Some experiences are just too awful to gloss over or rationalise, even years later. Continue reading
Some experiences are just too awful to gloss over or rationalise, even years later. Continue reading
Like almost everyone, I have felt deeply upset in the past few days by the massacre in Paris. My thoughts are with the families and friends of the deceased. My thoughts are also with those who witnessed the tragedy and survived, including police officers and paramedics. Continue reading
Businesses across Sweden are moving to a six hour workday with the aim of improving productivity and worker happiness, acknowledging the scientific evidence that these factors are closely related.
It seems a million miles away from the dominant philosophy in the UK, where forty hours a week plus overtime on close to minimum wage is seen by many as the only way to get by, let alone thrive. Continue reading
This week, we put the topical question of “What is your opinion of the moratorium on fracking and UCG?” to our contributors, but before we get into their responses, a little background is necessary.
In January the SNP government announced a moratorium on the process of fossil fuel extraction known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, while around ten days ago they announced a similar moratorium on the similarly controversial process of offshore underground goal gasification (UCG).
A moratorium basically means that the processes are illegal in Scotland other than for research purposes until the government is satisfied that they are safe and of benefit to the country.
Earlier this weekend, the SNP conference debated the moratorium and a narrow vote was cast in favour of the current moratorium, which was initially reported as a vote against a full ban, although the truth is a little more complex and well covered here.
Both of these processes are strongly opposed by environmental and community groups because of a history of pollution and seismic instability associated with the practices when used overseas, with the fossil fuel lobby making the case for the legalization of the processes.
Siobhan Tolland: I am going to make this short. It is phenomenal that fracking and UCG can EVER be be portrayed as good for the environment and people unless your sole aim is profit. Pumping Hydrochloric Acid deep into the earth is poisoning it, for instance, pure and simple. Stop fannying around with a Moratorium and ban it. End of story! Anything less is ecological suicide.
Chris Napier: On one hand, having a moratorium on fracking and UCG is a good thing. However, it’s not close to as much of a good thing as an actual ban – as demanded by both public opinion and scientific evidence – would be.
I can’t help but think that the moratorium is essentially a way for the SNP to continue adopting the look of a progressive party which cares about the environment and public opinion until the election in May next year. After that near inevitable victory, I expect they will show their true colours as a pro-business party who are inextricably invested in the fossil fuel industry and announce that fracking & UCG is suddenly OK.
The fact that Ineos have bought up a chunk of North Sea oil, been allowed to start drilling for ‘investigative purposes’ under the moratorium (as if the weight of scientific evidence from overseas wasn’t sufficient) and paid a hefty sum for a stall at the SNP’s conference all indicate that they are investing heavily in the Scottish fossil fuel industry and they wouldn’t be doing this if they hadn’t been given some sign that they’ll get to frack us in the end.
This is another serious crack in the SNP’s image as a progressive party which has me seriously considering whether I can in all conscience vote for them in the constituency ballot in May.
Louise Wilson: Well, well, well. After numerous calls for a total ban, even from many of their own members, the SNP is still sat on the fence on fracking. I can’t help but worry that Chris is right.
The justification for this is that there needs to be full and extensive research into the impacts of fracking (which I’m sure will come out with “as long as it’s done right, THE MONEY”) – and completely ignores that non-Scottish literature out there already.
But aside from all the fracking-specific issues that have been raised (contamination, house prices decreasing, mini-earthquakes), this also completely ignores one blatantly obvious fact: shale gas is a fossil fuel.
Put simply, we cannot afford to allow fracking and UCG to go ahead because, even without the short-term impacts, we cannot keep renewing our reliance on finite resources. Most political parties in the UK accept this already – yet not many seen to actually understand what that means in terms of decisions needed now.
So to come back to the original question, my opinion is this: the moratorium needs to go. Bring on the full ban – and soon.
Alasdair Duke: The issues of climate change and unconventional fossil fuel extraction are too serious to have to compete for space in this piece against political point-scoring. There will be some criticism of the SNP later in this piece, but let’s start with what is wrong with fracking and so-called “unconventional gas extraction”.
Global warming is caused by a variety of gases of which the most significant is carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is created in various ways, but burning stuff, especially stuff with a high carbon content such as fossil fuels, is a leading cause of carbon dioxide emissions and therefore global warming.
We are on course for the world’s temperature to increase by around four degrees celsius by 2100. Consequently, at some point within a few generations, polar ice deposits will melt completely. There will be widespread drought and flooding, sea level rise will obliterate low-lying areas, and food and water supplies will be in a state of total crisis.
So… burning fossil fuels is always bad news.
Fracking and so-called “unconventional gas extraction” are the latest, and among the more desperate, of humanity’s attempts to literally burn the contents of our planet.
Mankind has always burned stuff. Primitive early humans developed the ability to light fires using wood. Our more recent ancestors turned to wax, paraffin and other fuels. The fossil fuel industry took off in the 1800s, at first by extracting what might be called “conventional” fuels; those which were on land and were fairly easy to extract using the technology of the time. In the twentieth century, as the price and our demand for oil increased, less “conventional” fuel extraction methods began to emerge. These included drilling under the sea, paying despot overseas governments for the chance to burn their fossil fuels, and fracking. More recently, there is oil and gas exploration in previously inaccessible or unviable places such as the Arctic regions; perversely, the shrinking of the ice caps has only encouraged Russia, Canada, the USA and others to search for oil in the far North.
As I write this in 2015, we have passed the point where the industrial-scale extraction of fossil fuels should ever be described as “conventional”. I gather from scientific consensus that the only conventional, rational approach that could safeguard the future of humanity is to leave it in the ground.
So it’s fair to say that I am opposed to all fracking and unconventional fossil fuel extraction. I am opposed to it in Scotland and I am opposed to it everywhere. Of course Scotland must set an example and ban fracking. We are an educated and wealthy nation that can set an example on this issue. I would also contend that we should go much further in tackling climate change; tackling topics such as transport, home insulation and seasonal/vegan food consumption.
The SNP appears craven. There are numerous factors that have long pulled the party towards the fossil fuel industry: chiefly, the centrality of oil to their arguments for Scottish independence, and the party’s power base in the North East of Scotland where the oil industry has transformed the local economy. The party has always maintained close connections to the fossil fuel lobby and continues to do so, despite the influx of tens of thousands of younger, more idealistic members since the referendum.
The SNP leadership, and in particular Alex Salmond, have gone to great lengths in recent years to appear “statesmanlike”: unifying, populist, disciplined and yet pragmatic. Something for everyone; a recognisable brand that the whole country could trust. But, faced with a stand-off between their chums in the fossil fuel lobby and those who believe in sustainability, the party came down on the side of short term economic self-interest. To hell with the long term.
There are many SNP members who will be disgusted by their party’s gradual U-turn towards fracking. Maybe they will try to drag their party away from this horrendous mistake. But for the casual voter, and for what remains of the Radical Independence Campaign, the game may be up.
Other political parties are available.
What is your opinion of the moratorium and the prospect of fracking/UCG being legalized or banned in Scotland? Let us know!
Labour’s actions over the past eighteen months have led me to three possible conclusions. (1)They think the only path to a more equal and prosperous society is with a Labour majority Government (2)The party is full of sociopathic careerists, more interested in their own individual gain than the overall well being of the electorate whose votes they beg for every five years or (3)They are unaware UK citizens have internet access. I’m not willing to rule out any of them until Labour give me good reason to.
After the General Election, most Labour voters would probably have deemed the best course of action to be to incase Ed Miliband in concrete and dump him in the river Thames. In the run up to May 5th, political historian Tariq Ali, when asked how much of Ed Miliband’s Prime Ministerial campaign had drawn from his Marxist Father’s works, said, ‘Ralph Miliband would be spinning in his grave’. Some are of the opinion that Ed couldn’t distance himself enough from ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’, as the Daily Mail referred to him in 2013. Others think we needed him to be ‘Red Ed’. The problem was that he never actually seemed to make his own mind up. Corbyn faces a similar dilemma today concerning the division within the party. Stewart Hosie MP put it best recently when he said,
‘The Labour Party are leading him [Corbyn], he is not leading the Labour Party’.
Miliband tip-toed, tongue tied, stumbling off the Question Time stage as if Nigel Farage had sneakily tied his shoe laces together. A tactical error was made during the campaign when labour continually insisted on campaigning for a majority. It didn’t matter how much more socially progressive the SNP’s manifesto was or how appealing Sturgeon was to the English electorate, Labour hid behind Scotland’s national question with blind faith in the hope that Scotland would vote Labour to avoid the Tories.
When we really break down just what Labour’s campaign tactics in Scotland were, it is really little wonder they lost 40 MPs. We were being asked to put aside the numerous problems we had with Labour’s manifesto, pro Trident, pro austerity etc just so a Conservative Party, bearing a striking resemblance to Labour, could be avoided. After 5 years out of Government, all Labour could muster was a plea to vote for the lesser of two evils. Pathetic.
Osbourne’s failure to hit his target of eliminating the public sector deficit by 2015 and actually increasing our debt was apparently not enough ammunition for Miliband.
So what do we have on offer from Labour today then? That is a frustratingly difficult question to answer at this point. If Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to Scotland in early October did anything, it surely only reaffirmed our fears. Regardless of how progressive his politics are, he is as out of touch with Scottish voters as the rest of his party. Someone should have told him that appearing on the same platform as Kezia Dugdale is the Kiss of Death. Mind you, he probably should have already known that.
In a piece I wrote on Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to Dundee for The Scots Perspective in August(https://thescotsperspective.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/jeremy-corbyn-visits-dundee-2/), I made the point that the SNP need not be the enemy of Labour in the fight against Conservative rule.
They didn’t understand this during the election campaign. The SNP said they were willing to offer some kind of vote by vote agreement with Labour to ‘lock’ the Conservatives out of Downing Street. How did Labour respond? Nothing short of political suicide as Miliband actually said on live television that he would be willing to let Cameron back in to Number 10 rather than form an anti-Tory alliance. I understand they had anxieties about England’s fear of the SNP but if that really were the case, it would have helped if Labour didn’t aid the Tories in their quest to vilify Sturgeon’s party at every turn.
They don’t understand this today either. Corbyn’s factually inaccurate comments on the SNP’s supposed privatisation of Scotrail and Caledonian Macbrayne, did him no favours whatsoever. Whether or not he was uneducated or just uninterested, you wouldn’t blame Scots for taking these comments as more political dirty tactics from a party who has already been written in to Scotland’s bad books in permanent marker.
Even if Corbyn had his facts straight when criticising the SNP, it still comes across as the ‘SNP bad’ mantra Labour have been spouting since the Scottish Parliament became operational in May of 1999. You only have to look at the subsequent election results in Holyrood to know that has never worked. Corbyn should have already known that too. Uneducated or uninterested? Labour’s Failure to grasp that victory in Scotland is unachievable is a set back for the anti-austerity movement.
Most recently, John McDonnell drew more unwanted attention to Labour’s hectic division when he publicly announced at the Labour party conference that they would back George Osbourne’s Fiscal Charter despite telling ‘Scotland’ that the SNP are not anti austerity and that Labour are the ‘true anti-austerity party’. They then made a perplexing U-turn by announcing that they were actually not going to back the charter after all due to “growing reaction” to spending cuts since his announcement. Growing Reaction? No Shit Sherlock! Finally, when 20 Labour MPs abstained from the Commons vote, showing public defiance of their new leader, the bill was passed.
It’s no huge shock.
We knew Corbyn was not representative of the parliamentary Labour party but it is a sizeable task to undo the Conservatives’ infiltration of Labour. It can only be a good thing that Labour did at least ‘change their mind’, but its the flipping and flopping Scotland has largely grown tired of.
Unless things change fairly drastically, a Labour majority in 2020 is unlikely. For the sake of the fight against the Conservatives class warfare (cutting inheritance tax and working tax credit simultaneously and so on), I hope Labour realise that their insistence on a majority Government has to end. Its time they thought about what is more important. Getting as many of their pals elected as possible or getting the Tories out. I fully accept if Corbyn is going to be an advocate for Labour’s transformation, it is going to take time. Cohesion is a necessity for any party, however, it’s like former US president George W Bush once said,
‘If you don’t stand for anything, you don’t stand for anything’.
Yesterday, at the annual conference of the Scottish Green Party in the SECC, Glasgow, the SGP made two important and far-reaching policy commitments. The policy motions, on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI+) People and on LGBTI+ Health, passed unanimously in the first case and overwhelmingly in the latter. The policies commit the SGP to strengthening the protections for LGBTI+ people against discrimination in Scotland, and against medical abuses such as surgery without consent and discriminatory practises in blood donation. Continue reading
Did you vote NO at the referendum? If you did thanks for that, you bastards.
As a pensioner, we are next on the Tory hit list. No more winter fuel allowance. No more free bus passes. No more xmas bonus, and various other cuts. So because you voted NO you let loose the “Dogs of War”on your own people. Happy now are you? The unemployed, the disabled, working mothers, people on Tax Credits, low income families, children. the old,and the sick, all being attacked the Millionaire Morons at Westminster. Because you voted NO. Some people may argue that when you voted against an Independent Scotland, you were not aware of the carnage you would cause, so it is unfair to blame you.
Being subject to these cuts, I am not one of those people. In my mind you are to blame. You caused this, you voted NO because you believed the lies, because you were afraid, because you didn’t give a fuck about anyone but yourselves. So as I said, thanks for that you bastards.
Because you voted NO, you are not immune to these cuts, they will effect you, they will effect your family, they affect your freinds. And when they do, me, and thousands like me, will say “Fuck You” for allowing this to happen.
Maybe next time you will think. I will help send them homeward to think again. I will vote YES.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact Jeremy Corbyn is mixing it up down south. He is trying to initiate progressive change, and we have to support that, especially against an attempt of the right wing (in and outside of the Labour party) to oust him. We should support any progressive against this scheming. Christ even the Unions stabbed him in the back over Trident. ‘Kill millions with weapons of mass destruction. Must save jobs, must save jobs!’ Continue reading
There are around four hundred actual seats in the House of Lords, yet as David Cameron hands out a batch of new peerages there are now in excess of 800 eligible members. This makes the House of Lords as the second largest parliamentary chamber in the world and the only upper house in a bicameral parliament which is larger than it’s respective lower house, and throws fuel on the fire of the enduring campaign to press for reform of the UK’s upper chamber.
I believe that the House of Lords is a bloated, undemocratic and expensive anachronism which attaches the government of the UK to an age of aristocratic privilege which belongs in the history books and acts as a block on the UK becoming a true democracy.
In this article, I intend to set out a blueprint of an institution to replace the House of Lords (or act as a second house to the Scottish parliament in the event of Scottish independence) which addresses the criticisms that the Lords is expensive, distant and undemocratic while performing a crucial role in acting as a check on the power of Westminster (or Holyrood) as well as further constitutional duties.
A New House
As a direct link to the UK’s feudal past, I believe that the House of Lords should be abolished with the building itself either converted into dormitories for MPs sitting in the Commons (removing the supposed need for ‘second homes’) and/or turned into a museum, which could generate income which could finance some of the costs of running parliament.
The new institution, which I will tentatively call a Senate as this is one of the most common names applied to an upper house around the world* would be a wholly new body, with new powers and a wholly new relationship with the UK parliament, reflecting the changed needs of the country in the 180 or so years since the current parliamentary balance was established.
* In suggesting the name of Senate, I acknowledge this might not be the best title due to the devolved Welsh assembly technically being called a Senate (or Senedd in Welsh) and the republican connotations of the word and widespread usage abroad may make the name distasteful to some.
The House of Lords’ powers have been diminished over the years as it is only able to delay a parliamentary bill for a limited time and cannot interfere with a budget. With the Senate being elected and more directly accountable to the population, I feel it would be prudent to increase it’s powers to make it a meaningful balance to the House of Commons (or Holyrood in the case of an independent Scotland.)
However, the lower house would remain the more powerful house, responsible for initiating legislation and with government ministers expected to be drawn from the ranks of MPs/MSPs.
The role of the Senate would be to approve legislation, while sending unacceptable bills back to the House of Commons with recommendations for amendments. The Senate would also be able to propose legislation to be debated in the House of Commons and also to rule on constitutional* matters, being able to veto bills it deemed to be unconstitutional or against the interests of the country. The Senate would also be able to calla referendum on any issue they deemed to be suitably important and would act as a court of appeal on any issues of parliamentary discipline.
* Of course, this is dependent on there actually being a written constitution for the UK or Scotland, but I would argue that this would be a very desirable thing to have.
As party politics is one of the less appealing parts of the political landscape anywhere, with individual MPs often having more loyalty towards their party and it’s donors rather than their constituents, it would be a refreshing change for the upper house to be devoid of such divisions.
As such, prospective Senators would not be allowed to be a member of a political party or have been politically active (as an office bearer or candidate for a party) for at least a decade prior to their election. Of course, charity workers, union representatives etc. do not count as politically active.
Furthermore, to avoid the potential bias of big business or individually wealthy candidates, prospective Senators would have a strict campaign budget, but would receive a taxpayer funded freepost similar to that which is given to prospective MPs, as well as mandated coverage on regional television via the BBC.
In my mind, the Senate would ideally be composed of people with experience in a wide variety of real world roles, with academics, charity workers, businesspeople and so on all represented but I can’t think of a way to proactively make this happen.
The specifics of electoral regions etc. would depend on whether we were talking about a UK or Scottish Senate, so I’ll deal with each example differently.
For the UK, I would use the electoral regions and number of representatives as used for the European elections, giving a total of 73 senators elected from the twelve regions.
For Scotland, I would use the eight electoral regions used for the Scottish parliament elections, each returning three representatives, giving a total of twenty four senators.
Senators would serve for a four year term and being barred from serving more than three terms, with elections offset from the main parliamentary elections to avoid confusion between the elections.
The expense of building a wholly new Senate building and the inevitable bunfight about where to situate it are evident problems with the creation of a new institution. However, this can be countered in a way which also makes the Senate more accessible, inclusive and representative of the nation. Send it on tour.
The Senate would exist as a legislative body composed of its members, not tied to any particular building. The Senate would meet in locations across the country, rotating between electoral regions on a monthly basis, thereby ensuring that the Senate is in your part of the country at least one month a year, with the public able to view debates and so on.
Of course, the expenses accrued in travel and accommodation for senators and staff (both senator’s aides and the administrative staff of the institution) would be considerable, but given the restricted number of senators, this is still likely to be less than the running expenses of the House of Lords as it stands.
In practical terms, this means that the Senate would meet two days a week, while Senators would be expected to work in their home regions three days a week, holding surgeries, meeting constituents and working from their home office.
Being a full-time job which is intended to attract ordinary people, rather than simply the wealthy or a professional politician, I propose that the wage for Senators be fixed as twice the average UK wage – at the moment amounting to a wage of around £55’000. This wage is sufficient to reflect the level of responsibility implicit in the role and discourage corruption (as power without proportional remuneration will inevitably lead to corruption) while not being so generous as to attract those who could earn more as a CEO.
Senators would also receive expenses for travel between their residence and where senate is being held, plus an allowance for an office and staff.
Senators would be barred from holding any other business interest while in office* or from accepting any ‘figurehead’ roles with companies after their term. If they insist on profiteering, they can write a book…
* If they are business owners when elected, they would be allowed to continue as owner but only in a non-executive capacity, handing the running of the company over for the duration.
Any senator or prospective Senator found to be claiming fraudulent expenses, favouring business interests or similar will be immediately stripped of their position and a by-election process started.
There would also be a recall procedure similar to the proposed Recall of MPs act, whereby electors would be able to recall a Senator if a sufficient number lodged their name against the motion to do so.
Obviously, many of these suggestions are in very broad strokes and reflect my personal preferences but the purpose of the article is largely to show that the way things are and have been done in British (or Scottish) politics does not have to endure.
By challenging the institutions and forms of our governance and having an open debate about what kind of country we want to live in and how we wish to be governed, positive change can move from seeming an impossible dream to something which seems logical, natural and inevitable.
Where there are groups, there are group dynamics.
After thirty years as a left-wing backbencher, an outrider in parliamentary Labour politics, Jeremy Corbyn recently became Labour leader with the support of an overwhelming 66 per cent of those who voted. I welcome Corbyn’s leadership. Perhaps now Labour will return to being the party that promotes secure employment and universal human rights. Perhaps this symbolises a revival of the left in England and thus a narrowing of the gap between the political cultures at Westminster and at Holyrood. Perhaps not; Corbyn’s support appears to have come from trade unions and ordinary people rather than from many of his fellow Labour MPs. In any case, what does Corbyn’s victory tell us about group dynamics and group thinking?
Corbyn first became an MP in 1983, at the same time as Tony Blair. Many Labour MPs of his generation went on to form protective cliques around Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and each other, hitching their own careers to New Labour. Within a few years, this generation of MPs came to dominate the Labour party, reforming the party from the top and giving the general impression that there was “no going back” to anything resembling left-wing socialism.
Throughout the period 1983 to 2015, Corbyn was given no additional responsibilities within parliament, nor did he gain the media platform or public recognition afforded to other left-wing Labour figures such as Tony Benn, or controversialists such as George Galloway and Dennis Skinner. Corbyn’s hitherto low profile will have played some part in his recent success; he is an untainted outsider, who didn’t compromise and had the strength to resist the charismatic power of New Labour.
And so it goes in work and life. Not everyone will attain a position of great prominence, nor high salary; not everyone’s career ends with a flourishing up-tick as we reach our later years. In contrast to Corbyn, the nondescript recent lives of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Alastair Campbell illustrate the pitfalls of a career that peaks early. At one point or another, most of us will belong to an “in-crowd”, held in high regard by others and getting away with our mistakes. Most of us have also experienced an “out-crowd”, far from power and not expecting to be thanked for our efforts.
“Group-think” prevails in most white-collar workplaces, not just in government. It happens whenever crucial decisions are made by a number of close colleagues with the same priorities and vested interests. The good news is that these things tend to change over time. To take one example from social work and public services, today’s out-crowds are those who stood by and did nothing while young people were being sexually exploited in Rotherham, Rochdale, near celebrities, and in many other places besides. The tide is still rising and there remain many people who have yet to be held accountable for their negligence or active participation in the sexual abuse of children. But the group-thinkers who said nothing could be done have been undone by their own complacency; a new generation is determined to act to prevent these injustices in future.
I can think of two crumbs of comfort to the phenomenon of in-crowds and out-crowds. Firstly, times change and lots of people get their comeuppance at one time or another. Secondly, there is more to life than winning and leading. The recent flurry of publicity around Alex Ferguson’s new book, Leading, seems to revolve around the premise that life can only really be enjoyed if one spends it in a state of perennial “victory”, leading one’s team to ever greater triumph in perennial competition against others. Suffice to say, life doesn’t work like this and many leaders and winners probably wish that they hadn’t bothered to make the compromises and sacrifices necessary to reach “the top”.
Power should only be held by those who don’t desire it. Good luck, Jeremy.