Category Archives: Independence

A day out with the boys.

selfie with Robin

The obligatory selfie.

What started as a day out with the boys to plan a walking expedition morphed into a celebration of the Common Weal.

We had planned to meet up anyway but I had mentioned to my friends that it was a shame that we would miss this event so we decided to make a day of it and go along to the Festival. What a joy that we made it along. For those of you who don’t know what The Common Weal is, the “Common Weal is a vision of what Scotland can be if it rejects the failed Me-First politics that left us all in second place and instead builds a politics that puts All Of Us First.” in their own words. It is the brainchild of The Jimmy Reid Foundation and is a think tank which is left leaning but non aligned politically.

The Festival was a party for progressive thinkers and artists and for the public who are fed up with the failed politics and policies of the past. It was, and is NOT a protest group, it is a space to get people together to talk about and plan a realistic way forward that ensures that All of Us are First. It is predicated on the research that shows that more equal societies are more successful. More than a hundred exhibitors and participants turned up and 600 tickets were sold to the public all within two weeks of publicising the event. It is a testament to the changing nature of Scottish politics that the public are becoming engaged in the process more than I have ever experienced in my sixty one years on the planet. I believe that this is a result of the independence referendum which has involved more people in a more direct way in seeking a different future. Everyone is affected and engaged no mater whether they are pro or against independence. The process is bringing light into the dark arts of politics and the media and social media such as Twitter, Facebook and blogging tools have enlightened and engaged many who previously sat in silence. It has allowed people to educate themselves without receiving their news packaged by the elite groups who own and run broadcasting and the media and has allowed the public to critically scrutinise the output from interest groups be they political, financial or a mixture of both who package information in ways which promote their own self-interest above that of the public at large.

What is interesting about the Jimmy Reid Foundation and the Common Weal is that it has much in common with the economic philosophy of Business for Scotland. If we can draw people from such diverse backgrounds and work together to create a better future for all, this project has a real chance of success.

What is even more encouraging is that they want real participative democracy where the public can get involved through ‘mini publics‘ which is a way of involving the public in a truly representative way in decision making. This is not the only way that the public can be involved as true democracy needs to get decisions and government closer to the communities it serves, in fact it should be these local groups who have much more power over developing services designed for themselves and paid for by resources that they own and control. This means getting local government to be truly local, not the huge bureaucracies that serve their own interests that currently exist. Prof Paddy Bort of Edinburgh University has pointed out that the average population that local authorities in France serve is 1,615 whereas in Scotland it is 163,200.( Reclaiming Local Democracy.)

Since I was press ganged into writing this blog for KILTR I thought it might be a good idea to interview its director Robin McAlpine. Robin is a greying forty year old with an engaging manner and talks like a machine gun out of control. He is bursting with ideas and rattles them out at a speed that is astonishing. He is hugely passionate about the Common Weal and draws you in to his vision of a better Scotland infecting you with his enthusiasm.

Robin graduated from Glasgow University with a degree in Journalism and was exposed to the Westminster jungle by securing a post as Press Officer to George Robertson. I think it is fair to say that he was less than impressed with the qualities of the people that that institution attracted. In his words it was filled with chancers looking for a way to enhance their CV rather than bright young things that wanted to make things better. Having moved on and after spending 13 years as the Press Officer and Head of Public Affairs for the University Sector Robin was looking for a new challenge and a way to put to good use his talents and his passion for change. He wanted to “do left wing politics”. He got involved with the Scottish Left Review Editorial Board (www.scottishleftreview.org) and The Jimmy Reid Foundation has been set up by them but unfortunately Jimmy never got to see its launch. It was his last major political project.
All the work of The Reid Foundation is and will be based on a series of underpinning principles drawn from Jimmy’s own thinking:

That society should be based on equality and social justice

That people should have the democratic power to influence their workplace and social institutions

That quality of life should be at the forefront of political debate and not an afterthought

That justice can only come from peace and support for human rights

That ideas, learning, arts and culture have the power to transform society and individuals

That all these principles are underpinned by the importance of national identity and a vision for Scotland

The Jimmy Reid Foundation has been established in memory of Jimmy Reid and to continue the legacy of radical political thinking his life represented.

It is a think tank and advocacy group focussed on practical policy proposals for transforming Scotland which are based on analysis and investigation of the current Scottish and global political, cultural and social situation.

Robin is Director of the Foundation and the aim of the Common Weal project is to unite people through ideas, it exits to create ideas, not to set up a new structure but to drive change through ideas that people can engage with. They have succeeded in producing over 50 major papers from experts and academics which go into great detail about how things can be improved. Many will not agree with all of the proposals and may think that bits of papers that they read are not perfect but the point is not to produce perfect papers, it is to provide a starting point for change. Robin believes that you have to be committed to an idea before you do the numbers and since I and my two friends are accountants he was comprehensively grilled (by three grumpy old B’s I think was his good natured comment). He held his own though and I think it is fair to say that he impressed us with his drive and commitment.

Robin describes The Common Weal as “a way of describing a different type of government” It proposes a collaborative approach to government based on the theory that collaboration is more effective than conflict and the model that we have now is conflict based, the ‘me first society’.

I suggested to him that the public whether they have £5 a week for food or £4000 a week as a salary would want to know “what’s in it for me?” His response was that 95% of people will be better off in a more equal society. (The break-even point being at around a salary of £50,000 a year)He said “people who are happy being led round on a leash” would not be engaged and (because of his personal belief that we need independence to achieve real change) he placed people in three groups

He asks are you a BritNat, are you a Fearty or are you Ready.

BritNats People who believe we will be better off in the UK be that because they think that they need solidarity with their comrades in other parts of the UK or are ideologically wedded to the UK or even those that are just happy the way things are and see no need for change.

Fearties People who are frightened of change (even though change will happen with or without independence) or are frightened of a backlash from England if we vote Yes or those who are frightened by the scare stories that the Better Together people called ‘Project Fear’.

People who are Ready, those who are engaged and willing to do the work that change requires.

He is quite clear that if you want change and want things to be better, a better future, you have to be prepared to work for it. There are no excuses and there is no one else to blame if we are not prepared to put the effort in. It doesn’t mean that you have to ignore the priorities in life that we all have such as earning a living and bringing up a family or even our leisure but it does mean that we have to be engaged in our collective future and our collective well-being.

All in all I left with a feeling of hope; it was a great day out, children running about playing with balloons, musicians performing their songs, comedians giving us a laugh, serious politicians, economist and journalists amongst others in discussion and artists adding their creative flair to the day. So from one grumpy old accountant to the inspiring idealist that is Robin McAlpine, thank you for a great day out, I left uplifted by your vision.

Bill Fraser

For those that want to learn more The Common Weal has produced a book which is an attempt to bring together the content of 50 major reports as a single programme for action. But with self-imposed rules – no jargon, no bullet-points, no footnotes, no graphs and charts, no italics, no language that could not be understood by any school-leaver. If you want these things they are in the reports; these pages are almost in an oral tradition, a story that takes us from the nation we are to the nation we can be. It can be purchased here – http://www.allofusfirst.org/

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The Inadequacies of Western Politics

I am struck by the constant struggle for power of the so called ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ in western politics and have come to realise that these terms are largely meaningless, so tied up in the bias of their respective proponents that they are simply reduced to terms of abuse. ‘The Left’ has become associated with the excesses of powerful ideologues such as Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot whereas ‘The Right’ has been associated with Hitler, Mussolini and Juan and Eva Péron. These individuals, their philosophies and forms of government are more alike than they are different. They have at their root a kind of Social Darwinism and reliance on a totalitarian state. Both were reactions to the failure of Nation States to protect their populations from poverty. Both claimed to be the answer to the failures of capitalism (and serfdom ) whereas there roots lay in a struggle between the haves and the have-nots at times when hunger, poverty and want overcame the fear of the military and police used by the rich and powerful elite. Many in the west proclaimed the victory of capitalism over communism when the U.S.S.R. imploded yet this is simple propaganda, the failure of communism was due to a powerful elite oppressing the rest of society. It was not capitalism that the victor it was the failure of communism to provide for the needs and wants of its peoples.

Today we are experiencing the collapse of capitalism, it is failing to provide for the needs and wants of the majority, the powerful and rich elites that benefit from the laissez faire policies promulgated by Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher are still at work protecting their ill-gotten gains to the detriment of the wider public, but there is one crucial difference. The main stream media, long a supporter of the wealthy and the powerful, are losing their readership to the web; blogs, twitter and other social media tools are opening the doors to the widespread dissemination of views and values that directly challenge that of the ruling elites. Large sections of the media in the UK have been shown to be acting against the interests of the public as demonstrated by the revelations of the Leveson enquiry. At the beginning of the Arab Spring Western governments, led by the USA, lauded the developments as a democratic revolution made possible by social media and encouraged the overthrow of governments that they disapproved of. They failed to foresee the rise of extremist groups equally as dangerous as those who caused the Second World War who seem willing to exterminate, torture and imprison any who disagree with their views. Think tanks funded by the corporate elite promote policies to compliant governments, members of whom are also on the boards of those self-same corporate bodies and who benefit from investments in them.  George Monbiot points out how these think tanks operate and subvert democracy. This is not a battle between right and left, it is a battle for profits and power at the expense of the majority to the benefit of elites.

Extremism from any source must be resisted, if we have learned anything from the Second World War, it is that inflicting poverty on masses of the public leads to extremism. The human costs of that war led to the post war consensus on full employment. “There were good reasons to seek security. The British people had just emerged from a war that had shown that, regardless of how high they were on the social ladder, they could fall to the bottom in an instant. The death and destruction of war were not the only threats; a serious illness could blight a family’s prospects. People wanted to be sure that they would not be on their own if disaster struck, and they were prepared to ensure this through taxes and insurance contributions. They were, literally, “all in it together,” accepting rationing of food and fuel to guarantee that in the face of austerity, everyone had access to the essentials.” The profits from enterprise were shared out across society with the creation of the welfare state in the UK and its glowing beacon, the NHS. The post war consensus and the West fully embraced this doctrine at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 which largely accepted the work of John Maynard Keynes, but western governments were concerned about the ideological challenge posed to them by communism as practiced by the USSR and China (the two largest state proponents). Thus began the “cold war” a battle for not only hearts and minds but a battle for resources. It is my opinion that the west worried too much about the ideological battle, communism (as practiced by those countries, not the true form) failed because central planning was not adequate to provide for the needs and the wants of its populace. It was the people of those countries, striving for a better life and putting pressure on their political masters that caused communism to fail. The price mechanism of the market has been proven to be a much better tool to improve the lot of people and yet that has also failed us. The seeds of that failure lay in Richard Nixon’s abandonment of the fixed exchange rate between gold and the dollar. That single act caused the breakdown of the Bretton Woods Agreement and was the result of the rising costs of the Vietnam War. In effect, because the dollar was the reserve currency of the world financial system, by breaking its link from gold and printing more money, he financed the Vietnam War by exporting inflation to the rest of the western world.

The inflation caused by this act caused great pressure on the old and the working classes in the UK and caused much of the industrial strife of the 1970’s as people strived to maintain their economic wellbeing by using the only weapon available to them, the withholding of their labour. Because of near full employment and the unionised nature of industrial Britain this tool was particularly effective but we could not ignore the world events out-with our control which meant that we were losing competitiveness to other countries. Capital and investment flowed out of the country to low wage economies that became more efficient because of better tooling and lower labour costs.  The public in the UK saw this as the fault of the trade unions as the media began a concerted attack on them using the tools of the think tanks that had started to embrace the thoughts of Hayek and Milton Freidman of the Chicago School of Economics. Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher took the convenient parts of the academic thinking of these economists and allowed the market to let rip with a massive move towards laissez faire.

It is that move to laissez faire economics, the freeing of the market from regulation and constraints that had led us the present economic collapse. The market has been proven to be a good thing but not the FREE market. The market must be regulated to prevent its excesses. We cannot insulate ourselves from the rest of the world but we can seek to build a better society, the threat of war is real as populations around the world seek to improve their lot whilst increasing strains from the exponential rise in world population place more and more strain on the worlds resources and the capitalists who own the means of production seek to retain and increase their wealth. The evidence from history is clear; wealth must be shared equitably if strife is to be avoided. More than this there is overwhelming academic evidence that inequality is bad for all of us, the rich and the poor. The work of Richard Wilson and Kate Picket as published in The Spirit Level examines inequality in countries around the world and indisputable proves that more equal societies fair better and benefit all in society.

It is my experience that both Tory and Labour governments have abandoned the poor. Labour by abandoning the attempt at full employment and a living wage by seeking to redistribute the profits from the big banks through benefits. The Tories by removing benefits altogether from the neediest in society. It is only with the SNP that I see a drive to increase the employment opportunities available to our citizens by investing in our infrastructure which simultaneously creates assets for the future (which are more valuable than the costs incurred in creating them) and provides employment for our citizens who pay taxes, spent their wages in the community and thus create more jobs as demand increases. They seek to use our wealth of energy and natural resources to benefit the people of Scotland by investing its profits for the future growth of our economy. Both Labour and Tory governments have been proven to act against the interests of Scotland people when they buried the McCrone report. The latest incarnation of these policies is the astonishing abandonment of universal benefits by Joanne Lamont of the Labour Party.

I support the SNP because they are a truly social democratic party, it is to my regret that the Labour Party seems to be abandoning its core principles and moving to the right. I suspect that they seek power more than they seek to improve the lot of the nation’s citizens. That is the route to political oblivion and I earnestly hope that they will turn back from this course.

It is for these reasons among many more that I support the Yes campaign for an independent Scotland. I see hope in the message that we can better target our resources to benefit our people, if we have the tools to do so. We need to be in control of our own destiny to improve our lot we should not abandon that responsibility to others that do not have our best interests at heart.

Vote YES for the opportunity for a better future.