Greens back tartan tax

By Andy Mackie

The Scottish Green party is the first in Scotland to propose using  Holyrood’s tax raising powers.

A motion was passed at the party’s annual conference, held in Edinburgh at the weekend, to oppose cuts to services and to look at taxation as a tool to achieve this. Explaining this stance in the run up to next years Holyrood elections Patrick Harvie MSP said:  “We don’t want the electorate to be faced with five political parties proposing five different flavours of cuts. In doing this we have to acknowledge that, unfortunately, other ways of raising revenue have to be explored.”

Harvie acknowledged that the tax varying powers available are limited. He said: “You can only change the basic rate, I would love it if we could raise the higher rate making it a more progressive system.” Harvie added that the party would also be looking into ways of implementing local taxation. He said: “We will be looking at a broader range of local taxes that can be more progressive and ensure that those with the broadest shoulders do pay more.”

The other parties in Scotland, however, do not share the Greens enthusiasm for tax increases. Liberal Democrat Finance spokesperson Jeremy Purvis MSP said: “The Green Party has no credibility at all. They have called for more and more expenditure but have not done as we did and identified the waste and bureaucracy that needs to be tackled. This should be the priority; not putting up taxes for low or medium earners to a grotesque amount as the Green Party are advocating.”

The SNP pointed out that any tax increase would impact on all families their spokesperson said: “The SNP has no plans to implement the 3p tartan tax at present. We believe that it would have a negative effect on household budgets.”

The Scottish Labour party stopped short of ruling out the policy, a spokesperson said: “Labour will look carefully at all the evidence but there are practical difficulties with the Green’s proposals which would be hard to overcome.”

The Scottish Conservatives were unavailable for comment.

Thousands set for RAF Lossiemouth rally.

By Andy Mackie

A facebook campaign against the closure of RAF Lossiemouth is expected to rally thousands of protesters in the town this Sunday.

The social networking site has already mobilised over 11, 000 followers across social and political divides. They include  MoD employees who were warned not to protest against the proposed closures.

Sundays rally in support of the under threat RAF bases in Lossiemouth and Kinloss has been organised by locals in conjunction with trade unions. The rally will be addressed by Alex Salmond, Iain Gray, Annabel Goldie and Tavish Scott in addition to John Divers, head of the local trades council.

Feelings have been running high in Lossiemouth since the bases commander Group Captain Andy Hine issued guidance blocking all staff from attending the rally. Hine has now backed down and stated: “Last week I issued guidance to all personnel at RAF Lossiemouth on engaging publicly or with the media about the future of the base. Unfortunately, some of the guidance regarding staff attending protests and rallies was not clear. Service personnel are not permitted to take part in political activities but MoD civil servants are free to take part in this type of event.”

There is still, however, disquiet at the way in which Hines’ original statement was handled. Dougie Brownlie of the Public and Commercial Service Union (PCS) who represent the 800 plus civilian members of staff said: “While the PCS welcomes Captain Hines’ latest statement the anger of members is such that I would expect they will attend in large numbers.”

The campaign now enjoys cross party support in Scotland and all four major parties will be represented. Scottish Conservatie leader Annabel Goldie said: “Sadly, given the scale of the deficit, the defence review could not be pain free. I fully understand the fears and worries of the people of Moray and I urge our governments to work with the local community and local council to chart a way forward and to identify opportunities.Moray is an area of resilience with skilled and talented people and we must all do everything we can to help them through this challenging period. I have personally contacted both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence, and the Scottish Conservatives will continue to make the case for Scotland. It will be an honour to meet with and march with the people of Moray on Sunday.”

The SNP welcomed cross party support and local Moray MSP Richard Lochead said: “It is great news that Scotland’s party leaders are throwing their weight behind Moray’s cause. On 7th November local residents and supporters of the campaign from around Scotland will have their opportunity to show their support as well. I congratulate the rally’s organisers in Lossiemouth for the helping make the campaign to save Moray’s RAF jobs a national priority.”

The Scottish Labour and Liberal Democrats parties were unavailable for comment.

Interviews, contacts, unions, youths and Burma VJ

I was out and about early last Saturday morning, covered in head to toe with waterproofs, to report on the STUC march. The final story is below this article but I was able to make some valuable contacts in the union world. Joy Dunn who is the President of the STUC was able to put me in touch with Fiona Low at the PCS and she was an invaluable help. The interviews I was able to carry out gave my story some real flesh.

On Friday I visited the Scottish Parliament and was able to see the Scottish Youth Parliament in action. I have to say I was very impressed by what I saw. The youngsters involved in debates about mosquito devices and political education in schools were knowledgeable, authoritative and assertive. Andrew Deans who had started the petition gave us an impromptu press conference afterwards and handled it in a manner way beyond his years. The Youth Parliament is definitely a very good thing and more people should be aware of it.

One final inspiring incident happened during my global current affairs lecture when we were shown the dvd Burma VJ. For those unfamiliar with it is a documentary based on footage filmed in the oppressive state of Burma by ‘guerilla’ journalists, the VJs of the title. These journalists risk arrest, beatings and death to film and highlight the human rights violations taking place in their country. There are many fine investigative journalists in this country but none have to take the risks of their Burmese counterparts. To carry on after seeing people beaten and even shot for doing the same thing is awe-inspiring.

Unions warn of strikes as 20,000 march against cuts.

Protesters march through Edinburgh

By Andy Mackie

STUC president Joy Dunn yesterday called for an organised programme of industrial action as 20,000 people marched in Edinburgh .

Members of unions including PCS, Unison, EIS and Prospect heard a succession of speakers attack the coalition governments spending review. The STUC used the event as a launch pad for a concentrated campaign against the cuts.

Union activists and officials gathered early on Saturday morning to distribute banners and flyers. By 10:30 am the Market Street area was buzzing with unions and political organisations. Among them is the PCS union who represent over 30,000 members in government departments throughout Scotland. Dougie Brownlie is the communications officer for the Ministry of Defence branch which has around 2000 members in Scotland. Brownlie was keen to stress that any cuts made to the civilian employees he represents would have serious consequences. He said: “Every single MoD job has an effect on the frontline directly or indirectly. Be it staff responsible for the payment of troop’s wages or our members out on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

As the start of the march approached East Market Street was filled to bursting point . More and more people filed down the narrow thoroughfare that still remained to seek out their union or organisation . Teachers, police officers and fire fighters jostled for position alongside well-known political figures like George Galloway and Colin Fox.

Eventually the march began to snake slowly through Edinburgh towards Princes Street Gardens. Whistles, vuzuzelas, bagpipes and brass bands filled the air with noise as thousands of banners created a sea of colour. Among the official banners were  homemade ones and it is these that reveal most hostility towards the Conservatives. A middle-aged man held a sign that read ‘Ta Ta Thatcher’, showing the depth of feeling still held against the ailing iron lady and her party. Indeed both  Dunn and STUC general secretary Grahame Smith would evoke the ghost of Thatcherism in their addresses.

Many of those marching were ordinary union members who are anxious about their future. One such person is 30-year-old Stuart McIver who has been employed by the Scottish Government for ten years. He feels that his working environment is suffering already: “People don’t think the cuts are fair and certainly they are in fear of losing their jobs. People who have had sick leave are looking over their shoulder.”

At the rally Smith set out the campaigns stance: “We launched this campaign to dispel the myth that there is no economic alternative to these cuts. There is an alternative. Get people back to work, get the economy growing again and the public finances will largely take care of themselves.”,  he continued: “We also launched this campaign to expose the lie that it is those with the broadest shoulders that will bear the brunt of the cuts.”

From the platform  Dunn said: “Today is not the end of this campaign but the start.” She rounded off her speech with the following: “A line has been drawn in the sand. The time has come for organised, coordinated industrial action.”

After the rally Dunn said that she felt that massive job cuts were inevitable and on these she said: “I am insulted by the assumption that these jobs are some sort of backroom functions. These are frontline jobs delivering benefits, tax credits and other vital services.” On the proposed industrial action Dunn feels that the public will be supportive: “Absolutely, people are soon going to be faced with the stark reality of these cuts.”