Monday, 25 May 2015

North Lanarkshire Update


Here's an interesting press release from the SNP announcing that two experienced North Lanarkshire trade union activists, Linda Millar and Ramsey Millar, had decided to leave the Labour Party and join the SNP.

Now I don't know Linda or Ramsay, but what interests me is that they are both GMB activists and might be able to shed some light on what the GMB union has been doing with its members equal pay claims in North Lanarkshire.

So if any readers out there are in touch with Linda and/or Ramsay, I'd love to hear from them at the following email address: markirvine@compuserve.com  

The silence from the GMB is deafening and it's time to start making waves.

FORMER LABOUR CANDIDATE JOINS SNP

Thu, 16/04/2015 - 07:22

The Scottish National Party are delighted to announce that a Labour Scottish Parliament candidate in 2011 and former member of the Scottish Labour Executive has joined the SNP.

Linda Millar joined the Labour Party in 1990, and was fifth on the Labour list in the West of Scotland in 2011 - where Labour secured three list MSPs.

She was elected to the Labour Party Scottish Executive in 2012, and resigned in 2013 as she was disappointed and disillusioned at the lack of a progressive political direction. She left the Labour Party in 2014.

Last week, she joined the SNP along with her husband, Ramsay Millar - a Labour Party activist for over 40 years. Ramsay was the party's Local Government Secretary in North Lanarkshire, and previously Local Government Secretary in Stirling when Anne McGuire was elected.

Linda is a member of the GMB Trade Union and has been the Branch Secretary and Convener for North Lanarkshire Public Services Branch for the last ten years. She was a regular speaker at Labour Party Scottish and UK Conferences, as well as at the GMB Congress.

Linda Millar said:

"In the 2011 Scottish Parliament Election, I was a Scottish Labour Candidate for the West of Scotland list seats.

"Two years ago I resigned as a member of the Scottish Labour Executive, and last year resigned as a member of the Labour Party.

"For some time I have been concerned with the direction Labour in Scotland has been going, and do not feel that this is the same Labour Party I joined 25 years ago. They are no longer representing the aims of social justice for working people like myself and my family.

"Last week I made the decision to join the SNP with my husband, who was a Labour Party activist for over 40 years. We have been hugely impressed with Nicola Sturgeon, and believe that a strong group of SNP MPs will deliver real change.

"We both believe that if we want a better future for our children and grandchildren, the SNP are the only party offering a positive vision for Scotland. We are encouraging all our family and friends to vote for the SNP on May 7th, and for the Scottish Parliament Elections next year."

SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon said:

"I am delighted to welcome Linda and Ramsay to the growing ranks of the SNP - they have shown a dedication to working for their local communities for many years, and believe that electing SNP MPs is the best way forward for their family and for Scotland. More than 400,000 people are journeying from voting Labour in 2010 to voting SNP next month, and it is very encouraging that this includes a former parliamentary candidate and such stalwarts as Linda and Ramsay."

Linda is a 58 year old wife, mother and grandmother. She works as a Senior Janitor at a Secondary School in Motherwell. Pictures are attached.

C is for.........



After I read this piece in Scotland on Sunday by the former Labour MP Ian Davidson I thought to myself: "This poor chap is so completely deluded he really does believe that his politics are progressive and left-wing."


Which is presumably why the article is destined to appear in a future edition of the Scottish Left Review although I doubt it will cause many people, if any, to pause and reflect on what Ian has to say.

Because if you ask me Ian is a terribly macho, old-fashioned, machine-like politician who has been identified for years with the trade union dominated wing of the Labour Party and so I'm surprised he thinks there's a progressive political bone in his body.

Was Ian in favour of the Scottish Parliament? How about proportional representation, then? Or a second question on the referendum ballot paper which asked the Scottish people for their views on enhanced devolution or Devo Max?
    
Ian has plenty to say about other people's political judgement, yet this is the man who said during the Scottish independence referendum campaign that there was little more to do except 'bayonet the wounded' although how utterly ridiculous do those words look now.

What Labour's needs is a period of honest reflection, as opposed to people knifing each other in the back, and if the party is looking for a some more C words to add to Ian's list - how about the Cowardly behaviour of Scotland's Labour MPs during the fight for equal pay? 

Ian Davidson: Labour blighted by ‘C’ words

By IAN DAVIDSON - Scotland on Sunday

LABOUR in Scotland owes an apology to the party and the labour movement throughout the rest of Britain for its abject failure in the general election. Not only did its incompetence lose Labour 40 seats in Scotland but it also cost Labour seats in England and Wales as the Murdoch coalition of the SNP in Scotland and the Tories in England, working in a symbiotic relationship, was able to create and capitalise on two opposing nationalisms to benefit the rich and powerful throughout Britain.

Of course, too much cannot be made of a single election. The disaster of May 2015 cannot be laid at the door of any single leader or any single campaign – it has been a long time coming. The puzzle is: why were the warning signs not heeded? For a long time, Labour in Scotland has been blighted by the four C’s: complacency, conservatism, cronyism and careerism.

In addition, the left throughout these islands has failed to adequately respond to our local manifestations of the tide of nationalism which has been sweeping Europe for many years now. At a time when the collectives of community, church and shared experience are being swept aside by atomisation, we have not recognised or responded to the need for an alternative form of collective identity which has often expressed itself in the politics of place and race.

Labour in Scotland had decayed to the point where it was unclear what it stands for. It lacked what George Bush called “the vision thing”. It fell back on a combination of a cobbled together shopping list, some of which was progressive and excellent, but lacked coherence, and a reliance on policy by focus group. Together, they lacked consistency and direction.

Thus, we started our campaign aiming to attract back the 190,000 or so Scots who had previously voted Labour but voted Yes, and ended up begging No voting Tories to vote for us tactically. This mechanistic, patronising approach led to us having as our flagship policy the proposal to allow alcohol into football grounds. On the basis that the 190,000 were overwhelmingly men, aged 25-55, from the West coast, who liked football, we needed a football issue to run with. Allowing alcohol at football grounds was a football issue – thus it would be our policy.

Similarly, our desperation in the closing days, when we were seen to be sinking fast, to attract tactical anti-SNP Tories and Liberals led us to identify fear of a second referendum as a concern of this group and to highlight this as one of our big ideas.

Apart from being entirely negative (vote for us to stop something), it also led to the absurdity of a poster denouncing a second referendum on independence being launched in the most strongly Yes voting ward of a strongly Yes voting constituency, without any discussion as to whether this would be helpful.

Which is why I didn’t attend – but my presence wasn’t required anyway – it wasn’t designed to help me. I wasn’t one of the chosen few candidates who were being provided with an abundance of resources while others struggled. Labour’s campaign must be one of the most blatant examples of cronyism ever seen in politics.

Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman resigned as leader and deputy leader despite having increased Labour’s seats and share of the vote in England and Wales. Similarly, Jim Murphy was right to go, eventually, since the first step in getting Labour in Scotland going in the right direction is to stop it going in the wrong direction. We have to start re-building, whilst recognising that the emphasis we have had for years on organisation rather than ideas is misplaced. While I understand the Blairite obsession with valuing what can be counted and targets, it is no use being on the doorstep without a clear set of policies to propose. Anyway, it is extremely arrogant to assume that voters can be “turned” by a brief conversation with a Labour canvasser on their doorstep, as if they were a previously blank sheet, simply waiting for us to arrive with the correct lines.

The reality is that we lost the air war, because we were short of ideas, as well as being outgunned by a far, far superior SNP propaganda machine, which managed to create its own facts, never mind opinions. We do not even have the numbers to mount substantial doorstep campaigns. No wonder party membership figures are a secret – so low as to be embarrassing, even including the bogus members recruited under the “buy a branch” scheme, who are essentially sleepers, only activated for selection conferences.

Labour needs to be much clearer as to what it is for. This will require debate at a local branch level. We have to go back to having political discussion and the passing of resolutions, which are then not simply discarded into the “Policy Forum” bin but circulated in order to try and genuinely involve members in developing policy proposals.

We need to engage more with the community – when I first became a councillor, Labour had members in all the tenants’ associations, residents’ groups, local unions and every other organisation where local people were to be found. Not in a mechanistic, artificial way, but as a real and vibrant part of these organisations. People saw Labour membership, membership of a tenants’ association and membership of a union as being different facets of the same struggle to improve the lives of ordinary working people.

The road back for Labour will not be easy – but we have to start by recognising just how far we have fallen.

Ian Davidson is the former Labour MP for Glasgow South West. This article will appear in the forthcoming edition of the Scottish Left Review magazine www.scottishleftreview.org

Off With His Head! (10/05/15)



The Herald reports that the knives are out for Labour's Scottish leader, Jim Murphy, which in some ways is not surprising given their near total wipeout in Scotland in the Westminster general election.

But if you ask me it ill-behoves someone like Ian Davidson to be calling for his party leader's head when, arguably, arrogant MPs like the former member for Glasgow South West were all equally responsible for Labour digging its own political grave over the past 10 years.

Just like all of his fellow Glasgow members I don't recall Ian Davidson standing up for his local constituents over equal pay even though Glasgow City Council, Scotland's largest council, was one of the worst offenders. 

Murphy defiant in face of catastrophe but knives come out for Scottish Labour leader

By Daniel Sanderson - The Herald

JIM Murphy has insisted that he can still become First Minister next year despite presiding over a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the SNP and voices within his party calling for him to quit.

The former MP, speaking hours after he lost the East Renfrewshire seat he had held since 1997, claimed that he was proud of a Scottish Labour campaign he described as "energetic and professional" and a "radical" manifesto but said his party had been overwhelmed by "history and by circumstances."

However, despite his insistence that he will fight on, his future looks increasingly uncertain amid claims that his position has become untenable. One senior figure within Scottish Labour, who backed Mr Murphy for the party leadership in December, said he should do "the decent thing" and step aside.

He added: "How can Jim think he can go to Holyrood when he said he wouldn't lose any seats or be outmanoeuvred by the Nats? Everything he said will be constantly played back to him.

"He'll be hoping to pull down the hatch and for it all to go away and surround himself with the Better Together crew. It won't. No malice to him but the idea he hangs around and keeps up messages about 'the working class' and believes charisma is all he needs, well it worked for her [Nicola Sturgeon]. It didn't for him."

He added: "Maybe the decent thing to do is hand things over to Kez or even Ian Murray until he's at Holyrood. Who's paying him? Don't know. That's another unanswered question."

It follows Ian Davidson, the former Labour MP who lost his Glasgow South West seat in an SNP landslide, saying that Mr Murphy had a "moral responsibility" to stand down after leading his party to "the biggest ever disaster that Labour has suffered in Scotland." Andy McFayden, a former Labour spin doctor, said he struggled to see how he had the "legitimacy and credibility" to carry on.

However, he remained defiant at a morning press conference at Scottish Labour's Glasgow headquarters. Other party figures publicly backed his desire to stay on, with Michael McCann who lost his East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow seat in a landslide, saying the huge SNP surge was no reflection on any individual.

Mr Murphy, flanked by his deputy Kezia Dugdale, said: "We make no excuses, a party can never blame the electorate, but we found ourselves hit by the perfect storm of three really significant factors.

"Firstly, the simple maths of a Yes vote finding a home in one party versus a No vote spread across three political parties. It is clear that it will be some time before the divisions of the referendum fade into distinction between traditional left and right wing politics in Scotland.

"Secondly, we were hit by two nationalisms, a Scottish nationalism reassuring people that they could vote SNP and get Labour, and an English nationalism, stoked up by David Cameron, warning 'vote for Labour and you will get the SNP'.

"Unsurprisingly, forced into an artificial contest between English nationalism and Scottish nationalism, many Scots, including many No voting Scots, chose the SNP.

"The third factor is of course the long standing problems that led me to stand for leadership of this remarkable party in the first place.

"We had for too long lacked a clear message, a clear offer, and a continuity of leadership - five leaders in just seven short years."

He added: "We didn't have the time nor space to turn that round in that short period.

"Some have said it was an impossible task to turn around all those years of gradual decline in five short months. But it hurts never the less."

He confirmed that party rules allowed him to stay on as leader, despite no longer being a parliamentarian, and would stand for election to the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Murphy said that while the SNP had not won a mandate for a second referendum, "competing nationalisms on both sides of a non-existent border does threaten the United Kingdom."

Asked whether his party could become fully autonomous from UK Labour as he sought to rebuild, he did not rule it out, saying: "We'll reflect on what yesterday's result means for Scotland and the Scottish Labour Party rather than rush into any judgement."

Whether Mr Murphy would be paid a wage by Scottish Labour remained unclear last night. A senior party source said: "Obviously he gets a resettlement grant from the House of Commons as all defeated MPs do. He's now a private individual, his financial arrangements are a matter for him."

Bayonet the Wounded (03/03/14)




Here are the opening two paragraphs of an opinion piece by Iain Macwhirter which appeared in the Sunday Herald the other day. 

"In September, at a conference in Orkney, Better Together's Ian Davidson MP declared that the No campaign had already won and all that was left was "to bayonet the wounded".

Imagine if Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon had said that? It would have dominated the headlines for weeks. David Dimbleby would not have been amused. But even though I was present at the time, I refused to take offence at Davidson's remark, which was obviously not serious."


Now I'm quite prepared to accept that Ian Davidson's words were meant in jest, but I can't help feeling that only a very strange mind is capable of conjuring up such ugly humour and while I don't take any great offence I think it would be much better if our politicians made a point of choosing their words more carefully.  

Ryanair



I've flown with Ryanair a lot over the past 15 years and, by and large, I've always been very impressed with its no-frills service which provides its customers with real value for money because what you see is what you get.

In my experience, Ryainair flights normally depart and arrive on time, compared to other airlines I could mention crossing the Atlantic and the only time I've ever been significantly delayed in all these years was due to a strike by French air-traffic controllers.  

So I think the Mayor of Copenhagen Frank Jensen is talking nonsense when he talks about 'social dumping' about a company that has helped to revolutionise air travel across Europe, perhaps because he's used to travelling business class and with someone else picking up the tab. 

If Frank had any experience of running a business he would know that it's quite normal to base contracts of all kinds in a single country, otherwise the whole business of employing people and resolving disputes becomes impossible complicated. 

So I take my hat off to Ryanair and I hope they follow up their tweet of Frank by sending him a real cake.

Lord Mayor of Copenhagen accuses Ryanair of 'social dumping' and bans staff from flying with company on official business


The Dublin-based airline has a long history of striving to avoid what it sees as onerous labour laws by employing crew on contracts written under Irish law

By SIMON CALDER - The Independent

In a plot twist worthy of a Nordic Noir serial, the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen has dented Ryanair’s plans to make a killing with its new base in the Danish capital.

Frank Jensen, a Social Democrat who has been the city’s Lord Mayor for five years, has banned staff from flying with Ryanair while on official business - even if it means paying much more on the Scandinavian airline SAS.

Copenhagen has 45,000 municipal workers.

Mr Jensen told the Berlinske newspaper: “We require all of those who deliver services to the municipality, including those who would sell us plane tickets, to offer their employees proper salaries and working conditions.”

On his Facebook page, he described Ryanair’s practices as “social dumping.”

Ryanair responded by tweeting a picture of Mr Jensen’s face superimposed on Marie-Antoinette’s body, with the slogan: “Let them eat cake!” and “Let them pay high fares!”

The Dublin-based airline has a long history of striving to avoid what it sees as onerous labour laws by employing crew on contracts written under Irish law. The Danish trade-union movement is seeking to have this practice overturned, with a case set for next month.

Ryanair, which is the biggest budget carrier in Europe, set up a base in Copenhagen this year. It had previously offered flights to the city, though rather than landing in the Danish capital they actually touched down at Malmo in Sweden - on the other side of the bridge between the two nations.

Copenhagen is already experiencing strong low-cost competition, with Norwegian and easyJet taking on SAS. Ryanair’s schedule from the capital serves a dozen cities, including London Luton, Madrid and Milan Bergamo.

A spokeswoman for Ryanair told The Independent: “Ryanair's pilots and cabin crew enjoy high pay, job security and already have a collective agreement with Ryanair. We are also surprised at his boycott call when all Ryanair flights in Copenhagen being handled by workers who are represented by Danish unions.

“SAS is cutting flights, closing routes, cutting pensions, cutting pay and cutting jobs. Which model does Mayor Jensen prefer to support? SAS's jobs cuts, pension cuts and pay cuts or Ryanair's growth?”

The aviation consultant, John Strickland, said: “Like Marie Antoinette it might have revolutionary consequences for the mayor. Ryanair can play the hand of democratising air travel and assisting public bodies to show they are cutting their travel budgets.”

No Thanks Frank!



Here's the picture of Copenhagen Mayor Frank Jensen which Ryanair tweeted along with a comparison between SAS and Ryanair fares around Europe. 

Energise Ryanair (21/10/13)



I enjoyed this opinion piece by John Rentoul in the Independent which reviewed the performance of the Big Six energy companies in front of a House of Commons select committee - to which he seems to have concluded that the cuckoo in the nest (Ovo) came out the real winner.

Now I would take this whole business a bit further - I would let someone like Ryanair loose on the UK energy market because although Michael O'Leary's highly successful airline has its detractors - there is no doubt that Ryanair has revolutionised the costs of air travel both in the UK and across Europe.

Personally speaking, I would welcome a budget airline like Ryanair operating across the Atlantic to Canada and America, for example - where air fares are far too high - and travellers have little choice but to pay what the big operators demand.

I learned the other day that the last Labour Government reduced the number of energy companies from 22 to what we have now - the Big Six - which now looks like a mistake although the real question is whether or not these companies are making excessive profits and exploiting an uncompetitive market - in which case a windfall tax on the companies may be the best short-term solution.

If Labour is now taking the view that more competition not less is what's needed - then why now create a new publicly owned company to compete with the Big Six and turn them into a Big Seven - always remembering that Ed Miliband was a senior member of the last Labour Government and at one time energy secretary, if I recall correctly.

In any event, wholesale nationalisation is not the answer - as John Rentoul rightly says - so let's have a bit of new thinking about what's really in the best interests of of the consumer.   

The Big Six in front of MPs: This was supposed to be a grilling, but even Russell Brand would have struggled to give one
By John Rentoul

Nationalising the energy industry will not make electricity bills magically cheaper

The trouble with russellbrandism, in one easy-to-understand afternoon session. The energy company bosses were lined up in front of the tribunes of the people for their ritual, cathartic humiliation, and failed resolutely to be humiliated. If Brand had been there, he would have disappeared into his self-combusting rhetoric, unable to decide whether to condemn the MPs or the fat-cat capitalists in the more colourful language.

For normal people, with a passing sympathy for Brand’s summons to revolution, the energy bosses would have been the more pressing target at which to rant. The voice of the people in this case was a northern Labour MP (Ian Lavery) who asserted in a loud and cross voice that energy company profits were “unfair” because some people couldn’t afford to pay their bills.

That is the sort of statement that makes less sense the more you think about it, and the trouble with select committee hearings is that they give people a lot of time to think about things, including, “I wonder how long this is supposed to go on?”

Normal people don’t have to sit through select committee meetings, but I suspect that most of us have an understanding of market economics that works at two levels. Level one is that prices seem to go up a lot, don’t seem to go down when world prices go down, and that the bosses of a lot of companies seem to get paid an awful lot, which doesn’t seem to go down if their companies do badly. But level two is that nationalising the energy industry would not make gas and electricity bills magically cheaper.

People do not have to sit through an afternoon’s committee meeting to know this. But anyone suffering from a touch of russellbrandism would learn it quickly enough if they had to listen to energy company executives talking about “buying ahead on a 24-month curve”. All the jargon and percentages cannot obfuscate the laws of economics. A 5 per cent profit margin is roughly what Tesco makes in a ferociously competitive grocery market, dominated by a Big Four, not even a Big Six. The rest is decoration.

If some people switch to a cheaper tariff, other people will pay by being too intimidated to fill in some forms on the internet. If the Government decides to take the help for old people to insulate their houses off the bills, it will have to be paid for by taxes instead. The green taxes could be reduced or abolished, but everyone on level two thinks that a few windmills or solar panels are a good idea, and anyway they are a tiny part of the bills - the pure green taxes account for only about 2 per cent.

The only people who really gained from this afternoon’s session were Ovo, one of the new entrants to the energy supply market, whose salesman - I mean managing director - Stephen Fitzpatrick used it to advertise his prices as being 12 per cent lower than his rivals’. Thus a people’s trial set up to vent revolutionary fervour at the expense of the energy company bosses was co-opted by the creative life-force of capitalism to sell us another product.