The Long Road…

Back in 2012, I wrote to my MP – I was living in Airdrie at the time, so that was Pamela Nash, the Labour party careerist. Aside from working as the assistant/advisor to the previous incumbents, she had no real experience.

Still, I had contacted her a couple of times, with reasonable results – until I wrote to her about ACTA. I heard nothing, so after a period, I called her out on Twitter about not responding.

She DM’ed me, asking me to e-mail her the details of my letter.

I sent this;

Hi Pamela,

I wrote to you with a quite narrow problem about ACTA (and the fact that it seems to be slipping into the UK legislative arena without any scrutiny) – although more recent events at the Home Office have eclipsed things a little.

Let me explain – I have been writing to parliament for many years, usually on the same subject: civil liberties. It’s an absolute bright line for me, and something that I feel is the mark of a civilised and free country. For most of my life, I was a labour supporter – I attended Strathclyde University along with Jim Murphy and grew up under Thatcher.

I stopped supporting Labour when labour started implementing one draconian policy after another. I wrote to Helen Liddell expressing my horror about The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill (RIPA), and how it could be abused. I worked in the NHS (blood transfusion service at law hospital) and saw a lot of abuse of medical records first hand (people looking up celebrities or family members).

In the end, RIPA has been used exactly as I feared it would – by councils spying on people letting their dogs crap in gardens, or to see if people are in the right catchment area for schools.

Labour mishandled the DNA database in England and Wales, keeping the DNA of innocent people forever (which I wrote to John Reid about), and implemented the Section 44 powers which have been used to terrorise people for taking photos of famous buildings.

I’m a socialist at heart, but I can’t trust Labour. The tendency to want to control, snoop and manipulate seems to just be too strong. For what it’s worth, one of my reasons for supporting the SNP and independence is that I want to see us break way from the mindset of spying and centralised control that exists in Whitehall. Holyrood has so far handled things like Privacy and DNA retention in a more liberal and free minded way.

Anyways – the letter.

I then included my original letter. You might think it was nasty or aggressive, or party political… you can judge;

Dear Pamela,

You are on the Science and Tech committee, so I assume you know about ACTA? If not, I would ask you to have a quick look here:

ACTA was negotiated in secret between the US, EU and other interested parties – the EU Rapporteur was so disgusted by the lack of democratic process that he resigned rather than sign this: but the UK has blithely signed it (but not enacted it in UK law – yet).

We are coming out the back of just how bad it is to have overpowering media influence on the political arena with Levenson and the like, but ACTA is ten times worse – this will quite literally hand the investigative powers of SOCA and the intelligence services to media interests and copyright owners to be used for something as frivolous as policing copyright.

We will mandate the interception of everyone’s emails, web traffic and the like, for the sake of protecting copyright. We will be outlawing the encryption technologies that have allowed the Arab spring to happen, and building an interception and surveillance apparatus that would make even the most hardened “nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide” brigade raise an eyebrow.

Throw in the Home Office’s latest attempts to carry out the Intercept Modernisation programme and snoop on all our internet traffic for “serious crime” reasons (the exact same reasons for RIPA, which has been abused enormously) and this is looking pretty bleak.

If you can have a look at this, and see if it’s something you can get behind, I would very much appreciate it.

And for what it’s worth – thanks for the DM on Twitter. Clearly, there’s an election on, so there can be a bit of showboating and the like, but I’m a fair minded person, and I’ll acknowledge that you contacted me directly to get this sorted.


How did my MP respond? She blocked me on Twitter, and didn’t ever reply to me again, either by e-mail or letter.



All Women Shortlists

It’s over a year since my last blog post, but I have been jarred from my slumber once more. A lot has changed in the intervening period – the Independence Referendum has been fought, and lost… and then it has started to look like we didn’t lose after all.

The various vibrant and energised  groups which emerged during the referendum, turning it from a one party platform into a real pan-Scottish movement, have gone on to form a part of the national consciousness – Radical Indy, Women for Independence, Business for Scotland – all contributed in their own way during the campaign, and each has recognised that the job is not done, and refused to go back into the shadows.

The SNP has exploded in size – from an already-larger-than-labour 25,000 to the heady heights of 100,000 members; bringing an incredible level of engagement, and something that the old guard of the party has struggled to accommodate – these new members have not turned up with a desire to see things stay as they are. They want change, and invariably, they want it right now.

As the party has explored what that change looks like, voices have called for a fundamental change to how the party chooses it’s candidates, and the subject of All Women Shortlists has come to the fore… and is causing the same internal friction for the SNP that it has previously caused for Labour.

There is undeniably a problem – there are far too few female candidates, and it is clearly not a problem of talent; two of the most high profile and energised campaigns in the country are Natalie McGarry’s effort to unseat Margaret Curran, and Michelle Thomson’s push to replace Mike Crockart in Edinburgh West.

The talent is there, but something is preventing it from being fully utilised.

Nicola Sturgeon has taken swift action in the cabinet – implementing gender balance for the first time in a UK legislature. This has to be applauded – in the same way that the progress of Women on Boards towards a 40-40-20 model is driving progressive, positive change in the management of FTSE traded companies.

So, what is the problem with All Women Shortlists? why not recognise this as a useful mechanism to implement a large change of direction, rapidly? to right a historical wrong, and ensure that our political representation more closely matches the 52% of the population that Women represent?

I was prompted to blog again by an article by Kezia Kinder – written in response to what she perceives as a defence of meritocracy; the assertion by some that All Women Shortlists will see an influx to parliament of poor candidates, chosen simply on the basis of gender.

Kezia makes some valid points.

In particular, she highlights the despicable questioning of women candidates about how they will cope with balancing the duties of being an MP with care for children – in contrast, male candidates are never asked how they will balance their duties with the role of fatherhood.

Cosmonaut Yelena Serova, preparing for the greatest achivement of her life, having been selected as one of the tiny handful of people qualified and capable of flying into space was asked demeaning questions about how she would cope with hair and make-up – whilst her male colleagues were asked about the technical aspects of the mission.

There often appears to be no triumph available to women that cannot be cheapened by everyday, casual and ingrained sexism, but falling into a worldview rich with the tropes of patriarchy and women’s oppression can mean that everything is then seen through this lens of a struggle between men and women, ever in opposition and against each other, when in truth, a great many men and women seek to work together to improve the lot of all.

Kezia’s article gives the impression of a battle hardened veteran who has come to see everything in terms of the conflict, and does not recognise how entrenched their position has become.

She asks the question “When was the last time anyone challenged the qualifications of a male parliamentarian?” but clearly, the qualifications of male parliamentarians are challenged all the time – and the more senior a position they hold, the greater that challenge becomes;  take as an example the recent comparisons between Greece’s highly qualified and capable Yanis Varoufakis and the UK’s rather less qualified and significantly less capable Osborne. Osborne’s education, previous employment, family background – all are fair game, and rightly so. When you aspire to the highest offices in the country, you will be subjected to an intense level of partisan and often unpleasant scrutiny.

However, the most compelling objection to All Women Shortlists is not, in fact, the meritocracy argument which Kezia confronts in her article – rather it is the very nature of how these lists would operate.

When people are subjected to selection and rejection on the basis of gender or sexuality, it is not a group that is oppressed; it is an individual.

In the eyes of the racist, an individual person is reduced to nothing more than their skin colour or ethnic background. In the eyes of the misogynist, the individual person with hopes, dreams, capabilities and personality is reduced to simply their gender.

When someone is abused for the colour of their skin, they ask “why me? why does this person hate me?” it’s personal, directed, felt as an assault on them.

The abuser does not see a person – they see the individual only as a representative of the group they hate.

This is, at heart, the problem with all forms of “positive” discrimination, which includes all women shortlists. It is not merely a conceptual thing, a policy that operates in a vacuum. in order to provide positive benefit to one group, it is necessary to reject the others.

If you happen to be the person, the individual human being, who falls on the wrong side of a policy, then it does not matter whether it is a well intentioned policy such as all women shortlists, or an odious, backwards policy such as men only golf clubs.

At the point of implementation, the policy takes a fully formed person, reduces them to a gender label, and excludes them because of it.

The sad thing is that there is no need for this policy Women on Boards has sought to increase the representation of women on the boards of major corporations from a truly abysmal 11% in 2011 to an initial target of 25%.

They have rejected the notion that “it just takes time” and instead insisted on real, meaningful change – the 25% target will be met this year, and the focus of the campaign has now moved to proper equality; but rather than adopting a slavish 50:50 model, where the complaints of meritocracy and simply making up the numbers would come into play, they are promoting the 40:40:20 Model – 40% of the board should be constituted from women, 40% from men, but the remaining 20% are met from whichever candidate makes most sense.

It is not difficult to see how this model, that has proven so successful in the boards of major companies worldwide, could be adopted within a parliamentary party context; insisting that each constituency puts up 5 candidates, that 2 should be men, 2 should be women, and the last can be either would provide gender balance, whilst not excluding anyone purely on the basis of gender.

Gender quotas which strive to remain fair to the individual, which continue to recognise that the very best person for the job may be a woman, but could also be a man, will enrich our national politics.

Lists which discriminate against someone, which turn them into merely a gender label – these should have no place in our public life.



On Currency Unions

We are now entering the part of the independence campaign where things get truly nasty.  The UK government seem intent on not only harming the future prospects of an independent Scotland, but also in delivering a considerable amount of collateral damage to the economic well being of the country right here and now.

The latest debacle is (again) around whether an independent Scotland would be able to continue to use the pound. Despite various educated commentators pointing out that they can’t really stop us, this particular argument rumbles on.

What makes this doubly irritating is that Scotland already has it’s own currency in the only sense that matters – the pound in your wallet, the money in your hand. It is, in every sense, a complete non argument.

Picture this – a crisp, new £20 note. No, not that one, the other one. or possibly the other, other one.

there's more than one pound in our pockets already!
there’s more than one pound in our pockets already!

See, for those of us living in Scotland, there isn’t a pound – there are a few of them – Clydesdale, RBS, Bank of Scotland, and of course, the one that anyone south of the border is thinking of when they say “the” pound – the Bank of England.

And the thing is – although these other notes are sometimes accepted without hassle in English shops (but not always), they are not actually legal tender at the moment – in order to issue these notes, the Scottish banks have to hold an equivelant sum of Bank of England notes in reserve at their head offices – they do this using massive value notes called “Titans”, which are worth an eye popping £100,000,000 .

And there’s the punch – in order to continue to issue sterling notes all that would be required is for the Scottish banks to hold an equivelant value of Sterling in their head offices to back those notes at 1:1 value… in other words, precisely and exactly what happens at the moment.

As I said – this is a complete and total non-story, whipped up by Project Fear to try to discourage a Yes vote.

Hopefully, the Scottish people will demonstrate that we are made of sterner stuff, and stand up to bullies!

The Unbelievable behaviour of Johann Lamont

Johann Lamont, the stuffed suit who is currently leading the Scottish labour party to ruin has launched her great new policy – A commission to review universal benefits, and seeking to introduce means testing for the things she sees as a “something for nothing” culture in Scotland.

Johann has a problem with free prescriptions, free university places and free bus passes for the elderly.

So, yes, that’s right. The leader of the Labour Party in Scotland is trying to take entitlements away from the Sick, the Elderly and Students.

The really galling thing is that her minions have turned up on BBC Scotland to defend this, and suggest that it’s okay, because they are not seeking to get rid of these benefits completely, they want to means test them.

Again, the irony is staggering.

Labour want to introduce Means Testing for benefits that are currently universal thanks to our SNP Government.

Forget the Jarrow Marchers, Forget the entire history of the Labour movement and it’s fight against the Means Test, put all of that to one side.

We have Free Prescriptions in Scotland – but it’s not all altruism. The previous scheme exempted people that were terminally ill – seems only fair, doesn’t it? that someone who is living out their last shouldn’t have to pay for the medicine which is keeping them alive? and new mothers were exempt too. And those who weren’t working.

In fact, by the time you counted out all the exemptions, the scheme brought in so little money that it basically cost more in administrative charges than it brought in. So scrapping the charge was a sensible thing.

That being said, here’s the thing which really rankles in this. It’s not that we don’t pay for those prescriptions.

We pay for them from our taxes.

Johann Lamont’s “something for nothing” says something pretty dark about how she sees the world. I work hard, and I pay (a lot) of taxes. It’s the social contract. I pay in, and I see precious little in return. If I am sick, and need medicine, I don’t see why that shouldn’t be taken out of the tax I have paid, rather than me having to put my hand in my pocket again.

In Johann Lamont’s world, the money that I pay out of my taxes entitles me to NOTHING, and no matter how much I pay in, I shouldn’t get a bus pass or my medicine paid out of tax.

Roll on Independence!

Petty? I think not…

I don’t blog as regularly as I used to.. partly because, well, it’s more for me than for the internet. I have thought a few times about just using wordpress on an internal server, but always swung back to keeping it here. The point being, I don’t post unless something really makes me bristle.

With the news today did, and how.

It’s bad enough that Pope “king of the paedos” Benedict tries to weasel out of a proper apology for the Irish victims by blaming priest child rape on Secularism, but now, in the most misguided attempt to come out fighting in history, he has decided that faith will help him resist “petty gossip”.

Sorry? Petty Gossip?

When your organisation is being investigated by journalists worldwide, and they are producing documents which YOU SIGNED, that is not “gossip”.

And when we are talking about your organisation’s conspiracy to prevent child rapists from being brought to justice, that is anything but “petty”.

When there is clear evidence that your organisation, and you personally, oversaw the relocation of paedophiles, allowing them to abuse fresh victims, then you have blood on your hands – quite literally, as many of these poor people have committed suicide.

I am sickened that this organisation is not being brought to it’s knees by the criminal courts for large scale perversion of justice – and they thought that they feel empowered to make comments about how other people should live their lives?

It’s beyond belief.