life of the community; ensuring public control over the use of the natural resource potential of the planet; respect for the rights and freedoms of citizens; improving living conditions for present and future generations. Socialism is based on the huge cultural and historical experience of mankind, and on the national, historical and spiritual heritage of each country.

Socialism in Scotland 

The party firmly believes that the economic model of neo-liberalism, implicit in the manifesto of all the major parties, has proven to be a complete failure and cannot continue to be the dominant economic structure in Scotland. Especially since the discovery of North Sea oil, but arguably for the entire history of the union with England, the country has failed to realise a significant part of its potential development. The current economic structure has been systematically unable to solve any social problems and has resulted in further alienation of the people.  

As a party, the SSP is deeply concerned about the situation in the country, the threats and challenges faced by the Scottish society and by every person. Social stratification and increasing inequality have become rampant. A recent report described Scotland as facing a “humanitarian crisis” caused by poverty.[1] Insecurity has lodged in the hearts of millions of people. The human resources of Scotland are being depleted, not only quantitatively but also qualitatively, as our people are forced to move abroad to find work. This is viewed by the party as not just a problem that must be solved immediately, but as a large scale threat to Scottish society and the future of our country.

The Scottish Socialist Party believes that socialism, as a conscious democratic choice in a fully independent Scotland, is needed to protect the long-term interests of Scottish society. Socialist ideas firmly anchored in the spiritual and moral values ​​of the people of Scotland. The party have been instrumental in developing the socialist idea so that it meets the challenges of the 21st century as well as the traditions of the Scottish people and culture. This is what I mean by a “new socialism”.

A “New Socialism”?

The term “new socialism” may be misleading, but not intentionally. I do not mean that socialism has been reinvented in Scotland, just that it has been “revamped”. The core values of our Scottish socialism are the same as they always have been, and are the same as values of other socialists in other places. There is no doubt, however, that the campaign for independence has injected freshness into the Scottish socialist movement and displayed on centre stage the relevance of socialism to 21st century politics.

Socialism can be understood as a promising socio-economic model for the modern age. It inherits all of the previous experience of human civilization, including market experience, but adds our advanced technology, social programs, democratic rights and freedoms. In the modern age, the basic condition of the people is achieved via education. Therefore, new socialism aims to provide free access to knowledge for the betterment of the basic conditions of human life, strengthening the autonomy of the individual. Access to free education is a guarantee of prosperity and security, for the individual and the society.

Socialism should also be understood as a workable government, based on the choice and confidence of the people, which is under rigid democratic control. The state is responsible for the welfare of its citizens and the citizens are responsible for the effectiveness of the state. The people do not exist for the state; the state exists for the people, ensuring full respect for their legitimate rights. The state is primarily a service provider to the people. The most important task of the state is to ensure that one part of society cannot dominate another (for example, to ensure that the media cannot dominate and influence the legal system).

Our socialism would actively use the state for the preservation of the spiritual traditions and values ​​of the people, and the protection of the national culture and languages.

The above ideas may not sound new, and serve to highlight that the “new socialism” I am discussing is in many ways just a continuation of previous socialist movements. However, there are some new ideas which socialism for our modern age must accommodate if it is to appeal to the population. A new socialism must also mean that there is no more “right” or “wrong” socialism; there is not a single ideology which is to be realised on the implementation of the socialist project. There are values ​​that unite the world socialist movement. The European social-democracy focuses on the implementation of democratic alternatives to the private market economy. Latin American countries and China implement socialist principles in the framework of their chosen model of state capitalism. Russians socialists study the Soviet Union and decide what to leave to historians and what to take with them into the future. We cannot build a socialist country in isolation, but that does not imply that we must build the same socialism everywhere. In Scotland we can choose our own path!

So what is it about this new Socialism that will win us support in Scotland? New Socialism involves an active state social policy of social security for its citizens. Basic social guarantees include minimum wages and pensions of at least legislatively mandated social standards, free medical care for all, free education for all, the right to social housing, the normalized cost for utilities and ease of access to the cultural heritage of the nation. This is not about handouts from the state; it is about caring for the main wealth of the country – the people. These are the obligations of any state to its people. The fate of the Soviet Union, amongst others, has demonstrated that if the state is not fulfilling its obligations to the people, then the people will relieve themselves of responsibility for the state.

Our socialism is also to be understood as a socially oriented market economy. The term “market economy” should not be understood in any way that is contrary to socialist ideals, and should definitely not be confused with capitalistic ideas of a free market. Although it does accept one truth that the capitalists got right, that competition is one of the most important aspects of economic justice. As opposed to the capitalists understanding of this truth, however, we use competition to empower the workers, not to forcibly reduce their wages and living conditions.   Socialism, so understood, essentially empowers people to engage in business, and stimulates private initiative and business activities. It allows workers to use their skills to take control of their own labour, which will result in more small businesses and self employed workers.

Acting most fiercely against this competition today, against the “fair rules of the game”, is the government in alliance with the multi-nationals who control capital. Public interest should prevail over the interests of the capitalists. If capitalists ignore the social consequences of their activities, then they have no right to continue in those activities. New Socialism does not accept the rule of unbridled market forces and instead redistributes power over the market; from the capitalists to civil society and the state. By implementing this new Socialism we will strengthen the institutions of civil society that can become a real force, as opposed to excessive government intervention and the unlimited power of the free market.

We are for a market economy but not a market society! The spread of market relations outside of the economy destroys the moral atmosphere in society and hardens people. There can be no market between the people and the government. Important spheres should also be kept beyond the power of the market, such as medical research. Likewise, the national culture should not live by the laws of the market.

Socialism must also embrace a variety of forms of ownership. Any form of property ownership, if law-abiding and competitive[2], has a right to exist. By socialism we do not mean the elimination of private property, but political regulation of property rights and the establishment of state controls over the ownership, disposal and use of the property. Private property is only to be abolished, and replaced with common ownership by the people in the spheres of natural resources, industries of national importance and the cultural heritage of the country.

Socialism in Scotland is now inseparably connected with democracy and can only be developed by relying on the democratic process. The Scottish Socialist Party places particular importance on consolidating all forms of participatory democracy, so that the working classes have the opportunity to influence the decision-making process, to take part in state affairs so to speak. A true representative democracy is a participatory democracy! Our socialism promotes the development of all levels of government and increases the participation of regional and local authorities in solving the pressing problems of life. Our Socialism gives impetus to the development of civil society institutions and promotes community based initiatives that form a proactive stance of the people to protect their interests. In this way our new socialism will be developed in close cooperation with other left wing parties and trade unions.

Another important aspect of our new socialism is respect for the environment. Throughout the world, it is left-wing parties that have elevated environmentalism to the rank of national policy.

Our policies are carefully thought out and offer a realistic path for Scotland to take in the future as a way of establishing the country as one of the leading countries in the world, a country that acts as a beacon to other progressive people around the world. Every great country should have great goals. This “new socialism” of the SSP, socialism for the 21st century both in theory and in practice, is able to respond to real threats and challenges posed to Scotland in our modern age.

Justice and Freedom

Our party shares with the Scottish people the core values ​​of justice, freedom and solidarity. For us socialism is a constant movement to a society of social justice. Justice is to be understood as equality for all people in terms of political rights and freedoms, and the distribution of benefits in accordance with the labour input and the abilities of the person. In short, each person has the right to a decent and dignified life regardless of their place of origin, place of residence, property status or age.

The pursuit of justice is firmly rooted in our national consciousness, in the values ​​passed down from generation to generation through culture, traditions, and historical memory. The party believes that the state has an obligation to ensure that justice is in fact pursued. Therefore the purpose of the development of democratic institutions is to achieve political and social justice. Without this goal, democracy is nothing more than an empty slogan.

Violations of social justice are the main obstacle to the development of the country. Such violations include government corruption and the obscene wealth of the super rich. We reject as arrogant the judgment that success is measured by adaptability to existing free market relations. A person’s potential can only be truly revealed, not in the current harsh conditions of survival, but in reasonably organized economic and social relations which are based on justice.

Within the manifesto of our party there are various policies that are the result of this conception of justice. The gap between the rich and the poor is to be tackled, everyone is to have equal access to educational resources and the health care system, while there is also to be targeted social assistance to poor people. For the Scottish Socialist Party, the idea of ​​justice is not a political slogan, but our main goal. It is evident in each line of our party’s manifesto. It is the common theme between the ultimate goals of the party and the specific tasks that must be addressed today.

Freedom in the socialist tradition is understood as man’s power over circumstances, freedom from exploitation and oppression of man by man. Freedom requires overcoming abject dependence, poverty and fear. Freedom enhances self-determination of the individual and his right to defend his own political position. It is not only the goal of social development, but also a means of building a truly civil society.

Freedom without justice is always and only freedom for the few. Such freedom is nothing but a vulgar selfishness. The Scottish Socialist Party does not believe that freedom can be achieved in the free market. An essential precondition for individual freedom is social security. The free market cannot deliver social security. To have true freedom, freedom for everyone, we must have social security.

The freedom of man is inseparable from his personal responsibility for what is happening around him. A freedom that ignores the rights of other people degenerates into tyranny. Freedom can only be realized in a legal state, with a well established system of justice which is completely impartial. Legal safeguards should be used to provide reliable protection from violence and humiliation, and from the dangers of abuse, fraud and arbitrary power, and to guarantee freedom of conscience, speech and political choice. We firmly believe that freedom and justice are the measure of the development and modernization of the country.

[1]  Press release 4 March 2014, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

[2] “competitive” in this sense means everyone having an equal shot at ownership

Posted in Scottish Politics

The Problem of corrupt Labour MPs

Transcript of speech given by Bill Bonnar of the Scottish Socialist Party on 30/4/2015. A recording can be found by following the link below. Any mistakes contained in this transcript will probably be due to me rather than Bill.

http://livestream.com/IndependenceLive/SSPGlasgowSouth

“This poses a very simple question: Why is every MP in Britain rich? The average intake of the House of Commons is rich people, mostly Tories, and they then use their position as MP’s to get richer. Or they start with relatively modest backgrounds, a lot of Labour MPs, and then they become rich after they enter parliament and again use their parliamentary position to become richer and richer. Let me illustrate it with the example of a west of Scotland MP who now sits in the House of Lords, he retired as an MP at the last election. I’ll not use names because I want to use it as an example, a typical example. He entered parliament in the 1990’s. What was his social-economic status the week before he entered parliament? He was an unemployed former factory worker living in a council house. When he retired as an MP he was a millionaire. How does that work? When your only job is to be an MP, how do you turn being an MP into being a millionaire?

The way you do it, and the way every MP does it the length and breadth of Britain, is you turn being an MP into a family business; you turn it into a business. What he did was quite simple. Of course he’s got his basic salary of almost £70,000 per year, he can also claim his expenses of almost £70,000 per year because he can pay for an office and he can pay for staff and other expenses. So what does he do? And I’m using this as a typical example; he decided he needed an office manager. So he hired his wife to be his office manager. Two problems there. One; his wife, no disrespect to the woman, had no qualifications to work as an office manager. Her job prior to him becoming an MP was she worked on the checkout at Sainsbury’s. And also he didn’t have an office. He then employed his various sons to be political researchers. Now there’s nothing wrong with being a political researcher, but the standard qualification to work as a political researcher would be at least an honours degree. I’ve met some of his sons and they didn’t have two standard grades to rub together. In reality they weren’t researchers; all of that money simply went into his household. And then of course there were all the other expenses he claimed. He claimed his flat in London, his transport back and forward, his food allowance was enormous. Basically if you could claim it he claimed it. He was very good at it, so he basically doubled his income. And then of course having all this spare income he then put it to good use, he went round his constituency and he built up a property portfolio. He bought flats, he bought buildings, and he bought pubs. So that when he retired, he retired a millionaire with a nice little nest egg and now he sits in the House of Lords.

Now I used that not as an extreme example, but as atypical example. A typical example not of Tories, because if that was a description of a Tory MP I think people would just shrug and say “well they’re Tories”. I’m talking about typical West of Scotland Labour MPs who are a million times worse than the Tories. I’ll give you another example, and I will name this one because he’s dead now. Former Labour MP Jimmy Wray who died 2 or 3 years ago, came from a similar background to the first character. His wealth became public knowledge because his family started falling out about who would get the estate. His estate was worth £1.5 million. How does a Labour MP from a working class background in Glasgow end up with £1.5 million when all he’s ever been is a Labour MP?

If you look at that situation and translate it throughout Britain that is what all MPs do. They turn being MPs into businesses. And the other thing they do in particular is they use their position as MPs to go and get other bits of work, so they then become directors of companies, they become consultants. Now leaving aside an obvious point, if you look at the job description of an MP, to be honest to them, it’s immensely demanding. It’s actually two full time jobs written into one. There’s a constituency MP and a parliamentary MP: and if they happen to be junior government minister then it’s a lot more again. So how can they then have a situation where they turn this lucrative MPs job into part time work as they go chasing all the other directorships and consultancies? And that’s how they become wealthy, so that when they leave they’re well looked after. The Scottish Socialist Party has always argued that any elected representative should be elected on a worker’s wage. When we had MSPs in parliament they all took the wage of a skilled worker. Why did we argue for that position? It wasn’t that we were being noble. There are actually sound reasons why we do this. If you remember the expenses scandal two or three years ago, MPs were flipping houses all over the place, it was like a property speculation boom in London as MPs used tax payer’s money to buy and sell houses. Those few MPs who raised their heads above the parapet and tried to justify it were saying things like “well actually it highlights a problem that MPs aren’t paid enough”, “Mps don’t get enough money, that’s why they’re fiddling their expenses, if they were paid properly, a proper rate for the job, not the paltry £70,000 but real wages they wouldn’t have to fiddle the expenses and it would attract precisely the calibre of MP that we need”.

We argue the polar opposite of that, the more money you pay an MP attracts precisely the wrong type of people, because at the end of the day an MP is an elected public servant paid for by the tax payer. His or her job is to represent the public, represent the electors. If you lowered the salary of what MPs get to that of a skilled worker, and if you apply a rigorous transparent expenses system, and if you absolutely rigorously ban this idea that MPs should have paid contracts outside being an MP (which incidentally is banned in most other areas of employment) so that they have one job and there is no conflict of interests: we argue that actually that would attract precisely the kind of MP that you want, someone who is not in it for the money, someone who has got a genuine interest in public service. And get rid of all these people who seeing being an MP as a business, who see it as a way of making money, who see it as a way of building a network of rich contacts. The Tories we know do this all the time. The Labour Party are worse because the Labour Party claim to be the party of the working class, they claim to be the party of social justice, they claim to be the party that will stand up for fairness and the poor while their MPs are enriching themselves at tax payer’s expense. So we need a different type of MP, in exactly the same way we need a different type of MSP.

That proposal about wages is about reforming Westminster, alongside abolishing the House of Lords and abolishing the monarchy and bringing a whole series of reforms. But the cynic amongst us might say “they’ve been trying to do that for 100 years”. What I’ve been suggesting was first suggested at the end of the First World War. Westminster has had no serious reforms in that century, and that’s because it takes the form of a kind of private members club where they all have a commonality of interests to defend. It’s a club of vested interests. Why on earth would they reform that? But we do need to reform it, and the best contribution we can make in Scotland to reforming it is to break away from it. To end it and to build a different political system here in Scotland.

Now to be fair we do have something that is better. The Scottish parliament is better than Westminster (although frankly that wouldn’t be difficult). It is better; it’s much more transparent and much more open. But it’s got its limitations. The campaign for independence isn’t just for independence by itself; it’s a campaign for building a different better Scotland. The Scottish Socialist Party argues that means Scotland should become a republic. What do we mean by that? Do we simply mean an absence of monarchy? Well let’s end the monarchy, let’s end this nonsense of us being subjects of the crown. But that’s the easy bit, that’s straightforward, that’s common sense. It also means radically rethinking our political system in an independent Scotland to make it much more democratic, much more transparent, and much more representative. It’s about extending democracy into every aspect of life, including the workplace. It’s about having a written constitution that entrenches civil rights into that constitution, outlining the rights and responsibilities of citizens. It’s about having a parliament in Scotland that reflects the people who voted for it, reflects it in terms of the diversity, in terms of women’s representation, and in terms of income. Because you can’t have a situation where a parliament claims to reflect the people it represents when they earn two three or four times what their average electors earn. So we would argue that MSPs also need to be on a workers wage because that way they will actually reflect the realities of the people who elect them. So you have two choices, we can continue with the corrupt nest of vipers or we can actually build something which is bigger and better in Scotland in terms of a democratic system. That’s what we argue for as the Scottish Socialist Party, as do others such as SLP. It’s the alternative vision for Scotland.”