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Showing posts with label Labour. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Labour. Show all posts

Monday, 5 January 2015

Coalitus and coalascere

Coalitus? Sounds painful – maybe an inflammation caused by household fuel? Or is it a fancy name for the food craving of some pregnant women?

And coalascere ? Something Il commissario Montalbano might order as a side dish in his favourite Sicilian restaurant?

No – coalitus is the medieval Latin past participle of coalescere, meaning fusion or a coming together and coalesce and coalition derive from it.

A coalition is an alliance of some sort between two or more parties for combined action in concert in certain defined circumstances, one that is usually intended to be temporary.

Used in a political context, it is often for the purpose of forming a government.

(I am familiar with it in a negotiating context in voting behaviours with individuals and groups,  and the mathematical horrors of The Banzhaf Dilemma that I used to frighten senior managers with on negotiating skills courses.)


We have lived with a coalition government in the UK for over four years in the form of the pernicious Tory/LibDem Coalition of 2010, formed in the aftermath of economic, social and foreign policy shambles left by the Blair/Brown governments of 1997 to 2010.

If we go back to 1852, the Peelites and the Whigs formed a coalition headed by Lord Aberdeen. It lasted till 1855. The noble Earl had a rash of Lords and knights in his cabinet, but he also had one William Ewart Gladstone, a fellow Peelite, of whom rather a lot was subsequently heard.

There was another short-lived LibTory coalition right in the middle of the Great War after the Gallipoli disaster: it collapsed and was promptly replaced by another under Lloyd George. It fell apart in 1922 over scandals, notoriously the blatant flogging of peerages for hard cash by Lloyd George.

The coalitions of 1931 to 1940 preferred to call themselves National Governments because by that time the term Coalition Government had a bad name(!)

The Second World War brought a Tory-led coalition under Churchill (1940-1945). It was referred to as the War Ministry, and last until May 1945, when Churchill resigned after the war ended.

It was replaced by the Churchill caretaker ministry until July 1945, when the general election resulted in a Labour landslide and the Attlee Government.

One might therefore say that the record of coalition governments has not been a stellar one, with the exception of the War Ministry Coalition of 1940-1945.

I’ve been alive during three of the six of them, witnessed the end of two of them and hope to witness the end of another on May 7th 2015.

The question is – will we see another coalition government sometime after May 8th 2015 – and should we want one?

SNP Westminster strategy

The SNP’s core strategy for GE2015 is to contest all Westminster Scottish seats and get as many SNP MPs elected as possible.

Its preferred outcome for the UK-wide ballot is Labour as the party with the largest number of seats, but without an overall majority, and the end of Cameron’s Tory/LibDem Coalition Government.

This outcome would leave UK Labour with three choices -

govern as a minority government, with no formal arrangement with any other party, but making ad hoc deals to secure a majority on specific votes with any party or group of MPs it could secure

enter into a confidence and supply arrangement with a party or parties to offer committed support on agreed issues

form a coalition government with one or more parties and form a cabinet that included ministers appointed from those parties

It would however be a mistake to think that this would all instantly be Ed Miliband’s choice to make. As Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary involved in the 2010 untidy and acrimonious negotiations that led to the Cameron/Clegg Coalition, has pointed out on Sky News, things were not as straightforward in 2010, and are unlikely to be straightforward after May 7th 2015.

But if it is Miliband’s choice, and he chooses a deal rather than minority government, and if the logic of that deal centres on a new and impressive bloc of SNP MPs, what deal might he choose – confidence and supply or coalition ?

If I were in his shoes, and I wanted to neuter the SNP influence in Westminster, I would unhesitatingly choose coalition.


Well, for a number of reasons.

1. I would invoke the spirit and the words of Lyndon Johnson when faced with having J.Edgar Hoover in or out of his government – “I’d rather have them inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.”

2. Having the SNP in government, in cabinet – and with cabinet responsibility -could be presented as de facto acceptance of the finality of the 2014 independence referendum outcome and embracing the Union.

3. If the SNP broke ranks in coalition, and breached joint cabinet responsibility for a policy decision or action, they could be presented as deeply irresponsible and unfit for government.

4. In Miliband’s position, I would rely on the seductive influences of ministerial office, the status and perks, and the illusion of acting on an international stage to blunt the edge of the SNP’s ambitions for Scotland and damage their reputation and electoral standing with their core constituency.

In a nutshell, if I were Ed Miliband I would do to the SNP what Cameron has done to the LibDems – reduce them to an object of contempt and an electoral rump of a party.

In contrast, governing UK as a minority government would be a far more risky enterprise than governing Scotland in a devolved Parliament was for Alex Salmond 2007-2011, and a confidence and supply deal would place him in the mode of supplicant every time a significant vote arose and crucially, at every budget.


The SNP’s current position – as I understand it – is that they hope for a Labour win with no overall majority, and a subsequent confidence and supply deal. If - as many thought – Stewart Hosie was flying a cautious kite for coalition, then it is for the SNP to justify such a course of action.

But can they – and more importantly – will they?

The SNP could argue that it cannot commit to what it would and wouldn’t do until the result of GE2015 is known. That is true up to a point, and the SNP - and Alex Salmond’s - legendary pragmatism card would be played. It takes two to tango, and this tango might include more than two, and shift towards a threesome - or a foursome reel.

However, the SNP has found no problem in specifically excluding any kind of a deal with the Tories or UKIP in stating its forward intentions for GE2015. There is nothing that I can see that stops them precluding a coalition with Labour either, but pursuing a confidence and supply deal.

My guess is that the SNP ministers, MSPs and the Parliamentary candidates have their brief by now on how to play this at the hustings and with the media, and it will be a stonewalling response – “impossible to say at this stage, situation will have to be evaluated after May 7th, wouldn’t want to tie the party’s hands, too much at stake …” etc.

The fate of Craig Murray over a vetting question will not have escaped the candidates, and I would guess they’ll be right on message on this hot potato. Not one will say they’re opposed on principle to a coalition.

Is this the right approach? Only the electorate can answer that. I’m opposed to a coalition, but even the SNP publicly stating they fully intended to pursue one wouldn’t stop me voting SNP on 7th May. But I’d be worried if they did, and I believe there are some former Labour voters who shifted painfully to the SNP, with many reservations and much personal agony, who might react differently.

As I said in a tweet on the day Stewart Hosie appeared to raise the coalition question – I want SNP arses on the green benches post-May 7th, but I don’t want them on the front benches of the Westminster Parliament we campaigned so hard to get out of.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Lamentable Labour and lamentable Lamont – and a master class from Alex Salmond in the economics of independence

This lamentable performance from Johann Lamont, with its laboured scripted one-liners and prepared insults, demonstrates why Labour is unfit to govern Scotland, and indeed has been for a very long time. She has learned nothing from the disastrous mistakes of her predecessor, Iain Gray, and seems locked in the same style and script.

The contrast with the First Minister's responses is painful. Alex Salmond delivers a master class in the economics of dependence on the UK versus the freedom from constraints that would come with independence, which would deliver the economic tools to liberate Scots from the economic stagnation and now near-collapse that Labour and now the Coalition have wreaked upon the UK.

The inherent contradictions built in to the dependency relationship between Scottish Labour, UK Labour and the Tory-led Coalition are evident every time Johann Lamont opens her mouth.

The Scottish people have recognised this in the May 2011 election, Scottish trades union members clearly must have recognised it also. UK trades union leaders are facing up to it, with some of the most damning indictments ever delivered by trade union barons against a Labour Party Leader and Labour Opposition, the voters of England recognise it.

But as yet, Scottish trades union leader cannot find the courage to speak up for their members, for severing the political link with Labour, for ending the political levy, and most of all, for throwing their weight behind the independence of their country.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The morning after – strike reflections - and John Hutton

I wholly support the public service workers in their grievance against the UK Government, and I support their decision to strike in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I do not support their decision to strike in Scotland, for reasons already stated over the last few days.

But watching the strikers on television, my reaction was that maybe it had to happen, even if the rationale was deeply flawed. It was probably cathartic, and even a little bit enjoyable for hard-pressed public servants, and it did demonstrate to the  critics of their dispute just how important, indeed vital, their roles are, and what an extended dispute, or a series of such disputes would mean.

The complacent and doing-very-nicely-thank-you professional couples in the private sector, with joint incomes in excess of £70-100k who suddenly found that mummy or daddy had to stay home – or find a child minder pronto – were jolted into an uncomfortable realisation of what further strikes could mean. Those on more stratospheric incomes of course would be utterly untouched by it, and probably have an arms-length relationships with their children anyway, safely tucked away in a fee-paying boarding school, or with a resident nanny to handle things.

Regrettably, there were also working couples on very low incomes and one-parent families who had to sacrifice a day’s pay, which I know from my own economically deprived Glasgow childhood could be disastrous to precariously balance finances. They are the real inevitable casualties of such disputes, as were the patients in hospitals or people in care homes who also suffered. But third parties, innocent and some not so innocent, are hurt by strikes, and that is a harsh reality. What must be remembered is that it takes two to tango, and both parties to a dispute are jointly responsible for the collateral damage, not just the strikers.

But what I know for certain is that the strikers of yesterday will be asking themselves just what did they achieve, other than their moment on the media and exercising their lungs with a good chant and a good blow at their vuvuzelas? Post-orgasm comes sober reflection.

Perhaps as they lie back with a post-strike fag, they can also reflect on the fact that the author of their miseries, paraded and repeatedly quoted by David Cameron and every one of his millionaire pals, was that ultimate contradiction, a Labour LordJohn Hutton, Baron of Furness.


The Bloody Red Baron has an interesting background for a Labour man. Educated at Magdalen College Oxford, where he was a member of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Associations, he became a legal adviser to the CBI before entering politics. He held various governmental posts, and was one of Tony Blair’s strongest supporters. He told Nick Robinson of the BBC that Gordon Brown would be a “fucking disaster” as Prime Minister. (He got that one right.) Nonetheless he survived and served under the “fucking disaster” as Secretary of State for Defence, the luxury coach of the Westminster gravy train.

He decided to stand down less than a year later, and said he would stand down as an MP at the next general election. Shortly after the general election of 2010, he was made a Labour peer. In the same month (June 2010) he joined the board of US nuclear power company Hyperion. He was told he couldn’t lobby his former department, the M.O.D. for 12 months. Thereafter, it would be fine to do so.

A year after that, he accepted the Tory/LibDem Coalition’s offer to head up a commission into public centre pensions, and dismissed speculation about his motives for doing so.

The Labour Baron has told the unions that they have been offered a good deal on pensions. Aye, right …

THE UK GRAVY TRAIN – a train the strikers will never be on …

Reflect also on this, strikers of yesterday, and perhaps tomorrow – none of the main UK parties have any answers to what lies ahead, because they are embedded in a corrupt structure – the UK – and they can’t step off the rotten wagon careering towards the edge of the cliff.

The Lords can’t step off because it would be the end for them.

The Scottish Labour Lords can’t step off, because in addition to losing their titles, there would be nowhere for them to go.

The Tories can’t step off because they are inherently undemocratic and wedded to greed.

Labour MPs can’t step off because they have deserted their people and become Tories Mark Two.

Scottish Labour MPs can’t step off because it would be the end of the Westminster gravy train and of their careers.

Scottish Labour MSPs can’t step off because they want to be MPs and join the gravy train to Westminster one day.

The LibDem MPs can’t step off because it would be electoral oblivion for them if they submitted themselves for re-election.

Scottish LibDems have already experienced electoral oblivion, they face the same problem as Scottish Labour, and anyway, nobody would notice if they stepped off. 

Only one party stand outside and above this rotten structure – the Scottish National Party. And only one thing will allow Scotland and Scots to step outside of it.


Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Happy Holyrood Tweeting time - clear blue water between SNP and Labour!

moridura Peter Curran

One of the clear blue water issues between Labour and SNP: SNP is for clear blue water in Scotland, Labour is for pollution, WMDs and cancer

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

Bookies odds against SNP on May 5th: The odds will have shortened even more since the news of Fukushima radiation pollution in Glasgow today

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

@SNPyouth @snpstudents Don't forget to visit what was 10 Ardenlea St. Dalmarnock - the Jaconelli's home for 35 years, destroyed by Labour

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

"It is unbelievable that some candidates in the Scottish election still argue that we should build new nuclear power stations ." Glasgow CND

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

"If radiation from Japan can be detected in Glasgow then nowhere in the world is immune from the effects of a nuclear accident" CND Glasgow

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#May5th Don't forget Margaret! Glasgow Labour attacks the working class - dawn raid by 60 police

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#May5thdebate Tonight's party debate on STV - will nuclear pollution be on the agenda? Will the party leaders be wearing radiation suits?

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#nuclearGlasgow STV - looks like same story - we are expected to accept a reassurance from Sean, weather forecaster? Get your Geiger out -

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#nuclearGlasgow How will STV Scottish news covers the Glasgow radiation pollution from Fukushima - more nuclear-friendly reassurances? NOW!

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#nuclearGlasgow Am I scaremongering! Of course I am - we should all be scared - of nuclear pollution and nuclear Scottish Labour. Vote SNP!

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#nuclearGlasgow Wait for the nuclear shills - anonymous PR fronts for the industry - and Labour - to make their desperate justifications.

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#nuclearGlasgow Much fuller report on STV, but still play it down. It's not the danger, it's the implications - NUCLEAR KNOW NO BOUNDARIES!

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

@georgegalloway and don't forget your Geiger counter and a bottle of iodine, George. Glasgow nuclear radiation will get worse under Labour!

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#nuclearGlasgow At last - brief, but with speedy reassurance(!) Get your Geiger out, Jackie, find some iodine, and don't vote nuclear Labour

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#nuclearGlasgow Not a dickie bird from Jackie Bird so far. Maybe it will be buried at the end. So will Scots if they let nuclear Labour in!

2 hours ago Favorite Reply Delete


Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#nuclear Let's see if Fukushima nuclear pollution in Glasgow reaches the Scottish BBC news - coming up right now. Watch - it's your life.

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#nuclear Only the SNP can deliver a nuclear-free Scotland. May5 -one step closer to free Scotland, with its own nuclear and defence policy.

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

No man is an island unto himself alone - John Donne knew it, but Labour nuclear polluters and bombers think Scotland is. Don't let them in!

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

@STVNews It doesn't surprise me, but it sure as hell will surprise Labour - wait for the cover-up statements downplaying it form Iain Gray!

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#May5 Scottish anti-nuclear trades unionists - Labour won't stop it - they're actively in favour of it. CND won't stop them, but the SNP can

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#May5 Radiation from Fukushima detected in Glasgow - low, but significant. Labour wants to generate pollution and radiation closer to home.

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#May5 50 years of marching and protesting by CND have failed to stop the nuclear plague, but an independent Scottish Government can and will

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#May5th Invisible and lethal pollution, threatening Scotland for generations - Labour's nuclear and WMD links. Don't let them in - Vote SNP!

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

Clear blue water between SNP and Labour - the unpolluted waters of Scotland! Labour=nuclear+WMDs

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#May5 Now we know - Labour = nuclear plants, nuclear pollution, WMDs and "Let the Tories have our oil revenue while Scots suffer." Vote SNP!

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

Scotland's future is at stake - and Scots have realised it - new poll results. The Force is with us!… via @moridura

Sunday, 13 March 2011

‘The Politics Show’ Scotland with Isabel Fraser and Alex Salmond

Scotland is at the crossroads on May 5th - make the right decision, Scots voters - your world will unravel unless you do.

This is a pivotal election for Scotland - don't let your distaste for the contemptible ConLib Coalition push you back into the incompetent, uncaring hands of the Labour Party, who compounded the global banking crisis by their ineptitude and short-termism.

Labour is the party of Iraq, of Afghanistan, of WMDs and of poverty, degradation and death for for the lives and hopes of Scots.

Disenchanted LibDems! - don't let your disappointment with your party push you into the hands of Labour - it's the SNP that shares your values, not the Labour Party.

Vote for the SNP on May 5th – the party of Scotland and the Scottish people.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Barnsley, the LibDems, the ill-fated coalition - and the Labour Party

The Barnsley result tells it like it is - and so did I, way back last May. Here’s what I said at the time -

Moridura blog - May 9th and 10th 2010

Sir Menzies Campbell - Ming the Unionist - a very parfit gentil knight, a British establishment figure, waffles on about the national interest (by national, he doesn't mean the country of his birth, Scotland - he means the UK, the political entity that knighted him) dances around Jon Sopel's questions, but the reality of the present situation is all too clear - Nick Clegg is set to do a deal with Cameron, abandoning cherished LibDem principles along the way, and putting in power a Tory government that is anathema to Scottish voters.
If such a deal is done, the LibDems are dead as a political force, especially in Scotland. The feeble Tavish Scott is unlikely to stand up for the interests of Scots - after all, he rejected a coalition with the party he had most in common with - the SNP - because of his blinkered unionism.
There's still time not to press the self-destruct button, Nick ...

I listened with increasing incredulity to John Reid, former Labour Home Secretary and Cabinet Minister as he calmly rubbished the prospect of a LibLab pact and a rainbow coalition just after Gordon Brown, the Labour Prime Minister had already fallen on two of his swords his premiership and his leadership of the Labour Party to permit negotiations to go ahead with Nick Clegg and his team to try and stop a Cameron-led Tory Government.

David Dimbleby's loaded question was - Did John Reid think there was a danger of a coalition of the losers ?

Since Reid is too old a hand at responding to BBC inquisitors - however exalted - to be gulled into an ill-considered expression of views, we must assume that every word was uttered with a purpose.

Reid opened with a token remark that Gordon Brown was wise and dignified in saying that he would step down, but this was immediately followed with a " but I'm afraid that I think it is a very bad mistake to contemplate and to propose and I suppose, to entice a LibLab coalition."

Don’t hide your feelings John say what you mean!

"I think it is bad for the country. I think it will prove pretty disastrous for both parties in it in fact, I think its bad for Gordon as well."

He went on to say that such a coalition would be inherently unstable, since Labour and the LibDems have no overall majority and would be dependent on the votes of assorted Scot nationalists (sic) and the parties in Northern Ireland.

Reid went on in similar vein, coldly ignoring the fact that his fellow Scots - especially his fellow Labour voters - had just delivered a massive Niet to the Tories and to a Cameron government, having been specifically and repeatedly enjoined to do so in the Labour campaign by virtually every member of the Labour Cabinet.

Scotland has just delivered a resounding No to a Tory government, and after Gordon Brown's dual sacrifice of his premiership and his leadership of the Labour Party, with a finely-judged negotiating strategy and the support of his fellow Scots, that outcome could just be achieved.

But John Reid has his eye fixed on the national interest. By this he means of course the UK, not the nation of his birth, and in this definition of the national interest at least, he is squarely in the camp of his fellow Unionist and Scot, Sir Menzies Campbell.

But why not? After all, both of them have had glittering careers courtesy of the high road to England and the British Establishment.

With friends like Reid, Labour doesn't need enemies.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Sunday Times deliberately distorts the latest Megrahi story

The Wikileak about the last Labour Government’s lies and hypocrisy over their shameful involvement with Libya and Gadaffi over the potential release of the Lockerbie bomber in return for commercial deals was, in one sense, God’s gift to the beleagured Cameron ConLib Coalition, giving them an opportunity to attack the Labour Party.

However, they and their press backers realised that it was potentially a double-edged sword as far as the Union and the United Kingdom was concerned, since it placed the Scottish Nationalist government’s refusal to have any truck with the Prisoner Transfer Agreement under Blair’s sleazy Deal in the Desert, and their refusal to release Megrahi at that time in a good light. That, together with the SNP Government’s decision to release Megrahi - who by a much later date had been diagnosed as being terminally ill - looked even more like the humane, principled decision that it was, taken in the full belief, by the Scottish Justice Minister and the Scottish government, that Megrahi was guilty of the Lockerbie bombing, and that the sentence of the Scottish Court was a valid one.

Despite the clear political advantage to be gained over Labour, this could not be allowed to happen so close to a pivotal Scottish election, because it showed up the disgraceful hypocrisy and ineptitude of Holyrood Labour’s stance after the Megrahi release. The circle had to be squared - a way to muddy the water, distort the facts and smear the Scottish Government had to found - and quick.

A blatant lie was hastily constructed, that the Scottish Government had been complicit with the Westminster Labour Government of the day in trying to negotiate Megrahi’s release under the PTA in return for concessions on the prisoners’ slopping out case - a proposition and a scenario so ludicrous that Scottish Nationalists would have fallen about laughing, had it not been for the seriousness of the lie.

This lie has, knowingly or unwittingly, been repeated so often now by every unionist newspaper and superficial commentator - including at a point in time the BBC and Channel Four News - that it runs the risk of becoming a factoid - something that everybody knows to be true, except that it ain’t, to quote Norman Mailer, the originator of the term.

And now The Sunday Times are at it today -

Lockerbie Bomber ‘won his release by blackmail’

Note the quotes, achieving the dual feat of giving it spurious credibility while retaining the ability to repudiate it as something somebody else said, if the need arise.

This non-story uses a methodology now widely practised in the Scottish press as well, that of hoping that the headline will be the story, and that the casual reader will not examine the flimsy and inaccurate foundation upon which it is constructed.

The story rest upon the statement by Mustapha Abdel Jali, Libya’s former Justice Minister. I invite you to consider that title - Libya’s Justice Minister - a personal friend of Gadaffi, servant to a brutal, repressive, dictatorial regime, responsible for the suppression of its citizens for forty years by torture and murder, an international pariah state. This man, apparently expert at playing both ends against the middle, and now faced with the collapse of the regime he helped to sustain - with a few well-judged liberal gestures just in case - is desperate to curry favour with the US and British governments, and he knows exactly what they want to hear. A little caution is advisable when considering anything he has to say …

But I believe him - that Gadaffi did order the Lockerbie bombings, that Megrahi was involved, probably with others, and was therefore guilty. I also believe that Gadaffi was actively negotiating with Blair and the former Labour Government for his release.

This is in fact the only story, but the Sunday Times, a News International paper, solidly Tory and right-wing in its sympathies, has to find room for the Scottish smear in their cobbled-together little piece. So they included this paragraph - which is factually accurate - in the hope of beginning the mud-slinging -

“Megrahi, who has always publicly maintained his innocence, was given compassionate release by the Scottish authorities in August 2009 after being diagnosed with  cancer. He remains alive, despite being given only three months to live.”

That last sentence is the ST’s hook - the implication being that Megrahi was not terminally ill.

A rent-a-mouth Tory MP, Ben Wallace, is quoted, and in his statement, a justifiable attack on Brown and his Labour Government’s disgraceful politicking over Megrahi for economic advantages, Wallace also says, referring to alleged bugging of Libyan intelligence services by the British Secret Service -

“The Scottish Government  must now come forward and the Labour government tell us whether they were aware of these conversations, and if not, why not.”

Given that Alex Salmond quoted in last Thursday’s FMQs that the Scottish Government was excluded by Westminster from the COBRA talks over the Libyan crisis, the idea the the British Secret Service would be falling over itself to tell them about bugged conversations involving Libya is risible.

And that is the sum total of this shabby little report - it tells us nothing new, but implies a great deal.

God preserve Scotland and the Scots from the lies of the Union and its PRAVDA-style press ..

Saor Alba!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Michael Portillo on Megrahi: "The little Scottish government would not have dared ...”

A totally patronising, inaccurate and superficial view of the Megrahi issue from Michael Portillo, failed Tory politician. "The little Scottish government would not have dared ... to take such a decision ... without being pushed by this Government."

An equally patronising view of devolved government by a Labour woman - whose name I can't be bothered to find out. Devolved administrations  " ... don't always understand how significant some of their decisions are."

There speak two archetypal representatives of a failed political culture and structure and  a discredited, dying United Kingdom. In their little Westminster village, and blinkered media bubble, they are completely unable to understand the feelings, aspirations and significance of other countries such as Scotland.

No wonder the Egyptian revolution caught such people in the UK Government and diplomatic services with their collective knickers down.

And Andrew Neil, a Scot, sat there and swallowed the insults, with only the most feeble of rebuttals. This is what  UK politicians and their media hacks think of Scotland, the Scots  and their elected government.

Reach for your forelock, smile ingratiatingly, Scots, or for God's sake stand up and do something about it on May 5th - and beyond.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Andrew Neill, Jack Straw and Megrahi

It couldn't be clearer - the Labour Government was prepared to release him FOR COMMERCIAL and TRADE REASONS before he was ill.

At that time, the Scottish Government refused point blank to release him, and refused to accept that any deal made by Westminster or the application of the PTA to Scotland. No deal of any kind relating to Megrahi's release was offered or made by the Scottish Government Alex Salmond or Kenny McAskill.

This is a press smear which one source today suggested began with the right-wing Tory blogger, Guido Fawkes.

(David Cameron's dilemma in using the Wikileaks revelations to release the story - with the intent of damaging Labour's electoral prospects in England - was that it would also damage the puppet Labour Party in Scotland, and consequentially strengthen the SNP's position, thus threatening the Union. A convenient smear against the SNP was therefore a prudent insurance policy against such an outcome. May 5th will reveal how this sordid ploy has played out with the Scottish electorate.)

When Megrahi was diagnosed as having terminal cancer with 3 months to live by the Scottish Prison medical service, Kenny McAskill alone took the decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds in accordance with Scottish Law.

The idea that an SNP government would have cooperated with a Westminster Labour Government in any way over the dirty, expedient, realpolitik deal initially stitched up by Tony Blair ('the deal in the desert') and subsequently carried forward in clandestine negotiations by the Brown Government and Straw is utterly inconceivable- ludicrous, in fact.

The only alternative explanations for the hypocritical behaviour of Iain Gray and Richard Baker in Holyrood at the time of the Megrahi release decision and subsequently is

that they were NOT told what their Party bosses were doing at Westminster and acted in folly and ignorance


THAT THEY KNEW, concealed the fact that they knew, yet continued to make expedient political capital out of the situation in the vain hope that the truth would never come out.

In either case, in so doing, they damaged their own reputations, the reputation of Labour, the reputation of the Scottish Parliament and the interests of Scottish Justice.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Megrahi, Labour Lies and Scotland - Iain Gray and Richard Baker knew ...

The full, appalling, cynical nature of the Labour Government's lies about their involvement with Libya, under Gordon Brown, over the Megrahi affair are now revealed. The utter hypocrisy of their public posture is stark. But the behaviour of Iain Gray and Richard Baker in the Scottish Parliament over the release, and their public statement brings hypocrisy to the state of an art..

They must have know what was going on, yet they huffed and puffed and postured shamelessly for political gain.

The behaviour of the media today, however, reveals their confusion when faced with some hard facts that vindicate Alex Salmond, Kenny McAskill and the SNP Government totally. They have desperately tried to suggest, in misleading summary after summary, that the Scottish Government tried to do a deal with the UK government over the Megrahi release. This is a patent lie, and to peddle it, they have deliberately ignored dates and years, and distorted the topics of discussion that pre-dated the medical verdict that Megrahi was terminally ill that led to his compassionate release.

We expect this from the unionist media, but even the normally impeccably accurate and objective Jon Snow on Channel Four News got sucked in. peddling the same distorted facts, and apparently immune to Alex Salmond's patient explanation of the facts, which are a matter of public record in Scotland.

As for the US - well, they don't pretend to understand the nature of Scotland within the UK, nor do they understand devolution. This will confirm their worst fears.

But Cameron, in releasing this information for political gain over Labour, may have scored an own goal in terms of the survival of the UK as a political entity. That is always assuming he cares, which I suspect he doesn't. After all, an independent England is likely to be a Tory fiefdom, isolated from Europe.

POSTSCRIPT - Midnight 7/8th February

Newsnight (despite Paxman) and Newsnight Scotland, with the sublime Isobel Fraser, went a long way to redeeming the media on this affair. But she also asked the $64,000 question - How will it play with the Scottish electorate?

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Scotland’s independence and the role of political parties

Counting today, there are 95 days to May 5th.

No time for irrelevancies, for digression, for sports celebrities - time to focus. A joyless dictum? Maybe, but in a world where the power of information may free subject peoples from decades of despotism but throw the Middle East - and therefore the world - into chaos, where the UK slides inexorably towards economic disaster while the rich and privileged feather their nests, and the Scottish people face perhaps the most decisive choice since the 1945 General Election, frivolity and self-indulgence must be postponed, in my view.

Here’s what Scotland is up against:-

the insidious return of inherited wealth, privilege and the values of a self-serving oligarchy to government, alien to 93% of the people

a return to elitism and selection based on money and influence in education masquerading as a move towards meritocracy

an attack on the living standards of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society through the tax system, and by attacking their public services, their jobs and their incomes

a commitment towards perpetual war as the operating principle of the state, together with the generation of a state of paranoia about external threats, and total commitment to irrelevant weapons of nuclear mass destruction to the detriment of conventional defence forces, with the dominance of the ‘values’ of the military/industrial complex

a blatant attempt to dismantle the NHS in the name of reform with the hidden motive of profit for the friends of Government

an attack on the trades unions, perhaps the last bulwark against the attack on ordinary people, through attacks on their democratic procedures and balloting percentages, blatantly suggesting the application of majority voting levels that apply to no other democratic organisation.

an insidiously growing intent to erode the devolutionary settlement for Scotland, and an attack - masquerading as fairness - on the Scottish Government’s progressive social policies, through the use of highly selective and distorted benchmarks of comparison

a growing hostility to Europe and the European Union, combined with a slavish dependency on the imaginary special relationship with the United  States and a growing insularity as the ‘nation’ of the United Kingdom.

The cynical creation of new members of the House of Lords, essentially ennoblement as an anti-democratic act - the creation of voting fodder - at a time when a reduction in democratically elected MPs is being actively pursued.

A shameless network of influence and cronyism extending into anti-democratic press empires, inimical to the freedoms of the people, and almost above the rule of law

All of the above is actively or tacitly supported by the three opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament, supine adjuncts to their London and Westminster-based masters - Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats - and their puppet ‘leaders’, Gray, Goldie and Scott. If any of these three establishment parties, singly or in coalition, gains power in Scotland until 2015, then the grip of the anti-democratic forces detailed above will be consolidated, and the levers of power will be held by people virtually immune to the force of democracy and the law.


What defines the SNP? What distinguishes them from the other large parties in Scotland and the UK?

A total commitment to achieving Scotland’s independence

An anti-nuclear stance that includes not only nuclear weapons and the policy of nuclear deterrence, but also nuclear power, the latter tempered - I hope - with realism about the present nuclear power capacity, and an open mind about the future of nuclear power developments.

A total commitment to Scotland in the European Union, but internationalist in instinct, as Scots have always been, at least until the Union.

A commitment to Scotland, undiluted by UK considerations, with no ambitions to pursue a political career outside of Scotland. (This is tempered by the unpalatable reality that, while Scotland remains within the UK, the SNP - and Scotland - must be represented at Westminster.)

A commitment to a true defence policy for Scotland (as opposed to international aggression masquerading as defence that characterises UK - and US - policy) with conventional - i.e. non-nuclear - forces

I endorse and support every one of these policies, and therefore the SNP is the only party with a realistic chance of power that I can vote for. I respect the ideals of the Greens, as I respect the ideals and practical action of the Scottish Socialist parties - in spite of their self-destructive factionalism - but I do not believe they will ever represent anything but a useful minority voice.

But within these principles, I must be realistic about the strengths and the limitations of political parties as a vehicle for achieving justice and equity in a democratic society.


I would love it if an ancient ideal of democracy could be practised, the concept of individuals, elected by their peers, clustering and re-clustering around issues, vigorously debating, forming temporary alliances on issues, and reaching consensus by civilised discussions.

In short, my ideal would be a Parliament of Margo Macdonalds and Dennis Canavans, and maybe Henry McLeishes and Partick Harvies, independent in thought if not yet independent of party. (I realise that for some people, that would be their worse nightmare made flesh.)

But it never existed, not even in ancient Athens, and faction and party have been the uncomfortable and often untidy reality of politics since democratic politics began. The choice remains the same, between dictatorship and democracy, however flawed - and that means political parties.

Nothing gets done without a party - or parties - that can form a Government. But governments and parties do not operate in a power vacuum - there are forces in society, some democratic, some not, that claim a right to influence in that society. They are multifarious, but I must confine my thrust to the ones that appear to me to be the most significant - the Churches, the Law, the Armed Forces, Big Business, the Press, the Trades Unions and, for lack of a better description, the power elite based on wealth, privilege and class - The Establishment.

Where does The Monarchy fit into this? Easily, if superficially answered - they are part of the power elite, at one and the same time manipulating it and being manipulated by it. It has ever been thus, as any reading of history will confirm.

Of these, only two make a claim to a higher ideal or concept than democracy - the Churches and the Law. (We can ignore the claims of the monarchy to hereditary, God-given rights: their natural ally in this claim is the Church). The rest, whatever their pretensions, are power elites that, while theoretically subject to democracy and the rule of law, will circumvent and covertly or even frontally attack both when their  interests are threatened. The Press in this context is best considered as Big Business, although ideals of freedom of information and the higher ideals of journalism and objective reporting regularly challenge this big business dominance.

For me, only the law must stand outside the control of democracy, and the difficulties and contradictions inherent in this vital distinction are beyond my limited abilities to analyse.

(The recent BBC Four programme on the UK Supreme Court, fascinating in its description of the undemocratic processes that result in the appointment of judges, exemplifies the problems of selection, of age, class and sex in this process, yet the concept of the independence of the judiciary has been central to civilisation since the emergence of society from tribalism. The first attack of dictatorship and totalitarianism is always on the independence of the judiciary.)

Scotland, with a population of some 5m people, has within it the same range of opinions and views as the rest of the United Kingdom, although I believe that these views have a very different distribution from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Politically, we Scots are manifestly - and dramatically - different from the rest of the UK, as the 2010 general election demonstrated so powerfully.

We have the SNP, of course, but the Labour vote was the most egregious evidence of the existence of two nations, politically speaking. I can only speculate at the reasons for this disparity, as indeed can anyone, without the benefit of a complex, focused demographic analysis, and there isn’t one to my knowledge, although the pundits, the pollsters and the politicians will claim to know the truth.

As someone who spent well over six decades of his life in Scotland (a total of ten years in England) and was for most of that a Labour voter and supporter, I think I have some idea of the reasons, but I am highly aware that age is not a guarantor of wisdom, nor of accurate perceptions of the mindsets of the two generations other than mine that constitute the Scottish electorate.

But here goes

The Labour Party was born in Scotland, and in its early decades was the only recourse for the poor other than the churches, who were riven by their own ancient feuds. It is easily forgotten that, for example, about the only thing that kept Catholics and Protestants from waging religious, and to some extent, ethnic wars against each other in the late nineteenth and early decades of the 20th century was a common membership of the Labour Party.  I grew up in the later manifestations of this climate, a child of a poor family of Irish extraction in the east end of Glasgow, living in extreme poverty in a slum, with little in the way of social policy support services - no NHS, no welfare state - and with institutional bias affecting every aspect of life, including employment, education and policing - and football.

The only thing apart from intellect and popular culture that bridged this religious gap, and the ghetto mentality it bred, was the Labour Party. Involvement with the Party, its ideas - its concepts of egalitarianism and internationalism and the brotherhood of man - was the only real unifying influence. Of course, corruption and graft, ambition and elitism were present in the party then, but they were not endemic as they are today. The Tories were the class enemy, the SNP were quaint characters in kilts, and the Liberals were an irrelevance.

As a child, I had adult relatives and friends who pre-dated the Labour Party, who were articulate, and possessed a burning personal knowledge of injustice. Some of them had experienced Red Clydeside and the revolution that never was around the  time of the General Strike. They remembered the tanks in George Square, and they had a visceral hatred of Churchill, and nothing he did in the Second World War made any difference to that memory and that hatred. (They also remembered Gallipoli.)

To highlight the difference, the following link is to a piece by a man loosely of that generation (born 1906) who viewed Churchill as a hero. He is an Englishman and probably accurately reflects the views of most English Tories, and a lot of Labour people as well, as Brown and Blair made clear.

A personal memoir of Churchill and the general strike

While few Scottish Labour supporters today remember such history, they do remember the Churchill of the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher, her destruction of Scotland’s industrial base, the poll tax and Maggie’s little war, the Falklands conflict. (That, however, is bound up with their respect for the Scottish service personnel involved in the conflict, reflecting the split mind many Scots have about Scottish soldiers, even when they are used as the instruments of imperialism and in unjust wars, a dichotomy sedulously exploited by the UK Establishment.)

These memories, covering a century or more, are passed through generations of ordinary Scots, especially in Labour’s industrial heartlands, and have resulted in almost a conditioned reflex to vote Labour, a muting of criticism of the party, almost a denial of reality in the face of feelings of instinctive loyalty, and the conviction that to vote for a party other than Labour is a betrayal of class and family. This syndrome is rather like religious belief rooted in a specific church, which however corrupt in reality, is perceived through a fog of ancient idealism and lost values.

But there are other factors at work, mainly those relating to long indoctrination of Establishment values, values that inculcate servility and  deference, exploit feelings of hopelessness and dependency, lack of self-belief, and foster contempt for the essence of their true Scottish history, culture and language, substituting a sentimentalised, tartanised, Sir Walter Scott version, and exalt sport and celebrity television icons  to the status of a surrogate belief system.

The above factors, in combination, have permitted Labour to successfully airbrush out the contemptible record of the last 13 wasted years, the greed, venality, corruption and lethal ambition of the Party’s ruling elite, and the supine co-operation of the party rank and file.

As for the Tories and the Liberal Democrats - well, as parties they have become an irrelevance, but the views of Scots who hold conservative and liberal democratic values and ideals are not irrelevant, representing as they do a substantial strand of thought and belief in Scotland. The ultimate irony is perhaps that conservative and liberal democratic views exists within Labour’s traditional support and indeed within the Scottish National Party, and it must be said, even extreme views at both ends of the Left/Right spectrum of political belief, including revolutionary totalitarianism and neo-fascism, with a latent racial and religious bias.


I am a Johnny-come-lately to the politics of independence, and those for whom it has always been a self-evident proposition - a no-brainer - have my admiration for their clarity of vision and, in many cases, decades of work and support for the party and the cause.

But to achieve the tipping point in popular support for independence, not just for an SNP government within a devolved Scotland, it is necessary to achieve a quantum shift in attitudes and values among people like me as I was before 2007.

First, to the immediate and pressing need to get re-elected on May 5th.

The SNP won an historic victory in 2007 significantly because of their vision, their passion and emotional appeal. There were of course other factors, notably Iraq and the manifest failure of Labour to deliver the promise of 1997.

The SNP today seems to me to have lost that vital spark under the appalling pressure of governing in the most challenging economic times the UK has experienced since the 1930s.

Worse, they are beginning to display the kind of timidity and wish to be all things to all men and women that drains the life from political parties close to the end of a term. They have ceased to be a great freedom movement and are slipping towards a reliance on the undoubtedly vital traditional campaigning skills at the expense of the essential spirit of the party.

This is accompanied by a reluctance to make bold statements, to drive their standard into the ground and take stands on great issues. Now, I am not close to the centres of party campaign strategy or policy - I can only judge as a voter with a keen interest based on what I see and hear. It is entirely possible that a great, explosive, dynamic campaign strategy is being held in reserve for exactly the right moment - but 95 days before the election?

The only thing that may save them is the total and utter absence of any coherent strategy or vision from Labour, a party whose negativism and expediency are now almost complete under Iain Gray and Ed Miliband. (The Tories are irrelevant, and the LibDems close to extinction as a political force.)

The SNP’s social media strategy seems to be predicated on the very strategies that failed Gordon Brown and David Cameron - that of attempting to establish a niche in celebrity culture - with the X-Factor and Strictly being sedulously tweeted on while the world burns, the economy crashes and the NHS faces brutal demolition.

The voters are supposed to say - these politicians are just like me, instead of  - these are people I trust to grapple with the forces that threaten my hopes and dreams and my family.

I think false lessons have been drawn by some from Alex Salmond’s undoubted charisma and popularity, something natural and not crafted, the product of a real personality rather than a PR and media construct.

But it is by no means too late to rectify these shortcomings, if my analysis is correct and there is no master plan waiting to burst out of Party HQ.

The bravura performances of First Minister at FMQs in Holyrood are seen by a tiny percentage of the Scottish electorate. If they were, things would be very different, but the Party has taken no imaginative steps - and there are many they could have taken - to ensure that they are.

The Party’s website, to put the criticism at its lowest level, is not representative of the best in web design. It is probably too late to rectify that before the election. The traditional branch structure, the bedrock of party, is not responsive enough to the times. In this, it is almost certainly no worse than any other political party, but that is little consolation from a party that aspire to radical political change.

The approach to the trades unions, intimately woven into Labour Party power structures and finances, appears to lack imagination, indeed among those to whom I have spoken about it, there is a kind of fatal defeatism about the potential for change, yet there has rarely been a better point in UK history to approach this imaginatively.

There will undoubtedly be those who will say that  I have no right and indeed no competence to make such criticisms, especially at this time. I respect that view. I did think long and hard about these factors, but time is not on my side, nor is it on the Party’s side.

Be bold and be outspoken, SNP - it’s now or never, as Elvis once said …

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Blacklegging at the BBC

NOTE: If you are not into a lengthy (3300 words) discourse and reminiscence about industrial relations, past and present – go no further. You have been warned …

I switched on Newsnight last night, a reflex action, forgetting that there was a strike in progress, and was faced with Have I Got News For You.

This morning I read that the Beeb have been drafting in all sorts of unlikely people to cover news broadcasts, and was shocked to see that Stephen Duffy, of The Jazz House on radio, was one of them. I am a fan of Stephen Duffy and The Jazz House, and I do not doubt this fine broadcaster’s competence to at least read a news bulletin. What shook me was that somehow I have always associated jazz aficionados with liberal values, perhaps even left of centre values, and my instant reaction was that he was blacklegging.

A moment’s reflection brought me to a more considered view. I was showing my age, and harking back to a lost time when jazz was somehow a protest music, anti-establishment, the music of Ban the Bomb, the voice against racism and inequality. In my teenage, I felt it was impossible to like jazz and be racist, since the great geniuses of the music were almost all American blacks – Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Earl Hines, Johnny Dodds, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie.

Of course there were mild to overt racist exceptions – Nick La Rocca’s insistence that The Original Dixieland Jazzband – all white – had invented jazz, and an uncharacteristic lapse by my old musical colleague and friend, Alex Harvey, on a YouTube video interview, asserting that “Darkies never invented jazz …” Alex didn’t have a racist bone in his body, and in fact acknowledged readily that jazz and rock and roll both sprang from the black community in America, but he exhibited the Glasgow tendency to take contrary positions in argument just for the hell of it, and was always happy to shock and challenge established views.

And the reality has always been that jazz appreciation embraces all political viewpoints, except perhaps the redneck racists of America’s deep South, whose natural home was country and blue grass. (I love country music and don’t damn its many adherents who don’t fit that bill.) But Hitler didn’t like jazz – Stalin didn’t like jazz, and both went out of their way to denounce the music. I rest my case …

Back to the BBC strike and Stephen Duffy. My initial reaction was quickly dismissed as almost certainly unjustified and unfair. I have been on both sides of the argument over the years, and have myself been a strikebreaker of sorts, as well as a striker: unless you have done both, your understanding of the arcane principles and practices of industrial relations is not yet complete.

If you haven’t been on a picket line or walked through a picket line, then you haven’t made your bones, mate!

In the middle 1960s, the Goodyear Tyre plant at Garscadden (Donald Dewar’s old constituency) was a thriving but troubled employer of around 800 people on the western limits of Glasgow, near Drumchapel. An archetypal American company, and the largest rubber company in the world back then, it was unionised on the shop floor – rubber workers in the T&GWU and craftsmen in the various craft unions of the time, but non-unionised on the staff and managerial side.

American companies were basically anti-union in their instincts, but had long since accepted the reality of the powerful shop floor unions back home in the States, and had sophisticated procedures to deal with them, based on the US model of business unionism, i.e. simple economic self-interest. The company was wedded to the piecework system – payment by results – and felt that it was a complete answer to motivation of workers. Not for them the sophisticated theories of man-management and human relations – the model was naked employer self-interest balanced by naked employee self-interest.

But staff unions were anathema to them, especially if they involved the lower levels of management – the supervisor and foreman structure. The idea of a manager above that level being in a union was inconceivable to them. Their chosen modes of keeping such horrors at bay were the staff association – a tame, management-controlled representative body – and support for junior management clubs, e.g. the foremans’ club.

Them and Us was the principle they fostered zealously – once you moved up from the shop floor into management - as many able workers did - you underwent a sea change, passed through an invisible, but formidable wall.

There were staff dances, but no workers’ dances supported by management. The workers were paid by hourly rate and piecework earnings, and weekly in cash, the staff paid monthly. There were pension differences, benefit differences – harmonisation of terms and conditions an unknown and alien concept, far in the future. There was quite simply, a class divide, although the American managers were horrified if you made that observation.

In the eight or nine year life of the plant up to that point, this industrial philosophy had produced many unforeseen consequences – unforeseen by the Americans, that is. Some local managers understood only too well where the problem lay – the British Trades Union movement was just that – a movement, with ideals, social objectives, even an international perspective. It was not business unionism. (Remember, back then, the Labour Party was truly the People’s Party, not the awful thing it has since become.)

The unions, faced with a rejection of their wider role by the company, adopted the naked capitalist ethic with a vengeance. If it was going to be class war, so be it – they could play hardball as well as the company. The result, over the nine year life of the plant up to that point, had been a series of what Goodyear called wildcat strikes – short strikes of one or two day duration, not officially sanctioned by the union, in pursuit of short-term objectives and dispute outcomes - strikes over piecework prices, over disciplinary issues, over safety issues, over terms and conditions.

In virtually every case, management backed down and conceded, and the lesson was learned by the union – strikes worked. Management had forced them into accepting the payment by results system, and now they seemed to accept a concession by force principle as well. But not only the shop floor workers learned a lesson – the non-unionised staff had begun to learn another salutary lesson – unionism worked, non-unionism didn’t. And the craft unions – skilled men who expected to be top of the earnings league of hourly-paid workers – realised that moderate unionism didn’t work either.

Because of the piecework system – in its basic operation a brutal and dehumanising process – the earning of hourly-paid workers skyrocketed, overtaking the craftsmen and lower-level staff, and approaching, and eventually exceeding some middle management salaries. Staff members could be dismissed with impunity by the company, with effectively no redress except a feeble grievance appeal process which always vindicated the management decision. Staff conditions could be changed unilaterally by management with no appeal process. The hourly-paid unions bargained collectively – the staff had no bargaining rights.

(It must be remembered that employment law at this time had nothing like the breadth and scope of present legislation and employee protection law – it rested solely on the contract of employment and significantly on ancient common law principles. There was no such concept as unfair dismissal, no reinstatement rights – the only question asked by the law was - had the contract been ended with or without due notice?)

My career – if it can be called that – was just starting. I had left school at fifteen with no qualifications, bounced around a series of dead-end jobs until National Service kept me more or less out-of-mischief (that’s another story!) for two years, then a spell as a wages clerk, then a production control clerk in the building industry. This ended with me going off with the original Alex Harvey band, The Kansas City Counts for a few months, then a spell in variety theatre with the Johnny Kildare Quartet, and a year with the Union Cold Storage.

Joining Goodyear in 1958, a year after the plant had opened began some sort of career movement. By 1964, I was in charge of the Production Control Department and in early 1966 joined the Industrial Engineering (time and motion) department, which was part of the Personnel function.

From the early 1960s, I had become involved in the attempts of supervisory and junior management staff to gain recognition for our union, ASTMS, which we pursued through the feeble staff association consultative mechanism. It had become increasingly evident that the company had no intention of granting recognition, and were simply blocking us, and I had got to the point, on behalf of ASTMS, of threatening industrial action.

The company took this seriously enough to decide to promote me, by moving me from production control into the Personnel/Industrial Engineering Department. Since all unions, including ASTMS, accepted that members of the personnel department were exempted from union membership (they thought we would spy on them for management!), I reluctantly terminated my membership of ASTMS and my role on its committee, just at the point they were about to go on strike for recognition – spectacularly bad timing for me.

Shortly thereafter my union colleagues went on strike, with assurances from ASTMS that it was about to be made official. I arrived on the first morning of the strike, no longer a union member, talked to the picket, who were good-natured and understanding about my new situation, went into the plant, sat down at my desk near to tears, then went out and joined the picket line. I was now in the worst possible situation – a non-union member, whom the union accepted shouldn’t be a member, on a strike that was not yet official. I had a young family to support, and no income except for occasional musical work at the nearby Cameron House in Hardgate.

We constructed and painted our placards and banners, went off to picket the Motor Show at Kelvin Hall where Goodyear was exhibiting, and mounted a picket outside the plant. We got no support from the hourly-paid workers, since the T&GWU didn’t favour ASTMS as a union, but their own clerical arm, ASSET. We were greeted each morning by the workers going through the picket line offering good-natured banter, with gems such as “You bunch of f****** w******!” and “Stay out till hell freezes over – we can run the plant without you …”

ASTMS officials then met privately with Goodyear senior management in Wolverhampton, and sold us down the river, telling us that our strike was not official and we should resumes work. We returned with our tails between our legs, humiliated. (The membership of ASTMS collapsed soon after.) I thought, with good reason that my nascent career was in ruins. Two things saved me – one, my boss, a hard-headed, but very human Scottish Personnel Manager, Donald MacDonald who seemed to understand and respect what had motivated my apparent career lunacy, and secondly, a kind of respect from some shop floor union members and shop stewards for what I had foolishly done. One in particular, Ian Moore, then of the T&GWU, went on to a stellar career in management, winding up as a European Vice-President of what was then SmithKline Beecham.

That was my moment as union activist and striker. By 1970, I rejoiced in the odd  - and lengthy – title of Manager of Industrial Engineering and Salary Administration, which was really an industrial relations and personnel post: I was in effect deputy to the Personnel Manager, Clarence Adkins Junior, a lovable American who had been President of his Union local in Akron, Ohio and had been promoted directly in the Scottish Plant personnel role. The plant manager was Don Wolfe, the previous personnel manager.

The staff union demanding recognition was now the T&GWU staff branch, ASSET, representing clerical staff but not managers, and they were poised to strike for recognition, having arrived at precisely the point I was at four years earlier. I found myself on the other side of the table from colleagues arguing for what I believed in but could not support because of company policy, and because ASSET would not accept me or any of my Personnel staff as members of their union. Such were the multiple ironies and paradoxes of 1979s industrial relations …

The ASSET staff representatives were confident on two fronts – one, that as a sister union of the T&GWU, the rubber workers would support them in their industrial action, and two, that the plant could not run effectively without them. Out of a total staff complement of about 150 or so, 130 were going on strike, leaving about 20 managers.

They were proved wrong on both assumptions.

The rubber workers happily crossed the picket line, and the 20 managers ran the plant with no loss of output, and a considerable gain in productivity, with an unprecedented level of goodwill and cooperation from the rubber workers and engineers, who were anxious not to lose money.

Such was the legendary solidarity of the working classes.

I made a point of entering the plant on foot, in spite of offers of lifts from other managers: I have never subsequently driven through a picket line (and there have been many in my career) but have always walked though, and engaged in dialogue with the picket if they wanted it. This got me in trouble with my superiors on many occasions, but I just couldn’t do it, and it any case it made good employee relations sense.

So there ended my first experience as a strikebreaker, but not a blackleg. Technically, a blackleg (or scab, to use the more emotive term) is someone who is part of the same workgroup as the strikers, often a union member but at least eligible for union membership, but who, for whatever reason doesn’t support the strike decision.

All blacklegs are strikebreakers, but not all strikebreakers are blacklegs – anyone who carries out the work of the strikers, but is not a normal member of their workgroup or union is a strikebreaker. So the BBC staff who cover the news outlets during the new strike may or may not be blacklegs, but they are undoubtedly strikebreakers. Before either applauding them or condemning them, consider the pressures that may be placed on them.

The primary considerations are contractual: they may in fact have no choice under the terms of their contract, which may demand flexibility for emergency cover. This leaves a stark choice – resign (or be fired) or do as you are asked. This is a much harder choice than the one facing the strikers, who in normal circumstances are only placing their contract in temporary suspension, except in the very rare cases where the employer fires the strikers.

The secondary considerations involve practical self-interest in many cases, e.g. if the strike which you were not a part of - and perhaps don’t agree with - threatens your livelihood.

And perhaps the most complex factors involve moral and professional judgements on the impact of the strike on others. As we have seen most recently firemen, like most essential service providers, find it difficult and sometimes impossible to ignore or suspend their duty to the recipients of the service, even at the cost of union loyalty and self-interest.

The shameful fact is that this high principle is often shamelessly exploited by their employers.

My last act of career lunacy occurred in the late 1970s with Scottish & Newcastle, as they then were styled, in the Newcastle Breweries, home of the legendary Broon – Newcastle Brown Ale. I was the Distribution Personnel Manager, a role that was predominantly an industrial relations one, and the local union branch (8/223 branch of the T&GWU) representing the draymen, was notoriously litigious. The district office of the T&G had little control over this branch, even though the Regional Secretary, Joe Mills, had been a former draymen and branch secretary of 8/223.

(Joe, a wonderfully influential and pragmatic man, and a superb negotiator, was effectively the man who brought one  Tony Blair, an ambitious young lawyer, to the attention of the Labour Party in Sedgefield as a prospective Parliamentary candidate. Joe died a few years back, but I like to think that he would have repudiated with disgust and horror most of what his protégé subsequently did.)

At this time, the industrial relations in the Newcastle Breweries were the worst – and most bizarre – in the Scottish & Newcastle Group, and they were complicated by criminal activity among a minority that resulted in some draymen being detained in Durham Jail at Her Majesty’s pleasure. At one point, in negotiations over the buyout by management of an ill-fated productivity deal, which was yielding megabucks to the draymen but actually inhibiting productivity and the move to containerisation of long-haul deliveries, a serious suggestion was tabled by 8/223 branch that the company either purchase on their behalf Red Rum, the racehorse, or alternatively, buy them their own tanker vehicle.

This was compounded by the company’s plan to break up the old city centre complex into decentralised depots throughout the North East. Managers trying to stay afloat in this maelstrom were being threatened by 8/223 branch with legal action for libel, notably the Distribution Manager, Fred Barber, a formidable East Londoner, and myself. The early stages of litigation seemed imminent (the branch had a very capable legal firm representing them) and Fred and I went to top management, to be told that effectively we were on our own in the face of such litigation, and would receive no company support or funding to fight it.

We were both senior managers, but promptly joined yet another nascent management union, this time ASSET, which was part of the T&GWU, with the same district secretary, Joe Mills. It was a short-lived membership – senior Board members were first incredulous, then furious. My functional boss, John Benson, said I had gone off my head: the draymen, meanwhile were convulsed with laughter, and Joe Mills rolled his eyes heavenwards when told who his new members were. It all was quietly forgotten as Maggie came to power and the reorganisation, with consequential redundancies, broke the power of 8/223 branch.

So, if you ever think that industrial relations is a simple matter of common sense and justice and equality, think again … The Byzantine Empire could not have rivalled the contradictions, moral dilemmas, realpolitik and expediency of the real thing.

Good luck, strikers of the BBC. I’m on your side. And good luck to the Stephen Duffys and others who are covering the news – I’m not quite on your side, but I do understand, and above all, I don’t judge you – I’ve been there, mate!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Who wrecked the economy? Who is to blame for the Cuts? What Scots think …

Most Scots know where the blame lies, except for the 1 in 8 Labour diehards who are oblivious to what was done to them under the thirteen year New Labour regime.

We have a real choice in Scotland in May 2011 - to choose again the party that stands outside this corrupt UK power structure of ConLibs and 'New Generation' Labour. The English have no real choice, but we do have one.

Cut through the fog of lies and misinformation that Labour and the ConLibs will spread over Scotland before the Holyrood elections - reject those that brought us to this pass, Labour and the ConLibs, and vote for the SNP.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

A death in Afghanistan – Mark Evison

Lieutenant Mark Evison died as a result of a misconceived mission by his superiors and failures of equipment and communications. He displayed outstanding courage in the face of fire, and during his needlessly long wait for an air ambulance. He was loved by his platoon, and his men exhibited bravery by carrying him over open ground under fire to the compound.

This fine young man exhibited true heroism and professionalism, but was betrayed by the the politicians who sent him into this misconceived war, this benighted land, then failed to support him. He was a Welsh Guard, and a brother in arms - and death - to Fusilier Gordon Gentles, a Scot who was also betrayed by the UK government and the MOD.

Get the troops out - now.

This was one more tragic component of Blair, Brown and Labour's poisoned legacy to the UK.

Mark Evison is a true hero, betrayed by his country - his was not to reason why - his was but to do or die.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The ConLib farce – How did we get here?

As the ConLib coalition (the Conservatives conned the LibDems) gets into even muddier water, and rumours surface of Charles Kennedy’s defection, let’s remind ourselves that a Rainbow coalition was possible on the arithmetic of the general election, but Labour wrecked it, and betrayed their Scottish voters in the process, delivering them into the hands of Cameron’s millionaires and possibly a double dip recession.

Labour bottled out of clearing up the mess they had created, and are gambling on the coalition coming apart at its badly welded seams, as well it might. In the process, they have gambled with the future of their supporters in Scotland. Those senior Labour former leaders and leadership contenders who appeared at Jimmy Reid’s funeral have airbrushed over his remarks about the hollow shell of what was once the People’s Party.