Apr 15 2019

BRITISH GOVERNMENT EXPANDS POWERS IN THE NORTH

The following article from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) highlights the impact of the reactionary unionism in Northern Ireland.  The Good Friday Agreement,  with its official  recognition of Unionists and Nationalists in a reformed Stormont, acted as liberal mask for the continued sectarian order in Northern Ireland. This placed the UK government in the position of ‘neutral’ arbiter, the better to ensure its continued rule. With the DUP now in alliance with May’s post-Brexit vote Conservative government, reactionary unionists see no need to maintain the liberal facade. Growing UK centralisation of power was always a central feature of Brexit, and its implications are not confined to Ireland.

 

 

BRITISH GOVERNMENT EXPANDS POWERS IN THE NORTH

A common myth regarding the northern state is that it has been without a government since the Stormont Assembly and executive collapsed in early 2017.  Accompanying this is the claim every that every ill in society (from sectarian intimidation to a failing health service) is down to (or at the very least made worse) by the absence of devolved government.  What usually follows from this is a call for Stormont to be restored as a means to bring about some improvement.  This is a call that is made unambiguously and unconditionally by the trade unions. It is also a call that is made by the left groups (albeit dressed up in rhetoric about fighting austerity or securing civil rights). The underlying assumptions here are that the political institutions brought into existence by the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) can shield the working class to some degree or even be a vehicle for reforms.

The problem is that such assumptions about the governmental structures in the north are without foundation.  The Stormont Executive and Assembly – throughout the period of their existence – had a very poor record on public services , extending rights or  countering sectarianism.  As the devolved institutions matured they actually got worse and at the time of their collapse had become a by word for incompetence, corruption, sectarian patronage and austerity.  Indeed, it was this decay (highlighted by the Renewable Heat Incentive  scandal – ‘Cash for Ash’)  that provoked the revolt in Sinn Fein’s support base that forced the party to pull out of the Executive and bring down the institutions.  The proposition that a restoration of Stormont will improve conditions for people in the north is fanciful.

Equally as fanciful is the claim that there is no government in the northern state.  Local politicians may be out of office but the most important organs of the state – the civil service, police, courts etc – continue to function.   As in any other capitalist society there is an apparatus of class rule that continues to operate irrespective of what party is in government or even if there is a government at all.  The critical point to be made in relation to Northern Ireland is that there certainly is a government that is exercising authority – and that is the British government.  While it may not be direct rule in its full form it is still rule by Britain.  While the local civil service may be one step removed from London it is there that its political direction is being set.

As time progresses the guiding hand of the British government becomes more visible as it takes on greater powers and responsibilities.   The most recent example of this is the unveiling of an annual budget for Stormont by the Secretary of State (SoS).  This is the third such annual budget that has been introduced at Westminster since the collapse of the local institutions.  The actual legal basis for such interventions is dubious with the legislation allowing for this only being passed last October.  Under its provisions civil servants are permitted to make decisions in the “public interest” and under guidelines set by the SoS.   The legislation included a talks timetable for the restoration of devolution running from January to March and allowing an extension to August after which an election must be called.  Of course this falls completely outside of the terms of the GFA – demonstrating the degree to which the British government can make things up as it goes along and also retrospectively justify any decision it has taken in the past.  For all of the talk (particularly around Brexit) about the GFA being an internationally recognised treaty experience has shown that any of its provisions be overturned at Westminster and that Britain as a state is not bound by it in any way.

In terms of substance the budget introduced by the SoS carries on the policies of austerity.  In cash terms it is around £11.bn which is similar to previous years – but when inflation and demand pressures are taken into account it represents further financial tightening.   For example, the health service is set for a 6% cash increase, but when inflation is factored in the uplift equates to around 2% in real terms.  Meanwhile education gets a 3.2% boost – but that works out at a 0.7% cut when inflation and this year’s in-year spending is factored.  Overall, the budget falls far short of the coast projection of £11.9bn that is needed to fund public services.  This is despite the additional £140m this year from the Treasury  as part of the DUP’s supply an confidence deal.  Indeed, as most of the £1bn of that deal falls outside regular departmental budgets  – and is ring-fenced for infrastructure projects – its impact on the day to day running of public services has been limited.  Also underpinning the budget is an assumption that £320m of efficiency saving can be found –  most of this is focused on the health service and the implementation of the privatisation policies  in the Bengoa Report.   The budget also raises rates with  domestic rates set to rise by almost 5% and business rates by just under 2%.   Overall, what the budget  signals is not just a continuation of austerity but also an extension of control by the British government over taxation and spending in the north.

It is not just financial matters on which Westminster has intervened.   The SoS has also made extensive use of the power of appointment contained in recent legislation.   Used initially to reconstitute the Policing Board this has extended to cover the appointments of the attorney general, senior police officers,  members of the Probation Board and the post of Police Ombudsman.  The power to appoint members of the Judicial Appointments Commission – the body which appoints judges – has already been transferred to the Lord Chancellor in London.  This is not confined to the policing/judicial field but across the public sector.  The SoS has now taken  the power to appoint a member of the Victims’ Commission, a member or chair of the Livestock and Meat Commission or a member, chair or vice-chair of the Housing Executive.

The role of British government in the north will expand greatly in any post Brexit scenario in which a large amount of new legislation, regulations and government orders which will become necessary.  It has been reported in the Irish Times that in such a scenario direct rule in its fullest form would be introduced.   According to same report the Irish government is viewing  such a development as “ an administrative necessity rather than a political move”.

This response really shows the weakness and complicity of the Irish ruling elite in regards  to the north.  Despite the earlier rhetoric about a return to direct rule being unacceptable and not allowing people to lose out  under Brexit this is exactly what is coming to pass.   The reintroduction of direct rule would be of huge political significance – marking the formal end of the Good Friday Agreement process after many years of decay.  This would be a new situation in which any pretence of neutrality on the part of Britain or any attempt at power sharing will have been completely abandoned.  This will have the support of the majority of unionists who have moved decisively against devolution and in favour of direct rule.  Indeed, the immediate introduction of direct rule is now the main demand  from all the unionist parties.

Brexit (particularly a no-deal Brexit) will reinforce this by creating economic barriers and divergence between north and south.  Rather than the border being blurred out  by European integration it will now become increasing visible.  All the nationalist assumptions about how the peace process would developed have been completely overturned.  The latest grasping of straws – that somehow Brexit will boost nationalist sentiment and hasten a united Ireland – is likely to prove as illusory.   All of this – which is reflected in the muted response of Sinn Fein to the moves towards direct rule – points to the broader weakness of Irish nationalism and its inability to challenge the power of Britain and its unionist allies.

 

8.3.19

 

This article was first posted at:-

http://www.socialistdemocracy.org/RecentArticles/RecentBritishGovernmentExpandsPowersInTheNorth.html

 

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also see:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2019/02/19/brexitandwhatitmeansforireland/

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2019/01/22/failing-governments-in-ireland-south-and-north/

2. THE#WEDESERVEBETTER FANTASY

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Sep 11 2018

EDINBURGH OCTOBER 6th – A RALLYING CALL FOR THE LEFT

Allan Armstrong puts the case for building a Scottish-wide Left contingent on the ‘All Under One Banner’ march in Edinburgh on October 6th

 

EDINBURGH OCTOBER 6th – A RALLYING CALL FOR THE LEFT

 

35,000 in Glasgow, 10,000 in Inverness, 13,000 in Dumfries and 16,000 in Dundee – ‘All Under One Banner ‘ clearly represents something significant in Scottish politics. However it requires an examination of a wider politics going back to 2014 to appreciate the nature of this phenomenon.

A thwarted democratic revolution

If we look at the Indy Ref1 campaign we can see that it represented a democratic revolution, with 85% actually voting, following a registration drive which drew in 97% of the potential electorate. This was something unprecedented in UK politics. Continue reading “EDINBURGH OCTOBER 6th – A RALLYING CALL FOR THE LEFT”

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Dec 10 2017

BOMBARDIER-BOEING DISPUTE THREATENS WORKERS IN THE NORTH

Bombardier is a Canadian owned aircraft company which employs 4000 people in Belfast. At the moment these workers’ jobs, pay and conditions  are threatened as an outcome  of growing American protectionism, reflected through the Northern Irish political set-up, which hamstrings any effective trade union response. This consequences of this are explained in this article from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) 

 

BOMBARDIER-BOEING DISPUTE THREATENS WORKERS IN NORTH

 

Bombardier aerospace factory Belfast

 

The ongoing dispute between aerospace companies Bombardier and Boeing – which has raised fears over future of production at Bombardier’s Belfast facility – has served to highlight the highly integrated nature of modern capitalism and the exposure of the Northern Ireland economy to global upheavals. Continue reading “BOMBARDIER-BOEING DISPUTE THREATENS WORKERS IN THE NORTH”

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Jul 04 2016

JUNE 24th – THE FUKers’ BLACK FRIDAY OR RED FRIDAY FOR A EUROPEAN DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION?

Allan Armstrong, who first became politically active in 1968, gives his political assessment of the political situation in the aftermath of the June 23d EU referendum.  Allan is on the Editorial Board of Emancipation & Liberation,  a supporter of the Republican Socialist Alliance, the Radical Independence Campaign and, in the ‘Spirit of 68’, a dissident member of the SSP and RISE.

The International Revolutionary Wave from 1968-75, encompassing the world from Vietnam to Paris, was contained. However, a group of socialists helped to put some new life into the possibility of a social order beyond the discredited models of Social Democracy and official Communism. Sadly today, we have one of 1968’s leading proponents, Tariq Ali, in his role as a prominent Lexiter, reacting to the situation created by the EU referendum more in the manner of the French CP in 1968, diverting a potential European Democratic Revolution on to the path of national reformism. Today this can only reinforce the Right across Europe.  However, others of Allan’s generation, including Bernadette Devlin/McAliskey, have seen a very different potential in the current situation.

It is to be hoped that the short-lived International Revolutionary Wave of 2011, encompassing the ‘Arab Spring’ and the Indignados of Greece and Spain, will prove to be a 1905 International Revolutionary Wave-style prelude to a new revolutionary wave. For the moment the 2011 wave has ebbed back to the communities of resistance in Palestine and Kobane, and to the electoralism of Syriza and Podemos.  

Allan’s contribution is based on a talk he gave at the Edinburgh RISE circle on June 28th and has been extended, updated and written in the form of an appeal from a member of the 1968 generation to those of the new young 2011 generation. 

(* FUKers are supporters of a ‘Free UK’. They stretch from the Fascist and Loyalist Far Right, through the Right populist UKIP to the reactionary Right Tories.)

AFTER JUNE 24th – THE FUKers’* BLACK FRIDAY or RED FRIDAY FOR A EUROPE’S DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION

Migrant Solidarity Network march in Edinburgh oransised after Brexit vote on June 24th

The 500 strong Migrant Solidarity Network march in Edinburgh on June 24th  the same day as the Brexit vote  24th

 

i)     The significance of Friday June 24th
Continue reading “JUNE 24th – THE FUKers’ BLACK FRIDAY OR RED FRIDAY FOR A EUROPEAN DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION?”

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Apr 18 2016

EU AND ‘INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW’ – SCOTLAND REMAINS, ENGLAND ABSTAINS

The RCN, like most of the rest of the Left, is having a debate on the EU referendum. This is the second contribution by Steve Freeman of the Republican Socialist Alliance. It has been posted on the RSA blog (http://www.republicansocialists.org.uk). A modified version has also been posted on the bella caledonia blog (http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2016/04/13/scotland-remains-and-england-abstains/)

 

EU AND ‘INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW – SCOTLAND REMAINS AND ENGLAND ABSTAINS

 

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Introduction

The 12 March RSA meeting unanimously adopted the following:
Continue reading “EU AND ‘INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW’ – SCOTLAND REMAINS, ENGLAND ABSTAINS”

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Apr 12 2016

A POLITICAL COMPARISON BETWEEN THE 2012-14 SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE AND THE 2016 EU REFERENDA CAMPAIGNS

 

Allan Armstrong (RCN) has written a second piece on the forthcoming EU referendum. This is a contribution to the debate in the RCN and the wider Left. Allan has spoken on this issue at the RIC national conference (Feb. 20th), SSP National Council (28th Feb) and the Glasgow Assembly for Democracy (2nd April).

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A POLITICAL COMPARISON BETWEEN THE 2012-14 SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE  AND THE 2016 EU REFERENDA CAMPAIGNS

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a) The politics of TINA – There is no alternative

A common accusation made by ‘No’ advocates during the Scottish Independence referendum was that support for Scottish independence or the SNP, and for withdrawal from the EU or UKIP, are but mirror images of each other. They have argued that both are based on atavistic nationalism.
Continue reading “A POLITICAL COMPARISON BETWEEN THE 2012-14 SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE AND THE 2016 EU REFERENDA CAMPAIGNS”

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Aug 05 2015

WHAT THE FUK? – Fascist UK, Britannia and the Far Right

Gavin Bowd’s book Fascist Scotland, Caledonia and the Far Right has given succour to unionist opponents of Scottish self-determination. Allan Armstrong (RCN) provides a republican and international socialist critique.

WHAT THE FUK?

Fascist UK, Britannia and the Far Right

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1) What is a fascist organisation?

Gavin Bowd’s book, Fascist Scotland, Caledonia and the Far Right, contains a lot of useful material about far right writings, culture and organisation in Scotland since the 1920s. However, Bowd does not define what he means by fascism, nor distinguish it from other forms of reactionary or right populist politics. These often invoke similar chauvinist, ethnic or racist themes. The purpose behind Bowd’s lack of clarity over the political basis of fascism only emerges gradually.
Continue reading “WHAT THE FUK? – Fascist UK, Britannia and the Far Right”

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May 11 2015

AFTER MAY 7th

Emancipation & Liberation will be posting a series of responses to the new political situation after May 7th. The first comes from Murdo Ritchie (RCN), the second from World to Win.

 

1. MOVING WITH THE FLOW

 

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Never have so many nations been divided by a common government. The glaringly obvious result when Scotland voted 56 of its 59 MPs, is similar to Wales where the Labour Party won. The Unionist alliance in Northern Ireland also won, but although this may seem like a continuation of the Tory party it resembles the nationalist parties in their lust for more Westminster cash, even condemning the so-called “bedroom tax”. The Tories won almost the entire South of England removing the Liberal Democrats almost completely from the West Country.
Continue reading “AFTER MAY 7th”

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Mar 23 2015

THE SCOTTISH LEFT PROJECT

Allan Armstrong (RCN and RIC activist) provides the following initial assessment of the proposed Scottish Left Project. This is the final part of three articles, the first of which examines the role of the UK state and SNP in attempting to derail Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/02/24/british-unionists-and-scottish-nationalists-attempt-to-derail-scotlands-democratic-revolution/) and the second which looks at the inadequate response of the Left across these islands (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/03/16/the-left-in-the-uk-the-2015-general-election-campaign-and-the-wider-impact-of-scotlands-democratic-revolution/).

 

The Scottish Left Project (SLP) has been mooted in the context of the impact of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’, and the success of RIC as a movement within this. There is now a concerted effort by the unionist and nationalist parties to roll back this ‘democratic revolution’ [1]. Therefore, the success of the SLP will depend upon whether it takes up the baton bequeathed by these momentous events, or lets itself become a bit-player in others’ political projects.

 

a) the role of the International Socialist Group (ISG)

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As with RIC, the ISG has been the SLP’s prime mover. It is therefore useful to examine the way the ISG operated within RIC, to come to some better understanding of how it could see its role in the SLP.

Continue reading “THE SCOTTISH LEFT PROJECT”

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Mar 16 2015

THE LEFT IN THE UK, THE 2015 GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN AND THE WIDER IMPACT OF SCOTLAND’S ‘DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION’

After analysing the role of the constitutional nationalists of the SNP, the liberal and conservative unionists amongst  the Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems and the reactionary unionists led by UKIP, and their attempt to roll back Scotland’s ‘Democratic Revolution’ (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/02/24/british-unionists-and-scottish-nationalists-attempt-to-derail-scotlands-democratic-revolution/), Allan Armstrong (RCN) examines the problematic role of the Left in the UK in challenging this.

 

 1. The UK constitutional issue will be central to the General Election campaign

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The continuing political impact of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ [1] can be seen in the run-up to the May Westminster General Election. The Conservative Party has produced a Westminster General Election poster, which highlights the importance they give to the issue of the future of the UK. It conjures up a diabolic alliance between Ed Miliband, Alex Salmond and Gerry Adams (the latter two apparently pulling the strings behind-the-scenes, since Salmond now holds no post within the SNP leadership, and Adams sits in the Irish Dail [2]).

Continue reading “THE LEFT IN THE UK, THE 2015 GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN AND THE WIDER IMPACT OF SCOTLAND’S ‘DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION’”

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