The Point
Last updated: 14 April 2018.

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Saying no to Blandland - an interview with Independent MSP John Finnie

In the week of the extremely successful first national conference of the Radical Independence movement, Point editor Steve Arnott interviewed independent MSP John Finnie about NATO, democracy, the Yes campaign and the prospects for re-alignment on the Scottish Left. John recently resigned from the SNP over its decision to support continued membership of NATO post-independence.

 

John, you were an active member of the SNP for a very long time, serving not only as an MSP, but previously as group leader of the SNP in Highland Council. It must have been a difficult decision for both yourself and Jean Urquhart to leave the party of government in the run up to the Scottish Independence referendum. Can you guide us through your thought processes at the time?

I first became aware of the proposal to try and change the Party’s opposition to NATO membership at a meeting with Angus Robertson, the Party's Westminster Leader, several months before our Annual Conference.

I subsequently wrote Angus detailing my concerns and indicating that were the policy to change I would find it challenging to remain in the Party.

The First Minister’s television interview in July during which he indicated his support for NATO membership was a significant point in the debate.  From that point on some who were uncomfortable with membership of NATO felt the need to ‘back the Leader’ so, from that point on, I used the social media, spoke at meetings and did radio and television interviews to encourage support to retain our long-standing opposition to NATO.

The Conference debate was about a ‘defence’ policy and not simply about NATO. It has been lauded as an example of ‘good old-fashioned conference debate’ and, whilst I understand that view, I thought it was a poor debate, dominated by the NATO issue.  Not many have noticed that, as a result of that vote, the SNP is now committed to spending a greater percentage of GDP, post-independence, on non-nuclear defence than the UK!

I joined the SNP as a 16 year old and leaving the Party was a decision taken after months of consideration and done in a manner to minimise any ill-feeling.  I could never support membership of a first-strike nuclear alliance and I will continue to fight for a socially just, peaceful, nuclear free Scottish republic.        

There has been some criticism of the SNP recently from others in the independence fight for being reactive to the unionist agenda and getting bogged down in answering detailed questions that would in fact be a matter for the first Scottish Government elected post-independence in 2016. Do you have any sympathy with that view and how do you see the independence referendum campaign proceeding from here?

Yes, I have a great deal of sympathy for the view that the SNP is 'fighting on the unionists' ground', constantly feeling the need to respond to the minutia of queries rather than rightly acknowledge the role the Scottish public can, and will, play post-independence.  I know the SNP don’t consider they have a monopoly of the independence agenda and it's in the interests of everyone interested in securing a 'Yes' vote to ensure that the 'Yes' campaign is as broad a coalition as there can be.

That broad coalition must articulate the many different independent Scotland’s there can be.  If the only model out there is the SNP one, then many seeking a more radical future will rightly feel left out.  Politics is about participation and priorities and the independence debate must excite folk and motivate greater participation than presently exists.

Direct democracy seems a very good way of taking major decisions about the future direction of a country. Do you think it would be a good idea to separate the independence debate from potential distractions about in or out of NATO, in or out of Europe, a monarchy or a republic, by simply promising the Scottish people a referendum on these issues post independence?

Whilst understanding what prompts such a question, I don't think it would be fair to seek to persuade people to vote for independence and not explain that, whilst that means control over matters such as welfare, foreign affairs and defence that we must postpone any debate about the head of state, the format of a constitution, continued membership of NATO and the EU until after independence.  We must say 'vote for independence, gain control of those important areas affecting your lives, AND make the 2016 election one where all the participants lay out how they see the future’.  As a republican, more of the same doesn't interest me and I would love a vibrant debate around what a constitution should look like.  For instance, the Mexican constitution forbids the country participating in wars of aggression and I'd like to see that included for starters.  


It's not the first time you've sacrificed influence for principle,arguably. As I recall when you were leader of the SNP group in Highland Council you took the group into opposition rather than be part of the ruling coalition's cost cutting and privatisation agenda. There are many on the left who think the current Scottish Government could be doing more to protect the public against Westminster Coalition austerity agenda. What's your view on that?

The reasons for leaving the Administration were many and complex with my personal aversion to privatisation well documented.  I have long been concerned about how vital public services have been auctioned off to the lowest bidder to make profit.  The growth of Arms Length Organisations across Scotland has to be halted and reversed.  In fairness, I think any Scottish Government would struggle to protect our valued public services from the scale of cuts imposed by Westminster.  Whilst in the Party, I spoke with Cabinet Secretaries about the possibility of doing something to help a group of public sector employees facing an attack on their pensions. Perhaps understandably they felt it would prove challenging to do that for one group but not another and that challenge was further compounded by Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury’s threat to remove from the Scottish budget a sum equivalent to any additional contributions the Scottish Government failed to deduct.  A further reason, if any were needed, for Scotland to take full control of its welfare and pensions systems.  

Do you think there could be useful and viable realignment of the left in Scotland if the independence referendum is won?

WHEN the referendum is won, realignment is certainly desirable and hopefully possible. Certainly, with independence secured, the raison d’être of the SNP will be gone and I would hope former colleagues would cause a major realignment within that Party, or join with like-minds to work for causes we hold dear.  I think political parties underestimate the public’s willingness to consider radical alternatives to the social injustice that pervades every part of British life.  The British state has always looked after its own; the bankers, the generals, the arms dealers, powerful countries, newspaper proprietors and private schools choosing inequality, privilege and war ahead of the social justice and peace most folk in Scotland want.

Given the predominantly unionist media, the Yes Scotland campaign will have to play a blinder if independence is to be won. How do you see that campaign developing, both locally and nationally? 

Certainly for the foreseeable future, supporters of independence can forget any support from the media.  In reality, I would settle for accurate reporting.  For instance, given the Scottish Government’s Government Expenditure Revenue Scotland  figures are accepted by HM Treasury, it should be readily accepted that the economic case for independence is made so the debate can move on.

Both locally and nationally, I would like to see greater attempts to ensure that everyone involved with the ‘Yes’ campaign seeks to engage in debate with supporters of the status quo and that could mean a welcome return to public meetings across the Highlands and Islands.  People want to understand their options and we must get unionists to explain what they see as the benefits of remaining in a state whose welfare reforms attack the most vulnerable, whose leaders are from an unrepresentative and out of touch elite, and whose proponents are the press who have broken the law and disregard common decency.  This campaign has to move from personalities to policies.  Celebrities and business leaders have their place, however, at the end of the day they only have one vote so, we must get out on the streets, knock at the doors and be available to answer the many queries our fellow citizens have as they struggle to deal with cuts imposed from an out of touch regime in London.

Finally, John, if you were asked to sum up the three most important things that can deliver self-government to the Scottish people, what would those be?

Raising the quality of the whole debate; Listening to people so that our responses and aspirations match their needs - and being bold; we won’t motivate the public by offering more of the same, an independent Blandland. The left must offer a radical alternative to bring about a fairer, environmentally-conscious and peaceful independent republic and I’m sure that working together we will achieve that.  

 

Other articles by Steve Arnott in The Point can be found here

Hillsborough - The Politics behind the Smears

Graeme McIver 

 

Whilst the life was being squeezed from supporters in pens 3 and 4, a lie was being born in the control room. A vicious, scandalous, despicable lie that haunted the families, survivors and people of Liverpool for 23 years.

 

 

Introduction

On Wednesday 12th September 2012, following a report by The Hillsborough Independent Panel, Prime Minister David Cameron delivered the following apology to the families of the 96 Liverpool fans who died at the FA Cup Semi Final on April 15th 1989;

 “Mr Speaker, with the weight of the new evidence in this report, it is right for me today as prime minister to make a proper apology to the families of the 96 for all they have suffered over the past 23 years. Indeed, the new evidence that we are presented with today makes clear that these families have suffered a double injustice. The injustice of the appalling events – the failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth. And the injustice of the denigration of the deceased – that they were somehow at fault for their own deaths.

On behalf of the government – and indeed our country – I am profoundly sorry for this double injustice that has been left uncorrected for so long.”

 The long overdue apology had echoes of a previous statement Cameron had made to the house in June 2010 following the publication of the Saville Report into the Bloody Sunday murders of 14 innocent members of the public in Derry by the British Army;

“But what happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and the hurt of that day and with a lifetime of loss.

Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces and for that, on behalf of the government, indeed, on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”

The events at Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday have more in common than the tragic loss of lives. In both cases, the deaths of the innocent and the pain of their families and friends were compounded by establishment cover ups. In both cases the reputation of the families of the dead, the communities of the Bogside and the Creggan, along side that of the city of Liverpool and its football supporters were collateral damage in a media war waged by the government and the forces of law and order. In both cases, despite proof that members of the police forces and army lied, no one has been brought to justice for these crimes. Additionally, in both cases, the inquiries and the apologies from the Prime Minister would not have been forthcoming had it not been for the tireless campaigning by families and communities doggedly refusing to give up their fight for justice in the face of overwhelming odds.

Read more...

Interview: A Hillsborough survivor speaks

Neil McDougall, 45, is a born and bred Liverpudlian now living in London and is the father of four children. He has been a Liverpool fan since the age of five and, aged 22, was at Hillsborough on April 15th, 1989 – the day on which 96 of Neil’s fellow Liverpool fans went to a football match and never returned home.

Neil spoke to The Point's Willie Duncan about his recollection of the events of that day, the aftermath of the smear campaign and cover up perpetrated the UK Government, South Yorkshire Police and the media, as well as his hopes for the future of the campaign for justice for the 96.

 

      Neil, what are your memories of the day of the disaster and at what point did you first become aware that there was a problem at Hillsborough?

“The strange thing is that my first worry was actually how packed the Nottingham Forest (Liverpool’s opponents that day) end was. I remember saying that I had never seen it so full before. Then, I began to realise how busy it must have been in our end of the stadium because, in the build up to kick-off, people were waving and shouting rather than singing. Then, of course, people started to climb over the fences or climbing up a tier in the stand and when some fans started running towards Bruce (Grobbelaar, Liverpool goalkeeper) to tell him what was going on, it became clear how serious the problem was.

The memories are, of course, focused on what happened but the build up to the match itself was nothing unusual. It was another semi-final, we were confident of victory and the weather was great. 

It was just another football game but, of course, the events of the day changed all of that.

I just remember watching on in horror and seeing fans on the pitch using advertising hoardings as emergency stretchers. When I looked out across the pitch, it was like a war zone. Bodies were laid out everywhere and they were being carried down to the far end of the stadium. There were people crying everywhere, walking about the pitch in a state of shock. It was such a horrible sight to see.

Whenever I recall the day and see the pitch, in my mind, I always think of a scene akin to something from World War I: The shell suits turn into army uniforms with tin helmets on, those advertising stretchers are real stretchers. People were running around in circles in sheer desperation doing their best to help those who were dying.  Every so often, you’d hear a small cheer as someone was brought back to life on the pitch, only to fade away again. It was like watching a war scene in a movie but it wasn’t a war: it was only a football match and those people should never have been killed. They should have been safe. Something went horribly wrong on that day.

Read more...

The unions, the fight against austerity, and the possibilities for a general strike

Gregor Gall

 

The approaching 20th October ‘A Future that Works’ demonstrations in Belfast, Glasgow and London will be a critical barometer of where the anti-cuts and anti-austerity movement is in terms of its size, vitality and future direction. Last year, the two highpoints of this struggle were the 26t March London demo and the 30th November mass strike on public sector pension reform.

Anything between 250,000 to 750,000 citizens were reported to have attended the March 2011 demonstration. Given its unprecedented size and the fact that there are, this time round, three regional demonstrations rather than just the one national one, it would seem likely that the 20 October London one will be smaller than the March 2011 one. It will not climb the lofty heights of reaching one million as some on the far left are arguing. The media will no doubt jump on this in order to speculate upon the death of the anti-cuts movement.

But probably far more important than this in determining the turnout in London and elsewhere is that there has been a considerable loss of momentum in the anti-cuts movement since 26 March 2011. This demo represented such a highpoint as the first big – indeed, truly massive – show of opposition against the coalition government.  People were left feeling exhilarated and asking ‘So what are we going to do now?’ There was a genuine sense of expectation and bated breath thereafter.

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Nato - No Ta


The proposal by SNP Defence Spokesman Angus Roberston to change long-standing SNP party policy that an independent Scotland should not be part of NATO caused shock and dismay, not just amongst long-standing SNP members but amongst the wider independence cause, and within the peace and nuclear disarmament movements. SNP MSP's Dave Thompson and John Finnie have been amongst those leading opposition to the proposed change.

NATO and Trident



Dave Thompson writes

In Scotland today I think there is just cause for optimism, because, when I envision Scotland's future I see great potential and great opportunity for us as a nation to choose what is good and right. In just over two years, in the 2014 independence referendum, we will be given the chance to choose who we want to be, what we want to do and where we want to go.

The independence referendum is, however, about more than just standing on our own two feet, and managing our own affairs. It is also about harnessing the potential of our nation and shaping the future, and there are few issues as pressing and urgent as Trident. The Trident nuclear weapons system is unjustifiable, immoral and grossly expensive and we must use this opportunity to get rid of it.

Read more...

The Curious Case of Kate Middleton's Breasts

         

 

Gillian Wales

In some ways writing this article belies my true level of interest in the Royal breast fiasco. This matter is increasingly being used as some sort of crusade on privacy (but only for the wealthy) as well as rights to the body. For me, it is far, more simple. Kate Middleton slipped up. Even after all the media training she has undergone and her many years’ experience of the paparazzi, she misjudged the situation. She forgot who she was and how in some people’s eyes she holds some form of status…the royal feminine. One statement released highlighted that she is a ‘young woman, not an object’. This is, of course, completely correct. However, this also stated that she had undergone much ‘suffering’ in relation to this issue. Suffering? Seriously? My alternative version of events goes like this: young royal went topless on holiday, said breasts were ‘papped’, photos published in French media, leading to a severe ticking off for inappropriate behaviour, particularly in light of forthcoming royal visits abroad. And now this whole situation is being used to make a statement about privacy and sexism.

The privacy laws are a slightly different debate; however, the hypocrisy is highly irritating. Press officers, acting on behalf of the rich and famous, continually manipulate stories to maximise impact and positive effect. They then complain when something unfavourable comes out that does not fit into their contrived agenda. Access to money and power facilitates this vicious game playing, via legal action and injunctions, which further remove everyday people from what constitutes truth. The PR industry contradictorily helps to create some form of allure, which perpetrates the myth that the Royals are different, a special kind of human being, whilst at the same time attempting to demonstrate how ‘normal’ these people are. The lie being sold here is that Kate Middleton’s breasts are no ordinary breasts; they are special, royal breasts whilst simultaneously selling the image of her as representative of many young women today.

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Matters of Life and Death

Steve Mowat – The NHS, an international comparison, and where private profit ultimately leads

Following World War II the British people collectively realised something.  If money could be spent killing fellow human beings in millions, it can be used to cure and prevent illness. This revolution of ideas had resulted in the commissioning of an official report into healthcare. The Beveridge report recommended the working populace pay a small national insurance, guaranteeing free health care at the point of necessity. This system has sustained the population for over fifty years. The National Health Service (NHS) is a proud symbol of democratic achievement.

The funding of this icon has come under increasing pressure in England and Wales. Here private corporations are given expansive responsibility for health provision. The government recently attempted to ditch duty for upkeep via shoddy wording of a health care bill. The following article is a word of caution on dismantling public accountability for the private profit. These words are based on personal experiences of a healthcare system operated for profit, as a business. The realities are startling and grotesquely inhumane. 

Imagine if you will you are nineteen years old. Your first year at University is a roaring success, the family is rich. Life in a large home complete with landscaped grounds and a maid is relaxed. Your father has spent an age engineering road projects all across his country. Drawing in expertise from Japan and Europe, he does well for his country and his family.

Envisage then your father became critically ill inside hospital in his mid 50s. Lying in his bed nurses and doctors refuse to treat him. This is because medication is not paid for on the spot. Visualise: if you don’t pay for the bed, medicine, meals, and consultations they will be withheld. If you need to shell out, you use a credit card. It could be that’s not enough, maybe your finest watch, a television, fridge, furniture, and car are sold. Perhaps the sale of these things will secure the existence of your Dad. After all what price can be put on human life?

Read more...

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left

Greenpeace

The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

Word Power Books