:: Thursday, March 31, 2005 ::

Vodka slammers

New Statesman - World - Glasgow girls against Iraq an interesting look at the voting intentions of Glaswegian women. The moral is that even binge drinkers are still interested in politics.

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:: Wednesday, March 30, 2005 ::

School Meals in England - a Result

BBC NEWS | Education | Jamie gets healthier school meals A good result for Jamie Oliver in his campaign for better school meals. But he is quite right to question the motives of the politicians "Unfortunately, it has taken a documentary and really the hearts and emotions of the kids and families we filmed to touch the nation". I followed the debate on free school meals in Scotland quite closely. Time after time the politicians would say that kids don't want to eat healthy food so there was no point giving them any. In other words they weren't prepared to try or to put decent resources into it. Parents organisations and campaigners have been working on this for years and years to no avail. But when it is election time and a high profile documentary comes along, suddenly they are interested. Childrens' health and wellbeing should be the priority at all times in our policy process not just when it is in the headlines at election time.

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:: Monday, March 28, 2005 ::

Pollok Free State and the M77 Struggle

carhenge Pollok Free State 1995

The news that the government have given the go-ahead to the M74 extension has caused outrage amongst campaigners in Scotland. The proposed road extension in Glasgow has been bitterly opposed for years and campaigners thought they had won when an enquiry recommended against the extension. Now it seems that the Scottish Executive know better and are going to build it anyway. So much for reducing pollution.

The media have been bringing up the last time we saw a conflict like this, which was the building of the M77 motorway through Pollok in Glasgow in the early 90's. A camp was built by anti-motorway protestors and a campaign began to get going against the motorway.

The local community soon got involved and it was then that the campaign became really interesting. Scottish Militant Labour had a strong influence in Pollok, it had been one of the strongest centres of the anti-poll tax campaign of the late 80's-early 90's. It was the home base of Tommy Sheridan who was a well-known figure already. SML also included an important section of local community activists and, crucially, young people.

SML's youth work in Pollok probably deserves a book of its own. It had successfully united rival gangs, who instead of fighting each other had come together and were often involved in political campaigns.

At the same time there was the creation of a local Glasgow branch of Earth First!, a direct action environmentalist organisation. They soon got involved in occupations of council buildings and the anti-m77 camp. Pollok Free State was born. Actually there had been a camp at Pollok since the first indications of a motorway in 1992, when a local man took to the trees armed only with a copy of Robert Burns' poetry. But now it really took off with a number of mad Ewok village tree-houses. It even had its own 'People's Free University of Pollok' which attracted poets and preachers.

So it was an interesting meeting of worlds. The young team in Pollok and the Marxists of SML were meeting with the disparate group of hippies, environmentalists and anarchists in the Pollok Free State.

An unprecedented united front was created which crystalised in the Scottish Defiance Alliance, which came together to oppose the Criminal Justice Act. The SDA became the key organisation in the Pollok Free State.

Pollok Free State 1995 Scottish Defiance Alliance

The SDA was an important predecessor of the SSP. But what kind of organisation was it? Just another front? Here is an amusing account from the time by a Scottish anarchist:

"Of course the appeal of direct action to Scottish Militant Labour has to be understood. There have been examples in history where Communist Party members took part in such actions, and even the SWP at times have to show their 'mettle'. The difference is that Militant now places community struggles at the centre of their strategy, no longer giving it second billing to workplace disputes and confrontation is part of the way people can see through the role of Labourism, as defenders of the status quo. Even as far as 'controlling' actions, a level of sophistication appears to have been adopted. The Alliance Against the Criminal Justice Bill, rechristened the Defiance Alliance is a case in point. Unlike the front organisation character of the Scottish SWP's "Coalition", the Alliance involves ravers, animal libbers, anarchists and - especially Earth First. Such was the structureless nature of the Alliance, the Scottish Federation of Anarchists tried to bring up the formal structure of the organisation at the February Alliance conference."

The important alliance then was between the activists and the community and between activists themselves who ceased to rant at each other and turned their energy to join with the local community against the increasingly heavy-handed actions of the road builders and police.

Pollok Free State Glasgow 1995

Here is another account from the time by an Earth-Firster about how the campaign stepped up a notch.

"What happened on Valentine's Day coupled with the involvement of the local Militant group to a great extent changed perceptions and began to increasingly radicalise the nearby communities against the road. At 6 am on Valentine's Day 300 police and security surrounded the camp, placing roadblocks on the surrounding road and cordoning off the area to allow tree cutting at the actual camp. Seven people were resident in the camp that morning and were effectively cut off from the outside world. The network of phone contacts suddenly went dead and plain-clothed officers watched a number of activists' homes.

Word spread about the events at the camp, and the police who were using a local school's playground as a base alerted many of the pupils to the camp's plight. 100 kids walked out of classes, charging down the roadbed, breaking through police lines and saving the bulk of the camp. 26 security resigned that day refusing to be class traitors anymore. One security guard said: "I have a wife and four kids to feed but I'd rather go back on the dole than this." Militant were central in convincing many of the security to quit, knowing many of them from the local area. Wanted posters were to be made up of certain security men's faces who were known to live in the area and were in effect shitting on their own. The security that did not resign have begun to mask up, either because they will be recognised by the brew or their own communities, or to not risk charges when assaulting protesters.

The pupils began to organise their own union, and three schools started to take part in the protests. Bellamine pupils demanded two hours off lessons per day to protest, and when their demands were not met, began to strike...

The No M77 campaign has brought about the long spoken about alliance between Green and Red and made it a reality. Many environmentalists began to see the campaign beyond wholly moral terms and saw the class and social implications of this fight. Militant defending trees would have been unthinkable a few months ago but it's happening, as direct action is being seized by the community as a tool of empowerment"

It was in this environment that activists like Rosie Kane became interested in socialism. The SDA experience led to SML becoming involved in the Scottish Socialist Forum. This organisation of a few Labour Lefts like Allan Green (now SSP General Secretary) in the Scottish Socialist Movement, the Communist Party of Scotland and the left-nationalist journal Liberation soon saw the formation of the Scottish Socialist Alliance. This in turn led to the creation of the SSP after a few years.

With the M74 decision we could see a new chapter in the struggle to defend working class communities against environmental destruction.

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:: Friday, March 25, 2005 ::

Mao Meow

Now here is a story you probably won't see on Wildlife on One.

Chhattisgarh Maoists befriend tigers! : HindustanTimes.com: "The tiger may be facing serious danger in some parts of India but it seems to be on safe ground in Chhattisgarh, thanks to Maoist guerrillas.

The Indravati tiger project, spread over 1,200 sq km in Dantewada district, is a stronghold of the Maoists, who have become the big cat's saviour. The fear of the rebels not only keeps forest officials but also poachers away from the reserve.

Officials said that ever since Chhattisgarh was formed in November 2000, forest guards and visitors have largely kept away from the park, bordering Andhra Pradesh, another Maoist stronghold, and Maharashtra.

If they do go to the park, it is only with the guerrillas' permission.

A Maoist leader explained the situation. 'We take extreme care of the wildlife. No poachers - whatever be their political or international connections - can dream of sneaking into Indravati,' boasted the leader, known by his nom de guerre Selva.

'We, however, do allow forest officials to enter on rare occasions,' he added.

In the past six months, forest guards have stepped into the park only once - in February.

Officials said they had to satisfy the guerrillas that they had been asked to do a tiger census for the forest department.

'The number of tigers in Indravati is going up every year. We counted 29 tigers in 2002, 35 in 2003 and 39 last year,' Rakesh Kumar Sharma, the additional principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), told the agency."

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:: Thursday, March 24, 2005 ::

Red Pepper's Election Blues

Red Pepper's Election Blues is promising to cover the elections including the shock news that Tariq Ali is planning to vote Lib-Dem. Jesus, people have been trying to make out tactical voting to be radical since Marxism Today. From what I can see people do vote tactically in many cases anyway, usually for whoever is most likely to boot out the ones they don't like. That's why Labour and the Tories love the first past the post electoral system so much.

Vote for what you believe in, that's what I say.

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:: Wednesday, March 23, 2005 ::

Purple Hearts

Purple Hearts US soldiers invalided out of Iraq, in their own words.

A photo series that the New York-based Nina Berman made of wounded Iraq veterans led to the making of this documentary. She also wrote the book 'Purple Hearts, Back from Iraq', in which soldiers tell their stories. Documentary filmmaker Roel van Broekhoven crossed the United States to visit the people portrayed in Berman's photos. In detail, they recount what happened on the day they got injured; how they arrived back home, blind or legless; how they have to try to forget the war now, in small towns around Alabama and Pittsburgh, or in Washington and L.A. Officially recognised as “heroes,” a Purple Heart on the uniform in the closet, most of these soldiers long to go back to an army that has no use for them anymore. A story that President Bush would probably prefer not to see propagated. The first one minute, fifty seconds are in Dutch, the remainder is in English

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Bashing the Bishop

When the debate on secularism reaches Scotland it centres not on the question of Islam but that of Christianity. In particular the continuing power of both the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church in Scottish life. State funded catholic schools are very common right across Scotland and the official state religion of the CoS dominates in the rest.

It has been disturbing to see sections of the church enter political debate recently. In particular they have attempted to make abortion a general election issue. We also had Bishop Joseph Devine ranting against gay teachers when launching "A Charter for Catholic Schools" saying "Being homosexual would not at all be compatible with the charter. It would cut across the whole moral vision enshrined in the charter. It would be offering a lifestyle that is incompatible with Catholic social teaching."

So it is refreshing to see the Scottish Episcopal Church give the go ahead for gay clergy.

In a statement on their website they write:
"The Scottish Episcopal Church has never regarded the fact that someone was in a close relationship with a member of the same sex as in itself constituting a bar to the exercise of an ordained ministry. Indeed, the Windsor Report itself in suggesting that a moratorium be placed on such persons being consecrated bishops, itself acknowledges the existence of many such relationships within the Church."

The churches all like to state their commitment to social justice, they should accept that part of this is equality and opposition to discrimination and hate crimes.

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:: Sunday, March 20, 2005 ::


War, originally uploaded by alister.

Taken March 19th, international day in opposition to the occupation of Iraq.

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:: Friday, March 18, 2005 ::

Interesting Result

This was the result in the (former) Labour stronghold of Woodburn, Dalkeith last night. When it was texted through to my comrades in the pub they thought it was a mistake.

Lib Dem 742 52.6 +30.4
Labour 418 29.6 -18.6
SNP 179 12.7 -4.9
SSP 48 3.4 -5.3
Conservative 24 1.7 -1.6

Not a great result for the SSP or SNP or indeed the tories. But a disaster for the Labour Party, an 18.6% drop and a huge 30.4% swing to the Lib Dems. Another result in West Dumbartonshire saw labour keep the seat but lose 11.1% of their vote.

And this the day after the "give away" budget. Whether the voters will still want to punish New Labour in the general election remains to be seen, but a few MP's must be feeling a little uncomfortable.

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:: Thursday, March 17, 2005 ::

Feed me better

Feed me better is the website of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's campaign to improve school meals in Britain. Jamie has earned himself lots of respect for spearheading this campaign. His programme demonstrates that kids can be provided with healthy meals, and eat them too. School meals is a subject close to the heart of the SSP who pioneered the campaign for free, nutritious school meals in Scotland. It forced the Scottish Executive to establish minimum nutrition levels for meals but that does not go far enough. They refused to provide universal free meals, a proven method of improving health, getting kids away from Greggs (greasy Scottish baker) and the chippy and getting rid of the stigma that the lowest income kids face. New Labour talks about targetting benefits, despite the fact that universal benefits always have a higher uptake amongst those who need them most. Universality was the founding principle of our welfare state. We have universal health care and education (just about) so why not free, healthy school meals for all?

So take a stand against Turkey Twizzlers, support the SSP campaign for Free School Meals and sign Jamie Oliver's petition online now!

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:: Wednesday, March 16, 2005 ::

Nora Castañeda

Nora Castañeda, originally uploaded by alister.

Nora Castañeda, President of the Women's Development Bank (Banmujer) in Venezuela speaks to Scottish Socialist Party MSP's, members and staff at the Scottish Parliament yesterday. A leading economist she was appointed by President Chavez to head the Women's Bank which was set up in response to women's demands. The small blue book in her hands is the constitution of Venezuela which guarantees women's rights.

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:: Sunday, March 13, 2005 ::

Freeze Sucka

irancops, originally uploaded by alister.

Now I'd like to pitch you an idea for a new cop show...

Feminist News - Iranian Women Back in Police

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:: Friday, March 11, 2005 ::

Complacency Kills

Complacency Kills, originally uploaded by alister.

Artist Joe Sacco, responsible for breakthrough graphic novels such as Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde has spent time in Iraq as an embedded journalist. His report is available to download here in pdf format (37mb).

Features trigger happy GI's shit-scared that every car coming towards them is a suicide bomber. Which puts the attack on Giuliana Sgrena into some context.

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(:)<[o]= is the blog of Tatiana Cardeal containing her bold, colourful pictures of her travels with some terrific ones of the World Social Forum in Brazil. Check out her page on Flickr too.

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:: Thursday, March 10, 2005 ::

Letham Latest

Letham Latest, all the latest news on how the revolution is going in rural Fife.

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:: Tuesday, March 08, 2005 ::


Crumb from fantagraphics

I think I have been reading retrospectives of Robert Crumb's work for twenty years. Was there a time when he wasn't an icon? Well, it's in overdrive now, 40 years after Fritz the Cat sniffed around for the first time. In the past few days I have seen major articles on Channel 4 News, the Independent and the Guardian. Crumb will also get a film season and two books. If you have the cash go for Fantagraphics 'Complete Crumb' series, if you don't then pick up his work with Harvey Pekar on American Splendour.

Crumb likes to deal with tensions, cultural, racial, class, sexual. This get him into lots of trouble (or it used to). I particularly liked this from the Guardian yesterday:

"When they lived in California he worked for free for a leftwing newspaper who loved the idea of Crumb but couldn't cope with the actuality of his work. Often, he says, they would commission him to do a piece, then not run it for fear of offending people and finally, to add insult, they would sell the original artwork to keep the paper going."

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:: Friday, March 04, 2005 ::

Human Rights...Part of the Struggle

Hugo Guttierez, originally uploaded by alister.

Washington DC based Riggs bank, who had been helping Pinochet to funnel millions of dollars secretly out of the country have been forced to pay compensation to victims of Pinochet's regime. Hugo Guttierez, a lawyer representing families of the victims whom I met recently in Santiago (see picture), said "It is reasonable for Riggs Bank to assume its responsibility, the money going to a foundation will benefit the victims." It is the first and hopefully not the last time that institutions who collaborated with the dictatorship will be forced to pay compensation.

Chile, resistance to dictatorship and triumph is a fantastic photoset from Chilean photographer Marcelo Tomas on flickr. Check out his other pictures too.

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:: Thursday, March 03, 2005 ::

Gàidhlig Blog

'S anmoch a rinn mi dùsgadh, from Glasgow.

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:: Wednesday, March 02, 2005 ::

New Labour's Contempt for Liberty

Via Submit Response, Brian Sedgemore's last speech in parliament.

Have we all, individually and collectively, no shame? I suppose that once one has shown contempt for liberty by voting against it in the Lobby, it becomes easier to do it a second time and after that, a third time. Thus even Members of Parliament who claim to believe in human rights vote to destroy them.

Many Members have gone nap on the matter. They voted: first, to abolish trial by jury in less serious cases; secondly, to abolish trial by jury in more serious cases; thirdly, to approve an unlawful war; fourthly, to create a gulag at Belmarsh; and fifthly, to lock up innocent people in their homes. It is truly terrifying to imagine what those Members of Parliament will vote for next. I can describe all that only as new Labour’s descent into hell, which is not a place where I want to be.

And now, not only will you be locked up, you might also be racially abused by a contract worker from a private security firm.

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tropic of cancer

Another new political party has been formed in Scotland to join the crowded political scene. This time it is the Publicans Party and they are campaigning against the Scottish Executive's proposed ban on smoking in pubs and other public places.

"The party is the brainchild of Inverness publicans Kit Fraser and Don Lawson, who say smokers in pubs are entitled to the same rights as non-smokers" the BBC report.

Mr Fraser said: "We are campaigning for a repeal on part of the smoking ban where it applies in pubs and for it to be a requirement for publicans to install ventilation systems in their pubs.

"We do not discriminate against smokers or non-smokers."

No, both can get cancer together. Except like, the smokers choose it and the non-smokers don't. And I don't remember the health warning sticker on fags "can cause cancer, unless you sit near a ventilation system."

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:: Tuesday, March 01, 2005 ::

Pentland Hills

Pentland Hills, originally uploaded by alister.

This is my entry to the People's Friend cover competition, the Pentland hills near Edinburgh. Believe it or not this peaceful landscape witnessed a bloody battle in 1666 between a force of Covenanters and the forces of General Tam Dalyell. The baddies won (Dalyell).

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