Saturday, 6 May 2017

Reconnecting people with their values and their democracy

This is my speech for today's May Day March and Rally in Aberdeen. Written in the wake of yesterday's council election results it looks at the challenges facing our movement in our fight to have a better society for all, as the General Election approaches.

"We live in strange times.

We’ve had 7 years of a Tory government who have hammered ordinary folk

Poverty pay

Rises in insecure labour and zero hours contracts

Wages cap and vastly increasing inequality between the rich and the rest of us

Hideous caps on benefits and a benefits system described by Ken Loach at the STUC as “conscious cruelty” - “a campaign of systematic punishment” which leaves more and more of our children, disabled people and elderly in poverty and distress

Our young people hit particularly hard 

Cuts to the NHS and public services and a massive selling off of the NHS – our NHS (especially in England and Wales)  – to private companies running for profit not patient care.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Corbyn - a new kind of politics and a different kind of leadership

So here’s the thing that I am really struggling with. What exactly is wrong with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party? I hear it time and time again but I have yet to hear anyone explain what it is that he should be doing that he isn’t or shouldn’t be doing that he is?

What is it that the majority of the PLP have found so lacking in Corbyn’s leadership that they would resign en masse in a co-ordinated strategy designed to undermine him in the most humiliating and public way possible?

Is he without a vision of what he wants Labour to achieve? Well that can’t be right. No one who has heard Corbyn speak can be in any doubt about where his priorities lie and what he will offer if elected to government. He has made it very clear that he wants to end austerity, and create a society where there is less inequality, decent paid jobs, good public services, an NHS providing health care at the point of need to all, where children do not have to grow up in poverty, where disabled people and older people can live lives of dignity.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Time to take back Labour’s clothes and rebuild from our core socialist values

You know, however difficult I find the euphoria of my friends who support the SNP, at a time when all I can think of is that as a country – and we are still part of the UK – we have voted in a majority Tory government for the next five years, I can’t and don’t criticise them.

I found it hard to take the day after the election, when all I could see, and what still consumes me, is the impact on the poor, the vulnerable, immigrants and working people of another five years of rule by a party that cares little for those groups other that as a source of cheap labour, and has presided over the mass transfer of wealth from the rest of us to the very rich.

I really don’t know how it happened that the Tories got in with a majority, but I am unwilling to set the blame at the door of the SNP and find it hard to take from many SNP supporters  – without much evidence – that it can be laid entirely at Labour’s door.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Don’t believe Tory lies – Let’s kick them out and rediscover our country's compassion and humanity

Lies, damn lies and statistics!  That phrase always pops into my mind whenever I hear a Tory/Lib Dem politician justify their policies over the past five years in government.

I know that I am biased because I want to live in a country where there is social justice and greater equality, where everyone is treated with respect, and where the rich don’t become obscenely wealthy on the backs of the rest of us and particularly the poorest.

A country where families and the most vulnerable don’t have to rely on the charity of others to survive and where food banks are not the fastest growing industry.

A country where health care is still available to everyone free at the point of need, and is well enough staffed with compassionate, well paid and well treated professionals so that the quality of service matches or surpasses the service that those rich enough to afford private health care get.

A country which values the public services that we all use and that some of us provide, and recognises their significant importance for all of us who use them but also for the economy as a whole. After all, public servants pay their taxes, shop and buy in their local communities, and use their local trades people, keeping their businesses in work.

But biased or not, I am sick of hearing the lies that pop out of the mouths of certain politicians as easily as breathing. Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Tories,  has particularly irritated me over recent days. So, there are fewer children growing up in workless households are there Ruth? And she says it as if it is a great thing that her government has achieved. Well, maybe it is from her perspective. But, how does it fit with the increasing numbers of children growing up in poverty WHO LIVE IN WORKING HOUSEHOLDS? With parents for whom work DOESN’T pay –  low waged and dependent on government top ups and the charity of food banks.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Social justice – rhetoric or reality?

I like Nicola Sturgeon. I really do. I like her clear focus on social justice and her willingness to make that part of the political vocabulary again. During the UNISON referendum hustings I asked her a question about child poverty and she told me that she was passionate about ending poverty – that it was her passion for social justice that had brought her into politics. Good to hear!

What puzzles me though, is why the SNP Government over the past few years – years in which Nicola has been deputy first minister - has persisted in policies which run counter to a social justice agenda. Why they have continued with a Council Tax freeze which, although electorally popular, has been shown to benefit the richest rather than the most vulnerable, who are most dependent on public services; why they have cut college places, a route out of poverty for many children from working class and poorer backgrounds; why they have voted again and again against including the living wage in procurement?
Maybe there’s a limit to what you can do as a deputy. From the trade union responses to Nicola’s statement it is clear that they are prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt – to take her at her word. It would be churlish not to do the same.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

“Does the Israeli collective memory not recall the evil of collective punishment?”

The second world war was a terrible time for Jewish people in Germany and other allied countries in Europe. There is no denying that. Now, children across Europe are being taught about the holocaust, about how and why the Nazi dictatorship built ghettos, concentration camps and eventually extermination camps like Auschwitz. They are being taught this, “lest we forget;” to make sure it never happens again.

Yet now we find that it is not us, but the State of Israel itself that is in danger of forgetting. As the wonderful and compassionate Rodney Bickerstaffe, ex General Secretary of UNISON asked, after the terrible assault on the UN school last week, “Does the Israeli collective memory not recall the evil of collective punishment?”

A very good question.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Israel’s war on children - Man’s inhumanity to man writ large

I can’t get it out of my head, the situation in Gaza. It is never very far from my thoughts, my conversations, my actions these days. It haunts me.

Why this? My friend asked me. There have been so many terrible things happening around the world, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan. Why do you feel so strongly about this?

I think about it. And what I say to my friend is that I see Israel’s atrocities in Gaza as man’s inhumanity to man writ large, and I can’t bear it. The slaughter of men, women and most terribly, children all of whom are completely powerless to do anything about it. The injuries and the trauma, the lack of basic facilities and the loss of homes. The terrorising of ordinary civilians – people that could be you and me. Ordinary mothers and fathers, grandparents, sons and daughters. People told to flee their homes before they are bombed, only to be killed in what should be safe havens, like UN schools.

When I saw those children killed in the UN school this week, I remembered Dunblane, when Thomas Hamilton killed 16 defenceless children and one teacher 18 years ago. I remembered how shocked and upset we all were back then, how distraught we were for the parents, how we felt for the whole community, how we hugged our children a bit closer and knew that it could as easily have been our school, our children, our community. We called it a massacre. We vilified the one man who did such a terrible thing and we did what any decent society does to make sure it can’t happen again.

Why is it so different for the children of Gaza? There have been at least 245 children killed as I write this, since this conflict began, massacred by the state of Israel just as surely as Thomas Hamilton massacred those 16 children in Dunblane. Yet still our Government, and others in the West don’t raise a voice in protest and instead abstain on a UNHRC resolution to investigate Israel for war crimes; a resolution that would have at least given Israel the message that their behaviour in Gaza is unacceptable to the international community.