Thursday, 30 October 2014

Labour's Branch Office

Illustration: Iain Green

Iain Green's cartoon for The Scotsman the other day seemed to capture the current plight of the Scottish Labour Party - with Jim Murphy appearing as a Phoenix-like creature trying to emerge from the ruins of the branch office.

And as Ed Miliband posts a notice for a new 'manager' in Scotland, Labour's dinosaur  MPs roam menacingly in the Westminster background. 

Clever, I thought, to get all those competing images in one single cartoon.

Almost a Shame



Alex Massie wrote a piece for The Spectator the other day on the shock resignation of the Johann Lamont which was relatively sympathetic towards the former Scottish Labour leader, but much less so towards the Labour Party itself. 

Now I think that's probably the correct balance to strike because while it's true that Johann didn't make the political weather and was silent on the big issues like equal pay, these were never just personal failings.

Instead they were symptomatic of a party that has lost its way and no longer knows what it stands for which is, of course, why Labour has been knocked off its perch in recent years by the SNP.  

Alas, poor Johann Lamont: a symptom, not the cause, of Labour’s decline in Scotland

By Alex Massie - The Spectator


It was the wee things that did it. Things like vision, inspiration, confidence and all the other details that coalesce into that strange something called leadership. There are many types of leader and leadership is another of those things easier to see than define but all successful leaders share one essential quality: they can choose a hill and persuade their followers that’s the place they must die.

Johann Lamont never had a hill. By the end she didn’t have much of an army either. Scottish Labour is a party suffering from some kind of political dementia right now. It kind of remembers being a contender and it still stands before a mirror shadowboxing but the moves are slower now and less convincing all the time. There is a search for lost glories that could, in other circumstances, be reckoned almost pitiful.

Actually, it is pitiful. Well before the end you could only feel sorry for Johann Lamont. She had never thirsted to be leader and it was, in truth, never quite clear that she deserved the job. No-one ever doubted her personal decency or integrity. She was, all too plainly, only doing her best. That made it worse. That Johann Lamont did not lead the Scottish Labour party terribly well was less remarkable than the fact she led it at all.

But then it long since ceased to be a great job. Look at Labour’s benches at Holyrood and with only a few exceptions you’re hard pressed to find many people you’d trust to supervise a tyre fire, let alone lead a political party. There is some young talent – Kezia Dugdale, Jenny Marra – but in general the cupboard isn’t so much bare as non-existent. If this is the B Team you don’t want to see the C Team.

And still Labour talks as though it had the right to reckon itself the natural party of government in Scotland. Those days are long gone and they ain’t coming back any time soon. But still, good grief, Labour talks the talk with no idea how ridiculous they look when they try and do that whole walking the walk thing.

They’re the political equivalent of Rangers football club. All this strutting around shouting We are the People. All these delusions of grandeur and future glory. Once upon a time it inspired some kind of terror. Now it’s simply laughable. In each case these people have no idea how daft they look. People are tittering. A party can cope with being hated. That’s to be expected and just the way it goes. But a party cannot survive ridicule. Denial is a river in Glasgow.

So poor Johann. So dogged, so decent, so out of her depth. She didn’t really deserve all this but, then again, who would? Labour, in truth, still haven’t come to terms withe their narrow defeat in 2007 far less the calamity of 2011.

In retrospect Lamont never had much of a chance. She was supposed to be the leader of all Labour types in Scotland, MPs as well as MSPs. But do you think Jim Murphy or Gordon Brown reckoned they should be taking orders from Johann Lamont? Quite. (Miliband’s people never really reckoned her the leader either. They’ve undermined her whenever they could.)

So she was hobbled from the start. It didn’t help that the party ran out of ideas years ago and, in truth, Johann Lamont was always too honest to pretend this was not the case. But she was poorly advised too. The “something for nothing”speech could have been the start of something – the beginning of a surprising honesty in Scottish politics, for instance – but it was ineptly phrased, a gift to the SNP, and quickly dropped. Dropped but forever held against poor Lamont.

Similarly, all the talk of the wee things for which the parliament had responsibility. Well, come on. What a nonsense that was. What a screaming own goal.

For all that people obsess about Labour’s declining fortunes in their ancient Glaswegian and west of Scotland heartlands their biggest problem is less a decline in working-class support than the manner in which they have lost the Scottish middle-classes. Middle Scotland was once pretty red; now it is SNP yellow.

Labour have been out-Laboured by a nationalist party that has run Labour campaigns – on, say, the NHS – against Labour. No wonder the comrades have been confounded and reduced to a state of spluttering stupefaction. This shouldn’t be happening; this isn’t fair. Well it is happening and no-one cares if it is fair or not.

In response Labour types talk about core values and standing up for the national interest (Scotland, not Britain) but it never quite persuades. What is the point of them? What’s their big idea? Actually, what’s their wee idea? A baffling obsession with Alex Salmond’s hotel bills does no kind of mustard cut.

It’s almost a shame. Almost. There are plenty of decent people in the Scottish Labour movement but they’re in a party that long since lost its ability to address or inspire aspirational Scotland. If, as Diderot nearly put it, Scotland cannot be free until the last Labour councillor is strangled with the last copy of the Daily Record then, blimey, on both fronts the country is closer to national liberation than ever before.

An absence of leadership is always more obvious than a surplus of the stuff and in that sense Johann Lamont, poor fish, never had a chance. It didn’t help that she was ineptly advised or that she was hamstrung by Labour’s Westminster delegation or that she never really enjoyed Ed Miliband’s confidence (whatever that may be worth). All these things contributed to her downfall but none were so fatal as the astonishing lack of message.

Politics is, at least in part, a question of stories and Labour don’t have one. What is the point of them? What will you get from Labour that you won’t get from the SNP? I don’t know and that doesn’t really matter very much but, rather more importantly, it’s not clear Johann Lamont ever knew either and that matters a little more.

Despite the polls Labour may yet salvage something in Scotland at the general election next year but their chances of regaining supremacy at Holyrood look dismal. A new leader may help but, in the end, that’s not the largest of Labour’s problems. They need an idea and a purpose and, at present, there’s no sign of either appearing. But without an idea you can’t write a story and without a story you can’t win elections. Johann Lamont wasn’t up to the job but it wasn’t all her fault. She was just a symptom, not the cause, of Labour’s decline.

Irrational Behaviour



Iain MacWhirter writing in The Herald seems to think that Jim Murphy is the 'One' - an unstoppable candidate in the race, if that's the right word, to become the new leader of the Labour Party in Scotland.

Now I'm not so sure because the trade unions still have one third of the vote in Labour's undemocratic electoral college system by which they select their leaders.

And, as history has shown, they're capable of overturning the wishes of individual Labour Party members by handing 80% or even 90% of the 'union section' to a candidate of their choice, thereby completely distorting the outcome.   

Because if a trade union backed candidate can achieve 80 or 90% of the vote in the union section of the electoral college, even on a tiny (say 5%) turnout of union members, this carries the same 'weighted' vote as the other two sections.

So if a union backed candidate can stay in touch in the 'Individual Party Member' and 'MSP, MP, MEP' sections of the electoral college, then an overwhelming win in the trade union section will hand that person victory, as it did for Ed Miliband in 2010.  

Whether the unions are daft enough to run such a campaign in Scotland remains to be seen, but then again who would have thought that having successfully delivered a Scottish Parliament, the Labour hierarchy would go on to try and "strangle it at birth", as Andy Kerr says.


Murphy is good and bad news for his party

Let's get one thing straight.
Labour MP Jim Murphy is an immensely capable politician - industrious, combative and intelligent; a natural campaigner who turned the referendum into what was almost his own presidential campaign, with his 100-town tour on an Irn-Bru crate.
He has the ideal back story: a Glaswegian; slept in a drawer when he was little because his family was too poor to afford a bed; even wrote a book about football. The press can't get enough of him. He is a former Scottish Secretary, a former UK Cabinet minister, the best "striker" Labour have and a politician with the potential to transform First Minister's questions. He is also a teetotaller and vegetarian. 
Labour would be mad not to let him stand for Scottish party leader if he wants the job. Unfortunately, Labour would also be mad to give it to him. Their tragedy is that they almost certainly will. Jim Murphy is an offer the Scottish Labour Party cannot refuse. 
But, as the former Labour minister, Malcolm Chisholm, has pointed out, putting a Westminster MP in charge of the Scottish party in its present fragile state would "turn a crisis into a catastrophe". 
This is not because because Scottish MPs cannot lead Scottish parties; of course they can, as Alex Salmond demonstrated between 2004 and 2007. But Jim Murphy would be seen inevitably as London Labour's man in Scotland. He might even install someone agreeable such as Kezia Dugdale as his stand-in at FMQs but they would be not be able to speak their minds.
The trouble with Mr Murphy is that he stands for all the wrong things to lead the fight against the SNP. He was rejected by Ed Miliband for one of the big-four shadow Cabinet posts not because he isn't capable, but because he is a dyed-in-the-soul supporter of Tony Blair, a true believer; what Labour people used to call a "moderniser". 
He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq war and did not go along with Ed Miliband's mumbled apologies for the invasion. He is committed to nuclear weapons in a way that very few Labour politicians are. He voted for the return of university tuition fees and ID cards and supports market reforms in the NHS. 
Now, he is quite capable of putting this all into the background, and adopting some quite left-wing policies in Scotland, perhaps even cheap childcare. 
He knows how to appeal to the social democratic sentiment of his party by picking up issues such as housing and land reform. He will launch tabloid campaigns against noisy neighbours, rowdy classrooms and hospital cuts. 
However, top of his agenda will be to close down the party as an autonomous force in Scotland. He will have to do this because, from his point of view, there is no alternative. 
Labour can only win in Westminster, as Mr Murphy has said himself, if it wins in the south. It cannot allow itself to be dragged to the left by an "old Labour" enclave in Scotland. 
This is why Johann Lamont wasn't allowed to break with party policy on the bedroom tax; why the plans for tax devolution were over-ruled; why the Scottish party has been kept in its place as a "branch office". Labour remain a centralist party and the history of devolution has all been about how it has failed to resolve its own north-south divide. 
There is civil war raging in the Scottish Labour Party. Former Labour First Ministers, including Jack McConnell, have used Johann Lamont's departure to settle their own scores with London Labour. 
Andy Kerr, Labour's former finance minister, has said that Labour delivered the Scottish Parliament and then "tried to strangle it at birth". He said he felt sorry for dinosaurs being compared with Scottish Labour MPs. 
This can't go on. Jim Murphy will be brought in to end it once and for all. He will talk up the supposed constitutional autonomy of Scottish Labour, but he will weld it organisationally to the UK party where the true power lies. And, in the long term, that can only hand Scotland to the SNP.
But for now he is unstoppable. He is the One, the Neo. Defective Labour programmes will be deleted.

Housing Association Staff



Two new enquiries about holiday back pay claims have arrived in recent days from staff employed by local Housing Associations - one from Glasgow and the other from Edinburgh.

Now I have to admit this is another group that I had never thought about in relation to holiday pay, because I've had some dealings with them in the past.

But apparently it is pretty common, from the recent enquiries to HBPC, for people not to be paid their 'normal' pay during holidays and annual leave.

And, of course, care and other support staff such as maintenance workers often provide a 24 hours/7 days a week service which means lots of people are working shifts and weekends, call outs, overtime and in some cases sleepovers.

So keep spreading the word because there's bound to be plenty of people out there who are not yet aware of their rights in relation to holiday pay.

Simple HBPC Test



Here's a simple test to help discover if you have a holiday backpay claim.
  1. Take your entire wages for 3 months without holiday pay and divide by 3 to give you your average pay for those 3 months.
  2. Then compare this average pay with your pay in the month you were on paid leave. 
  3. If your holiday pay is less than your average pay, then it is less then it is highly likely you have a claim. 
If in doubt make a claim. 
If you don’t make a claim you won’t get paid anything - as many people found out to their cost over equal pay. 
If you the sums don't work out for you, then pass the word on to your friends, family members and colleagues as they may have a claim, especially if they work shifts or regular overtime. 
If you would like a claim form please visit http://www.holidaybackpayclaims.co.uk and fill in the ‘New Claim Pack’ request form.

Or contact HOLIDAY BACK PAY CLAIMS LIMITED on the following numbers: 0800 024 6888or 0141 343 8066      

Call Centre Staff



The holiday pay campaign keeps growing every day with different groups and categories of workers getting in touch to ask if they have a valid claim.

For example, a call came into the HBPC office the other day from a group of call centre staff in North  Lanarkshire and information was sent out to them the same day. 

Apparently more than 1,000 staff work in the call centre, so there is huge potential out there as the word spreads among existing Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) clients and completely new clients in other areas in the private sector.

So keep spreading the word - the greatest recommendation anyone can make is a personal one and on that basis the track record of A4ES speaks for itself.

Simple HBPC Test 



Here's a simple test to help discover if you have a holiday backpay claim.
  1. Take your entire wages for 3 months without holiday pay and divide by 3 to give you your average pay for those 3 months.
  2. Then compare this average pay with your pay in the month you were on paid leave. 
  3. If your holiday pay is less than your average pay, then it is less then it is highly likely you have a claim. 
If in doubt make a claim. 
If you don’t make a claim you won’t get paid anything - as many people found out to their cost over equal pay. 
If you the sums don't work out for you, then pass the word on to your friends, family members and colleagues as they may have a claim, especially if they work shifts or regular overtime. 
If you would like a claim form please visit http://www.holidaybackpayclaims.co.uk and fill in the ‘New Claim Pack’ request form.

Or contact HOLIDAY BACK PAY CLAIMS LIMITED on the following numbers: 0800 024 6888or 0141 343 8066 

Lorry Drivers



I hadn't really thought about lorry drivers as a group of workers who would have a holiday back pay claim, but there's been an enquiry from a big distribution centre just off the M8 and it seems, indeed, as if these workers do have a case.

Because they regularly work overtime hours and are often on the road the weekend as well, which is obvious when you think about it, and apparently these additional pay elements are not included when the drivers take their annual leave.

So it looks as if they are another significant group and as word begins to spread and no doubt others will follow.  

Simple HBPC Test 



Here's a simple test to help discover if you have a holiday backpay claim.
  1. Take your entire wages for 3 months without holiday pay and divide by 3 to give you your average pay for those 3 months.
  2. Then compare this average pay with your pay in the month you were on paid leave. 
  3. If your holiday pay is less than your average pay, then it is less then it is highly likely you have a claim. 
If in doubt make a claim. 
If you don’t make a claim you won’t get paid anything - as many people found out to their cost over equal pay. 
If you the sums don't work out for you, then pass the word on to your friends, family members and colleagues as they may have a claim, especially if they work shifts or regular overtime. 
If you would like a claim form please visit http://www.holidaybackpayclaims.co.uk and fill in the ‘New Claim Pack’ request form.

Or contact HOLIDAY BACK PAY CLAIMS LIMITED on the following numbers: 0800 024 6888or 0141 343 8066 

Holiday BackPay Claims




I've heard from a number of people who want to know if they can transfer a holiday back pay claim to HBPC even though they've already registered a claim with another organisation.

The answer is Yes it's possible, but each case is likely to be different so the best thing to do is to phone the HBPC office and discuss the situation with one of our staff - contact details are below. 


For more information you can also call 0800 024 6888 or 0141 343 8066.

So start spreading the word to fellow workers, friends and families and if people have any queries they can also drop me a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com





Combating Extremism



Tony Blair is unyielding in his criticism of Islamic extremism and in this article for the BBC he argues that intervention is the key whether through an education programme that promotes tolerance and respect or via military action that can prevent murder and genocide.   

Now I'm not a religious person in any way, but that seems like a good idea to me. 

Tony Blair: Fight war of ideas against extremism

By Tony Blair - Founder, Tony Blair Faith Foundation

Refugees fleeing an attack by Isis near Syria's border with Turkey

The last few weeks have seen a significant shift in the global response to events in Iraq and Syria. Led by the US, more than 40 countries are now joined in fighting the scourge of Islamic State (Isis). This is a sensible decision, but it is not enough.

Because the issue is larger than terror groups like Isis, Boko Haram or Al-Shabab alone. There is a fundamental problem with radical Islamism. And it is imperative that we recognise the global nature of this problem, the scale of it, and from that analysis contrive the set of policies that will resolve it.

In an essay last month, I set out the seven principles of understanding that I believe should underpin this strategy. The reaction to this invariably boiled down to the question of intervention.

There is no doubt that force is needed to confront a group like Isis; it is a group of people who fight without hesitation, kill without mercy and die without regret. But left out of the analysis was one of the most important questions this generation of leaders faces: how we uproot the thinking of the extremists, not simply disrupt their actions.

Because unless we begin to confront the underlying causes each time we take on a group like Isis another will quickly arise to take its place. And in order to fight a warped and worsening ideology in the long term we need to recognise that education is a security issue.
Pupils in Kabul, Afghanistan: Tony Blair says respect for other religions should be taught in all schools

That this issue is raised rarely in the debate of radical Islamism is both perplexing and alarming. Because each and every day the world over, millions, even tens of millions of young children are taught formally in school or in informal settings, a view of the world that is hostile to those of different beliefs.

World views

That world view has been promulgated, proselytised and preached as a result of vast networks of funding and organisation, some coming out of the Middle East, others now locally fostered. These are the incubators of the radicalism. In particular the export of the doctrines of Salafi Wahhabism has had a huge impact on the teaching of Islam round the world.
Tony Blair says the ideas feeding extremism need to be challenged

I am not saying that they teach youngsters to be extremists. I am sure most don't. But they teach them to take their place on a spectrum of opinion based on a world view which stretches far into parts of Muslim society. They teach a view of the world that warps young and unformed minds, and places them in a position of tension with those who think differently.

The challenge we face is to show young people who are vulnerable to appeals from terrorists that there is a better path to having their voice heard; that the only future that works is one in which people are respected as equals, whatever their faith or their culture.

This issue is one I am tackling through my Faith Foundation. Working in schools in 30 countries as diverse as Pakistan, the US and Singapore, they have pioneered a schools programme for 12 to 17 year olds.

The young people in these schools take part in lessons that seek to increase understanding of the faiths and beliefs of others, the facets of identity and the requirements of global citizenship. They also take part in a video-conference with other schools in a global network, so young people from Lebanon or Indonesia can explore and articulate their values, as well as encounter those of students in Ukraine or the United Kingdom.

This can be a profound experience for the students. I recently visited an Islamic school in Jakarta, where children took part in a conference with predominantly Hindu children from a school in India. Watching these young people interacting and dealing with challenging issues around their faith and culture gave me a glimpse of what's possible.

'Deformation'

Though they lived in very different countries and followed different religions, they came together and through a shared experience gained a better understanding of each other.

The results of this engagement are apparent - and they are overwhelmingly positive. But it is only foundations like my own and the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund that are even attempting such an endeavour.


Mothers in Abuja in Nigeria protest against the abduction of schoolgirls by Boko Haram

We have reached over 100,000 students, which is not nearly enough when a tide of young people are taught a view of religion and the world that is exclusive, reactionary. In the context of a world whose hallmark is people mixing together across the boundaries of race and culture, it is totally contrary to what those young people need to succeed in the 21st Century.

So unless we tackle this question with the honesty and openness it demands, then all the security measures and all the fighting will count for nothing. As I have said before, especially foolish is the idea that we leave this process of the generational deformation of the mind undisturbed, at the same time as we spend billions on security relationships to counter the very threat we allow to be created.

Global importance

We need at the G20, or some other appropriate forum, as soon as we can, to raise this issue as a matter of urgent global importance and work on a common charter to be accepted by all nations, and endorsed by the UN, which makes it a common obligation to ensure that throughout our education systems, we're committed to teaching the virtue of religious respect.

This doesn't mean an end to religious schools or that we oblige countries to teach their children that all religions are the same.
Nobel winner, Malala Yousafzai, was attacked for defending the right to education

Catholic schools will continue to teach their children the virtues of the Catholic faith. Muslim countries will continue to teach their children the value of being Muslim. But we should all teach that people who have a different faith are to be treated equally and respected as such. And we should take care to root out teaching that inspires hatred or hostility.

This should be a common global obligation, like action to root out racism or action to protect the environment. Nations should feel the pressure to promote respect and to eradicate disrespect.

The work which my foundation does shows clearly the benefits of education programmes which teach young people about "the other" in ways which enhance mutual respect.

There is plenty of evidence such programmes work. We need to act on it. We need to sow the seeds as widely as possible so that they take root and therefore weed out the perversion of faith that has been growing unchecked.