Tzedakah and the British Economy


Image © HM Treasury

Could George Osborne have something up his sleeve, a rabbit to pull from the hat, a magic fiscal firework that causes us all to ooh and ah with excitement?

The Chancellor gives his autumn statement today and we are wallowing our way through economic gloom and doom.  Austerity is really starting to bite, or maybe folk just feel it more in the approach to Christmas, mentally calculating how much they can afford to spend and continually coming up short.

The Euro crisis still threatens to engulf us all with markets see-sawing every week;  the UK economy has ground to a standstill;  youth and long term unemployment are at their worst levels in a generation;  and the only things rocketing are fuel and food prices. Read more of this post

Full Employment should be our overarching objective

Ken Macintosh

Image © Ken MacintoshOur task in the Scottish Parliament is not just to secure good government, but to build the good society: a happier, more compassionate and more confident Scotland; a caring society where we look out for one another, not just ourselves; a society that values ambition but not greed; a society where selfishness is balanced out by selflessness.

There may be no individual policy which by itself will deliver the good society, but I am an optimist and I believe full employment should be the overarching aim of government. Read more of this post

An Unfair Road to a Level Playing Field

Tom Mottorshead

Image © conservativeparty

With the second national demonstration against higher education cuts earlier this month, and the campaigning engines of the countries student union’s are in full flow, the issue du jour is, in the words of a recently published author: ‘Education, Education, Education’. Now, the question that comes to my mind when hearing about the slashes to the higher education budget that some argue will impede equality of opportunity in higher education, is why we do not pay equal attention to how people from disadvantaged backgrounds are still unable to access the relatively level playing field that is University. Is the question of the quality of pre-university education not more important than those associated with University tuition, and if we care so much about equal opportunity, why are we not in moral outrage about the state of secondary education?

  Read more of this post

Rethinking Afghanistan

Andrew Noakes

Image © The US Army

This year’s upcoming Bonn Conference will mark a decisive shift from international engagement in Afghanistan to a policy focusing on withdrawal and, it is hoped, peace with the Taliban. The reason for the change is obvious: the West is tired of war. Public support for the NATO campaign in member states is rapidly declining; by 2010, only 37 percent of the British public and 40 percent of Americans supported the presence of their military forces in the country. The elite consensus in the West, which has hitherto been in favour of international engagement, has also become increasingly fragile. In Britain, it is likely that Liberal Democrat support for the war is conditional on withdrawal and pursuit of a peace deal. Meanwhile, according to leaked US diplomatic cables, the European Union president, Herman Van Rompuy, recently summed up the feelings of European elites by telling a US ambassador that ‘no one believes in Afghanistan any more’.

In the lead up to Bonn, it is quite clear – not least to the Taliban – that NATO countries are falling over themselves to get out of Afghanistan. We might be inclined to welcome this news, but a few words of caution are necessary. The first thing to point out is that the Taliban do not have the support of anywhere near the majority of Afghans. A recent survey by the Asia Foundation revealed that only 29 percent of the Afghan population have some level of sympathy with armed anti-government groups. Meanwhile, 73 percent of Afghans (an approval rating Western leaders could only dream of) are satisfied with the performance of the national government. For many who have been assuming that NATO forces are simply propping up an unpopular regime against a popular insurgency, this may come as a surprise. Read more of this post

Winter of Discontent: “We were meant to start at 5 but we’ve just been outside having coffee and cigarettes since then.” The Free Hetherington: An Epitaph

Bean Reoch

Image © Francis McKee

After staring at a blank document for what feels, now, like hours, I can only come to one conclusion about the Hetherington Occupation: it was like nothing else I have ever experienced.

Officially, the Free Hetherington (as it became known) was a student occupation of a disused university building, protesting the savage cuts being made to academia and resources at the University of Glasgow. It was a bloody thorn in the side of the Principal Vito-Antonio Muscatelli and his Senior Management Group (SMG) for seven glorious months. It was an occupation with real demands; a social space; a hive of activism, of academia; a stage for a chiaroscuro of events and meetings; and sadly also a target for abuse. The former Postgraduate Research Club was reopened by a group of anti-cuts activists on 1st February 2011 and, by the time I became involved in late March, it had grown into something quite spectacular. From there it continued to grow – and despite its end on 31st August 2011 the ripples it made can still be seen on the loch of activism in Glasgow today. Read more of this post

Universal Emancipation

Ben Wright

Image © Ben Wright

Even today some forms of slavery remain in Britain. I am not concerned about the requirement to work for a living which would probably become even more important in a free society. Universal employment, although frequently difficult to implement even in modern society, is correctly a fundamental human right. I am concerned with forced servitude. There is some concern, for example, that Coalition policy may erode gender equality, aptly (although worryingly) expressed in the Fawcett Society’s ‘A Life Raft for Women’s Equality’.

Although women’s suffrage was an issue since at least the 18th century, even in Britain progress was relatively slow. When John Stuart Mill, elected to Parliament in 1865, advocated female suffrage he was shot down by the Conservative Party. Admittedly in those days the Party had not joined forces with Liberal Unionists. The movement towards universal suffrage was championed constitutionally by suffragists and more militantly by suffragettes. Women’s suffrage was granted in 1918, as male suffrage was extended following the Great War, and more equally in 1928 in the Representation of the People Act. Nevertheless, universal suffrage does not guarantee that males and females have an equal say in society. Read more of this post

Why the Left must take the lead on economic policy

William Sharkey

Image © liits (Flickr)

A spectre is haunting Europe: the spectre of centre right politics.

Anyone who has stood within ten meters of a television set could not fail to have noticed the financial situation in Europe.  Its unfolding narrative evolved like a classical Greek Tragedy; Greece took on the Sphinx by taking on the Euro. Its land was then blighted with growing debts and financial insecurity, and now it walks infirm and blind to the future. We know that the story is not simply one that can be told only of Greece. No sooner had this story reached its peak than comedy villain (or at least he would be comic had he not been so powerful) Mr Berlusconi announced that Italy was struggling with its economy too. And then there was Spain.

This situation is dire, not only for those in the single European Currency, but for everybody. What is to be done? Read more of this post

Why the left shouldn’t defend Cuba

 Peter Bolton

Heroes of the Left? Image © a-birdie

Since the 1959 communist revolution in Cuba, several left-wing commentators have spoken favorably about the Castro regime. In the world of entertainment, for instance, Oliver Stone, Sean Penn and Michael Moore have all made gestures of praise toward the island’s political leadership. Moore’s 2007 film Sicko showered praise onto the Cuban healthcare system while both Penn and Stone have commended the Castro regime and visited the island to meet with Communist Party officials, in Stone’s case to research for a documentary film.

Details of Cuba’s authoritarianism have come back into the public consciousness recently following news reports about the decision by Raul Castro to liberalize the island’s property laws. The move might be taken by some to be evidence of the regime’s reform-minded tendencies but though the policy changes are to be welcomed, reading the details about the plight of the Cuban people shows how misguided it is to defend Cuba as a bastion and exemplar of left-wing ideas.

  Read more of this post

Winter of Discontent: A Tale Of Two Protests

John Lucas

Are the public warming to tents and placards? Image © John Lucas

There are now two weeks until the UK experiences its biggest public-sector strikes in a generation. It is difficult to know how the public will greet them, and whether the inevitable protest marches will pass without incident. But, working as a freelance photographer, I’ve had a chance to witness the development of the anti-cuts protest movement over the last year and my experiences during two protests, almost 8 months apart, suggest public attitudes are changing.

It’s March 26, 2011 and 250,000 people have just completed a peaceful march against public sector cuts. It is the largest such protest march in recent history but just down the road there are more than 60 police officers outside Topshop, protecting it from further assault. Oxford Street’s human traffic shuffles casually between the riot shields and the noisy protesters while the actual traffic is at a standstill. Dozens of buses carrying hundreds of frustrated passengers stand idle as riot police charge down the road. Read more of this post

Winter of Discontent: The Hetherington Occupation

Students seize the Hetherington Building at Glasgow University. Image © Hannah TaitHannah Tait

Hannah Tait

From February to August this year, I spent a lot of time inside an ordinary-looking Glasgow townhouse at 13 University Gardens – but the space created within those walls was far from ordinary.
The Hetherington Research Club (formerly the post-graduate club at the University of Glasgow) had shut its doors, depriving the academic community of an important space on campus for socialising and discussion. On the 1st of February 2011 a group of anti-cuts activists entered the disused building through an open fire door, and the Free Hetherington was born. For seven months, the building was occupied 24/7 (with the exception of one eventful day) and became a hub of activism in Glasgow.
But the space that grew within those walls was about more than anti-cuts activism, although that was the core which held disparate opinions together. It was about discussion and debate – I rarely walked through the door without being drawn into an interesting conversation – and it was about trying in our own way to make a safe space and a better world. Of course it was not a utopia; we walk into any space carrying the experiences and the conditioning of the society we inhabit. But it was, more than any other place that I have been, a place where people were prepared to challenge injustice and unacceptable behaviour. We didn’t always get it right, but we always tried. It gave me the courage to stand up for myself and to shout my feminism more loudly. It exposed us all to new ideas and perspectives and it challenged us constantly. Read more of this post