Monday, 21 April 2014

Apocalypse Aye!

The Scottish opinion polls show the gap between yes and no camps in the independence debate narrowing ever more - the latest from ICM shows 52% against and 48% in favour of ending the Union with nearly five months to go to the September referendum.

The "Better Together" campaign (against independence) has seen its commanding lead slide over the last few weeks and its response has been criticised as increasingly negative; from the three Westminster parties "ganging up" to make clear their joint opposition to the SNP's preferred option of a currency union, to warnings about shipyard closures, membership of the EU and even what you will be able to see on TV in a new Scotland.

But a couple of weeks ago, things took a more sinister turn when former Labour Minister "Lord" George Robertson went to the USA and spoke against Scottish independence in the darkest and most hyperbolic terms imaginable. A Yes vote would, it seems, usher in a new dark age:
"What could possibly justify giving the dictators, the persecutors, the oppressors, the annexers, the aggressors and the adventurers across the planet the biggest pre-Christmas present of their lives by tearing the United Kingdom apart?"

Acknowledgement to The Point
Independence would be cataclysmic, his Lordship decreed, and the loudest cheers would apparently be heard from the forces of darkness.

Now, we know that First Minister Salmond is not liked by Robertson and his colleagues, but to imply that Wee 'Eck is in league with the Wee Man has to be a first. How long perhaps before Better Together, who are still to explain their name, start issuing their leaders with broad-brimmed hats and instruct their minions to drag pro-indy campaigners towards the horrors of the Comfy Chair? After all, isn't it self-evident that, with the Crimea in the bag, Bad Vlad Putin is eying up some real estate around Cumbernauld for his next dacha? And Assad is already packed for the Pitlochry Festival.

The Dark Arts are clearly alive and well. Yet the scent of sulphur seems somehow stronger in the hissing steam around Unionist supremo Alistair Darling and his increasingly shrill followers in their Project Fear than in the winds of change issuing from the increasingly confident independence camp.

Secret Footage from Better Together HQ 

Monday, 14 April 2014

On The Eve?

One day, we will say good bye.
Nominations for the European elections don't close for another week and a half, but the poll on 22 May (which coincides with local elections across England) is already set to mark a major staging post in the collapse of the existing political system.

UKIP, a rightwing party promoting exit from the European Union, is climbing in the polls, comfortably ahead of the Conservatives and jostling with Labour for first place in some. Meanwhile, albeit on a lower level of support, the Greens are in a struggle with the Lib dems - the latest poll puts them on 6% each (with the Lib dem option prompted while the Green one isn't). There is a real prospect that the two Government parties will come in in third and fifth place respectively in a nationwide poll.

The repercussions are potentially immense - the Coalition is already coming apart at the seams as its constituent parts struggle to appeal to very different electorates by stressing an often fake set of differences with each other (as in a recent entirely manufactured "row" about wind turbines). Yet somehow they need to keep their alliance together in some meaningful way for another full year thanks to their own decision to create fixed term parliaments. The likely chaos that will ensure, with Lib Dems turning on each other and Tories trying to fix deals (and maybe even some defections) to UKIP, could lead to a collapse of the Government and a constitutional crisis of unprecedented proportions.

To add further grit to the Establishment's discomfort, if UKIP, largely perceived to be the English Nationalist Party in disguise (its former Scottish leader has written his compatriots off as "subsidy junkies"), polls particularly well, its emergence as a key player in politics south of the Border is likely to give the "Yes" campaign for Scottish independence its biggest fillip yet. The gap in the "Better Together" camp's favour has narrowed considerably in recent weeks. If a rising tide of right-wing "Little Englanderism" is confirmed, the social democratically-inclined Scots are increasingly likely to want to follow their own course when they vote in September's independence referendum.

And so we may stand on the eve of major change in the politics of our country - few of the players seem to appreciate just how major; perhaps our machine politicians can't. After all, they are not programmed for change, and for all their focus groups, sound bites and professional advisers, and their evident delight at creating their very own isolated, self-cloning and totally sterile "political class", it is as likely as not that many of them are about to find the Westminster bubble is fragile and insubstantial indeed.

Yet UKIP is not a genuine alternative to the three neoliberal parties it wants so keenly to join at the trough. It is narrow, self-defeating, inward-looking: it is no wonder that when a recent group of its supporters was asked to name one thing they liked about Britain, all that they came up with was "the past".

We don't need the three old parties. But we can do better than vote for a political pastiche like the populism evinced by Nigel Farage, the blokely stockbroker who wants tax cuts for the rich, opposed action to stop tax evasion and wants to cut the NHS and state pensions. Most Britons support instead a more equal, tolerant society: the vast majority want the return of industries like energy and transport to public ownership, back inclusive social policies like gay marriage and want action with other countries in Europe and elsewhere to protect consumers, workers and the environment - all things that UKIP is hostile to.

In the European elections, the Greens provide by far the strongest option for people who want a more equal society that uses its resources carefully and shares its wealth fairly. They were very close to winning MEPs in several regions last time: it is to be hoped that leftwing voters will turn to them to elect members with a very different agenda, people who can build on the work already done by the two current English Green EuroMPs in protecting workers' and consumers' rights in the face of the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition's efforts to rip up workplace safety and employment rights. In Yorkshire and the Humber and in the North-West regions, there is the additional appeal that the Green candidates there are in pole position to oust the UK's only two overtly fascist MEPs. With the elections held on proportional representation, every vote will count effectively.

But beyond the European vote, the challenge will remain, whatever the results. As we face a more polarised and fractured political scene, the Left above all must put aside its sometimes sectarian differences and its dogma; with people from a range of progressive parties, trade unions, civic groups and communities, we need to recapture the mainstream for collectivism, for the common good. The peoples of these islands are not by nature inclined to selfishness or exclusion: we are better than that.

So, for those of us who care for a fairer world, who deeply and genuinely love our country as the open-hearted, generous spirited society it once was and can be again, there is much, much work to do: but the good news is that we have real choices and, this time, we really can make the difference.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Neither Nigel Nor Nick, for the Common Good

As I write, we face another couple of hours of the yawn-athon that is the debate between Nigel Clegg and Nick Farage, two neoliberal con men devoted to preserving a system that works for the richest people and the largest corporations on the planet.

Sounds odd? After all, aren't these two meant to be polar opposites. Well, let's see:

- both support free trade areas, either with Europe and/or the USA (or in UKIP's case, Russia) which sounds great except that in practice it means more profits for big business and fewer services for citizens from Governments no longer able to raise money from border tariffs. Their only real difference is which free trade areas they want to be part of - indeed, Farage even wants to have one with the EU, which would mean in practice we would continue to have to follow all the things he complains about, but with absolutely no say in how they would work. So the real difference between them is simply volume and rhetoric, nothing more.

- they both support "flexible" (i.e., low wage & insecure) workforces: Clegg has stripped all of us of significant employment rights while in Government; Farage wants to do away with the rest of them completely.

- they both want to subsidise foreign companies to come and build nuclear power stations in Britain.

- they both support fracking in our countryside to produce yet more carbon emissions into our smog-filled atmosphere.

- both of them know and patronise the finest restaurants in Brussels, courtesy of the rest of us.

They are a prime example of what Noam Chomsky calls "the illusion of choice". In this, we are allowed a semblance of democracy with rows and angry debates over a small range of issues - but anyone wanting to debate the fundamentals, such as how our wealth is created and used and who owns it, how it is shared, is excluded. Just as the Green Party was excluded from the debates between the two men in suits.

So, if you are bored by the prospect of another evening of these two self-regarding poseurs on the airwaves and would prefer something different, here it is. The Greens' punchy and amusing response to the "debate" on Europe. Take a look - it's for the Common Good.

Take Your Breath Away: Smog Kills Thousands

Welcome to London
 Air quality in England and Wales today is already at dangerous levels in many parts and set to get worse today and tomorrow.People with respiratory conditions such as asthma and older people are advised not to involve themselves in any vigorous outdoors activity but preferably should stay indoors, while others are advised to watch for wheezing and sore eyes. The pollution index is expected to rise to as high as 9 out of a possible 10 across southern England in particular.

This is the result of naturally sand clouds, which cross Britain quite frequently and deposit useful minerals for agriculture, mixing with high levels of pollution from cars, industry and other human activities: London has the worst record in Europe for poor air quality but its authorities seem incapable of taking any effective action. This is although some 29,000 early deaths were attributed to air pollution in the UK alone last year (7 million worldwide).

This will only get worse without radical action to change our forms of energy production and use, move from private to public transport and create more space for natural events like the sand to occur without causing devastation to people and planet. Paris was affected badly enough a few weeks ago to briefly but massively reduce car use in the French capital, but Britain, with our dependence on cars and relatively poor and expensive privatised public transport system, sits splendidly complacent in the face of the smog rolling over us. Even seeing, it seems, is not believing for our carbon-addicted policymakers.

Green MEP Keith Taylor, whose south-east constituency is particularly badly affected, issued a statement: "It’s clear that our Government must play a role in pushing for stronger air pollution laws from the European Union, rather than trying to water down the rules we already have.The air in our towns and cities needs to be cleaned up. To do that we need to reduce the amount of traffic and bring in cleaner alternative transport options."

But for now we have a Government more interested in posing in an entirely fake, election-oriented "argument"  about wind turbines between its two craven components while dark clouds shroud our not-so-green-and-pleasant land.

It's enough to take your breath away. Literally.