Perspectives: EU Special

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If there is one observation (which admittedly falls into the totally f***ing obvious category) that might be made about the EU referendum campaign, it is that it is absolutely nothing like the campaign around the Scottish independence vote of 21 months ago.

What passion there is seems to gravitate towards the Brexiteers, for some of whom the whole question has been an obsession since Britain’s first referendum, confirming the country’s membership of the then European Community, by a two to one majority, in 1975.

In addition, much of the media coverage seems to be playing out the internecine war in the Conservative Party on this issue. Even the normally day-glo Nigel Farage of Ukip seems to have been side-lined by senior Tory outers like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith.

In this issue of Perspectives we have tried to explore the issue of the UK’s EU membership in both a broader and narrower context.

David Purdy sets out the economic background by looking at the recovery from the financial crash of eight years ago, and the continuing crisis of the euro.

Meanwhile, Trevor Royle examines the history of the EU, from its birth, as the European Coal and Steel Community in the aftermath of the Second World War, to its present state of 28 member countries.

Caroline Lucas argues that the EU has had a positive impact on environmental issues, and Stephen Whitefield and Colin Hay discuss Britain’s role in the world and its long decline since the days of empire.

Of course Scotland itself has a special slant on the referendum: should Scotland vote in but the rest of the UK goes for out, the question of Indyref2 raises its head. In this context James Mitchell’s examination of the SNP’s historical attitude towards the EC/EU is of particular interest, concluding with a plea for the party to re-open its debate on Europe.

Ultimately the referendum outcome will be decided by the voters, and one such, Robin McAlpine, spells out the conflicts that are making it so difficult for him to come down on one side or the other.

Margaret Hunter dons the Hat to tell of her experiences as a Scottish artist working in Berlin, and Tim Haigh reveals the text of a conversation between David Cameron and the Cabinet Secretary on referendums.

Robin McAlpine: Europe – why I have no answers for you #EUref

Robin McAlpine: Europe – why I have no answers for you #EUref

This article was written for Perspectives magazine, and published on CommonSpace

My friend emails me. Niki is a head teacher on an idyllic island not too far out from Athens into the Agean. She asks me for news of Scotland and sends me pictures of the spring flowers in her garden high above the coast below.

Niki is great. She’s an intellectual, a progressive, a kind and thoughtful person. I have many family and friends in Greece through the marriage of my half sister. I have got to know the place rather well over the years and it is a place I have come to like a lot. It has a thrawn personality, not unlike Scotland – a kind of fatalistic sarcasm is default.

We email about politics and whether we can visit her. Probably not this year, but we’d really love to see her. Will she make it to Scotland any time soon? Nope – in the state Greece finds itself, the headteacher of a secondary school struggles to make ends meet on what is a sharply reduced salary.

That makes me angry, but Niki is more sanguine. With a resigned shrug she is quick to point out that many of the failures that have left her in this position are the fault of the Greek people.

That fatalistic sarcasm led them to turn a blind eye to what was widely understood to be a corrupt, cartel government. It worked for them – for a while – so they put up with it. I don’t think they deserve what they got as a result of this (they weren’t the only people turning a blind eye…). I remain angry at what the EU did.

Where our furies meet is over the migrant situation. This does have Niki enraged – bring a nation to its knees and then, when it’s down, close the borders and decide that since Greece has already sucked up many of the continent’s problems they can just suck up its migrant problem too.

And if that means that Greece is turned into a starving, desolate refugee camp, who cares? It’s expedient to keep the EU’s important member states happy (or less unhappy, at least).

And at that time I found, in the European Social Model, a political philosophy which, while falling short of my own, at least made it a good chunk of the way along there. Progressive tax, social security, nationalised healthcare – I didn’t only feel European, I wanted to be there.

If you want to know what changed, you just have to look at the In campaign (I’m just going to refer to them as In and Out which is in the end what we’re voting for). That it has become Project Fear so seamlessly shows what its strongest adherents now seem to see as the point of the EU.

It is there to impose one global version of ‘economy’ and one global version of ‘security’. And it is the same version of ‘economy and security’ which so alienated me during the Scottish independence referendum.

Only cartel capitalism will keep the banks open. Only cartel capitalism will keep the phones working. Only cartel capitalism will keep you and your loved ones from starvation. Because only the economic order that plunged the continent and the world into crisis can prevent the world from descending into crisis. We’re big, you’re small. Know your place.

Only our neoconservative worldview will stop terrorists. Only our neoconservative worldview constitutes ‘grown up’ diplomacy. If we don’t back the arms trade, the next war, the next crackdown on civil liberties, if we don’t appease the US, China, if we don’t manufacture Russia as a new convenient bogeyman, you’ll suffer.

The In campaign is a banker-corporation-warmonger vision of our future. I have endless friends telling me that I must vote In though they realise I’ll need to hold my nose like they will. Do I? Do I have to vote In while holding my nose, being so conscious of the fact that this is what the bad guys want me to do? Knowing that they are not holding their noses, they are breathing all this in with gusto and loving it?

I cannot identify with an In campaign which is so completely driven by all the motives I oppose.

Then again, I look round at the Out campaign and feel no better. Because this debate is being framed by an England that is strangely socially and politically fractured just now, the options are unattractive. I can find some respect for a Michael Gove argument about sovereignty and accountability, but it still feels like I have to vote against internationalism and instead for one of the versions of nationalism (narrow, angry, inwards-looking, disdainful of others, identity-driven, fearful of ‘the other’) which made that 1992 EU vision seem such a utopia to me.

So I’m making little progress in arriving at a decision. My emotional responses to In and Out, to Inners and Outers, leaves me little room for comfort. Perhaps on this occasion I need to tone down my faith in emotional responses and focus on the ‘rational’.

It’s not going to help, though, because the first thing I cannot overlook is that except for the crushingly conservative bureaucracies of political parties and government and the dogmas of ‘low tax is popular’, my time on progressive policy thinking has found the EU to be probably the biggest barrier to economic (and indeed social) reform.

If I have heard ‘can’t – EU rules’ once, I must have heard it a hundred times. Procurement must go to corporations. Public sector tenders must go to corporations. Basic infrastructure investment that supports smaller and indigenous industries infringes state aide rules. Giant farms are the only farms you’re allowed. Don’t nationalise, privatise.

Now I know that some of what I have heard is a deliberately skewed version of the EU. I know that we have the most restrictive procurement rules in the EU and that this is our fault. But it would be a complete untruth to suggest this is an accidental side-effect of what the EU is trying to do. It is a deliberate grey area which enables neoliberalism to be imposed both through word and deed and through expectation and misunderstanding.

Rationally, don’t ask me to sign a petition against TTIP and then another to stay in the EU. TTIP is not an aberration, some kind of unintended malfunction in the great EU machine. It goes right to the heart of what the EU has become. It is a global economic organising point and its purpose is not to encourage a just transition to a better, greener, healthier, more equal global economy.

It maintains the bare bones of a social settlement. But as far as I’ve ever been able to tell, it’s not that hard to get opt-outs from EU social policies if you want. Getting opt-outs from its overwhelming corporation-friendly agendas? Not so obviously possible.

So if you want me to be rational, coming from my political perspective, explain when and how I’m getting an EU which is not a staging post for US capitalism to get into Europe’s social markets?

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Of course, I must then look at the counterfactual – what would be better if it didn’t exist? I can be deeply disappointed at the EU’s handling of the migrant crisis, of trade deals, of state aid rules. But what is the alternative? Every nation investing in more armed border guards? Boris Johnston negotiating directly with Donald Trump over trade? Germany using its economic might to rig trade across the continent in its favour through protectionism and clientelism? And how would we manage a free travel area if it were converted into a fragmented sequence of one-to-one agreements?

We need a means of nation state resolution in Europe. We are far too connected a continent, far too integrated a series of societies not to have such a means of nation state resolution. We have a mechanism that works (kind of) and throwing it away is not necessarily the logical step to a better continent. I realise that.

But – and here’s the big but – it only works if we all think we’re shaping it. And it is here the EU falls down. I know the arguments about how it’s kind of democratic because there are some democratic bits and some of the bits that aren’t democratic are stitched up between other democratic entities. It’s pseudo-democratic.

So explain to me how I can vote against TTIP? This is potentially the single worse thing that is going to be done not only to the continent’s social identity but specifically to the democratic nature of my own nation. It is a move of alarming scope and implication. In a just world it would require specific agreement by referendum in each participating nation state.

Hah! Imagine that. Imagine Europe allowing a democratic veto. Europe views putting its big issues directly to the people affected with utter contempt. No, not a bit of cynicism, utter contempt.

The patchwork pseudo-democracy of the EU is nothing in the face of this contempt. And every progressive Inner is kidding themselves on if they don’t accept this. The European project has become every bit as much about circumventing national democracy as about enhancing it. And that’s a generous interpretation.

Then again, there’s no democracy in each nation state choosing to follow it’s own environmental standards when you’re gulping down fumes your neighbour refuses to regulate. Is a continent of individual nations each with their fingers in their ears really more democratic than a flawed but at least existing mechanism for conflict resolution (which I would feel more comfortable with if it wasn’t for the direction of travel of who we are negotiating with)?

At its outer fringes, the EU now incorporates nations which seem to me to be less than positive partners for the kind of negotiations which I personally believe the EU should be about.

I pick on Poland only because what is happening in that country is so alarming. Shoved fast into Europe for geopolitical reasons, Poland is now turning its back on the principals of Western liberal democracy. Do I wish to negotiate, to compromise, with regimes that seem only loosely attached to the concepts of the rule of law?

And since the EU is now a geopolitical game, we know the pressures to expand the players. Wouldn’t it be useful to have Turkey on board? Not socially, but potentially economically and geopolitically (at least for the US). Who needs a free media or fair elections in that context?

Or the Ukraine, where the role of fascists is constantly written out of the narrative because it is inconvenient in framing Russia as the moustache-twiddling baddy. Let’s get them in because it’s convenient.

This is not an EU for the people of the EU. This is an EU for people who trade weapons and own gas pipelines.

So let us out and we can form a looser negotiating alliance? A Norway/Iceland position? Use them as a club to talk to but not be a member of? It is appealing. It’s just that we’ll end up talking to a club we can’t shape the membership of.

This all means that there is a rational reason for being enthusiastic about some kind of European Union but not that much rational reason to support this particular European Union. Which puts an awful lot of emphasis on the question of reform.

Here I find myself having to return to my own process of making logical decisions. During the indyref I always recognised that, in theory, Westminster could be a force for good. But it’s not enough that something could theoretically be true, it needs to be true in a much more immediate sense.

There needs to be a visible path from here to that truth. In the end, that’s one of the main reasons I was a Yes supporter – because there was simply no credible case for how exactly we were going to get anywhere near that mythical, brilliant Westminster.

My well-meaning Inner friends are horrified that I won’t fully throw my lot in with them and fight first to stay in and then to reform the EU. I just wonder if they are willing first to concrete their feet deep into the shoreline and then to begin the process of preventing the tide coming in.

How? How are we going to reform the EU? Our massed ranks can’t squeeze through the tiniest reform of Westminster. We’ve made no ground reforming anything which the banks and the corporations have their teeth into. Explain the mechanism?

And if that mechanism begins with the words ‘then we can begin a continent-wide conversation…’ I wince. Because that just means ‘we have no idea whatsoever how to go about it’.

There is no coalition we can join, no campaign ready to march beside – hell, there isn’t even a simple shared vision of what reform would roughly look like. It’s not obvious that if we had a united, continent-wide network of reformers backing one big vision that we would win. It is far from obvious that there is any chance of creating a united, continent-wide network of reformers backing one big vision.

It feels a bit like being told to repair a broken computer with a single screwdriver – and then when asking where it is and being told that actually screwdrivers haven’t been invented yet. On balance, I’m pretty sure that the one thing that will kill reform of the EU stone dead is a British In vote.

Every rational bone in my body screams out that it is just the kind of near-death experience that the people who run Europe will take as a prompt to do exactly what they were already doing – and more. I am very deeply sceptical of the idea that surviving intact is going to lead to serious change in the EU.

The way I think some kind of reform genuinely could be promoted would be a crisis – like Britain leaving. It would create the kind of panic which does lead to change. But I recognise two major problems.

First, it’s an act of ‘creative destruction’ which could cause anarchy as well as (or possibly before) reform. It would be a rather large act of faith to burn down the house in the hope of being able to build something better in its place.

The other big problem is that such a vote could be read in exactly any way each person wants it to be read. Eurocrats can just claim that Britain was never really on board in the first place. The left can conclude that we wanted democracy. The right can conclude that it’s all about absorbing greater exclusionary nationalism.

So if you want to change the EU, vote to leave. It’s just that it’s hard to guess what the change would look like.

This is proving to be a real problem for me. There is no good option on the table. Worse, I can’t even identify which is the lesser of two evils. So what if I think cynically, tactically?

If we leave the EU then it’ll solve one major problem come the next Scottish indyref – we won’t need to get bogged down in endless ‘you’ll be thrown out the EU’ debate. It could create a substantial pressure for another referendum. The thought of being stuck on this wet little rock with Boris running the show could prompt a re-evaluation of the merits of independence by many people. Perhaps that’s a good outcome?

Then again, we really will be stuck on a rock with Boris and that in itself could be pretty awful. I could tactically vote for that not to happen (not a positive vote, a negative one). Or equally I could just decide that the bigger the gap between the Scottish ‘In’ and the English ‘Out’ (if that’s what happens), the better. Or really cynically, a Scotland forcing an England that votes ‘Out’ to stay ‘In’ could be just what we want to get agreement for another referendum.

But then again, I simply hate tactical voting of this kind. It’s no way to make a decision.

So, what am I going to do? By this point you may have a better idea of how I’m going to vote than I have. My instincts tell me I’m European and must vote In as much as they tell me I don’t want to be a member of this club.

My rational mind tells me we need a European Union every bit as much as it tells me that the European Union we have is a major block to progress and moving rapidly in the wrong direction.

Logically, therefore I am convinced that the only hope is reform – but I can’t vote for it. I can vote to stay and pretend to myself that there might be reform I don’t for a second believe is coming. Or I could vote to leave and ensure some kind of change – but which might result in something much worse.

Thanks to the people of Perspectives for asking me to explore my uncertainty, confusion and despair so fully and so much in public (thanks offered with only a touch of sarcasm…). It has led me to only two conclusions. The first is that I shall do whatever is in my power to avoid writing about this any more and try to keep wriggling out of the many invitations to talk about this I keep getting.

And the second conclusion? The spring flowers of a foreign country I love make me want to stay; the treatment of the women who looks after them makes me want to leave. I shall make my decision late – and probably dislike myself either way.

David MacLennan Portrait

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Democratic Left Scotland hosted the unveiling of a portrait of David MacLennan, the actor, writer and producer who was at the heart of Scottish theatre for over 40 years until his death in June 2014 at the age of 65. The unveiling by Scottish Green Party co-convener and David’s widow Juliet Cadzow took place on Sunday the 21st February.

 

MacLennan co-founded the influential 7:84 touring company with playwright and director John McGrath.  7:84’s most significant work was the play “The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil” about the Highland Clearances. Following this success MacLennan enjoyed enormous success with “A Play, a Pie and a Pint” which has Òran Mór as its home. The list of contributors included Robbie Coltrane, Elaine C Smith, Liz Lochhead, David Greig and David Hayman.

 

Sandy Moffat’s portrait marks another step in the on-going project by the artist, supported by Democratic Left Scotland, to represent some of the leading intellectual and cultural figures in contemporary Scotland.

 

Over the past few years, Sandy Moffat has sketched and painted Alasdair Gray (whose portrait now hangs in Òran Mór), Alan Bissett, Tom Nairn and now David MacLennan. These portraits have been produced for the common good, with Democratic Left Scotland paying for the materials. DLS is a political organisation, open to all, whether members of a party or not, who support our radical, feminist and green aspirations. We produce an occasional magazine, Perspectives, which ranges widely over political and cultural issues in Scotland.

 

Maggie Chapman said: “It is an honour to be invited to unveil this portrait of David MacLennan. His early career with 7:84 and Wildcat brought political theatre to contemporary Scotland. “The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil” transformed people’s understanding of Scotland’s history, and “A Play, a Pie and a Pint” continues to bring theatre to new audiences in a remarkably egalitarian way – in Glasgow and around the world. We celebrate great cultural figures like David MacLennan in this way to acknowledge the role of artists in reflecting upon, critiquing and recreating our society.

 

DLS Convener Stuart Fairweather said: “DLS is delighted to recognise the contribution made by David MacLennan to the cultural life of Scotland. We commissioned Sandy Moffat’s painting to add to those of Alasdair Gray, Alan Bissett and Tom Nairn, all of whom have made very substantial contributions to the Scotland we see today.”

A Scottish Perspective Jan 5th – May 5th

Many issues will impact attitudes to Scottish politics in 2016: people’s daily lives and the weather amongst these. Europe and global events, the fate of local government and public services will compete with the Scottish Government elections for people’s attention.
Involvement in politics undoubtedly was at a highpoint during the referendum, ensuring that the campaigns of 2016 come close will be an important task for all. The Scottish election in May has the potential to do this. The impact and timing of Cameron’s European gamble is another matter (we will consider these on another occasion).
Democratic Left see the importance of politics both within and out with parliaments. A progressive Scottish Government bolstered by a range of progressive parliamentary voices would be the best outcome in May if coupled with strong extra-parliamentary activity. The voting system for the Scottish elections offers opportunities. There is a need to remind people that the regional lists offer a potential way round major party dominance. This is important nationally because the SNP are not without limitations and Scottish Labour is unlikely to benefit substantially from any kind of Caledonian Corbyn effect.
Voting tactically for the best placed progressive candidate on your regional list will maximise the possibility of a radical rainbow of MSPs in addition to the government. It will also minimise the chances of the Tories or the Liberals getting into parliament and undoubtedly acting as apologists for austerity.
The Greens and in some places RISE may be the best vehicles for votes but each region will have its own ‘local’ characteristics which will suggest which list to choose. The individuals who top each list are important in this regard. These women and men if elected can connect campaigns and the policy implemented at Holyrood. The election of progressive MSPs can also add to the discussion on how to win more powers for Scotland: those that put anti-poverty, peace, people and planet before profit, pollution and the abuse of others.
Discussion needs to start now about how to get the best from the election campaign as well as from the result: a result that marks a real step forward in achieving a different kind of Scotland and a different kind of world.

Policing the polis: Holding Scotland’s new service to account

by John Finnie MSP, featured in the latest edition of Perspectives. Copies are now available at Word Power, West Nicolson Street, Edinburgh. 

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Ever since being asked to write an article, a couple of months ago, on Scotland’s now two year old police service, its already rancorous birth has been compounded by almost weekly controversies.

Since the new service started there has been a wholesale change in policing methods: armed officers have appeared on our streets attending routine non firearms incidents; and a significant number of Scotland’s children have been stopped by the police, asked to ‘consent’ to being searched, then having their mobile phone numbers requested.

I’m a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Police Committee and during evidence taking have been assured by senior officers that those unpopular, and in one instance legally questionable, practices had stopped only to subsequently learn that’s not the case. Whilst this information was not given on oath, as senior public servants it was reasonable to assume that we would not subjected to false, misleading or inaccurate statements.

So what is going on? Who is really in charge? And was the First Minister wise to recently give the chief constable a vote of confidence when many think she should be giving him his P45?

I will examine the background to Scotland’s police service, what checks and balances exist, whether the advent of the single police service heralded the police being the controversial political issue they have become, whether those controversies have another genesis, and what the future might hold.

The difficult birth of Police Scotland

Until fairly recent times it was widely accepted that the principal of policing by consent applied to the various constabularies discharging their duties in Scotland.

In April 2013, Scotland’s eight regional forces and ‘central services’, such as the Scottish Police College, were merged into a single entity, Police Scotland, since which time the police’s commitment to that concept has been seriously questioned by local and national politicians and the Scottish Human Rights Commission.

I fought for and secured improving amendments to the legislation and, as Chair of the Parliament’s Cross party Group on Human Rights, was delighted my proposed revised oath to be sworn by all new recruits; “I, do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of constable with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, and that I will uphold fundamental human rights and accord equal respect to all people, according to law,” was unanimously agreed by Parliament. The previous oath made no mention of “upholding human rights”.

The transition from 9 bodies to one was tortuously slow. Police are very rank- conscious and the preparatory work for the new service had exactly the same number of ‘work-streams’ as there were assistant chief constables so everyone got a new, albeit temporary, title. Self-interest among those individuals lead to inertia and it was only after the appointment of Police Scotland’s first chief constable, Stephen House, hitherto the chief constable of Strathclyde Police, that things got moving.

Stephen House is a former Metropolitan Police Officer who believes that a ‘performance culture’ is what is required to evidence sound policing practice. So, whilst some things, such as public reassurance, are very hard to quantify, it is easy to count the number of drivers charged with not wearing a seat belt or the number who have dropped litter. Now, as someone who owes their life to wearing a seat belt, I place very great store in educating the public about road traffic safety and, of course, I dislike litter. However, in each of those instances, if the offender is someone who will respond to advice, then much better that, rather than reach for their notebook, officers deploy their most significant power: the power of discretion. That way you have two citizens grateful for not being charged and two future potential witnesses to help the police. But if you give a clear focus on numbers then that’s what front-line officers will concentrate on.

The period running up to the amalgamation was frenzied. On paper at least, the scrutiny process was designed to be enhanced. Each council ward now has its own Policing Plan and each Local Authority its own Police Committee, rather than the joint board system of members for various authorities in all but two of the former forces. Overseeing it all, the Scottish Police Authority, a board of appointees with various backgrounds and officials with a variety of skills.

Arming the police

Until about 20 years ago, the Scottish Police service was always unarmed. Trained officers could be sent to incidents where firearms were needed, invariably the aftermath of an armed robbery, a murder using firearms or whilst on close protection duties for VIPs. About 20 years ago saw the advent of the Armed Response Vehicle: two highly trained uniformed officers in a vehicle on constant patrol. Within the last decade each of the forces had them but only Strathclyde and Lothian & Borders officers have the firearms carried overtly on the officers; Tayside’s ARV crews carried the weapons covertly whilst the other forces had weapons contained within a locked safe in the boot of the vehicle with withdrawal and use requiring the approval of a senior officer.

When a constituent contacted me saying they were concerned armed officers were patrolling on foot in the Inverness area I was initially sceptical but I made some enquiries and found it to be correct.

One of the changes that followed the move to the single service was the significant change I encountered trying to get replies to constituents’ enquiries. I wrote to the chief constable asking if there was a plan to put in place a correspondence protocol and was effectively told ‘we’ll decide what’s important’. For those reasons, rather than send off another letter which could go unanswered for months, I raised the matter through the Herald newspaper.

Police Scotland’s response was dismissive. I was told that only I and one other had ever complained. I sought and secured a meeting with the Assistant Chief Constable responsible for firearms and invited all my Highlands and Islands MSP colleagues to attend.

Now, almost a year and three official reports on we are told the ‘terrorist threat’ means our armed officers will retain their ‘standing authority’ to openly carry their firearms and they will still intervene in non-firearms incidents ‘using their professional judgement’. My request that the guns be returned to the safe in the car boot has been roundly rejected.

Stop and search

When used proportionately, stopping and searching citizens is legitimate crime prevention tool for the police. Indeed, common law powers of search and statutory powers relating to things such as drugs and weapons have always been a feature of effective policing. The laws relating to stop in search did not alter when Police Scotland came into being, nor did the threat level suddenly change what did alter was the police’s approach to stop and search.

One year in, we learned that levels of stop and search in Scotland exceeded those of the Metropolitan Police and New York Police Department.

More reports and explanations, and then the sad spectacle of Assistant Chief Constable Mawson, in the full light of the resulting publicity, explaining to Parliament that the ‘loss’ of “20,086 (search) records …. between May and July last year’ was because, ‘a computer programmer pressed the wrong button”. I’m not sure even he believed it, but within a few days the story changed anyway.

Whether terrorism, organised crime or drugs, the police like to tell us their operations are far from random, rather they are “intelligence led”. Of course, were that the case then we wouldn’t see communities targeted for stop and search operations resulting in four out of five stopped and searched having nothing on them, something the hapless ACC described as ‘a good success story’.

Later, having assured Parliament that searching of under-12s would cease, only for it to continue, the chief constable boasted he can and does ask for explanations from officers, bizarrely adding “that is quite an impressive development as far as human rights are concerned.” The ‘development’ that has seen young people stopped, searched, and had inappropriate details requested is ‘impressive’: an impressive disregard of human rights which will now stop.

Every profession has its own language and when we are told “there are no targets for volume of stop and search” yet are aware that each of Scotland’s Divisional Commanders has 23 key performance indicators to satisfy, you can see how scepticism can arise.

Policing the polis

Councillors on local authority committees have little to scrutinise and were cynically by-passed on the armed police issue whilst the Police Authority, initially distracted by a turf war about who’d be in charge of what, has been absent without trace on both the armed police and stop and search issues, belatedly and ineptly reporting events long since pored over by the press and politicians.

Since I became an independent MSP, the government no longer has a majority on either the Justice or Police Committees and seem to wish to characterise criticism of the police as ‘an opposition campaign’. I fear that misjudges the important scrutiny role expected of parliamentarians and, whilst we must all support the rule of law, that does not mean a blank cheque to an over-bearing policing style.

What do we learn from all of this? Well, it’s not that all the Police Scotland does is bad. The proactive work targeting serial domestic violence offenders has rightly been widely welcomed by Women’s Aid and others. Yet, even with that positive issue, rather than work with the legislative tools they are given, the police became active and vocal supporters of ending the age old Scots law convention of corroboration, the requirement for two separate sources of evidence to convict someone. That issue was eventually kicked into not very long grass by the Scottish Government, and will emerge again at the end of the year in time for proponents of this dangerous change to pontificate that some rights are more important than others.

Those opposed to the creation of the single service will feel vindicated that the series of events I have related show that they were right. I disagree; I believe they show a single-minded chief constable, unchallenged by his fellow chief officers, who isn’t held in check by his Police Authority, and who needs reigned in.

Sir Stephen House is quick to say he understands the need for him to be accountable; however, you do not need to be an expert in body language to read that’s not really his view.

I support local policing, and were I still a local councillor I would have been asking questions about armed officers on my beat. Why it was not picked up at local or national level? In fairness to the police they did tell the Police Authority. It was the last sentence of Paragraph ‘5.9’ of agenda item ‘8’: “Work is therefore well underway and on track in terms of Armed Policing provision for Day 1 when a standing authority for Armed Response Vehicles (ARV), Tactical Firearms Unit (TFU), airport coverage and other policing operations will be implemented.” Now, despite my intimate knowledge of the police service, I would not have read it as ‘routine arming’. Deliberate or not, it is now academic because, as with many other aspects of the controversies, the story has constantly changed with there being several versions of how it happened.

A colleague on the Police Committee recently asked the chief constable ‘if a witness in a police investigation changed their evidence as quickly and as often as that, they would be considered to be unreliable, would they not?’ Sir Stephen House replied ‘we would certainly be interested in why the story was changing. We are trying to explain why the story has changed.’

The story that is Police Scotland needs to change and, whilst that may only happen with the departure of the present chief constable, we must all remain vigilant and demand that our police service ‘uphold fundamental human rights and accord equal respect to all people, according to law’. I’ve not given up hope yet!

Post Referendum – What Kind of Scotland?

Well it’s not boring. Nicola is First Minister with a gender balanced cabinet. Alex looks set to return to London to open up a second front and Jim will lead Scottish Labour and try to find a seat in Holyrood. Added to this all of Scotland’s civil society; the unions, the media, the parties, the churches, culture and citizens have had a democratic shake up like never before.   Now we need to look to the future.

Democratic Left Scotland (DLS) is a wee organisation with big ideas. Ideas and ambitions that we share with others but our size and our heritage also let us ask difficult questions. Questions like: Where are we trying to go and how will we get there? Born as an autonomous organisation in 1999 when the Scottish Parliament was reconvened DLS has Scotland’s future as its centre. Our organisation draws from the rich tradition of independent progressive organisations and individuals that worked for change. Importantly these women and men ‘dug where they stood’ by being part of the daily struggles of their workplaces and communities. They were also critical thinkers and internationalists. Their battles alongside those of their neighbours in England and cousins further afield were all part of changing the fortunes of people and planet for the better.   Our network looks to continue this work.
Scotland’s future is intertwined with what happens across Britain, Europe and the globe: the environmental and the economic impact on relations between worker and owner, state and citizen, women and men. Today’s world creates competition between generations, localities and workforces. So called established communities need to respond to ongoing migration.
The neo-liberal response to the global economic crisis coupled with the British political class’s response to post-imperialism has meant constantly increasing pressure on the many. Cuts, the implications of war and austerity are the social policy back-drop. Monarchy, trident, the Lords, the banks, bonuses and expenses continue. Food banks (emergency food aid), flexibility (wage cuts, redundancy and stress) and welfare reform (sanctions) are imposed, as so called celebrity culture distracts people from this growing normality. Whilst daily discrimination on the basis class, race, gender, sexuality, disability, and faith continues.
In May 2015 we will get a vote (16 and 17 year olds will have to wait). Westminster, the lynch-pin of much of the above inequality is moving further in the direction of the Tory right and UKIP and the parties that pander to the assumed views of ‘middle-England’.   Labour’s ability or desire to put a break on this seems questionable. Still for a few months around May of 2015 Westminster will be the focus. But there is more to democracy than voting. The self-determination that developed around the time of the referendum should be increased not dissipated (and it does not need to be unique to Scotland).  It should not be limited to a cross against one of the parties although we all need to figure out which candidate in each constituency is best placed to move us beyond the broken promises of the palace of Westminster.
A just Scotland is not compatible with the (TTIP) privatisation of the NHS, with Trident renewal, the cutting of local services and the demonization of migrant workers. And if we are to build that different kind of Scotland there is enough to do now: we do not have to wait for the revolution. Working class communities found their voice in September. In alliance with others across Scotland there in a need to oppose fracking, challenge racism, cap rents, introduce a living wage and end the poor-law culture of sanctions and precarious employment. We need to learn from and support activity where it is already taking place. We need to build effective, sustainable, participative communities, local government and Scottish Democracy. Beyond this land, industry and resources need to be employed for the benefit of society if we are to find a route out of austerity. 
The Unionist parties failed to address this with their promised Vow and their approach to the Smith Commission.  All in Labour talk about social justice but they continually fail to understand the new democratic awakening or the developing progressive culture of Scotland.  Until now, they could still have been a part of this but the election of Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale make it extremely increasingly unlikely. Importantly we should not disown the traditions of the Labour movement but to attempt to locate them within the context of democratic renewal.
The SNP, the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party have all gained members.  This is to be welcomed. But the lessons of September 2014 show that alone this is not enough. Discussion of an electoral agreement between these parties for Westminster was always a bit of a side-show. There is more to politics than parties.   There is a need to build an even greater self-determination for a different kind of Scotland. We can’t ignore the Yes and No settlement of September 2014 but we have to move beyond it to an even bigger consensus for Yes – for a different kind of Scotland.
What kind of Scotland will that be? The STUC’s a Just Scotland, the Radical Independence Campaign’s people’s Vow, the work of; CND, the National Collective and Belle Caledonia can all help. As can, Women for Independence asserting the second part of their name ‘independence for women’.   The advent of the National newspaper and the role of the Sunday Herald are pivotal as is social media and importantly real conversations with real people. Common Weal, Engender, NUS Scotland all have ideas. Even small publications like Perspectives and Scottish Left Review have a contribution to make. This is only part of a long list and importantly not all of these organisations and institutions are exclusively or in any way Indy.  ‘Yes Scotland’ needs to speak to No Scotland without bitterness and those impacted by Osborne’s ongoing austerity and other forms of inequality need to be given the space to speak about their experience. The settlement vintage 2014 is not static.
Political spaces, real usable spaces in communities and the policy spaces created by the Community Empowerment Bill, the Strengthening Local Democracy commission and land reform and other legislation need to be use where possible. Tax justice needs to become a reality in Scotland if we are going to pay our bills. The arguments for economic sustainability and appropriate social security need to be nailed.  We need to rethink the relationship between paid and unpaid work. The radical needs to become more common place.
The post referendum Scotland requires us to create even more energy in the run up to May and beyond. We need to start to build the Scotland we want to be. It might not be easy. It will not be boring.

DLS Referendum Statement

Here is a message from Stuart Fairweather:

“Tomorrow 97% of people over the age of 16 living in Scotland have the right to vote. We should encourage and support all friends, family, neighbours and workmates to use their vote. Democratic Left members and supporters will be amongst those that take part in this huge democratic event.
DL members have been involved in the campaign in many different ways. We are unlikely to all vote in the same way. Accordingly Perspectives has given coverage to the Yes and No positions.
A Yes vote looks likely to many to provide the potential for progressive change. For other a No vote is seen as a route to equally important outcomes.


DL’s National Council plans to meet on September 20th to discuss the result of the vote and consider the possibilities it creates. All members and supporters are welcome to use the e-mail group to express their views and contribute to what will be an ongoing discussion.”