Monday, 9 December 2013

NO GLORY IN WAR: THE MILITARY AND INDEPENDENCE



Pete Cannell, Stop the War Coalition, 9.12.13

This week the SNP government has outlined its ‘defence’ proposals in the White Paper.

The background to this is a rampant US imperialism, which has been involved in almost continuous wars throughout the world. Britain has been a major prop for US imperialism and has also been involved in many wars, both in its own direct imperial interests and alongside US imperialism.

The centrality of the British state in NATO is an important reason for voting ‘Yes’ in the 2014 referendum. NATO was set up by the US in 1949 at the start of the Cold War. It was part of a wider strategy to encircle the USSR. By militarily uniting the western countries under US control, it ensured US dominance over Europe. It tied the European powers into support for a post-Second World War foreign policy that claimed to be pro-democracy and anti-colonial, but was in fact lethally aggressive. NATO also coordinated secret special forces operations across Europe to subvert the left and prepare action against possible left wing governments.

‘Pax America’ came with an implicit price tag that accepted the US security umbrella. If a country depended on the US for security protection, it also dealt with the US on trade and commercial matters. NATO was a key platform in the US plan to reorganise the world economy – to open up the whole world to US business and to tie it to its political interests much as possible.

In 1999 NATO extended its field of operations to cover the whole of Eurasia. Its slogan was, “Out of area or out of business”. In 2003, NATO took up joint control of operations in the disastrous occupation of Afghanistan. It was also the command umbrella for Operation Unified Protector, in the 2011 bombing campaign of Libya.

With regard to nuclear weapons, NATO upholds a ‘First Strike’ policy. Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands have all unsuccessfully called for the removal of US nuclear weapons form their countries.

There is a consensus in Scotland for scrapping Trident, but NATO membership and the SNP government policies outlined in the White Paper still tie us into a nuclear club.

Next year, the NATO conference will be in Wales. The NATO conference in Strasbourg was surrounded by razor wire, protestors were strip searched and beaten up by riot police. The Westminster government will raise the stakes by hosting this NATO conference in South Wales. It will hide behind the concept of ‘humanitarian intervention’.

2014 will also be the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. The government intends to spend £50-60M celebrating this. The Commonwealth Games are also being linked to the WW1 celebrations. The purpose behind this will be to encourage support for imperial wars today and to undermine the ‘Yes’ campaign.  Yet this was a war in which 20 million people died. Furthermore, at certain times, more than half the troops fighting on the British side were from the Indian sub-continent – something that is usually ignored.

The Stop the War Campaign has launched a ‘No Glory in War’ campaign to counter this. The Jimmy Reid Foundation, Disability History Scotland, Scottish Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and other organisations are also planning initiatives – we aim to work together to make this a mass campaign. In Edinburgh there will be a poetry event, based on the fact that Craiglockhart acted as a military hospital in WW1. Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon were both sent there to recuperate. Other events are planned.

CND is planning a big debate on NATO in the new year. There is a division between those like CND, Trident Ploughshare and STWC which are opposed to NATO and those who want to fall in behind the SNP government’s contradictory ‘No to Trident/Yes to NATO’ stance. It would be good if RIC could send a delegation to this conference.


Discussion

Donny said that it was important to move away from the official ‘Yes’ campaign focus on independence being better for your pocket. This can not be guaranteed given the uncertainties of the economy. However, there could be a ‘peace dividend’ if Trident was scrapped, but this would need withdrawal from NATO. We needed to highlight the role of the British state and the military in the world.

Bob agreed that it was impossible to separate opposition to Trident from opposition to NATO.  We also had to be careful to get the message right. ‘No Glory in War’ suggested we are pacifist, but there are wars of liberation.

Dave said he would play the devil’s advocate. Pete had said that NATO and trade went together. An independent Scotland would need to ‘export or die’. Look at the economic mess that neutral Ireland had got itself into. Furthermore, socialist brotherhood was all well and good, but was it a viable response. The Scottish Communist Party has already argued that Salmond is considering the possibility of getting  NATO rents for Faslane, whilst Scottish regiments would be wanted to fight wars given their reputation. We have to be able to win over people who think like this to a ‘Yes’ vote. We don’t want to be isolated.

Allan argued that there was no direct link between NATO membership and trade. Up until 2008 Ireland had had a booming economy without being a member of NATO. Nor was it the lack of NATO membership that did the Irish economy in, but its adherence to the neo-liberal model, which both the US and UK heavily promoted.

In the past not only had the SNP opposed NATO, but Salmond even stood out against intervention in Bosnia. He was attacked, but this had no effect on his vote when it came to Westminster of Holyrood, and he was elected from the conservative Banff and Buchan constituency. What is missing now is a party publicly opposing NATO, despite the widespread scepticism about NATO interventions in the world. This has been highlighted by the government’s failure to get support for an invasion of Syria.

Pat said that RIC was for a ‘Yes’ vote, but not at any price. RIC was for scrapping Trident, and for a Scotland that isn’t prosecuting wars across the world.   People are living in misery in a rich Scotland.

Andy pointed to the walk out of a pro-SNP government delegate who attended the ‘Break-up of the UK’ session at the RIC conference, when Mary McGregor (RCN) spoke in opposition to the SNP leadership’s stance. However, she had widespread support, from all the republicans, socialists and anarchists present.

Paulo argued that the fundamental flaw in Dave’s article was the use of the word “isolation”. NATO will not like a gap in its North Atlantic defences resulting from the closure of the Faslane base. However, a peaceful Scotland would be an example to other countries, and could build a whole new network of friendship.

Talat argued that opposition to imperialism and wars energised many delegates to the RIC conference. Furthermore, ‘Jocks’ were certainly not appreciated in the country her family came from – India. This was true of all the countries colonised by Britain.  There was also an underlying racist logic about nuclear weapons – certain countries, white and northern, could be trusted to have them but the rest of the world can not!

The British Army had a recruitment drive at the university Freshers’ Fair. Students go on to be officers. However, there are also army recruiting offices in Princes Street designed to attract poorer young people, promising them a good career. This is a form of economic conscription - and it is the same in India. Instead of seeking rental income from military bases, we should be calling for taxes on the rich.

Ally wanted to change the focus of the discussion. Do we support armed forces? The existing forces are profoundly undemocratic and class-based. Sandhurst exists to train the senior officers mainly drawn from the upper class. In Fettes College. Membership of the Officer Training Corps is compulsory. These lads will not go on to be squaddies or defuse bombs. There are places where the tradition is somewhat different. Chavez came form the officer class in Venezuela, but this pattern is unusual.

How would we structure and democratise a reformed army? Does everybody contribute to the armed forces? What do we want to see?

Pete replied by saying that opposition to imperial wars was popular. In his experience on StWC stalls, he had come across squaddies and their families who were opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some are more clear-sighted than the general population.

The world is not going to be more stable in the future. NATO is shifting its axis towards the Far East. It also has forces in every single African country.

Furthermore, even if NATO did not use its nuclear forces it still had a great capacity to bring about death and destruction as its recent interventions showed. So opposition to NATO remained important.

Pete agreed with Ally about the need to have further discussion about the type of military forces we needed.

The cost of being a nuclear state was very expensive. The money currently spent on Faslane could be invested green jobs. It is important that we have answers for the economic as well as ideological reasons given by nuclear force advocates. Faslane provides a lot of jobs in the Helensburgh area. Yet the valuable skills currently being used there could be transferred to green production with some retraining. RIC’s job is to put that on the agenda.

Lastly, in reply to Bob, the ‘No Glory in War’ campaign is very specifically about the First World War, and not a generalised political slogan.
  


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

AFTER THE UK: THE FUTURE FOR 4 NATIONS

The Edinburgh branch of RIC sponsored the well-attended session ‘After the UK: the future for 4 nations’ at the RIC conference in the Marriott Hotel, Glasgow on November 23rd.
The speakers were Bernadette McAliskey for Ireland, Steve Freeman of the Republican Socialist Alliance in England, and Mary McGregor (Dundee RIC and RCN) Leanne Wood, from Wales, the socialist republican leader of Plaid Cymru gave her apologies. Allan Armstrong (RCN and Edinburgh RIC Minutes Secretary) was proposed by the Edinburgh branch to chair the session. However, to ensure no more than one person from any political group was on the platform, Tony Kenny, a republican and former SNP member and council candidate was asked by the organisers to chair instead.
Bernadette’s contribution can be seen at:-
Steve’s contribution can be seen at:-
Mary’s contributions can be seen at:-
Mary and Steve were asked to submit their talks by the organisers before the RIC Conference. These are posted below. Bernadette said she never wrote prepared talks, but spoke spontaneously, a skill learned on the streets and barricades in the midst of the Civil Rights struggles, which many of us wish we could emulate! Although Mary’s written submission and talk are virtually identical, Steve adjusted his contribution in the light of his experience of being at the conference.

David Torrance, right wing journalist for The Herald attacked the Radical Independence Conference in an article on Monday, November 25th, also specifically criticIsing speakers in this session. Allan Armstrong wrote a reply which was first posted on the national RIC website at:-
http://radicalindependence.org/index.php/2013/12/07/a-response-to-david-torrance-in-the-herald/
 ____________
1.  THE SCOTTISH REPUBLIC AND THE COMMONWEALTH OF ENGLAND – Steve Freeman (Republican Socialist  Alliance)
Unionism, Nationalism and Republicanism – a Three Cornered Fight
In January 1649 the Commonwealth of England was established. In March parliament abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords, as ‘useless’ and ‘dangerous’. But the Commonwealth did not become a democratic and social republic. It was strangled at birth.
The origins of the Commonwealth can be traced back to 1638 and the rebellion of the Covenanters in Scotland. What began in Scotland as the ‘Bishops War’ soon spread to England. In 1644 a united front of Covenanters and Cromwell’s holy squadrons, the Ironsides, defeated the Royalists at the battle of Marston Moor near York. It proved to be the turning point in the revolution. In 1645 the New Model Army was established. By 1648 it had become England’s republican army which took power in 1649 as the Commonwealth. Shortly afterwards, Cromwell’s counter-revolution gathered pace. The Levellers and the Diggers were suppressed.
Today we are living with the results of Cromwell’s counter-revolution. The entire history of the next three hundred years, including the creation of Britain (1688-1707), the industrial revolution, the rise and fall of the British Empire, the creation and destruction of the welfare state has completed the historic cycle and returned us to 1638. Today it is not the governance of the Church in Scotland which is at stake but the governance of the state itself.
The Commonwealth of England
 In England the destruction of the welfare state and the failure of the parliamentary system are preparing the ground for new politics. Political developments in Scotland are awakening interest in change in England. The social destruction imposed by neo-liberal capitalism will bring many reactions. One of these will be the rebirth of the Commonwealth of England – a social republic in which the citizens of England, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, disability or sexuality, become the supreme or sovereign authority.
The social republic is more than simply government of the people, by the people for the people. The democratic rights and freedoms of all citizens are guaranteed by the constitution of the republic, including the full freedom for workers to join trade unions and rights to take industrial and solidarity action. A social republic puts public service and the welfare of the people before the profits of the City and the major corporations.
The first priority of a social republic is to ensure that the social and environmental needs of the people for jobs, housing, health, education, living standards and social welfare are met. None of this can be secured without a significant expansion of the public sector and its democratic transformation. The old 1945 model of a bureaucratic social monarchy and state nationalisation has been tried and destroyed by monopoly capital. This is highlighted most recently by the knock down sale of Royal Mail. Now real democracy is the key to the future.
Referendum
Next year the referendum will be the biggest political event in Scotland and a major issue in England as well. In England many people will be sitting in their armchairs watching the battle as it unfolds on our TV screens. How will people in England interpret the battle over the referendum? What political conclusions will be drawn?
At present the British ruling class, whose interests are expressed in Unionism and British nationalism, are fairly confident of victory. But if the majority starts to narrow then expect more surprises from Perfidious Albion. The ruling class understand that this battle is not confined to Scotland. Economic power and the largest section of the working class are in England and ruling class politicians will make sure the people of England are on their side.
England is seething with resentments. This can easily take the form of a growth of English chauvinism. UKIP, although formally unionist, is in effect an English Party. Nigel Farage looks and sounds like a classic Englishmen with a public school and City background, but also with the populist appeal of man-with-pint-and-fag in the pub. Foreigners are in line for the blame whether in Europe, or immigrants or ‘greedy’ Scots who want the cake and everything. The ruling class are more than willing to turn on the tap of tough talking chauvinism and fan its flames whenever necessary. We must not be too complacent to think that reaction rather than progress might not be the outcome.
The most likely scenario in 2014 is a direct confrontation between Unionists and Nationalists. People in England may look at the debate and feel repelled from ‘nationalism’ presented as a smash and grab raid and a cover for anti-English sentiments. But Unionism is hardly less appealing associated as it is with the neo-liberal and imperialist politics of the Tories, Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party. In England people do not trust their politicians but don’t like or can’t identify with Scottish nationalism.
The Third Camp
People in England need to be able to look at Scotland during the referendum and see a three sided contest. If we see Unionists, Nationalist and clearly defined Republican-Internationalists then the left in England and the working class movement can gain strength from this. Only the Scottish left can deliver a third position in its strategy and tactics. If it can do this it will greatly assist the emergence of the Commonwealth of England. This is turn would help to strengthen the Scottish left in its struggle for a Scottish republic. It would be a virtuous circle.
The referendum is an opportunity to shift public opinion in England in a democratic direction. Even if the referendum is lost, there could still be a real gain that would outlast any temporary set back. The referendum will not give genuine self determination to the Scottish people. But it may bring a stronger and more united republican-internationalism. If workers in England can see that the progressive forces in Scotland are fighting for real democracy and are not anti-English but working class internationalists, this would have a big impact on political consciousness in England. In England we will be watching the Scottish referendum and beginning to think perhaps we should take a more political and constitutional road in England.
The English left
The English left currently has two attitudes to the ‘Scottish Question’. First is ‘anarcho-indifference’ in which people say they don’t care if Scotland becomes independent –  that is up to you. If Scotland wants to leave the Union we are not bothered. Carried to its logical extreme it can embrace not just the breakup of Britain, but the breakup of Scotland into rival regions. It is a superficial ‘internationalism’.
The second attitude is that independence is siding with nationalism. Hence the Scottish left doesn’t know what they are doing by dabbling in nationalism. The SNP is identified rightly as bourgeois nationalist, but this is seen as the sum total of all we need to know. In either case there is no dialogue between the English and Scottish left because indifference or moral censure ends the argument.
The English left must concentrate on the English question rather than feigning indifference or engaging in a moral panic about Scottish nationalism. Then the left in England would do far better. Then, and only then, a real dialogue could begin with the Scottish left. The left in England is like someone looking over the garden fence into a neighbour’s garden and pointing out the thistles growing there and giving advice about how to get rid of them. Meanwhile they have failed to notice their own garden is covered in weeds. Better for the left in England to sort out our own garden, grow some nice English roses, and invite our neighbours round for tea and cakes!!

(Steve Freeman then went on to make a speech outlining similar arguments, at the founding conference of the Left Unity Party in London on November 29th. He was wearing the RIC T-shirt ‘Another Scotland is Possible’ whilst he was addressing the conference!)

__________
2. SCOTLAND – REPUBLICAN INTERNATIONALISM IN THE STRUGGLE FOR GENUINE SELF-DETERMINATION – Mary McGregor (RCN)
It is a great privilege to be here today and be part of this platform. I am particularly glad to be sharing it with comrades from Ireland and England. It is a pity we have no one from Wales to. I say this because the question of self determination for the people of Scotland is important for socialists and republicans where ever they live.
As it says in the programme blurb, I have been active politically for around forty years. I have been a member of 3 political parties: The Labour Party, The Communist party of Great Britain and The Scottish Socialist Party and I am very pleased to say that during that time, my ideas have changed considerably. You come across people on the left who will stick with the same old shibboleths and mantras decade in and decade out never changing their thinking even in the light of objective reality. For me this is a distinctly un-Marxist approach. For me, there must be two battles fought simultaneously: the battle against our ruling class and capitalism and the battle for ideas amongst ourselves. Part of the reason, I think that the left in Scotland has fallen apart in recent years  (and the reasons are many and complex) but part of the reason is that we have failed to find a way to have that struggle for ideas, to seek out the truths and the ways forward as socialists in a democratic non sectarian manner. This is why this event is so important. We have the opportunity in an atmosphere conducive to debate to say what we think, to listen to one another and to come away thinking, having tested our ideas with each other.
I don’t want to speak for a long time because it is vital that workshops allow the maximum number of people to contribute and I really want to hear what other people think, but I will take a wee bit of time to outline why the Republican Communist Network believes that Internationalism form Below is the way to create a Scotland that is steeped in the progressive traditions of our past but is also a beacon for the future as a Socialist Republic. As neither a believer in Scottish Nationalism or British nationalism, the context of my contribution is from the perspective of self-determination, republicanism and internationalism. My independent Scotland is a secular, democratic, socialist republic or it is nothing. The importance of RIC is that it moves the debate away from Salmond’s nationalism to democracy, socialism and internationalism.
Clearly comrades this is a million miles away from what Salmond has on offer. The politics of the SNP government is just as wedded to capitalism and imperialism as the parties of Westminster.
The SNP leadership have given their commitment to the continued role of the monarchy (and hence the Crown Powers), the Bank of England, the British High Command and NATO.We see no sign that the SNP government is prepared to stand up to big business as the debacle with Donald Trump showed and even more recently the climdown before Ratcliffe over Grangemouth. Salmond argued for further deregulation of the Scottish banks prior to 2008. While we all have to acknowledge the SNP government has delivered on a number of its social democratic reforms, we also have to see that it has failed to deliver on others and its commitment to business does not bode well for its ability to sustain any progressive reforms post independence
The SNP Holyrood government’s current strategy is designed to develop a wannabe Scottish ruling class, in order to seek a Scottish junior managerial buy-out within the UK and the current global corporate and US/British imperial order. This is why the SNP’s proposals are not based on genuine political self-determination for Scotland, but on winning the minimal powers, which would permit this would be Scottish ruling class to enhance its bargaining position.
I work for an SNP council who are consulting me on what cuts should be made! Talk about divide and rule? These councils accept the financial restrictions imposed by Westminster, which prioritise the paying off the bankers, funding a new Trident, mounting further imperial wars, and the promotion of continuous state-backed circuses – the Royal Jubilee, the Olympic Games, and on to the First World War centenary celebrations! The SNP government say they want Scotland to remain in NATO, and to provide military support for US/British imperial ventures, but ditch Trident. It has moved from opposition to the war in Iraq, to acceptance of NATO wars in Afghanistan and Libya – indeed to lauding the role of Scottish regiments in these imperial ventures. This does not fill me with any kind of hope that an SNP Scotland as envisaged by Salmond and his leadership team, would be anti imperialist.
However, it has to be said that the UK government has predictably embarked on a project fear, which counters the campaign for Yes in the harshest of terms. They will not give up without a fight regardless of how many lies and scare stories it has to put out.
For socialists, any political response both to the SNP leadership’s proposals and to this formidable unionist and imperial opposition to a Yes vote must be based firmly on the principle of Scottish self-determination. This rules out in advance, not just Westminster parliamentary control, but any continued role for the UK’s Crown Powers, the Bank of England and City of London, the British Armed Forces, as well as NATO and the EU bureaucracy. Every one of these forces is hostile to genuine self-determination. The class, which has the greatest interest in genuine self-determination, is our class: the working class.
As we have seen by the limited fight back against austerity cuts, after decades of this capitalist offensive, most working class organisations have been broken or undermined. Many or their leaders have come to accept the new neo-liberal order. This is the major reason why recognition of the need for genuine self-determination is not rooted in greater class confidence today. And this is reflected in the dominant politics of the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns in Scotland.
Today I think we do have to look at the yes campaign and question why it lacks such vision and it is because it lacks class content. It is about making nicer cuts. It still hangs on to the idea of benign capitalism. If all that it achieved by independence is more of the same then what is the point?
Both James Connolly in Ireland and later John Maclean in Scotland developed ‘a break-up of the UK state and British Empire’ strategy. This emerged as the most revolutionary challenge in these islands in the context of the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave. This is the socialist republican tradition that the Republican Communist Network is raising in today’s struggle for Scottish self-determination.
So from a republican perspective, why is it essential to break up the UK state? Well of course there is its monarchist nature, and the formidable anti-democratic nature of the Crown Powers. These powers cloak the operations of the British ruling class’s ‘hidden state’ and the activities of the City of London. For republicans, opposition to these Crown Powers is of greater significance than just opposition to the monarchy, which merely fronts them.
There are two other significant features of the UK state. It retains an established church, the Church of England, with its 26 bishops in the House of Lords. Although this is a specifically English ‘privilege’ along with its insistence of a protestant monarch, it is still significant in maintaining British rule over Northern Ireland. A socialist response to this must be based on upholding a consistent secularism, which breaks the link between the state and religion.
However, republicans must also recognise the third feature of the UK, and that is its unionist nature. The UK consists of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (and the whole of Ireland before 1922). The UK came about as a result of the English conquest of Wales, the joint English and Scottish conquest of Ireland, and an English and Scottish ruling class deal to create a British state in which they could benefit from imperial exploitation.
Thus, if republicanism and secularism are the socialist responses to the UK’s Crown Powers and state-backed Protestantism, then upholding the right of self-determination for Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and yes, for England too, is the socialist response to the unionism of the UK state.
We take heed of the words of James Connolly.
“If you hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individual institutions she has planted in this country.”
As Allan Armstrong of the RCN said at a recent James Connolly rally: Today, “If you hoist the saltire over Edinburgh Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic, your efforts will be in vain. British capitalism will rule you through Westminster’s Crown Powers, through banksters’ control of the economy under the City of London, through the British High Command and NATO’s control over the armed forces, and through those corporate executives to be given a privileged place in the SNP’s proposed low tax economy for the rich and powerful.”
Genuine independence for the working class of Scotland requires a vision. It is the job of the RIC in the coming months to take on those in the official Yes campaign who are not socialists and those socialist within it who will go for a softly softly don’t mention the S word never mind the R word when part of the campaign. Submerging into the official Yes is a recipe for failure.

Genuine Self Determination for the people of this country is what we need to put on the political agenda.

Monday, 25 November 2013

INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY AND THE PALESTINIAN STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM

 Vanesa Fuentes, Iain Macdonald, Albie O’Neill, 
Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, 25.11.13


see http //www.scottish psc.org.uk
Sheila asked the panel what would the policy of a Scottish government be on Palestine?
Allan argued that the retreat of the SNP away from their former more up-front support for the Palestinian struggle, to now welcoming Israeli ambassadors and government promoters, reflected their retreat into acceptance of the existing world order, marked by last year’s conference decision to back NATO. Once the SNP leadership had opposed military intervention in Kosova, and later in Iraq. Now they praised the role of Scottish forces in Afghanistan and Libya. This highlighted why we needed an independent Radical Independence Campaign.
Donny raised the comparison of Israel with South Africa. The main difference was that Palestinian Arabs formed a minority within Israel, whilst Black South Africans formed a large majority in Apartheid South Africa. Palestinian Arabs were excluded form most areas of work, whereas Black South Africans formed the key element in South African workforce. This is why the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign was even more important.
Donny also talked about the now dashed prospects of support for the Palestinians which had originally been raised by the Arab Spring.
Margaret emphasised the need for protest action around G4S, which was sponsoring the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next year.
Margaret also outlined the plight of the residents of Shahada Street in Hebron, who were even denied the use of their own front doors.
Pat argued that Edinburgh RIC should organise a joint pubic meeting with the SPSC in the Spring. She praised the hard work done by the SPSC. It was now much easier to campaign on the streets in support of the Palestinian struggle, than it had once been.
Talat emphasised the importance of trade union work. There had ben a huge shift within her union, the ULU. Quite recently anybody raising the issue of support for Palestine had been accused of anti-semitism. Now the ULU had an official pro-Palestine position.
Talat also argued that the precedent for the BDS campaign lay in the anti-Apartheid South Africa boycott campaign, which had been a powerful adjunct to other forms of struggle, particularly amongst the workforce there.
Vanesa, Iain and Albie in reply said that the accusations of anti-semitism were the last and increasingly discredited response of the Zionists.
Vanesa had been one of the 5 defendants charged by the state with racially aggravated breach of the peace, when protesting against the Isreali government-backed Batsheva Dance Company. The judge had ruled that protesting against the actions of a state certainly did not constitute racist behaviour. Furthermore, there were Jewish people who were pro-Palestinian and gave their support to the SPSC.
However, Zionist organisations continued to exert strong pressure. The Israeli government was paying US students to try and rebut al anti-Israeli material found on-line.
In reply to the question about what an independent Scotland’s policy should be on Palestine, it was quite clear. There should be recognition of Palestine as a nation and the ending of the Israeli apartheid state, However, what was needed to achieve this was a political will.
When taking on G&S you were up against a massive corporation. They were even there in the Marriot Hotel in Glasgow where the RIC conference was held on Saturday! However such action would be considered by the SPSC.
One of the early tasks of the SPSC was to set up a trade union solidarity group.
Already there are many people in Scotland who boycott Israeli goods. It was now necessary to get more support behind the other elements of the BDS campaign. Activists in Norway and Canada were ahead in this respect.
The SPSC in Edinburgh had regular meetings whilst there were also national weekends away, as well as conferences. The emphasis at the weekends away was mainly political to ensure that the SPSC continued to campaign on a principled basis.

Monday, 11 November 2013

HEALTH IN AN INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND

Dr Kate Wrigley, 11.11.13 

Kate pointed out that she had only recently qualified as a GP, so she did not speak from great experience as a practitioner. She had originally been attracted to a career in medicine, because she thought doctors could make a great contribution to people’s lives. However, she had become increasingly aware that the structure of society is a much greater determinant of people’s health than what doctors themselves can do.

She had first become aware of the importance of class in determining people’s health by reading about David Widgery, a socialist doctor in London’s East End. After travelling abroad, she could also see that people’s health had relatively little to with health care, and a lot more to do with the economic position different countries had in the current world order.

Although there are committed doctors, Kate had found in Sunderland, that many are largely oblivious to the class nature of ill-health, blaming it on ‘lower class’ lifestyles, e.g. too much alcohol, and ignoring poverty or the prevalence of industrially related diseases.

When Kate was in Chiapas in Mexico, she found similar attitudes amongst the doctors there, who said that “people do not look after themselves”. These attitudes had produced a radical response among the Zapatistas, who were trying to create a new liberation medicine.

Kate then asked those present to write the name of a particular disease on a piece of paper. These diseases were then discussed before Kate placed them on a spectrum from non-class to class-related diseases. The overwhelming majority had a class connection, with a strong link with poverty.

Kate then looked at the Lifestyle arguments – the prevalence of deep-fried Mars bars, smoking and alcohol. She said these did not take into consideration the Structural reasons for ill-health and disease – unhealthy homes, overcrowding, employment uncertainty, unemployment, access to healthy food (which can be more expensive), and access to healthcare (patient/doctor ratios in poorer communities with higher health requirements).

Kate the provided evidence form a Whitehall study of mortality in the highly stratified environment of  the British civil service. It showed that mortality was higher for those in the lower grades. There were higher mortality rates due to all causes for men of lower employment grade. This was shown in particular to be the case for coronary heart disease.

There was also a link between employment grade, status and significant risk factors. Risk factors included obesity, smoking, reduced leisure time, lower levels of physical activity, prevalence of underlying illness, higher blood pressure, and shorter height. However, taking these risk factors into consideration, they accounted for no more than 40% of the differences in cardiovascular disease mortality. In other words employment grade/status accounted for a relative risk of 2:1 for lower grades compared to the higher grades.

The origins of ill health begin before birth, with stress in the mother and smoking leading to lower birth weights. Early years relationships and environment alter growth, health and brain architecture.

Inequality, lack of trust, sense of shame and lack of control (alienation) and unhealthy environments lead to chronic stress in all of us. These affect our immune system, brain chemistry and metabolism.

The benefits of public health intervention are themselves experienced unequally. This leads to a situation of health ‘learned helplessness’. Lack of control leads to a feeling of helplessness and lack of hope.

Kate then divided those present into two groups, which discussed:-

11)      How rod dress in Ill-health
22)      How to address inequality

These groups reported back.

Kate summed up by looking to areas that an independent Scotland could address.

Do we ban smoking, increase alcohol prices, increase benefits, subsidise gyms, fund housing, provide early years support, set up peer education, provide good access to mental health and addiction services, provide preventative medicine with good access to healthcare and free prescriptions or do we try to change the structure of society?

Kate argued that both approached were required – specifically improving health provision and trying to change the structure of society.

Specifically as a health practitioner though Kate would try to:-

1)      identify priority areas
2)      focus on children’s early years, where inequalities first arise and influence the rest of people’s lives.
3)      address the problem of the high economic, social and health burden imposed by mental illness and the corresponding requirement to improve mental wellbeing.
4)      Deal with the problem of the “big killer’ diseases – cardiovascular and cancer. Some risk factors, such as smoking, are strongly linked to deprivation.
5)      Address the problem of alcohol-related violence that affects young men in particular.
However, important although these all are in improving health, they still do not reduce inequality. This must be a prime focus on those campaigning for a new Scotland.





Monday, 30 September 2013

SECULARISM: TIME TO SEPARATE CHURCH AND STATE


Allan Armstrong (RCN), 30.9.13 

Two interesting articles were published last week. The first one in The Herald (27.9.13) highlighted the recent Scottish census, which pointed out that, for the first time, those professing no religion had emerged as the largest and fastest growing group in Scotland (37%). The second article in the Sunday Herald (22.9.13) highlighted the growing penetration of Protestant fundamentalist church activity in Scotland’s ‘non-denominational’ schools.

The best way to understand and deal with such issues is to take a secular approach. Twenty years ago, most people, especially on the Left, would have been quite clear what secularism meant. Secularism is the complete separation of religion from the state. People’s choice of religion or of no religion is a private matter.

However, there has been an organised conservative religious counter-offensive, which tries to equate secularism with the promotion of atheism. Yet, in the western world, the origins of secularism lay amongst Christians and Deists, who wanted to overcome the bitter post-Reformation sectarian legacy. Some states, e.g. the Netherlands, had already moved to a situation where, although they had an established state religion or denomination, others were tolerated. However, when the USA became independent it adopted a secular constitution, which ended any form of religious establishment, and prevented the state giving backing to any religion, whilst at the same time allowing citizens the right to practice the religion of their choice. France took this secularism a step further during the Revolution.

Such a view of secularism is still understood today by liberal Christians, Jews and some people of other religions, as well as by many atheists and agnostics. A good example of a Christian who understands the importance of secularism is Richard Holloway, recently Episcopalian Bishop of Edinburgh, who has just published the pamphlet, A Plea for Secular Scotland.

So where does Scotland lie on the established religion/secular spectrum? Since Scotland, at present, remains part of the UK, you can only understand the current situation in this wider context.

If secularism is understood solely as a social phenomenon - a decreased hold of religious authority over the lives of people - then the nations and regions of the UK (with one significant exception) are a pretty secular societies, where even many of those still adhering to specific religions, do not necessarily act according to the instructions or advice of their religious leaders.

England is probably the most socially secular society in the UK, but both Scotland and Wales are not far behind. Northern Ireland is the exception to this pattern. In Europe, probably only the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands are more socially secular than Britain. West European countries, including those such as Italy and Spain, recently considered to be Catholic, are much more socially secular than the USA, despite it having a more secular political constitution.

However, when you look at the position of secularism in the UK from a political, rather than a social point of view, the situation is very different. Official state-backed religion continues to have a conservative and sometimes reactionary role in society, and indeed also plays a significant part in holding the UK state together.

First of all there is the established Church of England, which has 26 bishops sitting in the House of Lords (itself a reactionary institution). The monarch is the head of the Church of England and is constitutionally unable to marry a Catholic. These features highlight the state’s support for a wider Protestantism, which has historical origins dating from political conflicts between the sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

In Scotland, the Church of Scotland is recognised as the ‘national church’, although only supported by 32% of Scottish people and having declined by 400,000 since the last census. The General Assembly is arranged so that behind the presiding Moderator, there is a throne gallery, where the monarch is entitled to sit. The monarch is also a member of the Church of Scotland – a nice if limited example of ecumenicism! In practice, she is represented by the Lord High Commissioner (LHC). He addresses the General Assembly on behalf of the queen. The current LHC is Tom Murray, whose Google entry states that he “has years of experience of giving landowners and familiar advice on the complexities in tax and succession planning”!

However, the Church of Scotland, with the backing of the UK state in Scotland, extends its role into parts of society, where others are denied, particularly the so-called ‘non-denominational’ schools provided by the state. Since the 1980’s, Scottish schools have been forced to provide religious observance (many had ceased to do so, in the relatively liberal post-1968 years). Parents do have the right to withdraw their children from this. However, particularly, at primary level, children would not necessarily understand why they were being separated from their schoolmates.

In practice ‘non-denominational’ religious observance is left to Church of Scotland ministers (never Catholics, Muslims, Jews or Humanists), or to individual teachers with strong (Protestant) religious convictions. This has allowed some particularly worrying developments to occur. In Kirktonholme Primary in East Kilbride, a US pro-creationist sect was invited in, whilst in Dean Park Primary in Balerno, Edinburgh, another evangelical sect provides residential trips for pupils. Today (30.9.13), The Herald has highlighted a case where a physics teacher is alleged to have promoted a creationist view in a science class in Lasswade High.

Getting back to wider society, although the longstanding and continuing social secularisation of ‘Britain’ means there would probably be widespread support for ending the ban on monarchs not being able to marry Catholics, this would not be so well received amongst Loyalists and Unionists in Northern Ireland. This ensures that the British establishment and mainstream political parties are very reluctant to introduce such a measure, which could call into question continuing British rule over Northern Ireland.

Ulster Unionists and Loyalists can not conceive of ‘Britishness’ in any form other than being Protestant, and in this they are able to draw support from the existing UK constitution. Toleration of Catholics represents Unionism’s (small) ‘liberal’ wing, whilst strong enmity represents the still strident Loyalist wing. This Loyalism is currently making its political weight felt on the streets of Northern Ireland. Whereas there have been Protestant Nationalist and Republican politicians, there have never been any Catholic Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland.

Much of what is termed anti-Catholic ‘sectarianism’ in Scotland is the knock on effect of anti-Irish racism in Northern Ireland in the Central Belt. It is strongly promoted by specific organisations such as the Orange Order and various Loyalist groups.

Indeed, when you look at Scotland, if the historical context of the time is considered, you will see that, whilst being strongly Presbyterian, religious repression was not in the same league as say Catholic Spain (the Inquisition) and France (the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and the repression following the Revocation of the Edict Of Nantes), or the 40 Catholic martyrs in England. The Catholic John Ogilvie was martyred in Scotland in 1615; but the official Catholic Church in Scotland martyred the Protestant Patrick Hamilton in 1528, whilst the atheist, Thomas Aikenhead, was executed by the official Church of Scotland in 1697. However, these are single events. None of this is to deny the highly discriminatory Scottish state and Church of Scotland practice towards Catholics (and after 1690 towards Episcopalians), just to see it in the wider context of the times, where such practices were widespread, and did not mark out Scotland as an extreme case of sectarianism and bigotry.

Of course, when you look at the activities of Scottish Presbyterian settlers in Ireland from the seventeenth century, you will certainly see much persecution and barbarity, but the real aim of all this was not to enforce religious conversion, which would have been counter-productive, since what was wanted was Irish land. And again, such barbarity was hardly unique at the time to Scottish Presbyterians, as the role of the Spanish state and Catholic Church and the British colonists and most Protestant denominations towards the Native Americans highlights.

By the early nineteenth century, despite some undoubted continuing reactionary Presbyterian opposition, Scottish Catholics were increasingly confident that their social and political position was improving, particularly after the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829. Certainly this advance was limited, but when compared to say the position of Protestants in many official Catholic states at the time, Scotland still did not lie on the most repressive end of the religious spectrum in its treatment of religious minorities.

That, however, very much changed with the mass immigration of Irish Catholics after The Famine. This allowed a renewed Presbyterian sectarianism and intense bigotry to emerge, certainly within the Church of Scotland (and other Presbyterian denominations), but even more so in the Orange Order and the Conservative Party.

As recently as the twentieth century, a notorious incident was the publication of a report by the Church of Scotland’s Church and Nation Committee in 1923. It was entitled The Menace of the Irish Race to Our Scottish Nationality. It was presented by the Moderator, John White, who was a Tory. However, when you read this report, what strikes you is not its religiously bigoted anti-Catholicism (indeed it supports Scottish Catholics), but its strident anti-Irish racism, highlighted by its title. Of course, many Loyalists did not make this distinction, and would attack any Catholic symbol, as well as the Catholic of Irish origin living in Scotland. But, even they knew who their ‘enemy’ was – ‘Fenians’, a non-religious term for the Irish.

To this day, there are many who decry ‘Scotland’s Shame’, putting it down to an engrained Scottish anti-Catholicism, when what should really be examined now is the continued anti-Irish racism still found here. By all social indicators, the position of Catholics in Scotland has steadily improved, especially since the 1960’s.  By 2001 Catholics enjoyed a position of occupational parity with other Scots. Denominational inter-marriage has also continued to increase.

Quite clearly, though, a political tension still exists in Scotland. What is the nature of this tension? This has less to do with any remaining Scottish Presbyterian anti-Catholicism, but mainly reflects the knock-on effect of the situation in Northern Ireland, where the UK state constitutionally underpins a so-called ‘sectarian’ division. Behind the sectarian labels ‘Protestant and Catholic’ there are more accurate political labels  - ‘Unionist and Nationalist’ - and national labels  - ‘British and Irish’.

This is why, despite the continued economic and social progress of Catholics in Scotland, we still see worrying political conflicts, which appear to take the form of ‘Protestant’ versus ‘Catholic’. These conflicts are likely to come to the fore, now that a Scottish independence referendum further threatens the UK set-up, frightening not only the British unionist establishment, but the Orange Order; Loyalists, BNP and SDL. The real issue has relatively little to do with religion and a lot more to do with the political nature of the UK and national identity. Somebody who has written a good book on anti-Irish racism in Scotland is Phil Mac Giolla Bhain. Minority Reporter, Modern Scotland’s Bad attitude Towards Her Own Irish.

Apart from the political and media focus on Protestant/Catholic or Rangers/Celtic antipathies, the other arena in which the issue of religious division comes up is the existence of state-funded Catholic schools.

Protestant fundamentalists, and even some liberals, claim that Catholic schools are the cause of social division in Scotland. Given the nature of Scottish society (as part of the UK state and British Empire), in the later nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, it is not at all surprising that the majority of Irish descended Catholics in Scotland then gave their support to the hierarchy’s call for separate school provision. By 1918, when this was achieved, Scottish society would need to have changed far more, before the majority of (Irish) Catholics would have had any confidence that they would be treated equally here. Therefore, widespread Catholic support for such schooling is wholly understandable.

However, Scottish society has changed and is changing. The main battle lines are now being drawn around the maintenance of the existing UK state (where Northern Ireland plays a particular role in Scotland’s debates) and bringing about more social equality, particularly for women and gays.

Socialists need to be at the forefront of these political and social struggles, and in the process of helping to change society, and put forward a secular vision, which seeks to educate children together. There is no Presbyterian geometry, Catholic algebra, Muslim arithmetic, or Atheist geography.  We oppose segregated housing provision (e.g. present day Belfast behind the ‘Peace Walls’) and job provision (Clyde shipyards in the past).

We want to maximise social interaction, whilst giving scope for people to practice their own individuality, whether expressed in the religion (or non-religion) and culture of their choice. And support for this should be demonstrated. When the Muslim mosque in Annandale Street was firebombed in 2003, socialists, atheists and people of other religions attended the solidarity event organised there. Many would do the same if a synagogue or Catholic church was attacked.

Although most socialists would like to see the end of separate schooling provision on religious grounds, the best way to achieve this is to end all political and social inequality in society – including the ending of the ban on the royals marrying Catholics, but better still moving towards a republic without any established religion. Protestant fundamentalists, who oppose separate Catholic schooling provision, are strongly opposed to any such political and social change in the UK, and indeed want to preserve the official Protestant nature of the state. Liberal opponents of state-funded Catholic schools ignore this constitutionally entrenched Protestant supremacism.

In its defence of separate religious schooling, the Catholic hierarchy claims that Scottish society is so deeply anti-Catholic there will always be a need for such provision. This ignores the considerable economic and social advances already achieved by Catholics in Scotland, whilst showing a highly pessimistic view of Scotland's political future. Such a stance though has its own political purpose. It is designed to protect the privileged position of a Catholic hierarchy, which is increasingly being questioned by many lay Catholics.

Tom Gallagher has recently written a book Divided Scotland – Ethnic Friction and Christian Crisis, which whilst being somewhat ambiguous in its proposals, sees new political lines being drawn. He thinks that much of the current opposition to Catholicism (more accurately, to the reactionary politics of the Catholic hierarchy) in Scotland today draws not upon traditional Presbyterian anti-Catholicism, but is part of a wider secular opposition to all religious interference in the state and wider society. Such opposition also includes a marked hostility to the claims of Protestant fundamentalists. There have also been new alliances between some Catholic and Protestant groups when it comes to opposing women’s (especially over abortion) and gay (especially over marriage) rights.

The political effect of promoting socially conservative Catholic values (not necessarily held by all or even the majority of Catholics) can be demonstrated in the case of the Scottish composer, James Macmillan. He is somebody who very much believes in the "Scotland's Shame" - or its congenital anti-Catholicism. However, his own support for socially conservative values led him to vote Tory in the last Westminster election. The Tories were in an electoral alliance with the anti-Catholic Ulster Unionist Party! Upholding social conservatism takes priority over opposing anti-Catholic sectarianism.

Getting back to the issue of separate schooling provision, there is now another issue. If job and social discrimination against Catholics in Scotland has largely been overcome, another group of migrants, Muslims, still very much face the discrimination and vilification, which Catholics once experienced. Some Muslims have raised the demand for separate Muslim schooling provision.

There are two roads one could take in relation to this. The first is to accept the claim that it is impossible to change the racist or sectarian nature of Scottish society, and therefore separate Catholic schools should always exist and new Muslim schools should be added to the mix. Given that it is unlikely that any Holyrood government will admit that it allows racism and sectarianism to persist, then such provision is likely to take the form of the right of any religion to get state backing for its own schools – Church of Scotland, Free Presbyterian, Sikh, Jewish, etc. This would not be a socially progressive move, and would strongly reinforce the hold of various religious figures and officials over children, often reinforcing reactionary stances in particular towards women, gays and wider sexuality.

Socialists should uphold a secular vision. First, this means fighting against the political and social divisions in which racism and sectarianism flourish. Challenging the UK set-up is central to this. The provision of fully secular schooling follows from this. However, the so-called  ‘non-denominational’ schools should be fully secular today. There should be no religious observance in such schools. That it goes on in so-called ‘non-denominational’ schools should be of considerable concern, especially given the nature of some of the reactionary views being pushed. What can be supported is religious and moral education, which informs pupils of various beliefs and non-belief.

However, the census statistics show that just over 50% of people in Scotland still claim to adhere to some Christian denomination. Amongst those, there will be people who remain more committed religious practitioners. How can secular schools provide for them?  First, there should be a number of days allotted to each pupil/student, in which s/he can withdraw from school on days of particular religious significance. It should be possible for religious and non-religious clubs or societies to form in schools, with attendance on a voluntary basis. Whilst parents might choose to place their children in particular religious societies, there should also be provision that when a pupil/student is old enough to make her/his own choice, they make it themselves.

Now, since we are discussing the issue of secularism in its contemporary political context, including the challenge of the Scottish independence referendum, there is another issue. The independence march last weekend was dominated by the nationalists’ saltires (or St. Andrew’s cross). This is a medieval and specifically Christian symbol, which seems inappropriate in today’s multi and non-faith Scottish society. If you go to Ireland, where they have long dropped the Irish unionist and Christian St. Patrick’s cross, people have the choice of the ancient Irish Harp, the republican Tricolour, or the socialist republican Starry Plough. Even England has a little-known republican tricolour (blue, white and green) designed by the Chartist, William Linton. It’s about time for Scotland to catch up.

Discussion

This was followed by a discussion to which Alister, Andy, Bob, Iain, Ian, Jim, Pat and Sophia contributed. Ali, whose son was at Dean Park Primary, outlined the role of the Evangelical church in Balerno, where it enjoyed considerable local support. In the process it was promoting some fairly reactionary attitudes, which had caused some alarm.  It will be interesting to see how the head deals with the allegations about its role in the school.

Iain said it was important that the RIC was able to raise such wider issues that were ignored in the mainstream independence debate. The debate should cover all the issues that effected people’s lives.

Andy and Jim supported the continued need for Catholic schools in Scotland. Andy highlighted his experience of less than a decade ago in North Lanarkshire, where inter-school hostility remained, with stones being thrown by students from ‘non-denominational’ and Catholic schools. However, he also highlighted the negative experience of being a gay student in a Catholic school, where anti-gay attitudes were promoted by some of the staff. Jim pointed to the historical role of Catholic schools in enabling students to get the education, which had allowed them to overcome earlier discrimination. He thought that secularism was widely equated to atheism. He also pointed out that many Muslims preferred to send their children to Catholic rather than ‘non-denominational’ schools.

Bob pointed out the negative role of the USSR, which had contributed to the false view that secularism was the same as atheism. Atheism was the ‘established church’ of the USSR. Furthermore, non-religious socialists had sometimes adopted a colourless vision, whilst we needed to promote our own vision of non-religious human spirituality.

Pat did not think that socialists’ vision lacked colour. However, she pointed out that a great deal of human culture had been expressed in religious terms, and this was an important part of humanity’s legacy. She appreciated the Christian stories she was told at school, because these helped her to understand a lot of wider literature and culture. However, she was also appalled by the highly charged emotional techniques used by fundamentalist sects to recruit adherents, particularly when used on children.

Sophia, who is from Greece, highlighted the problems when religion had been part of a culture of resistance, but later changed its role, as had occurred in Ireland. The Orthodox Church had opposed the oppression of the Latins and the Ottomans in Greece. This legacy was still deeply engrained in Greek culture. However, today, the Orthodox Church plays a reactionary role in Greek society. But you could only understand much of Greek culture, including painting and song, by appreciating its  earlier past role.

Ian, who comes from Aberdeen, said that a great deal of what was considered ‘sectarian’ conflict centred on the Central Belt and Western Isles. Outside of these areas, particularly in the north east, the levels of those professing no religion in the recent census was higher. He also pointed out that the composer, James Macmillan, had also given his strong support to the UK, whilst attacking the National Collective as Mussolini’s cheerleaders.