Is Anti-Scottish Racism a Thing?

Scotland’s not a race… is it koz I is ginger?” The funny thing about racial difference is that it is neither genetic nor biological. Race based on colour is an arbitrary construct, used to fabricate social difference in relation to power.


Yesterday in the post ‘Why Don’t You Fuck Off Back to Scotland’ this blog examined the incident in a Somerset school where a Conservative MP, James Heappey, told a sixth form girl to go back to her own country. It was an open display of a growing sentiment in England towards Scots who refuse to tow the unionist political line, but it is interesting that we don’t have a more precise language for this class of prejudice. Sure, it is prejudice, as it is intolerance, bigotry, and xenophobia, but these terms lack the precision conveyed by words like ‘Anglophobia’ when the discrimination and abuse is in the other direction. This very issue was touched on in the comments section of the Butterfly Rebellion Facebook page. So we ask: Is anti-Scottish racism a thing?

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All too often we hear criticism of the charge of racism on the grounds that the group being targeted “isn’t a race.” Apparently Islamophobia and Anglophobia are not racisms because Islam and Englishness are not racial categories. Yet the assumption that these groups cannot be thought of as racial signifiers rests on the acceptance of race as a biological fact, and this is problematic for a number of reasons. Moreover, the United Nations rejects racial biology in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination:

In this Convention, the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.
Article 1, §1 (21 December 1965)

While it is the case that in the main we identify racial difference in terms of colour, there exists no scientific basis for racial difference in biology or genetics – leading UNESCO to affirm, “All human beings belong to a single species and are descended from a common stock (Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, 27 November 1978, Art.1 §1).” In effect, what this means is that race – rather than being a natural and inherent difference between human populations – is a social construct, an artificial means of differentiating between people to serve some purpose – power.

Enter Stuart Hall, cultural theorist, and his idea of race as a “floating signifier.” He presents the idea of race – something we imagine to see while failing to see so many other arbitrary differences – as a shifting meaning dependant on changing social and political relations. Whether or not one is racialised depends, at any given time, on one’s relationship to power. His argument certainly holds when we think of Jewishness or Irishness as racial signifiers. Even Albert Einstein picked up on this when he famously quipped:

If I am proved correct, the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss will call me Swiss, and the French will call me a great scientist. If relativity is proved wrong, the French will call me Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German, and the Germans will call me a Jew.

Racial categorisation, then, when we accept that it is without a genetic or biological basis, must have a sociological origin. Race is an idea imposed on people by people, and this implies a power relation. We are familiar with the Scots, the Welsh, and the Northern Irish being called British at the Olympics when they win, and Scottish, Welsh, or Northern Irish when they lose. This too is a categorisation imposed by power. Britishness, as a notional superlative, is synonymous with and an extension of Englishness. England is the power holder, and it is those who speak for this dominant culture who grant the honour of Britishness to those British-ish people only when they deserve it. This is a clear type of cultural and national racialisation.

So we may be somewhat uncomfortable identifying anti-Scottish bigotry as racism, but this is only because we have uncritically accepted race as a real thing. Race is a social fabrication used by people in power to establish the parameters of the dominant group. Yes, we can’t deny that black people have black skin, brown people have brown skin, and white people have white skin, but this observation is as arbitrary as differences in other physical characteristics we routinely ignore; like eye colour, height, hair colour and such.

When Scottish people are subjected to any kind of abuse on the basis of their national origin it is perfectly legitimate and reasonable to speak of this as racism. Our discomfort with this idea, however, might possibly be explained by our historical self-identification as a member of the British racialised in-group; that we – like the English – are “white.” But what we are discovering now is that, as we continue to test the patience of the power holders, we are not as white as them. “White” is not a colour, as we are discovering. Whiteness is a social measure of one’s acceptability to power, and it is in precisely this way that Barack Obama was referred to as “an honorary white man.” We Scots are fast losing that privilege in the eyes of British power.

 


The Science Of Racism


You can follow Jason Michael at his twitter page @Jeggit or at his webpage The Random Public Journal
Jason Michael is a  Scottish journalist and blogger based in Dublin. Writing on politics and society. Columnist for iScot Magazine and author of the Random Public Journal.

Protest: Say No To Sanctions

R2W poster.jpgHuman Rights group ‘PPR’ are to protest against benefit sanctions at noon on Monday 8th May at the Andersonstown Jobs and Benefits Office.

You can get a lift to the protest from outside the PPR offices as long as you’re there for 11am.  Everyone else is asked to be at Andersonstown Jobs and Benefits Office for 12pm.

If you are afraid of being sanctioned for attending the protest, the R2W group will be giving out I Daniel Blake masks.

To confirm your attendance, click here

Right to Work: Right to Welfare (R2W) Group are a group of unemployed people who have been campaigning since 2012 for the creation of real jobs and for protections in the social security system.

Read more

205 Social Security Decision Makers have the power to make potentially devastating decisions over 364,000 local social security claims.

Last year alone over 11,230 decisions were made to cut Employment Support Allowance from vulnerable people. Half of all Employment Support Allowance claimants have a mental health condition.

The United Nations has said that the Work Capability Assessment for Employment Support Allowance causes people’s mental health ‘to severely deteriorate’.

Sanctions stop every penny.

In a 3 month period last year an average of 942 sanctions a month were imposed on JSA claimants.

Over 5000 sanctions have been imposed on Steps 2 Success participants since October 2014.

Over 70% of these were for failure to attend an interview.

In 2016/17 32,780 people including 13,717 children had to rely on food banks, an increase of over 7000 on the previous year.

The National Audit Office has found no evidence that benefit sanctions work. The Peoples Proposal for basic due process and mandatory impact assessments can change that.

You can follow ÁINE at her twitter page at @AineCarson1 and at her webpage Áine Carson

Woman sanctioned after miscarriage was left in poverty and suicidal

A woman was left with just £24 each week of her social security to live on after suffering a miscarriage and being sanctioned. She has told the Daily Record how she considered suicide after being left with barely anything to buy food and pay bills.

Lyndsey Turnbull told of her ordeal as the Scottish Government formally launched their new welfare-to-work programmes.

Lyndsey from Midlothian, said: “I wanted to get into work but the whole thing seemed geared up to punish those who wanted to get off benefits.”

She was on approximately £140 a fortnight Employment and Support Allowance when she missed an appointment after having a miscarriage around nine weeks into a pregnancy.

She said: “I was in a bad place and couldn’t talk to anyone about it.”

Lyndsey was sanctioned because was too distressed to disclose the reason for missing the appointment, which is absolutely understandable. However, the punitive sanctions framework does not accommodate people’s circumstances and situations when they may be very vulnerable.

Having to face a stern and unsupportive bureaucrat, whose role is to discipline and punish people who cannot comply with rigid welfare conditionality, to discuss deeply personal and distressing circumstances – and such a traumatic event as miscarriage – is the very last thing anyone needs.

She added: “I went down to £24. I had no food, nothing to pay bills. It was awful.

“I really thought suicide might be the only option – and I wondered how many people would be just like me.”

Fortunately, Lyndsey eventually found someone to talk to at welfare service group Working Links, who helped her to get a second sanction reduced.

She later found a job at a petrol station and she said the new system’s voluntary focus will make it easier for people to get off benefits.

Lyndsey courageously contributed to a group meeting with Scottish National Party (SNP) Employability Minister Jamie Hepburn, to explain the problems she faced with the UK Department for Work and Pension sanctions regime.

Holyrood has no control over major benefits policy. However the new Scottish programmes will be voluntary – with no financial penalties attached – in a bid to get better results.

In other words, they will be genuinely supportive, rather than punitive and mandatory.

Around 4,800 people with disabilities and health conditions will get some help into work, the Daily Record reports.

Employment support is one of the first powers devolved through the Scotland Act 2016, made possible by the Vow of more powers before the independence vote.

Work First Scotland will help 3300 disabled people while Work Able Scotland will focus on 1500 people with long-term health conditions.

The Record revealed last year that the SNP would block any bid by Westminster to impose a sanctions system on the new programmes.

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Batul Hassan, 49, who also met Hepburn yesterday, was made redundant after 11 years at a local authority and was helped into work by Remploy.

She has dyslexia, dyspraxia and hearing problems and said her previous employer struggled to understand her needs.

Batul, from Edinburgh, added: “The new system has the potential to be a good thing.

“Two contracts mean people can move at the right pace, not lumped together.”

Hepburn said: “The devolved services will have fairness, dignity and respect at their core.

“We believe people will see them as an opportunity to gain new skills through supportive training and coaching.”

The Conservatives have clearly changed the meaning of words such as “fairness”, “support” and “respect”, in order to persuade the public that their punitive policies are somehow acceptable, and to deny the negative consequences they have on people who need the most support.

They are not acceptable.

 

Truth Is Good

What an interesting morning, yesterday, with a lot of political content!

Watching the Victoria Derbyshire programme on BBC was definitely different, for a start.  We do not get to hear a lot around what and how debates are going in England in respect of the General Election, so yesterday morning was really just to catch up.

The main reason for carrying out this research, actually, was because of the Question Time programme on Thursday 11 May, broadcast from Edinburgh which did not really reflect the arguments I thought were being debated on the ground in Scotland and that disturbed me quite a bit.

I am disturbed because it would appear that realities facing the country are not being debated in any great depth.  There appears to be some real confusion, especially among young people, about the whole political system, the different colours and outlooks of each party, misconception and misunderstanding about what historically happened and a general lack of understanding around why voting for what you believe is right is essential if you wish to get the best out of the governance of the country you live in.

Why do I mention governance?  I have found myself on the largest learning curve of my life over the last ten years and a lot of what I have had to learn has been about structure and governance of everything from community groups, charities, social enterprises, educational structures, the list goes on.

The simple truth is although we all should have our say and take part in the running of our countries, the most effective and constructive way of ensuring the job gets done properly is to have a committee that will apply their management skills to taking what is being said and delegate action on behalf of everyone.  Debates in parliament are meant to decide the best way forward for each action giving equal opportunity to as many points of view that are shared as possible.

That is what our government is supposed to do.  They are not there to act independent of those voting for action etc., but to carry out what the majority decision is.

It is a serious bit of mis-communication that puts individuals, families, communities, living within a country at a lesser level and insists that action is being taken on behalf of everyone without consultation of everyone.

My intention, therefore, during the coming days, is to put forward what is actually being stated by each party’s manifesto in a way, hopefully, that will be plain speech to everyone.  I will not only put forward the manifesto points (not the whole manifesto – too long),  but I will also record what has been achieved by each party to date in terms of benefit, or non-benefit to the people of the UK as a whole from recent (2010 onwards), previous manifesto promises.  Please note that I cannot eliminate my viewpoint totally from what I write, however, I will put both sides of the argument as clearly as I can.

The reason I am doing this is not to benefit any particular party but to inform the younger generation properly because they need to make their minds up on real facts, not disinformation or un-clear communication.

I would urge anyone who has a question to comment or get in touch if they think I can answer or someone else reading can answer.  I also welcome all feedback because, it keeps everything real, up-front, accountable and honest.

To start with, some points that came up during my research yesterday:

There was a lot of discussion around the Conservative sound-bite about preserving worker’s rights, in fact making them stronger, one point put across several times was the fact that the Conservative Government are introducing a right for carers to take unpaid leave to care for family members etc.

I have to say, from my own personal viewpoint, this is a sound-bite because:

  • In 2010 the Conservatives wanted to re-write the Human Rights Act from a UK perspective, partly because they did not understand the European Convention on Human Rights. This party is now planning to make sure the European Convention is complied with fully, which shows that they did not originally understand the European Convention.
  • Why would a Conservative Government seek to scrap paternity leave because, in their words, it was not required, then decide that unpaid leave would be given to those caring for a family member. Is there any sense there?
  • Why unpaid leave?  Are family members worth less? What is the difference between caring for a child and caring for an older family member.  You get child benefit for caring for a child.  This job is to be unpaid, need I say more?
  • If the Conservatives truly believe in strong workers’ rights, why have they been working against this as a party since 2010?
  • The Conservative Government have, I have been told, been advised that their Government has actually breached the UN Convention on Human Rights, never mind the EU Convention on Human Rights which came after the UN Convention, with their actions in this country.

I  have found, throughout my 33 years’ voting experience, that political parties of every persuasion will create sound-bites in order to get votes.  The sad thing is that politicians don’t realise that not everybody follows politics, and this type of electioneering  tradition can cause total confusion. At a time where it is essential that as many as possible vote, it is probably extremely unhelpful to any political case to enter into this type of electioneering.

One more point, every government, since I was a young girl, have kept salaries and budgets in public services including police, education and health service low compared with their spending on war and weapons!!

Lastly, one thing we all do from time to time we and our governments blame others for the course we choose. That is not going to solve anything is it!

Don’t we all have to take responsibility for making our communities, the places we live in the best they can be responsibly?

AFTER ALL THE PEOPLE ARE THE GOVERNMENT!!

You can follow Sandra Marshall on twitter at @leithunique and at her webpage leithunique.wordpress

Terminally ill woman lost her ESA, home and all her belongings after being told she was fit for work

Claire Hardwicke

Claire Hardwicke has stage four thyroid cancer. This means that it has spread to other parts of her body, and sadly, Claire was told that her cancer is terminal. She also has chronic osteoarthritis. Despite taking 80mg of morphine a day to cope, she still experiences considerable pain.

Additionally, Claire already had a life-threatening, acute allergy to latex. This means that she has to carry an EpiPen at all times, which is an epinephrine (adrenaline) injection to treat life-threatening anaphylaxis. Developing a severe allergy to latex unfortunately meant that Claire could no longer continue working as a mental health nurse.

Claire first became ill 9 years ago with uterine/ovarian cancer, but it was the allergy that made her unemployable and ended her career as a mental-health nurse, her partner, Alan King, told me

Claire’s first bout of cancer was treated and she made a recovery, which lasted only 7 years. Sadly, the diagnosis of her more recent thyroid cancer and metastases wasn’t diagnosed until it was incurable. The tumours had spread throughout her thyroid gland, neck, lymph system and adrenal glands.

All Claire can hope for now is palliative care, which is alleviatory only, as a cure isn’t possible.

Unbelievably, Claire was assessed as “fit for work” by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) last year. Her Employment and Support Allowance was stopped. All of her financial support ended. This was despite being told by the Capita assessor (for Personal Independence Payments) that the report to the DWP would state that Claire was in need of more support, not less.

Overnight the couple lost every bit of financial support they had previously been entitled to, so Alan decided to use what little financial resources he had left to help Claire to fulfill some of  her”Bucket List.”

The couple were forced to say goodbye to their rented bungalow and 99% of their possessions because their housing benefit was stopped. They had no income, as Claire’s Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) was stopped, and the Carer’s Allowance also ended.

Claire explained to me that when she lost her lifeline support, the wait for appeal hearings was over 18 months. The couple couldn’t afford to wait that long, as they had no income. They also didn’t know if Claire would survive the wait.

Claire and Alan went to visit family members around the UK before setting off, in October 2016, on a Mediterranean cruise for a month, which Alan paid for, using his credit cards. They already owed a lot of money on their credit cards, but with no income at all, the couple were facing destitution.  The incredible distress the couple suffered took its toll on Claire’s already poor health, too.

On the return journey, both of them realised that coming all the way back to the UK – where they were homeless, with no income, and they no longer even qualified for free prescriptions – would be pointless. So the couple left the cruise when they got to Portugal, where it’s significantly warmer than the UK (and therefore less painful for Claire) – and they’ve been there ever since, living in a very basic, rented room.

Alan told me: “Claire’s cancer hasn’t claimed her life as quickly as we both had imagined, (which is good), but with medications, food and board, we’re now out of funds and out of options unless we can somehow fundraise for some subsistence.”

The couple have paid money in advance for their single room in Portugal, which covers rent until 14th March, after which time they will have absolutely nowhere to go.

Claire says: “There are new trial therapies for extreme cases of thyroid cancer like mine.

 I wish I had a pot of gold to pay for the experimental cancer therapy.
I don’t want to die, but choices and chances aren’t given to the poor people. We need a miracle, a winning lotto ticket. There should be equal opportunities for all patients.”

The treatment would possibly extend Claire’s life and improve the quality of the time she has left. She says: “I could have a chance of a longer, fuller life…. but I don’t have that option open to me….”

Tiffany Williams, a friend of Claire’s in the UK, has set up a crowdfunding page on JustGiving to raise £800 to help pay for her treatment. So far, 53% of the sum has been raised.

It’s such a modest amount for a treatment that will make a huge difference to Claire and Alan, who have lost their home and everything else they had in the UK. Now they are at risk of losing their room in Portugal, too.

You can make a donation at:  https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/tiffany-williams

Update

Claire informs me that the gofundme collection has now closed. But for those wishing to help in some way, there is a beautiful painting of Claire by Jason Pearce, which is up for auction with funds going to her medical fees.  

She says many thanks. 

Jason Pearce is an administrator for a very popular political group, and like me, he was originally contacted and asked if a member (Alan) could post a gofundme page to raise money for treatment costs to the group, as his wife, Claire, is seriously ill. Jason agreed, and offered to help. As Jason is an artist, it was suggested that he could paint a portrait of Claire and it could then be auctioned online to help raise some more money towards Claire’s ongoing treatment.

This is Jason’s lovely painting of Claire.

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“Claire”

20″ x 16″ Mixed media on canvas.

You can follow Kitty S Jones at her webpage Politics and Insights

 

West Dunbartonshire – Bad News Day – The Parcel of Rogues Are Back Seeking to Blind-side You into Voting Tory – Good News – Early Warning So You Don’t Fall For the Hype

Penelope (Penny) Alison Veronica Hutton (nee Salvesen) Tory candidate for West Dunbartonshire

Her fabulously rich family are linked to some of the richest landowners in Scotland.

The old saying holds true “if she cut herself she would bleed blue blood.

Quite why she is the Tory candidate for West Dunbartonshire defeats me since the wider family could buy and sell West Dunbartonshire many times over and still consider the purchase to be achieved by spare cash.

It might be now that her children are adults she has a bit more time available and is a wee bit bored.

She was at some time or other a director of some of the family companies.

Her brother Jeremy’s obit provides further explanation: (http://www.scotsman.com/news/obituaries/obituary-jeremy-salvesen-entrepreneur-and-adventurer-1-3380489)

 

 

 

Penelope – A Closer Look at her Lineage

Penelope (Penny) Alison Veronica Salvesen is the daughter of John Salvesen, a Kelso farmer, the great-grandson of the famously successful and wealthy Norwegian immigrant Christian Salvesen.

She is the great-great-granddaughter of Christian Salvesen, the 19th-century Norwegian immigrant who went on to develop the Salvesen shipping, whaling and road transport conglomerate who also brought the first penguins to Edinburgh Zoo.

 

 

 

Her Husband John Rupert Hutton is Near Enough Scottish Royalty

James Rupert Hutton is the son of Commander John Robin Hutton and Elizabeth Judy MacMillan.

The family are directly descended from the Chief of the Clan Mcmillan through General Sir Gordon Holmes Alexander MacMillan of MacMillan and Knap and Rear-Admiral Reginald Maurice James Hutton.

 

 

 

The Coupling of Penelope and John

Penelope (Penny) married James on 12 February 1994. They have 2 adult children. http://thepeerage.com/p17115.htm

 

 

 

 

Penny Hutton – I Am a Scottish Conservative

Her self penned history is at odds with the gentility of her heritage:

“Born in the Borders I have lived in West Dunbartonshire for the last four years with my husband and two children.

Before that we lived in Argyll where we ran a marine and retail business.

I was also an advisor for the Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust helping young people to establish and run their own businesses.

I am now a volunteer for the NSPCC Schools Service giving assemblies and workshops in primary schools to help our young people understand abuse and how to get help.

 

 
Briefly, Her beliefs – Quotes from Roothie the Moothy Political Dogma “Don’t Frighten the Natives” Handbook

“I will endeavour to ensure that funds from the Glasgow City deal (which is majority Westminster financed) are invested properly, eg. The Exxon Mobile site and that Clydebank and West Dunbartonshire get their fair share.

I will also work to bring life back to our town centres and to keep health and social care services local.

I believe in a strong United Kingdom (the rest of the UK being Scotland’s largest export market) and the benefits including inward investment it gives all four of our home nations.

I will oppose the SNP’s plans for a second Scottish independence referendum, which the people of Scotland do not want, and stand up for a strong United Kingdom.

I will support the growth and development of H.M.N.B. Clyde and the employment opportunities this will bring to the constituency, both at the base itself and in the wider community.

I will work with our local MSPs and others to ensure a secure, long term and viable future for the Vale of Leven Hospital.”

 

 

 

 

So you thought you could improve yourself!

The jobcentre regime is built around the myth that those who are unemployed just haven’t tried hard enough; so you might expect that they would help people to go to university and improve their qualifications. That might be logical, but it is not what happens. Most students have to support themselves with part-time work, but if you are not managing to find work, you generally can’t claim benefits – at least not if your course is considered to be full time. If it is part time (and there are strict rules about what counts) then you have to demonstrate that you are available for and looking for full-time work. You can specify on your claimant commitment which hours you will be available for work, but only up to a point as you also have to show that this doesn’t significantly reduce your chances of finding a job. For the DWP it is always the short-term prospects of getting a job – any job – that count.

At this week’s stall we came across two people who had been forced to give up their degrees in order to be able to claim the benefits they needed to survive. Anna had gone to the jobcentre hoping that she could sort something out, but emerged in tears having been surrounded by three jobcentre workers all shouting at her. John was less visibly upset, but his situation was more severely worrying. He had been aware of the problems with claiming benefits as a student and had discussed his particular situation with the DWP. They were not certain whether or not he qualified, but signed him up for Universal Credit anyway meanwhile. It was only after he had received benefits for several months that they told him that they had decided he was not actually eligible to receive anything – and that he would have to pay it all back. (Universal Credit overpayments have to be repaid regardless of who was at fault.) Now, not only has he had to give up being a student in order to get Universal Credit, he also has unmanageable debts. These have got so bad that he is facing imminent eviction for unpaid rent. We urged him to see a money advisor as soon as possible and gave him the list of the different welfare-rights sessions in his area.

CPAG has made it’s student welfare advice handbook freely available on line, and most universities can provide some help navigating the system, but this can’t alter the basic problems within the rules themselves – especially when the DWP doesn’t know its own rule book. Even with this government’s limited vision of education, regarding it merely as training for work, these rules are damaging to individuals, and put a hurdle in the way of any plans to develop a better trained workforce.

(The picture shows the student in Puccini’s opera, La Boheme, burning his manuscript to keep warm.)

Thanks for help at this week’s stall to Norma, Tony, Gary, Gordon, Chris and Duncan

Why the US and Britain are not democracies

Surely the United States and Britain are democracies. After all, they have free and fair elections and representative governments; freedom of speech and association means that dissent and demonstrations are tolerated; all citizens are deemed equal before the law; and individual civil liberties are respected.

In fact these countries are electoral oligarchies. Political power is closely allied with wealth and immigrants are regularly scapegoated for the inequalities fostered by state policies. Donald Trump’s recent ban on travel for citizens from Muslim countries is but the next stage in the increasingly obsessive and racist policing of those deemed foreign to the polity.

A cursory examination of the word democracy demonstrates that we no longer live, if we ever did, in democracies. True democrats must reject the exclusions and the inequalities which have become the acceptable face of liberal democracy.

Democracy against democracies

Let’s begin with the ancient Greek word “democracy”. The term does not denote a political regime as many have come to understand it. Monarchies and oligarchies are political regimes. They concentrate sovereign power in the hands of the wealthy few. In a democracy, by contrast, the people (the demos) – without qualification – govern. Who counts as a member of this group is an open question. Representative democracies of today, however, bound democracy to citizenship, and neurotically exclude those deemed to have no qualification. As the novelist Tom McCarthy recently argued, for the Athenians of ancient Greece a citizen was first and foremost a citizen of the world. As such they constantly put into question any attempt to restrict the demos.

Recent debates about immigration into Europe tragically confirm the terrible consequences of bounding democracy to a “legitimate” public, for those classified as foreign. Democrats must enact equality in the name of a common humanity, against political regimes which lay claim to the name of democracy.

The power exercised by the demos – or “kratos” in ancient Greek – signified the capacity to act politically, the collective ability to do good. For the ancient Athenians, public office, and representation, were very limited ways of exercising this power.

Democratic power rests on the presupposition that everyone is equal. It tests all political regimes, notably those which assume that democracy is only about voting. In both Britain and the US the representative system allows political parties with a mandate from only one third of the voting public to rule. Moreover limiting democracy to citizens who vote ignores the consequences of how citizens in the UK and the US live for distant others. Those who produce its food, are affected by its wars, produce the energy and goods – all the products which oil the wheels of Western lives. Democracy implies that such limits can never be justified.

Radical ways of thinking

The implications of this argument are radical and go well beyond considerations of immigration policy, although this is a salient place to start. It means that we should never simply equate democracy with existing political regimes. Liberal democracies radically limit the powers of the people. Freedom of information is restricted in the name of state security; every aspect of life is calculated according to the measure of profit, as value becomes almost completely monetary; inequalities of wealth and of pay are extraordinarily high; and equality is daily sacrificed on the altar of individual freedom while millions live their lives in debt, getting by from day to day.

Solon of Athens. Wikipedia Commons

It was no mistake that in 594BC, Solon of Athens insisted that Athenian citizens could not participate fully in public life if indebted. In Britain and the US today too many are marginalised by apparently poor credit ratings, and by state policies which privilege monetary rather than democratic accountability.

All democratic regimes undermine the equality they espouse. In securing borders they exclude others who might be deemed members of “the people”. In protecting against possible challenge and in institutionalising the “best” forms of rule these regimes police the equality which they simultaneously proclaim. It is an equality which rings hollow. Long before the revolutions against the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes, citizens of these states knew that the proclamations of those in power were ruses without foundation.

In the democratic regimes of the “West” today, citizens also live in a world of Orwellian double speak. A topsy-turvy world that tells us that the economy is growing, the stock market is at historic highs, satisfaction ratings have sky rocketed – yet these measures are a semblance which politicians use to pat themselves on the back. Our democracies are oligarchies which protect wealth yet blame those with nothing for the inequalities generated by their own practices.

What then is democracy?

Democracy takes place when equality is enacted in the name of the people. Those committed to democracy should ask themselves the question posed by philosopher Jacques Rancière: “What happens when we act as if all are equal?” To start with, the gross inequalities in wealth preserved by democratic regimes would be challenged. We would recognise that all are capable of participating in rule. Borders separating us “from them” are fictions which preserve inequality. We would reject a society which purchases the future of the young by tying them up in debt, and would ensure that everyone has a decent home not subject to the change in fortunes of a market in property – another one of those measures used to demonstrate the “health” of the economy.

There are instances when political regimes do foster such democratic practices, but these are few and far between. More interesting are the many instances, often unseen, sometimes banned and condemned, when democracy is enacted by the men and women of no property. In Newham in east London in 2014 the Focus E15 mothers’ group occupied housing owned by the local council, on the all but empty Carpenters estate. They were responding to the closure of a nearby hostel for the homeless, to cuts in housing benefit, and to a lack of affordable housing in the city.

The occupiers opened the empty “real estate” to the public as a social centre organising daily events and debates – much to the chagrin of the local mayor and his council who had proposed relocating the mothers and their families to Birmingham in the West Midlands and Hastings in the south. The campaign briefly gained national coverage as the mothers shamed the council into providing social housing on the Carpenters estate.

These women exercised extraordinary power. They did not ask the council for housing. They took what they claimed everyone is entitled to: a home. They refused to accept the council’s claim that there was no affordable housing. Having occupied the homes they engaged the wider public in a debate about the social cleansing of London. Their actions did not stop with this occupation. In the two years since they have lent support to immigrant communities victimised by racists. Other groups fighting social cleansing have sprung up across the south-east. They have lent support to those excluded from the bubble economy that is London, including Deliveroo workers demanding the right to unionise.

Having enacted the equality which democracy promises, these activists now have in their sights the equality distorted by Britain’s political regime. The test of democracy is that whether or not a practice enacts equality without limit in the name of a people unbounded by any prior principle. On this test the US and Britain are not, and never have been, democracies.


Read more in our series, On Freedom.

You can read more on the Conversation here

UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights to Investigate Welfare Reforms

The United Nation’s Committee on the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) announced on Wednesday there will be an inquiry regarding  how the UK government has “ensured austerity measures … do not disproportionately affect, in particular, disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups”.

This inquiry will address more than 30 topics on a very broad remit and include questions on the gender pay gap, youth unemployment, migrant workers and asylum seekers and trade union rights, with a focus on establishing whether the reforms have had a disproportional impact on lone parents, children and disabled people and also, whether the tax credit cuts will leave people without an adequate standard of living.

The Committee will also investigate what steps are being taken to cut the number using food banks and whether mental health services are adequate in the light of the cuts.

Last year, Olivier De Schutter (a United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food) pointed to increases in the number of food banks in developed countries such as the UK as an indicator that Governments are “in danger of failing in their duty to protect citizens under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” (IESCR), which states that all citizens should have access to adequate diet without having to compromise other basic needs.

He said: “Food banks should not be seen as a “normal” part of national safety nets. They are not like cash transfers or food vouchers, to which people in need have a right under developed social security systems. Food banks depend on donations, and they are often run by volunteers: they are charity-based, not rights-based, and they should not be seen as a substitute for the robust social safety nets to which each individual has a right.”

Developed and developing countries alike have a responsibility to dedicate the “maximum available resources” to fighting poverty to fulfil the human rights they have promised their citizens by signing up to treaties, and it is here that the United Nations believes Britain is failing in its duties.

Iain Duncan Smith told the Work and Pensions Select Committee yesterday that he intends to place job advisors in food banks, indicating that the government considers charitable food banks are now a compensatory and integral part of welfare provision to indemnify against the inefficiencies and inadequacies of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), and to plug the gaps in increasingly woefully inadequate provision due to the punitive Tory cuts to benefits and harsh “reforms” of the welfare state.

It’s a retrogressive leap back to the patchy and discriminatory poor relief administered by a voluntary private nineteenth-century welfare system of charitable and voluntary organizations, which were a Conservative response to their sensitivity towards the wealthy, and ever-present fear of burdening rate payers with the costs of the stigmatised “undeserving, dependent” able-bodied pauper. But history has taught us that the socio-economic system which makes some people wealthy creates casualities also – it invariably creates situations of insolvency for others.

Iain Duncan Smith also presents a late recognition and tacit admission of a clear link between Conservative welfare policy, benefit sanctions, benefit delays, and the rise in food bank use, which was previously denied by the government. The rise in food banks is a direct result of punitive welfare cuts on social groups that are most in need of support.

The inquiry is part of a periodic review of all the countries that have signed up to the covenant, and a UN delegation of independent experts from several countries is set to hold public six-hour talks with government officials next summer.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) submitted a report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this month, presenting its assessment of the implementation of socio-economic rights in the UK, which flagged up areas of concern, these include:

  • Adequate standard of living, including: fair financial decision-making; impact of social security reforms on people with disabilities, women, and children; and income, child and food poverty;
  • Access to healthcare, including: people with disabilities; older people; other vulnerable groups; and adults and children with mental health problems;
  • Access to education, including: access to further and higher education;
  • Access to civil law justice, including: the impact of reforms introduced through the Legal aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012; and the proposed residence test;
  • Violence against women and girls;
  • Just and favorable working conditions, including: low pay, migrant workers and overseas domestic workers;
  • Equal pay gaps, including: the gender, race and disability pay gaps.
  • Cumulative impact assessments of government policies

A United Nations spokesperson has said that although the review was launched because it was due, rather than in response to a particular concern, representatives from Just Fair, a consortium of 70 UK charities and NGOs, met with the CESCR in Geneva a fortnight ago to discuss concerns about the erosion of rights to food and housing and the economic and social rights of disabled people.

Jamie Burton, the chair of Just Fair, said: “The decision of the committee to investigate these issues is timely and welcome. We and many others are concerned about the adverse impact austerity policies have had on the least well-off and already marginalised in society, including those in work.

Sophie Long and that tweet

COMMUNICATION is a wonderful thing.  Whether it’s through talking, listening, writing or sharing views on social networks.  Literature has the power to ignite thoughts, it can comfort us or make us angry.  But most of all, it educates us.

Words have started wars and ended them.  The quote ‘jaw jaw is better than to war war’ was said by the great Winston Churchill.  Journalist David McKittrick said the late Martin McGuinness made the switch from war war to jaw jaw. McGuinness’ passing has provoked much debate surrounding his legacy.

Much has been said about McGuinness’ past.  We’ve watched, listened and read a range of people expressing their views.  Everyone has the right to their opinion.  Many, and rightly so have been angered by McGuinness taking secrets to the grave.  And others put him on a pedestal because they believed he held the power to the peace we now enjoy.  Without his methods of communication, we’d surely be in a worse off position.  Republicans and Loyalists have always been in contact with each other and they make no secret of it.

In 2009, as a child of an ex prisoner I was invited to a play in the Waterfront Hall.  The Chronicles of Long Kesh was about a group of republican and loyalist prisoners, prison officers and their families.  The play was great but the panel discussion afterwards was even better.  I couldn’t believe the esteem both sets of prisoners held each other in.  There was huge respect there.  It showed the human side to the conflict and gave people like me an understanding of how things were.

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Having grown up in a house that resembled a Long Kesh souvenir shop, I was always exposed to only one side.

Since joining twitter, my knowledge of loyalism has grown and I became fascinated by the other side.  Not because ‘they’ were different but because we are exactly the same.  We laugh at the same jokes and have the same problems.  Our young males are victim to academic underachievement, our family and friends have succumbed to addiction and people we know are dying from cancer.

What’s blatantly obvious is the divide between us and them.  I’m not talking Catholics and Protestants, I’m talking about the haves and have nots.  The middle and working classes.

One working class person who stuck out most during the run up to the 2017 election was Sophie Long.  She was relentless in trying to show fellow loyalists that the DUP don’t speak for them.  But she might as well have banged her head off a brick wall.  The message wasn’t and didn’t get through.  Because yet again hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom living in poverty – voted for sectarianism instead of sense.

that tweet

Not surprisingly she was lit on for daring to offer condolences to the comrades of Martin McGuinness.  But she was only being attacked by people that don’t know their history.  They aren’t as well read as she is.  And too many of them don’t have the gumption to put their real names and faces to their accounts.  The abuse she received for reaching out and doing what others have done before her has exposed loyalism’s insecure side.  Whereby the only threat posed is not a man in a coffin but a woman with books.

You can follow ÁINE at her twitter page at @AineCarson1 and at her webpage Áine Carson

featured image  TWEET