Whose Voice?

indexDavid McKinnon on the distortion and confusion of the Communication Workers Union.

What is most worrying about the information widely available to the electorate is the subtle bias of the media sources from where people, for the most part, get their information on politics. This was quite striking in a recent article I happened across in the Communication Workers Union’s November & December edition of their bi-monthly publication Voice. From a self-proclaimed neutral perspective, which requires ‘more time for consultation and discussion’ before the CWU commits itself either way, the astonishing sub-text to their article was that all is well with the status quo, and that the only worrying aspect of the referendum decision is a Yes vote and the change that that could effect.

Rather than viewing this profoundly important time in Scotland’s constitutional history as an opportunity to give real meaning to the franchise by empowering citizens to decide exactly what kind of country they wish to live in, the writer, Simon Alford, throughout this article paints a distracting picture of heinous uncertainty in an independent Scotland. While much emphasis is given to the ‘inordinately hard to quantify’ effects of a Yes vote, there is no mention of the evidently dire consequences of a continuation along this route of IMF led neo liberalism, and a complete disregard for informing readers of what a No vote will likely mean to them. See, therein lies the point: by the very nature of politics, and indeed any other aspect of life you care to mention, the future is not fixed, neither is it necessarily predictable. Low and behold, the future, by its own very nature, is uncertain.

The ‘dearth of hard information’ existing ‘on virtually all the key questions’ of how an independent Scotland will function, as posited by Alford, is very unlikely ever to become a series of proven facts, given the obvious difficulty in predicting the future. To imply an obligation on the part of the Yes campaign to provide ‘facts’, is to completely distract voters from the whole point of the referendum. The only question being asked in September is whether or not people think decisions affecting Scotland should be made in Scotland, by the people who live there. No one will be voting on EU membership, defence policy, currency, or any other policy area that will be left to the manifestos of those campaigning parties (assuming we don’t ban party politics in our constitution) of the 2016 Scottish General Election. What we will be voting on, however, is to give ourselves the opportunity to decide ourselves whatever kind of country we want to live in.

Even the 670-odd page referendum white paper, in my view, is a document designed to appease the No Campaign’s (tactical?) fixation on “facts”, and perhaps, of course, the centre of the political battleground, a game which those detractors of SNP policy ought to consider. The whole point of the ballot is summed up neatly in Alex Salmond’s opening address when he tells us that the beauty of independence is that all of the proposals made in the white paper are open to debate and will be a matter for the people to decide in subsequent elections: “Of course some would prefer to leave the EU or NATO, or to have our own currency,” he says, “After Scotland becomes independent, any political party seeking to make these kinds of changes would first have to win support to do so in an election.”

No one really needs to consider anything else in deciding if they want the power to make their own decisions. Instead, the context should shift to a serious conversation on the opportunities independence will bring.

But, sadly for most of our media, this is not the case. And in Voice, Alford cites the “lack of CWU policy” on independence inciting ‘accusations of inertia’, which begs the question of why people need to be told what to do, and reiterates the point that the media have much more control over public matters than we often care to acknowledge. Too much trust is afforded to these sources of information, especially when a “neutral” article is written like one worthy of Project Fear itself.

He reports that deputy general secretary Andy Kerr, in his attempt to rebut those accusations of inertia says: “The trouble is that no one in Scotland seems to be able to give definitive answers…except perhaps the SNP which will give you the answers they think you want.”

In my view, the answers given by the SNP are given with the caveat that if anyone has any better ideas, they can try to convince a majority to vote for them. And is that not the nature of democracy?

Of course that currently doesn’t apply, because whatever the current system is, it is certainly not democratic. Further, is it not the nature of party politics that a political party tells you what they think you want to hear? I doubt George Osborne will tell us that they knew the real value of the Royal Mail before they sold it off, nor would his Bullingdon buddy Cameron candidly reveal that they appointed a Mexican drug money launderer to the government, because, from their perspective, that is definitely not what voters want to hear.

And what about the wider, somewhat underground, discussion that is taking place with those involved in, for example, the Common Weal project, or even what ideas the other pro independence parties are proposing? There is a plethora of solid egalitarian proposals being discussed and debated around the country, but alas, the debate is best served up as one of SNP v the rest of the world, and so it’s natural to find the most interesting suggestions pretty much excluded from the mainstream.

Alfords’ article is replete with examples of what they would like us to view as being uncertain dangers of independence; he even tries to disparage the SNP’s proposals to take the Royal Mail back into public ownership, which I found particularly offensive, given the all out cloak and dagger assault performed by the Tories and their cronies on one of the British public’s most profitable and vital services. It speaks of the dangers to other major “UK-wide” institutions such as the NHS and the BBC, as if to say they are completely safe and sound in the hands of the Westminster kleptocrats who, make no mistake, will stop at nothing to get their hands on them in the private sector. The National Health Action Party, formed by doctors and nurses (who could probably triple their own income in an American style privately run system) to save the institution from privatisation would seem to suggest as much.

An honourable mention must go to the BBC at this stage for its very own part in the propaganda exercise in the ideological attack on the NHS – they are very much a tool for the government to get what it wants, reporting NHS failure on a daily basis, while ignoring all the good our NHS workers do under the extreme pressure of £20 billion in Tory cuts.

Not only are the implications of a Yes vote in the referendum, according to the CWU, terrifyingly uncertain, but they are also highly complex and convoluted. Their deputy general secretary speaks of the need for members to ‘seriously consider the complex issues’ and mentions that there can be ‘no turning back’ from a Yes vote. This implies a serious warning to would be Yes voters, and serves to reinforce the idea that the ‘unknown’ virtues of voting for independence could just turn out to be hell for Scotland.

Of course, in the eyes of many people in Scotland, thankfully, it’s rather less complex than the unionists would have us all believe; a friend of mine recently summed it up perfectly, in my opinion, by remarking simply that “we’re voting for a vote” – how difficult is that to understand?

But seemingly there’s another agenda. An agenda to paint independence as a very dark vacuum in which nobody knows whether or not we could survive, should we even dare to step into the black hole of self-determination. Alford goes on to point out that after “stripping away the emotional responses, massive and multi-layered uncertainties abound on virtually every aspect” of the practicalities of an independent Scotland, before citing the old currency chestnut as a “superficially simple” example of this great uncertainty.

A less cynical commentator could rephrase this entire paragraph as something along the lines of: “The opportunity that independence would bring to Scotland will be the ability to collectively decide how to address each of the practicalities in running itself as an independent nation.” No fear, no uncertainty, and far closer to reality than the horror Alford would prefer people felt.

I invite you to read his article and decide for yourself, for in my view, there were far too many examples of this blatant propaganda to include them all here. Aside from Alfords’ own agenda, whatever that may be, adjacent to his rendition of Stalinism 2.0, Voice prints some equally ludicrous points made by some of its members. “If itain’t broke, don’t fix it,” for me summed up the downright hypocrisy of this paper. The audacity to insult the millions of people who are currently unnecessarily suffering at the hands of the ruling elite, in the name of endless wealth extraction, is to say the least, a giant slap in the face. And all from an organisation that supposedly exists to represent the interests of the workers.

One final example I would like to discuss from Alfords’ article is that which questions the Scottish financial services industry. This is particularly interesting in that, according to the article, our financial services industry is thriving and that (as many may agree) this is a very positive aspect of the Scottish economy. He asks whether an independent Scotland would adopt the same regulatory framework as the rUK, or if it would perhaps result in the “migration of companies to the larger market,” (London). I left this particular example to last so I could lead on to one of the biggest contentions I have with this publication, as well as the wider mass media. That is the quite obviously hypocritical position that is often taken in which Britain, when discussed outside the parameters of Scotland’s independence, is downright depraved, yet when we argue within the constitutional debate, everything is rosy in the Union, and we should all continue to wave our union flags and drink tea from our royal wedding mugs.

For I only had to turn one page after reading this all out scaremongering attack to find a quite substantially frank account of the neo liberal agenda which is currently throttling the British taxpayer, and attacking every last modicum of public service from which the ruling elite might extract yet more wealth.

‘The Great Austerity Con’ on the #BackPage of this edition, although stopping short of acknowledging any truly worthy vision for change, such as the Common Weal project, raised most of the fundamental issues currently ripping apart societies across the world – that taxpayers are being penalised heavily for the “reckless behaviour of the banks”. And while this article did, in the end, incite the same kind of anger felt after reading the previous one (by toeing the Labour Party line), it did begin very well.

But of course this was in the wider context of Great Britain, with no mention of Scotland, or any implications for an independent Scotland. Such is the absolute contempt they would seem to have for their members, they have the nerve to print both articles on the very same sheet of paper. Are people really so apathetic and out of touch with reality that they don’t notice this?

All of the points raised on the back page were very pertinent to the independence debate, and should be brought into that context immediately to make it absolutely clear to the people of Scotland what the status quo actually is. But, in what seems to me to be a massive case of Stockholm syndrome, the consensus among a large and influential proportion of the media is that the bread and circuses of British life, rolling along in whichever gravy train can be boarded, if one is lucky enough to be in such a minority, is one that must at all costs be preserved.

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  1. Paul Wilson says:

    The union leadership have always went with the mantra that the worst Tory Westminster government is better than the best Scottish independent even if Labour government one they have been listening to and pouring out that many unionist lies they believe them themselves. What worries them is they actually think that they will be under a Tory government in perpetuity with the loss of the Scottish Labour MP’s no matter to them that there is little difference between the two parties or for that matter that it isn’t true only on 4 occasions now since 1945 has the Scottish vote changed the outcome and 2 of those were in the same term of office. Surely it must have dawned on Hayes that as far as his union is concerned the war is lost they have been privatised or could it be that he can’t stomach the idea that some of his membership will be in publicly owned post office in an independent Scotland and others not.

  2. Fordie says:

    Wonderful article. Thanks. How to explain this position that so-called socialists take? I can only surmise that they cannot admit to themselves that they have been taken for a fool. Rather than admit that and face the truth, they seek to submerge others interests in an attempt to maintain the facade.

  3. Marian says:

    Excellent article! What has become frighteningly obvious to pro-independence supporters in the past year or so is just how much the BBC and newspapers are the tools of Westminster and the privileged that own Britain rather than being the defenders of freedom and expression that they should be.

  4. Sneddon says:

    It boils dowm to this where will any union in Scotand thinks it will meet its objectives ; in a independant Scotland? Or as part of the UK? Any talk of achieving it through the UK labour party shows a blindness to what is actually happening and why the membership of unions reckons its leadership is pants and on the labour party career gravy train.

  5. A very thoughtful article. However, David McKinnon is over diplomatic in wondering why Billy Hayes takes the stance he does. Hayes is a trade union bureaucrat and member of the Labour Party. Westminster and the British Labour continue to provide a vehicle for trade union careerists. In Scotland and Wales they are quite happy with Devolution, since that provides an additional career ladder, once again courtesy of the Labour Party.

    As far as Karie Murphy (backed by UNITE General Secretary, Len McCluskey) was concerned that was what the struggle in Falkirk Labour Party was all about. Unfortunately, the jobs, pay and conditions of Grangemouth refinery workers were just so much collateral damage in this.

    Murphy did not win that one, and McCluskey will have to agree to a weakening of the trade union (bureaucrat) link with Labour next month. However, he still intends for UNITE to pay its members’ dues in full, until after the 2015 General Election. But perhaps that’s because McCluskey is still resisting the notion of ‘value for money’. Indeed he seems to be positively addicted to throwing good money after bad!

    And, as far as postal workers are concerned, in the unlikely event of a Labour victory at Westminster, Miliband has refused to promise to renationalise Royal Mail (RM – handy initials, easy to change to Republican Mail!). The SNP government has at least promised it will renationalise RM. Whilst this in itself is no guarantee that it will happen (remember the promise to abolish the council tax), it provides a better start, than Labour’s opposition.

    Colin Fox has told me that when he addressed a series of CWU meetings throughout Scotland on behalf of the ‘Yes’ campaign, to discuss their union’s recommendation in the independence referendum, many members were less than impressed by their officials toeing the Labour Party ‘No’ line, especially after the privatisation of Royal Mail – first flagged up by a certain Peter Mandelson!

    Remember, ‘Project Fear’ is not just a temporary alliance. Labour are currently in coalition with the Tories in six Scottish councils. As far as implementing austerity goes, they already form a tacit UK-level coalition. And, if there is a ‘No’ vote, then Johan Lamont’s well-named Midwinter Review, will form the Scottish Labour wing of the Tory/Lib-Dem/Labour austerity offensive.

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