Below you will find the text of an email I am sending to my local SNP constituency candidate. Should you share my concerns, feel free to use it as a model for a letter/email to your own SNP candidate. (The actual header I used for the email was: ‘Twelve issues. Please give me just one reason to vote for you.’)
I write to you as someone who has supported and worked for the SNP, who strongly believes in Scottish independence but is not a member of any political party. I struggle now to describe how I feel about the SNP and its candidates in the run-up to the forthcoming Scottish parliamentary elections, but adjectives such as disillusioned, frustrated, apathetic and depressed come to mind, and I know that several acquaintances feel the same.
On the whole, I find the SNP’s current policies range from uninspiring, timid and fence-sitting, to outright socially and environmentally destructive. The party appears to have positioned itself as ‘neoliberalism lite’. This is an oxymoron, because neoliberalism, with its five core tenets (the rule of the market, cutting public expenditure for social services, deregulation, privatisation and eliminating the concept of ‘public good’ or ‘community’), is an all-or-nothing phenomenon, the only question being how quickly one reaches the bottom. Yes, the SNP pays lip-service to opposing some of these things, but handsome is as handsome does, and timidity amounts to complicity with the nihilistic, ideological tenets of neoliberalism.
These tenets are purely ideological, because they are not based on empirical evidence, but on the hermetically sealed, self-referent theories of neoclassical economics, which assume that people are fundamentally selfish and competing individual units or ‘consumers’. Alas, there is a tragic element of community-destroying, competitive, beggar-thy-neighbour self-fulfilment in this, but things absolutely do not need to be this way. Adam Smith, widely misunderstood and misquoted, would have been appalled by today’s subservience to the short-term interests of multinational companies. As an aside, any politician who talks about the interests of ‘consumers’ instantly loses me. I consider myself rather to be a responsible global citizen, and I am writing to you in that capacity.
A fundamental neoliberal myth is that the wealthy ‘create jobs’. Walmart (Asda’s parent company) destroys three jobs for every two it creates, and please see Nick Hanauer’s talk on this issue. What large companies and the wealthy do do, however, is concentrate wealth and power, and then they use this to suborn politicians, promote neoliberal policies and widen inequality. Fundamentally, I am asking you to take a stand against this.
Since the SNP became the dominant party in Scotland, I fear it has attracted careerist politicians, keen to do the bidding of the party hierarchy and not prepared to challenge it on anything, far less on matters of principle. I received your campaign leaflet and, sadly, I found nothing in it to suggest that you are other than one of these subservient ‘blandidates’. However, I am happy to give you the benefit of the doubt, and I hope that you will prove me wrong.
I really want to vote for you, but my conscience will not let me do this unless there is at least one issue on which you are prepared to stick your head above the parapet and challenge party policy. I would rather leave my constituency vote unused than vote for a blandidate who toes the ‘neoliberalism-lite’ party line on all issues. It is not good enough to be the least bad of a bad bunch of corporate lickspittles.
Below, I list twelve issues about which I feel strongly. Can you agree with me on any one of these, and would you be prepared to challenge your party’s official policy on it? If you can answer in the affirmative, my vote is in your bag. I am sure others I know will also feel more enthusiastic about supporting you. The SNP needs principled and courageous members.
Your leaflet mentions your background in the teaching profession. As a former teacher, do you feel that the merging of colleges was the right thing to do, and well executed? My understanding is that college lecturers in the run-up to the mergers were put under intolerable pressure (that bullying occurred), that the mergers have significantly reduced the access of people from disadvantaged areas to courses that could have made a real difference to their lives, and that the ‘high heid yins’ benefited massively, either through grossly inflated pay-offs or highly paid new positions. Will you admit that the mergers were a mistake?
One of your fellow candidates is educating her children privately (and, incidentally, I understand she has also spoken out against progressive income tax). I can accept that you will not want to criticise an individual directly, but will you at least call for the charitable status of private schools to be revoked? I maintain that they are divisive and corrupting institutions, entrenching inequality and privilege.
The Scottish Government is sitting on the fence when it comes to what I call the new STDs: the Secret Trade Deals, such as CETA and TTIP. A perusal of the facts should leave you in no doubt that it is entirely insufficient to merely call for guarantees that they will not undermine the NHS. The ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) mechanism would allow companies to sue governments for policies protecting their environments and citizens, if these policies harmed company profits.
Big claims are made for the number of jobs that will be created, etc., but the precedent of the disastrous US-Korea Free Trade Deal is good evidence that the opposite is more likely. Scottish independence, in the shackles of such STDs, would be all but meaningless.
Will you oppose STDs outright?
3. Fossil fuels
The SNP rightly proclaims the virtues of the Scottish Government’s ‘world-beating greenhouse gas targets’. Yes there has been some progress, but the Scottish Government has consistently failed to meet the targets. Furthermore, the SNP/SG called for the UK Government to reduce taxes on the oil industry and supports a reduction in air passenger duty. This is environmental lunacy, and calls into question the sincerity of the greenhouse gas targets. To make matters worse, the SNP has accepted money from a drilling company and the SG is sitting on the fence regarding fracking. The moratorium is ostensibly to allow time for a full inquiry into the environmental and other impacts of fracking. The very fact that the SNP is not outright banning this nasty process implies that it believes that exploiting yet another fossil fuel can somehow not be bad for the biosphere!
I would like you to declare that fossil fuels should be considered to be stranded assets, and that massive investment should instead be made into green energy, public transport, etc., if necessary financed by borrowing. The history of successful businesses suggests that government support and investment is crucial in their early stages. (For evidence on this, and incidentally also on many of the myths spun by proponents of neoliberalism, see Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. I recommend that all politicians read this book, which is not ideological in tone.) By failing to move decisively and courageously now, the Scottish Government is missing a massive opportunity, and is setting up huge problems for the future.
Will you call for air passenger duty to be increased? Will you call for the money received from the drilling company to be returned? Will you unambiguously oppose fracking? Will you call for the oil industry to be phased out as soon as possible and for it to be supplanted by a truly world-leading green energy sector, massive investment in insulation and for all public bodies to source their energy suppliers on the basis of their environmental credentials? And what about supporting the public ownership of utilities companies while doing more to support community ownership of local renewable energy schemes?
4. Land reform
The SNP’s timidity on this important issue is extremely disappointing. It is shameful that so few people own so much of Scotland, and that much of this ownership is both foreign and obscure (tax havens…). Will you support a detailed register of land ownership, restrictions on foreign ownership of land, giving tenant farmers the right to buy, and a land value tax? (Please see Andy Wightman’s blog for further information.)
Far from supporting rewilding, the SNP shamefully allowed Donald Trump to destroy part of an irreplaceable SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and is now, to the best of my knowledge, sitting on the fence regarding the reintroduction of beavers. In the meantime, farmers are shooting these animals, including those that have recently given birth or are pregnant, complaining that they damage trees and cause flooding in fields bordering streams and rivers.
However, beavers have been shown to reduce flooding downstream, as well as provide valuable wetland habitat. Rather than protecting farming in unsuitable floodplain areas, the Scottish Government should be looking at the broad picture and the long term. With rainfall predicted to increase in intensity as global warming continues, there are several good reasons for supporting the reintroduction of beavers. If necessary, a compensation or land buy-out scheme would, in my opinion, be well worthwhile.
The Scottish Government is also less than enthusiastic about the reintroduction of other species, such as lynx, wolves and bears. These species would greatly reduce deer numbers and foster the recovery of forests across Scotland, with huge benefits for biodiversity and carbon sequestration (i.e. the combating of climate change), not to mention eco-tourism.
The impact on those with interests in current environmentally damaging and subsidy-dependent farming systems, and the grouse-shooting industry (which maintains vast swathes of the country in a low state of biodiversity and ecological succession), would be small in proportion to the benefits, and it is surely not beyond the wit of the Scottish Government and its advisers to come up with an equitable compensation scheme, if this is deemed necessary.
To get an idea of just how positive and dramatic the re-wilding of Scotland could be, see, for example, this fascinating short video titled ‘How Wolves Change Rivers‘.
I urge you to speak out on this issue.
Our food and agricultural system by and large serves neither people’s health nor is it environmentally sustainable. This is an issue which intersects with many others, and I could write pages on it. However, I would simply direct your attention to three items, which should give you a good idea of the main issues:
- PLENTY : Food, Farming and Health in a New Scotland
- FORCE-FED : Does the food system constrict healthy choices for typical British families?
- Meat consumption in Scotland: analysis from the Expenditure and Food Survey
Here are a few ideas for you:
- Will you speak about the need to reduce the consumption of red and processed meat, for both health and environmental reasons?
- Will you call for all public bodies in Scotland to be obliged to source only local and organic produce, as far as possible? (This could be phased in.)
- Will you campaign for radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, in particular to end subsidies for large land-owners who ‘farm’ in environmentally destructive ways?
- Will you campaign for changes to European Union legislation to permit countries to discriminate against imported food of lower environmental and welfare standards?
- Will you make it obligatory for all Scottish schoolchildren to grow at least some of their own food and for them to have cookery classes? Food should be the core of the curriculum for excellence, and should be woven into all other subjects.
- Will you place restrictions on the large supermarket chains’ monopoly of our food supply?
- Will you campaign for legislation to favour small and environmentally sustainable producers and systems at the expense of large scale agro-industrial enterprises? (The latter are less productive in terms of food/area and hugely less productive in terms of food/fossil fuel consumption).
- Will you campaign for restrictions on the use of that probable human carcinogen and scourge of biodiversity, glyphosate, leading to an eventual complete ban, and also campaign against the use of neonicotinoids and other nasty (and pollinator-destroying) pesticides supposedly required by unsustainable agro-industry?
7. Public sector pensions
It is surely appalling and ridiculous that members of the Scottish Parliament are ‘not allowed’ to have any influence on their pension scheme, which supports (or at least it did the last time I checked): the tobacco industry, GM crops (Monsanto), environment-wrecking mining companies (e.g. BHP Billiton), the oil industry and financial institutions which invest in and support the foregoing. This makes a mockery of many of the Scottish Parliament’s supposed policies, and hypocrites of MSPs.
Will you campaign for an inquiry into the pension schemes of public bodies in Scotland in general and for the right of individual public employees to direct where their pension investments go (at the very least)?
8. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse
I shall restrict myself to two points on this topic, although I could make more.
Scottish Government policy with regard to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse has lately taken a sinister turn. The broker model for providing care and support to survivors (forcing them to go through a gatekeeper to find support, and repeat their very traumatic stories) is being implemented despite testimony from many who work in the field that it will be devastating for vulnerable people. See this letter from Dr Sarah Nelson for a cogent summary of some important points, such as this one:
I agree with the concerns expressed by Open Secret about the proposed change in model of care for in-care survivors, and I support the “ingredients” of their current model of care, which offers counselling, advocacy, informal support, group support and access to records, website and helpline. In particular, and as survivors have indicated in focus group consultations, it is very important and helpful that a group of people whose trust has been betrayed in so many ways as children have the opportunity to work consistently with one, or with a small number, of staff whom they can thoroughly get to know over time.
The response to my Freedom of Information request into the consultations behind this policy failed to convince that there has been any meaningful support for it from survivors or the organisations representing and supporting them.
Furthermore, despite repeated representations to the Scottish Government that most cases of childhood sexual abuse do not occur in institutions, the SG has restricted the current inquiry to institutional abuse, thus sidelining most survivors.
Would you be prepared at least to call for a rethink regarding the broker model?
9. NATO membership
The SNP now supports Scottish membership of this organisation, which is inextricably tied to the US-UK military-industrial complex and to nuclear weaponry. Under Article 5, we would be compelled to support any nation which considers that it has been attacked, regardless of our views on the conflict or the truth of the claim. I fail to understand how membership of this fundamentally immoral organisation does anything to make us safer. Rather, it makes us more likely to be a target of the sorts of terrorism against which it is largely powerless to protect us (and I also believe that its actions have served to provoke Russia rather than promote the cause of peace). If the argument is that it provides jobs, does the SNP have any moral limits when it comes to what sorts of jobs it will or will not defend? (See my remarks above about the oil industry.)
Will you unambiguously oppose NATO membership and campaign within the party for another vote on this? On a related issue, the party agreed to adopt the Kampala definition of the crime of aggression into Scots law. Will you raise this issue and do what you can to hasten the process?
10. Merging of the police forces
The merging of Scotland’s police forces raises several questions. Can you name one other country that has concentrated so much power into a single police force? The question that concerns me most is about the sufficiency of the scrutiny of the combined force by the Scottish Police Authority. As the Hillsborough tragedy demonstrates, it is extremely important that police forces are subject to rigorous external scrutiny. Have you ever expressed any concern regarding this matter?
11. Council (tax) reform
The Scottish Government’s proposed reform of council tax is timid in the extreme. We need courageous action to institute a truly redistributive system, such as one with elements of local income tax or land value tax. The Scottish Government should not be serving the vested interests of the wealthy few at the expense of the many who do not have decent, affordable housing.
We also need an effective system of rent control and massive investment in affordable public housing. Furthermore, our local authorities are enormous by the standards of most European countries. This is harmful to democracy and accountability, and also results in excessive pay for those at the top of these unwieldy structures.
Will you at least call on the Scottish Government to go much further than its present unadventurous council tax proposals?
12. Israel and ‘anti-Semitism’
I have met several people who have directly observed and/or suffered Israeli human rights abuses. In fact, this is to downplay it, because there is arguably no greater abuse than the outright murder, witnessed by Theresa McDermott (whom I know). Several of my informants have been Jewish Israelis. They include the remarkable young woman, Or Ben-David Katz, who went to prison rather than serve in the Israeli army.
In the wake of the hysteria surrounding supposed anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, the SNP made some timid remarks condemning anti-Semitism. Of course most sensible people condemn racism. However, will you join the Jewish Socialists’ Group in condemning the deliberate conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism?
Criticism of Israeli government policy and Israeli state actions against the Palestinians is not antisemitism. Those who conflate criticism of Israeli policy with antisemitism, whether they are supporters or opponents of Israeli policy, are actually helping the antisemites. We reject any attempt, from whichever quarter, to place legitimate criticism of Israeli policy out of bounds.
The Jewish Socialists’ Group sees the current fearmongering about antisemitism in the Labour Party for what it is – a conscious and concerted effort by right-wing political forces to undermine the growing support among Jews and non-Jews alike for the Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and a measure of the desperation of his opponents.
We stand against antisemitism, against racism and fascism and in support of refugees. We stand for free speech and open debate on Israel, Palestine and Zionism.
Will you also join Jewish Voice for Peace in supporting a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the rogue state of Israel?
Thank you for considering this email. As I stated above, I really want to be able to vote for you with a clear conscience. A single reason will do. I look forward to your response.