Two Jobs Gaffney and the Monklands Hospital

I was amused to read that Hugh Gaffney MP is now demanding that the present Monklands Hospital site be included in the evaluation process for the hospital upgrade. This will be the same Hugh Gaffney who stated in June last year that he was “delighted” that Gartcosh had been shortlisted, and highlighted the attributes of the Gartcosh site, one of which included cycle routes, a grreat comfort to those who would rather avoid the circuitous train ride to Glasgow and back. Mr Gaffney has held his two jobs for a while now but surely he cannot also hold two diametrically opposing views at the same time, although that is a trait being displayed more and more by the Labour Party; for and against Brexit. For and against nuclear weapons. For and against a new hospital.

Mr Gaffney is not alone in trying to occupy two positions at once. Richard Leonard also petitioned to keep the hospital on its present site and later, to hedge his bets, was photographed with a sign demanding that the health board keep the hospital in the “Monklands area”.
Labour appear to have more positions on this issue than a Rubik’s cube, and are unable to hold one position on it for any length of time. The cynic in me might think that they are merely trying to find a position contrary to that of the SNP (also to be to keep the Monklands in the Monklands) and are churning out petitions simply to ensure they remain in the papers and at the end of the process may inadvertantly have backed the winning site and can claim victory. Or defeat, depending on their mood at the time. Groucho Marx famously said “those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others”. In respect of the Labour Party on the issue of Monklands Hospital, I can think of nothing more apt.

As a final point, with all this arguing and flip-flopping going on no one seems to be asking the most important question: whatever the outcome, wherever it may be built, is the funding to build it available? If not then all the arguments about where it should be are utterly pointless.

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Do As We Say- Not As We Do

Response to THIS article in the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, 20/06/19

Dear Sir,

I’d like to respond to the article published last week regarding the protests against “Soldier F” facing charges for murder. As a former serviceman I find the attitude displayed in regard to this issue by many in the serving and ex-service community disturbing. This is an emotive issue, and one which we must take a step back from if we are to judge it on principles rather than pre-established positions. On principle I am firmly of the opinion that those who carry out criminal acts while serving in the forces should be punished for those acts. I cast my eyes around the globe and see cases where war criminals are pursued even when they are elderly and infirm, and rightly so. For many years many of my former comrades would have had the same response. For some that view has changed because they now see one of their own under the microscope, and are responding emotionally, their instinct being to protect a former comrade. This manifested itself in a campaign to ensure that ‘Soldier F’ would not face charges for what he did during his time in Northern Ireland. Historically this is not uncommon. After the English Civil War many soldiers petitioned parliament to be pardoned for all and any crimes committed during the war, fearing repercussions afterwards. Similarly, we now have veterans’ groups and MP’s calling for immunity from prosecution for troops past, present and future; and to me this is a dangerous path to follow.

The idea that we should apply standards of behaviour internationally to other countries armies that we don’t apply to our own is utterly wrong. If a member of the British armed forces commits a crime then they should be held accountable, even if that crime does not make it to court for many years. The ability to evade accountability is not a reason to escape prosecution.

The UK government has a long and distasteful track record of covering up that which it thinks may be damaging to it. The cases of the Guildford Four, Birmingham Six, and Maguire Seven are concrete examples of such activity in relation to Northern Ireland. The sinking of the Belgrano, the Hillsborough disaster and the miners’ strike at Orgreave are further examples of where the UK government has been found to have covered up its actions, or the actions of those in organisations working on its behalf, such as the police. It is not unthinkable that the British government have acted in a similar fashion in relation to Bloody Sunday.

In this case I won’t indulge of the whitabootery which has raged for years, over who fired first or who was involved. These are pointless arguments which are designed to generate heat, not light. As an ex-serviceman it is my sincere hope that ‘Soldier F’ is not guilty of murder, for if he is it is a stain on the British army that will never be erased. But as a matter of principle I believe that he must face trial to establish that innocence. The evidence must be presented, and the facts established. That would perhaps go some way to allowing the UK government to regain the trust it has squandered over decades and send out a signal that when it sets a standard of behaviour for its armed forces, its police, or its politicians, that it will uphold those standards, however uncomfortable they may be.

 

Making The Headlines

On Monday I went along to Glasgow Central Station to help hand out leaflets on behalf of the TSSA rail union, calling for the renationalisation of the rail network. I’d seen it advertised on Sunday and thought I would go along. I feel it’s important that there is a visible YES presence at these events, and wore a Yes t-shirt for that purpose. I arrived at around 7.40am and there was no one there, although the organiser had said she would be there from 0730. To pass the time I wandered off, got a drink and came back to find two Labour Party activists with some placards and a couple of boxes of leaflets which they were handing out. There are four entrances at Central so I headed off and checked them all out. No activity at the east and west entrances, and the south entrance had already been claimed by a Christian group. So it was back to the north entrance, where the first two activists had been joined by another two.

Labour Leaflet handed out on 070119

It was becoming quite clear that this was not a TSSA protest, but a Labour Party one, albeit organised under the banner of TSSA. I decided to observe what was going on rather than join in. I was approached by one Labour Party member who handed me a leaflet and told me that there had been a “3.2%” fare increase. “3.2%? Don’t you mean 2.8%? It was 3.2% in England wasn’t it” I replied. “Was it? I thought it was 3.2%. Oh well. 3.2%, 2.8%, it’s all the same isn’t it?” he responded vaguely.

The merry band of “protestors” as the BBC TV and Radio, STV and print media had dubbed them saw their ranks swell to around 15 in total. These ranks did include 3 others (myself not included), ONE from TSSA, one from the DPAC, a disabled passengers representative group, and one from Get Glasgow Moving. Richard Leonard arrived and spent the majotity of the morning chatting with other activists, posing for photos, or being moved along because he was causing an obstruction in the road opposite Sainsbury. On Saturday he had tweeted about the film “I Daniel Blake” and the “misery the Tories have inflicted on working class people”. Only yards away from him, unmissable from his PR photo location,  a man lay in a sleeping bag in a doorway, ignored completely. I imagine Mr Leonard and his chums had other issues to concern themselves with.

I posted a few photos on twitter which exposed the protest as what it was- a Labour Party publicity stunt. The stunt was part of a simple exercise in media manipulation, the timeline of which goes something like this:

Saturday/Sunday: TSSA Inform press of the protest.

Monday: Newspapers, TV and Radio all carry news of the forthcoming protest. It’s then rebroadcast on their social media. Close up coverage of the event hides the fact there were a few activists. Footage is then used as lead item on BBC Scotland news at 6.30pm.

Tuesday: Newspapers cover the previous days protest.

Wednesday: Labour raise the issue in Holyrood. Manufactured news in four easy steps.

Panto season- It’s behind you Dick!

The majority of the general public see the TV news, hear the radio or see the TV. They will, in the main, go away with the impression that there was a protest and that the Labour Party are going to do something about it. At least in this case there was significant notice of it on social media that it was picked up by Wings Over Scotland and The National.

There is a clear lesson here. It only takes one person to go along to these events and document them independently to expose them for what they are- manufactured news coverage. So many of the independence movement seem to have forgotten that we are still the underdog, we are still the ones who have the majority of the Scottish media against us, and if we are to expose these “protests” for what they are then we have to get up early, get off our arses and go out there and do something. Every pro-independence group should be making a point of watching what is going on locally and ensuring that they have a presence wherever it is required. Otherwise our opponents will get away with making the headlines. Every single time.

Scottish Independence and the Trade Union Movement

Trade Unions must realise that they are drawn from a broad political and constitutional background- or risk losing membership

The leader of the Scottish Labour branch, Richard Leonard is often regarded as a comical figure of fun within the pro-independence community. His weekly contribution to First Minister’s Questions is often followed by a mixture of hilarity and exasperation as half of Scotland’s social media choruses “that’s devolved!” in response to whatever hobby horse he is atop of at the time. But is Mr Leonard really as dim as a two-watt bulb, or is he far cannier than he appears? Like his predecessor he’s keen on a prop or a story to help his claim along; after all a picture paints a thousands words, and with a friendly media only interested in rebroadcasting his claims and not scrutinising them they don’t need to stand up to rigorous examination. All that matters is that initial image for the morning press or that initial soundbite for the evening news, both of which are the happy hunting ground of the British nationalists in Scotland. It’s probably fair to say that Mr Leonard and his cronies are happy in that grey murk which exists in the general public’s mind regarding the roles of the parliaments, allowing him to echo whatever the party in England and Wales are particularly concerned about when it suits, even when it’s not entirely relevant.

I don’t believe that the bumbling clown persona which we have given him is an accurate one, and could lead us to write off all his efforts, to our own misfortune. At present there are a number of industrial disputes going on in Scotland. Some of the trade unions are affiliated to the Labour Party and will be working very closely with them, if not as a direct extension of them; however we cannot simply write off their activities as solely politically motivated. There are real concerns, and genuine demands being made by the trade unions on behalf of their members and it would be foolish of the independence movement to simply write these off as grievance politics. Many of those unions members are pro-independence and are members for the collective strength and protection they provide. Having said that of course, pro-indy trade unionists would be remiss to simply go along with the line being pursued by their unions unquestioningly, and must hold their own officials to account to ensure that their muscle is being used in the right manner, for the right reasons.

There are of course a number of unions who are not affiliated to the Labour Party, such as the RMT and the EIS. As an RMT member I am aware that there are many people at the top level of the union who would have us re-affiliate with Labour, a view not shared by the majority of members who recently rejected such an alliance. That of course does not prevent union officials being sympathetic to Labour and from pushing things as far as they can to give support to Labour where possible. There are many areas where they will share common cause, but members need to scrutinise these and decide whether they are valid reasons or not. I would imagine the same arrangements will exist within other unions, the EIS being the prime example at the moment. With teachers by and large earning much more than the average Scot, demands for a 10% pay increase seem unreasonable to most people, and with the EIS being courted by Mr Leonard and the Labour Party they are receiving a hostile response from many. While this should be of concern to EIS members it’s a win/win for Mr Leonard; should they win their claim he can bask in the glory of someone else’s efforts, should they fail he will have shown the trade unions that he’s on their side, and they will make sure their members know it.

He is using his trade union connections extremely effectively by being seen to attach himself to every industrial dispute he can at present, affiliated union or not. Labour MSP Neil Findlay recently stated that “The only progressive alliance Labour wants is with the trade unions” and this explains why Mr Leonard has been so keen to be seen to support trade union activities in Scotland. The unions have an active membership which Labour in Scotland doesn’t. For such a strategy to truly work though, for Labour to regain what they lost, they need to put independence to bed and win back former supporters. Sadly some union members have short memories. Glasgow City Council workers who were denied equal pay are now championed by the man who helped deny them, and march beside him to rally for something they should have had on his watch!

Pro independence trade unionists must take heed of Mr Leonard’s activities. It’s up to us not to allow our unions (in Scotland at any rate) merely to become the physical footprint of a Labour Party which simply doesn’t have the activists required to campaign themselves. We need to ensure that we do not simply write off the trade union movement to the Labour Party, and instead we must make a point of becoming active for Scotland within it, we must question what the union does in our collective name, and we must and ensure that officials within it are aware of the strength of independence support that exists in their ranks. This means being visible as independence campaigners on picket lines and days of action; will Mr Leonard and his activists be happy to share images of them campaigning next to workers with Yes t-shirts on? Somehow, I think not.

Perhaps in the near future we will have Scottish trade unions which truly represent their members and are not seen to be a tool of a particular political party. Until then, and so long as the Labour Party remains hostile to Scottish independence and pursues its policies from a British Nationalist standpoint then we must fight for Scotland from the inside of the trade unions and not against them.

Monklands Hospital: Coatbridge to Gartcosh Direct Rail Link

At the evening public meeting in Airdrie Town Hall in September, NHS Lanarkshire stated that they had had discussion with Network Rail regarding introducing a direct rail service from Coatbridge to Gartcosh to link to their proposed new hospital. On the night it was stated that this would be fairly easy and that they had an assurance from Network Rail which said that this was merely a “timetabling issue”.

I submitted two freedom of information requests on this topic, one to Network Rail and one to NHS Lanarkshire asking the same question:

“Please could you supply all correspondence between North Lanarkshire Health Board/North Lanarkshire Council and Network Rail in relation to the provision of a new rail service which would run from Coatbridge to Gartcosh via the Gartcosh Single Line.”

Network Rail responded within around two weeks, and confirmed that they had no records of any correspondence on this subject.

NHS Lanarkshire have not responded. They have until the 16th October to do so, which is sadly after the public consultation closes.

Monklands Hospital: The Tail Wagging The Dog

Letter published in the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser

It seems quite clear that the preferred option for the location of the new Monklands Hospital is Gartcosh, despite it not even being near Monklands. The recent consultations which took place was more of a sales pitch than anything else, the only problem is, no-one wanted to buy it. The vast majority of journeys made to the hospital are by car, that’s undeniable. But the vast majority of those journeys are made by patients and their families. yet the hospital is being relocated to Gartcosh because it has a rail link for staff to get to work. This really is a case of the tail wagging the dog!

What disappoints me the most about this whole debacle is that the two main political parties in the area seem more interested in playing the blame game than coming together on an issue on which they by and large agree on. Both parties have issued petitions; the SNP against the local health board, despite having their man on the board, while Labour have issued theirs against the Scottish Government, obviously because they have representatives on the health board too. Labours’s Scotish branch leader Richard Leonard is campaigning to keep the hospital on the present site, while the SNP are campaigning to keep it in Monklands. Bizarrely the Labour candidate in the Coatbridge by-election is also campaigning, like the SNP, to keep it in the Monklands area. Confused yet? Our politicians certainly are! As for the Conservatives, if anyone knows their opinion, do let me know, as I don’t seem to be able to find it.