2 Weekly Bin Collection: Another North Lanarkshire Labour Promise Broken

Before the council elections in May, Jim Logue, the Labour leader of North Lanarkshire Council, took to social media to state categorically that media reports of plans to reduce waste collection from a two weekly cycle to a three weekly one were categorically untrue, and that if re-elected this would not happen. Full stop.

In fact they said no such proposals had ever been made by THIS Labour administration which is kind of true. It didn’t take them long to dust off those old plans though…

Fast forward two months (and barely a month since the election) and Labour have carried out a u-turn which makes you doubt the honesty of their pre-election promise. Once again there’s the fall back of trying in some way to rope in the Scottish Government, but that’s getting a little tired and it’s time Logue’s labour man up and accept the fact they have made a decision which people are finding extremely unpopular, and which on the face of it is a gross betrayal of the people who recently elected them as the second largest party in North Lanarkshire.

For years Labour made the case that the Council Tax freeze had to end. Then when given the chance, just before the election they decided not to do the very thing which they said was necessary to save jobs and services. It seems to me that North Lanarkshire Labour were willing to make any promise to the electorate to push themselves over the finish line to win the election. In effect they promised anything to protect THEIR seats and are now paying for that by cutting other peoples jobs and public services. I’m sure that Keir Hardie would be proud.

Radical Independence Campaign, 20/06/17: Less Is More

I attended the Radical Independence Campaign meeting in Edinburgh’s Augustine Reformed Church last night. It was my first time at one of their meetings and with eight speakers given 10 minutes each over a two hour time slot, it was more akin to political speed dating than an in depth exploration of ideas. The discussion was supposed to be on Independence, Corbyn and the Future, and on two of those it hit the mark. Former SNP MP George Kerevan appeared to be on fast forward for his 10 minutes trying to pack so much in to so little time; so much so that it became difficult to follow. In broad brush strokes he felt that the SNP had retracted from the Yes movement and had focussed too much on its parliamentary profile, to the detriment of both Yes and the SNP. He said that he accepted that the SNP had suffered a setback in the election with the loss of so many seats, with the loss of votes being attributed to people moving to Corbyn Labour. He finished off by stating we needed to mobilise and radicalise, but unfortunately this wasn’t explored, which is a great pity, because this was an area where I know the SNP was (at least in Airdrie and Coatbridge) light on bodies.

Rory Scothorne of Roch Winds was of the opinion that that Kezia Dugdale’s main aim in the election was to return Ian Murray as an MP and anything else was a bonus, and that the additional seats gained by Labour were gained by Corbyn’s policies. That’s an over simplification; to use the Coatbridge seat for example, Hugh Gaffney increased Labours vote by 2000 votes, while Phil Boswell, representing a split SNP who have been suspended by the party dropped 11,000 votes. Had there been no such split, with an effective campaign the SNP could have retained that, and Labours vaunted magnificent seven would have been a less impressive six. Rory seemed to be of the opinion that the radical left should shift to backing Corbyn, to put the short term aim of getting the Tories out over independence. I did make a contribution which related to this in the discussion; that grabbing the short term achievable aim of putting Corbyn in power only gave us a potential stay of five years on being gifted another Tory government.

Pete Connell of RISE observed that the debates which took place in England around housing, immigration and austerity didn’t take place to the same extent in Scotland, overshadowed by the unionist parties combined focus on constitutional matters. He also said that without extra parliamentary groups keeping the pressure on parliament there would be no progress in many areas and where aims coincided, RISE would work with Momentum (which we really should acknowledge as a Labour party internal pressure group), and that’s laudable, so long as we bear in mind that what Momentum is doing is to advance the Labour Party and by extension, British Nationalism. Pete in fact mentioned that he was surprised to see that there was little acknowledgment of the concept of British Nationalism in UK discussion, nationalism of course being a quirky Scottish thing. He should know by now that Britons are of course patriots, not nationalists…
Hilary Horrocks of the Edinburgh TUC spoke for time about the Grenfell Tower fire and how the TUC was putting members of the community in touch with help from the Trade Unions to help with a number of housing and community issues: she pointed out that in Edinburgh alone there are 4000 high rise homes with no sprinklers fitted. Lynn McCabe, a local anti-evictions activist also spoke of housing problems, in Edinburgh social housing accounts for only 13% of the total stock, well below the 24% national average. She made the point that Tory ideology is that social housing is a short term solution, not a long term one, demonstrated by the selling off of council housing stock and not replacing it with similar levels of new housing.
Peter McCall of the Greens spoke about how across many parties there was an acceptance of capitalism but also a broad agreement that certain areas should be excluded from free market exploitation and influence: social housing and health being notable examples.
I found Jonathon Shafi to be one of the most relevant speakers as regards the debate title, pointing out the similarities between the Yes campaign in 2014 and Corbyn’s campaign in 2017, the role played by the media in both cases against Independence and Corbyn and how both appeared to grow organically from the ground up. His observation that Jeremy Corbyn and Angus Robertson were better at understanding such movements than Nicola Sturgeon rang true, and his view that Sturgeon’s response to such a movement was to ask how she could control it was spot on. Had there been time I would have added a further point, that there was an element who neither understood it or wanted to control it but actively deterred it. I also agreed with him that both Yes (as it loosely exists) and the SNP are not radical enough.

The resulting Q&A session was as scattergun as the debate itself, and a combination of a shortage of time and a few blawhards who clearly weren’t allowed to talk at home meant no exploration of anything in detail. One questioner asked how we could have a more democratic system of government, Peter McCall of the Greens summed it up perfectly: democratise the political parties, with the over centralised SNP a prime example. The evening concluded with Holly Rigby of London Momentum speaking about how her inspiration for campaigning came from the RIC during the 2014 independence campaign, and that with the media against them they relied on the enthusiasm and effort of activists to beat the media and the opposition, a lesson sadly lost on the SNP at present.

Time For The SNP To Take It’s Place in Team Yes

The results of last weeks election should be a stark reminder to Independence campaigners that the campaign for Scottish independence is not the sole preserve of the SNP and that while for many years they were the driving force behind it, it was the cross party/all-party/no party Yes Scotland campaign which united almost half the country to support independence, and while the SNP were the main beneficiaries of that movement post September 2014, they have grown lazy and complacent since then. Many people have been looking to the likes of the Scottish Independence Convention to take up where Yes Scotland left off. But it hasn’t quite sparked a fire in the way Yes did; it really needs to become louder, bolder and more visible: it needs to become the new face of Yes.

The closure of Yes Scotland was the first in a series of mistakes made by the Yes movement (and I suspect the SNP were the prime movers in that regard) in which everything closed down almost overnight. With the central core gone many Yes groups followed suit and two years of hard work, contacts, networks and all the infrastructure they had created went with them. A period of reflection may have been in order rather than outright shut-down, and in the absence of Yes the movement gravitated towards the next best thing: the SNP. The SNP was not a substitute for Yes and while in the short term wins at Westminster and Holyrood were a boost to pro-independence supporters, the SNP failed to move the case forward for independence. As a political party full of people who now rely on being elected as their employment, the SNP’s prime focus is to be re-elected. The focus is always on the short term campaign, not the long term one. Since 2014 we have seen a Westminster election, a Holyrood election, the council elections and another Westminster election in close succession and independence campaigners should ask themselves this question; other than campaigning for their own personal election, what has my Councillor, my MP, my MSP done to promote independence? The honest answer is probably very little. That’s not to say it’s not something they don’t care about, but it’s not their priority anymore. The party is. So while they are tied up in the backstabbing world of internal party politics, the day to day business of attending committees, poring over minutes of meetings, the meeting and greeting, they simply aren’t making the case for independence in the way it needs to be made. The idea that by providing competent government, the SNP would make the case for independence by default is erroneous. No government has ever got everything right, all governments have failures, crises, scandals. The threat for years was that the country would collapse under an SNP government. That argument failed to hold water after one term of SNP government, but the longer the SNP remain in charge the longer they will be associated with and blamed for, all the failings which exist in the main subjects of concern: health, welfare, education, transport.

As a realist I know that no government can deliver the funding required for the NHS, for education, for a welfare state, and that there are things outside their control which will never be fixed, regardless of funding. But those failings are now being used to make the case against independence. The argument goes that if the SNP cannot run X, Y or Z, then Scotland cannot function as an independent country. That’s a ludicrous argument, but it’s gaining traction. Repeated ad nauseum by the leaders of the unionist parties, it’s repeated by their members and by the media until it gains traction in the public mind: If Davidson, Dugdale, Rennie and the BBC are all saying that education is in crisis then it must be.

So while the SNP are now involved in fire-fighting, defending and spinning in a game of self-preservation, trying to appeal to as wide a base as possible in one election campaign after another, they have lost sight of their core directive, their raison d’etre: Independence For Scotland. The three Unionist parties have been for some time saying that Nicola Sturgeon has been so obsessed with independence that she is failing to do the day job. I say the reverse: she has been so busy doing the day job she has failed to promote independence. In fact she’s not only failed to promote independence, but when asked seems to pointedly deny it’s even on the radar. Is it any wonder that the SNP lost so many votes? By denying independence, by playing it down to appeal to floating unionist voters, she demoralised and disincentivised the huge number of people who flooded to the SNP from Yes. By saying that we may vote on independence in 2019 or 2020 many people will say, ‘you know what, the SNP don’t need my vote at the moment, they have huge majorities and I’ll come back out and vote when it matters’. And hundreds of thousands of votes go down the pan. Way to go Nicola.

That’s why Yes Scotland (or another suitable high profile group)needs to be back, making the case for independence. Because independence isn’t about SNP policy, it’s about what Scotland can do if it has the chance to make it’s own decisions. It’s about pointing to Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in Scotland and saying to them “Look! Even with their best ever result in years, Labour cannot win in England, and if they cannot convince England, their policies are pipe dreams! But they are good policies that could make Scotland better. They could actually be implemented here, if you had the belief in an making a successful independent Scotland”. It’s about pointing out the benefits to all Scots of all parties why their policies needn’t be just ideas: they could be enacted. So why not work to enact them?

In the coming months people across the Yes movement will start to realise that the SNP is not the be all and end all of the independence movement. It’s time to get the team up and running again, to be active and noisy again, to start to think again about the big picture, not the party picture. Of course we need to recognise that there are times when the opposition are giving the SNP a kicking to put the boot into independence, but there are times when they will justifiably be putting the boot into poor performance and bad policy. What we can’t allow is for the latter to be used as the former. So the SNP can be part of the team, but not to the extent it calls the shots.

We are faced with the prospect of Scotland being dragged out of Europe, tied to right-wing Brexit Tory Britain, with a hint or DUP and Orange Order on the side. If you can’t make the case for independence from that, you might as well pack it in. Who’s up for independence then?

Airdrie SNP Lose 9596 Votes in Just TWO YEARS

2017 result

Neil Gray and Airdrie SNP will be in no hurry to have a forensic examination of the results of Thursday’s general election as it would raise some rather embarrassing questions. Much better to celebrate the win with some bland statement and carry on as before, but that isn’t an option, or at least it shouldn’t be.

2015 results

Having had the smallest swing in the 2015 landslide, Neil Gray’s hard work should have started two years ago, but he has silently watched as the party locally has shed members by the bucketload. The internal fighting in Airdrie SNP has not been contained and has spread outwards and beyond the confines of the party. At one point they were bragging of a membership of around 1100, yet by the local council elections were reliant on the same few half-dozen faces. Even his campaign launch photo at Airdrie stadium appears to be boosted by a number of faces from Coatbridge. The failure to show any leadership by reversing the flow of members out of the party has had a dramatic effect on the vote, as those members are not only leaving but leaving and taking a bad impression away with them.

Looking at the figures from 2015, almost every other parties votes are up, and in Neil Gray’s case he pulled in a full 9596 votes less than two years ago. That is a truly disastrous performance and it is ironic that the only thing which retained him his seat was the Orange Order voters  who wanted to send a message to Nicola Sturgeon by leaving Labour for the Tories; had they been more tactically aware they would have stuck with Labour and would have denied the SNP the seat! It’s now rumoured that there will be another election in October, and if the more bitter Unionists are prepared to switch back (many switched because of Corbyns apparent support for the IRA) then there is every chance Neil Gray will be gone.

Clearly the UKIP vote this time went to the Tories, but that still doesn’t account for the almost 5,500 vote Tory rise. Realistically those votes didn’t come from the SNP. There is the possibility that some 2015 SNP voters went to Labour at the same time that the hard-line British Nationalists shipped out to the Tories, but that still leaves thousands of SNP voters who failed to come back and endorse them on Thursday. Did they think the job was done and that this was now a safe seat or have they been turned away altogether?

So what can be done? SNP HQ could finally act and clear out what has become one of the most toxic branches in British politics (incidentally the loss of Phil Boswell in Coatbridge can be directly attributed to the in-fighting there and the continuing suspension of the SNP branch). The SNP should be getting itself out on the streets and into the community on a regular basis. The political awakening of 2014 has to be reignited, and the SNP has to be again seen as a radical party of the streets, not a sanitised party where, especially in Airdrie, no dissent is allowed and where challenges to the established order are followed by smears and personal attacks.

A question I regularly people is “What has YOUR candidate done to further the cause of independence?” For far too many they appear only when they want you to endorse them personally. They don’t enthuse or inspire, they are never seen on independence marches or rallies and they never, ever speak with passion about their vision of what an independent Scotland could look like.

Neil Gray falls into the latter category and unless he has a radical change of direction in the next few months he will be out at the next election. His seat has already been highlighted by the BBC as a key marginal, which means that he will get the Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond treatment next time: regular reports by the BBC reminding people that this is a key seat and who the most likely rival candidate is, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. I’ll Say no more.

The Walk Of Shame

Today Unionists in Scotland go to the polls to endorse Tory policies such as the Rape Clause, the Dementia Tax, stripping the triple lock on pensions, slave labour wages, zero-hour contracts, putting the boot into the country in general and the poor in particular.

They’ll be endorsing the replacement of council housing with private slum landlords; homelessness, foodbanks and stripping away breakfast from school-children.

They’ll be the ones endorsing taking benefits from the disabled and passing the terminally ill as fit to work. They’ll be saying yes to fracking, yes to weapons of mass destruction and yes to bombing other countries and telling the refugees they create to bugger off- Britain’s full thank you very much.

They’ll be supporting sectarianism because, well, Ruth Davidson is waving the flag and they aren’t going to look beyond it to see who she’s gathered on the other side.  Because it might just be a mirror.

They’ll be doing all this because they are proud to be British and want to send a message to Nicola Sturgeon that they don’t want a second referendum, and they’ve become so robotic in their repetition of what she’s saying that they no longer actually understand the difference between one election and another as every election is a de-facto referendum anyway.

So what if their parents lose their free bus passes or their kids have to without food and when they become ill they have to make the choice between buying food, heating their homes or choosing which of the medicines they can afford out of the ones they have been told they need.

And they’ll put a cross in the Tory box and they’ll walk out of the polling station with their heads down, avoiding the eyes of the neighbours they are condemning and if asked they’ll tell you they voted Labour like they always have and scurry away on the walk of shame. Safely behind their door, they’ll cheer every Tory gain and raise a glass to Ruth Davidson, the little tank girl. And they’ll sleep soundly, knowing that they are all right jack.

Has Anyone Seen Nicola Sturgeon?

A wee thought just occurred to me. Since 2014 we’ve had a referendum campaign, a Westmister election, a Holyrood election, the council elections, an EU referendum and another Westminster election. Not once, to my knowledge has Nicola Sturgeon set foot in Airdrie in that time. Despite whizzing about by helicopter in two campaigns, with multiple visits to constituencies across the country, Airdrie is left wondering when we’ll ever receive a visit from the high-heidyins.

Does anyone know WHY Nicola Sturgeon won’t visit Airdrie? Answers on a postcard of Coatbridge please…

The Question Time Leaders Debate: A View From The Audience

I’ve applied to be in the audience of a few editions of Question Time and had failed to even get a sniff of a reply. It has long been said that the audiences are hand picked, and a previous edition in Edinburgh a few weeks ago appeared to go some way towards reinforcing those suspicions. Former Airdrie Conservative candidate Eric Holford (now Conservative councillor for Clydesdale East) was front and centre with the first question of the night- and he wasn’t the only Tory councillor in what is supposedly a carefully vetted audience. Fast forward a few weeks and it was the foodbank nurse who had amazingly been invited back by the BBC after failing to make her highly damaging (to herself) allegations about nurses in Scotland and their reliance on foodbanks.

I haven’t voted SNP for a number of years now and have voted for independent or Green candidates since then, and applied as an “undecided ex-SNP voter”. The website said that successful applicants would be contact on the Monday or Tuesday prior to filming and having received no such call assumed that I wasn’t needed. Saturday nights terror attack in London meant however that political campaigning was suspended for the day, and on Sunday I received a call asking if I could attend on Monday for a rescheduled debate. I could and completed the phone interview, where they seemed particularly interested in the fact I was an ex-SNP voter…

The filming took place on Monday evening at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh and on arrival I checked in and had a look round at the invited cross section of the electorate, which looked to me nothing like a cross section of the electorate and more like a gathering of business professionals and suits. My initial impressions were that this would be an overall hostile audience towards the SNP and on that regard I think I was correct. Sometimes you can look at an audience member, try to categorise them and then be pleasantly surprised when that happens, or smug when you get it bang on. Last nights audience had both of those qualities.

Before arriving you are asked to submit two questions by email and you get a chance to submit more topical ones on arrival. The production staff then sift through these and select a number of them to be used through the filming. These are the topics which are probably most relevant at the time of filming, and the reason for their introduction is twofold; they allow the programme to be structured so that a variety of topics are discussed, and they allow cameras to be prepared beforehand so that they know where the individual questioners will be sat and aren’t panning around looking for them. So when they say that the debate is set by the audience that is partially true; they select the questions they want the debate to be about. When the question “Your education policy is failing, will you resign?” was chosen that wasn’t done by accident.

If the audience was hostile then the presenter could be said to be even more so: Nick Robinson. Who could forget him being caught out manipulating a news report with his famous “He didn’t answer” line. Such was the furore over his behaviour, that there were calls for him to resign during a BBC Bias protest and an online petition gathered almost 20,000 signatures calling for him to be sacked. With David Dimbleby unavailable clearly a replacement had to be found, but Nick Robinson? Was Sarah Smith ill?

So, an at first glance hostile audience and a less than impartial presenter. What could possibly go right…

Tim Farron of the Lib-Dems was first up and gave a competent performance, managing to deflect previous criticism of his views on homosexuality and he was also able to point to his defiance of his party’s coalition deal which saw them u-turn on tuition fees. I did manage to criticise his stance on wanting a second Brexit referendum but not a Scottish referendum. To me it seems abundantly clear that as a minority party the Lib-Dems will not be in a position to deliver such a second EU referendum, and with both Labour and the Tories committed to Brexit, Scotland within the UK is on its way out of Europe. Given that Scotland indirectly endorsed the EU in 2014 when it was told a No vote would secure its place in Europe, and then directly endorsed it in 2016, surely the only for Scotland to be able to get into the EU was through independence? He didn’t answer directly but did state in response to the topic that his reason for rejecting a second Scottish referendum was that there was a full prospectus produced called Scotlands Future which the Scottish people rejected. He doesn’t seem bothered that the winning side produced no such prospectus and got their win on the back of a Daily Record front page vow. Had it been pasted on the side of a bus perhaps he’d think differently.

The second half of the debate got underway with the introduction of Nicola Sturgeon, and began with a question about security before moving on to the “more familiar ground” of independence, and then moving on to education. Nick Robinson helpfully explained that education was devolved, which means he must be fully aware that in Scotland this isn’t particularly relevant at this election, but they went ahead anyway, with the First Minister being asked if she was going to resign over her record. Robinson’s responses in this section were…odd. Imagine if someone phoned the BBC Scotland football phone in on a Saturday and began to talk at length about motor-sport; if it wasn’t relevant the host would no doubt cut it short, but not only did the BBC chose this as one of the prepared questions, Nick Robinson wouldn’t allow it to be moved on, at one point repeating three times in a row “we’ll stick with education”. At one point Nicola Sturgeon tried to correct an assertion that statistics in Scotland were worse than in England by stating that the two sets of figures were not directly comparable, only to be cut off by Nick Robinson saying “Yes, they are”. Assertion as fact.

It’s unfortunate you can’t argue the point with everyone. One well dressed gent attacked free education, stating that it’s not “free” we all pay for it through tax. I’m glad he realised that. For a minute I thought it was paid for by the legendary magic money tree I’ve heard so much about. What this cretin was attacking was the very foundation of free education in Scotland, and I wonder how long it will be before the Tory ideal of a maximum of a two child family for the poor is extended into other areas: we’ll educate your first two kids free, but you can pay for the rest…

Some of the questions were not only hostile (and by that I mean the wording, difficult questions are only fair), but were delivered with palpable venom; I could sense real hatred in them, none more so than the Welsh teacher who was the caricature elderly British nationalist brought to life. “Rubbish” was about the politest thing I could think of for her hate filled attack on Scotland, that there is no such nation and we were extinguished in 1707, before claiming she’s not allowed to vote on Scotland’s future. Perhaps she was shipped in from Brymawr.

Having earlier clarified that Scotland would not be offered a referendum until the end of the Brexit process, whenever that would be, a statement from a woman who said SNP voters were turning away from the SNP due to, ahem, independence set Nick Robinson off again pressing Sturgeon for a date. Having said it was due to Brexit he then began reeling off the years; 2019? 2021?

The question on tax, like the one on education, actually did more to illuminate the questioners lack of knowledge than anything else, and Nick Robinson was again called to assist, with the ‘You have more powers, but don’t want to use them’ line. Nicola Sturgeon was able to explain that this was the argument for ALL tax-powers to be devolved, not just some, but when you are playing to an audience of what appeared in the main to be a rather well off audience who think an extra penny on their tax is a penny too much, it’s a tough crowd.

Earlier I said that I tried to judge the audience. Sitting waiting to go in I heard two men chatting and one happened to mention SNP policy on Education, and as a touchy subject for them was sure he’d be vocal in attacking the SNP, I was surprised to hear him speak about how the UK immigration policy was actually damaging his chances. By and large though, it was from my vantage point, pretty Unionist heavy.

Overall if you thought there was bias from the BBC before the programme you wouldn’t go away with a different point of view. It’s clear that on the face of it the programme is portrayed as being fair, with a fair cross section of the electorate and a fair range of topics and a fair host. On closer scrutiny that doesn’t really hold up, and from a Scottish nationalist perspective, this is perhaps as good as it gets from the BBC.