Be a Bastard this Christmas

That’s the message of some homelessness charities and local councils this festive season anyway.

Posters like the one above are becoming regular features of many town and city centres around the UK and that absolutely sickens me. There was a similar campaign against beggars in Leeds about 11 years ago which asked “Would you give a junkie £1 towards his next fix?”. Completely ignoring the cold hard fact that by no means all people who are homeless have drug or alcohol issues. One wag in Leeds also highlighted another serious flaw in campaigns against street begging when they defaced the signs in Leeds so that they also read “Or have them mug you later in desperation?”

If someone has gotten to the point in their life where they have to ask for money on the street then the ins and outs of how/why they are in that situation should not be of any concern to us. What should be our concern is helping alleviate the situation of our fellow humans. If someone has to ask for money it should be of no concern why they need it just that we are in a position to help them. What they spend their money on is no more your concern than where your local bar man, doctor, or school teacher spend their money.

At the moment we are facing some of the worst attacks on the living conditions of ordinary people that we have seen in decades. Not only is homelessness skyrocketing, there are nearly 100,00 homeless children in the UK, and the government has criminalised squatting in England and Wales. So now homeless people no longer even have the recourse to shelter in abandoned buildings -a right won by those made homeless due to the bombing campaigns in the Second World War. With the ongoing cuts to benefits and the ever increasing number of people who are finding themselves sanctioned by the Department of Work and Pensions (being denied access to benefits for 3-6 months or more for usually minor infractions or mistakes with benefits claims) we can expect to see more and more people driven onto the streets. Driven to desperation.

I’m extremely poor and am massively underemployed, we somehow manage to scrape by month to month, but from now on, when I can afford it, I’m definitely going to give money to beggars. (Not that I don’t already do so, but I’m going to do it more now) I don’t care if they spend the money I give them on soup, special brew, strippers, or smack. It’s none of my god damn business. What is my business however is the scum bags who are carrying out these attacks on us. They wallow in luxury and decadence* and laugh and jeer whilst they strip away everything we have won from them over the last century.

Seriously. How many more people have to be killed by sanctions or take their own lives due to the prejudices and sanctions of the benefits/housing system before there are politicians hanging from lamp posts all over Whitehall?

My kindness couldn’t kill. Their hatred most definitely fucking does. 😡

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Free Pie Supper in the Sky

Ken Macleod, the Scottish author of amazing SF novels such as Learning the World and The Star Fraction,  is probably almost as well known for his left wing politics as he is for his literary work. Especially as his novels often quite explicitly deal with elements of various left wing ideologies, be they communist, socialist, or anarchist, which is something that sets him apart from the gamut of, even ostensibly left wing, SF writers. I follow his blog, The Early Days of a Better Nation, as he often has interesting things to say and an overt left wing perspective is refreshing amongst the generalised well meaning liberalism of many SFF authors and fan sites. I obviously do not follow it as closely as I should as I seem to have missed the fact that Ken has a rather odd stance on the question of Scottish independence. That stance being he is against it.

Well, I say it’s an odd stance. It’s an odd stance to me in the way that I always find it a bit odd when a person with whom I share a great many interests and perspectives has a considered position that differs so greatly form my own. This is, quite obviously, a good thing as it works towards preventing me from becoming intellectually lazy with regards important issues such as the upcoming vote for independence. It’s very easy to simply dismiss the outpourings of right wing groups like the Labour or Conservative parties as a mish mash of odious lies and vindictive spite on account of that being almost exactly what they are. Anyone who has seen the pronouncements of the main Westminster parties and the No campaign will know what I mean with this. It isn’t referred to as ‘Project Fear’ for nothing.

I hadn’t realised that there was a particular left wing opposition to Scottish independence. The view from up here is that the left seem either united on this, via the broad left coalition of the Radical Independence Conference, or ambivalent, which seems to be the stance of most anarchist and ultra left groups and individuals.

In his piece this morning Ken refers to a number of sources, including Tom Morrison in the Morning Star and Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group at the University of Glasgow, which raise a variety of points with regards the independence question. He also references the Red Paper Collective who are “a group of activists: trade unionists, academics, politicians.” but they seem to be quite heavily linked to the Labour Party and as I’m interested in left wing opposition to independence I’m going to ignore them for brevity’s sake.

I would like to respond to some of the points raised by the Morning Star article and Greg Philo’s piece on Open Democracy and then outline a wee bit about why I, a Welshman living in Scotland with many, many friends in the South, will be voting Yes this coming September.

The Morning Star article trots out the usual line about Westminster elections.

There is a serious danger that in a matter of weeks the unity of the British labour movement will be gravely damaged and England and Wales (and by proxy Scotland) condemned to long-term Tory rule.

First off I’m not sure what unity within the British labour movement there is to be damaged. Unions are organised by trade rather than industry leading to ridiculous situations where cleaners, for example, within the RMT go on strike but the drivers, signallers etc… do not go out with them meaning that the strike is neutered and the workers have none of the negotiating power that you would expect had the other members of their union gone out on strike with them. Similarly we have multiple unions in a single workplace meaning that union scabbing is a very real thing. So no, Scottish independence will not damage any labour movement unity as it simply is not there to be damaged.

Secondly, no. Scottish independence will not have any real effect on Westminster elections. In all the elections since the 1945 Attlee administration the Scottish vote would have had an effect a mere handful of times. In general we get the Tories or Labour based on the way that England votes.

This point also ignores the fact that the Labour party, let’s be honest it’s a two horse race in Westminster with the Lib Dems for comedy value, is a right wing party that has attacked workers, both in Britain and abroad, has attacked benefit claimants, introduced the hated ATOS sickness benefit assessments, invaded two countries killing millions, begun the privatisation of the NHS, set up the field for the privatisation of the education system, established an immigration policy that would make the BNP green with envy, and all manner of other badness. So even if Scotland’s votes were needed to get the Labour Party back into power why would that be a good thing? Sure, the Labour Party may wring their hands and look apologetic, and they most certainly won’t guffaw, whilst they’re ripping apart the social infrastructure of the island but they will do it all the same.

Greg Philo raises the spectre of Anti-English racism which is, I have to admit, something of a fair point. Racism is a bad and terrible thing no matter who it is focussed upon. To back this up Philo quotes the Telegraph(2013) and the Scotsman(2006) -two very conservative and right wing papers- with articles on anti-English sentiment amongst Scottish school children and a 2% increase in complaints of racism from English people in Scotland.

Both articles are troubling, especially concerning racism amongst school children. I would like to live out my dotage in a place where I’m not surrounded by swivel eyed bigoted young people as I’m sure most people would. One point that Philo misses however is that a 2011 study, reported here in the Times Education Supplement, showed that 83% of teachers in English schools had

witnessed offensive behaviour among children, including name-calling, racist comments, jokes, stereotyping and “a tendency to use asylum seekers as scapegoats for a wide range of problems in society”.

Now I’m honestly not saying that English kids are more inherently racist than Scottish kids. Kids are kids and respond to the climate in which they live, just like adults. What I am saying however is that racism is a very real problem and one that is not confined to Scotland. That there should be an element of anti-English racism in Scottish schools is unsurprising given the Londoncentric bias of the mainstream media. Something that has been a bugbear for many people in Scotland for a long time. That and, you know, the whole history of the English government enacting policies that are hated throughout Scotland.

Not that this excuses it but I don’t think that using this as an example is all that great. Racism appears to be on the rise throughout the island. Something that should be of no surprise to anyone on the left given that the mainstream media have been fostering and promoting rabid British Loyalism, anti-Islamic, and anti-immigrant bigotry almost non-stop since late 2001.

There has, in fact, been a rise in the number of racist incidences recorded in Scottish school. Nearly 1300 over the last two years. However, English school recorded 87,915 racist incidences between 2007 and 2011(apologies for the Daily Mail link). That’s around 21,000 a year. Something like 30 times the amount of racist incidences reported in Scotland. England has 10 times(ish) the population of Scotland. Not 30 times so the disparity here is quite astounding. A disparity not mentioned by Greg Philo.

On a more personal note, I have lived in Scotland for most of the last 13 years and in that time I have directly experienced 3 incidences of anti-English racism. I may be Welsh but my accent is mostly English, and sounds entirely English to most Scots, due to the amount of time I spent living in England as a young(er) man. Three incidences in 13 years. In England however I experienced many, many incidences of anti-Welsh sentiment including being attacked on the streets of Brighton by a drunken Londoner who called me, if memory serves, a “cunt from the provinces”.

Now this, again, doesn’t imply that English people are inherently more racist than the Scots. It just shows that there are wankers everywhere and the existence of these wankers should not be a deciding factor when making big decisions.

Philo then moves on to the factors that are often touted as evidence of Scots being more progressive than the people south of the border. Factors such as the asylum seeker support initiatives and long standing socialist traditions. He rightfully points out that there are equivalents south of the border too.

The truth is we are like a lot of other places, and we would do well to remember that when people speak of Scotland or the Scots as having a “will to socialism” or write that “social democracy is hard- wired into Scotland’s soul”.

The myth of the naturally socialistic Scots is, obviously, bunkum. Working class people are, in general, quite far to the left of the Labour or Conservative parties, this is quite clear from this piece in the International Business Times, whether they are in Scotland, England, Wales, or Northern Ireland. The assumption of the Scots tendency to socialism is, however, a great failing on the part of the ‘radical left for independence’ and is a fantasy that they would do well to sideline. An independent Scotland will not be a socialist paradise. It will have the same, more or less, class structure as in the UK, it will have workers being exploited by employers and tenants being exploited by landlords. Anyone, aside from the pie supper in the sky nationalists, will realise this.

Strangely though Philo then goes on to say

The radical left, as we understand it, is not represented in the Scottish Parliament, even with proportional representation.

Which I find extremely odd. Where are the radical left in Westminster? Has there ever been a radical left in Westminster? Why should it be expected that there be one in Scotland? This is ignoring the presence recently(2003-2007) of members of the Scottish Socialist Party in Holyrood. Not that I consider the SSP to be especially radical but compared to the Labour Party they are rabble rousing firebrands.

There is a lot more in Philo’s post that I disagree with but I’ve passed 1700 words already, and I still need my morning coffee, so I’ll just get to why I will be voting Yes in September.

For many years I thought that the chances of there being an independent Scotland were slim, to say the least. I said, back before the referendum was announced, that if there ever was a vote I would vote Yes just “to watch the Daily Mail combust in a fit of apoplectic rage.” The thought of which still gives me warm fuzzies. Obviously I didn’t consider that there ever would be a referendum.

However as the referendum was announced and the austerity attacks upon society began to bite I was forced to reconsider my stance.

I have a family. I want what’s best for my family both in the present and in the future. What is best for my family, a rational and egalitarian society, is unlikely to happen any time soon therefore I want what’s better for them and to mitigate the impact of negative things upon us.

Independence will not bring about what’s best but it will act to stymie the more immediate and rampant affects of the austerity attacks upon us.

There are certain things that have been won from the ruling class over the last century or so. These things, the DWP, the NHS, free education, and so on, make up the social safety net that mean that whilst our society is extremely unfair and slanted in favour of the wealthy there are these things that mitigate this unfairness. Even if you are unemployed you are, supposedly, unlikely to starve. You should be able to get a roof over your head at night. If you become sick you will be nursed back to health.

All of these things are vital for us to even make a pretence of being a civilised society. As flawed as the education system, NHS, DWP and so on are they still make life more bearable for working class people. They keep us alive and feed our minds. I look south towards England and I literally shudder.

I do not, for a minute, think that whichever government is elected to Holyrood post-independence will be ideologically any different to the government in Westminster. It will be a neo-liberal government just the same. I do, however, feel that whichever government is in Holyrood will have a greater pressure upon them to maintain the social safety net of the welfare state and to put in place some progressive policies that will maintain, if not improve, the quality of life for those of us north of the border.

When X leaves school in a few years time I want her to have the option of going to university should she wish. For free. When we get ill I want us to be able to access medication. For free. If C or I lose our jobs I don’t want us to be made homeless. I want these things for all people but I especially want them for us. For these reasons I will be voting Yes in September. I’m not voting against England or English people. I’m not voting so that they can’t have these things. I’m voting because if I don’t I feel that we will, almost certainly, lose these things.

I also have little doubt that should the referendum return a No vote then Scotland will be shat upon intensely by a triumphalist Westminster. If the Tories are still in power after the next Westminster election, and I see no reason to doubt that they will be, then they will want to punish Scotland for its temerity to think that it could challenge the hegemony of GBPLC. Remember, these are the same vile human beings who cheered the £81billion cuts to public spending which have driven millions into gut wrenching poverty. Do you not think that they will miss the opportunity to twist the knife once more?

A Yes vote is self defence.

Following are a few issues I’ve heard raised by various friends either in England or in Scotland with regards independence.

But, what about solidarity? Aren’t we saying “I’m all right Jack” and leaving our friends and families to the south to suffer the degradations of the Tory Party? If you are lying on the floor being kicked then is it solidarity to lie down next to you and allow myself to be kicked too? Of course it isn’t! Insanity is what it would be.

But aren’t borders bad things? Why would we want more? Yes, borders are bad things. They are used to control the movement of people for the benefit of the ruling class. They are arbitrary lines on a map and in the case of the Scottish/English border that is exactly what the border will remain. There are no plans, outside of the delusional imaginings of the Project Fear campaign, to establish border controls north of Carlisle. The movement of people will not be inhibited by the ‘new’ border so it makes no real difference.

Isn’t it all about nationalism? No. Nationalism is, along with racism, sexism, homophobia and so on, on my list of things that are both absurd and contemptible. There are, of course, many, many people who will be voting Yes for reasons of nationalism and I think that they are wrong to do so. Not that I think they should vote No, just that they should be voting Yes in self defence rather than in celebration of some imagined heritage that is separate from the heritage of the rest of the island.

So, there you have it. That’s why I’ll be voting Yes. I want to ensure that my family are, however temporarily, shielded from the excesses of the austerity attacks and I have seen absolutely no reason, from left or right, that has convinced me a No vote can do this. Post-independence will not be all ‘free heavy ale and pie suppers in the sky’ but it, for a while at least, won’t be dragged screaming back into the Victorian era by the viciousness of the Westminster establishment.

“Those who can should do for those who can’t”

Here’s an impassioned statement from Denis Curran of Loaves and Fishes in East Kilbride on the horror that is facing many, many families in Scotland and throughout the UK as a result of austerity measures and benefit cuts brought in over the last 5 years. That we live in the twenty first century in a supposedly developed country and have people going days without food so that they can feed their children and walking miles in the hope of getting a food parcel is an utter disgrace. That these people are then targeted by the media and government as scroungers and thieves is, to put it bluntly, sickening.

I’ve said it before but it is worth repeating: this present government in Whitehall seems intent on dragging us back to the age of debtors prisons and work houses.

Malcolm X

When Life Imitates Dystopian Fiction

Prisoners are no longer allowed to be sent books in the UK. There is absolutely no reason for these new rules, brought in recently by the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling(the gilt clad ponce pictured below), that I can conceive of. Normally when the government passes such rules aimed at attacking parts of society they try and dress it up with claims of cutting costs or protecting vulnerable parts of society. In this case it is pure vindictiveness.

Violent crime is but a fraction of the total crime statistics.

The whole notion of punishment for crimes is both flawed and barbaric. If we want to live in a civilised society, and I most certainly do, then we need to focus on creating the social conditions that prevent crime. Punishing a person who has committed a crime, and remember – most crimes are economically motivated and violent crime is in the minority, makes absolutely no sense unless you think that vengeance should be the motivating factor of a justice system. I, personally, think that the concept of vengeance is barbaric and serves absolutely no positive social function. It appeals to our most base selves and pandering to it turns us into little more than plebs baying for blood in the arena(e.g. see this brilliant piece of satire on the paedophile frenzy that swept the UK in the early 00s).

We need to find a way to move our society in a more egalitarian direction. To move towards a society where all have equal access to the benefits of an advanced technological society. As well as making society a more pleasant place to live this may actually help fend off the wholesale collapse of our civilisation. As much as I love a good post apocalyptic dystopia, and let’s be honest – who doesn’t? I would rather that such scenarios remain purely fictional. The Conservative Party, on the other hand, seem intent on modelling society on some fucked up Steampunk nightmare. As if they read The Diamond Age and thought that sounded “just spiffy old bean”.

Whilst the banning of books being sent into prisoners may not seem like an important issue, sympathy for the incarcerated is not something that is widely encouraged in our society, it is, I feel, illustrative of a general regression in our society. A back slide into the barbarism of the 19th Century and the Victorian and Edwardian ages. Grayling and his ilk seem intent upon dragging us back to the days of work houses and debtors prisons. A Victoriana for the 21st Century with prisoners forced to labour for a pittance so that they can afford supposed luxuries like books or clean clothes(prisoners are also now barred from receiving items of clothing from the outside meaning that in women’s prisons some are forced to wear the same underwear for the duration of their incarceration).

For most of the last fifty years or so the prison system has been touted as having a focus on ‘reforming’ those within its walls. On education and training to allow prisoners, upon release, to enter back into ‘civil’ society. This ban on books being sent in shows that this pretence is being let slip and the viciousness of the powers that be is revealed. They don’t seek to improve society, they seek only a captive labour force that can be exploited in order that someone may turn a profit.

I do believe that this viciousness is quite particular to the Conservative Party. I don’t doubt, not for a second, that either the Liberal Democrats or the Labour Party would be doing anything differently when it comes to the outright attacks upon the fabric of society that the Conservatives are engaging in. They would just have the common decency to not guffaw and jeer at us whilst they were kicking us from pillar to post. That is the main difference between the parties. Not their economic or social policies but the level of glee they display at the effects of their actions upon the people of this island. As a wag once put it: “The only difference between Labour and the Tories is that Labour will give you a cuddle after they’ve fucked you”.

Rant over.