Book review by Anne Field
The Battle of Grangemouth – A Worker’s Story, written by former Ineos convenor Mark Lyon, is as “a vital new book”, “a book which had to be written”, and “one of the most important books in modern working-class history.”
That is what Unite claims in its advertising campaign for the book, published last week by Lawrence & Wishart in association with Unite itself.
In one of the multiple endorsements which preface the book Unite General Secretary candidate Len McCuskey describes Lyon as “one of our most respected activists”. By writing the book he has “done the movement another service”.
McCluskey’s Chief of Staff, Andrew Murray, is of the same opinion: “Mark Lyon’s credit rating is triple A. Through his part in the struggle (at Grangemouth), and then through this memoir, Mark has laid two stones on the highway to the future.”
Lyon finished writing “one of the most important books in modern working-class history” in January of 2016. Fourteen months were then allowed to pass before this “vital new book” saw the light of day.
But every cloud has a silver lining. By the purest of coincidences, the book’s publication conveniently falls just ten days before ballot papers go out in Unite’s General Secretary and Executive Council elections.
“Why don’t we start out on the story – and I will see you on the other side for your thoughts,” writes Lyon in the book’s Introduction. This invitation soon turns out to be as enticing as an offer by Charron the boatman to ferry the souls of the dead across the River Styx into Hades.
The book begins with a potted history of the Lyon family dating back to the beginning of the last century, reminisces of the author’s childhood, and self-congratulatory memories of his apprenticeship and earliest years of paid employment.
The tenor of Lyon’s autobiographical sketches is the usual ‘life was tough, but that didn’t stop us having a good laugh’: “Hardy folks with gallows humour were clearly the order of the day.”
The book concludes with more reminisces on the part of the author: his experiences as a guitar player and member of a band, his musical tastes, a visit to evening mass in his local church, and random half-thought-through comments about the Scottish referendum of 2014 and the general election of 2015.
Unfortunately, what fills the gap between the opening and concluding sections of the book does little to enhance the style or content of Lyon’s literary endeavour.
The book is peppered with homespun homilies (“I think everyone should see Auschwitz at least once during their life”), useless titbits of information (“you can enjoy cherry vodka, fine beer and jazz in Krakow”), new paradigms of Scottishness (“Scottish is a condition and a philosophy; there is no automatic qualification by birth”) and some particularly excruciating turns of phrase:
“The only things missing were sackcloth, ashes and a pig’s bladder on the end of a stick as Tom tried to cajole and humour his master like a seventeenth-century court jester. … They may take our bicycles but they will never take our freedom! …”
“They had been smashed, wasted and destroyed and now lay prostrate and face-down in the street before the majesty and might of Unite the Union. … Even without reference to Old Moore’s Almanac, you can tell that the future is littered with certainties.”
A variety of themes run through the substance of Lyon’s literary endeavour. One of them is the contrast between Good People and Bad People. Good People are simply brilliant:
“As a contract welder I met some brilliant people … (Scottish Regional Secretary) Pat Rafferty and all the union sections were just brilliant … our brilliant members at Grangemouth … our brilliant Unite officer Scott Foley … individual Labour Party members were brilliant … it was brilliant for our members to know that Len was there beside us … Thompsons Solicitors have been brilliant … Canon Leo is the most brilliant man you could meet … we were given brilliant support.”
That’s a lot of brilliance. And things “fantastic” and “magnificent” do not lag far behind:
“Our fantastic political department … the response from our branch was nothing short of magnificent … it was a fantastic response from our members … our branch was simply magnificent … our magnificent branch members.” Read the rest of this entry »
These are all genuine:
By Dale Street (also published at the Workers Liberty website)
Only a fortnight ago Kezia Dugdale summed up Scottish Labour’s opposition to a second referendum on Scottish independence:
“[At this weekend’s Scottish Labour annual conference] I set out Scottish Labour’s opposition to another independence referendum. Scotland is divided enough already, without yet another attempt to separate our country from the rest of the UK.
The people of Scotland do not want another independence referendum. It’s time for the Nationalists to listen to the voices of ordinary working people. [Given the levels of poverty in Scotland], it would be shameful to spend the next few years talking about independence.”
Although it counted for little more than gesture politics, Scottish Labour underlined its opposition to a second referendum by launching an online petition:
“Sign the pledge against a second independence referendum and join the fight for a stronger Scotland inside a reformed UK, with jobs and opportunities for all.”
But last weekend Jeremy Corbyn visited Glasgow and told the media: “If a referendum is held, then it is absolutely fine, it should be held. I don’t think it’s the job of Westminster or the Labour Party to prevent people holding referenda.”
“A spokesman for Corbyn” and “a source close to Corbyn” tried to minimise the damage.
According to the spokesman: “Jeremy reaffirmed our position today that if the Scottish Parliament votes for a referendum, it would be wrong for Westminster to block it. Labour continues to oppose a further referendum in the Scottish Parliament”.
But Labour has not taken a position that Westminster should agree to a referendum if Holyrood votes for it. And Corbyn’s argument that the Labour Party should not “prevent people from holding referenda” does not fit in with Scottish Labour’s opposition to a second referendum.
According to the “close source”: “Westminster blocking a second referendum would give the SNP exactly what they want – more grievance. Kezia Dugdale is absolutely right to oppose a second referendum at Holyrood and keep the pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to rule one out.”
But the SNP has an infinite supply of “more grievance” anyway. Their entire political life consists of conjuring up “more grievance”. And if Dugdale is right to “keep the pressure” on Sturgeon to rule one out, a second referendum could only be the result of a defeat for Scottish Labour – not something to be described as “absolutely fine”.
Corbyn, his spokesman and the close source all reaffirmed opposition to independence in the event of a second referendum.
But this faded into the background, overshadowed by (not entirely accurate) headlines along the lines of Corbyn: Second independence referendum should be held and Corbyn absolutely fine with a second Scottish referendum.
Corbyn’s opponents within the Labour Party were quick to exploit his statement: “Often asked why I resigned from Shadow Cabinet. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jeremy Corbyn. He’s destroying the party that so many need”, tweeted Scotland’s only Labour MP.
For the viscerally anti-Corbyn MSP Jackie Baillie it was too good an opportunity to miss: “This is a misguided and irresponsible comment from Jeremy Corbyn that is an insult to the dedicated work of Scottish Labour MSPs, councillors and thousands of activists who have campaigned against a divisive second referendum”.
Of course, Corbyn’s factional opponents within the Labour Party will attempt to exploit the issue.
And it would be legitimate to argue that Corbyn’s core argument is correct, i.e. Scotland’s right to self-determination means not just the right to independence but also the right to hold a referendum without having to seek Westminster approval.
Even so, Corbyn’s statement was wrong on any number of levels.
Despite the attempted spin of the unnamed spokesman and close source, Corbyn’s layback attitude to the prospect of a possible second independence referendum cannot be reconciled with Scottish Labour policy.
Corbyn’s statement clearly came out of the blue and without advance warning: Corbyn had not described a second referendum as “absolutely fine” when he had spoken at the Scottish Labour conference just a fortnight ago.
Although Corbyn was referring to what position Labour in Westminster might or should adopt towards the demand for a second referendum, his statement read – even without the additional spin by the media – as an endorsement in principle of a second referendum.
The statement confused “people holding referenda” with the SNP’s campaign for a second referendum.
Opinion polls suggest there is no popular support for a second referendum (at least in the short term). The SNP demand for another referendum is the product of its own one-trick-pony nationalist politics, not a reflection of public opinion. The SNP wants to hold a referendum, not “people”.
By appearing to legitimise their demand for a second referendum, the statement played into the hands of the SNP. Sturgeon’s mocking response to Corbyn’s statement was to tweet: “Always a pleasure to have @jeremycorbyn campaigning in Scotland.”
The statement also played into the hands of the Tories, who have already overtaken Labour as the official opposition at Holyrood. It allowed them to present themselves as the only genuine opposition to Scottish independence (which, in turn, is a further gift to the SNP).
Corbyn’s statement was also an extension of what is wrong with his approach to Brexit.
For Corbyn, it seems that once a referendum appears on the political agenda, the specific interests of the labour movement no longer count for anything. Instead, the labour movement should either submit to the result and vote with the Tories (Brexit) or submit to the demand for one and vote with the SNP (Scotland).
Above all, it is not “absolutely fine” if a second referendum were to be held. Irrespective of the result, it would divide Scottish society and weaken the labour movement – in both cases, probably for more than a generation – to an even great degree than the 2014 referendum.
The 2014 referendum was a profoundly divisive event. Previously coexisting national identities were pitted again each other. By elbowing aside class-based politics and voting patterns in favour of national-identity politics, it also resulted in a collapse of electoral support for Labour.
A second referendum would take that process a stage further. In fact, the impact would be far worse than in 2014.
In 2014 the SNP did at least attempt to run a campaign which was based to some degree on economic arguments (however spurious those arguments may have been). But identity politics will be at the core of a second referendum: bad English/British (racist and pro-Brexit) and proud Scot (pro-EU and inclusive).
What was fundamentally wrong with Corbyn’s statement was not so much his off-the-cuff speculation about what position Labour in Westminster might take about a second referendum. It was his failure to understand the poisonous political impact of a second referendum, whatever its result.
Corbyn was wrong. And no-one on the left should feel obliged to defend the indefensible.
At last! The SWP have realised they should probably be calling for a Labour vote. However they reduce everything to Corbyn himself. They won’t support Labour in Scotland.
Socialist Worker explains:
The Socialist Workers Party has decided to suspend its membership of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
TUSC has provided a structure for trade unionists, campaigners and socialists to stand in elections against pro-austerity politicians.
It’s not a decision we take lightly.
We have been part of TUSC for over seven years, stood dozens of candidates and recorded some of TUSC’s better results.
We have worked with the other components of TUSC—the RMT union, the Socialist Party and independents.
We think it is right to cooperate with others on the left wherever possible.
Labour won’t be the vehicle for socialist transformation any more than Syriza was in Greece—and we still want a socialist alternative to it.
But we cannot support the decision taken at TUSC’s recent conference to stand in May’s council elections in England and Wales.
These elections will be seen as a referendum on Corbyn. It won’t matter if the candidates are right wingers. Every loss will be blamed on the left.
For TUSC to stand at this point welds together Labour supporters and is a barrier to united front work with Labour people.
Our small electoral united front would make it harder to achieve a larger united front with the Labour left.
At the Copeland and Stoke by-elections Labour’s candidates were from the right. However, Socialist Worker called for a vote for Labour. We don’t want Ukip or the Tories winning.
What’s at issue is how to fight cuts and work with Corbyn-supporting Labour members against those who ram though the attacks. And we know any victories for them would be used to unleash the dogs on Corbyn.
We have been proven right. If TUSC was winning substantial votes the argument might be different, but the results will be modest. There’s no shame in that. But it makes standing against a Corbyn-led Labour even harder to justify.
Our unwillingness to put forward candidates is not because Labour councils are doing a good job. They are ruthlessly imposing Tory cuts.
Many councils face a loss of 60 percent of their income between 2010 and 2020. Yet there have been no Labour-led national marches, no councillors’ revolt, no calls for defiance by councillors, unions and people who use the services.
Instead, at the last Labour conference, delegates and leadership united to declare it a disciplinary offence to pass “illegal” no cuts budgets.
What’s at issue is how to fight these cuts and work with Corbyn-supporting Labour members against those who ram though the attacks.
We believe the best way is to campaign in the streets and workplaces alongside Labour supporters.
None of us can predict future events. At some point, as part of the fight to move beyond social democracy, we believe it will be necessary to stand in elections again.
Were Corbyn to be removed and replaced by a right winger, the question of standing against Labour would return in sharper form.
We hope TUSC will continue to be part of the response.
In Scotland the situation is different. Labour is headed up by the anti-Corbyn Kezia Dugdale. The rise of the Scottish National Party has raised the question of alternatives to Labour.
We support Scottish TUSC candidates as part of what we hope will be a wider realignment on the left.
We wish the best to those who remain in TUSC and look forward to continuing to work with them.
Just to further underline their incoherence, the SWP also:
– Cites as one reason not to call for a vote for Labour in Scotland: the fact that Kezia Dugdale is anti-Corbyn (BUT, a majority of Scottish CLPs nominated Corbyn, not Smith. Most affiliated and registered supporters in Scotland probably voted Corbyn. Individual members in Scotland voted only narrowly for Smith rather than Corbyn. If members with less than six months membership had not been excluded from voting, a majority of individual members would probably also have voted Corbyn).
– Cites as the second reason not to call for a Labour vote in Scotland, “The rise of the SNP has raised the question of alternatives to Labour” … (BUT, it could equally be argued that the rise of UKIP in England has raised the question of alternatives to Labour).
– Argues that Labour in Scotland will not revive unless it comes out in favour of Scottish independence. (“There is no way back for Labour unless it breaks with its pro-Union stance.”)
– Demands a second referendum on Scottish independence (“We Need to Fight for New Referendum on Scottish Independence”). Current support for a second referendum: 51% against. 25% for.
– In the real world, the pretext for a second referendum is that Scotland voted ‘Remain’ but England voted ‘Leave’. But the SWP, of course, called for a ‘Leave’ vote. The SWP wants a second referendum because Scotland voted the wrong way in the EU referendum?
– In fact, the SWP’s idiocy goes a step further: it argues that the way to win a second referendum (in Scotland, where over 60% voted ‘Remain’) is not to demand continuing membership of the EU/Single Market: “It won’t be won by saying it is to secure access to the bosses’ EU single market.”
– What the SWP refuses to recognise is the obvious fact that those most enthusiastic about a second referendum are the ultra-nationalists. But the SWP pretends that the demand for a second referendum is ‘really’ the property of the most progressive-minded people: “For socialists the sight of independence rallies can sometimes grate a little with the display of Saltire flags and Scottish football tops. But the aspirations of the people who turn out at them is vastly different from that narrow nationalist perspective. The number of Palestinian flags and the rainbow flag of LGBT+ liberation present showed the grassroots movement for independence is marked by a progressive politics.”
- See also Tendance Coatesy, here.
By Dale Street
Last week turned out to be a particularly busy one for the flag-waving puddle-drinkers* who wallow in self-righteous denunciations of any slight – real or, more often than not, imagined –to the Holy Trinity of Scotland, the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon.
It began at the weekend with Sadiq Khan’s speech to the Scottish Labour Party conference: “There’s no difference between those who try to divide us on the basis of whether we’re English or Scottish and those who try to divide us on the basis of our background, race or religion.”
The statement had been preceded by references to “Brexit, the election of President Trump in the United States and the rise of right-wing populist and narrow nationalist parties around the world.”
It was followed by criticisms of “some in Scotland who try to define London as your enemy … They make out London is always working to undermine Scotland. That is not my London and it’s not Labour’s London.”
Denouncing the SNP as divisive and nationalist and part of a broader surge of right-wing populism touched a raw nerve. But what did a Black Muslim mayor of the biggest city in Britain, elected in the face of a campaign based on bigotry and division, know about such things anyway?
A lot of Khan’s critics seemed not to have even understood (or wanted to understand) what he actually said: “SNP equals Nazis is Labour’s new defence of Britain? Do you oppose all nation states then? … He just called 50% of Scots racists. Some understanding!”
Instead of speaking in Scotland, Khan was advised to concentrate on the problems he had created in London: “I just don’t know who the hell Sadiq Khan thinks he is. He has already got London into a Bengali slum. He needn’t start on Scotland. He needs to go.”
Needless to say, there was no sympathy for those who defended Khan’s comments: “Load of nonsense. You’re defending a libelling scumbag who has come to Scotland and lied, as did Corbyn.”
In fact, the publication of an article defending Khan on the Guardian’s website triggered a fresh round of breast-beating indignation among nationalists who – when not engaged in unending attempts to gag critically minded journalists – excel in extolling their toleration of dissent.
“Sadiq Khan was not wrong to compare Scottish nationalism to racism or religious intolerance, at least not entirely. Someone has to say it: the parallels are clear,” wrote Claire Heuchan, “as a black Scottish woman I too fear the politics of division. Zeal for national identity inevitably raises questions of who belongs and who is an outsider.”
Within 24 hours Heuchan had been hounded off Twitter by cybernat abuse: She was an African who had no right to discuss Scotland, she was not really Scottish, and the University of Stirling should sack her (even though she was a student, not an employee, at the university).
Running true to form, Wings Over Scotland, the ultimate form of Scottish-nationalist low life, took the lead in abusing Heuchan: “What an absolute galactic-class cuntwit.”
The news that Heuchan had quit Twitter was the signal for another round of abuse and denunciations – of Heuchan herself.
“More MSM Yoon propaganda. Unqualified nonsense. … Her piece was sanctimonious self-regarding claptrap from a Unionist shill. It got the reaction you were hoping for. … I’m sure some people did step over the mark, folk are angry, but this cry victim shit is unbelievable.”
“Woman who linked racism with Scottish nationalism quits Twitter over severe case of embarrassment/shame There ya go, fixed. … Her accusations were disgusting and her views should not have been published. … Someone writes an awful uninformed piece of clickbait, is asked questions, locks her account and runs away. Fake news.”
By Wednesday it had become clear that the publication of the piece by Heuchan was part of a sustained attack by the Guardian on the SNP and its leader. The proof was provided by that day’s cryptic crossword.
12 across: Ruling nationalist’s way to encourage progress. And right next to that, 14 across: Carmen is close to perfect for discriminating fellow. Answers: “Sturgeon” and “Racist”. This could not possibly be a coincidence!
“So the racist crossword is real. Let’s be clear about this: the Guardian is pure British establishment. They are an attack dog for the UK. … Why did you imply in your crossword that Nicola Sturgeon was a racist? Why are you stirring it up? Call yourselves liberal?”
“This is a deliberate slur on our elected First Minister. Guardian: like the rest, no respect for democracy. … This is no coincidence. I worked for a crossword compiler and they are checked for possible ‘unintended’ inferences. … Why is this a conspiracy theory? It’s fact, not a theory.”
Inevitably, the cryptic crossword was not only the trigger for a second referendum (“This is today’s Guardian crossword. Time for #indeyref2.”) but also the trigger for yet another boycott campaign:
“I have cancelled my subscription today. Final straw: your outrageous clues in today’s crossword. … The Guardian never coming into this house again. … That’s the last donation to their news operation from me.”
(By this point in the week the puddle-drinkers had become so obsessed with the non-existent accusation that the SNP equals racism or the Nazis – please, take your pick – that they failed to notice that the answer to 1 down, which ran into “Sturgeon”, was “Prevent”.)
The week – and what a week it had been – was rounded off with the chance for yet another display of joyous, civic nationalism, occasioned by the Scottish Tories’ conference in Glasgow. It was too good an opportunity to miss:
“Let’s be clear. The Tory MSPs and Mundell launded by Ruth Davidson are the English Tory fifth column in Scotland. ‘Scottish’ in name only. … Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his father had embraced his homosexuality sooner.”
“Ruth Davidson should be hanging her head in shame to call herself Scottish. She is working against Scotland. There is a word for that! … Would be a lot better if Theresa May stayed in a nation that votes for her rather than come to lecture a nation that doesn’t vote for her.”
(Leaving aside the equating of voting patterns with nations, Theresa May has never actually stood for election in Scotland – a nation where the Tories are the second largest party in Parliament.)
Last week began with contrived self-righteous indignation at Sadiq Khan’s argument that Scottish nationalism was a divisive political force. (Although we all know: Scottish nationalism is not divisive; on the contrary, it is simply better than everyone else’s nationalism.)
The rest of the week was one long vindication of what he said.
Above: a typical Jackie Walker performance
By Dale Street
Jackie Walker, currently still suspended and under investigation by the Labour Party in connection with allegations of anti-Semitic conduct, will be doing a speaking tour of Scotland in March. The speaking tour has been organised by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC).
The SPSC’s main claims to fame are:
– Commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day with readings from Perdition (to demonstrate that the Holocaust was a joint Nazi-Zionist endeavour), with the added attraction of Ken Livingstone’s intellectual guru Lenni Brenner as the special guest speaker.
– Commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day the following year by hosting Azzam Tamimi (who thinks that Israeli Jews should “go back to Germany” (sic), and has also advocated: “The US, the Zionist father through adoption, [should] grant [the Jews] one out of its more than fifty states.” (sic)).
– Campaigning, with an unsurprising lack of success, in defence of Paul Donnachie
The leaflet advertising the speaking tour (Palestine, Free Speech, and Israel’s ‘Black-ops’) states:
“Jackie Walker is a high-profile target of false, evidence-free accusations of antisemitism that we have become all too familiar with. They are now seen to be part of the ‘black-ops’ organised by the Israeli Embassy and its well-financed agents in every mainstream political party. Jackie joins those supporters of Palestinian rights who have been attacked for challenging Zionist political ideas.
“She dared to criticise the official Holocaust Memorial Day organisation set up by Tony Blair as not dealing sufficiently with all genocides. HMD blanked, and a Tory Minister then attacked, Auschwitz survivor Hajo Meyer when he spoke at meetings across Scotland and compared the current Israeli dehumanisation of Palestinians with the vile racism he suffered as a Jewish kid in 1930s Germany. …
“We have the right to challenge any political idea in the public domain, but pro-Israel voices seek to exempt the racist ideology of Zionism from criticism and smear opponents as ‘antisemitic’.”
The fact that the SPSC thinks that the allegations against Jackie Walker are “evidence-free” does much to explain their lack of success with the ‘Paul Donnachie is Innocent’ campaign.
And isn’t it a bit odd that it’s always the Israeli agents who are the “well-financed” ones? Hmmm, sounds familiar!
As for Holocaust Memorial Day being an initiative of Tony Bliar – well, say no more!
Is Jackie Walker’s speaking tour going to prove to be a boost for the defence, or a boost for the prosecution?
By Ann Field
Len McCluskey launched his campaign for re-election as Unite General Secretary at a meeting held in Glasgow last Saturday. Thanks to Mark Lyon, the International Transport Workers Federation full-timer who chaired the meeting, it ended in a fiasco.
In fact, the fiasco had been built into the meeting before it even started.
Since the summer of last year Lyon has dedicated himself to splitting the United Left Scotland (ULS), the Scottish ‘section’ of the national United Left (UL), which functions as a kind of ‘Broad Left’ within Unite.
Stage one of Lyon’s efforts was a meeting held in late August, which he dishonestly presented as a ULS meeting.
Details about the meeting were sent from email@example.com (not the actual ULS e-mail address, but a close imitation). The e-mail was headed “United Left Scotland Meeting” and signed off as “United Left Scotland”.
Lyon did not inform elected ULS co-ordinators of his meeting. Other ULS activists were also left off the e-mail list used to publicise the meeting. But Scottish Unite full-timers certainly attended the meeting in numbers – at the behest of the Scottish Regional Secretary.
Stage two occurred in mid-November, when Lyon sent out an e-mail which proclaimed the existence of the Progressive United Left Scotland (PULS), proclaimed who the PULS candidates would be for the Scottish territorial seats in this year’s Executive Council (EC) elections, and proclaimed himself as elections co-ordinator.
This meant that two PULS candidates would be standing against the two ULS candidates who had been selected at a ULS meeting to contest the Scottish territorial seats. And one of the PULS candidates was not even a UL member.
(In fact, prior to some last-minute juggling by Lyon in his personal selection of the candidates, neither of the PULS candidates he had initially chosen were UL members.)
Stage three followed quickly on the heels of stage two. In late November Lyon circulated a splenetic e-mail on the national UL e-mail address list.
Longstanding ULS members were subjected to personalised abuse, the UL National Chair was denounced for a “deeply personal, vicious and unwarranted attack” on Lyon, the ULS was dismissed as an “oppressive and undemocratic body”, critics of PULS were scorned as “a few self-interested individuals”, and the outcome of ULS-PULS ‘negotiations’ was systematically misrepresented.
Ironically, among the spurious criticisms of the ULS most consistently raised by Lyon were his claims that it was undemocratic and suffered from a culture in which abuse and bullying were condoned.
And yet here was Lyon – in the absence of any meetings of PULS members (insofar as it has a membership in any meaningful sense of the word) – proclaiming the existence of a new organisation, announcing the names of its candidates for EC seats, and launching into a prolonged tirade of personal abuse against ULS and UL members.
In December Lyon sent the first of a series of e-mails publicising last Saturday’s meeting. As had been the case in August, Lyon excluded ULS co-ordinators and a layer of ULS activists from the list he used for all e-mails publicising the meeting.
(Lyon has yet to master the art of blind-copying e-mails. Who he deems worthy, and unworthy, of receipt of one of his e-mails is therefore visible to all.)
But what was the status of Saturday’s meeting?
Was it a PULS meeting? One e-mail publicising the meeting had the header “PULS National Slate and Campaign Materials” and was signed off as “PULS”. An eve-of-meeting e-mail also referred to “our PULS meeting tomorrow.”
Was it another sham ULS meeting? Lyon used the firstname.lastname@example.org address for most of his e-mails about the meeting. And in one e-mail Lyon had declared: “PULS is not a replacement for the ULS. It is the ULS.”
Or was it just a personal venture by Mark Lyon, not subject to any kind of accountability to any broader body? One e-mail publicising the meeting was simply signed off by “Mark” and sent from Lyon’s personal e-mail address.
Another question raised about the meeting was Lyon’s statement in one of his e-mails that the meeting would be attended by “the seven Executive Council candidates we [presumably: PULS] are jointly running in the forthcoming election.”
But who were these seven candidates which PULS was “jointly running”? (And jointly with whom?)
Lyon’s problem was that by the time of the meeting the full UL slate for this year’s EC elections had been published on the UL website.
The two candidates on the slate for the Scottish territorial seats are ULS members, not the PULS nominees. And there are six, not five, Unite members from Scotland listed on the slate as standing for various industrial seats.
Saturday’s 80-strong meeting was no larger than the meeting organised by Lyon in August. In fact, it may have been marginally smaller – despite the presence of an additional five Unite full-timers who had not attended the August meeting.
So much for Lyon’s claim in his splenetic e-mail of last November: “I am part of a group of about 150 people in Scotland and growing. … We grow daily in number and strength in our region.”
It was only towards the end of the meeting, when Lyon announced “our” seven Executive Council candidates, that the fiasco-in-waiting finally came to the surface. Fortunately, McCluskey had left the meeting by this point and was spared witnessing the debacle first-hand.
Lyon introduced “our” five Scottish candidates for various industrial seats on the EC. The sixth Scottish candidate – a member of the ULS, and an official UL candidate – was not asked to address the meeting. In fact, Lyon had not even invited him to the meeting.
Lyon then introduced “our” candidates for the Scottish territorial seats. They were the two PULS candidates whom he had personally selected in November – not the ULS members listed on the official UL slate (whom Lyon had likewise not invited to attend the meeting).
When it was pointed out from the floor that Lyon had failed to mention the ULS members standing for the Scottish territorial seats and officially recognised as UL candidates, Lyon curtly responded:
“You’re in the wrong meeting. They are not United Left candidates. We are supporting our candidates who have been democratically agreed. We are the United Left, we created the United Left, we’re not a different group.”
Lyon clearly thinks that he, rather than the UL, can decree who is a UL candidate. He likewise believes that he, rather than the UL, can decide what constitutes the UL. He even thinks that his own individual personal opinions amount to “democratic agreement”.
And his quip that “you’re in the wrong meeting” might have seemed very clever at the time (if only to Lyon himself). But it is a comment he will hopefully come to regret.
The person who, according to Lyon, was “in the wrong meeting” was an official UL candidate for a territorial seat on the EC. If that UL candidate was “in the wrong meeting”, then that tells you everything you need to know about the nature of Lyon’s meeting.
In fact, if anyone was “in the wrong meeting” – even if he exited it before Lyon’s plea to support non-UL candidates – then it was arguably the United Left’s own candidate in the General Secretary election, i.e. Len McCluskey himself.
The meeting which he used to launch his re-election campaign was one which denied a platform to three Scottish UL candidates, called for a vote for candidates standing against two UL candidates, and refused to call for a vote for a third UL candidate.
Although Lyon made a half-hearted attempt to present the meeting as a UL event, he deliberately withheld information about the meeting from ULS co-ordinators and activists.
And it was a meeting where the disproportionately large number of union full-timers in attendance – including Lyon himself – was at odds with McCluskey’s description of Unite as being primarily about “lay-member radical activism”.
To beat Coyne’s shameless campaign of right-wing anti-migrant populism, McCluskey needs to promote “lay-member radical activism”. But, thanks to Mark Lyon, he could not have chosen a worse event to launch his campaign than last Saturday’s meeting.
The Story So Far:
In late July selected members of the United Left Scotland (ULS) and a considerable number of non-members of the ULS received an e-mail from email@example.com (a close imitation of the actual ULS e-mail address).
Although the e-mail had not been sent out by the ULS, it was headed “United Left Scotland Meeting” and was signed off as “United Left Scotland”. The e-mail invited its recipients to a meeting to be held in Glasgow on 27th August.
At the same time Unite Scottish full-timers were instructed by the Scottish Regional Secretary to a) attend the meeting of 27th August; b) mobilise members in their sectors for the meeting.
The meeting went ahead despite the chair of the United Left at national level advocating that it be called off. 14 Unite full-timers attended the meeting. The ratio of full-timers to members at the meeting was around one to six.
At the meeting itself Mark Lyon (Unite Executive Council vice-chair and International Transport Workers Federation full-timer) regaled attendees with horror stories about the alleged iniquities of the ULS, each of which was as lacking in substance as the next.
In the course of his ramblings Lyon denied all knowledge of the e-mail which had been sent out inviting people to the meeting.
Announced by a bogus e-mail; falsely described as a “ULS” meeting; invites sent only to selected ULS members and non-members; opposed by the national chair of the United Left; and mobilised for by full-timers – only in the fevered imagination of a latter-day Baron Munchausen could the meeting be regarded as anything other than a sham, organised by charlatans for the purpose of wrecking the ULS.
Now Read On to Learn of Baron Mark Munchausen’s Latest Whacky Escapades:
At the end of last week Mark Lyon issued an e-mail to Unite members he believed had bought into his fantasy. The e-mail he sent out came from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whoops! That’s the e-mail address which the Baron had denied all knowledge of at the 27th August meeting!
The e-mail proclaimed the existence of an organisation called “Progressive United Left Scotland” (PULS), announced two PULS candidates for the Scottish territorial seats in next year’s Executive Committee elections, and declared that Mark Lyon would be running “an amazing campaign” (sic) for PULS candidates.
Lyon’s e-mail showed up the non-democratic, non-inclusive and top-down nature of PULS itself.
There had been no members’ meetings to decide on the creation or name of a new organisation, to select candidates for the Executive Committee elections, or to decide that Mark Lyon should be in charge of an election campaign.
Although Lyon’s e-mail admitted that “having a meeting would be ideal”, it continued: “It is unlikely we will be able to have a general meeting before the end of the year.”
But one of Lyon’s criticisms of the ULS was that its meetings were supposedly too irregular and its members supposedly excluded from decision-making.
This e-mail was small beer compared with another e-mail and attachment circulated by Lyon earlier this week on the national United Left e-mail group.
Lyon’s three thousand words of delirium read like a latter-day version of “The Singular Travels, Campaigns, Voyages and Adventures of Baron Munchausen.”
Or, more aptly, like a later edition of the same work: “The Vice of Lying Properly Exposed, Containing Singular Travels, Campaigns, Voyages and Adventures … Also, An Account of a Voyage into the Moon and Dog-Star”.
The Vice of Lying Properly Exposed:
A blow-by-blow rebuttal of the Baron’s fantasies would be nearly as tedious as reading the three thousand words of dreary prose in which they are couched. But some prime examples should suffice:
“We have tried every avenue to avoid conflict, including … not forwarding new members’ details to the national list.” Fact: PULS has been asked by national and Scottish United Left office-bearers to forward names on the PULS address list. It has simply refused to do so.
(In fact, Lyon’s own record of the decisions taken by the sham ‘’ULS’ meeting of 27th August includes the action: “To inform national UL of new members welcomed to our organisation.” Lyon has refused to do what his own meeting instructed him to do!)
“We have tried every avenue to avoid conflict, including … opening our meetings to everyone.” Fact: A whole raft of ULS members were not informed of, and thereby excluded from, the sham ‘ULS’ meeting of 27th August. And since 27th August PULS has not even had a meeting.
“We have tried every avenue to avoid conflict, including … honouring the agreements reached with the help of Martin (ULS national chair).” Fact: PULS agreed with the ULS national chair that it would pass on the e-mail addresses of its ‘members’, but has failed to do so. (See above.)
“We have tried every avenue to avoid conflict, including … not requesting seats on the United Left national co-ordination committee.” Fact: United Left national supporters’ meetings and national co-ordinators meetings have recognised the ULS as the only body in Scotland entitled to send delegates to the national co-ordinators committee.
“The vast majority of comrades in Scotland are not supportive of the minority ULS grouping.” Fact: Whenever there were differences of opinion in debates and discussions in the ULS, Mark Lyon and his followers lost the argument. The most obvious example: Their defence of Agnes Tolmie’s conduct and attacks on Unite Executive Council decisions.
(And if the ULS has only minority support but PULS has the support of the majority of ULS members, why did the inner circle which runs PULS walk away from the ULS? Answer: They walked away because they lost the arguments and were consistently in a minority.)
“Instead of attending our meeting of 27th August, [a member of the ULS] led a group of people in the street giving out offensive and insulting flyers discouraging people from attending.” Fact: The flyer did no more than point out that the meeting had not been convened by the ULS, quoted concerns about the meeting expressed by the United Left national chair, and explained to its attendees how to join the ULS. No-one complained about it.
“Our United Left Scotland candidates were finalised this week as Eddie Cassidy and Ann Crozier.” Fact: Eddie Cassidy is not a member of the ULS. And while Ann Crozier is a member of the ULS, until the end of last week the second PULS candidate was to have been Linda Pollock – also not a member of the ULS.
“Over 60 people from both ‘groups’ in Scotland agreed to run four recognised candidates at a meeting in Edinburgh on 12th November. It was agreed by everyone that we would run four recognised candidates.” Fact: This was not agreed by anyone. The 12th November meeting was NOT a decision-making meeting. No vote was taken on the proposal for four candidates.
The only person to advocate four candidates for the two Scottish territorial seats was Mark Lyon. And that sums up the essence of Baron Mark Munchausen: He substitutes his own fantasies for reality, and hopes that if he exudes sufficient bluff and bluster then no-one will notice how detached from reality he now is.
The latest wheeze of the Yessers has been to crowdfund billboards pointing out the iniquities of the BBC and offering an alternative news service.
There’s disagreement about whether this will turn the Noes to Yes. Kirsty Strickland, a Yes supporter, suggested in Commonspace ihat it might be counter-productive.
Room for disagreement on this issue you might think. But not for Wings over Scotland who tweeted a picture of Strickland at the BBC suggesting she might be a Unionist traitor. Wings has powers to usher up swarms of cybernats and they eventually chased Kirsty off Twitter. She protested that she had six weeks unpaid work as a community reporter at the BBC and has written plenty that’s critical of the organisation.
Loki, the Scottish rapper, took up her cause. Loki is of that part of the Yes movement that thinks an independent Scotland will be able to do something for the poor in the hard parts of Glasgow, He has come from a harsh background himself and is a clever eloquent guy who finds his way of expressing himself falls foul of the radical side of the Yes movement that has picked up the proper language codes. He himself has had run-ins with Wings.
He designed a Bingo Wings Over Scotland calendar which gives an amusing potted history of the affair and a portrait of the repulsive Wings who has done so much to make the nationalist movement in Scotland vile.
Rings Over Scotland
As for the billboards, they’re an opening for creativity:-
Above: modern antisemitism
By Dale Street
“Unfortunately, a comment on this thread has been deleted and the user banned for repeated antisemitic comments. Bigotry or any form of racial or religious discrimination, be it Islamophobia or antisemitism, simply will not be tolerated on this page.”
That was the commitment given by the SNP Friends of Palestine (FoP) on its public Facebook page in December of last year. It is a commitment that the campaign has spectacularly failed to implement.
Over the past ten months its Facebook page has carried a plethora of textbook examples of how traditional antisemitic tropes are incorporated into what passes for criticism of Israel and Zionism.
One of the most common of those tropes is that of wealthy, powerful Jews who, behind the scenes, control politicians and the policies of elected governments.
According to one contributor to the Facebook page, it is “the American Jewish Lobby” which bears the historical blame for the current “ghastly situation”:
“I was there while there was still a country called Palestine, although the poor Russian Jews chucked out of their own country were already infiltrating (Tel Aviv and Nablus at the foot of the Sea of Galilee) by courtesy of the American Jewish Lobby. Those are the people we have to thank for this ghastly situation.” (17/05/16).
Another contributor saw Rothschild money in play in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, when the British Foreign Secretary backed the creation of “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine:
“Jewish and Arabs had lived side-by-side for decades until Arthur Balfour was probably provided financial security by the Rothschild scum to enforce this on their behalf.” (22/02/16)
“Zionists” have continued to exercise a decisive political influence down to the present, and do so at a global level:
“Just confirms who is actually running world politics, make up rules only to suit themselves. We all know that Zionists have hijacked the Jewish religion for their own gains. Next law to come in will [make it] antisemitic to say anything against the Zionists.” (28/04/16)
Like Balfour, contemporary British politicians continue to be bought off by “Zionists”. (SNP MPs and MSPs are doubtless an exception.) This explains their supposed reluctance to criticise Israel, and their loyalty to Israel rather than Britain:
“Politicians are bought by Zionists and do more for Israel than they do for the UK. Labour Friends of Israel and Conservative Friends of Israel need to be banned. (UK politicians silent about Palestinian deaths.)” (17/04/16)
“We all know that the US and UK governments and their allies have been bribed by those Zionist supporters because they are part of the status quo. They have blood on their hands! The Israel state itself is a big lie!” (05/03/16)
“And of course the pro-Israel politicians will just go along with whatever any pro-Israel lobby group tells them. About time to kick Jewish/Israeli lobbyists out of British politics.” (25/02/16)
The expression “Jewish/Israeli lobbyists” is defended on the basis that one lobby is merely the new version of an older one. This is certainly true – in the sense that the contemporary trope of the powerful Israeli lobby is used as the direct successor of the older trope of the powerful Jewish lobby:
“It used to be called the Jewish lobby, now called the Israeli lobby. Same lobbyists and same people. So, yes, the two are the same. Politicians that are friends of Israel do what they can for Israel no matter what is against them. Sometimes it seems they do more for Israel than the UK, yet they are British politicians.” (25/02/16)
Accusations of antisemitism trigger particular indignation in posts on the SNP FoP Facebook page. Such accusations are denounced as further evidence of the behind-the-scenes power wielded by Jews.
The expression itself (first used by Wilhelm Marr in the 1870s, during the German-nationalist period of his political evolution) is dismissed as a Zionist invention which should now be dispensed with:
“The term ‘antisemitism’, coined in the 1880s by the Zionist movement to raise the perception of persecution among Europe’s Jews and so encourage them to make ‘Aliyah’, should now be consigned to its true position, merely a facet of racial and religious bigotry, and, as such, abhorred.” (18/02/16)
Accusations of antisemitism are used to cover up Israeli crimes by browbeating and intimidating opponents of Israel:
“The birth name of the new Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, was Freedland, the same as the apologist commentator of the ‘Guardian’. Different continents perhaps but …. Jonathan Freedland’s contrived argument is just that – a contorted apology for an apartheid state.” (03/05/16)
“Why does the world tolerate this? Because they’re terrified of being branded antisemites and bombarded with quite unnecessary warnings, like the one at the top of this page.” (23/05/16)
“It’s getting to the point in the UK to be scared to express a long-held sincere opinion in case there is a knock on the door at 3.00am.” (28/04/16)
Such views are not confined to contributors to the Facebook page. In April of this year the page administrators themselves posted a link to an article by SNP FoP member Craig Murray entitled “The New McCarthyism – The ‘Anti-Semitism’ Hysteria Gripping the UK”. According to the article:
“The attack on new NUS President Malia Bouattia is a truly horrible piece of witch-hunting. But it is useful in one thing. It makes the witch-hunt’s primary method, the conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism, absolutely explicit.
That is the entire intellectual basis of the current witch-hunt, which operates solely on conflating the anti-Zionism of Tony Greenstein with antisemitism. … I have yet to encounter any (antisemitism) in Scotland.”
Antisemitism can even be justified, provided that its proponents hate Jews for the ‘right’ reasons:
“If antisemitism is hating Jews for being born Jewish, then, of course, that kind of hatred must be opposed because it is utterly vile. However, if you oppose the support of many Jews for Israel, that is an entirely different matter.
Everyone should read ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’ by Professor Ilan Pappe of Exeter University, himself an Israeli Jew. It is clear from his research that violent ethnic cleansing and racism were absolutely integral and necessary for the creation of a Jewish state. So, if you are a supporter of Israel, you condone racism and violent ethnic cleansing.” (23/04/16)
In fact, for some contributors to the SNP FoP Facebook page anyone who supports Israel’s right to exist is automatically deemed to be a racist:
“I’m afraid to say that the British Political and Media establishment (including leading members of the Labour Party and the ‘Guardian’) condone racism.
If you ‘support Israel’s right to exist’, if you support the ‘right of the Jewish People to self-determination’ you must also support the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 human beings in 1948. It is as simple as that.” (18/04/16)
Equating support for Israel’s right to exist with racism is a ‘logical’ consequence of the way in which Israel is portrayed and defined as uniquely evil in contributions to the SNP FoP Facebook page.
That portrayal and that definition go well beyond the parameters of ‘robust criticism’:
“Our only home has been made into a trap, prison and concentration camp, complete with seven decades of rampant barbaric extermination and torture upon the innocent natives by the blood-stained hands of Israel.” (27/04/16)
“Britain and America support Israel. This shower of shit are worse than ISIS. They murder and torture Palestinians and they have been at it for longer.” (06/09/16)
“Israhell is a state run by apartheid gangsters. How can the Zionist illegal occupiers act like the landowners? Go back to Europe where you belong, Israhell! … Shame on you, the filthiest state on this planet!” (01/05/16)
A comment posted on the occasion of a visit to Israel by a delegation of Scottish Tories (“Scottish Zionists, shameless and abhorrent”) made clear that such hostility is directed not just at Israel’s state policies but at its population as well:
“All the people I despise will be in one place then.” (06/08/16)
The antisemitic dissolution of the distinction between the perpetrators and the victims of the Holocaust is also a regular feature of contributions to the SNP FoP Facebook page:
“The Zionists are building up for more slaughter to be unleashed upon the Palestinian race. Disgusting immoral acts carried out by evil savages. Their desire to obliterate Palestinians cannot be denied, no matter how many times they say the opposite. The world needs to waken up to the new Nazis.” (06/09/16)
“They learned their tactics from the Nazis, but have forgotten that the ultimate result was defeat.” (01/09/16)
“Their paranoia about young children and torturing them and imprisoning them for longer than the evil Zionist bastard who incinerated a young boy’s parents and baby brother says it all about these modern-day Nazis.” (04/08/16)
“I’ve just been to Berlin and quite rightly seen so many images and read lots of text about the history of what happened to the innocent Jewish people. Sadly, when I was in Palestine. I witnessed many things from history repeating itself.” (19/04/16)
A comprehensive programme of boycott, disinvestments and sanctions against Israel is promoted by posts on the Facebook page as the appropriate political response to “the filthiest state on this planet”:
“Jews all over the world need to know that their murderous project in Israel is unacceptable. They have the best chance of reigning in Natty’s death squads. For the rest of us, we have BDS.” (28/04/16)
“Don’t listen to Israhell, keep on boycotting, disinvesting, condemning Israhell!” (04/03/16)
“Buy nothing from these apartheid murdering scum!” (25/02/16)
“Bargepoles at the ready, and take your reading glasses to the shops.” (25/02/16)
The SNP FoP is not a fringe organisation. Launched in mid-2015, it has the support of 29 of the SNP’s 54 MPs. Two MPs and two MSPs are members of its National Executive Committee. Its Facebook page is peppered with pictures of MPs and MSPs signing its statement “I’m a Friend of Palestine”.
The campaign can argue that not all the offending posts come from actual members of the SNP FoP. This is true. In fact, some of the worst posts appear to come from ‘Palestine solidarity’ activists outside of the SNP who have ‘discovered’ the SNP FoP Facebook page.
The SNP FoP might escape criticism for hosting some of these posts on its Facebook page if it used the less repellent ones as an opportunity to open up an argument about what is wrong with their politics.
But the campaign does not do that. And even such challenges as there are to the contents of some of the posts are given short shrift: “Take yer Zionist-fascist shit elsewhere.” (04/08/16)
As a result, the SNP FoP Facebook page ends up as an echo chamber for a collection of antisemitic tropes masquerading as ‘legitimate criticism’ of Israel:
Rich and powerful Jews; behind-the-scenes control of politicians and governments by the Jewish/Israeli lobby; equations of Israel with Nazi Germany; a denial of Israel’s right to exist, and a blanket dismissal of the bona fides of allegations of antisemitism.
According to SNP MP Stewart McDonald, a founder member of the SNP FoP:
“These worst excesses (of ‘naked antisemitism emerging in its vilest form’) have not been seen in the SNP Friends of Palestine but we must be constantly vigilant. Most antisemitism is not overt, relying on ancient tropes which are easily recycled into the modern age of memes and viral media.”
McDonald is someone who does not counterpose Palestinian national rights to Israeli national rights. In fact, he is currently being denounced by some of his erstwhile allies for supporting the creation of SNP Friends of a Two-States Solution.
But there certainly seems to have been a shortfall in the “constant vigilance” which he rightly advocates.