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I feel deeply sad that the Scots decided to vote No to independence. Although Alex Salmond and the SNP definitely had their faults (especially with some of their policies), and I had more sympathies with the vision of the Radical Independence Campaign, Common Weal  and the Scottish Greens, what the YES campaign did was to inspire hope that another kind of politics could happen, as George Monbiot argued so well. That there could be an alternative to the last 30 years of neoliberalism, ramped up by Margaret Thatcher and continued by New Labour. An alternative to austerity economics, which has hit the poorest the hardest, has further entrenched inequality (of wealth, property, opportunity), foodbanks, homelessness and which has given the excuse to privatise the Royal Mail, large parts of the NHS, and much more. I wanted to see if Scotland could go down a different path

Although Salmond has at times been in bed with Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump, and had advocated lowering corporation tax if Scotland gained independence, there were signs that an independent Scotland could have gone a different direction. One of them was that Rupert Murdoch came out against some of Salmond’s allies and policies at the end, which meant the Scottish Sun didn’t support independence. Murdoch said on twitter:

Already in Scotland there are much more progressive policies in many areas. University education is currently free in Scotland, instead of up to £9,000 a year in England, which can end up as around £100,000 in repayments. They have a roadmap to generate the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s gross annual electricity consumption with renewables by 2020 (although some of what they include as renewable is contentious, is reliant on exporting and importing energy to England during peak and trough times and it is uncertain if they will meet this ambitious target), instead of the situation in Westminster where a very large proportion of Conservative MPs still don’t even believe climate change is caused by humans, including the former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson. Much more of the NHS in Scotland is still in public hands, unlike in England, where New Labour and then the ConDem coalition have been privatising it like crazy. It’s got so bad in the rest of the UK that Doctors told Scots in The Lancet to vote for independence to stop it being privatised as well as the fact that doctors, nurses and other medical professionals have also gotten together to form their own political party to fight to protect the NHS – the National Health Action Party.  The Scots have also been discussing land reform, including from the 432 people who own 50 per cent of rural Scotland, and have made initial steps to implement it. They already have a more democratic and proportional voting system for the Scottish Parliament than the first past the post system used in the UK general elections. I could go on.

I had hoped to see how an independent Scotland would continue these many trends. If they gained independence, Salmond, amongst other things, had promised to:

Whether they would have done those things once independent is another matter, but it would have been exciting to see them try, and maybe that would have helped shift the debate in the rest of the UK as the Scottish led the way on what could be achieved.

So, why did they lose the vote?

Of the  84.15% of the Scottish population who turned out to vote, 45% voted YES for independence, while 55% voted NO. Unfortunately there were no exit polls, but an Ashcroft poll of more than 2,000 people showed how different age groups voted:

HowVoteInReferendum(Source)

This led to some saying: “The old have killed the hopes of the young”. However, when looking at the above data, it’s important not to make too much of the 71% of 16-17 year olds who voted for YES. As Full Fact pointed out:

Various media sources and Twitter users have today reported on the results of a poll by Lord Ashcroft, which showed that 71% of 16- and 17-year-old respondents said they voted Yes to independence. However, this figure (available in underlying data tables) is based on just 14 responses in this age group – that’s ten yes-voters. Such a small sample means there’s a huge range of uncertainty around the estimate, so it’s impossible to say whether this figure is representative of the actual proportion. The proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds that said they had voted yes (based on a more robust 98 cases) was 51%.

Even still, a majority of people from 25-54 voted YES, and those over 65 overwhelmingly voted NO.

Others pointed out that areas with more deprivation, unemployment, urban population and shorter life expectancy had bigger support for independence (although the small sample of 32 local authorities may be too small to be certain about that):

ScotVotingLifeExpectancy

(Source)

votedeprevation

(Source)

(For more graphs looking at the relationship between urban/rural population, percentage of those on unemployment benefits and more see this and this)

So, if you believe the above correlations as being significant with the limited data available, the old and the rich were much more likely to vote NO, and the poor and young were much likely to vote YES. There are many theories as to why that is, which I wont go into here.

It’s also interesting to look at what the main reasons which were given for voting NO. As Ashcroft pointed out from his poll:

By far the most important reason [for voting NO] was that “the risks of becoming independent looked too great when it came to things like the currency, EU membership, the economy, jobs and prices”. Nearly half (47%) of No voters said this was their biggest consideration. This was echoed in the more specific issues people said had played a part in their vote. The pound was the single most important of these, mentioned by more than half (57%) of all No voters. Nearly four in ten (37%) were concerned about pensions, and 36% cited the NHS (as did more than half of those who voted Yes).

So it wasn’t just about age and wealth.

Propaganda onslaught

To be honest, I’m amazed that 45% of the population did vote YES with the propaganda onslaught against independence. As Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan and Rector of the University of Dundee, pointed out:

My heart is still bursting with pride that 45% of Scots – a people devoid of political autonomy for three hundred years – had the nerve, intellect and will to see through the avalanche of propaganda from the entire mainstream media, political establishment, banking sector and corporate world. I met numerous voters who had received letters from their employers – including Diageo, BP, RNS and many others – telling them to vote No or their job was in danger. I met the old lady in Dundee who was told by the Labour Party that independent Scotland would flood the country with immigrants, and a Romanian building worker in Edinburgh who had been told by the Labour Party that Independent Scotland would deport all East Europeans.

George Monbiot also pointed out that:

there is no newspaper – local, regional or national, English or Scottish – that supports independence except the Sunday Herald.

A team of academics even studied the BBC’s coverage of the independence referendum between 17 September 2012 – 18 September 2013, looking at 730 hours of evening TV news output broadcast by BBC Scotland and Scottish Television (STV), and found the BBC to be very biased against Scottish independence. This research was then stonewalled and mostly unreported by the BBC. The BBC then went above the researchers head to his Principal at the University of West Scotland to try (unsuccessfully) to discredit the research.

Other studies of the BBC, on other aspects of their reporting, have found similar results of bias, including:

On BBC News at Six, business representatives outnumbered trade union spokespersons by more than five to one (11 vs 2) in 2007 and by 19 to one in 2012.

So, bearing all this in mind, it really is amazing that 45% of the Scottish population voted for independence. Even though they didn’t win, it seems like a small victory for alternative media (Bella Caledonia, Open Democracy) and other information sources (Twitter, Facebook), which provided lots of analysis and facts supporting the case for independence. This is maybe a sign of hope for the future, as ideas not normally presented in the corporate media (whether due to the Manufacturing of Consent as described by Noam Chomsky or the Churnalism as described by Nick Davies) were able to be distributed and discussed through alternative channels. As the internet generation gets older, and hopefully less exclusively reliant on corporate media, maybe it will vote YES at the next referendum for independence?

The future in Scotland?

Even though Scotland voted NO to independence, there has been a massive shift in political consciousness. A facebook community has been created after the vote – We are the 45% – which now has over 160,000 people following it. The Radical Independence Conference has now had over 6000 people sign up to attend. Over 3000 people, since the referendum, have joined the Scottish Green Party (who supported independence), more than doubling its size:

While the SNP has experienced an even bigger surge of support:

The Scottish Socialist Party has also almost doubled in size.

Many are channelling their recent politicisation by the referendum into the political parties and movements which supported independence. Whether we like it or not, the state makes the rules and laws which govern our lives, so more active engagement with politics by a larger amount of people gives me hope for the future direction of Scottish politics and that better policies will be introduced. As Andy Wightman, author of The Poor Had No Lawyers: Who Owns Scotland (And How They Got It), recently said:

Meanwhile, in England, Jack Straw, the Labour MP who helped take the UK into the illegal war in Iraq, now wants to make it illegal to dissolve the union in the future unless a majority of MPs in Westminster parliament agree to it.  And many are questioning whether the ConDemLab coalition will follow through with the vow of further devolution promised if a NO vote happened.

Whatever happens, it is exciting times for Scotland ahead. The population has been politicised and will fight even more for change.

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A friend has asked me to write my thoughts on the Green Party’s recent Economic Democracy Motion. Specifically, what I thought about this paragraph:

“We will grant employees the legal right to buy out their companies and turn them into workers co-operatives. Buy-outs would be funded by a Green National Investment Bank and contingent on the co-ops following green and ethical policies. These co-operatives would localise economic decision-making and give employees incentives for greater productivity.”

I think that the proposers of the motion had their hearts in the right place, however I can see many potential problems which could come from such a policy, some of which I will outline here. Please bear in mind that this is not a detailed analysis of this policy, but just some initial thoughts.

Ultimately, the aim of this blog post is to help bring forward a better motion in the future as well as to encourage more reading, thinking and discussion within the Green Party on this subject.

Before continuing, I need to let you know that I have a lot of love for workers’ co-operatives and I really want them to grow in the UK. I studied them during my Masters and wrote a few papers about them at the time (see the papers Are workers’ co-operatives schools of democracy? A case study of two UK workers’ co-operatives as well as Power in Utopia? Analysis of two UK workers’ co-operatives through Steven Lukes’ three-dimensional lens). I have also volunteered in a community bike co-operative, helped set up a small eco-village run on co-operative principles and just before I became unwell, I was starting to set up a workers’ co-operative with a few others.

During this time – through exploring theory, ideals and what actually works in practice – I have discovered several things which are relevant to the Green Party’s Economic Democracy Motion.

Co-operative education

Firstly, the level of knowledge in the UK about co-operatives is very low, especially when compared to many other countries. Most people don’t even know what a workers’ co-operative is and how they work in practice. People are not used to – or trained – to work in a co-operative way. Almost everything in our society, from school to multinational corporations, teaches us to work in another way. I’ve written about this before in other blog posts (See here and here). As Professor Anderson has written about schools:

“For centuries, leading educationalists have advocated learning by doing, instead of by listening passively to confusing dry abstractions. Even very young and unschooled children can understand complicated aspects of democracy, rights, justice and respect, through their activities and achievements.

“Democracy is practical and pervades all relationships. We cannot avoid either ‘doing’ democracy or else being actively undemocratic; there is no middle way. Undemocratic schools powerfully teach, by example, lessons of intolerance, mistrust, disrespect, repression and fear of change. If they preach democracy, they teach duplicity.” (see more here)

Unfortunately most people in the UK go to undemocratic schools. Most people work in undemocratic workplaces. Most people do not currently have the democratic skills necessary to successfully run a workers’ co-operative.

So, just granting people the legal right to buy out companies as is proposed in the motion, without any previous co-operative training, whether in school or elsewhere, could potentially be disastrous.

In the UK, many are just plain alienated from each other and very far from having the skills necessary to make decisions together in a co-operative workplace. This is not to say that it isn’t possible. Just that you need a lot of support and training, preferably from a young age (The organisation Young Co-operatives does great work in this area. Please read a previous blog post I have written about them).

In this country, workers’ co-operatives often start out small with a few people who are dedicated to the cause, who are knowledgeable about the co-operative ideology, who do research on what works and what doesn’t. They experiment and, if they do well, expand and add new members, often with a trial period so that they don’t introduce people who wont fit within the co-op ethos.

If workers just decide to buy-out workplaces and turn them into co-ops, they sidestep this whole process, with all of the learning that comes with it. That makes it much more difficult for it to function. If workers just buy-out a company and turn it into a co-operative it will take a lot of time and effort for everyone to learn how to run it and make decisions together – this doesn’t really fit in with the capitalist system we live in, where there is a lot of pressure to produce and get good returns. It takes time for people to develop:

– financial management skills (e.g. working with budgets),
– skills related to meetings (facilitating, minute taking, working to agenda, consensus or voting methods, the self-confidence and ability to speak in public meetings, the ability to work towards a common goal),
– conflict resolution skills
– community organisation skills (working with and supporting local communities),
– knowledge about laws and political systems that affect the workplace and co-operatives
– and much more besides.

If workers buy-out an existing company, it would also make it much more difficult to exclude people who do not fit in to the co-operative ethos as there would be no initial trial period for all of the workers who buy into it.

Again, it is possible for people to do this and to make it work, as some examples in Argentina, Venezuela and elsewhere around the world have shown. However, it is more difficult and needs real determination – and ideally a lot of support from experienced co-operators – for it to succeed.

Cultural questions

One of the reasons why co-operatives have done so well in other countries or regions is because of very specific cultural, economic and social circumstances. It is not just about granting employees the legal right to buy out companies.

The best book that I know of which explores these specific circumstances is:

La Lega: The making of a successful cooperative network by P. Ammirato (1996) (see the first 10 pages of this book here)

It discusses the development of co-operative networks in Italy, Spain and the UK and is well worth a read.

Other insightful books include:

The Anarchist Collectives: Workers’ Self-management in the Spanish Revolution 1936-1939 by Sam Dolgoff (find the .pdf of this book here)

Making Mondragón: The Growth and Dynamics of the Worker Cooperative Complex by William Foote Whyte and Kathleen King Whyte

The Myth of Mondragon: Cooperatives, Politics, and Working-Class Life in a Basque Town by Sharryn Kasmir

I am not going to expand in this blog on the specific circumstances which enabled co-operatives to flourish in some of these regions. For more information read some of these books.

In 2012, Co-operativesUK estimated as part of their co-operative review that there are approximately 493 worker owned and controlled co-operatives in the United Kingdom which employ 78,500 people (see page 21 – these workers’ co-operatives vary in size, ownership and management structure). (please also see this document which has a much lower – and likely more accurate – estimate of the size of the UK co-operative sector which states there are around 3,000 employees in 431 workers’ co-operatives. It all depends on how you measure the sector.)

If the Green Party wants to have a much larger worker co-operative sector in the UK it must seriously engage with the history of how co-operatives have developed in other countries, and look at why co-operatives have succeeded in some regions and not others. The economic democracy motion, as it is currently written, does not reflect that kind of serious analysis.

Economic questions

Moving on to the economic question, how much would this economic democracy motion cost? What would happen if lots of people suddenly wanted to buy-out multinational corporations? Would the Green National Investment Bank be lending the entire amount the corporations are valued at, therefore effectively transferring ownership to the state bank until the workers pay the loans back? Or would the workers put up part of the money so they shared initial ownership with the state?

Also, who decides the value of these corporations? Would this policy massively decrease the value of corporations as they would know that they could potentially be bought out? What effect would that have on the wider economy? Also, how would this policy practically work, when some of these companies have hundreds or thousands of employees? What kind of infrastructure would need to be introduced for this to work?

And what would happen if lots of these new co-ops failed because the workers didn’t have adequate training on how to run a co-operative or couldn’t compete against existing corporations? Would the Green National Investment Bank then go bankrupt? Then what?

I’m sure there are many more economic, costing and organisational questions which could be asked about this motion.

For this to even begin to work, there would have to be massive knowledge sharing between the UK and countries with much bigger co-operative sectors. There would also have to be co-operative training, ideally from a young age, on a very big scale.

It would be easier – although not as far reaching – for the Green Investment Bank to focus on lending to new start-up and existing workers’ co-ops. If it wants to go further than this much more detailed proposals need to be put forward on how this would practically work.

Final thoughts

There are examples of the state trying – and failing – to use the co-operative model to save British companies in the past, for example  Scottish Daily News and the Meriden Motorcycle Co-operative (click on the link to see a good report on this). The state can help the co-operative movement expand, however it must be done in a way which learns from the mistakes of previous governments.

It is very important that the Green Party gets it approach right in regard to co-operatives. As I wrote in one of my papers, “because workers’ co-operatives demonstrate unique opportunities for work reorganisation, democratic management structures, economic self-governance and even a redefinition of work and property, as Adams et al. put it, “Worker-ownership offers a vision of what ought to be.””

Some people within the Green Party have studied co-operatives in-depth, such as Molly Scott Cato (see here for some of her work on co-operatives). I hope that they can put forward more detailed – and thought out – economic democracy proposals in the future which learn from the lessons of other countries and from the past.

Source of picture: Made – and promoted – by Calverts workers’ co-operative

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First published on Wed, 2007-07-25

This passage brilliantly illustrates the democratic dictatorships that we live under.

From So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams:

[An extraterrestrial robot and spaceship has just landed on earth. The robot steps out of the spaceship…]

“I come in peace,” it said, adding after a long moment of further grinding, “take me to your Lizard.”

Ford Prefect, of course, had an explanation for this, as he sat with Arthur and watched the nonstop frenetic news reports on television, none of which had anything to say other than to record that the thing had done this amount of damage which was valued at that amount of billions of pounds and had killed this totally other number of people, and then say it again, because the robot was doing nothing more than standing there, swaying very slightly, and emitting short incomprehensible error messages.
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First published on Wed, 2008-03-12 12:08.

The NHS is an institution which we often use from cradle to grave. It was the world’s first universal health care system provided by government and is at the very heart of socialist ideas.

It is something we often take for granted, but as I wrote in one of my blog post, it is not only crucial to personal and public health but it is currently being privatised by New Labour.

Aneurin Bevan, the Labour Minister of Health responsible for the formation of the National Health Service, world be horrified.

Below is an extract from his 1952 book, In Place of Fear, which details his reasoning for socialised healthcare as well as things he had to consider when introducing it. Read it to learn about the origins of the NHS as well as how visionary a single person can be:
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“If, as a politically active environmentalist or campaigner for social justice, one’s answer to the question is they are, indeed mutually exclusive [that capitalism, in whichever manifestation, is in its very essence inherently unsustainable], then one’s only morally consistent response is to devote one’s political activities to the overthrow of capitalism. If one’s answer is that they are entirely compatible (that there are no structural, inherent characteristics within a capitalist system that would make sustainability an unattainable goal), then it is morally consistent to pursue sustainable development (as the path that leads to that goal) within and through that capitalist system. And if one’s answer is that they are only compatible under certain conditions (it isn’t capitalism per se that is at issue here, but which model of capitalism), then the transformation of those aspects of contemporary capitalism that are incompatible with the attainment of sustainability becomes both a moral and a political precondition of being an effective environmentalist or campaigner for social justice.” Jonathon Porritt – Capitalism as if the World Matters – page 87

Which path will you follow and why? How do you define capitalism, and if you think it is necessary to overthrow or significantly change it, what are the alternatives that you are proposing?

To help you start answering that question, have a look at this chart on Major Commercial Characteristics of Capitalism, Socialism, and Co-operation.

Also have a look at my notes on a talk I went to by Derek Wall on Real alternatives to capitalism

I would also recommend reading ‘The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power’ by Joel Bakan for a history of corporate capitalism.

Finally, have a look at some of the proposed alternatives to capitalism, such as Participatory Economics, anarchism, socialism, Eco-socialism, worker co-operativism, Freeganism, Mutualism, Autonomism and reclaiming the commons.

There is much more that you could read but this is a great start.

Good luck in finding the answers!

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First published on Tue, 2007-05-29

Below are my notes from a talk I recently went to at Sussex University by Derek Wall, Principal Speaker of the Green Party, on ‘Real Alternatives to Capitalism’. The talk was very thought provoking although I do wish he had expanded on the politics and power of introducing some of the alternatives he suggested (for example, how the hell do you get from an ‘exchange value’ system to a ‘use value’ system?)

Before you read it, please note that Derek expands on the points he made in the talk in his blog post on Real Alternatives to Capitalism as well as in his book BABYLON AND BEYOND: The Economics of Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Globalist and Radical Green Movements
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First published on Tue, 2008-03-11

I recently went to the Wilde Clinic for gay and bisexual men to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). If you didn’t know it already, I have slept with both men and women, but mostly women. I’d had no symptoms of disease but thought it was about time to get tested (it had been around 5 years) as well as my last ex-girlfriend insisting that she wouldn’t give me a blowjob unless she was sure I didn’t have anything infectious. Unfortunately the relationship ended, but my desire to know didn’t.

I rang up on a Monday and was able to get an appointment that Wednesday for a “Sexual health MOT.” I was going to get the works. After cycling to the clinic, I filled in a form at reception, which amongst other things let me decide whether my GP could access the results of the test. I ticked the ‘No’ box because of potential insurance, mortagage and privacy reasons.
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