The Yes campaign for Scottish independence: seeking an escape hatch from the real world

RT and Morning Star

With six weeks to go before people in Scotland go to the polls to decide the future of the United Kingdom, the referendum campaign has by now settled on the political arguments being articulated on either side of the debate.

Over the past year or so I have written a number of articles putting the case for No. The basis of my argument is that uniting working people on the basis of class rather than separating them on the basis of any other factor, be it nationality, ethnicity, gender, religion, and so on, is the non-negotiable cornerstone of any progressive politics which has as its objective social and economic justice.

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GMB calls off industrial action, as Babcock withdraws proposed pay cut


Members are delighted the Babcock’s management have removed the proposals for annualised hours contracts says GMB.

GMB members employed by Babcock Land, working at the Warminster Garrison in Wiltshire for MOD, have accepted new proposals from the company and have called off planned industrial action. All these members employed by Babcocks are drivers for the MOD. They do an incredibly difficult job, often sleeping overnight in a tent on a freezing Salisbury Plain.  They frequently go above and beyond what is required of them.

Last month GMB members voted for industrial action in a dispute over pay cuts. The vote  was an overwhelming 100% yes, on a very high turnout.

Carolle Vallelly, GMB Regional Officer, said “GMB members are delighted the Babcock’s management have removed the proposals for annualised hours contracts. The solidarity shown by the members with their overwhelming vote for industrial action has demonstrated the strength of their feelings and we are pleased the management have listened and acted in response to this.

“GMB has been resisting these changes since last year when the Company wanted to invite all employees to move on to the new contract, which was structured in such a way that they would have no home life, and would be continually at the beck and call of their employers.”




Warsi was right to resign

andy-newman-labour-party-in-corsham-high-street-chippenham-summerAs the Labour Party’s parliamentary candidate for Chippenham, it is not often that I have praise for the actions of a Conservative, but I was impressed by the act of personal integrity by Baroness Warsi, who recently resigned from the government over the inadequacy of David Cameron’s response to the slaughter in Gaza. The military actions of the Israelis have been disproportionate, and in their disregard for civilian life, I believe criminal.

I visited Palestine in 2006, and even though I had read about the occupation before hand, the reality of the suffering of the Palestinian people was worse than I expected. Gaza itself is a huge open air prison, whose borders and trade are controlled by Israel.

As with any conflict, there is good and bad on both sides; but as the economically and militarily far stronger power, greater responsibility lies with Israel to remove the obstacles to peace. Israel needs to lift the siege of Gaza, and discontinue illegal settlements on the West Bank to allow Palestinian life to return to normality, and to thereby provide the conditions for a just and lasting agreement that will be to the benefit of all the people in region.

Labour and the Great War

The First World War was an unmitigated catastrophe, leaving over 9 million dead, countless millions more invalided, orphaned, widowed, displaced or impoverished. It destroyed an estimated £208 bn of capital value, and caused economic devastation much greater than that. It plunged much of Europe into political instability, and the lowered threshold to solving issues through violence contributed to the growing experience of political terror from the black and tans in Ireland through to the Nazis and Stalin’s purges.

Few in 1914 predicted the duration or destructive power of the war, though expert students of military science as diverse as Frederick Engels and the chief of the Imperial German armed forces, Helmuth von Moltke had been ominously prescient. The scale of the war was a result of a number of factors. Firstly, military technical developments were in a transitional phase with enormous destructive capacity not yet counterbalanced by advances in communications or transport.

Secondly, the nineteenth century had seen the birth of a new paradigm of industrial society, and concepts of national community that hugely broadened the social base of war. In the eighteenth century there had been decades of global war between the European powers, but the fighting had been largely confined to small professional armies, and the political governing elites were unconstrained by democratic interference over concluding peace treaties. These limited cabinet wars were those described so insightfully by Carl Von Clausewitz in his classic work Vom Kriege , who famously described the interplay of war and diplomacy as twin mechanisms of achieving state objectives. It is revealing that the Prussian Conservative Party, the political expression of the military Junker caste, had opposed the mass expansion of the army.

Thirdly, the intervention of the British Empire on the side of the militarist and revanchist French Republic (the power which paradoxically in 1914 also represented the greatest threat to British imperial interests), and their unstable and autocratic Russian ally ensured that the balance of military and economic power would lead to a prolonged and global war.

Britain in 1914 was the most democratic of the European great powers. It is necessary to appreciate the difference between the formal deficiencies, the House of Lords and the limited franchise, with the strengths that Britain was unique (with the later exception of the USA) in there being substantive political debate whether or not to join the war: in the Cabinet, in parliament, in civil society, in the newspapers, in academic circles, and of course in the Labour movement. In contrast, in Germany, despite universal male suffrage, and that following the 1912 election the socialist SPD was the largest party in the Reichstag, the decision to go to war was taken by a close circle of generals, overriding even the reservations of the Kaiser. Indeed the three Caesars in St Petersburg, Vienna and Berlin all vacillated as they looked over the abyss.

When discussing how politics operated in the past it is important to understand the distinction between the different intellectual disciplines of politics and history. The political actors of 1914 did not have the benefit of hindsight. It may seem disingenuous that politicians of the British Empire were squeamish of the actions of Imperial Germany, but that was indeed the case. While Bonar law’s Conservative Party were fully behind the idea of war with Germany, on instrumentalist and unsentimental grounds of imperial self interest (a massive misjudgment given the actual result), the tipping issue which put Britain into the war was the German invasion of Belgium, that persuaded wavering Liberals like David Lloyd George and Labour politicians like Arthur Henderson.

Given that we now know that British military planners were also planning to breach Belgian sovereignty to impose a naval blockade even if Germany did not invade, then this seems extraordinary chutzpah. However, this would not have been generally known, even in the cabinet. The contemporary understanding of colonialism in Britain at that time must also be understood, for example, Keir Hardy’s writings exhibit a mixture of paternalism, naivety and optimism, that show even a progressive Labour politician saw the British Empire in broadly benign terms.

The German Empire was not perceived in the same way in Britain, where German colonial rule was seen as both more savage and more amateur. Indeed, it is arguable that the deliberate genocide of the Herero and Nama peoples in German South West Africa in 1905, (which also saw the world’s first extermination camp at Shark Island) had no direct analogue in Britain’s own imperial legacy. The continuity between the Kaiser’s colonial policy, hardly distinguishable from more mainstream European expereince and the later Nazi exterminations had a number of notable aspects: the first civilian governor of Hereroland, Dr Heinrich Goering, was the father of the Germany’s number two fighter ace in the first war, Hermann Goering; surplus brown uniform shirts from the African Schutztruppe were adopted by Hitler’s fledgling group of street fighters; and General Ritter von Epp, an important military figure in the early Nazi party, served in the Herero campaign.

Most importantly, the German invasion of Belgium turned colonial practices tolerated when used against “uncivilized” peoples onto Europeans. Some 5500 Belgian civilians were murdered in the first few weeks after the German invasion; and the declaration that annexation of Belgium into the Reich as a German principality was a war aim, was seen as outrageous in Britain; which overlapped liberal support for the war with more traditional concerns of national defence, as Britain could not afford the Kriegsmarine to use Belgian harbours.

Politicians work with highly imperfect knowledge, and without the benefit of hindsight. It is also a mistake to over-emphasize the significance or novelty of political ideas in their original context because they later had greater influence. The works of Lenin and Bukharin, and even of the more mainstream Hilferding, on imperialism were virtually unknown in Britain. However, a remarkably similar thesis by H.N. Brailsford, the author of the 1914 work War of Steel and Gold was of widespread influence in both the UK and America, influencing the foreigh policy of the Labour Party. Brailsford argued that the driver for war was the growing power of finance capital, and that what he called “vast aggregations of modern capital” were engaged in struggle to partition the world.

Arguably, Brailsford (and Lenin’s) argument was demonstrably refuted by events. The main imperial threats to British trade interests came from France and Russia, not Germany. Siding with the Entente against the central powers was more a continuation of traditional English policy to intervene to avoid any continental power becoming predominant. While the increasing role of finance capital did go hand in hand with the growth of militarism, it did not play a determining role over specific foreign policy, where Labour politicians, and leading trade unionists, were swayed by liberal opinion. Union general secretaries of the era tended to be MPs, and were influenced by that milieu, but the majority of trade union members were also – at least initially – swept up in the war fever.

When war broke out, the Labour Party found itself divided, but did not divide. The parliamentary party and the trade unions broadly supported the war but prominent leaders of the party, like Macdonald and Snowden, opposed the war, along with ethical socialists and Christian pacifists, and Labour Marxists like James Maxton. Macdonald resigned as party leader in protest at the war.

Keir Hardie was a broken man, deeply privately opposed to the war, but equally unwilling to publically oppose it, at the cost of potentially dividing the labour movement, and conscious of the imperative of national unity in the face of external threat.

Largely, the labour movement agreed to disagree, considering that their disagreements as an internal matter for the Labour Party, and within unions; and that any political truce during the war was temporary and contingent. As party chair, G.J. Wardle told the 1917 party conference.

“[Labour] still remains a separate party. Partnerships can be dissolved, arguments can be revived, fighting can be resumed, each in its proper place, each in its proper time”

Arthur Henderson, the party leader since 1914, joined the cabinet in 1915, and the inner war cabinet in 1916. But demonstrating the independence of the party, he resigned from the cabinet in August 1917 when the government refused to allow him to attend the Stockholm conference. The conference had been organized by the Russian leader, Kerensky, to include the socialist parties of all belligerent powers on both sides, seeking to find a path to peace.

This was a bold move by the Russian government, who knew that the Czar had financed the war almost entirely by borrowing, and the state was therefore mortgaged against the imagined spoils of victory. Russian withdrawal from the war could only be achieved by defaulting on those debts, and economic isolation, a cost that the Mensheviks knew would result in social disaster.

In Britain, labour’s achievement was to stay united, and hold together a political force – the Labour Party supported by the trade unions – who were able to replace the Liberals as the main party of opposition, laying the foundations for the future reforming Labour governments who transformed Britain for the better.

Ex Israeli soldiers break their silence

The Independent


Memories of his service along the Gaza border two years ago have been streaming through the mind of Shai Davidovich this week as he hears news from the crowded coastal enclave of heavy Palestinian civilian casualties from the devastating Israeli military campaign there.

Mr Davidovich, 27, the educational director for an ex-soldiers’ group Breaking the Silence, served in field intelligence during Operation Pillar of Cloud, a previous Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza in 2012. He says he was repeatedly ordered to help prepare for the firing of artillery during the hostilities but that he thought it was “crazy’’ to use artillery in a crowded area, in this case the town of Beit Hanoun.

“The news is bringing me back to when we were there and we got orders every day that at 5pm we will shoot artillery. We prepared all day for this, but in the end it didn’t happen. It was surrealistic to see kids playing in Beit Hanoun. With the binoculars we saw a lot of civilians, but I don’t remember that anyone ever spoke about the civilian population. I thought to myself, ‘how can you fire without harming civilians?’

“Artillery is an imprecise weapon. Artillery fire to an area inhabited by civilians cannot be moral, we trained on open areas.’’

Mr Davidovich’s memories fuse with the images of large-scale carnage in the current conflict, which he unequivocally opposes, unlike the near consensus of Israelis who view this as a just war of self-defence against rocket fire and tunnel infiltrations, and blame Hamas for all the civilian casualties. “Any campaign in which the civilian population is harmed on a large scale cannot be moral,’’ he says. “Israel has a right to defend itself, but not like this.’’

Mr Davidovich’s colleagues in Breaking the Silence, which collects soldiers’ secret testimonies to try to enlighten the Israeli public as to the true nature of the army’s activities in the West Bank and Gaza. This week, alarmed at the civilian deaths in Gaza, it took testimonies from soldiers who served in previous Israeli operations in the region, including Mr Davidovich.

They made the testimonies available to The Independent to make a statement against the current fighting. Operation Rainbow in 2004 is the earliest of the campaigns covered while Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09 and Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012 also feature. They do not include anything from the current conflict.

“If you look at all the recent operations continuing into the current operation you see a moral descent that doesn’t stop and a military aggressiveness that only increases,’’ says Yehuda Shaul, the founder of Breaking the Silence.

“The level of destruction, the death toll of civilians and the practices teach us that it gets worse and worse.’’ He takes issue with the use of artillery and the bombing of family homes of Hamas personalities, which the army says are used for command and are, therefore, legitimate targets.

Mr Shaul says that even if Israel warns civilians to vacate areas to be targeted, that does not absolve it of moral responsibility for their fate. “If they don’t leave do they deserve to die?’’, he asked.

“One of the biggest lies of this operation and Cast Lead is that we’re doing everything to avoid civilian casualties. When you use artillery in a place like Gaza you can’t say you are taking every precaution. It’s not the case that generals are looking to kill more civilians, far from that. But we are far away from the official line that everything is being done to avoid civilian casualties.’’

While Breaking the Silence views the testimonies from the past as a way to understand the present, the army believes the group is rehashing old claims to embarrass it at a sensitive time. Asked about the allegations, Col (res.) Shaul Shay, former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council and a scholar at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, told The Independent that the army “kept, is keeping and will keep high moral standards in all its Gaza operations.

“To our sorrow, the approach of Hamas is to use civilians as a human shield and to war against our civilian population. The army adheres in an exceptional manner almost to the point of endangering our soldiers in order to try to have war with minimum civilian casualties. The more Hamas shelling builds shooting positions, tunnels and attack positions in built-up areas, the more the army is forced to fight there and from this there are [civilian] casualties”.

He says steps to warn civilians to leave their homes go beyond anything the US or UK militaries have done. “Breaking the Silence has no case. It saddens me that Israelis make such claims at such a time, claims that serve the propaganda and psychological warfare of the enemy,’’ Mr Shay said.

The testimonies

‘We open fire and don’t ask questions’

Sgt Major Amir Marmor

Unit Armoured Corps

Time 2008-2009

Operation Cast Lead

Area Gaza StripSgt Major Amir Marmor

Sgt Major Amir Marmor

We began a week of practice on the ground, during which we talked with the officers commanding the operation. Pretty soon we realised that the idea was not just a campaign, but an actual war in which gloves were to be taken off.

Considerations we were accustomed to hearing in briefings, like rules of engagement and attempts not to hurt innocents and the like, were not made this time. On the contrary, the attitude was, war is war.

To paraphrase the brigade commander who spoke to us one day in the field… we were sitting around the campfire one evening, and he came and spoke with us about events in Gaza.

Among other things, he told us what we should expect and how we were supposed to behave – he even brought up people who asked him about morality and innocents.

His reply to them, and to us, in this regard was that this time it was war and we should have no second thoughts about damaging anything – including mosques, including any threat we feel, real or imagined. The approach is to open fire and to try not to consider the repercussions. At any obstacle – any problem – we open fire and don’t ask questions. Even if it’s firing in the dark, aiming at an unknown target – firing when we can’t see, deterrent fire – no problem with that.

A vehicle that’s in the way – crush it. A building in the way – shell it. This was the spirit of things that was repeated throughout the training.

‘I don’t remember being told about civilians’

Staff Sgt Shai Davidovich

Unit Field intelligence

Time 2012

Operation Pillar of Defence

Area Northern Gaza StripStaff Sgt Shai DavidovichStaff Sgt Shai Davidovich

We were positioned east of Beit Hanoun [north Gaza]. People are walking around in the streets with lots of children hanging about. I see kids on bicycles in a street where shells are falling and the children run around free.

Not far from the houses was a major hit. And I see this kid riding his bike as if nothing happened, two meters away from him now. I don’t remember having been told about civilians there.

Our mission was to shoot at sources of fire. It was very intense in both directions: the IDF strikes, I recall the shots. Crazy blasts. You keep seeing all of Gaza up in the air. The light it created, it was insane. There were combat helicopters up in the air constantly.

There were drones with which we worked. There was gunfire from Gaza at all times – there was so much gunfire. We were working with X, giving the open-fire orders. We told him “we detect” – no one was actually firing.

I don’t remember seeing a group of combatants, just flashes of rockets fired all the time. You see houses but it’s very difficult to detect a target. You can’t be precise – you can’t really aim.

‘I’m asked why I’m not killing anyone’

Captain Oded Kimron

Unit Shaldag airforce commandos

Time 2004

Operation Rainbow

Area Rafah

During Rainbow Operation, we sent two squads. The mission was to take over a house for stake outs. I commanded one of the squads; a friend of mine commanded the second squad. At the beginning of the briefing we are told that we have to divide Rafah from Tel-Sultan.

A few days before the operation a Golani [infantry] force entered Tel-Sultan, did some job there and went out. The idea, as I understood, was that since Giv’ati [infantry] had to enter Rafah, and since they didn’t want the (Golani) operation in Tel-Sultan to have been for nothing, we had to enter and create a buffer zone.

At the end of the briefing, the brigade commander gets up; he bangs on the podium, and says: ‘Guys, the bottom line is that the mission is to kill as many armed men as possible.’ This had its effect on the mission. On the first day we shot no one; we actually did nothing, while from time to time – every one or two hours – a message from the commander and his commanding crew arrived: ‘What’s going on guys? Why have you not started killing yet? What’s going on there?’

All around us there was destruction on a scale I had not seen before – of houses, greenhouses, and roads. Everything there just became a bunch of sand dunes. All the while, I am repeatedly asked by the force commander: ‘Why aren’t you shooting? What is going on? Why aren’t you killing anybody?’ Non-stop pressure.

‘Don’t check the weight and you hit a school’


Unit Artillery

Time 2008-2009

Operation Cast Lead

Area Gaza Strip

The problem with artillery fighting in an urban area is that one tries to be as precise as possible, but there are a million parameters at play: weather, the weight of the shell. I might have a high-explosive squash head that blows up and destroys a lot with that kind of weight, and then another shell of a different weight.

If you don’t check the weight, you can have a 200-300m difference in range that may end up hitting a school instead of the target.



Letter to an Israeli soldier


Three weeks into your military assault how does it feel? How does it feel to watch your missiles and shells – delivered from air, land and sea – reduce the Gaza Strip to rubble?

Starved, besieged, yet unbowed, the 1.8 million people you have imprisoned there can do nothing except endure as your bombs and your missiles rain down, targeting hospitals, schools, civic buildings, homes, police stations, and even UN compounds where people had sought sanctuary; still believing, despite decades of disappointment and betrayal, in the sanctity and protection of international law.

Your bombs have sought and found their victims, incinerating and blowing to smithereens young and old alike, at the same time as your government attempts to convince the world that every effort is being made to avoid civilian casualties in what they describe as a military operation to root out terrorism and provide security for its citizens.  It is a lie. Slaughtering children is never done in the name of security. It is done in the name of barbarity.

After the air assault you began your ground invasion – and who could ever forget the pictures of you and your comrades, fully armed and equipped for combat, marching into a part of the world you have ensured remains cut off from the rest of humanity, a punishment you have inflicted on the people living there for daring to resist by electing a government you do not approve of. “But this government refuses to recognise us,” you have asserted time and again, revealing a grotesque expectation to be recognised by a people who’ve been systematically expropriated, brutalised, and dehumanised since 1948, when your state was formed.

Make no mistake, the whole world is watching you and your comrades – soldiers of the ‘most moral army in the world’ – with mounting anger and incredulity that such barbarism can be inflicted by a military superpower on a defenceless civilian population in the 21st century. Even your apologists in the West are finding it difficult to provide you with the political support you have always counted on while violating international law as if not worth the paper it is written on. This collusion by Western governments in your crimes is a crime in itself, one that history will not forgive.

So tell us: when will your thirst for Palestinian blood be satiated? How many dead women and children will be enough before you decide to end this massacre? Gaza is already in ruins, so whatever happens now you can be satisfied that when you return to your family like the brave warrior they think you are you will do so having done your duty.

Meanwhile, the suffering, despair and carnage you leave behind will entitle the rest of us to ask, yet again, if to be born Palestinian is to be born less than human, condemned by the great powers to be considered children of a lesser god – their history, culture and rights denied?

No matter the calumny and lies employed by your government, by their spokesmen and women, who appear on our TV screens with the confidence of those who claim to act in the name of democracy and civilisation, who claim to speak and act in the name of past victims of genocide and mass murder, the Palestinians continue to refuse to play the role chosen for them by you and by your apologists. No, the Palestinians refuse to acquiesce in their own destruction, drawing hope from the truth that no missile or bomb, no tank or military aircraft, could ever come close to matching the power of the human spirit.

For in these three weeks something has changed. The world has seen with its own eyes that Israel is not the victim it claims. The continued dispossession and immiseration of the Palestinian people can no longer be tolerated. In their millions around the world, and increasingly within Israel itself, people are declaring that no longer will they stand by and bear witness to occupation, oppression, and barbarism carried out in the name of progress. Too many times in the past the world has stood by, with the names and dates of past atrocities a warning of the abyss into which humanity has sunk before and could sink again unless the world remains vigilant.

Guernica 1937: the Warsaw Ghetto 1942: My Lai 1968: Fallujah 2003: Gaza 2008/09, 2012, and 2014

It is not vengeance the world seeks, but justice – and justice for the Palestinians can only begin when the injustice that has placed a wall around your own humanity is ended. End the siege, tear down the apartheid wall, remove the checkpoints and settlements, and free not only those you have imprisoned all these years but just as important, free yourself.

You affirm time and again that Israel has the right to exist. Yes, but not as an apartheid state, not as a state which exists at the negation of a people whose only crime is that they continue to exist on land you have long since decided belongs to you. No matter how many tanks, fighter jets, and missiles you may possess in your vast arsenal of weapons, the refusal of this tortured, wretched people to disappear into the night of history weakens you. For it acts as an uncomfortable reminder that when you return to your family each night after doing your duty, you do so with your humanity diminished.

It is why we say to you now that you are living on the wrong side of history – in a cold, lonely place called dishonour.

The Israel boycott is working

World Observer Online

Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid has warned that the world, United States included, is losing sympathy and patience with Israel

Speaking to a group of representatives from American Jewish organizations on Monday, Yesh Atid party chairman Lapid warned that the increasing boycott campaigns against Israel will have devastating effects on the economy.

After a top US academics union ASA decided to boycott Israeli academics and educational institutions that operate in and support illegal settlements in the West Bank, Dutch pension giant PGGM and Denmark’s Danske Bank also boycotted Israeli banks for the same reason.

Meanwhile, Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank (DB), has blacklisted the Israeli Hapoalim bank as an “unethical company” due to its funding of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Israel’s Maariv newspaper reported.

Dutch firm Boskalis Westminister and Italian firm Condote de Agua also withdrew bids to build private seaports in Ashdod and Haifa, fearing political reprecussions for working with Israel.

According to the Israeli Haaretz, they join Spanish companies FCC and Cyes, as well as Germany’s Möbius Bau, who also dropped out of the bidding process months back, citing threats to their business interests in the Middle-East.

Last year, boycotts on products like dates and grapes grown in the occupied Jordan Valley caused a $29 million loss for illegal Jewish settlers in the region. As reported in the Washington Post, income from exports dropped 14%, mainly due to big supermarket chains in Europe deciding to boycott the products.

David Elhayani, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, told the Washington Post, “In effect, today, we are almost not selling to the (Western) European market anymore.”

Zvi Avner, head of the agriculture committee in the Jordan Valley, said that sales of peppers and grapes to Western Europe have dropped by about 50% and fresh herbs by up to 40%.

In 2009, the UK gradually started labeling or completely boycotting settler products. Together with Scandinavian countries, the UK has made the 550,000 odd illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank very nervous.

Marks & Spencer, Morrisons and Waitrose are among many British firms to stop selling settler goods in recent years. Germany’s Kaiser Supermarket has also made a moral decision against selling settler products.

Many feel that a trend is slowly starting to develop in the West against Israel, similar to that which brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa.