Colin Fox interview

There had been a demonstration by postal workers in Edinburgh against the privatisation of Royal Mail services earlier on the day we met. Colin Fox, top Lothian list candidate for the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) arrives in a sunny Nicholson Square fresh from lending his support the the protesting posties. Earlier in the week he was in London for an anti-cuts rally. Fox, it seems, is happiest out on the streets campaigning and talking to people. He said:-

“I’m in Princes Street every Thursday, Friday and Saturday lunchtime and I would advise every politician in the country to do that. If you want feedback from the people stand with a megaphone, right in the middle of Princes Street and talk to people.”

Fifty year-old Fox was raised in a typical working class family in Motherwell. He has been involved in socialist politics in one form or another for most of his adult life. He recalls one incident growing up in Lanarkshire that played a vital part in shaping his political convictions:

“One of the things that personally influenced me looking back was that there was a radical theatre company called 7:84 who had a play that was touring and I went to see it at Viewpark Community Centre. The play was called The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil and I remember thinking that was terrific. It just evoked a spirit in me and an idea that working people should be given the opportunity to make their own decisions.”

Today when asked what the policies are that the SSP are campaigning on as he seeks to return to Holyrood, where he was an MSP between 2003 and 2007, Fox is in no doubt of the major issue and said:-

“The election for us is dominated by the economy and cuts. This idea that there have got to be cuts in the public sector and that there has got to be rising unemployment in this area: our premise is we don’t accept this. The whole idea that the country is grievously over-spent : our view is that is complete nonsense. We don’t accept the cuts. The reason we are in the position we are is that we bailed out the banks. In other words the bankers caused the crisis and they are the ones that should pay for it.”

Raising taxes, especially for the wealthy, is another flagship policy of the SSP. Fox makes no apologies for this saying:

“Tax raising powers don’t frighten us any. All the talk now is we are going to cut taxes. Our attitude is the rich have got to start paying their fair share of taxes now – currently they (the rich) are avoiding it. We want to scrap the council tax which is unfair. It is based on a nominal valuation of your house and is therefore nothing to do with your income. There are people whose income is literally coppers, like pensioners, paying a quarter of their entire income on this one bill. The council tax is a fraud, a con and it has got to be replaced with something based on your income.”

Fox has lived in Edinburgh since 1995 and has strong views on what the challenges facing the capital are – and how they need to be tackled. He said:-

“Edinburgh is the most cosmopolitan city we have in Scotland, that’s the great thing. Even people from Motherwell are accepted here!  However the dichotomy here is that enormous wealth exists in this city cheek by jowl with extreme poverty. We have people going under every five minutes, where every bill pulls them under the water. They are the forgotten citizens of this city and I can tell you exclusively that I really don’t care about JK Rowling or (RBS chief executive) Stephen Hester or big houses in Grange or Barnton, my concern is that the vast majority of the population of this city are struggling to get by in indecent housing and on indecent wages. So the most important issue in Edinburgh is redistributing the enormous wealth to those that need it the most from those that have the most whether it be in health, social care or wages that is what needs to be done.”

Fox is realistic enough to realise he and his party have a tough battle ahead to gain at this election:-

“As a democrat, and I am a democrat and a socialist, I fight to win every election I stand in.  But we are realistic enough to know that because of the Sheridan nonsense and other things, we still have to prove to the people that the SSP have our heads and eyes on the prize. Working people feel we let them down, and it is my job to show them that we are still fighting for them.”

Yes Tommy Sheridan, Fox’s former SSP colleague, whose fall from grace rocked the SSP, could cast a shadow over the party. When asked about the Sheridan effect Fox claims that it does not get raised often specifically but is seen as part of a wider problem.

“The Sheridan thing never specifically comes up but what comes up is people saying, MSPs, politicians – all bent as a three pound note, every last one of them.”

As for a political high point Fox, who introduced the initial bill in the Scottish Parliament to abolish prescription charges, cites this important achievement in the history of the party.

“From April the 1st, prescription charges no longer exist in Scotland after more than 50 years. They are abolished in part, I don’t seek to take all the credit as it is the SNP government after all that has abolished them, due to my bill, we blazed the trail here. The SSP has a right to feel proud in our part of standing up for ordinary people in this matter.”

When asked for his hopes for the Scottish Parliament and Scotland in the future, Fox offers up a slice of his political philosophy:-

“There is a quotation from Boys from the Blackstuff and it is ‘every man has his price but the incorruptible man has the highest price of all.’ And I have my price, I will sell the jerseys tomorrow if we have a socialist society based on need, where the poor are cared for and the rich pay their way. That’s my price, it is perhaps a price politicians from other parties cannot afford to have, but at least I’m honest enough to admit I have one.”

Original article here –


Political mavericks

I recently reported from the Scottish Green party conference where Robin Harper made his last speech before standing down as a MSP. It got me thinking about where all the characters and political mavericks have gone.

One of the most refreshing aspects of the first two Holyrood elections in 1999 and 2003 was that proportional representation allowed for the election of independents and minority parties. Robin Harper became the first Green parliamentarian in 1999 and was joined by 5 other Green MSPs in 2003. Similarly Tommy Sheridan and his former party, the SSP, made strong showings. Independent voices such as Dennis Canavan and Margo Macdonald were also elected.

This gave us a parliament with some colourful characters who were free of traditional party political constraints. People genuinely liked someone like Robin Harper and whether they agreed with all the Greens policies or not they recognised his passion for the environment and social justice. Likewise whatever has subsequently happened in his private life Tommy Sheridan was as charismatic a politician as Scotland has produced in recent times. The man in the street believed Sheridan was talking for him.

So as the 2011 elections beckon what is the outlook for our  minority and independent politicians. The answer is a mixed bag. There may be an opportunity for parties or politicians offering a fresh alternative to gain votes from all the major parties. Labour and SNP both have scars of being in power, whether in Holyrood or Westminster,  and may be on the defensive. The Conservatives still have the toxic Tory handle up here and are unlikely to make any inroads. The Lib Dems meanwhile could pay a particularly high price in Scotland, where the Conservatives are hated, for their actions in coalition.

But is there anyone well placed to take advantage. There is always a possibility of a strong socialist party garnering votes in the old industrial heartlands. However the SSP may be fatally wounded by the Tommy Sheridan affair and Sheridan himself, the most electable socialist previously, will struggle to make a Lazarus like comeback. George Galloway is threatening to run and would probably stand a sporting chance of being elected. I would welcome this for even though I don’t agree with all his views Galloway is a great orator and will at least put the cat amongst the pigeons.

The party who seem best placed to benefit are the Greens. Their vote while falling in 2007 did not collapse as spectacularly as the SSPs and they maintained 2 seats. On the plus side they have wisely positioned themselves as a left social justice party opposing cuts and have some momentum from Caroline Lucas’ Westminster victory. They have however lost, in Harper, their best known politician and are still seen as many as a one trick pony.

It will be interesting to see what happens and I for one hope we get as wide a spectrum of views elected as possible.