Posts Tagged ‘ scotland ’

Scotland’s social movements can be a model for the world

Human societies have always been shaped by conflict between ruled and rulers. Rome fought slave and tribal revolts as often as foreign wars. Feudal Kings needed the Church to mediate the demands of their serfs and armored knights to put down rebellions.lal295822

Capitalism produced a wholly new set of social movements. Whereas the pre-capitalist Wars of the Three Kingdoms (the proper name of the “English Civil War”, acknowledging the vital role played by Scotland and Ireland) were fought for reform of the Church, from the late 18th century on movements emerged demanding higher wages, safer working conditions, shorter hours, and political democracy. Economics supplanted religion as the mediator of class conflict.

From these movements came trade unions, cooperatives, building societies, and the ideologies of Socialism and Communism. Even fascism, being a reaction against Communism, was ultimately caused by these movements. From living standards to geopolitics, labour movements shaped everything in the 20th century.

Today we find ourselves at a juncture. Actually-existing Communism is defeated and discredited. Trade unions are weak and largely confined to the public sector. Even the Mary Barbour-descended Scottish tenants’ movement, which beat the landlords in 1918 and by the 1970s was replacing Council ownership with tenant’s management cooperatives, met a sticky end at the hands of the McConnell government.

This isn’t just the story of Thatcher beating the miners. 30 years have passed since then, trade unions have declined across the developed world, and we have been left with no champion to oppose a aggressive new right wing politics. Increasingly, the manufacturing jobs that first created trade unions, Socialism and all that will disappear. Even intellectual labourers are seeing their jobs turned into production lines, then automated. Bank clerk used to be a good job – today you’ll be on a zero hours contract in a call centre, thanks to computer software. The situation has seemed increasingly hopeless.

stream_imgBut in 2014, right here in Scotland, amidst the smoldering ruins of Labour’s old-style centralist social democratic project, a flower bloomed. Activists have been trying to empower citizens through social media since the early days of the internet, but in the Scottish independence referendum political social media finally became a mass phenomenon. Yes activists took to adding everyone they could as Facebook friends, especially those with Yes twibbons, but also unconvinced citizens. This created a dense news distribution network that reaches hundreds of thousands of Scots.

In combination with high quality crowdfunded news and comment websites this allows a far wider range of perspectives to reach the public. The centre of politics has shifted away from the narrow politics of the media and political classes, and towards the broad left wing politics of the Scottish people.

Humans are driven to conform, and good thing too, or there could be no society. Unfortunately, when we watch television news, our views are shifted because a wide variety of people are presented agreeing with ruling class viewpoints. We feel an urge to agree, just as we would if all our friends shared a point of view.

Social media has inverted that pyramid, to great upset from journalists. Now they have to face the views of thousands of (often angry) ordinary people, and once a dense network such as Scotland’s politicised Facebook users is formed, we can establish our own social consensus without being trapped in an ideological spectrum where Ed Miliband is considered dangerously left-wing.

We have to build institutions that serve the same function to us as trade unions did to the labour movement, which learned the hard way that it needed permanent institutions and financing. Perhaps reformed unions, or reformed political parties, can be the vehicles we need. Perhaps it will be something new. We’ll find out by building it.


Caught by #clypegate ? How to make a Data Protection complaint



The Labour Party has issued a “dossier” to journalists of “abuse” by SNP members on twitter. Labour may have broken Data Protection law, and this post describes how, if you are in the dossier, you can make a complaint against the Labour Party to the Information Commissioner, for free. There are sample letters at the bottom.

Before I start, I’d like to say to all the people in the dossier: even if you’ve said something you shouldn’t have, we have all done that at least once. You have the movement’s solidarity. Nobody should be abusive on Twitter, and in some cases maybe the party will need to send you a reprimand.

But I know most of you are ordinary, decent people who have had one or two angry moments highlighted and sent to newspapers with the ability to broadcast their own to abuse to hundreds of thousands of people. You don’t deserve that.

Possible grounds for complaint

I am not a lawyer: this blog post contains my own and others’ opinions and is not in any way legal advice.

There are three grounds for complaint that jump out at me:

1) According to Tim Turner (you should read his full post), you can complain on the grounds that the use of your data was not “fair” – Labour do not have a right to collect data on you and then distribute it to third parties in secret.

2) Also according to Tim Turner, to use your personal data, Labour require one of: “consent, a contract, a legal power or obligation, to be protecting vital interests, or a legitimate interest.” In his view, none of these conditions is met.

3) In my view, the leak of the document breaches the requirement that your data should be processed securely.

How to complain

Only the Information Commissioner can say for sure if there has been a breach. It is well worth asking him to investigate.

1) Call 0303 123 1113, the Information Commission helpline. They can advise you on your rights and the complaints process.

2) Write to the Labour Party to complain (sample letter below), as the Information Commission requires you to do this:

The Labour Party
Labour Central, Kings Manor
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 6PA

3) If you are not satisfied, send a letter to the Information Commissioners for the UK and Scotland (sample letter below):


Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House Water Lane


The Information Commissioner’s Office – Scotland
45 Melville Street

Sample letter to the Labour Party

[Your full address]
[Phone number]
[The date]

The Labour Party

Dear Sir / Madam,

Information rights concern
[Your full name and address and your twitter handle from the dossier]

I am concerned that you have not handled my personal information properly.

Personal data about me was included in a “dossier” provided to the Scottish press by your employee Blair McDougall. I believe this information may have been mishandled as:

1) It was not a fair use of the data. The Labour Party does not have a right to collect and process information on individuals and distribute it in secret.

2) The Labour Party does not have my consent, a contract with me, a legal power or obligation, is not protecting vital interests, and does not have a legitimate interest in processing and distributing this data.

3) My data was not held securely, and was leaked on the public internet.

I understand that before reporting my concern to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) I should give you the chance to deal with it.

If, when I receive your response, I would still like to report my concern to the ICO, I will give them a copy of it to consider.

You can find guidance on your obligations under information rights legislation on the ICO’s website ( as well as information on their regulatory powers and the action they can take.

Please send a full response within 28 calendar days. If you cannot respond within that timescale, please tell me when you will be able to respond.

If there is anything you would like to discuss, please contact me on the following number [telephone number].

Yours faithfully

Sample Letter to the Information Commissioner

[Your full address]
[Phone number]
[The date]

The Information Commissioner

Dear Sir / Madam,

Information rights concern
[Your full name and address and your twitter handle from the dossier]

I am concerned that the Labour Party have not handled my personal information properly. I have reported this to the Labour Party, and am not satisfied with their response. I request that you urgently investigate this potential data protection breach.

Personal data about me was included in a “dossier” provided to the Scottish press by their employee Blair McDougall. I believe this information may have been mishandled as:

1) It was not a fair use of the data. The Labour Party does not have a right to collect and process information on individuals and distribute it in secret.

2) The Labour Party does not have my consent, a contract with me, a legal power or obligation, is not protecting vital interests, and does not have a legitimate interest in processing and distributing this data.

3) My data was not held securely, and was leaked on the public internet.

Please find attached my letter to the Labour Party.

If there is anything you would like to discuss, please contact me on the following number [telephone number].

Yours faithfully

BBC admit to breaching own guidelines with immigration story

I have received a reply to my complaint about the BBC shoehorning immigration into Scotland’s election debate in breach of its own guidelines on the use of polls. For once, they acknowledge that they breached the guidelines!

The BBC are allowed to report on and headline polls, but they may only headline a poll if it adds depth to an existing story. They may not use a poll to create a story from whole cloth, which is what they implicitly admit to here.

Dear Sir / Madam,

On Tuesday 10th of March the BBC website reported on an opinion poll commissioned by the BBC into attitudes to immigration in Scotland. The article, entitled “BBC poll suggests 64% of Scots want immigration reduced”, can be found here:

The BBC guidelines on opinion polls clearly state “We should not headline the results of an opinion poll unless it has prompted a story which itself deserves a headline and reference to the poll’s findings is necessary to make sense of it”.

The guideline exists for an excellent reason, which is that it is not the BBC’s role to determine the political questions of the day, but rather to report on them.

This is especially egregious behaviour in a tense pre-election context. I find it hard to imagine what the BBC hoped to achieve by commissioning this poll in the first place.

Alistair Davidson

Dear Mr DavidsonAl-Qaeda-Sets-Up-Complaints-Department

Reference CAS-3188145-PXV7MM

Thank you for getting in touch.

The reports on this were taken from a BBC opinion poll which showed Scotland’s attitudes towards immigration. We believe these reports are newsworthy and relevant. We also feel that the stories are of interest to our audience.

We accept that there should not have been references to the poll findings in our headlines, and have now changed the relevant online stories.

We know that not everyone will agree with our choices on which stories to cover, and the prominence that we give to them. These are subjective decisions made by our news editors, and we accept that not everyone will think that we are correct on each occasion. These decisions are always judgement calls rather than an exact science, but we appreciate the feedback that our viewers and listeners give us on this. Please be assured that your comments have been noted and added to our audience log which is passed to senior programme makers and management.

Thank you, once again, for taking the time to contact us.

Jumbled thoughts on all-female shortlists

The SNP have introduced all-female shortlists, and everyone has to have their tuppence… so here’s mine. 2000px-Igualtat_de_sexes.svg

  1. As a moral imperative, something has to happen to move us sharply towards 50% female representation in parliament. The long-standing under-representation of women in parliament is a moral outrage. If you disagree, there’s not much I can say to you – we simply have different values.
  2. All-female shortlists are a way of getting there. We have to crack open the boy’s club by force. Our daughters must grow up believing that politics is for them, too. They do have some serious flaws: they are a restriction on democracy, they can be used by the leadership to crack down on dissent (Tony Blair famously used them this way). But in the absence of an alternative that will reach the goal in (1), we have to back them.
  3. The onus is on those who oppose all-female shortlists to propose credible alternatives to reach the goal in (1).
  4. While some people who oppose all-female shortlists do hate women (hating women is sadly pretty common), there are also plenty of people who oppose all-female shortlists who do not hate women, and it is unfair and counterproductive to call them misogynists simply on the basis of their opposition – especially given that quite a few are women themselves.
  5. In 21 of 44 seats where the shortlist was mixed, a woman was selected. That’s 47%. While there is sexism in the SNP membership as in any part of society, the membership’s sexism is not the biggest barrier: all-male shortlists are.
  6. More important in the long run than all-female shortlists will be the commitment to a gender-balanced party list at Holyrood. This seems to be the key mechanism in Sweden’s success in equalising representation.
  7. Proactive leadership and confidence-building programmes are vital. Almost nobody enjoys public speaking. People only learn confidence by being pushed into it.
  8. We must teach our children that politics is for women. Meetings of left-wing fringe parties in Glasgow are often 75% male. I was often told (including by well-meaning women) that this was because they were too theoretical and argumentative and boring. That sounded plausible until I attended a meeting about art and economics at the CCA. It was majority-female and mostly consisted of exactly the same kind of high-minded and irritating arguments about Marx and surplus value and so on as happen in left wing party meetings. I can only conclude that a sense of permission is a key factor: (some/many) women are taught that they are allowed strident opinions about art but not politics.
  9. We are going to need a more complete picture of the factors restricting women’s political involvement. I’ve suggested a couple: leadership skills, permission, membership sexism, the existence of old boy’s clubs. Other factors include the abuse directed at prominent women on social media (men receive abuse too but it’s clear that women receive more, and of a worse nature), and probably plenty of other things I’m not thinking of. It would be better to have hard peer-reviewed evidence than rely on our intuitions.
  10. This problem runs way beyond gender. Any measures only targeted at gender will benefit upper and middle class women more than working class women. That is not an argument against the measures – but it is a major limitation.
  11. Last but not least: fellow men, you can have opinions about this stuff, but for god’s sake have some humility and listen to the full range of views and experiences from women. They have a really hard deal, and a lot of stuff happens to them that most men just don’t see. Whenever I speak to the women in my life about sexism they face, I am taken aback. There is a minority of highly misogynist men who subject women to massive amounts of abuse – but like all cowards they do the worst of it when we’re not watching. Listen to women.

Everything you know about the council tax freeze is wrong

Labour continually claim that the Council Tax freeze is regressive (bad for the poor), and that it is the cause of cuts to council services. I’m not sure if they are lying or just stupid.

It should be remembered that the council tax is only a slight variation on the poll tax. The owner of giant mansion pays just three times as much tax as the owner of a one bedroom council flat. Wings Over Scotland reported last year on an academic finding that “raising Council Taxes actually raises inequality.” Council Tax is regressive, and freezing it helps the poor.

Of course, taxation is only one half of the equation. The poor access more public services than the rich, and so suffer greater harm from cuts. Has the council tax freeze harmed council budgets? I had a look at the figures.

Scottish Local Government Revenue Sources

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 12.33.38

The first thing to notice is that Council Tax makes up just 10.8% of Council income. Changes in Council Tax revenue are 14.7% of the total change in the budget, £149m of the cuts. This figure includes losses from Council Tax cuts, such as the cut by Stirling’s Labour / Tory coalition in 2012.

Meanwhile, business rates have gone up by £108m! The net effect of tax changes is £41m of the £1,015m cut to Scottish council budgets since 2009. Even by Scottish Labour standards it’s one hell of a bending of the truth to blame cuts in council services on the Council Tax freeze.

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 12.51.13The fall in sales, rents and fees, presumably a result of the recession, is around the same size as the council tax changes. Both are dwarfed by the £371m fall in General Revenue Funding and a £448m fall in “Other Income.” I couldn’t find a clear definition of Other Income, but cross-referencing with the Scottish Budget suggests that it is mostly miscellaneous central government funding. Around £1bn of cuts have been made to Holyrood spending on local government since 2009.

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 12.39.37The cuts to council funding from central government are severe, but must be seen in the context of Westminster’s £3,737m per year cut to the Scottish departmental expenditure limit since 2009. Local government cuts are caused by Westminster block grant cuts, not by the council tax freeze.

In fact, that SNP have reduced a regressive tax on homes and increased a tax on businesses. Tartan Tories, my arse.

It’s the jobs, stupid: how we’re going to win the referendum

Today’s Sunday Herald front page makes me almost deliriously happy. I’ve written about reindustrialisation several times now. I think it is the key message for the yes campaign.


Basically, the Scottish people voted Labour while Labour protected Scottish jobs. The shift towards the SNP happened after Blair, and it wasn’t caused by nonexistent WMDs or dodgy dossiers. The Tories were the big enemy who took away the jobs, communities and hope of working people. Labour were meant to protect that, and they were meant to bring it back. Under Blair, they failed. When Gordon Brown turned out to be more of the same, a large chunk of Scotland gave up on Labour.

The SNP have a top-to-bottom plan already in progress to reindustrialise the country using our renewable potential (1/4 of Europe’s wind and tide, 1/10 of its waves). Yards like Nigg are reopening, creating thousands of jobs.

This works especially well because North Sea oil has made us world-leaders in marine engineering. We have the opportunity to be world-leaders in design, manufacture and deployment of deep-sea wind turbines.

The EU has an international plan to build a continental energy grid, to end dependency on Russian gas. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice senior SNP people often talk about energy security as a primary aim. They don’t mean Scotland’s, they mean Europe’s. We’re going to build massive undersea cables to the continent and power Germany’s factories.

Reindustrialisation makes sense from a right or left-wing perspective. It is good for Scottish business, the Scottish economy, and the Scottish working class all at once. It makes no sense, whatever your political persuasion, to remain tied to a political system that has been fully captured by the financial industry and their plan to make London the “capital of capitalism.”

That plan offers nothing for Scotland. The bedroom tax is a prime example – its aim seems to be to free up some liquidity in the London property market, which is acting as a store of value for the global elite. This is horrible for ordinary Londoners, but does make a sort of right-wing sense in that city. In Scotland, it does nothing but shunt disabled people from cheap social housing to expensive homelessness units, without benefiting a single Scottish business and at tremendous human cost.

Meanwhile we have to fight tooth and nail to have essential infrastructure like the Western Isles interconnector built, and are burdened by illogical National Grid energy transmission fees.

The people of Scotland are sick of mass unemployment, and they are sick of irrational, unaccountable policymaking. The credible offer of thousands of high-quality jobs will win this referendum.

The curious case of YouDecide2014 – Tories in ‘neutral’ clothing

UPDATE: I have now definitively linked the BuzzFeed article to the Scotland Office itself!

So there I was, minding my own business on twitter, when up pops a tweet by Ramsay Jones, “UK Government Special Advisor Scotland. Tweets my own views. Hopefully someone else’s later.”

His tweet linked to what was apparently a Buzzfeed article, “Scotland. The UK. 10 Myths. 10 Facts.”, which purported to explain “What would happen to Scotland if we became independent? From our global relationships to our oil revenues, this blog looks at the myths, and the realities, of the Scottish independence debate.”

Ramsay Jones @Ramsay59 - Sorting out the facts from the Indy fiction.The post had been retweeted by Rebecca Lefort, “Digital at @number10gov for a while (usually @bisgovuk). Ex @telegraph journo. Lover of coffee, badminton, feminism, dancing, comedy…. and much more!” I’m glad to see that in the modern world, one can claim to be a feminist whilst participating in a government that has conducted the biggest attack on women’s financial independence since the second world war, reducing the average woman’s disposable income by 10% through cuts alone.

On Ms Lefort’s twitter feed, I saw that she had also retweeted a tweet of the same article by Alex Stewart Aitken, “Government Communicator, Chairman of Westminster Wanderers FC and Arsenal fan”. Tory marketers seem to be huge fans of this BuzzFeed article! Rebecca liked it so much she retweeted it at least three times! Professional pride, perhaps?

So I read it (it didn’t take long, this is BuzzFeed after all!). An eagle-eyed reader will notice that it is “created by a user and has not been vetted or endorsed by BuzzFeed’s editorial staff” – but this text is small (in the Tory comms team’s defence, this is Buzzfeed’s decision).

Scotland. The UK. 10 Myths. 10 Facts. What would happen to Scotland if we become independent? From our global relationships to our oil revenues, this blog looks at the myths, and realities, of the Scottish independence debate. YouDecide2014. Buzzfeed user. This post was created by a user and has not been vetted or endorsed by BuzzFeed's editorial staff. BuzzFeed Community is a place where anyone can post awesome lists and creations." Learn more or post your buzz!The article itself isn’t worth reading – it’s just a list of the usual scare stories presented as myth-busting FACTS: “Fact: Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems have all made clear if we leave the UK we’ll also leave the UK pound. A currency union would not work for Scotland or the rest of the UK – it will not happen.”

At the very bottom of the article, it links to the UK government website.

Get the facts at

I then discovered a twitter account, @YouDecide2014. Its twitter bio was “The Scottish Referendum on 18th September 2014 is a massive decision that needs proper thought. You Decide is here to give you the facts ahead of the vote.” and its website was listed as the Scotland Office official website. It had tweeted the Buzzfeed article several times, as well as tweeting and retweeting a lot of stuff from the UK government – Foreign Office tweets, Scotland Office tweets, MOD tweets. It seemed very keen on David Cameron’s speeches.

Scottish Referendum @youdecide2014. We're here to provide you with the facts ahead of next year's massive decision around independence. #youdecide

So it appears that taxpayers’ money, via the Scotland Office, is being used to fund a twitter and BuzzFeed account run by the Tory comms team. These accounts pretend to be neutral purveyors of facts but are in fact highly partisan. With reports of a recent Better Together leaflet adopting the same strategy, we have to assume this is a new phase in the No campaign – realising that their brand is now utterly toxic, they are resorting to pretending to be other people.

UPDATE: a discussion on Reddit reveals that this article was shared by no less than the 10 Downing Street facebook account!

UPDATE 2: Scott Abel on facebook noticed it was even retweeted by the MOD!


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