Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cashing in on Rangers

Socialists are always fascinated by the ins and outs of high finance  and how the capitalist class and their lackeys take advantage of the system. The Scotsman columnist has an interesting take on insolvent Rangers.

 “Charles Green has 20 investors?”
“Er, no, it’s five or six.”
“But he said he had 20.”
“He seems to have lost 14 or 15 of them since he said it.”
“They’re gone already before we even knew who they were?”
“That’s if they were ever there in the first place.”
“At least his backers are offering HMRC some money…”
“Which the club has to pay them back, with interest.”
“And they’re throwing Ticketus a few quid…”
“And they want that back, too. Apparently 8 per cent on top, thanks very much.”
“Duff and Phelps said his was the best deal for creditors…”
“The best deal for Charles Green more like. And for Duff and Phelps, of course. They’re getting every penny of their multi-million pound fee, which is about 91p in the pound more than the people whose corner they were supposed to be fighting.”
“But what about the creditors?”
“The £55, 415, 632 the club owes to all manner of different people?”
“Yeah, shame about that. There’s about £5m left for those guys.”
“That’s feeble. When are they going to be paid?”
“So Duff and Phelps, the champions of the creditors, are getting almost as much as all the other creditors put together?”
“It’s business, baby. They might get more in any case.”
“Ah, right. If they sell a player some of the money goes to the creditors…”
“No. It goes to the club.”
“The TV money, then. They’ll hand some over to the poor saps they’re shafting…”
“No, it goes to the club. Nothing personal. They could get an extra £25m from a law suit against Collyer Bristow.”
“Maybe. Possibly. In theory.”
“When might they get it?”
“Whenever o’clock.”
“Well, the creditors can tell Green they’re not having his CVA…”
“Yes, they can. And so it’s liquidation-time and a newco and the stadium and the training ground and the Albion car park and all the rest of it that has a book value of more than £112m immediately becomes available for £5.5m”
“Result! To who?”
“Charles Green.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The cause of the causes

Life expectancy in Scotland is markedly lower compared to other European nations and the UK as a whole. But what are the reasons for this higher mortality? Higher mortality in Scotland is often attributed to higher rates of deprivation, smoking, alcohol consumption and poor diet. However such explanations are not sufficient to understand why Scotland is so very different compared to other areas.

In synthesising the evidence a group of researchers identified candidate hypotheses. The results showed that between 1950 and 1980 Scotland started to diverge from elsewhere in Europe and this may be linked to higher deprivation associated with particular industrial employment patterns, housing and urban environments, particular community and family dynamics, and negative health behaviour cultures.

The authors suggest that from 1980 onwards the higher mortality can be best explained by considering the political direction taken by the government of the day, and the consequent hopelessness and community disruption that may have been experienced. Other factors, such as alcohol, smoking, unemployment, housing and inequality are all important, but require an explanation as to why Scotland was disproportionately affected. From 1980 onwards, the higher mortality has been driven by unfavourable health behaviours, and it seems quite likely that these are linked to an intensifying climate of conflict, injustice and disempowerment. This is best explained by developing a synthesis beginning from the political attack hypothesis, which suggests that the neoliberal policies implemented from 1979 onwards across the UK disproportionately affected the Scottish population.

"It is increasingly recognised that it is insufficient to try to explain health trends by simply looking at the proximal causes such as smoking or alcohol. Income inequality, welfare policy and unemployment do not occur by accident, but as a product of the politics pursued by the government of the day. In this study we looked at the 'causes of the causes' of Scotland's health problems,"
  said Dr Gerry McCartney, lead author of the study and consultant in public health at NHS Health Scotland.

Engels on Edinburgh and Glasgow


Dr. Alison describes a similar state of things in Edinburgh, whose superb situation, which has won it the title of the modern Athens, and whose brilliant aristocratic quarter in the New Town, contrast strongly with the foul wretchedness of the poor in the Old Town. Alison asserts that this extensive quarter is as filthy and horrible as the worst districts of Dublin, while the Mendicity Association would have as great a proportion of needy persons to assist in Edinburgh as in the Irish capital. He asserts, indeed, that the poor in Scotland, especially in Edinburgh and Glasgow, are worse off than in any other region of the three kingdoms, and that the poorest are not Irish, but Scotch. The preacher of the Old Church of Edinburgh, Dr. Lee, testified in 1836, before the Commission of Religious Instruction, that:

"I have never seen such a concentration of misery as in this parish," where the people are without furniture, without everything. "I frequently see the same room occupied by two married couples. I have been in one day in seven houses where there was no bed, in some of them not even straw. I found people of eighty years of age lying on the boards. Many sleep in the same clothes which they wear during the day. I may mention the case of two Scotch families living in a cellar, who had come from the country within a few months.... Since they came they had had two children dead, and another apparently dying. There was a little bundle of dirty straw in one corner, for one family, and in another for the other. In the place they inhabit it is impossible at noonday to distinguish the features of the human face without artificial light. – It would almost make a heart of adamant bleed to see such an accumulation of misery in a country like this."

In the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, Dr. Hennen reports a similar state of things. From a Parliamentary Report, it is evident that in the dwellings of the poor of Edinburgh a want of cleanliness reigns, such as must be expected under these conditions. On the bed-posts chickens roost at night, dogs and horses share the dwellings of human beings, and the natural consequence is a shocking stench, with filth and swarms of vermin. The prevailing construction of Edinburgh favours these atrocious conditions as far as possible. The Old Town is built upon both slopes of a hill, along the crest of which runs the High Street. Out of the High Street there open downwards multitudes of narrow, crooked alleys, called wynds from their many turnings, and these wynds form the proletarian district of the city. The houses of the Scotch cities, in general, are five or six-storied buildings, like those of Paris, and in contrast with England where, so far as possible, each family has a separate house. The crowding of human beings upon a limited area is thus intensified.

".....the house," says an English journal in an article upon the sanitary condition of the working-people in cities, "are often so close together, that persons may step from the window of one house to that of the house opposite – so high, piled story after story, that the light can scarcely penetrate to the court beneath. In this part of the town there are neither sewers nor any private conveniences whatever belonging to the dwellings; and hence the excrementitious and other refuse of at least 50,000 persons is, during the night, thrown into the gutters, causing (in spite of the scavengers' daily labours) an amount of solid filth and foetid exhalation disgusting to both sight and smell, as well as exceedingly prejudicial to health. Can it be wondered that, in such localities, health, morals, and common decency should be at once neglected? No; all who know the private condition of the inhabitants will bear testimony to the immense amount of their disease, misery, and demoralisation. Society in these quarters has sunk to a state indescribably vile and wretched.... The dwellings of the poorer classes are generally very filthy, apparently never subjected to any cleaning process whatever, consisting, in most cases, of a single room, ill-ventilated and yet cold, owing to broken, ill-fitting windows, sometimes damp and partially underground, and always scantily furnished and altogether comfortless, heaps of straw often serving for beds, in which a whole family – male and female, young and old, are huddled together in revolting confusion. The supplies of water are obtained only from the public pumps, and the trouble of procuring it of course favours the accumulation of all kinds of abominations."


Glasgow is in many respects similar to Edinburgh, possessing the same wynds, the same tall houses. Of this city the Artisan observes:

The working-class forms here some 78 per cent of the whole population (about 300,000), and lives in parts of the city "which, in abject wretchedness, exceed the lowest purlieus of St. Giles' or Whitechapel, the liberties of Dublin, or the wynds of Edinburgh. Such localities exist most abundantly in the heart of the city – south of the Irongate and west of the Saltmarket, as well as in the Calton, off the High Street, etc.– endless labyrinths of narrow lanes or wynds, into which almost at every step debouche courts or closes formed by old, ill-ventilated, towering houses crumbling to decay, destitute of water and crowded with inhabitants, comprising three or four families (perhaps twenty persons) on each flat, and sometimes each flat let out in lodgings that confine – we dare not say accommodate – from fifteen to twenty persons in a single room. These districts are occupied by the poorest, most depraved, and most worthless portion of the population, and they may be considered as the fruitful source of those pestilential fevers which thence spread their destructive ravages over the whole of Glasgow."

Let us hear how J. C. Symons, Government Commissioner for the investigation of the condition of the hand-weavers, describes these portions of the city:

"I have seen human degradation in some of its worst phases, both in England and abroad, but I did not believe until I visited the wynds of Glasgow, that so large an amount of filth, crime, misery, and disease existed in any civilised country. In the lower lodging-houses ten, twelve, and sometimes twenty persons of both sexes and all ages sleep promiscuously on the floor in different degrees of nakedness. These places are, generally, as regards dirt, damp and decay, such as no person would stable his horse in."

And in another place:

"The wynds of Glasgow house a fluctuating population of between 15,000 and 30,000 persons. This district is composed of many narrow streets and square courts and in the middle of each court there is a dung-hill. Although the outward appearance of these places was revolting, I was nevertheless quite unprepared for the filth and misery that were to be found inside. In some of these bedrooms we [i.e. Police Superintendent Captain Miller and Symons] visited at night we found a whole mass of humanity stretched out on the floor. There were often 15 to 20 men and women huddled together, some being clothed and others naked. Their bed was a heap of musty straw mixed with rags. There was hardly any furniture there and the only thing which gave these holes the appearance of a dwelling was fire burning on the hearth. Thieving and prostitution are the main sources of income of these people. No one seems to have taken the trouble to clean out these Augean stables, this pandemonium, this nucleus of crime, filth and pestilence in the second city of the empire. A detailed investigation of the most wretched slums of other towns has never revealed anything half so bad as this concentration of moral iniquity, physical degradation and gross overcrowding.... In this part of Glasgow most of the houses have been condemned by the Court of Guild as dilapidated and uninhabitable – but it is just these dwellings which are filled to overflowing, because, by law no rent can be charged on them."

Condition of the Working Class in England, by Engels, 1845

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Faslane Futility

 There has been a tradition of anti-nuclear protest in Scotland since the early 1960s when the US Navy established a base for their submarines at Dunoon on the Holy Loch. The Scottish National Party, the Scottish Socialist Party and the Scottish Green Party all oppose the deployment of nuclear weapons. It is not unusual for members of these Scottish political parties, and indeed some from the Labour Party, to attend rallies outside Faslane. Both George Galloway and Tommy Sheridan have been arrested in demonstrations.

 The Faslane peace camp began 30 years ago. It was set-up as a Scottish version of Greenham Common. After all those years the camp is still there - and so are the warheads.

 Eric Thompson was commodore of the naval base in the mid-90s says: "Our original security concerns were Russian special forces, for which we had a barbed wire fence. Then we started worrying about the IRA, so we had a double-barbed wire fence but it was actually the peace camp and political embarrassment which kept us on our toes." He recalls one incident in which three peace campers managed to get into the base dressed as Santa Claus. "They were actually in the sights of an armed Royal Marine guarding the jetty and he could have taken all three of them out but he decided shooting Santa Claus was not going to be a good idea."

Mahatma Gandhi counselled non-violent resistance to nuclear war. People should get out of their homes and look the pilots in the eye as best they could. With love and prayer, and without hatred for their killers above, they were to offer themselves willingly in sacrifice. Aircrew were thus given the opportunity for redemption before bombs away. He hoped that the gesture of accepting death would be transformative for those who commit mass murder in pursuit of their political objectives.Clearly, Gandhi hadn’t banked on missiles. These days against the scourge of nuclear weapons, the human race has little more than the thin line of activists at places like the Faslane Peace Camp. They paddle out in their little dinghies to confront British nuclear submarines to remind us all that these weapons are not worthy of human possession. Each day it becomes more obvious that mankind must choose between the security of a peaceful society, which only conscious action can bring about, and the insecurity of militarism.

It is not just a matter of "Stop Trident". It is about ending of all wars and the economic competition between national ruling classes that cause them. It requires advocating policies and taking actions which will make war impossible, by removing its causes. As long as there are economic rivalries for wars to be fought over, wars will take place and, whatever the weapons of choice, death and destruction will be the result. 

wasteful Scotland

Zero Waste Scotland found that of the estimated 372,026 tonnes of waste to be disposed per annum of across the three sectors over a quarter of it could be widely recycled and more than half was potentially recyclable.

The Scottish health and social care sector send more than 30,000 tonnes of paper waste to landfill.  Including newspapers, magazines, and unused A4-type paper, over 80% of this is potentially recyclable;

Scottish educational establishments of all kinds send over 120 tonnes of unused paper to landfill each year

The Scottish wholesale and retail sector throws nearly £30million of whole or unused food straight in their general waste bin

Monday, May 28, 2012

Food for thought

The recent federal budget was presented as a reasonably benign affair but careful scrutiny reveals a massive move towards getting government out of all kinds of public services. Apart from the thousands of public service job cuts, the budget ended the National Council of Welfare that advises the government on poverty (ignore it and it will go away!); closed the National Aboriginal Health Centre; trimmed funding for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation by $115 million; scrapped the National Roundtable on the environment; cut funding to Transport Canada that regulates airline safety; cut foreign aid and over 1 000 positions from the Canadian Border Services Agency; eliminated over 2 000 professionals
and scientists who protect the safety of Canadians in the food, product testing, and environmental fields. It is a sly and cynical piece of underhand work, and the only way to deal with it is to eliminate capitalism altogether, and soon.

Recent headlines in the business sections of the newspapers have highlighted the doom and gloom of the current recession -- " European Auto Manufacturers heading into a Fifth Straight Year of Falling Sales"; "Yahoo Looks to Right its Sinking Ship...thousands of Layoffs";  "Tortuous Recovery Spurs China to Lower Growth Expectations"; "Global Growth Fears Hammer TSX"; "Toronto Hydro Dropped by Insurer -- Power Provider Warns Decision to Curb Equipment Renewal Will Lead to Blackouts" This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course, but it's enough to show a system in deep trouble and should make everyone think about something better. Let's work to make that something socialism!
Recent figures released by Statistics Canada revealed that youth unemployment (15-24 year-olds) now stands at 14.7%. However, figures do lie. This does not count the youths who have returned to school because they couldn't get a job, or those who are underemployed in part-time jobs, or those who have used up their unemployment benefits. It is pointless to publish such figures unless the object is to hoodwink the public. One more thing is pointless -- the continuation of a system that creates unemployment. John Ayers

The Scottish Taleban - The Covenanters

Over 18,000 and possibly as many as 30,000 Presbyterian Covenanters gave their lives for their beliefs during the seventeenth century.

Were the Covenanters essentially Protestant theocrats? Or were the Covenanters really democrats challenging an absolutist regime?  Presbyterian beliefs meant an opposition to the King`s claim of supremacy in church matters, although they acknowledged his supremacy in civil matters. Yet to safeguard their religious rights  required a clerical  influence on the civil government. Covenanters stood up to the powers of the Crown but never, at any point in time, challenged the Crown's right to rule. The best known events of the Covenanters tend to be the National Covenant (1638), the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) and the horrors of "The Killing Time" (1684-5).

Religion and politics have been interwoven throughout Scottish history. There was the Calvinist Reformation where John Knox was able to bend much of Scotland to his will and controlled Parliament. From the signing of the Scottish National Covenant of 1638 to the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 there was movement to make Scotland a theocratic state. These dissenters were the staunch supporters of Presbyterianism, the radicals of their day, who strictly followed the rules of John Calvin, John Knox and latterly Andrew Melville. It was their desire for a theocratic government and rejection of the king`s claimed supremacy of the church that branded them as zealots and a threat. On Sunday, July 23, 1637 at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh a woman by the name Jenny Geddes objected to the use of a new prayer book written by Scottish Bishops. Jenny Geddes owned a cabbage stall alongside the cathedral wall and was a well known character. It is said that she threw her small stool at James Hannay, the Dean of the church. With all big events they are often sparked by the trivial. The National Covenant was drafted by Sir Archibald Johnstone of Warriston, (who was executed in 1663), and Archibald Henderson. It was in three parts - a reproduction of the Confession of King James VI ( James I of England) of 1580; a detailed list of the Acts of Parliament which confirmed Presbyterianism and condemned Popery; and, thirdly, a protest about the changes in worship which was an attempt to force episcopal reforms on the nation. King Charles over-reacted and regarded the Covenanters as rebels. Not all towns subscribed to the Covenant, those who did not were Crail, Inverness, St Andrews and Aberdeen.

The Kirk was the focus for the Presbyterians in which the senior members of a congregation were elected the Elders. They and the minister held great sway through the "Kirk Session" - the local church court. It was through the workings and authority of this court that the day-to-day life of the congregation was overseen. The Kirk Session was responsible at local level for matters of conscience and religion which in practice ranged across practically everything. Their role extended to dealing with excesses and behaviour of all kinds, whether drink or style of dress, fornication or lewdness, oppression of the poor by over-taxation or deception in buying and selling. The local nature of a punishment, both the publicity and enforcement locally, meant that action was swift and a response usually certain. In some cases there were burgesses and lairds involved as elders, and some whose sons entered the ministry and their involvement enabled an early attack on moral delinquents, absentees from church and disrespectful behaviour. Support for discipline was obtained from a variety of sources including local nobility, lairds and by obtaining an injunction from the Privy Council to impose fines direct. The most common civil penalty imposed by the Kirk Sessions was the fine. In some places this was according to a set table, in others there was the quite enlightened approach to fines according to the estate of the offender (proportionality as we call it today). Non-payment of fines could result in imprisonment or being locked in the "jugs" - a lockable metal collar attached to a wall by a length of chain, for the duration of the sermon. The penalty for adultery was to stand dressed in sackcloth, bare headed and bare feet at the kirk door;  then sit on the stool of repentance in front of the congregation for perhaps six months or longer. Sometimes the punishment included fines and whipping. Few resisted as under a law of 1581 the adulterer who refused the kirk`s punishment could be put to death. Fornication and lewd behaviour, prostitution etc. was often punished by the men forced to make public penance and the women by ducking in Stool of Repentance or "Cutty Stool", into the foulest water available and banishment from the town. Misbehaviour in the countryside was often not detected until pregnancy was obvious when much effort was put into identifying the father and compelling marriage. In the period 1574 to 1612 Puritanism and the zealous Presbyterianism of Andrew Melville gained a foothold that punished a wide range of alleged excesses. This included attacks on Christmas and traditional holidays such as Midsummer Eve. Pilgrimages, dancing, carol singing , merrymaking at weddings, and wakes; and failing to work on Christmas Day,  were all subject of condemnation. In 1579 a law was passed banning Sunday travel, recreation and drinking.

A second and more intense phase of Puritanism appeared after 1638 when the much of  the country was imbued with fervour following the National Covenant. From about 1639 - 1650 the people felt the pain and anquish of war with thousands of the men killed in battles during the campaign of the Marquis of Montrose (1644-5) and the English Civil Wars. The inevitable consequence was an large increase in the demands on the Kirk Sessions for help by the widowed and orphaned. The Puritan vigour  was subsequently endorsed by Oliver Cromwell when he subjugated Scotland during his republican rule. In 1656 the ultimate law was passed that forbade frequenting taverns, dance, listening to profane music, washing, brewing ale or baking bread, to travel or conducting any business on a Sunday. This, for example, led to punishment of children for playing on a Sunday, and a public warning about carrying water, sweeping the house or clearing ashes from the fire place. In Glasgow there were paid spies to report lapses by the congregation.

The Presbyterian system also substituted for the "welfare state" and sought to help for "the deserving poor" - the victims of old age and misfortune, the sick, the elderly the widow and the fatherless child, but was strongly opposed to helping the idle and the beggars. There was already a system of education and three universities in Scotland before the Presbyterians kirk was established, but this was available to those who could afford it, or depended on ministers who also acted as schoolmaster in the Parish. In 1616 an act was passed commanding that every parish should have a school, if circumstances allowed. It was 1646 before laws made the land owners liable to pay for them. Schoolteachers and readers were required to be licensed by the Presbytery. In the 17th century school started at the age of five and meant to continue for five years before the child might pass to a higher school or university depending on ability. The peasant child though might leave by age eight to help the family by work, particularly during the harvest. The school day often started at 6.00 am in summer and lasted between eight and twelve hours with breaks of an hour for breakfast and lunch. The teaching varied with the ability of the school master but always focused on "godliness and good manners". Everyone learned to read and write and many schools taught Latin to the more able student. In the burgh schools they taught arithmetic. Compulsory attendance at church was common and the children would be required to discuss the sermon and its meaning on the Monday. Famous for its Colleges and doctors of medicine from early times, by 1780 Scotland had developed an educational system in advance of anything in Europe at the time -  with consequent impact on its culture and the important ability to help maximise the talents of its people.

Members of the Parliament of Scotland were traditionally elected from three "estates" or classes: the clergy (bishops), the nobility and lairds, and the burgesses (representatives of the royal burghs). Bishops were excluded when the anti-episcopalian Covenanters gained control of the Scottish government, leading to the Bishops' Wars. The Bishops Wars were almost non-events with little real fighting at national level, but was an excuse for feuding between local families in the north east and west of Scotland.

In June 1640, during an uneasy truce, the Scottish Parliament assembled in defiance of the King's attempts to postpone its sitting. A number of acts were passed that radically altered the constitution of Scotland including the confirmation of the removal of bishops, thus excluding one of the traditional estates from the Scottish Parliament. A new Committee of Estates was appointed to govern Scotland when Parliament was not in session. It consisted of twelve members from each of the remaining estates: the nobles, lairds and burgesses and an additional three Lords of Session (magistrates). The Committee's primary responsibility was the defence of Scotland, for which it was granted powers to borrow money and to raise taxes. Generals of the army were given the right to attend meetings of the Committee. When convenient, the Committee was split in two, with one half remaining in Edinburgh while the other half accompanied the army on campaign.

The Committee was dominated by Covenanters. It was called again in August 1643 after the Convention of Estates had negotiated an alliance with the English Parliament to intervene against the Royalists in the English Civil War. The Committee remained in power whenever Parliament was not sitting throughout the turbulent 1640s. The fundamentalist Kirk Party became the dominant political force and governed Scotland as a theocracy from 1648-50, characterised by regular purges of officials and soldiers regarded as ungodly or "malignant". The Kirk's desire to stamp out sin and to enforce moral reform, in accordance with the principles of the Covenant, resulted in one of Scotland's periodic "witch-crazes" during 1649-50, in which hundreds of alleged witches were persecuted, with many burned at the stake.

Charles II was proclaimed King of Scots in February 1649, but the Kirk Party insisted that he should first accept the Covenant and promise to establish Presbyterian church government throughout the Three Kingdoms. Realising that he needed a Scottish army to help him regain the thrones of England and Ireland, Charles was obliged to sign the Treaty of Breda in May 1650 and reluctantly took the Covenant upon his arrival in Scotland the following month. The Kirk Party struggled to keep Charles under its control by banishing most of his closest advisers and by insisting upon purging the Scottish army of all but strict Covenanters in the weeks before the battle of Dunbar. Up to 80 veteran officers and 3,000 experienced soldiers were judged unfit to serve and were replaced by inexperienced recruits, which contributed to the Scottish defeat at Dunbar and discredited the Kirk Party. The Kirk Party was further weakened when hardline Covenanters broke away to form the Remonstrant movement.

 Free from all associations with the malignant King, the Western Association regarded itself as the true guardian of the Covenant. The Association was supported by Archibald Johnston of Warriston and fundamentalist ministers led by James Guthrie and Patrick Gillespie. On 2 October, the Association issued a Remonstrance addressed to the Committee of Estates in which the defeat at Dunbar was blamed upon those who had negotiated the Treaty of Breda without first obtaining evidence that Charles had truly repented. A second Remonstrance was issued from Dumfries on 17 October in which the Remonstrants disassociated themselves from the King's war with the English until he had proven himself worthy of their support. Despite general sympathy and a tacit recognition that it contained much truth, the Remonstrance was finally rejected on the grounds that it was likely to cause further divisions among the Covenanters.

On 14 December 1650, the Commission of the Kirk decreed that it was Parliament's duty to employ all lawful means to defend Scotland against the English invaders, which opened the way for the re-admission of Royalists and Engagers into the army once they had undergone suitable penance. Pro-Royalists were known as "Resolutioners" because they supported the resolutions of 14 December. They were opposed by "Protesters", a group which was led by Remonstrants but included many who had not supported the original Remonstrance. The Protesters continued to object to the relaxation of the strictures against malignants but the Royalists rapidly gained influence in the military and civil administration of Scotland after the coronation of Charles II culminating in the the fall of the Kirk Party.

The events of 1650-1 caused a deep schism within the Kirk. The radical Remonstrants and Protesters believed that the compromises made to accommodate Charles II had irrevocably corrupted the Kirk. They broke away from the majority Resolutioners to hold conventicles, or prayer-meetings, outside the normal worship of the Kirk. The Protesters refused to accept the authority of General Assemblies from 1651 onwards because they were dominated by the corrupted Resolutioner majority. In July 1653, the Protesters and Resolutioners held rival General Assemblies in Edinburgh, but both were dissolved by order of Major-General Lilburne, the military governor of Scotland. These were the last meetings of the General Assembly for thirty-seven years. During the Protectorate Cromwell's toleration and encouragement of the Independent sects was bitterly opposed by Scottish Presbyterians and undermined his hopes of reuniting the fractured Kirk.

The Restoration of Charles II in 1660  was greeted with some euphoria among the general populace who had endured over twenty years of almost constant war. But it was short lived. Charles turned upon the Kirk and its leaders who had given him such a tough time in 1650 - 1651 when he had tried to take up his throne following the execution of his father (Charles I). At his Restoration he took his revenge, executing the Marquis of Argyll, James Guthrie and, later, Archibald Johnstone, Lord Warriston. He next caused legislation to abolish all that Presbytery had achieved and restored episcopacy along with compulsory attendance at the approved church on pain of heavy fines for non attendance. In 1666, originating in Galloway, advancing from the west towards Edinburgh, a small force of badly armed Covenanters was defeated at the Battle of Rullion Green in the Pentland Hills.

From about 1670 the country was under military rule as Charles intensified the persecution of the people and prompted the "Killing Time" of 1684-5. To quell unrest in south-west Scotland some 3,000 Lowland militia and 6,000 Highlanders (the 'Highland Host') were billeted in the Covenanting shires. The Highlanders were responsible for many atrocities, robbery and rape, pillage and plunder. Covenanters were  flushed out and hunted down as never before and the common soldier was empowered to take life at will of any suspect without a requirement of a trial. Usually it was done without any evidence and often as the result of the suspicions of an over-zealous town official or minister. Brutality in these days defied the imagination and the persecution had no mercy on man, woman or child, irrespective of circumstances. A Covenanter once caught by the King's troops was shot on the spot. These policies provoked armed rebellions in 1666 and 1679, which were quickly suppressed at the defeats of militant Covenanters in battles of Drumclog and Bothwell Brig. Following the Battle of Bothwell Brig some 1200 prisoners were taken and incarcerated in a make-shift prison next to the Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, many died of suffocation. Of these prisoners, 257 erstwhile ringleaders and ministers were sentenced to be transported to the West Indies or Virginia as white slaves. The vessel set sail on November 27, 1679, but struck rocks off Orkney and was wrecked. It is said that the captain was a heartless and cruel man and despite the pleas of the frightened prisoners he ordered the hatches to be chained. Thus it was on December 10, 1679, that 211 Covenanters went to a watery grave. A mere 49 Covenanters survived the wreck only to be transported later.

Cameronian was a name given to a section of the Scottish Covenanters who followed the teachings of Richard Cameron, and who were composed principally of those who signed the Sanquhar Declaration in 1680, disavowing allegiance to Charles II and the government of Scotland, in the name of "true Protestant and Presbyterian interest", opposition to government interference in religious affairs, and anti-Catholicism, refusing to take the oaths of allegiance to an uncovenanted ruler, or to exercise any civil function. Known also as "Society Men", "Sanquharians," and "Hillmen", they became a separate church after the religious settlement of 1690, taking the official title of Reformed Presbyterians in 1743. Dissatisfied with the moderate character of the religious settlement of 1690 they wished to restore the ecclesiastical order which had existed between 1638 and 1649. Cameron was killed and his head and hands were severed from his body and taken to Edinburgh where they were shown to his father who was already imprisoned in the town’s tolbooth. After being paraded through the main street behind Cameron's head displayed aloft on the end of a pole. Cameron’s head and hands were then affixed to the Netherbow Port for public display. The Cameronians saw themselves as early Christian martyrs by holding steadfastly to their beliefs in the face of torture and death. It was from these rebellious religious militants that the famous Cameronian Rifles regiment was formed, not the family clan Cameron, and it was why each new recruit to the regiment was issued a bible .

Some historians have tried to portray the Covenanters as an early revolutionary movement. The Covenanters are regarded by some as freedom fighters who bravely opposed attempts by the English crown to destroy the Scottish religion, culture and identity and it is has also claimed that those Protestant rebels were sidelined in Scots' history. The king had indeed been defeated in his attempt to dictate the religion of his subjects, but it was, nevertheless, the Covenanter's intention to deny the religious freedom they sought for themselves to all others. Being Episcopalian wasn't good enough; to be Catholic was unforgivable. Inspired by the theocratic spirit, the bigoted creed of the Covenanters sought to create a fundamentalist Scotland. In many ways, they can be seen as a sort of the tartan Taleban, our very own Scottish ayatollahs, who would have turned Scotland into a theocratic state, communities controlled by the church. In that respect, they do not deserve our sympathy.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Tartan Rebels

An American-based academic has registered a protest plaid which he hopes will be adopted by members of the Occupy Movement and persuade the more fashion-conscious activists and eco-warriors to wear tartan as they head to the barricades.

 Dr Giles Jackson
has revealed the gold-flecked tartan, which represents the unequal distribution of wealth, will be the first in a range of radical designs. His Liberation Kilt Co , whose slogan is “Dress to protest!” has also registered tartans which can be worn by the anti-nuclear movement, supporters of political dissidents and climate change activists. The Virginia-based business school professor insists he was inspired by Scotland’s long-standing tradition of championing the underdog and supporting progressive causes. He said: “I’m tapping into a long and glorious tradition. Long before tartan became the garb of royal subjects it was a badge of dissent.” Jackson hopes his Liberty Square tartan will prove popular with the anti-corporate Occupy movement which has held protest camps in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and across Europe and the US. He said: “Tartan’s role as a unifying aesthetic within groups is well known. Less well known is its potential as a unifier between groups and its capacity to cross cultural boundaries on a planetary scale. Anyone who identifies with the Occupy movement is welcome to wear or display the Liberty Square tartan”.

According to the Register,  it: “Symbolises the golden rule of capitalism: ‘Those with the gold make the rules’. The spoils increasingly go to a protected class of global profiteers, represented by the gold stripes, while the ordinary citizen is gradually stripped of freedoms, money and dignity”.

Jackson’s Havel tartan, designed to resemble prison bars, celebrates persecuted dissidents and has been approved by the widow of the late Czech playwright and president Vaclav Havel, who was imprisoned for his belief in freedom of speech and civil liberties. Other designs include the anti-nuclear Yamaguchi Tsutomu tartan, named after the only person to survive both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs, and Tahrir, which honours the pro-democracy Arab Spring, as well as plaids symbolising climate change and the importance of public ownership of water supplies.

Rob Gibson, the SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, gave his support to the idea of tartan being used to promote social justice and environmental causes. The convener of Holyrood’s rural affairs, climate change and environmental committee said: “There are so many corporate appropriations of tartans that it is not surprising that people will want to reclaim it."

Jackson is now looking to create a range of kilts, headbands, caps and seal-friendly sporrans.

Food for thought

Thomas Walkom writes in the Toronto Star that there has always been a tacit agreement in Canada that Canadians would welcome new immigrants as long as the government didn't use them to drive down wages. This is very shaky reasoning considering that Marx showed 150 years ago that the reserve army, including immigrants, is there to do just that, drive down wages. Walkom reports that even that agreement has been abandoned by the Harper government. Ottawa will now allow employers to pay temporary foreign workers less. Just who qualifies as a temporary worker is cause for stretching a point. By 2011, there were over 300 000 temporary foreign workers in Canada. What the government is saying, according to Walkom, is that if Canadians don't want to see jobs going to foreign workers they should quit whining and accept lower wages. Right!

While austerity measures and economic downturns may save money for the owning class, they are decidedly unhealthy for the working class. All over Europe suicides by economic circumstances are on the rise, especially in the fragile nations. In Greece, suicides increased 24% from 2007 to 2009, in Ireland by 16%, in Italy suicides rose from 123 in 2005 to 187 in 2010. Capitalism is a dangerous business. Time to make our lives safe! John Ayers

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Red Union

"We will support the officials just so long as they rightly represent the workers, but we will act independently immediately they misrepresent them" - Clyde Workers' Committee

The United Mineworkers of Scotland - The Red Union

The United Mineworkers of Scotland (UMS), functioned for some six years in the few areas in which the Communist Party had a credible industrial presence. None the less, the UMS never recruited more than 4000 members and this had  fallen to 2000 by 1932, of which 65% were in Fife. Once again, as so often in Scottish labour history, religion had an influence. The UMS was strong in the pits with a history of more militancy but also with a higher level of Irish workers. Protestant Harthill was weak in Communist Party membership, whereas Catholic Blantyre support for CPGB ran high. Abe Moffat, the UMS leader, recalled that during a strike in the Shotts coalfield in 1930 that Catholic miners didn't want to offend the local priest by marching in front of his house. The "Red Union" was dependant upon the strength of Communist Party support and flourished in Fife and Lanarkshire, rather than Ayrshire and the Lothians. Its office was initially in Glasgow but very soon moved to Dunfermline.

Wullie Adamson, the Fife miners' leader ruled with an iron rod, but his post-war trade union position became increasingly beleaguered. During the First World War, a critical left-wing current had developed within the Fife miners' union. These radicals were critical of Adamson's flexibility to coal owners' demands and the lack of democracy within the union. Following the miners' defeat in the 1921 lock-out, criticism focused on the democracy issue. The culmination was a split at the end of 1922 with the formation of a separate Reform Union among the Fife miners under Philip Hodge of the Independent Labour Party. When a general election was called late in 1923, the Reform Union decided to run Hodge as a parliamentary candidate against Adamson, also a Labour MP, in the West Fife constituency. Hodge ran as a Reform candidate and in a straight fight he polled 6459 votes (over 34 per cent), an indication of many miners' disillusion with Adamson. The enmities meant that reunification of the two unions was achieved only in 1927. Several influential members of the Fife Left-wing were now in the Communist Party and that body favoured reunion. The lengthy dispute of 1926 placed a premium on solidarity, but the reunited union had to deal with the consequences of a thorough defeat. Reunification meant new elections both for posts in Fife and for the coalfield's representatives on the Scottish executive. The Left made a significant advance and Adamson and his allies endeavoured by creative use of the rule-book to evade the consequences. The Mining unions in Fife, and Lanarkshire, descended into chaos. The Fife county board suspended Adamson as secretary on the ground that he had broken his mandate, whereupon he resigned and set up a new union, the Fife, Clackmannan, and Kinross Miners' Union. Significantly this new body became the official Fife union within the National Union of Scottish Mineworkers and therefore within the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. The lack of constitutional procedure involved in creating the new union counted for little against a broad agreement among miners' union officials that communist growth must be blocked at all costs. The Communists moved towards their "Class Against Class" policy, which was to produce yet another union, the United Mineworkers of Scotland. But to the radicals in Fife, the creation of a  separate ‘red’ miners' union was seen as the only credible response to Adamson's contempt for union decisions and his new union. The historian John Saville wrote; “The history of the Scottish miner's after the General Strike is a grim record of crooked dealing by the Right Wing officials who, voted out of office by their members, refused to give up their positions to the Left Wing which had triumphed. Whether the Left was correct in allowing itself to be provoked into the formation of an independent union is quite another question...” Perhaps, in retrospect, it was something of a mistake but participants at the time felt that legitimacy was on their side and it did not feel wrong. The creation of the United Mineworkers of Scotland in mid-1929 was not so much a result of the left-turn in the Comintern  but a natural development to local circumstances. In short, the UMS was as reaction to election fraud, exacerbated by the unhealed frictions over attitudes to taking strike action. It had grown out of an initially successful but, in the medium term failed attempt to reform corrupt union districts in the earlier Reform Union. Several villages were now Communist strongholds. A twelve-week dispute at the Valleyfield colliery saw members of Adamson's own union ignoring his pleas to return to work; instead his members co-operated with the ‘red’ United Mineworkers of Scotland.

What was happening in these years in many industrial localities all over Britain was a general challenge to the local hierarchy—not just the extraction of wage increases, the reduction of hours, nor even the emergence of Labour in local government and at Westminster. The wave of local and partial struggles that have broken out throughout the minefields was symptomatic of the revulsion of the working class against the policy of the Labour Government and the sabotage of the trade union bureaucracy. The success of the Communist Party in such areas could be explained by two intersecting causes. The first is the prior existence of a sense of solidarity serving to knit the inhabitants of these working class localities together. The second is the capacity of the local Communist leadership to maintain that solidarity and transform it by giving it a more precise political definition. Unlike most other sections of the working class, these "Little Moscows", as the historian Stuart McIntyre labels such communities, were able to fight for and win improvements in unemployment relief, housing and public health; they doggedly defended work-customs that were destroyed elsewhere and they maintained a fight against wage cuts. They were not always successful but they did sustain a sense of morale in defeat amongst the working class and a belief in its own capabilities when such qualities were in short supply.

In Scotland, under the leadership of the United Mineworkers of Scotland, these feelings  found expression in the number of struggles that have been conducted successfully by that union against the reactionary union officials. In Lumphinnans the miners' lodge was pivotal, and here again an initial coalition of young Communists and ILPers had assumed control. Such was their success in Lumphinnans that most of the miners were carried into the new Reform Union of the Fife miners set up as an alternative to the undemocratic old union. The militants roots had grown deep in Fife, largely as a result of the role of those Communist Party members in the mining industry. The Scottish miners' unions, which were county based, were largely in the hands of Labour's right wing and Adamson but such a leadership was severely challenged by the Left. The Labour-led executive of the Fife miners' union refused to support the popularly supported strikes between 1919 and 1921 and, a 'Reform Union' had been formed in 1923. This was not largely a consequence of action by Communists but arose from a personality conflict between senior officials of the union. In 1926, Fife miners held out longer than the rest of Britain. The split was overcome during the General Strike and the nine months lockout of miners. The two unions reunited briefly in 1927 but at the end of the 1920s a new union, the United Mineworkers of Scotland, was set up when Adamson and the right in other Scottish mining areas refused to accept the result of union ballots. The continued tensions arising from bureaucratic repression of Left forces and the manoeuvring of the right led to yet another split. Nor should sectarian excesses be thought of as all on one side. If the militants sometimes advocated policies that were too far ahead of popular opinion, their opponents on the right of the labour movement went much further in actually seeking to destroy any united front. It was Adamson's union in Fife that refused to accept majority decisions

Once again Lumphinnans took an active role and became a leading branch of the UMS. Abe Moffat was born in Lumphinnans on 24th September 1896. He and his brothers, notably Alex, and Dave, were leaders of the Scottish miners and life-long Communists. They came from a strong tradition of mining unionism; their grandfather had been a pioneer of mining trades unionism in the Lothians during the 1860s but had been forced to move to Fife due to victimisation. Abe Moffat worked in the pits from 1910 until he was victimised in 1926 and was active in all the miners' strike actions from the moment he joined the industry. By late 1922, or early 1923, he had joined the Communist Party. He was involved in the publication of the `Buzzer', a bulletin for militant miners at the Glencraig Colliery, Lochgelly. This was a Communist Party publication, produced on a typewriter and duplicator and costing a penny. Within two years of joining the Party he was elected as a Communist councillor on Ballingry Parish Council. Parish councils had up to then proved to be a useful form of entry by Communists into the elective arena where the main challenger was Labour, by virtue of their small sized and concentrated electorates. They were abolished as a form of local government in 1929. Whilst there were UMS members elsewhere in Scotland it was based mainly in Fife. Just before the formation of the UMS both Alex and Abe were elected checkweighmen (a position of some importance to miners since it encompassed a legal role in overseeing the amount of coal cut and hence the value of earnings). Abe and Alex Moffat in Fife, achieved their leading trade union positions through the support of the members in the traditional trade unions. The leading Communist miners justifiably felt uncomfortable about carrying out the Comintern instruction, which went against the grain of traditional trade unionism, and could not be realised as an effective force in the conditions at the time. Nor was Abe Moffat, contrary to some claims, a key force in the creation of the UMS. He was, at the time of its foundation, a pit delegate - an important but not leading position; however, he was UMS secretary from 1931 to 1935. His leadership of the UMS was primarily devoted to finding a way to achieve organisational unity amongst miners once again. In 1933 attempts to merge with the official union were rebuffed and, in 1935, arising from a proposition by Abe Moffat himself, UMS members balloted to apply for membership of the official Fife union, to maximise the possibilities for unity. Their overtures were rejected and the UMS went into voluntary liquidation.

Davie Proudfoot Proudfoot, like all Communist miners, found himself in the United Mineworkers of Scotland. He was a local miners’ leader in Buckhaven & Methil an activist during the 1926 strike and lock-out. So much so that, when elections for the miners’ union in the Fife coalfield were held, Proudfoot was one of the Communists who won positions. Proudfoot’s father had been a member of the SDF and BSP. He became a Communist a short while after foundation and had been influenced by the Fife Communist League, which set up a bookshop in Cowdenbeath in 1916. He was the main force behind the establishment of `Spark’, the highly influential pit paper produced by the Methil Communist Pit Group, both Party and YCL. Its first issue in 1925 sold 240 copies and a year later it was up to a thousand copies. Initially a fortnightly and then a weekly publication from 1927, it ended its days with the last issue in December 1931. The increasingly vitriolic nature of the publication after 1926, in common with most Communist pit papers of the time, seems to have become an issue for Proudfoot. The bitter internal divisions were, of course, associated with the period of Class Against Class  with the Communists denounced their former allies as "social fascists". Some idea of the scale of such problems is provided by a letter written by David Proudfoot to Allen Hutt at the end of 1928. The Cowdenbeath comrades used their pit-paper to denounce some local miners as hypocrites and traitors solely because they had not supported Communists in a recent ballot. Proudfoot appears to have thought that it all needed toning down. When challenged by Proudfoot, the Cowdenbeath "hundred per centers" claimed that "no personal reflection is being cast on" such traitors, and that the sole purpose of this language was to bring its recipients closer to the Party. Proudfoot's critical position is in some respects close to that of Arthur Horner, the leading Mardy Communist, who also ran afoul of Party purists during the same period because of his refusal to carry out the policy of establishing an alternative miners union in Souh Wales. Proudfoot became the General Secretary of the UMS in early 1931 but only lasted seven months. He did not prove either popular or successful. He then withdrew from activity and Abe Moffat took over, making much more of a success of events and, in 1935 helping to lead the way back towards unity of Scottish miners by the dissolution of the UMS.

Other participants to mention in the passing are CPer Willie Allan also served as general secretary for the UMS as well as with Minority Movement. John McArthur was another miner active in the United Mineworkers of Scotland. McArthur was elected as a Communist councillor for Buckhaven on Fife County Council in the 1930s. Jimmy Shields was born in January 1900 in Greenock, Scotland, of Irish parents and joined the Communist Party in 1921. In 1925,  in search of work, Jimmy moved to South Africa, where he soon became Chairman of the South African Communist Party until 1927 when he moved back to Scotland. He  played an active part in supporting the United Mineworkers of Scotland before moving to become editor of the Daily Worker and on to spy for the Soviet Union!

According to one commentator the UMS leaders in Lanarkshire had a tendency to inflate their successes and became notorious for recklessly placing "far too much emphasis...on getting a pit idle...[using] any kind of issue, real or get the men to walk home, so that they could report that a strike had taken place." During one strike in late 1930, they invited strikers to "demand the death penalty for the 'Industrial Party plotters' then on trial in the Soviet Union."

 The United Mineworkers of Scotland were, in the words of one delegate to the 400,000 strong  Miners Federation of Great Britain conference in 1930, "loud speakers and very few listeners in".

In 1938, Abe Moffat was  elected a County Councillor, making the Communist Group of councillors five strong. He remained unbeaten as a councillor until 1944, when he left public elective office to become a full-time official for the miners  union. His brother, Alex Moffat also became an elected Communist Fife County Councillor, serving for 19 years in a seat that was held by the Party for 40 years. In 1938, with the discreet connivance of a full-time union official, both Alex and Abe were able to obtain work at a small private mine, not part of the county owners' association, largely due to their reputation for hard work. Fortunately, the union was then structured on localities not pits, so, in 1939, Abe Moffat was elected delegate for Lumphinnans, amicably replacing another brother, David, who had kept the seat warm for him! The following year he was elected to the EC of the Scottish miners' federation. He was elected President of the Scottish miners in 1942, and then proceeded to lead the campaign for a single Scottish miners' union to be created out of the county associations. After the formation of the National Union of Miners (NUM) in 1944, across the whole of Britain, he was elected the Scottish President, a position he held until his retirement in September 1961. By that time, he served on the Scottish Communist Party District Committee for at least 25 years and the Party's national Executive Committee for 30 years.

Proudfoot appears to have stayed with the Communist Party for the next decade or so. Nonetheless, his eventual break with the Communist Party became very public when he supported Labour Party candidate Tom Hubbard in a by-election in February 1944 for the Kircaldy parliamentary seat. David Proudfoot was himself elected in 1945 as a Labour Party councillor in Buckhaven & Methil and was prominent in the post-war planning and development matters; he died in 1958.

See SOYMB for history of the Communist Party Third Period and the creation of the United Clothing Workers Union

An independent Scotland built upon inequality

The vote yes campaign for independence has been launched.

Nationalism divides society into more and more separate entities, create more divisions, more fears and suspicions and when the globe is totally criss-crossed with walls, fences, and border posts that we allow ourselves to become so paranoid, afraid and suspicious of each other. Officialdom drum “patriotism” into people’s heads. Ill-considered rhetoric, regurgitated mantras built on lies, fears and hatred need overturning without hesitation. Nationalistic slogans are uttered by right and left.

Revolutionary socialists have discarded the flag and the school history books with the details of so many deeds of butchery within its pages. That its workers should be patriotic is vital to each national ruling class and this, fertilised by official lies, is exploited by all governments. This appeal to workers to a fake identity with their own exploiters in the name of  “national” unity is utterly poisonous to the real interests of the working class.

What, after all, is one’s own country? One’s native land, every country, no matter under what form of government, is made up of two groups of men, consisting on the one hand of a quite small number, and on the other the immense majority of people. The first of these is seated round a well furnished table where nothing is lacking. At the head of this table, in the seat of honour, you find the great financiers, the large shareholders in companies, the factories and big shops, the landed proprietors; all are seated at this table. Also seated you have government ministers, officials of every department of civil, religious or military administration. That is your country, made up of this social inequality.

If you don't believe so, then just ask yourself why Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump have the ear of Alex Salmond and you do not.

 The difference across Britain between the top 10% and lowest 10% in incomes is 95.8:1 in England (aided by the grotesque levels of inequality in London of 273:1), but only slightly less in Scotland, 93.4:1 and in Wales, 89.5:1. Despite the pervasive story of modern Scotland that we are an egalitarian land the reality is that Scotland is the most unequal part of the UK after London and the North West of England.

 If we went back to election turnout levels of only 25 years ago in the mid-1980s, nearly one million (977,742) Scots are missing from the democratic debate. The missing million Scots are mostly younger, poorer, and live in the West of Scotland and Central Belt, disengaged and disconnected because of apathy and alienation.

And do the Scots communicate more and have access to more information?  Broadband and PC access in Glasgow and the West of Scotland was at shockingly low levels versus the rhetoric of digital liberation. Ofcom explained, "The reasons for this are complex but lower income levels and older age groups are less likely to take broadband services". Yet the same research showed that there was a "Scottish effect" which went beyond material poverty: with lower income groups having 30% Broadband access compared to 55% across the UK; 16-34 year olds have 65% access in Scotland and 82% across the UK. And this digital divide has an even more pronounced "Glasgow effect".

 Many of us have found repugnant the actions and behaviours of the British state these last few decades but why do we automatically assume that Scottish self-government will be any different to the rotting edifices of the British body politic. For socialists the independence debate is about shifting from self-government to self-determination, not about what the Scottish establishment  institutions will and won’t do, or what they will let you do but about real political and economic control and new social relationships that will lead to our self-emancipation as a class, not as a nation

Friday, May 25, 2012

Room with a view - £7 million

Scotland’s most expensive flat, yours for £7m. The penthouse is priced at offers of more than £6.3m or a fixed price of £7.3m to take it off the market immediately – smashing the previous record for a Scottish apartment, thought to be Whittingehame House in East Lothian, priced at £2.5m which sold in 2010. Selling prices in Edinburgh for whole houses have nudged £5m, while rural estates can go for far more.

It is no surprise that the newly-refurbished Hamilton Grand in St Andrews is the most expensive apartments in Scotland. The former hotel towers looks across the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and therefore has a legitimate claim to “the best view in golf”. It was bought in 2009 by US billionaire Herb Kohler’s company, which is creating 26 apartments, with prices starting from £2.2m and ranging in size from 1,133 to 2,780 square feet. Owners will share a roof garden with sweeping vistas over the golf course and coast, and the penthouse will have its own private terrace along two sides overlooking the 18th green. Jamie Macnab of Savills, which is marketing the Hamilton Grand in the UK, said buyers are likely to come from abroad. There will be a golf concierge and butler service in the building and residents will have access to the Old Course Hotel facilities and spa. Complimentary membership of the Duke’s Course is included and permanent residents can apply for a yearly golf ticket for the more famous links courses.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Swindled Scots Again

A previous post concerned the Darien Scheme. Not many Scots however know of Gregor Macgregor, Prince of Poyais, Poyais being not far up the Central American coast from Darien. Gregor MacGregor was born in Glengyle in Stirlingshire and claimed direct descent from Rob Roy. He was a soldier and mercenary who fought in the South American wars of independence. 

Upon his return in 1820 to Britain, he claimed to be cacique ["prince"] of Poyais, a Central American country that MacGregor promoted to investors and colonists. Poyais, was an independent nation on the Bay of Honduras. He claimed that a native chief King George Frederic Augustus the First had given him the territory of Poyais, 12,500 sq. mile of fertile land with untapped resources. Gregor presented himself as His Serene Highness Gregor I, Prince of Poyais and his beautiful wife as the Princess of Poyais. No-one questioned their bona fides; instead they were welcomed into the ranks of the elite and were the toast of society. MacGregor published a 350-page guidebook entitled Sketch of the Mosquito Shore, including the Territory of Poyais. It described Poyais in glowing terms and concentrated on how much profit could be made from the country's ample resources. Poyais was said to possess an already existing infrastructure with civil service, army and democratic government , gold and silver mines and large amounts of fertile soil ready to be settled. The capital, St Joseph, even boasted an opera house. The region was even free of tropical diseases. But now he needed settlers and investment and had come back to the United Kingdom to give people the opportunity. At the time, British merchants were all too eager to enter the South American market that Spain had denied to them. The Lord Mayor of London organised an official reception in London Guildhall. MacGregor was also introduced to Major William John Richardson and he made Richardson Legate of Poyais. He also moved to Oak Hall, Richardson's estate in Essex, as befit his station as a prince. An office for the Legation of the Territory of Poyais was opened in the City of London and MacGregor enhanced his popularity with elaborate banquets and invited dignitaries like foreign ambassadors and government ministers.

MacGregor also claimed that one of his ancestors was a rare survivor of the Darien Scheme, the failed Scottish attempt of colonisation in Panama in 1690s. In order to compensate for this, he said, he had decided to draw most of the settlers from Scotland. For this purpose, he established offices in Edinburgh Glasgow and Stirling. In Scotland, MacGregor began to sell land rights for 3 shillings and 3 pence per acre. The average worker's weekly wage at the time was about £1, which meant that the price was very generous. The price steadily rose to 4 shillings. Many people hoping to make a new start in the new country signed on with their families. MacGregor successfully raised a £200,000 loan on behalf of the Poyais government, in the form of 2,000 bearer bonds worth £100 each.

The Legation of Poyais chartered a ship called the Honduras Packet. Its cargo also included a chest full of Poyais Dollars, the Poyaisian currency MacGregor had printed in Scotland. Colonists were assured the only legal currency in their new home would be the Poyaisian dollar and so, before departing, they exchanged their old Scottish and English pounds for this new currency. What did they care for old money from the old country anyway? A wonderful new world of plenty awaited them. On 10 September 1822 the Honduras Packet departed from the Port of London with 70 would-be-settlers aboard. They included doctors, lawyers and a banker who had been promised appropriate positions in the Poyais civil service. Some had also purchased officer commissions in the Poyaisian army. A Scottish shoemaker was equally entranced at the thought that he was to be the Official Shoemaker to the Princess of Poyais. On 22 January 1823 another ship, the Kennersley Castle, left Leith for Poyais with 200 would-be-settlers. It arrived in the appropriate place 20 March and spent two days looking for a port. Eventually the newcomers found the settlers who had sailed on the Honduras Packet.

The bond issues, land sales, and currency of the Territory of Poyais were all part of a scam. Poyais was an imaginary country. What the settlers found was jungle. "St Joseph" consisted of only a couple of ruins of a previous attempt at settlement abandoned in the previous century. There was no settlement of any kind. Standing where the towering buildings, opera house and banks of the shining capital of St Joseph were supposed to be were instead four rundown shacks. There was no Poyaisian army, no royal family, no civil service, not even one solid building. The great, prosperous nation of Poyais had all been an elaborate illusion, a heartless fraud committed on men and women from hard-working backgrounds who had dared to hope for a better life in the Americas. The monumental fraud had enlisted the credulity not only of adventurers but also of earnest bankers, profit-hungry land agents, and an old-boy network of aristocrats. A bull market had raged and the banking houses were abuzz with the news that Sir Gregor MacGregor was offering acreage in the New World at bargain prices. So convincing was MacGregor that he had duped them all. 180 of the 270 would-be settlers perished during the ordeal. Fewer than 50 came back alive to Britain. MacGregor himself, however, had already left for France where he had plans to send French emigrants to Poyais.

MacGregor published a new constitution of Poyais and changed it into a republic with himself as the head of state. In August 1825 he issued a £300.000 loan with 2.5% interest through the London bank of Thomas Jenkins & Company and the trading organization "Compagnie de la Nouvelle Neustrie" was commissioned to further the affairs of Poyais. Recruited settlers were required to buy 100 francs worth of the company shares. When French officials noticed that a number of people had obtained passports in order to voyage to a country they had never heard of, they seized the la Nouvelle Neustrie ship. Some of the would-be-emigrants realised that something was not right and demanded investigation of the affair. MacGregor was arrested with others but was acquitted at his trial and released.

MacGregor returned to London. This time he claimed that he had been elected as the head of state, the "Cacique of the Republic of Poyais", and opened a new office in Threadneedle Street in the City, without any diplomatic trappings and in much a smaller scale than before. He issued a loan worth £800.000 as 20-year bonds again with Thomas Jenkins & Company as brokers. In 1828 MacGregor tried to sell land from Poyais at the price of 5 shillings per acre. In 1831 MacGregor promoted a "Poyaisian New Three per cent Consolidated Stock" as "the President of the Poyaisian Republic". In 1834 he was living in Scotland and had to issue a new series of land certificates as payment for unredeemed securities. In 1836 he wrote a new constitution for the Poyaisian Republic. The last record of any Poyais scheme is in 1837, when he tried to sell some land certificates.

 Such a scam could never happen again in Scotland, could it?

 The Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland effectively went bust during the recession. At best, there were appalling management failures with an obsession with growth taking precedence over prudent banking practice. At worst, the banks were out-of-control and riddled with fraud and criminality, having been primed by its management teams to deliver maximum short-term profit growth with maximum reward for executives, irrespective of whether the banks had a chance of surviving long term — or whether its customers were harmed. The Financial Services Authority turned a blind eye to the blatant wrongdoing and recklessness, accused by many of acting as a cheerleader for the big banks, if not an accomplice.

The executives who ran HBOS and RBS were supposed to be the best and the brightest. They were selected from the finest schools and the top universities, well qualified in business and accountancy. How exactly do the people running these operations invest? Do they watch everyone else and then do the exact same thing, following instinct of the herd? Do they figure that they have some form of immunity and get away with what others can't? Surely, they understand the business cycle. Surely, they understand what a bubble is. Surely they could see what was going on, when it was going on, and where it was leading before it went there? If they didn't, how come others did? The financial world was full of information about the coming crash before it happened. Most in the money community knew the market was bound to come tumbling down. But, just what are the chances of those with their snouts deep in the trough ever questioning the system? Little to none. Not in a million years will they ever question the fundamentals of the system, even though it blows up in their faces every decade or so. Despite all the sophisticated best-practices and the cleverest financial technology capitalism is fatally flawed. The system will eventually rebound from the present recession. The bankers with their spread sheets, their risk analysis, their clever accounting methods will once again seek out their "opportunities" in the next bubble. And then express their surprise when that too bursts.

At some point, the system has to be questioned. The idea that people can trust in more and more regulatory authority to foil the "few" bad pennies and rotten apples is sheer wishful thinking. What must come out of this mess is not a restructured financial and regulatory environment but a fundamental questioning of the whole concept of capitalism. It is no exaggeration to say that the global financial sector tolerates and even encourages systematic fraud. The behaviour that caused the sub-prime mortgage bubble and financial crisis of 2008 was a natural outcome and continuation of a criminalised pattern, rather than some kind of economic accident. There have been very few prosecutions and even less criminal convictions of senior executives. Similar to MacGregor, the bankers have walked Scot-free from the legal process.

The economist, Nouriel Roubini, in Crisis Economics recalls Gregor MacGregor and reminds us of the recurring nature of economic crises. He wrote "...the panic of 1825 reverberated around the world. It began in Britain and had all the hallmarks of a classic crisis: easy money (courtesy of the Bank of England), an asset bubble (stocks and bonds linked to investments in the emerging market of Peru), and even widespread fraud (feverish selling of the bonds of a fictitious nation called the Republic of Poyais to credulous investors)."

Just like many another capitalist swindler, Gregor MacGregor got away with his crimes and found a friendly foreign country to retire to. His name can still be seen on a  monument to honour Venezuela’s heroes of independence. His legacy in his Scotland is very different. The fraud cost more than just the livelihoods of those he fooled, it cost them their lives.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Darien - Ships of fools?

In 1632 Scotland lost Nova Scotia – her only colony – as a result of the English war against France. England’s Dutch wars subsequently compromised valuable trading privileges upon which Scottish merchants had previously relied. Scottish overseas trading activity was further hampered by the Navigation Act, which cut Scottish ships out of international trade by forbidding the import of goods into England or her colonies unless carried in English ships or ships from the goods’ country of origin. Beginning in 1651, the goal of the Act was to force colonial development into lines favourable to England, and stop direct colonial trade with the Netherlands, France, Scotland and Spain. This law was enacted despite the Union of Crowns, and effectively meant that Scots merchants were boycotted for trade in England and all her colonies. To make matters worse two powerful English trading companies – the East India Company and the Royal African Company – claimed monopolies on the rich trades with the East Indies and Africa and jealously guarded these territories.

The year 1707 was the year when Scotland and England became one. The Union meant little to the abused and downtrodden of Scotland. Capitalism was on the cusp of its rapid rise during the Industrial Revolution, where money would be king and ordinary people would be nothing more than commodities and the fodder of profit for the wealthy elite. Scottish commercial interests wanted access to England’s colonial possessions to boost their weak and stagnant economy. In an era of economic rivalry in Europe, Scotland was incapable of protecting itself from the effects of English competition and legislation. The Scottish establishment realised that it could never be a major power on its own and that if it wanted to share the benefits of England's international trade and the growth of the English Empire, then its future would have to lie in unity with England. More so, Scotland's nobles were almost bankrupted by the Darien fiasco. Some Scots nobility petitioned Westminster to wipe out the Scottish national debt and stabilise the currency. The first request was not met though the second was and a Scottish Pound was given the fixed value of a shilling. Personal Scottish financial interests were also involved. Scottish Commissioners had invested heavily in the Darien Scheme and they believed that they would receive compensation for their losses. The 1707 Acts of Union, Article 14, granted £398,085 10s sterling to Scotland to offset future liability towards the English national debt. The events of the Union tended to crystallise the Darien scheme as a story of the Scots against the English but it is argued that economic distress was not the sole factor behind the decision of the Scottish Parliament to vote itself out of existence.

 Scotland’s Darien Company was the inspiration of the Scot who had already founded the Bank of England. William Patterson whilst in London, he had met a sailor called Lionel Wafer, who had told him about a wonderful paradise on the Isthmus of Panama, with a sheltered bay, friendly Indians and rich, fertile land - a place called Darien. Paterson immediately saw the potential of Darien as the location of a trading colony. Trade with the incredibly lucrative Pacific markets was a hugely expensive business, since all merchant ships had to make the hazardous trip round Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America. This added months to the journey, and the ships involved had a high chance of being lost at sea. If a colony could be established at Darien, goods could be ferried from the Pacific across Panama and loaded onto ships in the Atlantic from there, speeding up Pacific trade and making it much more reliable. Moreover, the Scottish directors of the Darien Venture could charge a nice fat commission for the privilege. Never mind that the Spanish claimed control of that part of Panama. There was the widespread belief that Spain was a paper tiger whose great days of imperial and military glory were in the past. The Scots, because of their successful venturing to the West Indies, were familiar with some of the recent stories about its failing powers. Henry Morgan, the legendary buccaneer, had marched across the Isthmus with just over 1,000 men and destroyed a much larger Spanish force that attempted to bar his path to Panama. Eight years after the sack of that city, Portobello was taken by a few hundred buccaneers.  In 1695 the Scottish parliament passed an Act for a Company Trading to Africa and the Indies, popularly known as the Darien Company. Some have said the Darien venture was the most ambitious colonial scheme attempted in the 17th Century, the Scots  realising the strategic importance of the area. However, others have said the Scots were daft to attempt such a venture, as it was doomed to disaster before it ever got off the ground.

Dr Douglas Watt, from Edinburgh University, has spent three years examining for the first time in detail the financial records of the Company of Scotland to reveal the incompetence which crushed all hope of success. Watt said: "The commonly held belief is that the company was undermined by English government, but the financial records paint a different picture." Records show overconfidence and mismanagement from the start. There were too many directors - 30 at one point - mostly inexperienced lairds rather than businessmen like William Paterson. Much of the investment was squandered on extravagant ships. They spent so quickly and badly they almost ran out of money even before departing for Darien. Lists of shareholders in the Company of Scotland show city merchants, lairds, landowners and nobles, doctors, lawyers, some ministers, soldiers, craftsmen and almost 100 women invested between £100 and £3,000 each. The Duchess of Hamilton, the premier noble woman in Scotland, invested £3,000 in the hope of big dividends, as did the Duke of Queensberry.

 Two forces conspired in the company’s foundation—desire in Scotland to find new markets overseas, and the wish of certain London merchants to circumvent the monopoly of the English East India Company. Opposition in the English parliament extinguished the London interest. The English government also threatened investors on the stock markets of London, Amsterdam, and Hamburg with dire consequences if they had anything to do with the Company of Scotland. King William, at war with France, was anxious to be on good terms with Spain, provided no support with instructions not to supply the colony. Nevertheless, Scottish investors went ahead alone. The Darien scheme was to be an attempt by Scotland to become a world trading nation by establishing a colony called 'New Caledonia' on the Isthmus of Panama, an attempt to emulate London’s commercial success by mobilising Scotland’s meagre reserves of capital and launch  a world-wide trading empire. The management lost touch with reality, thinking a financially poor Scotland could take on the Spanish Empire, set up a colony in Central America and control both sides of the isthmus with just three ships. Scotland, without military power, didn't have a chance. The warnings of the sober and the cautious went unheeded. William angrily denounced the project's promoters as "raging madmen"

Five ships (Saint Andrew, Caledonia, Unicorn, Dolphin, and Endeavour) set sail from Leith in July 1698 with around 1,200 people on board. the fleet made landfall off the coast of Darien on 2 November. The settlers christened their new home "New Caledonia". They constructed Fort St Andrew. Close to the fort they began to erect the huts of the main settlement, New Edinburgh, and to clear land for growing yams and maize. They soon found out that Darien was a malarial swamp on land owned by the Spanish. Also there was nobody to trade with there, apart from a few not very commercially-minded native peoples, the Kuna.

A colonist describes his experience:

'When boiled with a little water, without anything else, big maggots and worms must be skimmed off the top... In short, a man might easily have destroyed his whole week's ration in one day and have but one ordinary stomach neither... Yet for all this short allowance, every man (let him never be so weak) daily turned out to work by daylight, whether with the hatchet, or wheelbarrow, pick-axe, shovel, fore-hammer or any other instrument the case required; and so continued until 12 o'clock, and at 2 again and stayed till night, sometimes working all day up to the headbands of the breeches in water at the trenches. My shoulders have been so wore with carrying burdens that the skin has come off them and grew full of boils. If a man were sick and obliged to stay within, no victuals for him that day. Our Councillors all the while lying at their ease, sometimes divided into factions and, being swayed by particular interest, ruined the public... Our bodies pined away and grew so macerated with such allowance that we were like so many skeletons."

Occasionally,  friendly indians took pity and gifted food but those were commandeered by those self-same idle councillors. Class power and privilege had not disappeared in the settlement. After eight months the colony was abandoned in July 1699. Only 300 of the 1,200 settlers survived and only one ship managed to return to Scotland.

Word of the first expedition did not reach Scotland in time to prevent a second voyage of six ships and more than 1,000 people. A third fleet of five ships left Leith shortly after. The second expedition arrived on November 30, 1699 and almost immediately faced a siege from the Spanish who called for the Scots to surrender and avoid a final assault, warning that if they did not, no quarter would be given. After negotiations the Scots were allowed to leave with their guns, and the colony was abandoned for the last time. Only a handful of those from the second expedition returned to Scotland. Those colonists who returned found themselves cast as pariahs in their own land. Roger Oswald, disowned by his father, wrote to a friend: "Since it pleased God that I have preserved [my life], and had not the good fortune (if I may term it so) to lose it in that place, and so have been happy by wanting the sight of so many miseries that have come upon myself... I never intended, nor do intend, to trouble my father any more."

Hoping to recoup some capital by a more conventional venture, the company sent two ships from the Clyde, the Speedy Return and the Continent under the captaincies of Robert Drummond and his brother Thomas, who had played a part in the second expedition, to the Guinea coast laden with trade goods. Instead of seeking to sell for gold as the company's directors intended the Drummond brothers exchanged the goods for slaves which they sold in Madagascar. The Drummonds fell in with the pirate John Bowen of Bermuda. Neither ship was seen in Scotland again. The Drummonds decided against returning to Scotland to explain the loss of the ships they had been entrusted with and no more was ever heard of them.

The company sent out another ship but it was lost at sea and afterwards not being able to afford the cost of fitting out yet another ship they leased the Annandale in London with the intention of trading in the Spice Islands, but the East India Company had it seized. This led to the scapegoating and hanging of three innocent English sailors. Popular ballads of the time indicate that it was seen as direct revenge for the role of England in the failure of the Darien scheme. Thomas Green drunkenly boasted of taking the Speedy Return, killing the Drummonds and burning the ship. Despite a total lack of evidence, Green and two of his crew, John Madden and James Simpson, were sent for trial. The prosecution case, which was made in medieval Latin and legal Doric, was unintelligible to jury and accused alike. The defence advocates seem to have presented no evidence and fled after the trial. The men were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. The Queen advised her 30 Privy Councillors in Edinburgh that the three men should be pardoned, but the common people demanded that the sentence be carried out. Nineteen of the Councillors made excuses to stay away from the deliberations on a reprieve, fearing the wrath of the infamous Edinburgh mob. Although they had affidavits from London by the crew of the Speedy Return, which proved Green and his crew had no involvement in the fate of the ship, the  Privy Council declined to pardon the men. Green, Madden and Simpson were subjected to derision and insults by the mob before they were hanged, being mocked by the huge crowd on the way to the gallows on Leith sands. Although the oppressed often do revolt, the object of their hostility is frequently misplaced. They vent their fury on a political puppet or scapegoat, effectively masking the truly culpable. It is an old, old game

From the outset, the Darien undertaking was beset by bad planning and poor provision, weak leadership, lack of demand for trade goods, devastating epidemics of disease and increasing shortage of food; it was finally abandoned after a siege by Spanish forces in April, 1700. As the Darien company was backed by about a quarter of the money circulating in Scotland, its failure left the nobles and landowners – who had suffered a run of bad harvests – almost completely ruined and was seen as an important factor in weakening their resistance to the 1707 Act of Union. It proved conclusively that when the vital interests of Scotland and England were in conflict, the monarch would always opt to support the position of the more powerful kingdom. For King William the lessons of the Darien affair were clear. In future, he wished to avoid any potential war with Scotland, which was becoming increasingly likely, as this would result in the loss of their lands and associated rents. They also wanted to prevent the Scottish parliament from granting conflicting trade privileges and interfering in England’s foreign policy by acting as a competitor. Darien also brought home to many Scots that their nation simply could not go it alone in the colonial sphere, where massive military and naval resources were now vital for achieving success, convincing the business classes that they needed the military protection of the Royal Navy if they were to benefit from the new riches that colonialism promised. It is a reminder that it was the simple mundane realities of trade which bound Scotland to the union.

The poor of the Edinburgh mob, those Karl Marx described as the lumpenproletariat, do not mount revolutions, although they join them and  become its cannon fodder. The real danger comes from  the educated "middle-class"  who are barred by a calcified system from advancement and denied what they deem they deserve.  Lawyers without clients, journalists without newspapers, business-men without customers, and who had descended economically because of the Darien Scheme. They set out to rectify their position by bridging  two nations. They recognised personal profit was to be made in a union with England.

The Darien Expeditions was a  Scottish get-rich-quick scheme which most of the wealthy Scots put money into despite being warned off by the English, where the Scots elite lost their cash, bowed to English pressure, creating the union that was to keep them living in the style they had become accustomed too. So when nationalists talk about Scotland being sold out, it was by other wealthy Scots through bad business decisions. Darien is a monument to failure. The company's directors blamed the English government and merchants to deflect attention from their own failures.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Poor as a church mouse!

In a hard-hitting speech to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, businessman Professor Charles Munn said that, as a society, “we have made a mess of our economy and in the process have done a lot of damage...We are party to growing inequality, rising poverty, rising homelessness,” he said. “The rich are doing ok. The poor are getting poorer. “And it’s not just the poor that are getting poorer, pretty much everybody else is suffering as a result of the economic crisis.”

Rev Ian Galloway, departing convener of the influential Church and Society Council, attacked the UK government’s deficit reduction strategy, saying “If austerity means we all have to tighten our belts – and maybe especially those who can most afford it – then so be it. But what is really happening is that the most vulnerable are being punished out of all proportion.” He said that while austerity had a “stiff upper lip quality about it”, the reality was “somewhat different”. “Food banks, places for desperate people to find something to eat are opening across the UK at a rate of one every four days,” he said.

The  Church of Scotland says it cannot afford to pay staff in its care homes the living wage – despite a proposal from a special Kirk commission that all employees should be guaranteed the £7.20 per hour rate. The report of the Commision on the Purposes of Economic Activity, chaired by Professor Charles Munn, which recommended that all Church of Scotland agencies and congregations be instructed to implement the living wage.

The commission condemned growing inequality, the “corrosive” effect of the bonus culture and called for the living wage – defined as the minimum needed for a worker to provide his or her family with the essentials of life – to be brought in “with all possible speed”.

But the Kirk’s social care arm CrossReach, whose work includes operating around 24 elderly care homes across the country, has made clear it just does not have the money to pay the living wage to all its 2000 staff. CrossReach staff are already paid more than the national minimum wage, but have had no cost-of-living rises for the past two years.

In a separate report, the Kirk’s church and society council said it would be “an important demonstration of our commitment to justice and poverty eradication” if by 2015 all churches could move towards paying the living wage. But it said: “It is recognised there are barriers to congregations achieving a Living Wage for their employees, not least that resources are scarce during this economic downturn.”

As well as backing the living wage, their report proposed a maximum interest rate for all kinds of consumer credit, urged the expansion of credit unions to take the place of such pay day loan organisations, as safer ways of accessing loans. The Kirk has attacked companies that make pay day loans with sky-high interest rates, accusing them of causing “a great deal of damage in our society” and calling for greater regulation. Professor Charles Munn said interest rates charged by so-called “pay day loan companies” were a prime concern. “We were very conscious that the levels of interest rates some people are paying for consumer credit, that means very often people borrowing money just to meet very basic human needs, some were using pay day loan companies, some of which charge 4,000 per cent interest for their loans,” he said.

 Prof Munn also criticised the UK government’s handling of the tax system, saying that the commission had been “appalled” at the huge number of organisations, companies and individuals involved in tax evasion. Taxes should be seen as “a social obligation akin to loving one’s neighbour”. !!