Indy Radicals Organise

For supporters of an independent Scottish Republic it might have been tempting just to hide under the covers during the holiday weekend until the wall to wall Jubilee mania ended. Fortunately there was one positive alternative to the deference to the Royals – the first organising meeting of the Radical Independence Conference (RIC).

The RIC, which now has backing from the SSP, both Green MSPs, a swathe of student leaders, trade union officials and cultural figures like Iain Banks and Pat Kane, has the potential to enormously re-energise and inspire the Scottish left. The organising meeting on Saturday 2 June was made up of approximately 100 people – showing just how big the conference itself could be. Commitment to its basic five point programme – commitment to a republic, opposition to all discrimination, a social alternative to austerity, a green Scotland and a country that is internationalist and against war is simple but has the potential to act as the voice of the progressive green and socialist left in the independence campaign. Discussion covered four topics – making the conference as diverse as possible, the format of the conference itself, media work and campaigns.

There was wide agreement that the conference should reflect the diversity in Scotland - unlike the official Yes launchwhich disappointingly was 80 percent male. This discussion also took place when determining the conference format. There was widespread agreement that the conference shouldn’t be dominated by the usual faces, and that no single group must dominate. Media work was also discussed with plans to launch a twitter for the RIC. So far there has been little notice of the RIC bar one article in The Scotsman - ironically from Scottish Thatcherite George Kerevan, who correctly identified the threat to Labour Unionism in Scotland that a pro-indy left could pose. Discussion of conference campaigning covered many aspects – from the need to campaign for 16-17 year olds to have the right to vote, to the understanding that we have a limited amount of time to make the case for independence.

The Radical Independence Conference has the potential to bring together different strands of the left that are independent of any groups or parties. The Scottish Socialist Party can play a role both in the RIC and the official Yes Scotland campaign, with the understanding that the RIC will not attack the official campaign, but can take positions – on Independence, the banks, child poverty, etc - that the official campaign may be unable or unwilling to take. The RIC represents a fresh start for the Scottish left with a prize too big not to take seriously – the breaking of the British state, and the formation of an Independent Scotland that can be influenced and directed by left and progressive ideas far more effectively than the dinosaur UK state.

There will be more organising meetings in the run up to the conference in October. Details can be found here:

Scotland and the Basque Country: the struggle for independence

The road to Scotland’s independence referendum in the autumn of 2014 will be closely watched across the world, with the geo-political ramifications of a ‘Yes’ vote remaining a subject of huge contention. But in few places will the referendum have such great resonance as the Basque Country – the three million strong, stateless nation that straddles the north west coast of Spain and south eastern France.

For although we don’t yet know the results of the 2014 referendum, there are several certainties: it’s taken as given that the ballot will be seen as legitimate, and its results accepted, by all sides. Even the most staunchly unionist of politicians knows that if the ballot goes in favour of an independent Scotland, this will be seen as the will of the Scottish population and allowed to proceed.

It’s here that the contrast with the Basque Country could not be greater.  For there, a popular desire for independence is not grudgingly accepted by politicians in the Spanish and French capitals, but is instead met with brutal suppression. Hundreds of political activists continue to languish in Spanish and French jails, beatings and torture are routinely meted out by militarised police forces, and pro-independence political parties, youth organisations and newspapers have been proscribed by Madrid courts on multiple occasions.

Under the Franco dictatorship in Spain, the Basque people faced untold repression – their language and any expression of Basque culture banned outright. It was in this context that the ETA military campaign began in the late 1950s, lasting fifty years and becoming synonymous with the struggle for Basque independence. But in the 1970s, Franco’s death brought hope of a return to democracy in Spain, consolidated by ETA’s assassination of his chosen successor, Luis Callero Blanco, a fascist veteran of the Civil War. But the post-Franco settlement would turn out to be little more than a carve-up between the newly legalised social democratic opposition, PSOE, and the former Francoists of the Popular Party.  Although strongly endorsed nationally, the referendum on Spain’s new democratic constitution was widely boycotted in the Basque Country, in no small part due its insistence on the continuance of Spain as a single entity. Little room was given for truth and reconciliation, and former Francoists retained power at all levels of society.

Thus, although it marked the arrival of free elections and greater regional autonomy, for many in the Basque Country, Franco-era repression did not end with the advent of Spanish democracy. This was exemplified in the PSOE-sponsored para-state ‘death squads’ that emerged in the 1980s to engage in a dirty war with ETA and the pro-independence left.

More recently, however, the situation in the Basque Country has taken a new turn. A far-reaching debate saw ETA declare an end to its armed operations in September 2010, followed up by an announcement of a permanent ceasefire in October 2011. It comes as part of a wider realignment of the Basque pro-independence, or Abertzale, left towards pursuing independence through peaceful means. It represented a huge leap into the unknown, with a distinct unwillingness by the Spanish government to engage in negotiations forcing the Abertzale left to act almost wholly on their own initiative. Strongly influenced by the peace process in the north of Ireland, ETA’s ceasefire statement called for the Spanish and French states to directly engage in dialogue to find a lasting solution to the conflict. Perhaps unsurprisingly, little has been forthcoming, with the authorities largely responding with scepticism and further demands that ETA disarm and disband before any talks can take place.

Meanwhile, the repression has continued. As recently as 2009 it was made a criminal offence to publicly display photographs of Basque political prisoners, although the practice remains common in bars across the region. In 2011, judges in Madrid ruled that a new coalition of progressive pro-independence forces, Sortu¸which for the first time explicitly rejected violence, was simply the successor of the banned Batasuna party, little more than an ETA front organisation, and proscribed it. A second coalition, Bildu, was finally allowed to register after an initial ban, and won 26% of the vote in municipal elections in the Basque Autonomous Region (which comprises only one of three parts of the historic greater Basque Country, the others being Navarre, and the northern French part). In the Spanish national elections of 2011, the Abertzale left coalition, this time under the name of Amaiur, achieved an historic result, finishing with the highest number of MPs in the region and for the first time outpolling the right-of-centre nationalist party, the PNV, who are broadly comparable to the SNP’s right wing. Despite the best attempts of the Spanish state, the Abertzale left – who continue to branded as little more than terrorists in the Spanish media – go from strength to strength, and Basque activists predict they could form the largest party in the Basque regional parliament come elections next spring. It’s unlikely that this would give them an SNP-style majority, but combined with the PNV – who are similarly polling on around 28% – would give a clear majority to the parties in favour of independence, a momentous breakthrough. If the following year sees the world’s attention focused on the outcome of Scotland’s referendum on independence it will, to say the least, begin to put the Spanish government into a difficult position. While support for independence remains lower in the Northern (French) Basque Country, it is on the increase, with Sunday’s parliamentary elections seeing the Abertzale left finish in third place for the first time.

SSY supporting the Basque prisoners

The struggle of the Basque pro-independence left over the past few decades is an utterly inspiring one for those of us now fighting for the break-up of the British state and a progressive, transformative vision of an independent Scotland. In the face of incredible repression, they have built a mass movement, of which the ‘official’ organisations – the political party Batasuna and youth organisation SEGI – have long since been forced underground and to exist under a plethora of different acronyms. But across the towns, cities and villages of the Basque Country, the Abertzale left is ubiquitous, forming the backbone of the community in many areas through its role in running squatted youth houses, sports centres, women’s organisations, bars and cafes. Running centrally through this, and Basque society, is the issue of the political prisoners, a highly contentious issue that can mobilise huge public support. Around 700 prisoners continue to be held in Spanish and French jails, mostly accused of being members of illegal political organisations, including a sizeable number from the Abertzale youth. As a double-punishment designed to cause maximum distress to their families and to isolate them from fellow Basque prisoners, the prisoners are held in far-flung corners of Spain and France, meaning the demand for repatriation is at the forefront of the Abertzale left’s politics.

International solidarity can play a vital role in pushing for freedom and justice in the Basque Country. The demands of the Basque population for a peaceful and democratic resolution are clear, despite the best attempts of a Spanish state still struggling to break from its fascist past to gloss over and ignore this desire. Over the next few years, a real opportunity exists with the chance of not just an electoral breakthrough for the pro-independence left, but also of the emergence of an independent Scotland. If the people of Scotland are allowed a free vote on their future without the threat of being interned in a far-off prison, having our organisations banned or activists tortured, then for how long can Spain deny this basic right to the Basque people? Let’s hope that an independent Scottish republic can soon be among the first countries to recognise a new independent state of Euskal Herria.

Article first published here

For a Radical Independence Movement.

Scottish politics was never meant to be this exciting. Safe Labour seats falling like skittles. Legal threats over referendums. The first vote in 300 years over our future in the Union. Devolution was designed by it’s architects to stabilise and maintain the Union after the onslaught Thatcherism had on Scotland throughout the 80s. However 30 years later, the Union faces the greatest challenge in its history.

Scotland is about to enter into a nationwide debate about it’s future – be that in the Union or Independent, and also on what exactly Independence means for Scotland in the 21st century. Will we still have nuclear weapons on the Clyde? An unelected Monarch as head of state? Will our oil reserves be in public ownership, or remain in the hands of private businessmen? Will Scottish women continue to be paid on average 12.2% less than their male counterparts? Will trade unionists still be shackled with the most repressive anti-union legislation in Europe?

For the first time in decades, a far-reaching debate is about to be had on Scotland – its society, its economy, its constitutional status, and its future. So far this debate has been limited to the SNP vs the Unionist parties, with the quality of argument predictable – propaganda about “separatists”, small minded nationalists, Scotland’s too wee to go it alone etc. But not all the cause for concern for those who support full independence comes from the Unionist camp. Leading figures in the SNP – including Alex Salmond – still want Scottish soldiers to have a role in the UK military, and to allow Scottish soil to host British military bases after Independence. Many SNP MSP’s will happily denounce the 300 year old Act of Union as outdated and irrelevant – but they’re content to see Queen Elizabeth as the head of state of an Independent Scotland based on the 400 year old Union of the Crowns.
SNP leaders are also calling for the Scottish Parliament to have control of Corporation Tax – unfortunately not so they can raise taxes on those companies who currently enjoy some of the lowest rates in the EU – but to lower them even further, to walk in the same footsteps as Tory Chancellor George Osborne who lowered the taxes the super-rich in Scotland and the rest of the UK have to pay. This position on Corporation Tax no doubt extends to those powerful multinationals who extract oil from the North Sea – can it really be called “Scotland’s Oil” if we merely exchange the coffers of the Chancellor in London for shareholders in Texas?The majority of Scots who voted for SNP – and who will vote for Independence – do so because the values of Labour and of the UK are no longer in touch with the political consensus in Scotland, which is broadly social democratic and well to the Left of England. We will not win an Independence referendum by advocating the Thatcherite policies of “trickle down” economics and deference to the obscenely wealthy that destroyed Scotland in the 80s and have bankrupted the world’s financial system with their recklessness. Modeling an Independent Scotland on states like Ireland – robbed by bankers and facing harsh austerity – is a sure fire way to lose a referendum.We can expect every single organ of the British state – media, political, economic, even security – to act to undermine and defeat a vote for Independence. For the British establishment, this is an existential threat which poses the biggest challenge to their privilege and rule for decades. If Scotland does become Independent the UK will be reduced to a rump state, without North Sea Oil, forced to relocate it’s nuclear submarines and potentially facing a challenge to it’s veto power at the UN security council.

Every dirty trick will come into play. That’s why it’s important a campaign for a yes vote is not reliant on celebrities, prominent businessmen, or the media – but a grassroots campaign ready and willing to take the fight for Independence to the streets, communities and all across Scotland.

That’s why this initiative is so important – the Radical Independence Conference has the potential to unite the radical currents in Scotland – the Socialists, Trade Unionists, Feminists, Environmentalists, Anti-Capitalists, Community Campaigners, Anti-Imperialists, Peace Lobbyists – to come together to debate and discuss our role in the upcoming referendum, and what vision we have for an Independent Scotland. So far the argument for Independence has been considered the sole preserve of the SNP, but we believe it is crucial the Left makes it own voice heard for these reasons.

1 – The need for a grassroots Yes campaign – the honeymoon with the SNP and the Scottish media will most likely be over and certainly on hiatus for the duration of a referendum campaign. We can’t rely on a fair hearing from the press for the Independence case when it comes to the crunch. Most of the popular press in Scotland is pro-union – the one potential exception being The Sun, which mustn’t become the flagbearer for Independence for obvious reasons. We must develop our own structures on the ground to mobilise support for Independence, with our own media, and the activity of the potential thousands of pro-Independence activists over the minority of editors.
2 – A Yes campaign which is radical, progressive and anti-establishment – Scotland’s political terrain is overwhelmingly to the left of the UK. This is reflected in the complete lack of Tory support in Scotland, and the much smaller levels of support for the radical right-wing, like the BNP and UKIP. When we observe the electoral contest of last year, we see that unlike the UK general election there was little to no discussion of the “need to cut the deficit” from the SNP or Labour.

The SNP’s victory was based on extending welfare to the population – limited free school meals, free prescriptions, abolition of road tolls – as well as other Left policies like opposition to PFI, nuclear disarmament and an anti-Iraq war stance. We need to link Scottish Independence with the anti-cuts and anti-austerity feeling amongst Scottish society – putting a vision of a Scotland that is independent, free of poverty, and redistributes wealth and power from the millionaires to the millions.
If we can make Independence and anti-austerity two sides of the same coin, we can not only declare Independence from one of the most right-wing and reactionary countries in the world, but bring together an alliance of progressive forces able to put the values of equality, democracy, socialism and social justice into the DNA of a newly formed Independent Scotland.

3 – Building an alliance of the Left that is able to shape the future of an Independent Scotland – If a referendum campaign ends with a victory for Independence, it is the end of one debate but the beginning of another. There is already a vision articulated by some – of a Scotland that is a low tax haven, retains an unelected Monarch, and remains subservient to a millionaire class. Those in Scotland who oppose this must be united to put forward an ambitious and attractive alternative: A Scotland that is a Republic, has public ownership of it’s industries, wages a war on poverty, does not take part in the bombing of foreign countries for oil, which has a constitution guaranteeing the rights of it’s citizens to jobs, housing, education and healthcare.If those who oppose war, poverty, inequality and injustice can unite, we can put forward a narrative of a future Independent Scotland which will capture the hearts and imaginations of our fellow countrymen and women far more effectively than a simple change of flags at the top of Edinburgh Castle. An Independent Scotland is a blank slate whose story is yet to be written. To put forward this alternative in the case of victory, we must be advocating it clearly and credibly in the battle for Independence.

That’s why I’m supporting the upcoming Radical Independence Conference in October – and calling for all those who share the vision of a new Scotland to attend its first organising meeting on the 2nd of June. The conference itself has already drawn support from many prominent individuals on the Scottish Left, and can unite us into battling for something relevant, achievable and significant after years of being stuck in the electoral ghetto. The recent electoral victories for the Left in Greece and France show that it’s not material conditions, but our own subjective weaknesses that keeps the Left disarmed in Scotland – winning Independence would be a major step in asserting our own confidence and ability to change Scotland for the better.

It's time to jail criminal landlords

Deposits withheld, extortionate fees and glacial-pace repairs; the all too common experience of renting a flat in Scotland. On short term tenancies and seldom aware of their rights private tenants, young people are routinely exploited by dodgy landlords and parasitic agencies. Ever since Thatcher’s “Right to Buy”, cheap social housing provided by local councils has been in decline. This in turn has forced young people, along with other vulnerable groups in society such as immigrants, in to the clutches of the private rented sector with little protection.

Of course theoretically such protection exists, the private rented sector is supposed to be regulated via numerous systems such as compulsory landlord registration. Somewhat predictably however Scottish councils have opted for “light-touch” regulation, generally translating as no regulation at all.

The benefits of this “light-touch” can be seen in Edinburgh, where no Landlord has ever been deregisted, in spite of some carrying criminal convictions for offences against tenants. Letting agents are also taking advantage of the system, many are charging illegal fees to tenants, a practice that has become so widespread that most don’t even question them.

So what can we do about it? Whilst activists in Glasgow have taken direct action against illegal fees, tenants in Edinburgh are also getting organised. Edinburgh Private Tenants Action Group (EPTAG) is preparing to launch a campaign to pressure the council into deregistering criminal landlords, sending a signal out to the rest of the industry that they need to raise their game.

The situation for young tenants today is bad, but if we stand together and fight for better, we can change this.

Come along to EPTAG’s campaign launch meeting on March 8th at 7 PM at Old Saint Paul’s Church, Jeffrey St, near Waverley.

Free Labour and the UK's Youth

When Cait Reilly refused to work for free at Poundland, the tabloids had a field day. How lazy and idealist are the youth of today! Fancy being on the dole and turning down work! Wasn’t like she had anything better to do, she just couldn’t be arsed… Dossing about, expecting handouts from the state and giving nothing in return, good god, in my day we would have had her belted. Worse than the damn foreigners these young people.

Etc. Etc., you know the script.

Cait’s refusal was not out of a snobbery for Poundland, the retail sector, or those who work in retail. It was out of disdain for a system that thinks young people’s labour is worth less than other people’s, and which has now deemed it worthless. The government’s compulsory ‘work experience’ schemes, in which young people on unemployment benefit are ordered to give their labour to large corporations for free, are becoming the status-quo and have massive swathes of public support behind them. The more well-meaning of these misguided supporters think the government are doing us a favour, making us more employable. These tend to be the same people who believe that if you want a job, you will get one, and if you don;t have one, it must be due to laziness and unwillingness to work. Today’s news tells us that of the 231,000 people currently unemployed in Scotland, over 88,000 are aged 18 to 24. So 38% of Scots on the dole are youth (and these figures don’t even take the 16-17 group into consideration).

It is simply untrue that young people do not want to work. In Scotland, many young people have part-time jobs while still in high school, and rely on part-time work to see them through university. Tuition fees might remain free for Scots studying in their home countries, but rent and food are not. The student who does nothing but party is an archaic stereotype, and a myth. The student who must fit in classes around part time jobs – in many cases students have more than one of these – is an increasing commonality, especially in the case of lower-paid working-class families who simply cannot afford to support their children while they are away at university. Graduates who are unable to find jobs in their sector due to ‘lack of experience’ or a simple lack of jobs are being turned away from lower-paid jobs on the grounds that they are ‘over-qualified’, creating a widing graduate employment gulf. And young people who do not go to university, preferring to leave education in order to make a wage sooner, are increasingly finding that there are no jobs for them. Where even minimum-wage jobs demand extensive ‘experience’, school-leavers increasingly find themselves at a loose end in a system that refuses to accomodate them. Clearly the factors leading to youth unemployment are much more multifarious than unwillingness to work or idealist attitudes.

So is this huge number, this 38% of Scotland’s unemployed being youth, a crazy coincidence? Or is it symptomatic of a system that consistently works against the interests of young people?

Either way, free labour presents no solution, and it works against everyone’s interests, not just those of the youth. Why would a company employ someone to do labour for them when they could have a young person do it for free? The Tories are notorious for acting in the interests of big business and ‘the city’ rather in the interests of the people, and no more so than here. In a Britain where young people’s labour is worthless, unemployment increases for every age category, since the workforce is increasingly made up of unpaid people on unemployment benefit. This scheme does not make young people more employable, it makes them work for dole – and even if we are to see unemployment benefit as a substitute for the wages they would otherwise earn from this labour (which it categorically isn’t, but humour me for a second) – we are still expecting young people to work for a fraction of the minimum wage – a fraction of what an employee would be paid to do the same job. And this fraction of the minimum wage is paid for by the taxpayer, rather than by the company that gets the benefit of this virtually free labour.

As usual, we can find some guidance here in Marx. The theory of surplus value tells us that profit is created from workers being paid the lowest possible wage for their labour – necessarily this must be less than the products of their labour are worth to a buyer. The lower the wage, the higher the profit margin. Free labour – or, at best, dole-priced labour – results in a widespread acceptance of the assumption that labour isn’t worth wages, thus devaluing everyone’s labour. People are paid less as a result, thus company profiits go up, and the unemployment statistics are worse than ever due to unemployed people being used as virtual slaves. This is a super-capitalist plot devised to increase company profit using the poorest members of our society, relying on the prejudice many have for young people in order to quell any resistance to a scheme that devalues everyone’s labour, and makes the unemployment problem worse. Classic Tory strategy, whereby the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Cait Reilly simply refused to be a dole slave. The system demands she works. She demands it gives her a job. She demands her labour – and by extension everyone’s – be worth at least minimum wage.

The Online Revolution

The internet is a relatively new conception, being invented in the mid-20th century, some of us remember before it was developed (and most of us remember it not being a part of our lives). Like most inventions, it has been used by both the ‘Establishment’ or ‘The Powers That Be’ and by ordinary people. The internet and computers in general have both empowered people to take control of their own lives and created a whole new level of surveillance and ‘The Big Brother State’.

Ever since the personal computer has been in mainstream use and since Microsoft bought the DOS operating system, Microsoft has had an iron grip on the computer market. Their vision was that everyone would have a personal computer and they would be the ones to let them use it (for their price and under their control), while IBM envisioned great servers around the world that would be controlled by individuals’ terminals, they would not need Microsoft’s software and so hardware was where the money was. As we know, Microsoft were correct in their analysis and the idea that people could have their own computer that they thought they could control was popular. But some people didn’t like that they had to pay £100 just to use their computer and that if they wanted to do useful tasks such as write letters or store information for an organisation or group they would have to pay yet more. Microsoft have made it harder and harder for anyone to use software other than their own and increased the price accordingly.

Some have turned away from Microsoft’s model of “every extra thing you want to do costs extra” and turned to Apple who will give you most things that you need but you have to buy everything from them. Others have created a community where people make software for themselves. The idea is that if ordinary people all around the world make our own software, it can be as good and even better than its commercial counterpart. This software does not have its code encrypted like Microsoft’s and Apple’s but is open for all to see, this is the world of open source software.

For many years this movement has been small and its products have been pale in comparison to their mainstream version. For years after most people were using a mouse to control their computer through a graphical user interface, these people were still typing out commands. But over that last decade their numbers have grown and their progress accelerated, most open source operating systems now use advanced graphical user interfaces and have more and more advanced programs to match. Linux is the most common type of software within this world and its browser ‘Firefox’ has become quite famous for its ‘Port’ to Microsoft Windows and is accepted by most to be better than Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer, even on its native Windows. This is just an example of the powerful software that is produced by the open source movement and now that the UN has chosen ‘Ubuntu’ (a Linux operating system) for its under $100 computer, to distribute in underdeveloped countries. A lot, if not most, of the movements resources are now focused on Ubuntu’s code.

Compatibility has long been an issue as with all non Microsoft software and OpenOffice has had problems creating Microsoft Office documents due to Microsoft office’s closed source nature (Microsoft obviously made no effort to read any file other than their own). The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) worked with Sun Microsystems to create a standard format for word processing documents and came up with the Open Document Format, which was then accepted as the standard word processing and office suite file format by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Microsoft refused to accept the new standardisation and Microsoft Office was still not even able to open, never mind create OpenDocument Format files. They were inundated with complaints by angry customers who were not able to use any of the standard files they were receiving and so Microsoft relented and Microsoft Office is now able to read and write OpenDocuments from Microsoft Office 2007 (from service pack 2).

People within this moment have mainly been technical in nature and have mostly let companies hold the copyrights to the names of their software, due to there being no individual creator to hold such rights. OpenOffice’s copyright was held by Sun Microsystems but when Sun were purchased by Oracle, a company with a history of commercialising and tampering with open source software, without permission from the community. The leading creators of OpenOffice became worried that the same would happen to OpenOffice so they created the document foundation to hold the copyright of OpenOffice and any other open source software that wishes to use it. Anyone can join the document foundation who agrees with its values and can take part in its democracy (based on a meritocratic, skill based division of labour). After which the developers continued to improve the software although they no longer had rights to the OpenOffice name, then owned by Oracle. The name LibreOffice was chosen for the continuation of the project until such time that the copyright of the OpenOffice name be reacquired. Oracle decided to keep offering OpenOffice and have even posted updates, but have since donated the name to Apache.

It will be interesting to see how many other software projects go down the same route and hold their copyrights in the document foundation or form similar structures. If projects continue to allow commercial entities to own and sway their products, they will likely be pushed and assimilated into commercial software such as Windows and the war will be lost.

Freedom of information goes further than just source code in this war, Wikipedia has become the largest encyclopaedia in the world and is created by specialists and knowledgeable people all around the world. Its accuracy is doubted by many due to the lack of credentials needed to modify or create an article. However Wikipedia and its users routinely remove false, unreferenced material and lock pages that have been continuously changed to the most accountable, previous state. Pages go through a hierarchy or locked states, where only the most certified users can request a change. While vandalism and incorrect posts do occur, it is a very good source of information where cross-referenced properly, as with any other source. Wikipedia recently undertook a ‘Blackout’ on the English portion of its site in protest to bills going through the US Congress. It was not designed to block users from information as they were shown how to bypass the blackout but meant that users read about the bills that implicated any site, with a link rout to illegal copyright material, as liable. Google also showed its support for the campaign by censoring its logo on

With Google web search using a version of the Linux kernel, the engine behind Linux operating systems, and Android phones using another version of the Linux kernel, the future looks bright for open source software. It is now very possible to move away from Microsoft’s empire. Ubuntu has a very nice interface and integrates social networking far better than Windows; while those who are less techno savvy might like Linux Mint which is simpler than Ubuntu or Windows. Office files can be created by the powerful LibreOffice and free programs like Gimp can be used instead of Photoshop. Maybe one day, if this revolution is won, taxation will pay for the effort that people put into these projects, but until then, they rely upon donations based on the ability to pay and give time, from its users. The Future is ours, if we just choose to take it.

Independence for Scotland – GAME ON.

After almost a year since the SNP’s landslide victory we have a  date – Autumn 2014. The most important referendum in Scottish history, on whether or not we stay in a Union dominated by the right-wing, a state that invaded Iraq, imposes nuclear weapons on the Clyde, destroyed Scotland’s industrial base, or whether we become an independent nation with the power to fundamentally change Scotland for the better and which reflects the left of centre political terrain instead of being dominated by the Tory home counties.

The referendum date has been announced after months of whining from the Unionist parties, all of which have been in disarray since the SNP’s victory. Labour, the Libdems and the Tories all called for a referendum to be held as soon as possible after the SNP’s victory – ignoring that when the SNP was a minority administration they all refused to support the SNP’s call for an independence referendum in 2011.

They must be kicking themselves now – the poll on Scotland’s future will now take place after 2 years of a vicious Tory austerity package that will disproportionately affect Scotland’s economy, which itself has a higher than average public sector employment due to destruction of Scottish industry in the 80′s by Thatcher. If it comes down to choosing between a Government led by Alex Salmond in Holyrood and many years of continued Tory rule in Westminster even non-nationalist Scots may vote Yes as an “exit strategy” from Tory misrule.

This fear of a referendum being held at the height of Tory cuts is probably what motivated Cameron – along with typical Unionist arrogance – to try to bring the referendum under the control of Westminster. After 300 years of Scotland having no say in whether or not we stayed in the Union Westminster is now very concerned that Scots should have a fair say in it, even going as far as to say a referendum held by the Scottish Parliament would be “illegal” and “unconstitutional”. A bit ironic given that the UK has no written constitution – it has Kings, Queens, Princes, Dukes, but no constitution.

At the end of the day, no referendum carried out is “binding” under UK law – all of them are advisory. And if there’s a majority yes vote for independence, it does not matter whether it’s in 2012 or 2014 – politically, the Union is finished. After years of snidey slagging of Scots as “subsidy junkies”, “dole scum”, too wee to go it alone etc, Conservatives in England are beginning to wake up to the reality of Scottish Independence – the British state would be “Shorn of its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and relegated to minnow status in Nato”.

Unfortunately for the Tories who have less MP’s in Scotland than there are Panda’s, they’re unlikely to have any impact in stopping the breakup of the UK. Cameron’s intervention into the timing of the referendum shows he has zero tactical knowledge of the Scottish political scene. The Unionist pillar of political strength in Scotland is the Labour Party, who have still not recovered from their defeat of 2007 let alone last year’s humiliating rout.

Despite the disparity in political strength between the SNP and it’s Unionist opponents, by 2014 you can expect the Honeymoon between the Scottish media and the SNP to be over, if not at least on hiatus for the duration of an Independence Referendum campaign. Expect predictions of the apocalypse if Scotland decides to go it alone.

That’s why we need to organise a grassroots Independence campaign to ensure we have our own media to promote the case for Independence – with Socialists adovcating a Republic, public ownership of oil, and taxes on the super-rich, in contradiction to the SNP’s model of Scotland as a Celtic Tiger like, er, Ireland.

Pro-Independence left-wingers don’t just need to organise to win the referendum, but also to shape the future of a post Independence Scotland – to oppose any moves to keep Scotland inside a “Union lite” with British bases kept in Scotland on lease, or where our economy is run along the same Thatcherite lines that condemns a quarter of Scottish children to poverty.

For the first time in decades we have a chance to fundamentally change Scotland and Scottish politics for the better. Lets get organised to build the Socialist Republic.

2011 – the year that shook that world.

The Russian revolutionary Lenin said there were “decades where nothing happens; and there were weeks when decades happen”. If there was a time that saw decades of political conservatism, stagnancy, and immobility swept away in mere weeks, it was 2011. Last year began with the resignation of the Tunisian despot Zine El Abedine Ben Ali in January, in response to protests by Tunisian youth SSY covered here. Few people could have imagined the tidal wave of the protest that would follow as Egyptian youth inspired by the overthrow of Ben Ali organised a Day of Rage for the 25th of January in Egypt (which coincided with the “police day” public holiday).

What might have been small and manageable in the past decade proved to be very different in the first major recession of the 21st century. After decades of police brutality, corruption, dictatorship and political repression the call to action struck with popular consciousness not just in Egypt but all around the world. Millions watched glued to their screens, the first major revolution of the 21st century. After decades of rule and with no previously obvious signs of collapse the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced from office in the space of two weeks and now faces the death penalty for his crimes against the Egyptian people.
Egypt’s revolution took the rulers of that region completely unaware – Israel today is absolutely terrified they will no longer have a partner to keep Gaza under siege and whose new Parliament may put it’s peace treaty with Israel to a popular referendum, and the US tried hopelessly to maintain Mubarak’s rule in Egypt even as it looked impossible to most observers.
This wave of popular protest wasn’t limited to Egypt either – it has now spread to every Arab country, both pro and anti-US but with the common goal of overthrowing dictatorship and corruption.
This meant the West took very different attitudes to different parts of the Arab Spring. In Bahrain, the USA turned a blind eye as one of it’s most important allies, Saudi Arabia sent hundreds of troops to crush a popular uprising in Bahrain and to preserve the sectarian monarchy that hosts a large US military base on the Island. However when it came to Libya, a bizarre dictatorship which shared many characteristics with other Arab regimes – with the exception that it wasn’t completely in the pockets of the West – a different attitude was taken, with military action conducted by NATO to overthrow the regime.

Not a good year for these guys

This made Libya the third Muslim country in 10 years bombed by the West, after Afghanistan and Iraq. While the campaign in Libya was, from the viewpoint of London, Paris and Washington, a quite easy affair there was one war that finally seems to have drawn to a close – at least for Washington. The 8 year nightmare of Iraq for the USA ended with a formal troop withdrawal from Iraq earlier last year, as Obama redeployed US soldiers from Iraq to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Iraq war, so critical in radicalizing millions of people across the world ended not with a bang but a whimper as the USA has been forced to leave with many of it’s desires – permanent military bases, proxy for strikes on Iran and Syria, dirt cheap oil – unfulfilled. If Iraq has been a disaster, Afghanistan hasn’t turned out much better as it’s Taliban guerillas continue to make the ISAF occupation of the country as pointless, ineffective and bloody as all the previous occupations of Afghanistan have been. The Vice President of the USA, Joe Biden even went as far as to say “The Taliban are not our enemy” – an admission that the USA will negotiate and involve the Taliban in Afghan politics at some point.

The solid decade of occupation and war in Afghanistan and Iraq has proved so costly for the USA that US President Barack Obama has carried out the biggest reform of the US military “since WW2″. Moving it’s forces away from Europe and the Middle East to Asia and the Pacific (hello China) it’s a massive climbdown from the previously almost invincible US military power in the 90′s. But what other choice does Obama have, particularly when in 2011 the US faced a historic first time downgrading of it’s credit rating. When the most powerful nation in human history hasn’t got the best possible record at debt management, it’s a damning indictment of the cost of occupation and war – and may fortunately dissuade the USA from any attack on Iran, at least for the time being.
Many of the historic events we saw in 2011 – such as the resignation of Mubarak – weren’t from our sofas or bedrooms, but with other activists in comrades in the longest running student occupation in UK history. From February to September, Hetherington House a former postgraduate club, was occupied by anti-cuts students at Glasgow University. For 6 months we were able to hold a non-commercial space on Glasgow Uni campus, open to a variety of campaigns – from the protests to stop cuts to nursing, modern languages and adult education at Glasgow University, to the campaign to save the Accord Centre in the East End of Glasgow. This occupation succeeded in acting as a focal point for the anti-cuts movement across the whole of the city, as well as attracting a variety of speakers like Ken O’Keefe and Owen Jones.

Good year for student protests though!

2011 – the year this man couldn’t stop laughing

While the occupation of the Hetherington House ended, the networks and connections built up between different activists and groups hasn’t disappeared. There’s now a vibrant anti-cuts group for the whole of Glasgow that many of the former occupiers are involved in – the Coalition of Resistance. COR’s been in existence since May and has already become the largest and most active anti-cuts group in Glasgow, organising strike buses for J3O and N30, building the October 1st demonstration, the march to save the accord and providing a space for anyone from any political background who wants to fight the cuts to come to. COR will be an important part of anti-cuts activism in the next year, and a vital space for Socialists to operate in.
Another front that will be opening in the next few years is the Independence campaign in Scotland. After 4 years of SNP minority rule, alongside a Tory Government in Westminster many Labour Party members must have thought they were a shoe in for the Holyrood elections held in May of last year. What they actually faced was the biggest defeat for Labour and Unionism imaginable – central belt seats where the Labour party had majorities you’d normally find in one party states were seized by the SNP for the first time in it’s history, producing a revolutionary result in Scottish politics – a pro-independence majority in Holyrood for the first time ever.

This means after 300 years of unionist misrule, the Scottish population will finally have a choice over our constitutional future. And for Unionism, it couldn’t come at a worse time, where a Tory party that has less MP’s in Scotland than Pandas is trying to force through a brutal package of austerity. This is Scotland’s gain from the revolutionary year that was 2011 – the chance to take our nation out of the world’s oldest empire, and a possibility for the Radical Left to shape that debate and the Scotland that emerges. 2011 will be remembered as the year that saw arrogant, embedded and reactionary power crumble fall – from Cairo to Tunis to Pollok – lets organise to make sure 2012 continues in the same vein.

Justin Bieber's North Korean Tour Diaries

Originally published in the August 2010 issue of Leftfield, we today republish the following article  in tribute to the dearly departed, friend of the people and bullwark against imperialism, Kim Jong Il. Long live Juche!

The Dear Bieber: JBiebz hangin at some crazy procession thing in downtown Pyongyang

Earlier this year, users of cult online messageboard 4Chan struck a strategic alliance with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il. In return for a supply of tactical nuclear weapons, the internet memesters rigged a competition on the website of teen popstar Justin Bieber. The competition invited fans to vote for the country that they wanted Bieber to tour nexact, and in proof of the glorious success of the Democratic People’s Republic, North Korea won out top! Here, Leftfield brings you an exclusive look at Justin’s tour diary in the land of the Dear Leader:

“Yo, what up, this is JB, live from my tour of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. I arrived in through a place called the DMZ, don’t know what it stands for but it sounds street. Probably NK is doing what I do and just calling things names or saying stuff for their credibility, so it’s cool with me. I know how hard it is to convince people that you really are straight street, when you come from somewhere like Ontario or NK.

The border guards were all tense and straight, they could do with a lesson or two from my swagger coach, and maybe Usher telling them how to act.

We went to meet the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il, and I was like woah, cos the North Korean shorties be going wild for him, just like they do for me back home. I explained to KJI that I believe if I stay humble and keep following the right path, I will achieve my goals and keep reaching success. He said that he believes the same thing, and calls it the Juche ideology, which apparently a whole philosophy that he came up with by himself with a little help from his Dad!

Then we went to see some Korean mass games, which made me think that KJI must have caught Bieber-fever, the way they straight took my love of hot choreography to the next level. KJI asked if I’d perform with his 10,000 personal dance crew, and I was like “Whatever you want, JBiebz will give it to you.”

KJI was so happy he told me that alongside his Dad (the Great Leader) and himself (the Dear Leader), I was going to get the honorary title of the Dear Bieber of the DPRK.

So now, after 6 months of intense rehearsals at gunpoint, I think I’m bout ready to represent for the people’s homeland. I think the true North Korean Beliebers are going to have a Biebergasm when they see what we’ve put together.

Hopefully KJI will be satisfied, I been trying to get him to say when we can actually end the tour, but he never really answers the question and starts talking about rice harvests instead. I love the paradise on Earth that is North Korea, but I can’t wait to touchdown for all my sweet fans on the next stops of the tour, Afghanistan and Somalia. Plus I’ve been wondering what’s happened to Usher, I haven’t seen him since KJI told me he’d gone to a holiday camp for a relaxing vacation breaking rocks and making rifles.

Until then, I’m going to leave you, live here in North Korea. Peace! (But never with the American Imperialist Pig Dog Aggressors Who Will Be Crushed by the United Efforts of the Heroic Korean People, Juche is Invincible!)”

(JBiebz was speaking to Jack)

New fangled technologies and activism

Where the internet and protests collide

Political activism has been in the news more in the last year than in all the years since the 2003 Iraq war. Revolutions in the Arab world, occupations in America and beyond, and student protests and social unrest in the UK have all been hailed as ‘social networking revolutions’. To understand the importance of information and communication technologies to these examples of political activism, we must examine the extent to which these events were actively driven by new technologies.  By discussing these cases, we can see that increased use of social networking software and other technological advances is not necessarily a root cause of these events, but rather simply an aspect of them.

There can be no denying that, in the West, if your political event is not advertised on the internet, it is probably not going to be considered much of a success in 2011. In terms of promoting activism through the internet, a small number of websites have basically cornered the market, most prominently Facebook and Twitter. Almost every political event, from protests to organising meetings, to even attempted riots, now comes with a promotional Facebook event. Twitter updates followers in real time of what is happening in volatile situations, and provides a new media platform to activists as it becomes journalists’ first stop for ready-made quotes. Twitter has even spawned its own new form of activism, sometimes called the ‘Twittermob‘, where users can come out of seemingly nowhere to force action from previously near untouchable institutions such as the courts or powerful newspaper outlets. This has been seen prominently in the News of the World hacking controversy, the anger at offensive newspaper articles such as Jan Moir’s homophobic Stephen Gately treasure or the Sunday Express’ insensitive Dunblane article, and the Trafigura oil spill/Ryan Giggs being a mad shagger super-injunction cases.

It is important however not to overstate the importance of websites such as Twitter in recent political events. Reading newspapers and watching television news, it would seem like Twitter is incredibly important to modern day political activism, or indeed pretty much any mundane news story about anything ever. However, we shouldn’t mistake media portrayals of social networking software for reality. The traditional media frequently hype social networking in their reports, but in part this is because they are convenient to access, easy to understand, and important for news output in a world where traditional media is fighting to maintain its relevance and readership. Twitter provides user-generated content for traditional media to exploit while simultaneously cutting the number of paid journalists on their staff, and in this sense it can feed a capitalist agenda.

Continue reading ‘New fangled technologies and activism’