Sunday, 23 November 2014

NLC and Equal Pay

I said in a recent post that I would be writing to Scotland's new First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to highlight the ridiculous behaviour of North Lanarkshire Council over equal pay.

I plan to do so this week, but in the meantime here's a picture of Nicola Sturgeon with her new cabinet which has a 50/50 split between women and men, and a more youthful feel as a younger generation of politicians pick up the baton.

Curiously, the BBC reported the news online in the Scotland section of its web site, but not in the UK section which I find rather odd given the potential that Scottish voters have for influencing the outcome of the May 2015 general election, particularly if we sweep away all of the 'deadwood' Labour MPs who currently sit in the Westminster Parliament.  

Nicola Sturgeon announces new Scottish cabinet

Nicola Sturgeon with the new Scottish government cabinet outside Bute House

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced the make-up of her new senior ministerial team, with an equal split of male and female members.

Finance Secretary John Swinney was named deputy first minister, while Ms Sturgeon's close ally Shona Robison, was promoted to health secretary.

Michael Matheson was named as the new justice secretary, replacing Kenny MacAskill.

Mike Russell was replaced as education secretary by Angela Constance.

Opposition parties said the new cabinet now had to tackle the problems brought about by previous bad decisions.

The reshuffle also resulted in:
  • Roseanna Cunningham promoted into the cabinet as fair work, skills and training secretary.
  • Keith Brown promoted into the cabinet as infrastructure, investment and cities secretary
  • Alex Neil staying in the cabinet, but moving from health to social justice, communities and pensioners' rights
  • Richard Lochhead remaining environment secretary, a post he has held since the SNP came to power in 2007
  • Fiona Hyslop remaining as secretary for culture, Europe and external affairs
Ms Sturgeon said: "The aims of my government are clear: to create a nation that is both socially democratic and socially just, a nation that is confident in itself and governed effectively and a nation which will address poverty, support business, promote growth and tackle inequality.

"The new cabinet team I have announced today will pursue these priorities with verve, vigour and determination."

The first minister added: "Every member of the cabinet is part of this government's top team on merit, on the basis of the excellent work they have already done as ministers.

"The cabinet line-up is also a clear demonstration that this government will work hard in all areas to promote women, to create gender equality and it sends out a strong message that the business of redressing the gender balance in public life starts right here in government."
Nicola Sturgeon announced that John Swinney would be deputy first minister by tweeting a picture of the pair
Ms Sturgeon announced Mr Swinney's appointment on Twitter
Mr Swinney said it was a privilege to be deputy first minister
Mike Russell also took to Twitter to announce his time in government had come to an end

Ms Sturgeon began her reshuffle by announced Mr Swinney's new job on Twitter.

Mr Swinney, who led his party between 2000 and 2004, responded: "It is the greatest privilege for me to be appointed deputy first minister of Scotland. I will do all I can to serve my country."

Following Ms Sturgeon's earlier offer to work with opposition parties on improving Scotland, Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said: "I look forward to them supporting Labour's policies to tackle the many problems that their predecessors have left for them.

"It's time to put the referendum result behind us and get on with governing the country for the benefit of the people of Scotland."

'Walking liberal'

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said the new cabinet needed a new approach.

Mr Rennie attacked Mr MacAskill's handling of plans to end the requirement to corroborate evidence in criminal trials, as well as the "routine" arming of police and the carrying out of stop-and-search procedures on children.

"Nicola Sturgeon likes to talk liberal, but the real test is whether she'll walk liberal," he said.

"The SNP cabinet stood behind Kenny MacAskill's illiberal centralisation agenda at every twist and turn."

Meanwhile, Scotland's senior law officers, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland and Solicitor General Lesley Thompson, will continue in their current jobs.

Ms Sturgeon will announce her junior ministerial appointments later on Friday.

Johann Who?

I was not in the least surprised at the speed with which the Scottish Labour Party began the process of disowning its former leader, Johann Lamont, who will now be quietly airbrushed out of history, if she doesn't fight back.

Because when I resigned from the Labour Party back in 1999 some senior colleagues in my own trade union, Unison, set about the job of attacking me and tried to sully my reputation, as if unswerving loyalty to a particular political party (i.e. Scottish Labour) was a prerequisite of my job as Unison's Head of Local Government and chief negotiator in Scotland.

The lesson that I learned from this episode is that sometimes people who are trying to do you down, are actually doing you a very big favour.

So my thanks to my old chums in Unison, they know who they are, at least the ones who are still alive. 

Mark Who? (18 January 2014)

I managed to find the old Unison Press Release which my former chums in the union issued in response to my resignation from the Scottish Labour Party back in 1999 - and here's what it had to say.


UNISON'S leading officials have relaxed the following statement in response to Mark Irvine's resignation from the Labour Party.

Matt Smith, UNISON Scottish Secretary, said,

"Almost half of UNISON's members in Scotland pay a political levy to Labour.

"A number of UNISON members are standing as Labour candidates.

"UNISON and the Labour Party share common values and the common aim of high quality public services in Scotland. Where there are issues to be discussed we will work together in constructive debate."

John Lambie, UNISON Head of Health in Scotland, said, 

"Frankly, I'm surprised to hear that Mark Irvine is or ever has been a member of the Labour Party.

"Labour is delivering huge increases in spending for Scotland's public services.  

"And if we focus on health, my territory, I am very encouraged at the developments which have taken place and are continuing under the guidance of Sam Galbraith."


For further information please contact George McGregor on 0131 557 3096 to 0976 754420  

Now George, John and Matt were all members of the Labour Party, of course, but isn't it remarkable that my employer felt the need to issue a press release in response to my decision - a personal decision - to resign my membership of the Labour Party.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Labour Party membership at a senior level in the union was really regarded as compulsory even though it was not a condition of employment - since such a requirement would have been discriminatory and unlawful.

Even more remarkable was the fact that my old colleague John Lambie seems to forget that we had been attending the same trade union and Labour conferences together over the previous 10 years - before going on to pour praise on 'guidance' from the then Labour health minister in Scotland, Sam Galbraith.    

Things have all changed since 1999 of course - John is dead, Matt has retired and George is off working in London somewhere, but I have them all to thank for helping me make up my mind - that it was time to move on from Unison.

Paul Who? (24 November 2013)

I had a great laugh at the following spoof by Hugo Rifkind which appeared in the Times the other day - on the life and times of the Reverend Paul Flowers - now that he is not the flavour of the month and is keeping his head down, so to speak.

I have re-titled my post with the heading Paul Who? - because I remember the behaviour of people when I resigned from the Labour Party many years ago.

Some of my former friends and colleagues in the trade union movement disappeared like 'snow off a dyke' as they say - pretending that they didn't know me or that I had been a Labour supporter for the previous 10 years.

I'm sure one of my former Unison colleagues put out a press release along the lines of Mark Who? - which is why I find the bit about Ed Balls and the Labour leadership so hilariously funny.  

I must see if I can find a copy of that old press release - now that would be even funnier.

My Week: Paul Flowers*

Paul Flowers: Banker?

Paul Flowers: Banker?PA

By Hugo Rifkind


I am in hiding. Only my closest friends know where I am. One comes round and just looks at me.

“I don’t know what to say to you,” he sighs. “I can’t quite believe it.”

I hang my head.

“I thought I knew who you were,” he says. “It’s like you’ve been living a double life.”

I agree that it must look that way.

“I mean,” he says, “for God’s sake, Paul! We have the same friends. You’ve been to my house. We’ve even been on holiday together. And all this time none of us ever even suspected . . .”

“I know,” say, “I know.”

“. . . that you were a banker,” he says.


The doorbell rings, quite early. I don’t answer. If it’s not the press it’ll be the milkman, and I owe him money. I’ve slightly lost track of how much, but it’s either £4 or £44 billion. Either way, I don’t have it to hand.

Sitting in my front room, with the curtains drawn, I call Ed Balls.

“Do I know you?” he says.

“Ed!” I say. “It’s me! Paul! From the Co-op Bank!”

“Never heard of it,” says Ed.

But it’s one of Britain’s largest financial institutions, I say. Part of the Co-operative Movement, for which you’ve been an MP for the past eight years.

“Never heard of that, either,” says Ed.

“But we gave you loads of money!” I say. “It’s just not plausible that you didn’t realise!”

“Did you realise?” he says.

“Fair point,” I say.


Len Wardle, the Co-op’s overall chairman, has resigned over his links to me. We meet, incognito, in a Manchester coffee shop.

“Coffee?” I say. “Or would you prefer a cocktail of crystal meth, cocaine and ketamine?”

Len says just a coffee, thanks. Then he sighs. We had such plans, he says. All turned to dust. Perhaps our only legacy will be Smile, online.

“I don’t think anybody is smiling about what I’ve been doing online,” I say.

False Gods

The United Nations (UN) is often regarded as a completely useless organisation, a talking shop which is incapable of action on the big issues because of the way that cynical geo-politics comes into play as soon as the interests of a major country, or bloc of countries, is challenged.

So I was encouraged by this story which appeared in The Sunday Times as it appears the UN is about to put North Korea in the dock over its appalling attitude on human rights.

Because it is only 75 years since Japan was the cause of a terrible war in the Far East and at that time the Japanese Emperor, Hirohito, was also venerated as a living 'God'.

So whoever is behind this latest initiative at the UN should be applauded because while the news may never get back to many of North Korea's citizens it will at least make the officials and diplomats consider their positions.   

North Korea in panic as UN attacks its ‘god’ 

Michael Sheridan - The Sunday Times

Kim Jong-un, seen aboard a submarine, holds absolute power (Rodong Sinmun/EPA)

HE IS treated as a god in North Korea, where his family has ruled for three generations. But Kim Jong-un’s divine status will be seriously damaged this week if the United Nations votes to refer the dictator to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

A prominent defector has told The Sunday Times that high-ranking Korean officials are “in a panic” over the vote on a draft resolution, fearing that if their leader is labelled a criminal then they, too, will be suspects.

The vote follows a UN report, published earlier this year, accusing the Pyongyang regime of systematic torture, killing and starvation. It named Kim, along with senior officials, as a potential defendant.

“The North Koreans are in a panic because his name was mentioned in the report,” said Ahn Myeong-chol, who was a prison guard before defecting two decades ago.

“The Kim family have inherited power through three generations and they are treated as gods.

“So if the North Korean people learn he is being labelled as a criminal it will be a shock to the whole of North Korean society. His followers will fear that they could be criminal suspects as well.”

North Korea has staged a frantic diplomatic campaign to stop the resolution at the UN general assembly.

Ahn, who was speaking from Spain, is one of many defectors who gave harrowing testimony to the inquiry. He said gruesome abuses continued in North Korea, including a series of public executions of people found watching South Korean television soap operas.

Ahn will lobby for the resolution at the UN in Geneva this week backed by UN Watch, a human rights group.

Last week Marzuki Darusman, a UN investigator, said there was enough evidence to hold Kim, 31, accountable for human rights abuses that the inquiry likened to atrocities committed in the Nazi era.

On Friday Darusman rejected an offer for him to visit the hermetic country in exchange for dropping the referral to the ICC. The resolution is sponsored by the European Union and has gained supportfrom 50 other nations.

Only the UN security council can formally send the case to the International Criminal Court and Russia and China are expected to use their veto powers on the council to stop it.

If the resolution is passed then it will create a legal precedent and cause political embarrassment for Kim and his protectors.

Korea's Dynasty (13 April 2013)North Korean Army tank regiment during the Korean War 1950-1953.

I came across this excellent article about North Korea on the BBC's web site.

Now I never knew that the Kim Dynasty and cult of the personality that dominate the country to this day were the product of the 1950s - the deliberate creation of Soviet advisers.

Although it is easy to recognise the same misplaced devotion of the North Korean population to its leader - who operates as an all-powerful monarch in similar fashion to the pre-World War II emperors in Japan.  

North Korea - a country never at peace

By Dhruti Shah

BBC History

The state of North Korea was born out of the Cold War conflict between communism and capitalism, a history from which it has never been able to escape.

At the end of WWII, Korea was liberated from decades of Japanese occupation and looked set to regain its independence, with the wartime allies - the US, China, Britain and the Soviet Union all supporting that goal.

Soviet and US forces occupied the two ends of the country in what was seen as a transition period ahead of democratic elections. The US remained in the South, while the Soviet Union occupied the North.

North Korea's Fragile Peace
  • Korea was occupied by the Allies after WWII ending decades of rule by Japan 
  • Soviets occupied the north and the US the south, but as allies became Cold War rivals, unification talks failed and separate regimes evolved 
  • In 1950, the Korean War saw Mao's China back communist North Korea, while the US helped South Korea, fearing Asia would turn communist 
  • A 1953 armistice created a fragile peace, and border tensions have lasted ever since 
What was the Cold War about?

But as the wartime co-operation between the Soviet Union and the US deteriorated, two very different states emerged - the US-backed Republic of Korea in the south and the Communist Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north with a leader, Kim Il-Sung who had been trained by the Red Army.

North Korea was "born a monster", believes John Everard, the UK's former ambassador to North Korea. "It was created by Soviet Army officers who seemed to have had little idea of state creation."

"[They] built Kim Il-sung into a leader, but when they found that he commanded insufficient public respect, they built up around him a Stalinist cult of personality so that the country ended up being ruled by a god king - rather like the late kings of Korea [before the Japanese occupation]."

In 1950, South Korea declared independence. North Korea, supported by the Soviet Union and China, quickly invaded the south, sparking the three-year Korean War.

Civilian casualties in the Korean War are estimated at over one million The United States intervened fearing a communist takeover of Korea could have wider implications, says Robert Kelly, of Pusan National University in South Korea. "If the US gave up the fight in South Korea, Washington worried about falling dominos (to communism) elsewhere in Asia. This was something they couldn't risk."

After fighting reached a stalemate, US presidents Harry S. Truman and then Dwight D. Eisenhower used the nuclear threat publicly as a means to try to end the war.

But it was also clear Truman did not want the conflict to spread or trigger another world war. In 1951 when General Douglas MacArthur - commander of US forces in the Far East - had publicly called for North Korea's backer China to be attacked - he was sacked for insubordination.

In 1953, The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed. It was supposed to be a temporary measure, setting up a demilitarised zone (DMZ) established along the 38th parallel. But a permanent peace was never signed. And tensions across the border have lasted ever since.

In its early years, North Korea prospered, supported by both China and the Soviet Union.
But the cross-border tensions increased with South Korea's rapid industrialisation and economic growth.

South Korea became really wealthy in the 1970s, while North Korea remained a typical example of Stalinist policy. The country did well for a while but then began to falter.

As the 1980s ended with the fall of the Soviet Union, the loss of Soviet aid was a major blow. When China recognised South Korea in 1992, North Korea felt betrayed and increasingly isolated.

Its economy has been in freefall since the collapse of the Soviet bloc," said author and North Korea expert Paul French.

"The economy failed, industry shuddered to a halt. Eastern bloc export markets fell away."
"North Korean agriculture collapsed and the country descended into a famine in the mid-1990s."

The country's nuclear programme, probably begun in the 1960s according to former ambassador John Everard, became increasingly important. "As the international environment turned against North Korea, its leaders came to regard the nuclear programme as the guarantee of its existence as an independent state."

North Korea Key Clashes
  • In 1976 two US Army officers were attacked in the border area while pruning a tree - reportedly planted by Kim Il-sung. They were killed with their own axes by North Korean officers. There was no apology but a North Korean message of regret stated: "Our side will never provoke first, but take self-defensive measures only when provocation occurs. This is our consistent stand." 
  • One of several failed assassination attempts on South Korean leaders took place in 1983 when President Chun Doo-hwan was visiting Burma. Twenty one people including three South Korean ministers were killed in the attack. China reprimanded North Korea and suspended contact for months.
"The "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung, followed by his son the "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il and now his grandson and "Supreme Leader" Kim Jong-un have all held one massive trump card - the great nuclear bargaining chip," adds French.

But North Korea's nuclear programme also became the main source of tension with the West. Relations with the US and South Korea have approached breaking point a number of times.

In 1994 US President Clinton's administration was on the brink of war with North Korea because the latter kept violating international agreements over checks on its nuclear plans.
In 2002, tensions flared again as North Korea expelled international nuclear inspectors amid concerns, later confirmed, that it was secretly developing nuclear weapons.

"The Korean War has still not finally ended. The old enmities remain, at least in Pyongyang's eyes" says Paul French.

"Seoul has forged ahead economically and become a thriving democracy."

"The North has remained as if in aspic since the mid 1950s, positioning its historical narrative in terms of victimhood, only now with a nuclear capability that means everyone must pay attention."

North Korea (22 February 2014)

Here's an interesting article from the Telegraph newspaper which tells the unlikely tale of a retired Australian judge doing his bit to hold President Kim Jon-un and his Stalinist monarchy in North Korea to account. 

I wish Mike Kirby well and his assessment of the North Korean regime is spot on - just a pity that there are countries around the world, notably China and Russia, who are willing to turn a blind eye to Kim Jong-un's excesses.

North Korea atrocities: Sometimes a polite letter can be a pistol shot

It has taken a retired Australian judge to show us how to deal with Kim Jong-un over the country's crimes against humanity

By Colin Freeman

How do you deal with someone you suspect of being one of the most evil leaders ever to have stalked the earth? Do you brand them a tyrant and then order in the tanks? Do you post them a pack of exploding cigars?

Or do you send them a polite letter, respectfully reminding them of their responsibilities as head of state, and pointing out that at some future date, they could be rendering themselves liable to prosecution?

That appears to have been the approach of Michael Kirby, the retired Australian judge who has just delivered a detailed report on the appalling human rights abuses committed in Kim Jong-un’s North Korea. It reveals how, during the 66 miserable years of the Democratic People’s Republic, hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of “unspeakable atrocities” – a record that Mr Kirby compares to that of Nazi Germany.

Testimonies gathered from defectors included an account of a woman forced to drown her own babies, and of Gulag inmates deliberately starved to death. Their fellow prisoners were then forced to burn their bodies and use the ashes as fertiliser.

Well aware of the practical difficulties of ever getting Kim Jong-un into any international criminal court, Mr Kirby did, none the less, decide to drop the Supreme Leader a line to set out his concerns.

The tone of his letter is pretty gentle, given that Kirby is accusing Kim of crimes against humanity. He starts off by reminding North Korea’s Supreme Leader that even if he isn’t committing them in person, anyone with that title may later find it hard to claim that they weren’t high in the chain of command. He then politely warns that a prosecution could “render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for crimes against humanity”.

Given its slightly bureaucratic language, you might think that Mr Kirby was taking Kim to task over a minor violation of planning law, rather than the wholesale slaughter and torture of his own people.

As such, his missive attracted a few sarcastic jokes yesterday, which pointed out that, as long as North Korea has nuclear weapons and Chinese support, a “strongly worded letter of complaint” was not going to change much.

But by the UN’s standards, this is pretty good stuff. Too often, the organisation’s envoys waste time on ill-disguised political attacks, as did Raquel Rolnik, the UN special rapporteur on housing, whose recent report calling for the suspension of Britain’s so-called bedroom tax was described as a “misleading Marxist diatribe” by the Government. At other times, they come across as simply hamstrung, avoiding direct criticism for fear of upsetting China or Russia.

But Mr Kirby has at least gone for a bit of Aussie plain speaking, and in the process reminded everyone that Kim’s disgusting gangster state – a “shock to the conscience of humanity” – should be a matter of concern to us all.

Too often, North Korea’s hereditary tyrants have been seen as just cartoon crackpots, people too mad to be taken seriously. Instead, we focus on Kim Jong-un’s mistresses and his dreadful haircut, on his dad’s fondness for fortune tellers and funding North Korean Godzilla-type films, rather than the cold-blooded killing they have both ordered.

This is, after all, a regime that keeps 120,000 political prisoners in its Gulags. This is the land where a man was thrown in jail for wiping up a spilt drink with an old newspaper featuring Kim Jong-il. This is a country where, during the famine of the Nineties, hundreds of thousands of families were starved to death to ensure that the army, police and trusted cadres could fill their stomachs. Those children who didn’t starve outright suffered serious malnutrition, creating entire generations of developmentally stunted people.

This is also the land of Jee Heon-a, a woman whose testimony to the UN panel could have come from Buchenwald or Auschwitz. Ms Jee told how, in one camp where she was held, a fellow female inmate who had been repatriated after escaping to neighbouring China was told that she could not keep her baby because there was a chance it had been conceived with a Chinese father. That would contravene North Korea’s strict racial purity laws, and so it was that she was ordered by a prison guard to drown the new-born child herself in a bucket of water.

Mr Kirby may not be able to stop North Korea’s atrocities. But he has done the world a favour in reminding us that when we talk about Kim Jong-un, the best comparisons are Hitler and Stalin, not someThunderbirds villain whose eccentricities belie the snuff movie he is starring in.

Terror Tactics

The Guardian provided a platform to some chap called Ahmed Yousef the other day who presented himself as a supporter and spokesperson for Hamas.

Now I support freedom for the Palestinian people and have down for many years, but what I don't agree with are murderous attacks on innocent people, whether by launching indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilian areas from Gaza or by encouraging similar atrocities  of the kind we have witnessed in recent days against individual Israelis.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have praised these attacks in recent days which is why they will never get widespread public or international support, despite Ahmed Yousef's attempt to present Hamas as a benevolent organisation.

And by the way I also supported the right of the South Afircan people to free themselves from apartheid, yet I don't recall the African National Congress or Nelson Mandela using similar terror tactics against South African civilians. 

Judge Hamas on the measures it takes for its people

Hamas’s charter was never intended to be a governing instrument, nor the guiding political vision of our movement. Our actions show that we don’t denigrate any faith

By Ahmed Yousef - The Guardian
‘When Hamas decided to engage fully in the political process we did not abandon our legal and moral right to resist occupation.’ Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

It really doesn’t matter what political party you belong to in Palestine because every single one has first to deal with Israeli occupation, settlements, theft and expropriation before it can begin to campaign about public policy on jobs, healthcare and the economy. Despite this stark reality, the question I have faced most frequently since returning to Gaza in 2006 is this: does the Hamas charter, which contains passages deemed offensive to Jewish people, truly represent the movement’s vision and political goals? Diplomats, journalists, academics, parliamentarians and politicians from numerous nations have empathised with Palestinians; yet they all seem to struggle with this document.

The question is understandable given how frequently much of the foreign media refers to it. The reality, however, is that one would be hard pressed to find any member of Hamas who is fully versed in the content of the charter – a treatise that was actually never universally endorsed by the movement. Earnest students of Palestine should consider the context. This was a text written in the early days of the first intifada. Our youth rebelling against the Israeli occupiers needed a rallying cry – a written expression of their resolve. The charter was designed to be that inspirational document and it was never intended to be the governing instrument, the guiding principle or the political vision of the movement.

Hamas is a Palestinian liberation movement that uses traditional Islamic teaching as its point of reference. Israeli media and many of the western channels that mimic it have far too easily succumbed to the Israeli establishment’s propaganda that the group is akin to al-Qaida and/or a front for Iran and/or a combination thereof. Were pundits to truly scrutinise Hamas’s actions since its inception, they would find not a single official statement or position that is based on denigrating another faith, certainly neither Judaism nor Christianity. Nor can anyone produce a shred of evidence that Hamas formally encourages prejudice against anyone’s ethnicity. And the group has been far more conscious of avoiding civilian casualties than the Israelis. We in Gaza are witnesses to the deaths of scores of our children, while Israeli television has largely been able to parade only the coffins of soldiers.

Hamas is simply a movement resisting occupation and besiegement. The cause of our conflict with the Israelis is their desire to make of us a servile minority or an emigrant memory and they have done nothing that would grant us the dignity of self-determination. Even now, it is the Israelis who issue a Palestinian his or her identity card under the terms of Oslo. Hamas draws inspiration from faith; yet religion has little to do with our struggle. Our faith determines our values, not our platform. What every Palestinian – Muslim or Christian and of every political hue – struggles for is dignity and freedom, for the right to be recognised in our own land, a struggle for our political and economic rights, a struggle for sovereignty and the right to govern ourselves.

Palestinians are no different from any other people around the globe. But we certainly are less capable than the Israelis of manipulating the media. First they rallied the world against communism, then they labeled the nationalists terrorists; and now Islamists are the true villains. Yet look beneath the rhetoric with a just eye and you will discover that we are not fanatics who want to impose beliefs that others don’t share. All we seek is to be given our rightful place among the family of nations.

Scrutinise the manifesto upon which we were elected to govern in 2006 if you really wish to understand the political vision of Hamas, not a charter drawn up decades ago and long forgotten. Sadly we were deprived of the opportunity to implement in full many of the reforms set out in that policy document. Nonetheless our record of government in Gaza, despite the almost impossible circumstances created by the eight-year-old siege, demonstrates our willingness to work for the overall good of society and not just our own supporters. Hamas believes in the democratic process and that is why in 2006 we relinquished the right to govern alone in favour of a broader coalition that would reflect the aspirations of all Palestinians. Unfortunately our proposal was rejected, a fact that seems to have been conveniently overlooked in the desire to demonise our movement as power-seeking fanatics. Again more recently in our wish to move forward and to promote Palestinian reconciliation, we voluntarily handed over power in Gaza to a technocratic government.

When Hamas decided to engage fully in the political process we did not abandon our legal and moral right to resist occupation and the daily Israeli aggression. This we hold in common with many other liberation movements around the world. The price we have paid for this is exclusion by many western countries that at the same time chose to overlook the brutal and illegal actions of our Israeli occupiers. The right of the occupier to purportedly defend itself trumped our right to exist in peace.

We have been condemned for firing home-made rockets in protest at a siege that is aimed at depriving over a million and a half people of the basic necessities of daily life: electricity, clean water, medical drugs and equipment. We are also blocked from importing everyday building, industrial and farming materials necessary to provide jobs and develop a viable economy. Our students and our sick are denied the right to travel for their education and healthcare. The list is endless and yet we are the ones who are condemned. When we enter into ceasefires and our forces impose months of calm despite no change in the status quo, we see no tangible results – the relentless, dehumanising weight of the siege continues unabated. Why, then, is the world surprised when we resist? What people on this planet would sit quietly and allow themselves to bleed out a slow death without fighting for survival?

Judge Hamas on the measures it takes for its people. Do not rely on the words of a document – the charter – written under entirely different circumstances. Declare it dead, some have said; and yet, to do so would be to succumb to yet another Israeli demand. We do what is right, not what we are told by an occupier. We will continue to resist so long as the injustices inflicted upon the Palestinian people go unaddressed. But we will also continue to look for ways to move forward and to address the core issues of our conflict with the Israelis.

We embraced the ballot box as a way to advance the Palestinian cause in 2006; but despite the democratic mandate we received from our people we were ejected from the political process by a set of preconditions (imposed by the Quartet) that no serious political party would sign up to without prior negotiations. We relinquished our control in Gaza in favour of Palestinian unity in 2014 for the sake of our people. A united Palestinian front is an essential step towards finding a just and durable solution to this conflict; and yet, perhaps, it is this unity that worries the occupier. A divided people, after all, are far easier to subjugate. Hopefully the international community will not be duped again by Israeli hawks and will give the dove a chance to carry the olive branch forward.

Hypocrite, Coward and Fool

Dan Hodges doesn't pull his punches in this article about Ed Miliband in which he describes the Labour leader as a 'hypocrite, coward and a fool'.

Now Dan seems like quite a pleasant and reasonable chap to me, so what's got him so worked up?

The fact that having promised he would never try and out-Ukip Ukip, that Ed does exactly that by promising tough action on welfare benefits if Labour wins the May 2015 general election.

Now I'm not against a tough stance myself, but after years of denting the existence of a problem and with his poll ratings at rock bottom I can't help thinking that this is the worst kind of knee-jerk politics, designed solely to capture a favourable headline or two.  

Desperate stuff, if you ask me. 

Labour's new immigration policy: out-Ukip Ukip, then pretend you haven't

Ed Miliband needs to stop treating the public like idiots

By Dan Hodges - The Telegraph

Apart from the fact he’s a hypocrite, a coward and a fool, Ed Miliband would make a great prime minister. But he is a hypocrite, a coward and a fool. So he won’t.

Last Thursday Labour’s leader treated us to his latest quarterly relaunch. Aside from some paranoid rambling about how a sinister cabal of powerful interests were out to get him, it was the usual incoherent mishmash of liberal idealism, Left-wing populism and state interventionism.

But from amid the rhetorical chaos there emerged one powerful – and seemingly sincere – passage. "I think it is time we levelled with people about Ukip”, he said. “They’ve got away with it for too long. It is time we had a debate about where they really stand. They do have a vision of the past. But I say to working people in this country, let’s really examine their vision. Because when you stop and look at it, it is not really very attractive. And it is rooted in the same failed ideas that have let our country down”. He gave an example of one of those failed ideas. It was the idea that: “You feel safer when you don’t have someone who is foreign living next door”. And he gave the following pledge, “What we will never do is try to out-Ukip Ukip”.

This morning Ed Miliband has tried to out-Ukip Ukip. Or rather, he’s sent out Yvette Cooper to out-Ukip Ukip on his behalf.

At his party’s recent conference in Doncaster, Ukip’s immigration spokesman Steven Woolf unveiled Nigel Farage as the gatekeeper of Fortress Britain. “We are borderless Britain”, he warned. “For too long these hard-working public servants have been put under too much pressure by successive governments. They need our support. So today I am announcing that Ukip’s general election manifesto will include a provision to increase front-line staff and search teams at UK Border entry points by 2,500 officers.”

Today Yvette Cooper claimed Steven Woolf was wrong. It’s Ed Miliband, not Nigel Farage, who will be standing watch on the battlements of Dover castle. “Enforcement has got worse in the last five years. Under Theresa May basic checks are just not being done, and that is undermining confidence in the whole system”, she said. “The number of people stopped and turned away at the border has halved”. As a result Labour would be recruiting “1,000 new border guards”.

Last September Nigel Farage attacked the Government for failing to deal with an immigration crime wave that was being perpetrated by “foreign criminal gangs”. Today Yvette Cooper attacked the government for failing to deal with an immigration crime wave that was being perpetrated by “human traffickers” and “drug smugglers”.

Two weeks ago Nigel Farage visited Calais. What he witnessed there“isn’t just a trade in very real human tragedy and misery, but a clear and present threat to our national security”, he said. Today Yvette Cooper warned that “at Calais there are now serious and growing problems – where we have seen not just abuse but tragedy”.

Not a week goes by without Nigel Farage condemning the “liberal media elite” and their attempts to caricature his views on immigration. Today Yvette Cooper attacked “liberal commentators” who “seem to think talking about immigration at all is a problem and they dismiss people's genuine concerns”.

There is something comically Orwellian about Ed Miliband’s immigration hypocrisy. Last week he said that Labour "will be talking more about immigration as a party. But always on the basis of Labour values, not UKIP values”. He might as well have said, “when I talk about immigration, I do it standing on four legs. When Nigel Farage talks about immigration, he does it standing on two”.

Ukip say they want to turn the country into Fortress Britain. Ed Miliband promises us a British Fortress. Nigel Farage has set his sights on foreign criminals. Ed Miliband pledges a crack down on criminal foreigners. Farage looks at Calais, and sees a tragic threat. Ed Miliband looks across the Channel and spies a threatening tragedy. Nigel Farage rails at liberals in the media. Ed Miliband chastises media liberalism.

There is nothing comical about Miliband’s cowardice, however. Yvette Cooper should know better than to put her name to this rubbish. But at least she does have the guts to put her name to it.

Labour’s leader has a yellow streak down his back a mile wide. We see it on immigration. We see it on welfare. We see it on the economy. A member of the shadow cabinet will be dispatched to deliver the hard messages he dare not deliver himself. They will take the brickbats, whilst he cowers. And then, when the brickbats have finally stopped flying, he will emerge with some self-righteous homily aimed at reassuring his party they still occupy the moral highground.

And this is why Ed Miliband is also a fool. He genuinely thinks people will fall for this charade. He honestly thinks by saying “I won’t out Ukip, Ukip”, he can pop up two days before the Rochester by-election, whack on his Nigel Farage party mask, and people will say “there’s my guy”.

OK, the Labour Party will fall for it. Miliband’s desperate activists will see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear, seize the fatuous talk of “Labour immigration values” and ignore the rest. But the country won’t. The voters aren’t idiots. In the same way they have rejected David Cameron’s “Ukip Lite” in favour of the real thing, so they will reject Miliband’s brand of “Ukip Lite” as well.

The electorate looked from Miliband to Farage, and from Farage to Miliband, and from Miliband to Farage again. And it was still all too easy to say which was which.

Loudon and Others v NLC

I wrote the other day about a key witness, a senior official, from North Lanarkshire Council being required to give evidence to the ongoing Employment Tribunal next year - the case of Loudon and Others v NLC.

So here's a previous post from the blog site archive which highlights some of the issues that the Council's head of human resources, Iris Wylie, will have to address.

Performance Pay (29 October 2014)

I'm not sure what performance bonus, if any, Iris Wylie received in 2013/14 as head of human resources in North Lanarkshire Council.  

But if Iris Wylie received a single penny it would be completely unjustified and a disgrace, if you ask me.

Because how can North Lanarkshire possibly believe it's right to reward senior managers with big bonus payments when the Council has made such a mess of equal pay?

A mess that council officials have been forced to admit at the ongoing Employment Tribunal in Glasgow although, as yet, no one has accepted responsibility or been held to account for a series on 'errors' and 'mistakes' in scoring and grading thousands of low paid jobs, including those of Home Care workers. 

Now North Lanarkshire's web site (see extract below) says that 21 chief officers outside the senior management team receive a performance bonus of between £4,684.68 and £9,485.11 which comes to between £98,378.28 and £199.187.31 a year.

What must other Council workers think, especially those still fighting for equal pay?

Other chief officers
Individual service delivery within each directorate is the responsibility of a Head of Service. There were 24* Heads of Service whose salaries in 2013/14 ranged between £17,076.98 and £94,580.19 plus performance-related pay between £4,684.68 and £9,485.11. The expenses reimbursed for this group in 2013/14 totals £1,245.65.
*There are 21 Head of Service posts but, due to promotion and retirement, a total of 24 people filled these posts in 2013/14.

North Lanarkshire Council (15 September 2014)

A number of readers have been in touch to ask if there is any further progress in the settlement talks with North Lanarkshire Council (NLC).

Well the current position is that discussions are still going on behind the scenes, but I am increasingly pessimistic that that these talks will produce a satisfactory outcome.

I suspect the reason that things are dragging on for so long is that the Council is still trying to undervalue many female dominated jobs even though North Lanarkshire has been forced to concede that so many of these jobs (e.g. the Home Carers) have been incorrectly 'scored' under the NLC job evaluation scheme. 

So, my view is that these cases will all be heading back to the Employment Tribunal where senior council managers, such as the head of human resources Iris Wylie, will have to face the QC who has been acting for the Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) clients, Daphne Romney.

Now I think it's fair to say that Daphne Romney has torn the Council's 'defence' apart and that's before she's had the opportunity to cross examine key figures such as Iris Wylie, who have an awful lot of explaining to do when they finally get into the witness box.

For example: 
  1. Who was responsible for committing all the 'mistakes' and 'errors' over the Council's job evaluation scheme (JES)? 
  2. How is it possible that so many 'mistakes' and 'errors' were made in scoring Home Carers' jobs, to name just one group.
  3. Why did the Council deny there was anything wrong for so many years and why has no one at a senior level been held to account?
  4. How did vital pay information regarding the JES go missing, why was there no back up of this data and who within the Council is responsible for what happened?
  5. How can anyone have confidence in the Council's ability to put things right when essentially the same group of senior officials are still in charge?
Maybe the best thing would be to call the Council's chief executive as a witness to the Employment Tribunal as well because the buck has to stop somewhere and Gavin Whitefield is head of the paid service in North Lanarkshire with a salary of £136,473 plus a 'performance' bonus of £11,039.20  

Performance Pay (1 September 2014)

Gavin Whitefield
Gavin Whitefield CBE, Chief Executive
The Chief Executive within North Lanarkshire is the council's chief policy advisor. He is the main link between council officials and elected members. He is responsible for corporate governance and seeks to ensure the co-ordination of the organisation and all its functions. Of primary concern to the Chief Executive is the overall direction and performance of the council.
Salary 2012/13: £136,473 (plus performance-related pay of £11,039.20
Good to Talk (15 March 2014)

Iris Wylie, as the North Lanarkshire's Head of Personnel, is one of the key figures in what has been going on within the Council in recent years - in terms of Single Status, Equal Pay and Job Evaluation.

As I've pointed out to readers in previous posts, Iris Wylie is well connected in terms of the politics of equal pay, having previously been the partner of Mike Kirby, the long-time convener of Unison in Scotland and now the union's regional secretary. 

Now I don't know if Iris and Mike are still on speaking terms, but what I do know is that the situation is North Lanarkshire Council is a disgrace, if you ask me, and that someone, somewhere must surely accept responsibility for the complete hash the Council has managed to make of things.

As ever, I am prepared to let bygones be bygones, for the greater good so to speak, because the important issue now is the shabby way the Council's low paid workers (mainly women of course) have been treated, and how that situation is going to be put right.

So if Iris Wylie and/or Mike Kirby would like to meet up with me to see what can be done, then I for one would be happy do so - I'm sure it would be good to talk even after all these years.     

Small World (1 April 2012)

I asked readers in North Lanarkshire for help the other day.

I wanted to know if people could help trace the background to the controversial North Lanarkshire Council bonus scheme - which has hit the newspaper headlines recently.

The one that seems to be restricted to only the most senior and highly paid officials - as far as anyone knows.

I asked readers if a reference (HR/IW) on the previously secret document - which has been dragged out of the council via an FOI request - might provide a clue.

Since then readers' suggestions have been flying in by e-mail and they all point in the same direction - that HR stands for Human Resources - and that IW stands for Iris Wylie, the council's Head of Human Resources.

Now that would make sense - why didn't I think of it before?

Because the name Iris Wylie is on the list as receiving a top-up or bonus payment of £5,758.56 - and HR is the obvious area of the council from which to seek advice on pay issues.

So who knows for sure? 

Maybe the council will explain the background properly and publicly - or maybe Iris Wylie will get in touch directly and fill in some of the the gaps in people's knowledge - which I'm happy to publish on the blog site.

I first met Iris Wylie years ago - but haven't seen her in the flesh for some time.

The last occasion I remember seeing Iris was at the Scottish TUC in Glasgow in 1999 - when she was 'stepping out' - so to speak - with the Scottish Convener of Unison, Mike Kirby.

Mike has since moved on from his role as convener and stepped up - so to speak - to become the union's regional secretary in Scotland - a full-time paid official in other words. 

Iris and Mike are both mentioned in a previous post to the blog site - one of the earliest posts in fact - going all the way back to April 2007. 

So it all just goes to show what a small world it really is - though that doesn't help to explain why a Labour council - yes a Labour council - would introduce a secret incentive pay scheme - or a bonus scheme for those at the top, as I think it should be called.

Especially one that rewards only the most senior council officials - and appears to exclude the vast majority of the workforce - many of whom are very low paid of course - and many of whom are still fighting for equal pay.

No wonder people are so cynical about politics and politicans these days - and that includes the politics of local government.