Crossing the Line

I am inspired and proud
of those whose voices
speak the language
of a new democratic
politic of the people
rooted in honesty and respect,
justice and integrity …..
a world
away from westminster’s
web of deceit

But online
and elsewhere
the trolls continue
to do their rounds
spreading vitriol

And tangled threads
of name calling
and cussing
and ill wishes
and lies
and rumours
and mis-leading
headings and information
are become common place……

In spin city, in the land
of better together
I hear the posse
laughing and shouting
divide and rule
haar haar haar
business as usual then!
it gives me the boak!

A new and democratic
politic of the people……
it’s our choice!

Maureen Matthews 2015

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Days Like These

with apologies to Billy Bragg, my crude attempt to rework his song – the last verse is his, not mine, but I think fits well

Days Like These

The party built to represent us
Now backs the other side
The neo-liberal consensus
To the ‘extreme centre’ is tied
While cuts pour down upon us
Like a storm of winter rain
Austerity’s disciples
Are shielded from the pain

They need bigger salaries
While for us it’s cuts in pay
Schools, benefits and NHS
Are privatised away
And labour, with a small ‘l’
Cries in front of the TV
Sold out yet another time
When are they going to see?

In post-referendum Scotland
We haven’t gone away
The No vote didn’t quell our wish
To bring in that better day
Learn lessons from the past but
Push ahead for something new
No carping from the sidelines
Work together, see it through

Peace, bread, work and freedom
Are the best we can achieve
And wearing badges is not enough
In days like these

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Feedback on Our Third Meeting

As mentioned in a previous post, our third meeting was an unexpected hothouse of ideas from all in attendance. We promised you we would feed back your ideas about the Red Lines Campaign to Common Weal Central and that we would share with everyone the ideas for how we would use a Common that the various tables submitted.

Red Lines Feedback

It is worth noting that our critique of Red Lines was sharply analytical and showed that Fife Common Weal have very definite ideas of our own when it comes to how we want to shape the future of Scotland. The summary is as follows:

  • It was suggested that “returning power to the people” and “fixing Westminster” might be different ways of saying the same thing.  We also wondered why there was no mention about proportional representation (PR) or the House of Lords?
  • Others felt that ‘fixing’ Westminster should not even be a Red Line – why is it up to us in Scotland to do this? Isn’t Independence the end game – so why have this on there at all?
  • On the idea of what our Red Lines would be: a democratic system underpinned by Proportional Representation; abolishing the House of Lords; an end to privatisation; the renationalising of essential services; a Citizens’ Income and absolutely no fracking (combined with investment into sustainable energy).
  • Finally, people felt that the graphics were too vague and more detail would have been helpful – for example the ‘Stop Cutting, Start Investing’ line – invest in what, exactly? Some members felt that the sound bite and slogan elements of the campaign detracted from the overall substance of the content.

Plans for the weekly Common Space/ Gathering

While we search for a suitable venue, we want a discussion around how we would plan to use the space for the benefit of the group. The ideas were varied and numerous. They are listed below as a starting point to build on for the future; anyone who would like to take the lead with any of the suggestions, please don’t hesitate to make a start:

  • Book club
  • Craft night
  • Skill share forum
  • Sign language classes
  • A platform for political conversation
  • Politics For the Terrified Evening
  • Highlight campaigns happening elsewhere on a local or national level
  • Discussions around Independence or the shape of Scotland’s political future
  • As a place to offer support with transport, community engagement and inclusion

We were all agreed that the ideal situation would be an opportunity to meet at least once a week and some people were happy to host smaller meetings at their house, if necessary. The discussion around a Common also highlighted a few issues, primarily the group as it stands is not particularly diverse and we need to work to address this. One idea was that we could invite organisations that represent specific groups along to speak at meetings (Frae Fife, Fife Migrants Forum, Kingdom Credit Union and the Polish community were suggested.) We also looked at outreach visits to local youth groups as a way to get younger people involved in the same way they were during the Referendum campaign. Finally, it was suggested that we have Open Mic evenings where anyone who wants to speak about a particular issue will be given the floor and our support with taking action where appropriate.

We continue to scour Fife for a suitable venue but will use the St Clair Tavern for meetings until such time as we find the perfect place to call home.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

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CW Fife’s Third Meeting – Red Lines, Paradigms and The Duchess of Kinglassie

This evening’s agenda was packed to the gunnels with  progress updates, filming for the voxpop and planning for future events. We were also pleased to welcome Gillis and Kevin from Common Weal Angus who we are keen to work with in the future.

The anticipated highlight for the evening was a visit from Miriam Brett, who was going to answer our questions about the Red Lines Campaign. Unfortunately, Miriam had to cancel due to illness but the discussion around the campaign went ahead under a new focus that saw the current five Red Lines analysed, evaluated, critiqued and, at some tables, completely redrafted. There was very passionate conversation about the language of the campaign and how it appears to embrace the current political paradigms. A fine example was when “Fix Westminster” was replaced with “Ignore Westminster.”  This was countered by a more sober acknowledgement that, at least for the time being, we need to operate within the existing structures, so we must use the existing language and procedures to make progress. On a more personal note, being part of such lively and intelligent political exchange is heart-warming, energising and good for the soul – I highly recommend it.  We will feed back to Common Weal HQ with some relevant and useful data.

Next was an update on the progress made in our search for a venue for our Common. There is a site that looks promising and there was some consensus in the group that it would be a good spot to hang our hats but we are cautious that we will also need to scope out other accommodation so we can be as inclusive as possible with our meetings. The feeling in the group is that we will have a range of activities: regular book clubs; crafts evenings; visiting speakers; skills swaps and a free rein for unedited political chat and purposeful social interaction. It was pointed out that we still have a lack of young members and we discussed some outreach work as a strategy to rectify that, among other things.

The overwhelming mood in the room was the group’s passion to put their feelings into action – members are champing at the bit to make a contribution and the upcoming Gala Day will provide an opportunity to do just that. Planned for late May/ early June at a provisional venue of St Bryce Kirk in Kirkcaldy, the loose running order will include: big name speakers, local activists, a range of stalls, the screening of a film and live music later in the evening. The day will also include childcare facilities and hospitality. The sale of tickets for an event of this size is inevitable to cover costs and we will offer concession to those on lower incomes. Planning and running this event will require the skills and efforts of all our members so don’t be shy with your talents! We have a lot of input about what to include already and some great advice from the Angus visitors about promoting diversity but please keep those ideas coming by email or on social networks. Also, keep checking Facebook and Twitter for dates for your diary – the next Common Weal Fife meeting will be on Thursday 12th March.

We closed the night with a poetry reading from the hilarious Tom Hubbard. I don’t have a copy of Tom’s poems from tonight to share but I feel justified in offering this advice – if ye ever fund yirsel loast in Kinglassie, be gie careful wha’s door ye chap oan fir directions!

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Not Business As Usual

This article picks up a thread from Peter Lomas’ post The Common Weal Syriza Debate – Beginning of a new Europe? and develops it further from a personal perspective.

This week, I’ve seen two similar criticism’s made of Common Weal.  One came from NUS President, Gordon Maloney, during the Common Weal debate about Greece and Syriza in Edinburgh on Wednesday evening, posed (at least to some degree, I think) as a challenge.  The other came from Philip Stott, of Socialist Party Scotland, in an article in Scottish Left Review.  Though slightly different in tone and detail, both questioned CW’s accommodation with the capitalist system and particularly trying to find common interest with those of business. As someone who has a great deal of respect for the two individuals concerned, I hope they receive this response in the spirit of comradeliness with which it is intended.

The criticisms some some level are valid and have substance but, I would argue, are based on a misunderstanding of what Common Weal is – it is not a political party with a fully developed and coherent programme. It is an arena for thinking about things afresh, free from much of the baggage that has dogged left politics for so long. It is a place where people can get involved and be active and not have to endorse one particular orthodoxy or another up front. That is not to say that theory and intellectual rigour are absent – far from it. However without an umbrella under which these can be debated constructively, they become an alternative to action, rather than the basis for it.

As someone who cut my political teeth in the Militant Tendency and Scottish Socialist Party, I see no contradiction with embracing the Common Weal today. I still consider myself a Marxist in outlook but am far more aware of common cause with others who may not be. We are all looking towards the same destination but are discussing which route(s) are viable to get there.

As to the issue of finding common cause with business, let’s pull that apart a bit.  I see no suggestion that we need to find any common cause with Tesco, Amazon, Ineos or any other corporate giants that feeds vampire-like off us.  However the self-employed plumber, the local baker in the High Street with two employees, these people live in our communities an their existence can be easily as precarious as the rest of us. The left has too often lumped both in together and we really need be a bit cleverer.

The Common Weal will become what those involved in it decide it should be. At its heart is the prime motive of taking politics back to the people.  To me that’s what ‘all of us first’ is about. How we actually do it has still to be written.

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The Common Weal Syriza Debate – Beginning of a new Europe?

Syriza (2)

On Wednesday last (28 Jan), I went to a meeting in Edinburgh organised by Common Space on the recent election in Greece, which led to a Syriza-led government. T

Both Cat Boyd, co-founder of the Radical Independence Movement in Scotland, and Gordon Maloney, President of the National Union of Students in Scotland, had been in Athens for the election campaign.  They recounted how there had been huge enthusiasm in the Greek capital in prospect of a Syriza victory, supported by the presence of youth and left movements from around the world (notably Podemos from Spain).

Dr Myrto Tsakatika, lecturer at Glasgow University and a Greek herself, explained that Syriza was not related to the traditional Left or Communist parties of the Cold War and after, but a loose grouping of grassroots, anti-globalisation and Green movements formed about the year 2000.  Syriza’s decision to go into coalition with the right-wing, Independent Greeks party (rather like the Front National in France, populist and anti-immigration) was the only real choice.  Syriza at 149 seats is 2 short of an absolute majority; the Independent Greeks have 15 seats; the Communist Party made unacceptable demands for a partnership; the New Democracy Party had imposed the unpopular austerity measures demanded by Greece’s creditors; PASOK, the old Labour Party, was decimated and seen as compromised by its collaboration with New Democracy.  The Independent Greeks had been consistent in their opposition to the austerity demanded by the Troika (the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank) which had reduced the Greek economy by a quarter and led to mass unemployment.  Syriza’s priority is to rebuild the Greek economy by rescheduling, repaying, or being reprieved from, the national debt, standing at 175% of GNP.  So far, Syriza plans to build a national system of primary health care; raise the national minimum wage; stop the privatisation of ports in Piraeus and Thessaloniki; and abolish homelessness in Greece.

Professor Michael Keating spoke against the neo-liberal economic orthodoxy prevailing in the West since the late Cold War, which he saw as lying behind the problems of the Euro and the crisis in Greece.  He argued for a Keynesian reflation of European economies, which he said had been the original constructive aim of the European project after the Second World War, and which even the Obama administration in the USA had adopted with some success.  Economic austerity, in other words, is neither necessary nor desirable in advanced industrial countries, as the current UK Conservative government holds.

All the speakers agreed that the election of Syriza was a generally hopeful development for all of us on the left and in grassroots, pro-independence movements in Scotland.

There followed a question-and-answer session, unfortunately very poorly moderated and consisting largely of statements by members of the audience, including hard-Left rants against the Labour Party, the SNP and Common Weal itself.  Incidentally, there is a direct critique of the Common Weal programme by Philip Stott (‘Can capitalism really put “All of us first”?’) in the current edition, no. 85, of Scottish Left Review, available at:

http://www.scottishleftreview.org/article/can-capitalism-really-put-%e2%80%98all-of-us-first%e2%80%99/

Peter Lomas, Common Weal Fife

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Friends of the Airth

Mike Small on the anti-Fracking developments (from Bella Caledonia)

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Not in my name

Not in my name

A POEM BY MAUREEN MATTHEWS

In the days and weeks after
September 19th
a gloom descended
over all the land
a low spirit
crept into the people
while an unexpected indian summer
made mockery of the mood ….
there were no jubilant gatherings
no laughing or smiling faces
just subdued and solemn people
casting apprehensive sideway glances
wondering, if they can chance
a small hesitant smile
on streets, in shops, in workplaces
and even in homes

This is no celebration
of something won
or noble gain
and no joyful liberation
for anyone,
for we have all lost
something so profound
our hearts are breaking
our air seems heavy
with doubt and misgiving
and I am afraid
for my people and my land
as both seem lost
in a terrifying global
corporate nightmare

What do you think,
of these wealthy scaremongers,
of your rights being stolen,
the lying, the privatising
the cover ups protecting
paedophiles and rapists,
punishing the poor and vulnerable,
introducing ongoing austerity,
what do you think of them
and their corporate media familiars
who soured votes into scotch mist
sniggered, smirked, gloated and
laughed all the way to their
bailed out banks
while fighting wars in foreign lands
for peace and democracy!

For the warmongering posse
there is always another expedient war,
who benefits, why and how?
trillions more to line fat corporate pockets
while power shifts present
new opportunities and alliances,
cultures crumble, ecosystems vanish
and our earth grows toxic
as they carve up between them
resources, profits and countries,
and people whose
flesh and bones and blood
splatter across lands
reduced to bleeding rubble
in all our names!
For peace and democracy!

The universal significance
of our referendum vote
is echoed in the growing alarm
and political activities
of peoples everywhere
who are outraged
worn down, and exhausted
by the struggle to just survive
condemned by lost rights
to a miserable existence
of fear and uncertainty
and to the brutality
of never ending wars
for land, and religion,
for military positioning,
and for the power in all
that they consider gold,
to be bought and sold.
Enough, I am tired of being afraid!

Codes of silence are not golden
No See, No Hear, No Say ….
IT IS a moral responsibility
to bear witness
to condemn the inhumanity
the dehumanization …….
we are all afraid…….
and it will take all of us
to withstand the formidable might
of a parcel of rogues from many nations
in their journey towards
absolute power and control
…….that’s a fact
This is no dream
of a better together future
for any of us
the circle is broken
everywhere

Yet still, somehow we live with hope
everywhere…..
and here, in our land
and around the world,
always, new circles gather
to carry the aspirations
of shackled nations
who are all weary
fighting for the land
they should be living for…..

Across our beautiful earth
A thousand years and more
of struggle and hope
and it is not over……
come a thousand more
there is no giving up…..

The world is alive
with countless ways to say
None of this in My Name!
there are many ways to be brave
To See To Hear To Speak To Do
Whatever You Can
For social justice, democracy, and Peace. xx

(Image from thepostinternazionale.it)

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The rise of individualism (& the slow death of society?)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We had our first Common Weal Fife book group on Facebook on Wednesday (you can find the various discussions here) and the discussion got me thinking…

One of the many issues that were raised was the increasingly individualised nature of our ‘society’ (if there is such a thing, Maggie!). Where once there was collective action, trade unions, church groups and we’d all know our neighbours, now we drift through life with fewer connections, moving jobs and homes much more frequently than in the past and less likely to make those bonds which underpin a sense of community.

A major impact of all of this is that we are finding it more difficult to see the structural factors which still shape our lives. In the last blog, Mary Herdman touched on the issue of our food. With obesity ever on the rise amongst the lower and middle-income members of our society, it’s often the case that they are blamed for being overweight. This completely ignores the systematic societal barriers which play a massive part in how this social phenomenon has been created and continues. If we are truly serious about tackling this issue it will require a plan for systemic cultural change (starting, I’d suggest, with the advertising industry). The Common Weal has put together just such a thing.  But these factors are rarely discussed – much easier to blame over-worked, over-stressed and impoverished individuals for their lack of self-control.

This is just one example. A second that we can all relate to is unemployment. With unemployment (and underemployment) ever rising, this again gets pinned on individual failings. A subtle change in the language of how we think of this has happened (from unemployment – a structural issue, to employability – an individual issue) and it is essential that we are aware of this. With employability it’s up to all of us as individuals to ensure we are employable. But this creates a competition where we are all out to be better than the person next to us, to be more employable, have better qualifications, better work experience. This breeds the ‘me-first’ culture discussed by the Common Weal, perpetuating the individualised culture so favoured by neo-liberalism and, again, hindering the possibility of any sense of community or co-operation. The way I think about this is that employment has become a sort of ‘arms race’ as we all fight with one another to ensure we’re better equipped than our rivals, to secure the ever reducing number of long-term, decently paid and secure jobs.. And again, rather than unemployment being seen as a structural issue, it is the unemployed who are held responsible for their perceived ‘failing’ – not the fault of successive governments who have been utterly unable to find solutions to the issue of mass unemployment (particularly for our young people).

It is essential to understand these factors – as the government and societal institutions pile more responsibility on our shoulders to ensure we are ‘effective economic contributors’ it is still the case that most of us will end up in the social class where we began. Class, gender and social reproduction still play a huge part in our life chances. But the individualised nature of our society means that we often overlook this fact and hold ourselves accountable if we’re not ‘making the grade.’  While the rich get richer, the rest of us have to just get on with it. But worse, by losing sight of the nature of class and shared interests, we end up blaming each other – the unemployed, the foreign, young people or old people rather than uniting as a collective to tackle the 1% and the massive inequalities which blight our society.

If we are to re-boot democracy it is (I think) essential that we take individualism into account. This change from the collective hasn’t happened by accident but is an inherent fact of capitalism. The consumer culture is driven by the need for us all to express our individual selves – to buy more products which tell the world about who we are. This isn’t all bad, of course, but the risk is that any sense of common humanity is being eroded. We need to remind ourselves that despite the fact we are all individuals, with our own stories to tell and our own experiences – we share much in common. It is paying attention to this that will help us move forward, together, in order to tackle the issues important to us.

Alan Mackie

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Do Something Radical – Have Porridge for Breakfast

porridge

Porridge

There is no doubt that porridge is far and away the best value breakfast we can eat. It is a very Scottish dish – generations of Scots have been sustained by oatmeal while fighting, studying, crofting, living their daily lives. Yet it would seem that many of us prefer to pay a lot of money for the far more expensive option of a boxed cereal or a fancy muesli to the unglamorous and large bag of porridge oats that can be bought for the same amount of money. Leaving aside the spurious question of preparation time – for it is a myth that porridge takes a lot of preparation, it actually takes no longer than it does to make a cup of tea once you get used to it – why would anyone in their right mind chose to spend money on cereal or muesli when good wholesome nutritious porridge is available for a fraction of the cost?

Well, surely the answer is in this little word ‘choice’. We think we are making a positive choice, but are we? For a start, look at where porridge is placed on the supermarket shelves. It’s always at the bottom of the shelves so that it doesn’t take up valuable selling space needed by more profitable and promoted goods. After all, if you’re going to buy porridge, you’re buying porridge and there’s not a huge choice of different brands. But if you’re after cereal there are loads of different varieties, all vying with each other, saying, me, me, I’m the brightest, the most excitingly flavoured, the most nutritious, have the best and most fashionable giveaway, I’m the newest, buy me, buy me.

And muesli is just the same – I have the most fruit, the best nuts, my boxes are more compostable, I’ve got the freshest freeze dried strawberries. Cereal or muesli, it’s all the same. But it’s all part of this system we’ve got stuck in where buying more exciting things, producing more tempting things is the essence of a system which is entirely dependent on using up resources to develop and sell us things we really don’t actually NEED but somehow have been convinced we want. Eating porridge is not just about eating good food for less money, it’s also a political act, rejecting the pressure capitalism puts on us to go along with its agenda of constant growth and using up resources on rubbish. And this way of looking at our food can be used for all of it. Take yoghurt, for example. In the space of 50 years we’ve been persuaded to start buying a previously unknown product which is basically a vehicle for sugar. Any fruit that is in it is incidental. Yet we spend millions on flavoured yogurts. The sales of simple, healthful yogurt are small by comparison with
the stuff which will give us very little in the way of nutritional value and uses up large amounts of resources in packaging.

Look around the supermarket, is there anything you can’t look at in this way? Cat food, dog food, freezers and chill cabinets full of prepared food. Anything that has been changed from its original state. Ah, but it’s all about time you say, there isn’t the time to make food from scratch, to start cooking when you get home tired and hungry with a family needing fed.

You’re right. It’s all interlinked and that’s why it’s so complicated and difficult to untangle this system we’re locked into. So start small, do something possible but truly radical – have porridge for breakfast!

Written by Mary Ellen Herdman

Picture from http://www.scottish-at-heart.com

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