Power: A Winters Tale

Reading Time: 5 minutes
               Derek Stewart Macpherson

 

I want to talk to you about power. Not political power, or entrenched patriarchal power, but the everyday kind you get from the socket in the wall. Because I heard something very disturbing indeed recently – the UK almost ran out of gas, at the worst possible time. Now at the time I heard about this, it was Thursday the 1st of March, and I was stuck on the other side of the world, in Melbourne, where it was still uncomfortably warm. If you were in the British Isles, you were currently in the grip of the Siberian weather system known as the ‘beast from the east’ so that could have been a very real problem. We all know now that it didn’t happen. If it had happened then you’d all no doubt be well aware of it, and there would probably be an enquiry into the reasons. And if you’ve read anything by me before, you may well not be entirely surprised to learn that I’m going to blame the Tories for the entire mess.

They are entirely responsible for this though, through incompetence, mismanagement and just plain greed. And I’m here tell you why (because this is nowhere near well enough understood). It’s not really the present day Tories who are to blame, although it is happening on their watch, and they haven’t done anything to prevent it, so they cannot escape blame entirely. No, I’m talking about the Tories of an earlier era, the 1980s, and of course one Margaret Hilda Thatcher.

As with so much of what is wrong with today’s UK, it started with her. Of course privatisation has a lot to answer for, and I’ll be coming back to that later, but that wasn’t the start of it. It actually started in the early 80s, when we faced a number of strategic decisions about power generation. We had, at that time, a significant number of coal-fired and nuclear generators (including all of the 1950s Magnox reactors for instance) which were approaching the end of their design lives. The government still owned all of them at this point.

So, with major shortfalls in capacity expected by the early 90s, decisions on replacements had to be made, because the time lag from turn-of-sod to turn-of-key for 1GW+ power stations, both nuclear and coal-fired plants, is typically seven years. But Thatcher was determined to destroy the NUM, so she didn’t want to order any new coal-fired stations at that time.

So what about nuclear, you may ask? Well, as a result of her ‘price of everything, value of nothing’ philosophy, she decided to build more nuclear power stations, but at the cheapest available price. So a bidding war started, with the choice coming down to the leading US design, Westinghouse’s Pressurised Water Reactor, or PWR, and the British design, Babcock & Wilcox’s Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor, or AGR. The AGR was widely acknowledged in the industry to be the safest available design at that time, however the PWR came in a bit cheaper, so the decision was eventually made to go with that. However, due to the delay, before any actual starts could be made, Chernobyl happened, making it politically impossible to build any new reactors for many years afterwards.

So they were put on indefinite hold, but by now there was no longer time to avoid widespread shortfalls in electricity supply by going back to coal, plus by then the UK coal industry no longer existed, and we’d have been hostage to the international markets anyway. It was at that point that the decision was made to go with cheap and relatively quick to build gas-fired generators, which could be fuelled with North Sea gas.

Just one problem with that – when North Sea gas came on stream, we were told that we had 2-300 hundred years supply. But that was assuming it was used the way it was in the 70s, for mainly domestic and some industrial use only. There were no gas-fired electricity generators back then. Using it for powergen has resulted in that 300 year potential being reduced to more like 30 years, and the UK is no longer self-sufficient. Scotland would be, but not the UK.

In addition to that, the whole system has since been privatised. Also by Thatcher’s government. Private companies have not found it to be in their shareholders’ interests to hold supplies in reserve for extreme weather events such as the one recently experienced. In times when demand is lower, like summer, they don’t accumulate stockpiles, they sell it on the international market. Remember gasometers? Those big things you used to see on city skylines, that went up and down on periodically, and held gas reserves? Don’t see those any more, do you? Plus there was a single facility known as Rough off the Yorkshire coast that represented around 70% of the UK’s storage capacity. It was ageing, built in 1985, and needed a thorough refurbishment, but Centrica, the owners of British Gas, decided it was too expensive and got out of the contract that required them to do all necessary maintenance work, so they could just shut it down instead, with no alternative provision. Just like they worm their way out of every major powergen infrastructure investment that’s ever needed. The private sector does not build power stations. They are happy enough to buy them cheap once the public purse has built them, and run them into the ground, but they have never built one with their own money!

That is the truth that today’s Tories will never tell you, but you can check for yourself, they haven’t. When they have built anything at all, it has been with government grants and subsidies. Back in the early 80s, when I first studied economics, we used to call utilities like gas and electricity ‘natural monopolies,’ which obviously had to be publicly owned, because they were essential services and therefore too vulnerable to exploitation if they were in private hands. The argument goes that companies (and remember, economics 101, the purpose of a company is to maximise profit), would find the temptation to profiteer from essential services too great to resist. Then along came Thatcher and said, “No, no, no, we’ll open them up to competition and prices will go down!” Well? Have they? Are you enjoying the savings? No, of course you’re not! My mother, an 83 year old pensioner on supposedly the lowest tariff, got a bill for over 900 quid at the end of last year!

Prices have skyrocketed, as those of us who actually understood the first thing about economics always knew they inevitably would. The system we have now has competition, yes, but what it also has is two levels of private enterprise, in both generation and distribution, sucking money out of the system to give to their shareholders. How was that ever going to result in lower prices? You’d have to be an idiot or a liar to suggest such an obvious nonsense. Now, I don’t think Margaret Thatcher was an idiot. She must have known what she was doing, and that makes it fraud, on a massive scale. It’s quite clear. Google the Fraud Act if you have the time. Privatisation ticks every box, and the only valid defence for anyone involved in it would be to claim that they were too stupid to understand what the inevitable results of what they were doing were. So that’s the question modern day Tories and advocates of so-called market solutions must answer – are you too stupid and incompetent, or too crooked to be in charge of a petty cash tin, never mind a major economy? Because it has to be one or the other.

To use Thatcher’s favourite phrase, there is no alternative!

The G Word

Reading Time: 8 minutes
         Debra Torrance

 

As a gay woman I’ve been lucky enough to have a broad range of inspirational females to befriend. Recently there has been furious debate about the changes to the Gender Recognition Act. I have friends on both sides of the debate. As I consider myself to be a generally liberal feminist (in the literal sense not ideological) who respects the right of transgender folk as well as the concerns of much more well versed feminists, I thought I could dip my toe into the mine field that it is.
Now another serious inspiration in my life is my elderly mother. I was her “change of life” baby, first diagnosed as the menopause. So I was a real pleasant surprise. I am surrounded by men in the form of my three brothers, so my mother and I have a strong bond and speak about everything. She was the first person I came out to.
Gender is something she, and I presume many well meaning people, struggle to understand. Unintentional misgendering and accidental use of long outdated language, is something she finds difficult to grasp. Trying to recite the gay alphabet to my mother only confuses the situation further, however she like myself believes everyone should have the right to live however they want to and identify however they wish without fear of persecution or abuse. She is pretty conservative about sex but liberal about sexuality. Her brother emigrated to Hawaii to avoid the persecution of gay men in the middle of the 20th century.
I wanted to state that before I continue with this piece. I am going to deliberately try to avoid gender studies type language that could cause confusion to folk like my wee Mum, such as heteronormative, homosexual, transsexual, or complex abbreviations etc. I will be using the term transgender which is someone who identifies as the opposite sex. If you don’t know what gay and lesbian is in 2018 my 77 year old Ma says you’ve to google it!
So the first thing i wanted to find out was what does the Gender Recognition Act mean to someone who’s life it would actually impact? So I asked my friend who I know is transgender and has been a woman as long as I have known her. She is middle aged and has been living as a woman since the 1990’s. Due to medical reasons, my friend will never be able to medically transition.
The changes to the Gender Recognition Act would allow my friend to avoid situations like she recently experienced as a witness in court. The opposing counsel purposely questioned her lifestyle and mockingly asked how to refer to her. Luckily for my friend she is well versed and confident. She simply stated to be referred to by her name, and the pronouns she and her. A simple request that some younger more inexperienced transgender people might have stumbled with, intimidated by the wood and leather of the courthouse, rattled and under pressure from the cloaked barristers with official titles.
This is why my friend also supports the changes to the age limits of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate. When she was young, being gay was still criminal so suppressed thoughts of her gender were nowhere near surfacing. She is thrilled by the potential life changing new policies for the youth of the transgender community. Things that were only deeply buried dreams for her as a teenager could be a reality for these young women. However she raises concerns with the proposals for 16 and 17 year old’s requiring parental consent as not all parents are supportive of an offspring’s transition.
I wanted to look at the consultation process and examine the proposed changes. The now closed consultation can be viewed here

Overview

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 allows a transgender person to change their legally recognised gender. This consultation seeks views on whether and how the Gender Recognition Act 2004 should be amended in relation to the law in Scotland .
It covers establishing new arrangements for dealing with applications for legal gender recognition, the minimum age at which applications for gender recognition could be made and related matters.

Why The Consulting?

In the Fairer Scotland Action Plan, the Scottish Government committed to ‘review and reform gender recognition law so it is in line with international best practice for people who are transgender or intersex’.
The Government has decided that because people with intersex variations face issues that are distinct from those experienced by transgender people, we should consult separately on each set of issues. We will publish a consultation later this year seeking views about how we should address the issues experienced by intersex people/people with variations of sex characteristics.
Consultation is an essential part of the policy-making process. We will use the views expressed in response to this consultation to help inform the Government’s decisions about further action.
The consultation goes on to ask about different changes to the act that will affect transgender people over the age of 16. It states:
“ The Scottish Government considers that people aged 16 or older should be able to apply for legal recognition of their acquired gender using the proposed self declaration process.
4.05. There is clear evidence that people aged 16 do live full time in their acquired gender and want this to be legally recognised. For example, the Women and Equalities Select Committee heard evidence from LGBT Youth Scotland to this effect. In the Republic of Ireland, 8 people aged 16 and 17 have received a GRC31 after obtaining a court order permitting them to apply under their self-declaration system. The court in the Republic of Ireland is required to consider evidence about the young person’s transition to their acquired gender. “
Since we are already encouraging young people to get involved in politics, age limits lowered to 16 to be able to vote, I don’t see what the problem could possibly be about them being able to take direction of their own lives. I came out as gay when I was 16. However it wouldn’t be fair to present these points of view without also listening to the counter arguments.
So I spoke to my friend who is a radical feminist, she is also middle aged and well versed in the issues and topics that are often lobbed under the title of gender critical. My friend has referenced radical feminist theory since I have known her, she is often a source of inspirational articles for me. I asked her, what concerns she had about the changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
She replied:
“I’m a lesbian woman who is also a mother who fears for the generations of girls (and boys) coming after me. Will they even have a choice in life to choose to love their own sexual preference? Not if transgenderism becomes the only explanation for boys wanting to play with dolls (nurture behaviour) or girls wanting to play football (competitive behaviour).”
My friend is also concerned about the tone of the debate around gender critical opponents, by raising any issues there is often shouts of “transphobia”. When questioning the levels of medical supervision over transitioning genders, there is a fine line between invasive stereotyping and genuine concern.
For example a lot of young gay people will resist their emotions to begin with, I know when I was 16 I first said that I was bi-sexual, as though it was somehow easier to deal with than just being a gay woman. My friend pointed out that if the new gender revolution happened when she was younger, she could have been victim of peer pressure to conform to a male persona. This is the argument for a lot of women who in the lesbian community who could be described as butch.
Another concern for many lesbians is this new notion of a “Cotton Ceiling”. Like the glass ceiling, some transgender folk believe that there is a barrier to them with regards to dating. Since gender and sexuality is individual from one another, some transgender women who identify as lesbians feel they should not be excluded as potential partners based on the level of their transition. This is something I feel everybody should take notice of.
A fundamental part of feminism is bodily autonomy. No one should feel pressured into having sex with anybody.
I feel at this point in this long read, it’s important to highlight the condition known as Autogynephillia, “which is defined as a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as female.” It is suggested as much as 3% of men in western countries may experience this condition. This is a new field of study and complexities and association to transgenderism is not fully understood. It is however a fundamental component to many radical feminist points of debate.
I feel I should also address some other more scientific stuff here too. Such as Gender and what it actually means in 2018. Well there are two biological sexes, male and female. There is also intersex babies born who are often assigned a gender at birth. There is an argument that gender is on a sliding scale, some male born babies can behave with female characteristics and vice versa, and some folk don’t identify as any gender at all. These people are known as non-binary or androgynous.The scale on which an individual sits is often referred to as the gender spectrum.
It is said that people who identify as transgender suffer from gender dysphoria, “a mismatch between biological sex and gender identity” and this requires review at a Gender Identity Clinic to be officially diagnosed. Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness however it can lead to distressing and uncomfortable feelings.
According to a recent Stonewall survey, “eight out of ten transgender young folk have self harmed and almost half have attempted to kill themselves.” When we are talking about changing the lives of transgender folk, young transgender people have the most to gain. This same survey showed that nearly one in ten have received death threats at school. We need to change the environment for every young person, being transgender shouldn’t be an issue that stirs such hatred.
So to put it into context for someone like my wee mother, I created a hypothetical scenario. My elderly mum likes to only go swimming if it is an all ladies night. This is due to many reasons, none of which is sexist nor transphobic. I asked how she would feel if a transgender woman wanted to partake in her swimming session. Her response sums up the whole entire subject for me;
“If a woman wants to discreetly change into her swimsuit then it doesn’t matter what is in her pants, but if someone wants to gratuitously take advantage of that situation to get some sort of cheap thrill then it still doesn’t matter what is in their pants. He or she would be papped oot the club.”
To me, this is it, in these sorts of heated debates, particularly on sensitive subjects we have to come to a common sense approach.
“Extremism isn’t something that should be mistaken for rational thought with passion.”
                -anon
Most of the current debate has been about the extremes; sexual assault in toilets, infringement on women’s spaces, etc. The debate doesn’t seem to involve the wee lassie who’s been out as trans since 14 and is just wanting a certificate to get a job in the public sector or something.
Changes to the gender recognition act could make life so much easier for so many transgender folk. Equally some of the changes have raised legitimate concern to some women.
To shout “TERF” (transgender exclusionary radical feminist) to someone raising a valid point isn’t very inclusive, however to deny anybody the simple and basic human right of self identity is exclusionary. This fine line of language and debate is difficult, but to make Scotland a better and fairer, more inclusive place, we have to have these uncomfortable conversations.
We have to be tolerant of each other. We have to stop being so reactionary and conclusive in our judgements. After all Gender is fluid isn’t it? Why can’t the debate around it be too?

Resilience

Reading Time: 6 minutes

 

Resilience

 

My teacher taught me to be more resilient today.  I fell and I cried, and I was embarrassed she saw me.  But my teacher said, “life can be like that.  Just pick yourself up again, and get on with it.”

It started out an ordinary day.  I had to get to school.  Da’ had come round to the flat last night.

My maw and da are not living in the same house.  Maw’s nerves are bad.  Da makes them bad.

Me and Iain had been out lookin’ for maw.  She goes out sometimes and forgets we can’t get in.  Somebody grassed and my da came round and hit the door through.  Maw was in the house after all, but she had had some of her medicine and hadn’t heard us. Da shouted at her that he couldn’t have the we’ans coming round to his in case he was reported to the social.  And maw flew at him with a bottle.

Iain gets all upset when they fly at each other.  I tell him to get behind the couch and get down.

Da caught the bottle on the arm, and telt her that if she did that again he’d cut her.  She said if he didn’t get the bleep out, she’d have the polis on tae him.  He jist said, “keep them we’ans aff the street at this time of night or I’ll have ye seen tae.”

He had her seen tae one night outside the flat.  That oul’ woman at 9b came out and pelted the guys with clothes pegs, like that could help.  But they ran away, and she brought maw into her house.  It was a really nice house.  Warm, with lights.  Maw was in some state.  And they guys had taken her bottle. After she was fixed up, maw and us went back to our flat and maw telt us never to speak to that nosey oul’ biddy again.

When da’ went back out of the flat, maw give me a leatherin.  “why the bleep did ye go to that bam,” she shouted.  I say bleep ‘cause I don’t like bad words.  Maw and da say them aw the time.  They fly like broken bottles across the street from their gobs when they see each other.  After she leathered me (I don’t cry, ‘cause that can make it worser), she telt me she was sorry and things were bad and that I was a pretty wee thing.  Her wee Norah.

Onyways, Iain and me, we went and slept on the same mattress in the other room.  We’ve a duvet each an’ we can share.

I don’t sleep all through the night.  Sometimes its ‘cause maw is singin’ and dancin’ after her medicine. Sometimes, its just ‘cause I’m listening out for da.

I woke just when the light was startin’ and I crept through to see where maw was.  She wasn’t in the flat.

Our flat isn’t warm.  It isn’t light. Sometimes people in school talk about when they get up out of bed and they get their breakfasts from their maw’s and they have a shower and stuff.  Our maw isnae like that.  We do get showers, especially when the social worker is coming.  But maw hasn’t been good in the past few weeks.  She gets the depression.

The water is cold, but I make Iain wash his oxters and face an’ hauns.  Iain is older than me, but he has special needs.  Or the depression.  They seem the same to me.

Our school Uniform isn’t in the flat.  An’ I know what maw has done.  She has done it before and promised not to.  The social will be roun’ later, because the only thing I have to go to school in is a pair of shorts and a vest.  Iain has a ripped pair of jeans and a power rangers pyjama top.  She mustn’t have been able to fit our welly boots into the plastic bag last night, or maybes people don’t want to buy wellies.  She calls it, “robbin’ Peter tae pay Paul.”  Paul must be the skinny man who she gets her medicine from.

When we are leaving, I leave the door on the latch.  Maw might not have remembered her key, and if she has a lot of medicine in somebody’s house, she might not be hame tae the morra.

The school isn’t too far.  I don’t know the time, but I know when the morning rolls are being delivered to Detsy’s, its near breakfast club time.

When we got to the school, Charlie the breakfast club guy, said, “Youse must be freezin’!” and he gets us uniforms, socks and trainers.  People in the school give them in when they are too wee for them.  He lets me choose, and I choose the ones that look the oldest, so maw won’t try an’ sell them again.

Breakfast club is great… walking in here, into this big new building, with its big hall and light and warm and things to do is like sunrise.  It’s like when I had a torch and I was able to light our room one night when it was scarey.  This place is the only place my forehead doesn’t feel tight.  Sometimes I feel so happy here, I get a bit out of control, and the teachers shout at me.  But its not like da’ or maw shouting.  Its safe shouting.

One of the times I do feel bad is when people are getting points for bringing in their homework.  I never have mines done.  I cant do it.  I don’t have time. You don’t get told off for not doing it, but its like one of maws slaps when Kylie Loft gets points.  She’s horrible.  She wouldn’t give me a share of her big bag of Doritos last Tuesday, even when she gave Maisie, Tina and Mohammed some when we were playin’ tig, because she says, “Norah never shares anythin’.” I wish I did have some stuff to share.  I feel bad when its my birthday and’ the teacher sings happy birthday.  Because I never have a cake or sweets to give the class.

Our teacher is nice.  But I wish she’d stop giving points for things my maw and da’ can’t do, like best costume on World book Day, or for wearing all your school uniform, or for healthy snacks or home learning projects.  I don’t mind people getting points I suppose.  But all them projects are mostly done by people’s maws.  Their maw hasn’t got the health my maw has.  I can never get points.  And that’s like a punch in the stomach sometimes.

The school dinners are the best.  I pretend I hate them like Tina does.  I know Tina loves them like me.  Where do you get food like that?  Its all different colours!  Things you just don’t get normally in the chippy or outta tin. Mr Singh behind the counter likes me.  He gives me extra stuff and winks.

Onyways, after lunch, it was gonna be circle time.  I like afternoons an aw, but I get a wee bit sad because I know its nearly time for home, and I knew it would be cold, and I knew my maw wouldn’t be there.  And sometimes I get angry at my friends because they haven’t Iain to look after, or maw to clean or da’ to hide from. And on the way up the stair to class, I tripped and I fell and I didn’t want to get up.  And I wanted Mrs Madigan, the classroom assistant to pick me up and give me a wee cuddle and tell me things would be awright.  Mrs Madigan says, we have a jar that you have inside you that should be filled with cuddles and love, and when you feel sad, you can use one of the cuddles and pieces of love from your jar to help you keep going.

But our teacher came back just before Mrs Madigan and told me to get up and taught me resilience.

Resilience is when you pick yourself up and brush yourself down and start all over again.  So my teacher says.

I count the cuddles and love going in to my jar.  I don’t have much in there, but when I get them, I clamp the lid down tight and remember and remember them. Because I know that one day Iain and me might need them.

Written by Neil Scott

 

Oooh Jeremy Corbyn…Poorly Paid Agency Workers Aren’t Just Migrants

Reading Time: 5 minutes
IMG_20180306_195252
Brian Finlay
This post also appears on Brian’s blog

Like many on the left I was optimistic when Jeremy Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party. I was happy to see him fend off the centrist Labour MPs such as Liz Kendall and latterly Owen Smith to be the leader of the opposition in Westminster. I was hopeful that the UK had a leader of the Labour Party that believed in the scrapping of our Trident nuclear weapons and ending Austerity.

I find myself wanting to cheer him on but get disappointed when I hear him acknowledge the ‘will of the British people’ in the 52/48 EU referendum to end freedom of movement. I got even more disappointed when Jeremy Corbyn stood on a manifesto, in June 2017, which supported the renewal Trident nuclear weapons; outvoted by his own party to do so. I lost all faith when he addressed the Scottish Labour Party conference this week and delivered a speech which blurred an issue of poorly paid agency workers with migrants coming to this country.

This has pandered to the controlling of mass immigration narrative which has been made to be a major factor for the working condition woes in the UK which is completely unfounded. Poor pay and working conditions are stagnated and driven down in the UK labour market because the National Living Wage (NLW) is low, precarious work is unregulated and jobs are being deskilled because of automation and centralisation of power structures.

Agency workers in areas such as manufacturing and hospitality sectors in the UK have historically been accepted and normalised. In fact, organisations such as Amazon and Ryanair still use agencies to staff their business. Different organisations use agency staff to different extents.  Amazon has both their own employers and agency staff working in the back office and on the warehouse floor alongside each other. This allows them to quickly increase their workforce to the business needs and when workload demand increases. Ryanair has a slightly different approach, where their cabin crew and customer service staff are from agencies and their pilots are employed by Ryanair. This is known as marketisation where different specific areas of an organisation can be tendered out to an agency or in some cases third party companies; this is common with cleaners or maintenance for example.

These types of working arrangements can cause huge problems for employment relations and attempting to collectively mobilise staff to strike, or collectively bargain, as employees all work for different organisations or agencies and have unique terms and conditions of work. This fragmentation of the workforce dilutes any power the collective employees may have had to strike and means that, where trade unions are even acknowledged within the organisation, the strike will only impact on a small section of the business and have limited impact on the organisation’s ability to function and produce profit. It is important to acknowledge this is not accidental and organisations have adopted marketisation for this reason to ensure the employer holds the power and prevents, as much as possible, strike action taking place and it allows them to tender out parochial, specialised or in some organisations low skilled job roles. 

I believe this is the issue that Mr Corbyn wants to address in relation to his speech at the Scottish Labour Party conference but what he did, which may be unintentional or possibly not, is talked about this issue in relation to cheap agency workers migrating to this country from abroad. I was shocked to see these words come out of his mouth and sounded like dog whistle politics of mass immigration driving down the wages and quality of work in the UK. He has previously stated that with the EU referendum result he would want to see the end of free movement of people because of ‘genuine concern over immigration by the electorate’ but, as a socialist leader, he should be standing up and arguing the case for free movement. Moreover, he should be specifically highlighting areas of the country which need immigration to continue to function such as here in Scotland. We have a declining population numbers overall and an ageing population, we have an urgent need to attract immigrants. By closing the door to the single market we stop the free flow of people from the EU and speeches like this could make us seem unwelcoming. The underpaid agency worker issue could be policed with the legal framework we already have; regardless to where that worker has come from.

It has been known, since the debate of introducing the National Minimum Wage (NMW), that the offer of meals, refreshments and accommodation from an employer can be offset from an employee’s wages. This means that if an employer is paid the ‘National Living Wage’ (NLW) they can have accommodation and cost of meals taken from their pay packet resulting in the employer having to part with less money to the employee. This type of working arrangement can be occupied by anyone not just workers from abroad. These types of adverts exist on Gumtree every summer for remote hotels in the north of Scotland and such like. The fact is agency workers are already protected under UK employment law to receive at least the NMW under the UK Governments Rights for Agency Workers. I do believe that a threshold should be put in place to ensure agency workers are not paying over the cost price for in-work accommodation and meals. A comprehensive framework is needed to ensure that employees are receiving company perks at production cost incurred to the business and the employer is not pocketing additional profit by exploiting agency workers in this manner.

The desirability of agency workers, from my extensive research in the hospitality sector, has reduced in the last ten years due to the adoption of zero hour contracts (ZHC). The use of these contracts, which contributes massively to in-work poverty and degradation of the power held by the employee in the UK, gives the employer similar flexibility benefits they traditionally had with agency staff. The use of these types of contracts rose by 300% in 2015-16 and is most common in service sector work. The ZHC is also more attractive as they do not have to pay agency fees. Agency fees can be particularly expensive and could cost the employer double the hourly rate than it would be to have their own employee but it did give the employer to stability of staff ‘on tap’ but this can now be achieved through ZHC’s. The use of ZHC’s as a method of employment tends not to suit skilled manual labour or specialised jobs which may amount to agency workers in these fields; for both indigenous and migrant workers.

The European Union is looking to change laws and regulations to migrant temporary agent workers which may not match ‘our’ values. There have been multiple treaties and policies that the UK has either managed to not sign up to or negotiate progressive changes at the ratification stage. Jeremy Corbyn talks of these potential EU developments in employment policy, which we won’t be part of as we’re leaving the EU if he gets his way, but neglects to reassure the audience what domestic levers could be used. I found the speech to be clouded and he was confusing incredibly important issues with migrant labour when it really didn’t need to be; as it’s an issue across the entire UK workforce.

It is clear that  if Jeremy Corbyn genuinely wanted to help with this issue he could have dealt with it without referring to migrant agency workers. I don’t feel it was appropriate or relevant to do so, especially with all the misinformation and falsely created tension around immigration. I do feel it was opportunistic and yet he chose to make that speech in one area of the UK where we are crying out for migrant workers to come and join our workforce in Scotland. If Corbyn really had an understanding of what Scotland needs he would back Scotland having all immigration and workers’ rights devolved to Holyrood. This way we could see the end exploitative precarious working conditions and set an immigration policy that reflects our values and our needs for the future.

We don’t need a monument of Margaret Thatcher…..we’re standing in one

Reading Time: 7 minutes
IMG_20180306_195252
Brian Finlay 
This article originally appeared on Brian’s blog

We don’t need a monument of Margaret Thatcher…..we’re standing in one

A nation of powerless workers and inequality

 

The name Margaret Thatcher is one that resonates with more or less every single person the UK. It is met with scoffing or near hatred by most working class and a sense of pride and ‘Britishness’ with others. The connotations of the stern and confident female leader is enough to make any Conservative Party supporter weak an the knees and think of the good old days. The days when LGBTIQ+ rights in the classroom were silenced and we used excessive force against Argentinian navy ships to install British pride. Let’s face it, they’re certainly not getting the Iron Lady 2 with Theresa May who is as strong and stable as mercury at room temperature but just as ‘likeable’ to the majority of the working class.

 

The discussion of having a statue of Thatcher erected outside Westminster has gone on for sometime now. It seems to have surfaced again more recently with supporters across the political spectrum. I understand she was the first female Prime Minister but I don’t feel that justifies being set in stone, or in iron with a large swinging handbag as some doting commentators have joked, especially since we are all standing on the monument to Thatcherism. We stand in country with a welfare state that is being decimated, bureaucratically alienated from it’s users and stigmatised by the right wing press and the ‘just about managing’.

 

We live in a country with a shameful social housing sector which was sold off for state profit with Maggie’s ‘vote winning’ right to buy scheme. Yes this allowed many working class people to own a property but it has residualised social housing and saw the decline of the desire-ability of housing estates once sought after under state ownership. I could go on and on about other ideological policies that inflicted harm on the working class people of the UK in the 1980’s but discussing the Poll Tax needs it’s own blog or political essay.

 

When Thatcher came into power in 1979 she had won to fight the unions. The ‘winter of discontent’ had triggered a political shift to Conservatism and she brought her ‘traditional school teacher’ attitude to politics. A strong woman ‘of the people’ to take on the male domination of Trade Unions who were, in Thatcher’s opinion, scuppering the UK’s productivity and holding public services to ransom. The planned and aggressive butchering of trade union rights through the plethora of legislation passed transformed employment relations in this country. Simultaneously her government went on to sell off public utilities including coal mining, gas providers and water.

The ideological assumption was that a competitive market would improve service delivery, keep costs down and the productivity in these industries would be improved; look how that has worked out. This was a turbulent time for manufacturing as a whole and the working class communities right across the country. The miner strike of 1983/84 is a prominent memory and artefact in history of how aggressive and ideological Thatcher’s regime was in empowering employers and weakening trade unions and the employees. This whole period of time could be, and actually has, it’s own textbook but fast forward to today we see that ideology played out in favour of Thatcher. The neo-liberal agenda and quest for a free unregulated market was not accidental and was not halted or minimised under 13 years of a New Labour government.

 

Today where huge industrial estates and other hard industry once stood we see retail parks and leisure parks. Where small independent businesses used to occupy our high streets we see national and multi-national chain corporations occupy those sites which still remain open. In Scotland around 25% of the working population work in the service sector including retail, sales or hospitality. Just under ten percent of Scot’s work in hotels or restaurants. Traditionally the vast majority Scottish workforce was employed in manufacturing, production, energy extraction or manual labour. Some commentators assert the reduction in this type of work is because much more women are now in the workplace, which takes up just over 40% of the today’s workforce, but this is down to the decimation of industry which is echoed in areas like Northern England and parts of Wales.

 

This is significant because service sector workers tend not to have collective representation or be represented by trade unions; hindering their bargaining power with employers. In fact unions in the UK have seen membership decline massively and only have ‘real’ authority remaining within the public sector. However, public sector trade unions are under attack from Theresa May’s government with the austerity lead public sector pay cap weakening the only strong remaining trade union movement in the UK. In the UK’s service sector is where we see some of the lowest wages, precarious working conditions and low skilled repetitive work. Many of these jobs have face-to-face customer interaction 100% of the time which exposes the employee to high levels of exhausting emotional labour which can lead to burnout.

 

The precarious types of employment can manifest in zero hour contracts (ZHC) or as ‘self-employed’ style of working with a central employer; referred to as the ‘gig-economy’. If an employee is on a ZHC have no guaranteed amount of working hours per week from their employer. This gives the employer the ability to have the manpower when it is required but scale down and not have pay employees when they’re not needed. This can also make it possible for employers to stop giving hours to employees that don’t ‘fit’ or don’t produce high levels of productivity. Having hours cut or removed completely is common if a staff member is ‘problematic’ or seen to be a trouble maker; meaning the employer holds nearly all the power. This type of working conditions are expected in retail and hospitality and becoming more and more normalised and widely accepted as ‘how it is’ these days. Employees with limited influence or power can do very little and as these jobs are relatively low skilled a disgruntled employee can be replaced relatively easily and quickly.

 

The gig-economy is a self-employed type of working arrangement with a single employer. This means you’re a worker for that employer but not an employee of them meaning you don’t receive all the same benefits or rights as employees. This is common in the growing courier companies, such as DHL and Hermes, where employees must rent their vehicle, uniforms or even buy the fuel for delivering the parcels. This model of employment is also present in companies such as the taxi firm Uber. This manifests by an app providing drivers with the customer pick ups and have they have their service scored and graded by the customer. The employee can also be monitored centrally by management to ensure their productivity, working hours and even levels of customer service are above targets; set by management. What we now see in the new employment age is employees being controlled by an app on their phone which they require to utilise to gain access to work. The Conservative Government ‘investigated’ these types of employment practices and recently imposed these employees must receive the National ‘Living’ Wage and be entitled to annual leave but they did not address the core issues of power, control and the really precarious nature of the job. In companies that adopt the gig-economy model can revoke the offer of work for that day with no notice or state they are not meeting the required standard of work and not offer work going forward. This cuts out the very lengthy performance management procedure and prevents the employer being taken to tribunal.

These two common manifestations of precarious work have installed uncertainty, in-work poverty and further job degradation and deskilling. The jobs are designed to be as simplified and controlled as possible, often by technology as the first contact ‘line manager’, resulting very little autonomy. It is known that job satisfaction and organisational commitment predominantly comes from autonomous flexible work but in the precarious age of work it’s more profitable to have de skilled, repetitive and highly controlled types of job roles.

 

So what has this created? What does it have to do with Margaret Thatcher? The answer is a nation of powerless workers and the employer holding most, if not all, of the power. The precarious and low paid jobs occupied by a chunk of the Scottish workforce result in employees essentially being trapped in in-work poverty and uncertain financial position due to having no employment security. In the hospitality sector, where less than 2% of the workforce has trade union membership, this is the kind of working practices that are on offer. In our contemporary labour market, which is amongst the most unequal in the ‘developed’ world, we see cases of CEO’s being paid 125 times more than junior member of staff. We see the need and utilisation of foodbanks increase every month due to in-work poverty and the implementation of the heartless Universal Credit welfare reforms. This is extreme Thatcherism. An unregulated employment market free from collective bargaining and trade union interference. We all live and work in the monument sculpted by Thatcher’s governments ideological ideals, and this monument has been embellished by New Labour and Coalition/Conservative governments that served after her. We don’t need reminded by a glorified statue outside the Palace of Westminster because we are reminded everyday. Reminded that in the sixth largest economy in the world the wealth inequality is scandalous and it is an eye sore. Let’s look at building on that rather than fawning after a Prime Minister that inflicted such social harm on the people she was elected to represent.

Plastic Pleurisy

Reading Time: 5 minutes
So I stumbled across a twitter thread today, quite innocuous but linked to a vital and important issue. Plastic straws. Now I know we have all seen that awful video of the poor turtle with the straw up his nose, but in case you haven’t…
Here at ungagged we try really hard to support all environmental campaigns, and reducing plastics in our oceans is just one of the many causes we ran on our activist advent calendar. I personally recycle as much as I can and try to ensure I buy products with environmentally friendly packaging when I can. We have 5 recycling bins including a food waste bin, as I suspect many of you guys have at home too.
It was recently suggested we would have to increase our recycling capabilities as we brexited the European Union, so it’s no surprise that the government has encouraged companies trying to cut down on unnecessary plastic products across the board.
One of these very admirable moves include banning plastic cotton buds. Replacing them with a biodegradable paper poled cotton bud. The other announcement was from multiple retailers and companies themselves, the banning of plastic straws.
Following the news that Scotland intends to ban single use plastic straws by the end of 2019, several restaurants were keen to tweet that they were ahead of the curve
20180212_220027
 20180212_220046
There is a campaign called The Final Straw Scotland and there’s a video you can see here…
Now, I really don’t have a problem with companies restricting the amount of straws they stock, I don’t even have a problem with biodegradable alternatives that work. What I object to is being told, as a disabled person who regularly needs a straw to be able to drink, that I can buy my own metal alternative or the company supply a reusable washed one.
Oh. My. Gods! Yukkers *vom emoji* 🤢🤮

 

So first off, never mind the blatantly obvious fact some disabled folk have upper limb impairment which means it can be difficult to hold cups and glasses. Yes we usually have our own drinks container, often with special handles or grips and built in straws, but most of the time the straw has 3 day old water in it or some disgusting electrolyte powder residue from that time you had the skits. And like we are all aware some disabled folk are more prone to disease and infection, and myself having an autoimmune disorder, I don’t really fancy drinking out a “washed”, “communal” straw. I’ve seen dishwashers in bars.
Now the tone of this article is gonna drastically change. If you cant interpret the point I’m digging at then I probably can’t help you past this stage.
  • Numero uno!

Before you comment on why doesn’t a disabled person just buy a metal or wooden straw, or use a paper straw, answer this. Do you have one of those bamboo toothbrushes? Have you recently measured the mould growth? Do you carry around your own cutlery EVERY time you grab a coffee? Oh you don’t use a straw to drink hot drinks? That’ll be why you think paper straws are the perfect solution.

  • B)

99% of my mobility aids contains some sort of plastic. My wheelchair has plastic trim, my crutches half plastic. I have a plastic pirate themed orthotic brace for my foot. I have a plastic bath seat. I have a plastic toilet stool (not my stool, that’s organic. Hashtag: poo emoji 💩)I have a plastic gripper grabber, plastic fans, plastic pads, plastic sheets (sometimes). You cannot plastic guilt trip a disabled person. Most of our furniture is plastic. It’s not a style choice like some funky 70’s LA interior design magazine or hipster Bakelite revival.

received_10210744209750105
Not a hipster fashion item
  • Section iii.)

Telling a disabled person they can carry a straw about with them or trying to tell them how they can best adapt to their own disabilities, is a bit fucking stupid. No one know’s a disabled person’s capabilities and adaptabilities better than the disabled person themselves, or their primary carer. Swallowing can be an issue for some disabled people. People with physical disabilities and mental/neuro disorders alike. Just cos you have a granny with arthritis doesn’t mean you know what’s best for Tam’s C1 spinal cord injury and resulting impairment. With all your best intentions, just gonnae no?

  • Part IV)

A disabled person most likely has a kit, a bug out bag if you will. I have medicine, patches, pads, a tool kit, a water bottle (aforementioned star wars container with Jedi grip), spare clothes, waterproofs, a hand pump, and a scarf (to double as a blanket) all in the back of my wheelchair. I also have to remember my phone, my wallet, my disabled parking badge, my crutch, my keys, my bag for life and my trolley coin token thing cos there is no way I have a pound coin cash, and you want me to remember to take a straw so you feel better about the banning of plastics? No bother I’ll just die of thirst in the supermarket queue while the lassie helps to pack my 20 PLASTIC bags for life. Not only does remembering such a shitload of stuff impact my cognitive issues, it can be stressful and expensive.

Remembering a wee straw might not seem like a big deal, especially if it’s something you need. It might not even seem expensive. Buy a multipack from the pound shop eh? But when being disabled is already costing a premium, and putting barriers in way of our independence, a small insignificant drinking tube seems trivial. But when you sometimes have to ask for a key to the toilet, plead for access to a ramp, be reassessed on congenital and progressive disorders, a wee straw feels like the final straw.
  • Lastly;

please don’t take this article too seriously. If you want to find out more please go check out the amazing work @jamieszymko is doing in highlighting the issue.

Please don’t be an ableist jerk and think before you tweet.
And please don’t get me started on the issue of pre-chopped vegetables. That involves knives. *angry emoji* 😡
Get in touch, get ungagged! @_Ungagged

Brexit, Referendums and Independence

Reading Time: 8 minutes
IMG_20180124_114756
Martin MacDonald

When I started writing this on 05/02/2018 the idea of a hard Brexit, an exit with no withdrawal agreement seemed possible but remote. In the light of the UK’s insistence this week that the UK will leave both the Single Market and the Customs Union and Michael Barnier’s insistence today (09/02/2018) that an open UK/Irish border must be written into the withdrawal agreement then the odds of it happening have dropped. The UK/Irish border can’t be open if the UK is not in the Customs Union and the Single Market and the DUP, whom the Tories depend on to survive in the Commons, will never allow an internal trade border in the Irish Sea. However there is a solution. The UK can solve the problem of a Brexit withdrawal agreement which is impossible under their Brexit plan by the simple trick of not having a withdrawal agreement. In which case there will be a hard Brexit where the UK leaves abruptly with no transition and no trade deal on the 29th of March 2019.

 

If the UK leaves with no withdrawal agreement then there will be no transition period or framework for future trade deals and in fact it may lead to no vote in the House of Commons on a withdrawal deal because there will be no deal to vote on.

 

The withdrawal vote scenario I’ve written about below may not come to pass. But assuming there will be an agreement here goes.

 

When politicians talk about voting in Parliament on the final Brexit deal what is that they will vote on? From the press the impression given is that the parliamentary vote will be on the details of the UK’s new trade deal with the EU after Brexit but in fact they will be voting on something very different when it comes to a vote in Parliament.

 

In the Brexit Bill it says this:

“A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement if the Minister considers that such provision should be in force on or before exit day, subject to the prior enactment of a statute by Parliament approving the final terms of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”

Brexit Bill

 

That key phrase is “final terms of withdrawal” in the last sentence. It’s not a trade deal which will be voted on in Parliament, it’s how the UK exits the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Under Article 50 the EU and the UK sign up to a negotiated exit from the EU, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, taking into account items such as the settlement of budget accounts, withdrawal from EU institutions, rights of EU citizens in the UK (and vice versa) and the transition arrangements to smooth out the UK leaving the EU. It also provides in Article 50 that all the negotiated items of withdrawal will take into account the framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU. However a framework is not a trade deal or anything like it and it can be likened to an agreed agenda. It’s the agenda of trade areas where the UK and EU are willing to negotiate once the UK has left the EU and where the UK is treated as a third party outside the EU and almost certainly outside the Single Market and the Customs Union.

 

So the UK Parliament will be voting on one package which contains three things, the withdrawal agreement, the transitional arrangements and the agenda for future negotiations once Brexit has been completed, aka the framework.

 

This ensures that it will be a Hobson’s Choice vote. To vote Yes legitimises the Government’s Brexit vision of a UK outside the Single Market and Customs Union but to vote No throws out not only the agenda for a future trade deal but also the withdrawal agreement and the transitional arrangements which means a very hard exit indeed unless the EU can be persuaded to extend Article 50 and the UK Government can be persuaded to change their Brexit stance in new negotiations. Just because the UK doesn’t accept the withdrawal deal doesn’t stop the Article 50 clock.

 

That’s the way the Government has set up the vote as David Jones, Minister of State for the Department for Exiting the European Union said in the House of Commons on 7th of February 2017.

“I think that I have already answered that extremely clearly. There will be a meaningful vote. The vote will be either to accept the deal that the Government will have achieved—I repeat that the process of negotiation will not be without frequent reports to the House—or for there to be no deal. Frankly, that is the choice that the House will have to make. That will be the most meaningful vote that one could imagine.”

Hansard

 

So can’t the UK go back and re-negotiate if it rejects the withdrawal arrangements or even stop Brexit if by some chance the agreement gets rejected? Things get tricky here. First of all there’s no time left to renegotiate under the Article 50 time limit. The final withdrawal arrangements are planned to be completed by October 2018 giving time for the European Parliament and the European council to consider and approve them before March 2019 when the two years allowed under Article 50 run out. The whole point of the time-limit on Article 50 was to stop endless negotiations with their accompanying disruptions and uncertainty. Article 50 can be extended but it would need the unanimous agreement of all 27 EU member states to do it.

 

Rejecting the final withdrawal agreement would need the EU to be willing to extend the Article 50 time-limit and renegotiate but that would be pointless unless the anti-Single Market and anti-Customs Union UK Government could be persuaded to change their negotiating stance or simply to give up on Brexit. However there is no guarantee the Conservative Government will do either or if stopping Brexit can be done unilaterally.

 

The proposed solution coming from groups like the one lead by Labour MP Chuka Umunna is to bypass the vote in the UK Parliament and hold another EU referendum where the UK electorate vote on whether the UK Brexits on the negotiated withdrawal, transition and trade framework, (again, remember the framework is just an agenda for negotiation), or just forgets it all and stays in the EU.

 

A very simple, clean idea and potentially very bad for Scotland.

 

Now coming from someone who voted remain and believes that Scotland is better off in the EU that sounds very odd, however there are some very good reasons to say it is a bad idea.

 

The chance of a second EU referendum happening is very low as it would need enough Labour and Tory rebels to win a vote in Westminster and both Tory and Labour are Brexit parties. However, even if just the idea got traction and especially if it got SNP backing, then the idea that you hold a first referendum on the principle of a proposal and then a second referendum on the detail would become mainstream whether it happens or not.

 

This isn’t the first time the idea of a first referendum on the principle and then a second referendum on the detail has been proposed. When the Scottish independence referendum was held in Scotland the idea of two referendums was floated in 2011 by Professor Vernon Bogdanor,

“Therefore, in my opinion, a referendum giving the Scottish government authority to start negotiations needs to be complemented by a referendum at the end of the negotiations to confirm that Scots want independence on the terms achieved.”

Vernon Bogdanor

 

and by Michael Moore the Scottish Secretary,

“If we have an advisory referendum set up by the Scottish government, I think it is a strong likelihood, and it is certainly my personal view, that you would need a second referendum on the formalities of agreeing what has been sorted out between the governments.”

Michael Moore

 

The idea that any Scottish independence referendum should be followed by a referendum on the settlement between Scotland and the rUK would be very dangerous to the independence cause and if the SNP support a second EU referendum very difficult for them to reject. A two referendum scenario would require the unionists to win only once but the nationalists would have to win twice to achieve victory. If Yes won the first referendum then the pressure on the rUK side of the negotiating team to create the worst possible separation agreement would be immense in order to ensure that No would win the second referendum on the deal.

 

Independence with full membership of the EU is Scotland’s best option and promoting a second EU referendum makes that much more difficult to achieve. Even if there were calls for one there’s no guarantee that a second EU referendum would happen or that given the current polling of the Tory party that the remainers would win it and even the proposal would certainly fuel the demands for a two referendum decision on Scottish independence. If Parliament feels that staying in the EU is the best option then they should call a snap General Election and the parties should fight it out on platforms of Leave or Remain.

 

Brexit has given impetus to a second independence referendum much sooner than many people thought possible but how will it affect the way people vote? To be brutally honest it won’t, not until the effects of Brexit really start to hit after March 2019. For most of the No vote in 2014 nothing has really changed, it’s Brexit on the telly, pound up and down, the UK and the rest of the EU facing off as usual in the press, squabbles in the Government, almost the usual mundane, background noise of politics in the UK.

 

At the moment it’s a phony war where the UK is still in the EU with all the trade and free movement perks that brings and although the political geeks like me talk and speculate about the future effects of Brexit they haven’t happened yet. There are forerunners, lack of migrant agricultural workers, corporations planning moves to inside the EU, corporations holding back on investment, universities finding that nobody in the rest of the EU wants them as research partners as the deadline to Brexit approaches but it’s just smoke in the wind for most of the population. The problems of travel, having to get and pay for visas to travel to Europe, customs duties on goods, perishable export goods piling up at jam-packed ports, companies leaving, price increases, job losses, no CAP payments for agriculture and import quotas on seafood into the EU haven’t hit yet because despite all the Brexit talk we’re still inside the EU.

 

Brexit will have a big effect on the next Scottish independence referendum but not until Brexit happens and its effects become real. (Effects which will happen very quickly if there is no withdrawal agreement and no transition.) Once it becomes apparent what’s been lost with Brexit then for the No voters of 2014 who believe in EU membership independence for Scotland becomes the only route back into the EU. There is a big danger that the second independence referendum becomes in effect a second EU referendum in Scotland when it must be much larger in scope than that, looking at all the possibilities in social, industrial and cultural change that independence will bring. However the Better Together fearmongering about loss of EU membership and being isolated will not be possible this time and the choice for Scotland will be to stay as a region in single isolated state or to become an independent state in the world’s biggest trading bloc. In 2014 the EU feared the breakup of a member state and kept out of it, in a second independence referendum they will be looking approvingly at regaining a chunk of what they’ve lost. Brexit has been a blow to the confidence of the EU but regaining an independent Scotland would be for them a recovery of both territory and pride. They will be very encouraging about membership.

Brussels as the epitome of evil, or a scientific socialist approach?

Reading Time: 7 minutes
Screenshot_20180209-091117
Written by Joanne Telfer 
 I read Jonathon Shafi’s piece in the Independent on the Marxist argument against the EU with interest, but feel it raises more questions that it answers.
Shafi starts off from a very promising declaration:
“In the abstract, the transnationality of the single market fits with left-wing ideals”.
   This is good and very true, but the question is: what does Shafi understand as the distinction between abstract and concrete? Not a great deal it seems, judging by his next sentence:
“Every mass social movement that has laid a national democratic challenge has found itself confronted by the infrastructure of the EU”.

Whilst this is an indisputable fact, it’s not a progression from abstract to concrete in theory (the method of Marx). It’s a juxtaposition of abstract thought with material object. That’s the vulgar distinction of abstract and concrete, which is a legacy of medieval thinking. Under that sort of rationale, the abstract is the musings of mind and concrete is the hard surface of stuff. Two worlds nicely separated from each other, worlds that never meet.

This is not the method of Marx. For Marx, ideas in heads were just as real as physical objects outside those heads, he had no truck with either vulgar materialists or idealists. For Marx, material conditions preceded thought and ultimately dominated it, but the concrete and abstract are not distinct, two world states of existence. For Marx, as was the case in classical Greece, the abstract is abstraction (a sample) and the concrete was the totality of what is real whether this is inert matter or living biological matter, or the products of human labour, either by hand or by brain.

 

So let’s proceed. You can’t easily raise a polemic against Shafi on the basis of what he says because it isn’t much, but let me try. He cites Yanis Varoufakis which is interesting. Now Varoufakis let me say, is just as much muddled as Shafi is, but in a different way. Y V has direct experience of being on the front line in relation to the EU, in the trenches as it were. Shafi hasn’t as far as I know. I give greater weight therefore to the analysis provided by Y V. Shafi falls down by his abstract concepts, Varoufakis on the other hand, falls down by his abstract solutions.

But

The key to understanding the EU, lies in its political economy and not in its potential to invoke moral outrage. Beneath the surface appearance of neo-liberal ideology, lurks the essence of finance capital, in its leading historical role in modernity. This is something that Y V gets and that Shafi either doesn’t get or ignores. Where I despair with the former Greek Finance minister, is his popular front remedy. Does he know nothing of Spain in the 1930’s? A transnational problem requires a transnational solution. But it has to be built on a class basis, it has to be based on working people across the continent. The ideological fellow travellers from the liberal bourgeoisie and celebrities of conscience will stab such a movement in the back and in the front when the going gets rough.

 

So what are the perspectives?

 

Perspectives should be about short term forecasts of future events, based on probability, there are no genuine clairvoyants. The EU referendum was of course, propagated by the remain side to include dire predictions. In reality what happened was that the pound fell in relation to other currencies, significantly but not disastrously, though it has to be said the significance was felt more acutely by the poor rather than the rich. The value of the pound of course, is a speculative matter. The casino nature of capitalism is abstract, by which I mean it’s part of the totality, even though this has concrete repercussions in some people’s lives.

 

A paper produced by a group calling itself Open Britain, makes interesting reading (2). Of course to be generous, this is a left reformist take on these matters, a business as usual take with a Neo-Keynsian economic bent. But to me it’s a serious consideration of the facts. It’s by no means Blairite bullshit, unless you think all this sort of stuff is conscious conspiracy and everyone we disagree with is a deliberate liar. To me, that’s not a Marxist approach at all. People do lie and people do conspire but the very best lies and the very best conspiracies tend to be closer to the truth or closer to accepted truth, than conspiracy theorists abstractly imagine. The acid test is always to see how concrete (in a Marxist sense) the propositions are.

 

Frederich Engels gave weight to the importance of the transformation of quantity into quantity and vice versa. In the concrete concept of Brexit, this transition has many answers but the qualitative change is in most instances, significantly negative in a quantitative result. In other words, Brexit will have a negative economic impact under any scenario, at least in the short term. I don’t think that is really a controversial point, what is controversial concerns what happens next.

 

In the Brexit version of events, British exceptionalism, the abandoned project of empire and commonwealth will be restored to its former glory. The Lexit version of events is of course distinct but abstractly distinct. It’s in heads not connected to bodies and by this I mean there is no plan of action. Its only concrete expression would be in the framework of accelerationism and I’ve heard this articulated. Brexit will bring about the collapse of the EU and shit will get so bad in the UK that workers in their millions will flock to the red flag. This in a sense is a more concrete position than the moral outrage saga of Brussels bad, London good. It is however bad concrete because by analogy it’s the equivalent of throwing shit and sand into the cement mixer rather than sand and cement.

 

Marx’s idea of accelerationism was to advocate free trade, remove the feudal barriers to the development of capitalism so that the grave diggers of capitalism, the proletariat would grow in strength and numbers. Anything else is just a fantasy of pure idealism. This is well illustrated by Marx’s critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. (3) and his 11th Thesis on Feuerbach (4). Socialism, scientific socialism is not a matter of lighting the blue touch paper and stepping back in the expectation of fireworks, it’s about plotting the course of history and making calculated informed interventions with a coherent strategy, employing the living brain against the dead weight of past generations. This is what Marx means when he says reality must strive towards thought. There is nothing in the Lexit narrative which points to any practical measures that can be taken for the proletariat to benefit from Brexit.

 

Corbyn to the rescue?

 

The situation has developed of course since 2016, when I wrote my article on Bosses clubs,  left wing communism and the fantasy of left exit from the EU (5). Cameron resigned and the Tory party shifted to the right under new leadership. The toffs are out and a new layer of not so posh but the rather more radical, petit bourgeois front line arrived with talk of bringing back grammar schools and of May being the new Maggie Thatcher. The UKIP vote collapsed but ostensibly I think kippers feel that their people are now in charge. Rees-Mogg of course (tipped as a possible future leader and bookies favourite at 9:2) is posh but an arch reactionary who once suggested a pact with the Kippers.

 

The Blairites and various Brownites immediately moved against Corbyn with the backing of most of the PLP but failed to oust him. ‘Maggie’ May, strong and stable, called a surprise election, throwing the SNP strategy into chaos and labour published the most radical manifesto since the seventies. But does this mean we can declare the Brexit referendum a victory for the left? There’s nothing in labour’s 2017 election manifesto that would be impossible under EU rules or under rules which would apply by membership of EFTA.

 

Labour came a respectable second with the new Tory government, propped up by the reactionary DUP.  Had there been no EU referendum, my guess is that labour would have won. Class issues have been subsumed to a significant extent because of the great debate over the relationship with Europe. The Tories themselves have been so engrossed in the EU question that  they themselves have little energy to devote to domestic issues, so we haven’t really yet seen just how bad for working people this Tory government can become.

 

Labour also has a long hard journey to significantly shift the public consciousness, after decades of Thatcherism and Blairism. Of course class consciousness has its own momentum  but the Labour party is now trying to restore itself as the mass party of the working class. Brexit gets in the way of this, especially as the NHS and social care, rely on significant numbers of EU migrants. The ones that the Tory right and the Kippers feel so passionately about excluding.

 

If the outcome of negotiations is WTO rules, which is the way that it’s looking, the there will be economic decline and this will be self-inflicted. This is never a problem for the rich because they simply pass the burden on to the poor. If you own capital, then you can move it to any part of the world that gives you a better return. The much maligned freedom of movement is always available to those with wealth.

 

If a Labour government comes to power on or before 2022, they will have a huge task on their hands and the worse the ultimate settlement with the EU is, the harder that task will become. No Labour government in the UK has ever put forward a full blooded socialist programme and any future Labour government would need to be pushed by events to even contemplate that. Whilst they may be pushed by events they will also be restrained by their own inertia. Not just their faith in Keynesian economics but the careerists and renegades in their own midst.

 

An election of a Labour government in the UK would be a positive development, not so much because it would be bound to deliver socialism which it almost certainly would not, but because it shifts the social narrative and puts socialism back on the agenda of possible futures.

Perhaps the accelerationists are right and I am wrong. Perhaps the whip of reaction, falling living standards and brutal nineteenth century capitalism is what we need to wake us all up but my answer to that is that turning class consciousness into political consciousness and revolutionary praxis, is what is possible when a class is moving forward with renewed confidence, not what happens when a class is in retreat, blaming the immigrant or the bureaucrats of Brussels, for what is really a global international class question, concerning the mode of production and its given property relations.

Who Are More United?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

 

IMG_20180124_114756
Martin MacDonald 

Recently the Scotland in Union organisation hit the headlines with a major information leak to independence bloggers such as Wings Scotland and Bellacaledonia and even the unionist These Islands got a little press coverage when a member of its advisory council, Professor Nigel Biggar, got into a row about his defence of the British Empire but More United forms the third leg of the unionist triumvirate and even though it has proved to be the most dangerous so far, not many people know what it did and what it does.

More United is a brainchild of Lord (Paddy) Ashdown. Its stated aim seems laudable enough, it’s there to create a new model of politics, making it less extreme, less tribal and giving the electorate more power to make an impact and although it’s not explicitly unionist a quick glance at its “Team” shows strong unionist make up to its management.

The original More United company was formed by Austin Rathe, Paddy Ashdown, Maurice Biriotti and Elizabeth (Bess) Mayhew on the 18th of June 2016 and the current directors are Austin Rathe, Paddy Ashdown, Maurice Biriotti, Corinne Sawers and Dan Snow.

On the More United website information on the “The Team” page is split into two sections.

The first section is simply called “The Team” and comprises, Bess Mayhew, Austin Rathe, Corinne Sawers, Maurice Biriotti and Paddy Ashdown.

The second section are the “Convenors” (and it has some cross-over with the aforementioned Team).

They are:

Anne-Marie Imafidon, Social Tech Entrepreneur

Clare Gerada, Medical Practitioner

Dan Snow, Broadcaster

Gia Milinovich, Writer and Presenter

Janet Smith, Former High Court Judge

Jeremy Bliss, Lawyer and Entrepreneur

Jonathon Porritt, Environmentalist and Green Party Member

Josh Babarinde, Social Entrepreneur and Youth Worker

Luke Pritchard, Entertainer

Maajid Nawaz, Author, Activist and Columnist

Martha Lane Fox, Entrepreneur

Maurice Biriotti, Businessman and Academic

Paddy Ashdown, Politician

Rumi Verjee, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist

Simon Schama, Writer, Broadcaster and Professor

Sunny Hundal, Columnist and Lecturer

 

There are some interesting snippets of information about those Team members and Convenors which can be found on the web.

Corinne Sawers’ father Sir Robert John Sawers used to run MI6.

There are three members of the House of Lords in there, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, Lord Verjee and Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho.

There’s a strong Lib-Dem influence. Paddy Ashdown of course, the ex-leader of the Lib-Dems and a Lib-Dem Lord. Bess Mayhew and Austin Rathe are both ex-Lib-Dem staffers, Clare Gerada is a Lib-Dem, Josh Babarinde used to work as a parliamentary assistant for Lib-Dem MP Stephen Lloyd, Maajid Nawaz was the Lib-Dem candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn constituency in 2015 and Rumi Verjee is a Lib-Dem Lord.

Team members and convenors who came out against Scottish independence are Clare Gerada, Martha Lane Fox and Jonathon Porritt on twitter, Paddy Ashdown on Question Time, Simon Schama as a signatory to the “Let’s Stay Together” open letter and Sunny Hundal on his blog and of course, last but not least Dan Snow who was heavily involved in the Electoral Commission registered “Let’s stay together” campaign and the Trafalgar Square rally.

If Scotland in Union, These Islands and More United form the three legs of a unionist triumvirate in Scotland then Dan Snow forms the apex of the three which links them all together. He’s an enthusiastic promoter of Scotland in Union, appearing at dinners and doing videos for them, he’s on the Advisory Council for These Islands and he’s a director and convenor of More United.

So what does More United actually do? Very simply, it fundraises and uses the cash to support candidates in a General Election who support its values.

The problem for the SNP, quite apart from the unionist Dan Snow as a director, is that one of More United’s values is:

“Openness: we welcome immigration, but understand it must work for everyone, and believe in bringing down international barriers, not raising them.”,

which makes it very difficult for them to endorse an SNP candidate even if by some odd stroke of fate they wanted to.  The unionist make up of the More United team includes Dan Snow, Paddy Ashdown and Simon Schama so it’s probably no accident that “bringing down international barriers, not raising them” was written into their values. Whatever happens in the rest of the UK, in Scotland More United will be a unionist organisation which will always support candidates against the SNP.

 

The following twitter exchange is instructive:

 

Jack‏ @minkpill

Replying to @MoreUnitedUK

Why are we attempting to deseat SNP mps?

10:10 PM – 5 May 2017

 

More United‏ @MoreUnitedUK

Replying to @minkpill

Hey! MU is firmly supportive of maintaining the union of England and Scotland (and the rest of the UK!)

10:59 AM – 8 May 2017

 

So what did More United do in Scotland in the 2017 General Election? In 2017 More United supported and endorsed six candidates in Scotland of whom the majority were not surprisingly Lib-Dems and where their nearest opponent in each case was an SNP candidate. They were:

 

Alistair Carmichael (LD) Orkney and Shetland against Miriam Brett (SNP)

Christine Jardine (LD) Edinburgh West against Toni Giugliano (SNP)

Jamie Stone (LD) Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross against Paul Monaghan (SNP)

Ian Murray (Lab) Edinburgh South against Jim Eadie (SNP)

Jo Swinson (LD) East Dunbartonshire against John Nicolson (SNP)

Elizabeth Riches (LD) North East Fife against Stephen Gethins (SNP)

 

From Electoral Commission data More United donated:

 

£5,000 to Christine Jardine in Edinburgh West

£3,000 to Jo Swinson in East Dunbartonshire

£5,000 to Elizabeth Riches in North East and Central Fife

£2,000 to Jamie Stone in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

Although this last one is an odd one. He received his money a month after the election on 07/07/2017. Every other More United donation was before the poll.

So in Scotland they pumped a direct cash injection of £13,000 into three target Lib-Dem constituency campaigns before the election and £2,000 into a Lib-Dem seat after the election and of the six candidates they supported, five got elected and Elizabeth Riches just got pipped at the post by two votes by the SNP’s Stephen Gethins in North East Fife.

Support was not just limited to cash. Support can include formal endorsement, donations and voluntary support. Each supported constituency had a More United page and the call for support for each candidate on the the last day of the campaign is still up if you Google for it.

From the More United annual report:

“As well as donations, 1000 MU supporters around the UK were mobilised to volunteer around the country. Collectively they gave 3,000 hours over 5 weeks – the equivalent of a year and a half’s full time work.”

 

Now to be fair to More United they were not the sole donors to these constituencies. From the Electoral Commission data, only six Lib-Dem constituencies got direct donations between the announcement of the General Election on 18th of April 2017 and the poll on the 8th of June 2017 and the total figures are below. (It’s seven if you count Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross who got a donation from More United after the election.)

 

Jo Swinson in East Dunbartonshire got £35,000

Christine Jardine in Edinburgh West got £24,000

Elizabeth Riches who tried for North East and Central Fife got £20,000

Alistair Carmichael in Orkney & Shetland got £12,000

John Waddell in Aberdeenshire West got £5,000 (A single donation from Balmoral Comtec Limited based in Aberdeen.)

Martin Veart in Edinburgh North East and Leith got £2,000 (From a North East and Leith Lib-Dem donor)

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) got £2,000 from More United but not until a month after the election.

 

From the figures it’s easy to see the four target Lib-Dem seats where a lot of money was directed in from the outside to support the campaign. They must have been gutted not to get North East and Central Fife and it’s certainly clear why Jo Swinson had money to burn on undelivered leaflets.

 

More United were not the only donors or the only reason that the four Lib-Dem MPs and and Ian Murray got into Parliament but they certainly were significant donors of cash and organised help for campaign work in the target constituencies.

 

Scotland in Union is there to provide funding to the Unionist side in the next referendum, These Islands is there to give a veneer of academic respectability to their arguments and More United is committed to fighting against the SNP in elections.

 

As a unionist organisation More United is much more dangerous than Scotland in Union in elections because even though Scotland in Union spent £73,818.21 in Scotland in the 2017 General Election they spent it on their own literature and events while More United donated directly to four of their five Lib-Dem candidates and endorsed and organised help for Carmichael and Murray.

 

More United claim to have raised over £500,000 before the last General Election and from Electoral Commission data they donated £159,800 in the 2017 General Election to various candidates across the UK. Because they spent more than £250,000 their spending figures are not up on the Electoral Commission site yet and when that information goes live it will be interesting to see what they spent their money on and if there’s a way to find out what portion was spent in Scotland.

 

More United have their sights on Scottish Parliamentary elections,

 

“As we grow and raise more, we may begin to support candidates in other types of election, such as Scottish and Welsh or mayoral elections. “

 

And with over 94,000 supporters, including 14,000 paying members they have ambition:

 

“We aim to make More United the biggest source of people, money and power in British politics. If we do, the extreme forces that have taken over our democracy won’t stand a chance.”

 

When it comes to elections forget Scotland in Union, the real unionist danger comes from More United.

 

UNIVERSAL CREDIT EQUALS MISERY FOR ALL.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

image5

Sandra Webster

A version of this article first appeared in The Scottish Left Review

The roll-out of the Tory government’s flagship policy is woefully behind schedule. However by this time next year all of Scotland and the UK will be covered, with individuals and their families in work age benefits having to apply. It is the responsibility of the left to not only support all who are affected by this cruel regime, but offer an alternative and help organise a campaign against it.

 

It was Frank Fields and New Labour who first mooted the concept of Universal Credit. A single payment instead of having to claim for different benefits. This was over six years ago. After the tories came to power Ian Duncan Smith announced this as their flagship policy “To make work pay”. Individuals and families would receive a single monthly payment, one per household as working families did. Even at this early stage the third sector and charities warned of the dangers of paying housing benefit directly, instead of to landlords, and concerns for the children and frequently partner who would no longer receive any payment, not even child benefit. It has long been accepted that child benefit should be paid to the main family carer of children and provides a very basic safety net of regular income. Like the remainder and premise of a decent welfare state this is likely to be demolished as we move towards the Americanization of state benefits.

 

Work must pay” according to the Tories and if this means single parents having to travel long distances and be unable to care for school age children, so be it. In the areas where Universal Credit has been trialled there have been reports of individuals and their families facing extreme poverty. This is an online system and without access to a computer people face a harsh sanction system. Although a free of charge phone line will be up and running in January after a public outcry, many report trying to stand in a free Wi-Fi area to speak to a human on the helpline which can take hours.

It is the most vulnerable in our society who face cuts in local services as well as these at a national level. Duncan-Smith at the beginning said families with a disabled person would not be affected but this has been conveniently forgotten and never announced. People with disabilities and unpaid carers will face the firing squad that is Universal Credit. So will people who receive housing benefit, both in and not in work. This will include social landlords. Councils and Housing Associations have made public their dismay that in the many areas piloting Universal credit, many tenants have gone into arrears so their income from rent is being reduced. Private Landlords who prop up a system with insufficient social housing have threatened to not take on or evict tenants on Universal Credit.

 

Like many of the binary policies of the Tories, Universal Credit is more than just a payment; it is propaganda promoting the concept of the “feckless poor”. If an emergency happens and no other help is available, people may use their Universal Credit payment and face arrears in housing. What will happen to during the assessment process when a new claim is made or during the sanction regime. Those on Universal Credit may find themselves facing the fear of losing their home. A roof over our heads is a very basic need.

We on the Left have known about the impact of Universal Credit for years. Nowadays the murmurs of “down with this” are increasing even Tory MPs and Frank Fields seeing what are happening to real people, not just statistics on a piece of paper, alarming. We all know by now that anyone currently moving to Universal Credit will not receive a payment until after Christmas. Some people have waited much longer and face having to apply again if there is a change in income.

Many of us work in our local communities helping fill out forms, applications as statutory services are overwhelmed. It is time to form a resistance not little Dutch boy style try and plug gaps. Like the poll tax this should lead to a campaign by all on the left. We need to provide education in order to be effective in supporting those affected. This is not an intellectual argument, but will be a devastating blow in local communities and to our neighbours and friends. A Citizen’s Income and a decent minimum wage are essential to our message but what about those who do not have the benefit of a union at their backs? Big questions we have to think about with compassion.

This is also a battle of rhetoric and we have to hold both Holyrood and Westminster governments accountable, not just blame each other. Fine speeches are good but action is essential now. By this time next year Universal Credit will be rolled out over all of Scotland and the UK. It is now time for action and time to do what we do best stand with those affected and that means the majority of us.