Scotland: fight against austerity, against established politics

Originally posted on People and Nature:

People in Scotland need to organise themselves on social issues and transcend the political status quo – not join the SNP – argues CATHERINE MILLIGAN, a socialist and community activist on the Castlemilk housing scheme in Glasgow.

Where do we go from here, after the Scottish independence referendum? The essence of the “Yes” campaign, for independence, was a drive against the

demo against bedroom tax

Demonstrating against the bedroom tax, Glasgow, September 2013

status quo, against established politics. It was a fight against unfairness, inequality and poverty.

It brought to light the very undemocratic way our country is run. It created a vehicle, via the referendum, for ideas on how to change it – ideas such as the nationalisation of the banks and oil industry; the promotion of renewable energy, with wealth redistributed by the creation of jobs, for example by reinvesting into the building of houses; support for the NHS; and fairer representation…

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Eric Holder’s Legacy – Justice For All Except For Bankers

Eric Holder announced Thursday his decision to resign as Attorney General of Obama’s administration. His tenure has left a contradictory legacy, which in many ways mirrors that of Obama’s presidency. Both men believe in a strong federal state that will enforce civil rights. However, the corollary of this belief is that the state has to be kept strong by purging dissidents – whistleblowers like Edward Snowden from within and “terrorists” from without.

After Holder’s announcement, the NAACP called him “one of the finest attorneys general in the nation’s history,” while the ACLU on the other hand cited his record of approving the legality of drone killings of US citizens, approving the NSA’s mass surveillance program, failing to prosecute any Bush administration officials for torture, instead prosecuting whistleblowers and journalists.

His main achievements have been in the field of criminal justice policy: reforming federal drug law sentencing minimums, which disproportionately impacted African Americans, finding ways to sue states for passing discriminatory voter-ID laws even after the Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act, and criticizing “stand your ground” laws after Trayvon Martin’s killing. He met personally with Ferguson residents and activists to talk about racial profiling, and pressured the police department to stop officers wearing bracelets bearing the message “I am Darren Wilson,” the officer who shot Michael Brown.

Holder earned the enmity of Republican politicians for reinvigorating the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division. He challenged them soon after Obama’s inauguration: “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” he said. His bête noire, Republican congressman Darrell Issa, who had Congress declare him to be in contempt over the ill-fated “Operation Fast and Furious,” described Holder as the “most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history … needlessly injecting politics into law enforcement.” Surely there must be a market for t-shirts with the slogan: “I am in contempt of Darell Issa.”

The two radically different sides of his record were discussed in an important debate on Democracy Now: Robert Weissman of Public Citizen criticized his failure to prosecute any of the Wall Street executives responsible for the banking crash of 2008 and subsequent recession. The Justice Department “decided not to criminally prosecute them, on the grounds that they were too big to fail, or, as it became known, too big to jail. Essentially, a decision was taken that if you are a financial institution and you become big enough and powerful enough, you are above the criminal law.”

Sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson responded that Holder’s reforms of the justice system far outweighed his failure to prosecute bank criminals, because of the disproportionate imprisonment of the poor and minorities. He accused the left of neglecting “what is important to the masses and millions of people who were never under the purview even of the white left to be concerned about some of the issues that African-American people and Latino people … have been concerned about.”

Dyson argued that the left also underestimated the importance of racial politics in impeding black people in government taking an aggressive posture toward the banks. Since there had been uproar when Obama mildly criticized police who arrested Harvard professor Skip Gates, “in its real political context,” he said, “what do you think will happen then if Eric Holder, as the first African-American attorney general, is seen to be going after mostly white CEOs and other corporate titans within the economic infrastructure? … To ask him to … overcome an entire history of structural and perceptual inequalities that exist, I think is just asking too much.”

The flaw in Dyson’s argument is that he, like Obama and Holden, identifies power with the political establishment and not popular sovereignty. The uproar over the Skip Gates affair came entirely from within this establishment and its attendant media, not from the social movement that elected Obama precisely in order to settle accounts with the banks that defunded thousands of minority communities with subprime loans. It was Obama’s belief that banks are the “lifeblood of the economy” that led him to support the bank bailout, not his aversion to the headline “Nation’s First Black President Allows Financial Institutions to Fail.” Both he and Holder share an ideology that holds the rich must be allowed to continue enriching themselves for the poor to have equal rights – if not equal wealth.

The Occupy movement was in many ways a continuation of the movement that elected Obama, and far from having vanished, has splintered into a thousand community-based activist groups which are actively fighting on issues of concern to African Americans and Latinos, from housing to cancellation of subprime loans to low wages and lack of jobs.

Holder oversaw and encouraged the militarization of the nation’s police forces, which became concrete and visible in Ferguson. Security and constitutional rights issues may seem removed from the daily problems of the poor and minorities, but the build-up of resources in the name of Homeland Security is creating a force to suppress domestic resistance and preventing it from getting traction in poor communities.

Holder’s role model as Attorney General was Robert Kennedy – and in this lies the key to the contradictions in his record. He sees civil rights as something administered to the poor by an enlightened elite, relying on the federal state rather than social movements to enforce rights and ameliorate the excesses of a capitalist economy. But to be able to successfully do that, from this point of view, the elite and state must be protected by suppressing opponents and whistleblowers who could uncover the inner deliberations of the political class.

It was the determined protests by Ferguson residents that brought Holder to the city and made him push for federal intervention to reform the police department. That fight is by no means over, and looks set to continue until officer Darren Wilson is charged with Michael Brown’s killing. Justice under the law is one thing, but real social justice needs a much bigger movement to achieve it. The good news is that signs of such an inclusive and pluralist movement are present in the Fight for 15 and other struggles in America today.

[UPDATE] Anticipating Holder’s retirement, Cornel West told Salon in August that Obama sent Holder to Ferguson because he was “on his way out.” “He’s concerned about his legacy as if he’s somehow been swinging for black folk ever since he’s been in there,” he said. “That’s a lie … He’s made a couple of gestures in regards to the New Jim Crow and the prison-industrial complex, but that’s just lately, on his way out. He was there for six years and didn’t do nothing.” When Ferguson residents reacted to arbitrary police power, “what happens is you got Eric Holder going in trying to create the calm. But you also got Al Sharpton. And when you say the name Al Sharpton, the word integrity does not come to mind. So you got low-quality black leadership. Al Sharpton is who? He’s a cheerleader for Obama.”

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Scotland: ‘this movement is learning fast, growing arms and legs’

Originally posted on People and Nature:

CATHERINE MILLIGAN, a socialist and community activist on the Castlemilk housing scheme in Glasgow, reflects on the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum.

So Scotland said no to independence with a historic turnout of 84%. The margin was 383,937: this was so close. The “Yes” campaign galvanised 1.6 million voters to challenge and undermine the Westminster staus quo –

Solidarity: on the weekend after the referendum, campaigners decided to collect food for Glasgow's food banks, and put the word out on social media to bring donations to George Square

Solidarity: on the weekend after the referendum, campaigners decided to collect food for Glasgow’s food banks, and put the word out on social media to bring donations to George Square

despite the onslaught by the establishment, which threw its full weight behind a “No” vote. Every single tabloid and broadsheet newspaper, bar one, supported a “No” vote; banks and businesses threatened to withdraw from our economy; most trade union leaders  advocated a “No” vote. Firms sent personal letters telling workers that if they voted “No” they could lose their jobs. Pensioners…

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Scotland: “yes” was for social justice, not narrow patriotism

Originally posted on People and Nature:

A guest post by HILARY HORROCKS, a socialist activist who lives in Edinburgh

The day after the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September – in which 45% voted “yes” to independence and 55% voted “no” – someone chalked on the pavement of Glasgow’s George Square: “Glasgow said Yes”.

Its past tense was a poignant comment on the despair felt in the immediate aftermath by the “yes” campaign, which had latterly turned this area of the city into a mini-Tahrir Square.

In many respects the 45% support for independence was remarkable, given that its backers were subjected to what the Sunday Herald called “the

Catalan demonstrators at an Edinburgh city centre polling station

Catalan demonstrators at an Edinburgh city centre polling station

political equivalent of carpet bombing” in the last two weeks of the campaign, after a YouGov poll suggested for the first time that “yes” might carry the day. The “Better Together” campaign, complacent up till now, suddenly sent…

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Establishment Coordinates Defeat of Scotland’s Independence

John  Macnamara contributes a guest post on the result of the Scottish independence referendum held last Thursday. I think it significant that many stalwart Labor voters defied the Labor party in the working-class centers of Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire, Dundee and North Lanarkshire, which all registered a majority for independence. Clearly international financiers were strongly opposed to independence and drove down the pound in the last weeks before the vote, no doubt pushing some undecided voters to the NO camp. This post outlines the rest of the establishment campaign to frighten voters against voting YES.

The referendum on an independent Scotland was the culmination of a two-year debate, and support for independence strengthened during this time from 30 percent to 45 percent on voting day. The final two weeks, after a poll showing the pro-independence YES voters had a majority, have been a frenetic affair with the entire UK establishment brought in to stem the tide of Scottish nationalism. 4.2 million residents of Scotland were eligible to vote, some 10 percent being English and another 10 percent being immigrants from elsewhere. 3.6 million voted, a turnout of 85%, which is the highest since 1951. Recent elections in Britain have hovered just above the 50% level for national elections, 30% for European and local elections and just over 10% for the recent poll of Police Commissioners. 1.6 million voted for independence and 2 million voted against.

In this short article, I want to report my observations as someone who grew up in England with a Scottish mother and a Northern Irish father, both of whom would probably have voted NO, given the chance. Their three children would probably all have voted YES. But the voting requirement was residency, not inheritance. Nevertheless, the independence referendum similarly split many Scottish families: brother against brother, son against father, wife against husband, family against family. Like many others, we have a history of strong religion, left-wing politics and a dour serious disposition, that even growing up in London in the 1960’s didn’t change very much.

Scots have been impressed by Norway and Sweden over the last 50 years, by their social justice, civic involvement, sense of fair play and willingness to pay high taxes for most of that time to make it all work, no matter which party was in power. The Scandinavian model of social democracy has been a dream for Scots for their own country, if they could only control it. Scottish independence was seen a way to get rid of Tory rule from Westminster: the Scots elected 59 members to that parliament in 2010, just one of whom was a Conservative, yet had to suffer right-wing austerity policies, Westminster-led foreign wars and pay for the associated inflated defence spending. With independence and control of its own finances an independent Scotland could support decent levels of spending on health and education.

The main argument against independence was about the currency to be used after independence. The political elite’s plan was for George Osborne, the English Chancellor of the Exchequer, to get the Bank of England and the Treasury, then all Westminster political party leaders, to deny an independent Scotland access to the pound sterling. Having decided this and made it public, they then used this policy as though it was a credible fact. They used this ‘fact’ to lambast the pro-independence campaigners as ‘naïve’ at thinking independence could work without either a currency of their own and sufficient reserves to support any future banking crisis. The British government constructed the weakness of ‘no currency plan’ and then condemned the SNP for it.

Ten days before the referendum, it seemed that the majority of Scots still bought into the social-democratic ideal. After a second debate between the leaders of the YES and NO campaigns, Alex Salmond and Alastair Darling, the strategy of denying Scots the use of the pound seemed to be faltering. Frightened by polls predicting 52% support for independence, the establishment fought back with four initiatives:

  • All 3 main political parties arrived in Scotland with the news that voting NO actually meant the maximum amount of home rule for Scotland. They joined hands and made three separate commitments to this policy, named “Devo Max,” one for each party in three different places. If Scots voted NO then the parties would organize the ability of the Scottish Parliament to ‘control its own affairs’. They announced a timetable with details of what specific measures “Devo Max” might mean for the day after the vote and then a parliamentary bill to be made ready by the end of October and a first and second reading in Parliament before May, when the current Parliament ends and a new election must be held. (An option for Devo Max in the referendum was denied by David Cameron two years ago as he thought its absence would guarantee a NO vote.)
  • A series of announcements over the next week from bankers and business executives followed, coordinated by 10 Downing Street, providing the media with daily headlines of job losses, pension and saving funds losses, and a variety of anti-Scottish articles threatening difficulties with building an independent Scotland with an antagonistic UK government, EU and US administrations.
  • A week later, now three days before the referendum, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, visited Scotland and made a speech outlining all the many risks of an independence vote: pensions were ‘made in England’, Scots were told, in English pounds, which Scots would not have if they voted YES. Defence forces would not exist, jobs would go South to England and the Scottish economy would diminish.
  • The role of the BBC was to claim impartiality while grilling SNP leaders in nasty interviews. There were no ‘hardball’ interviews of any of the NO campaign leaders nor of the Westminster politicians. There was no need to control the private newspaper media as it was united in its hostility to an Independent Scotland. One exception was Rupert Murdoch’s Scottish Sun newspaper which had suggested that its readers would support it, but Murdoch objected to the Environment and Social Justice platform of the independence platform. On the day of the vote, his newspaper alone came out with a blazing NO headline.

The outcome of the vote was a shock to the Independence supporters, who had the majority of the debate both on and off social media. YES banners were everywhere all over Scotland on the days before and on the election and NO banners were scarce. However, the intimidated silent majority of nervous pensioners and financial workers came out in force and saved the faces and possibly jobs of the wheelers and dealers in Westminster.

On the day the result was announced, Cameron tied the issue of ‘Equal Rights for the English Nation’ to the devolution proposals and also failed to specify what would be devolved. The pledge that a NO vote was a vote for maximum devolution and without the risks of independence has been linked to the issue of Scottish Members of Parliament no longer being allowed to vote on English issues. This makes a majority Labour government in May almost impossible. Incredibly, the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist part (with one seat out of 59) has been arguing that a YES vote is not needed as a way of avoiding yet more Conservative government in Westminster which Scots don’t vote for, since the Conservatives are likely to lose the forthcoming election in May.

The Labour response to losing the voting power of 40 of its MPs is to refuse to go along with Cameron’s party policking. Cameron, moreover, has proposed that his foreign Secretary, William Hague, should work on a package of measures to promote English and Scottish Devolution measures and limit the powers of all MPs to vote on issues local to other countries in the UK. Interestingly, Michael Gove is the main government Minister rejecting more powers to the Scottish Parliament without equal rights for an English Parliament. He is the Chief Whip of the government (the role of Frank Underwood in the original UK version of A House of Cards).

So there you have it: the devolution decisions will be made in smoke-filled rooms by the posh public schoolboys of the Bullingdon club. Precisely the fear that led 1.6 million Scots to vote against the Union! You could hardly make it up; the Westminster elite does not understand or care about the desire of the UK public for transparent and local politics.

— John Macnamara

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“Justice For All” – Ferguson Community Demands End to Police Repression

Ferguson council members listen uncomfortably to the anger of residents

Ferguson council members listen uncomfortably to residents’ anger

The determined street protests against the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri have diminished, but the anger of the community has not. Demonstrators are still demanding the arrest of Darren Wilson, the officer who fired the fatal shots, but it seems unlikely this will happen. The county prosecutor has declined to recommend any charges to the grand jury, and public calls for the prosecutor’s removal have been ignored by the Missouri political establishment.

While the protests and the militarized police reaction brought the profiling of African American youth to national attention, they also uncovered the systemic nature of the constant police harassment and ticketing of African American motorists in the St Louis area. Some journalists attribute the problem to the multiple underfunded towns in the county, but the economic imperative for local authorities to raise revenue through disproportionate penalties for minor offences is a national issue. As local budgets are cut due to the economic recession, the police are squeezing the poor to support their own activities.

At a tumultuous Ferguson council meeting last week, its members were besieged by citizens who denounced racism, police harassment and the council itself. They demanded to know why Wilson had not yet been taken into custody, why young African Americans were so frequently arrested, and when there would be an overhaul of the police department. Above all they demanded an amnesty on outstanding court fees and warrants: “You make your money off our backs,” shouted one resident. But the mayor, James Knowles III, announced that the council would not answer any questions and would only listen to public comments. At this point, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “He was met with shouts of protests and the sight of attendees rising to their feet, pumping their fists in the air. ‘Shut it down,’ they yelled. During the constant barrage, council members looked out over the audience and remained mostly expressionless. They had arrived with police escorts more than an hour before the meeting. And when it ended around 10 p.m., they left through an exit off the stage without interacting with the crowd. … ‘What I see up there for me, is taxation without representation,’ said Louis Willis, a former mayoral candidate.”

Even before Brown’s killing, there had been simmering anger over the way the city had been financing itself from court fees and fines generated by aggressive policing, in particular intensive traffic enforcement which raised court revenues by 44 percent over the last three years. In an attempt to defuse this anger, the council introduced a new rule that limited the contribution of fines to the town’s budget, but this is merely window-dressing. As The Guardian pointed out: “under the new rule, Ferguson could collect 15% of the $20.2m total revenue that the city is expecting for 2015. This is more than $3m, an increase of $943,800 on the total taken in 2014 under the existing system.”

The  rich (and white middle class) have separated themselves off from the urban centers into more affluent enclaves, and refuse to pay their share of taxes that would allow opportunities for minorities and youth. An investigation by the Washington Post found that poorer towns in St. Louis County derived up to 40 percent of their annual revenue from fines and fees collected by their municipal courts from low-income residents. “Sales taxes are the primary source of revenue in most St. Louis County municipalities. Wealthier areas naturally see more retail sales, so the more affluent towns tend to be less reliant on municipal courts to generate revenue. In recent years a state pool was established to distribute sales taxes more evenly, but existing towns were permitted to opt out. Most did, of course. Perversely, this means that the collection of poorer towns stacked up along the east-west byways are far more reliant on municipal court revenues. That means they face much stronger incentives to squeeze their residents with fines …”

However, it is not only the St. Louis region where aggressive policing is used to extract funds from citizens. Detroit is a much more significant example of how so-called “broken windows” policing of minor infractions is used to impose a higher tax burden on poorer residents. The mostly African-American residents of the city “face an added cost of living as the city police pile on nuisance fines to crack down on smaller crimes,” reports The Guardian. Yet just a few miles from the center of Detroit is Oakland County, the fourth wealthiest county in the U.S. Robert Reich points out: “Forty years ago, Detroit had a mixture of wealthy, middle class, and poor. But then its middle class and white residents began fleeing to the suburbs … By the time it declared bankruptcy, Detroit was almost entirely poor. Its median household income was $26,000. More than half of its children were impoverished.” If the metropolitan boundary had included the surrounding suburbs, he writes, “Oakland’s more affluent citizens would have some responsibility to address Detroit’s problems, and Detroit would likely have enough money to pay all its bills … But because Detroit’s boundary surrounds only the poor inner city, those inside it have to deal with their compounded problems themselves. The whiter and more affluent suburbs (and the banks that serve them) are off the hook.”

A prominent law enforcement official writes: “Many law enforcement agencies are facing the reality of severe budget cuts, reduced workforce, and the elimination or reduction of many law enforcement programs. Today, police chiefs are being asked to look for ways of economizing, increasing efficiency, eliminating redundancies, and finding revenue sources. … cities will begin to see successes at nearby agencies and look to new revenue streams as a panacea to forestall reduced services or even bankruptcy … there is a clear presumption of need for law enforcement to generate new income streams.”

For some police departments, seizure of cash from motorists who the police claim are connected with drugs has become a major new income stream – even though they are never charged with a crime. A three-part series by the Washington Post described how hundreds of state and local police agencies were relying on seized cash to fund their budgets, despite a federal ban on using the money this way. “There have been 61,998 cash seizures made on highways and elsewhere since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments through the Equitable Sharing Program, totaling more than $2.5 billion. State and local authorities kept more than $1.7 billion of that while Justice, Homeland Security and other federal agencies received $800 million.” Steven Peterson, a former DEA agent, told reporters that agency leaders saw cash seizures “as a way to provide equipment and training for their guys. If you seized large amounts of cash, that’s the gift that keeps on giving.” Of course, minorities are disproportionately targeted for cash seizures.

The problem for the ruling elite is that the structural pressure for sharply-increased extraction of funds from minority communities is undermining the popular acceptance of the system of authority, the consent of the governed. When the poor refuse to be sacrificed on the altar of neoliberalism, that poses a real threat to the legitimacy of the state. That’s why federal authorities had to step in quickly to defuse the protests in Ferguson when war-zone-like images from the clashes got national attention. But the anger of the community at last Tuesday’s meeting shows the conflict is far from being resolved. Residents challenged police harassment by counterposing to it the founding principles of the US constitution, demanding that political equality entitles them to equality under the law. At the very start of the meeting, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, “Shouting erupted during the Pledge of Allegiance, during the phrase ‘and justice for all.’ ‘For all!’ many cried.”

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Scotland: ‘the opportunity for real people power’

Originally posted on People and Nature:

In this guest post, CATHERINE MILLIGAN, a socialist and community activist who lives in the Castlemilk housing scheme in Glasgow, explains how she has changed her view of the referendum on Scottish independence

I am voting Yes to Scottish independence, and I haven’t come to that decision easily – because I call myself a socialist, and believe I am a citizen of the world, and felt it was ill advised to break up the working class movement

Standing room only at one of the meetings in Castlemilk, Glasgow, to discuss the referendum

Standing room only at one of the meetings in Castlemilk, Glasgow, to discuss the referendum

in Britain. I also fear the rise of fascism, especially in England where Ukip have free range to expound their ideas via most established media outlets.

However the young people of Scotland have changed my point of view, in that they are very pro-Yes and their arguments for this are very sound in my eyes.

They are clearly…

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