George Square, Glasgow, 18 September 2014
So we’ve lost, for now. But who’d have thought, even a year or two ago, that we’d be able to put up this kind of a fight against the combined forces of the British establishment, the British media and all the main British parties? And above all against the filthy, greasy machinery of the Labour Party, that tool for the entryism of the ruling class into working class struggle. Continue reading “Defeat” »

Yes posters in windows
The Herald has until today been less independence-averse than most of the British media. Now it says: “We back staying within UK, but only if there’s more far-reaching further devolution.”

Suppose, for a moment, that “far-reaching further devolution” within the UK is a good idea. We are to vote No on condition that we get that sort of devolution, according to The Herald. How does that work? We’ll be voting on Thursday. We’ll have no more devolution then than we have now. If we wish to take The Herald’s advice, we’ll have to cancel the referendum, re-fit it with something like the “Devo Max” option that was excluded on David Cameron’s insistence, and start again.

But The Herald doesn’t say it wants that. It just says that after a No vote the UK parties should, somehow, fix something “with the full participation of Scottish civic society” and that if they fudge this step another referendum will, somehow, be guaranteed to come about.

Back in the real world, all we have is a pledge by Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.

Continue reading “Democracy – Use it or Lose it” »

United with Labour
Legions of Labour MPs are in Scotland trying to talk us out of independence. Wrong time, wrong place.

If Labour had really wanted to save the Union – though it beats me why they should – there’s something they could have tried. But they’d have had to start in 2010 or 2011, and mostly they’d have had to do it south of the border.

They could have sent their MPs out to build a serious struggle against neo-liberalism. They could have helped make the TUC anti-cuts demo of March 2011 into a launch-pad for strikes. They could have built unity between people whose jobs were threatened and people who were losing essential services. They could have worked to turn the Pensions Day of Action in November 2011 into a wider fight against austerity.

They could have given real support to the student protests against tuition fees. They could have put their party machinery – still formidable after all the years of decline – at the disposal of working class people fighting for a decent life, and sometimes literally for survival.

They could have used their access to the media to argue against neo-liberalism, for unity and for serious action.

They could have built unity by arguing against the scapegoating of migrants, asylum-seekers and minorities.

Instead the Labour Party became an informal partner of the Coalition government.

Continue reading “Labour’s Love Lost – Independence and the Left” »

Fathers of Talha (right) and Babar (left) on day of extradition

The  Comment is Free section of the Guardian website has become an institution. It looks and feels rather like a collection of blogs, hosted and moderated by the Guardian. The Guardian gets to choose who writes there, and gets to set the moderation policy. It gains readers and web presence.

Fair enough. But the Guardian also gets editorial control. In other words, it determines what its contributors appear to have said. Comment, like lunch, is never really free. Or even as moderately-priced as you think it is. There are hidden extras.

A headline can make all the difference in the world to what readers think an article says. Social media have increased the premium on the headline.

The headline is what you mostly notice when an article is posted on facebook or twitter. A lot of people will “like” or re-post without reading the article, based simply on the headline. A headline can boost a campaign or sink it. It can kick a vulnerable person where it hurts, or bring a smile of relief.

The headline that the Guardian attached to an excellent recent article about Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan was the kind that does damage. It was misleading and factually inaccurate (it was corrected on 8 August).  I sent the following protest about it to the Guardian’s readers’ editor, Chris Elliot:

Continue reading “The difference a headline can make – Rewriting the Story of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan” »

Mark McGowan with Talha Ahsan's mother
“The Artist taxi-Driver” Mark McGowan with Talha Ahsan’s mother

Talha Ahsan was “freed” by a US court on 16 July, 20 months after being extradited from Britain to face terrorism charges. But he still isn’t quite free. His UK passport has expired, so he is now in immigration custody in the US waiting for the British authorities to supply a new one.

The judge’s decision raises serious questions over the long persecution of Talha Ahsan and co-defendant Babar Ahmad by the British and US authorities.

Talha Ahsan has been in jail for 8 years, and Babar Ahmad for 10 years. For most of that time they have been held without charge in high security prisons in Britain. They were extradited to the US in October 2012, where they were finally charged with terrorism offences.

Continue reading “Talha Ahsan is free – almost” »

Demo against the SDL, Edinburgh, 20 February 2010
Demo against the SDL, Edinburgh, 20 February 2010

A teenage girl and a 39-year old man who desecrated Edinburgh Central Mosque with strips of bacon have been given custodial sentences at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

Both of them were said in court to be linked to the SDL. Richard Dawkins called the sentences “law gone mad.” Richard Dawkins is sometimes an idiot. But I have serious reservations of my own about the sentences.

I visit Edinburgh Central Mosque from time to time. It is normally a pleasant experience, so it is upsetting to hear about this kind of abuse. But I am not a religious person. My feelings are a poor guide to the impact of the incident on Muslims.

To devout atheists like Richard Dawkins, I’d begin by suggesting a simple mental exercise. Think of a place of natural beauty to which you are particularly attached. Then think of finding one day that rubbish of an especially obnoxious kind has been dumped there. Add to that the way that you would feel if rubbish that you and your family find particularly disgusting had been left inside your home, with the clear intention of causing you distress.

This sort of mental muscle-flexing would be an interesting exercise, and maybe even kind of important, if we lived in a parallel universe where racism, colonialism and fascism didn’t exist. Now let’s return to our own world. Continue reading “The Empire’s Bacon” »

A few days ago I referred to J K Rowling in slightly rude – but I think rather apt – terms after she gave £1 million to the Better Together Campaign. I wasn’t the first person to do so, and some people may have used less appropriate language than I did. Now it turns out that the police are “considering” a report of online crime  in relation to Saint Rowling, and the Crown Office has said that it will prosecute over “grossly offensive” remarks.

My article was mainly intended to draw attention to the difficulties that are apt to arise as a result of political action by an individual with extreme levels of wealth and influence. I also wished to highlight the related question of the way that public figures and the media can manipulate people’s perception of events around them. The notion that anti-English hatred is a significant feature of the campaign for Scottish independence was first popularised by Nigel Farage, has been seized upon by some members of the No campaign (including J K Rowling) and seems to be gaining a spurious credibility that I do not think is rooted in day-to-day experience.

J K Rowling is richer than the Queen. Her economic and political clout, like the Queen’s, is probably even greater than her personal wealth would suggest. The Harry Potter brand was valued in 2011 at $15 billion, a figure that dwarfs J R Rowling’s personal fortune of £570 million. She appears to be well-connected politically. The fact that her primary industry is entertainment, rather than say uranium-mining, potentially eases her path to public influence. So do her charitable activities, which include support for the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic at Edinburgh University. She is an institution as well as a person. Continue reading “Rude Words and Saint Rowling” »

Harry PotterSo now we’ve got the glamour and financial muscle of J K Rowling to reckon with. A million quid. Whew!

I’m told JayKay writes a bit. She’s intelligent, urbane and – up to a point – well informed. She has carefully set out on her blog her reasons for backing the campaign against Scottish independence. So of course I won’t stoop to abuse. I’ll set out, in a measured way, my reasons for disagreeing with her.

Like hell I will.

You want that, you visit the National Collective website and read the open letter by Mairi McFadyen. Or read Pat Kane’s article in the Independent .

J K Rowling’s intervention is a piece of high-class thuggery. I’ll respond the way you do when you can’t pay for class.

Continue reading “J K Rowling and the Wizards of Spin” »

Petro Poroshenko and John Kerry, Warsaw, 2014

Petro Poroshenko’s inaugural speech as President of Ukraine was bad news for the people of Ukraine, and perhaps for the rest of us too. Of course it was upbeat. And of course he said he wanted peace. Warmongers always do. But it was the speech of a leader determined upon civil war

He offered an amnesty to those “who illegally took weapons in their hands”. But he excluded those who “have blood of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians on their hands”.  He made no mention of supporters of the Kiev regime who have blood on their hands.

And he excluded those “involved in funding terrorism”. So billionaire Petro Poroshenko wishes to jail rival oligarchs, especially Viktor Yanukovych and what he called the “clan of Yanukovych”. No surprise there.

He offered nothing likely to make Ukrainians who are hostile to the Kiev regime or suspicious of it feel happier about their future.

Continue reading “Bad news from Ukraine” »