Iraqi resistance ‘not bad people’ says head of British Army

[Saturday]

Yes, it’s General Sir Richard Dannatt, again. This time he’s calling on us to support the armed forces like the Americans, but admitting – unlike his American counterparts – that the Iraqi Resistance is primarily nationalist, motivated by human needs and not extremist ideology.

Dannatt’s speech is completely mistaken. Leaving aside his description of the UK as a nation – it is a multinational state, and one that is slowly coming apart, partly as a result of recent conflicts – he implies that the majority of people actually want the armed forces to be fighting wars of conquest for big business in the Middle East. He makes it sound as if we begged them to go in the first place, and are now indifferent to the predicament of returning service personnel.

Of course, we are not indifferent, and we do care – proof of this is the majority of people who want the troops to be brought home.

If you want to show your support for the troops, why not take to the streets?

On 8 October MPs return from their long summer break. No such luck for the 5,000 British soldiers stuck in Iraq as part of the catastrophic occupation.

British troops have been withdrawn from their last base in Basra City. The Basra Palace base has been the target for continuous attack over the last months. Downing Street has tried to spin the withdrawal as ‘part of the process of handing over power to the Iraqi government’. In fact this is an ignominious defeat for both the army and their political masters.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq has been one of the great crimes of recent times. The remnants of the British forces in Iraq are now hunkered down at Basra airport where they have no real political or military role except to provide target practice for the Iraqi insurgent groups and to give George Bush political cover.

What is essential now is that the troops are brought home as a matter of urgency and are no longer part of the continuing American occupation of that country.

The Stop the War Coalition says it is time MPs got the message. On 8 October we want them to hear it from thousands of people as they return to the Commons.

Spooks scotched nationalists

[Sunday]

And it continues to this day?

Files prove that MI5 spied on SNP
MARC HORNE

THE SNP was spied on by British secret service agents, previously classified Government files seen by Scotland on Sunday have finally proved.

Claims of surveillance of nationalist politicians by intelligence officers have circulated for years, but the new papers provide the first incontrovertible evidence that the state spied on the SNP in the 1950s.

Agents from MI5 and Special Branch infiltrated the party as part of a campaign to undermine support for Scottish independence, the papers show.

The revelations have put First Minister Alex Salmond – who in opposition complained about closed Government files on the SNP – under pressure to close a legal loophole that allows the secret services to intercept the calls of Scottish parliamentarians.

The files, which have been opened and placed in the UK National Archives in Kew, show that throughout the 1950s Special Branch officers posed as nationalist supporters and attended party meetings and rallies.

The dossiers contain first-hand accounts from numerous unnamed agents of party meetings, and also include names of SNP members and sympathisers. They also provided transcripts of speeches and give particular attention to members they believed were on the more radical and militant wing of the party.

The dozens of documents also contain the remarkable claim that Dr Robert McIntyre, the then SNP leader, wanted Scotland to pull out of the UK and apply to be the 49th state of the USA.

A number of present-day MSPs, including former SNP leadership contender Alex Neil, claim MI5 still monitors pro-independence politicians and may even have stepped up surveillance since the Nationalists won power in May.

So far the new SNP administration has rejected calls to extend the “Wilson Doctrine” – which bans the secret services from tapping the phones of MPs – to Holyrood.

Alex Neil, deputy convener of Holyrood’s European and External Relations Committee, said: “It does not surprise me in the least to have it confirmed that the UK Government has used dirty tricks against the SNP in the past.

“I would certainly not discount the idea that the British state is still acting to undermine the SNP, especially given the substantial progress it has made recently.

“We need to get clear assurances from Westminster that nothing is being done to undermine the democratic wishes of the Scottish people.”

Margo MacDonald, the independent nationalist MSP and former SNP deputy leader, added: “Scotland is strategically important and energy rich, and I think it would be extraordinary if the security services weren’t taking a close interest in recent developments in Scotland.”

There’s no power in this union

[Saturday, again]

I reckon that New Labour is regretting devolution. It cannot be reversed, and anything that is done to hold the union together will only cause further damage. If anything is certain, it is that the Barnett Formula will be ditched by Brown and the Tories will continue to play the “English votes for English laws” card – though both parties are for the union, as the unprecedented events of this week have shown, with Labour, the Tories, and the Liberals uniting against democracy in Scotland.

Anyway, here’s what the IPPR are telling New Labour:

Cut Scots cash and MPs, Brown is told
JAMES KIRKUP
POLITICAL EDITOR (jkirkup@scotsman.com)

GORDON Brown should cut the number of Scottish MPs and reduce Scotland’s share of UK public spending, a think-tank with close ties to the Labour Party has argued.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says that only by altering Scotland’s constitutional and financial position in the Union can the Prime Minister assuage potential English anger. Otherwise, the researchers warn, rising unhappiness in England could ultimately threaten the unity of the UK.

The IPPR is often described as Labour’s favourite think-tank, and its researchers are often consulted by Labour ministers developing government policy.

Its latest contribution to the growing debate about the UK constitution comes only a day after Alex Salmond launched his “national conversation” about the future of Scotland.

In an article published in its own academic journal, the IPPR concludes that with the election of a Scottish National Party administration in Edinburgh, “the benign circumstances into which devolution was born have begun to unravel”.

Mr Brown has also talked of a nationwide reassessment of the UK constitution, promising “a new British constitutional settlement” that gives more power to the Westminster parliament and could even see the creation of a formal “bill of rights”.

But the government has been more reluctant to discuss changes in the relationship between the nations that make up the UK, and the IPPR paper’s authors, Guy Lodge and Katie Schmuecker, warn the Prime Minister that inaction is not an option. “Public support for the Union remains strong; but its maintenance will require reform,” they say.

In particular, the paper identifies an answer to the “English question” as Mr Brown’s urgent priority: “English indifference to the Scots and the Union may be transformed into frustration and antipathy.”

Under the current settlement, not only can Scottish MPs vote on issues that affect only English constituencies – with no matching right for English MPs – but Scotland also benefits from higher per-head public spending. The Conservative answer is a policy of “English votes for English laws”, banning Scottish MPs from voting on “English” affairs. Mr Brown has rejected that idea, and the IPPR brands it “fundamentally unworkable”.

But the researchers do identify other ways of redressing the perceived imbalance between England and the rest of the UK. First, the number of MPs from the devolved nations could be decreased.

“The number of Scottish MPs has already been reduced, but they are still over-represented compared to England,” the paper says. “Such a move would also be justified on the grounds that, since devolution, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs have less to do at Westminster.”

The IPPR also calls on Mr Brown to scrap the Barnett Formula that delivers higher public spending for Scotland. The Prime Minister has pledged to retain the formula.

But describing the current arrangement as a “core injustice”, the IPPR says the formula is “widely perceived as unfair … [and] ripe for reform”. It concludes Mr Brown should look at replacing it with a fairer model.

UNCHARTED TERRITORY
SCOTLAND may have to make a “unilateral declaration of sovereignty” if Westminster tries to block Alex Salmond’s plans for constitutional change, according to one of the founding fathers of the Scottish Parliament.

Canon Kenyon Wright, who was the convener of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which helped to deliver devolution to Scotland in 1999, said the First Minister’s plan for a “national conversation” could potentially lead the UK into uncharted constitutional territory.

Under the current devolution settlement, power is only “lent” to Holyrood and final sovereign authority over the constitution always rests with Westminster.

That means any change in Scotland’s constitutional position, or even increase in Holyrood’s powers, would have to be approved by MPs in London.

According to Canon Wright, that raises the possibility of a direct conflict between Scotland and Westminster.

“If the Scottish process came up with the conclusion that we should have a reformed Scotland, but Westminster says no, then in that case, a unilateral declaration of sovereignty would be justified,” he told The Scotsman yesterday.

He added: “Where that takes us, goodness only knows.”

About that North-South divide

[Wednesday]

Dividing lines
The Institute for Public Policy Research’s northern branch put out a press release on Monday, trailing research to be published in an upcoming report (The Northern Economic Agenda by Howard Reed, Olga Mrinska and Michael Johnson), and berating the government for being in denial about the North-South divide:

[S]ince 1997, the North East, the North West, Yorkshire and Humberside and the Midlands have all moved further away from the national average, on the Government’s favoured measure of output per head (known to economists as ‘Gross Value Added’). Over the same period, London has out paced the rest of Britain.

[T]he Government’s target (which was set by Gordon Brown in 2002) has only been to reduce the average rate of growth between two groups of regions:

• on the one hand, the North East, the North West, Yorkshire and Humberside the East and West Midlands and the South West, and;
• on the other hand, London, the South East and the East of England.

At first I thought it odd that a think tank aligned to New Labour would be so critical. But it appears that this is cheerleading in disguise.

The IPPR North’s director, Sue Stirling says:

“The Government needs to get real on the north-south divide. At the moment, it is in denial. The Government has not explicitly targeted the gap between rich and poor, nor the gap between north and south. As a result, the work of Labour’s Regional Development Agencies has only succeeded in reducing the north’s relative decline.

“The standard Government line on the north-south divide is that inequalities within regions are as dramatic as those between regions. This is true but just because you deal with inequalities within regions it does not mean you should ignore inequalities between regions.

“This October’s Comprehensive Spending Review will almost certainly scrap the Government’s current target, and not before time. But we need a proper target to replace it that explicitly focuses on the gap between north and south.”

Don’t answer the question!
The electoral importance of the south east of England for governing UK does not explain Labour’s failure to tackle the North-South divide. Rather, the changes in British capitalism necessitated the continuation of the managed decline of manufacturing: the financialisation of the UK economy has continued in the last decade, moving north and south further along the road of uneven development.

Regionalisation was a way for Labour to sidestep the English question, which is a necessity for both the party and the capitalist class. The argument that a North East Assembly would help develop the region’s economy was rejected by the voters, and the plan for elected regional assemblies was halted, though the assemblies themselves did not cease to function as unelected bodies.

Brown has signalled that there is to be a revival of the elected regional assembly plan, the existing assemblies are to be disbanded, and the Tories might counter regionalisation with support for an English Parliament, if they can get over the Union. In the past, Tory talk of an English Parliament resulted in the solution currently proffered by Dangerous Dave: English votes on English matters. Will there be a change?

Tories and signatories
Tory MP Mark Field has come out in favour of an English Parliament:

I must confess I am wary of the Party adopting an ‘English votes for English Bills’ policy and playing to English nationalism. There is obvious inequity in our current constitutional arrangements as a result of devolution, and there is increasing disquiet from many in England who are concerned about the imbalances left by Labour’s political settlement. But attacking Scottish MPs comes across as partisan and negative. Our mission should be to maintain and strengthen the Union and avoid promoting a solution that could be portrayed by our opponents as putting that Union at risk. This would play badly not only in Scotland (which many Conservatives too easily regard as a lost cause) but also amongst middle class, Middle England voters who continue to value the Union and all it has meant for us. It also runs directly counter to the positive, optimistic messages that the Party is trying to cultivate elsewhere.

[…]

Since the expulsion of most of the hereditary peers, I have, in principle, favoured the option of a fully or largely-elected House of Lords. However, I recognise that such an outcome is unlikely to be within the realms of practical politics, not least as the House of Lords as currently constituted is likely to be hostile and there would be little agreement as to the timing or form of elections. I would prefer to see the creation of a completely new federal parliament. Four, full, national parliaments in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with most of the existing powers of the House of Commons and over them a federal United Kingdom parliament, which would debate defence and foreign affairs, make treaties and administer a cohesion fund for the poorer parts of the UK. It would be funded by a per GDP levy on the national parliaments. There would be no need for extra politicians, as the national parliaments would send representatives to the UK parliament and meet together for its debates, which could be held in the old House of Lords chamber. [Emphasis added.]

Labour MP Frank Field initiated an Early Day Motion on the English question in January, which has so far been signed by only nineteen parliamentarians:

this House notes that those polls that have questioned the English report a clear majority in favour of an English parliament; and further notes that it is this issue, and not Scottish independence or even House of Lords reform, that is the issue that voters now put at the top of their priorities for constitutional reform.

Gordon Brown obviously doesn’t care for Scottish independence and has opted for the House of Lords as his focus for constitutional reform. It is not just because it’s the only option left; there is some political expediency in reforming the Lords. The cash for honours scandal further eroded confidence in political representation, a loss of legitimacy that the political elite can ill afford.

Reformed character
The heredity of political preferences which benefited Labour no longer exists – the party is no longer viewed in class terms and this has resulted in millions of traditional Labour voters giving up on the ballot box. Voting for Labour is no longer something that is learned – as abstention rises, so Labour’s turnout declines.

From the perspective of the ruling class, this means that New Labour has helped kill off class politics, though the party is still seen in class terms – only this time it is representing the interests of the super rich.

This positive development for the British capitalist class is offset by the damage in legitimacy that comes with millions of people dropping out of political participation – be it as party members or as loyal voters.

An English parliament with a fair voting system and recallable MPs on the wages of the average worker, would accelerate the independence struggles in Wales and Scotland, advance self-government in Cornwall, and give positive nationhood to working class people in England. All of this would be a blow to British and US imperialism, the military conquest of the Middle East, the European Union, and the privatisation agenda.

The establishment of an English Parliament will be the last choice for the ruling class in answering the English question, for all of the positive points I listed. There is no reworking the Union, it died when Ireland left.

This is not to say that they won’t try. Yet again the corpse of the British Empire will be reheated.

Gordy goes to Washington

[Monday]

Don’t call me Dave
Forget about David Cameron. Okay, he’s trailing in the polls by eight or nine points, his own MPs are mouthing off about him – Graham Brady, who quit the frontbench over Cameron’s stance on grammar schools, for one – and columnist Peter Oborne has raised the possibility that it could be game over for the Tories if Cameron leads them into a fourth consecutive election defeat.

So, the man who was built up by the corporate media now finds himself the subject of ridicule. No ideas, no direction, and no hope. Cameron has an uphill struggle: to convert his party, to beat Brown as a leader. See, Brown has a head start – he’s been crowned without an electoral test. As the current PM, he just has to keep his place at Number Ten, Cameron must prove himself – this is the expectation.

Cameron says he won’t waver, despite criticism he lacks appeal in Midlands and North of England. He is now compromised. If he does another U-turn and obeys the wishes of his party, he looks weak because he swore against it; yet if he soldiers on, more and more detractors will speak against him, and the perception will be of a party in disarray.

The discourse for Cameron is proving that his party has changed. Will Brown be held to his change of relations with US? No, not likely – here we are in realpolitik mode and the media won’t be pressing him on this “change”.

Most unwanted!
We know who Gordy is, don’t we? He tells us often enough. He is change. Well, he doesn’t smile as easily as Blair. He’s a bit awkward, a tad scruffy. It is a change of style, but not substance because nothing has really changed.

No change in relations with the US: we should be grateful for the most powerful empire ever to exist, says Brown. No change in government attitudes towards industrial disputes: the posties – and all other workers – must accept a pay cut to hold off inflation, says Brown. (Presumably he doesn’t want the bosses to accept lower profits and reduced bonuses…)

Why isn’t Brown trailing in the polls? Are they meaningless? How can a man to take over as PM with no election, change only one or two of hundreds of massively unpopular policies, invite generals, coppers, and bosses into government and remain popular?

The answer is, of course, that he is not popular. Remember – these opinion polls are of voters. People who say they will vote in a general election. Not exactly a supermajority of the population; of which, a few thousand are asked to give their opinion. So taking an opinion poll is not the same as taking the pulse of the nation(s).

Severe flooding causing billions of pounds worth of damage to homes and businesses; an ongoing postal strike; deaths and casualties of troops fighting illegal and immoral wars in the Middle East – Brown doesn’t want to talk about this.

No, the flag! The Union flag is Brown’s priority (he’s British, you know!). The butcher’s apron is to be flown all year round from government buildings – but not in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

And terror – Brown is set on doubling the 28 day internment to 56 days, insisting it is needed despite the lack of evidence. It’s partly party political, it lets him out-tough the Tories, but for the most part it serves the interests of the ruling class, who will need such laws on the books should the tide turn on a mass scale.

Right now, Brown’s meeting with George Bush is in the news. What did he mean by “full and frank”? Was he displeased at Bush’s lap of honour in the golf cart? My big talking point is this: considering UK service-personnel are dying in immoral, illegal, and unpopular wars of occupation in the Middle East, what impact will Brown’s commitment to the “special relationship” have on his own reputation?

Independence thirst?
On Scotland, Brown’s abandoned homeland, the head of the Scottish government intends to publish a white paper on an independence referendum within the next two weeks, to mark the SNP’s first hundred days in power.

It won’t be easy to bring forward a referendum: the Scottish Parliament is packed with members of the Westminster parties, and the unionists are dead against giving the Scottish people a say on the future of their nation. If it is true that over a third of MSPs are in favour of independence and that there is not sufficient public support for an independent Scottish state, then the unionists should call Salmond’s bluff and back a referendum wholeheartedly.

Scottish independence is a big deal for socialists in England; we cannot let English national identity become purely defined by feelings of antagonism towards Scotland. The asymmetrical devolution carried out by New Labour is resulting in a resurgence of the English national identity, discrete from that of British “national” identity offered by the ruling class. Socialists should support the Campaign for an English Parliament and socialist bloggers should join the Witanagemot Club.

There is one other factor besides the issue of national self-determination, it must be said. For if it is true that Britain is the most important ally of the US, the world’s number one imperialist power, then it is our duty to break the Union into its component parts, thus weakening Anglo-American imperialism and at the same time fighting for change in the interest of the working class.

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