Thursday, August 28, 2014

How much independence can you have with TTIP?

LOTS of discussion as the date draws near for Scots to vote on independence. We hear Alec Salmond of the Scottish National Party trounced Labour's former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling in debate, the latter of course heading up the 'No' campaign.

I say "of course", though Labour's founder James Keir Hardie was in favour of Home Rule, and is being claimed by 'Yes' campaigners, even those in the SNP itself. Whereas Darling in the 'Better Together' campaign is together with the Tories whom Keir Hardie despised, as he would the war and privatisation policies of New Labour in government, of which Darling was a part.

Whatever his attitude to Scottish independence might have been, what Keir Hardie stood for, whether in his Ayrshire coalfield beginnings, campaigning in West Ham South, or entering the House of Commons with his cloth cap, was the political independence of the working class, which was why his Independent Labour Party was formed.

Friends of mine are divided on which way to vote on independence. From a working class point of view I can see arguments for and against. Having been able to boast there are fewer Tory MPs in Scotland than pandas in the Edinburgh zoo (and its no question which the public loves and prefers to see, it aint Tories!) , Scottish people smart at having to remain subject to a Tory government at Westminster elected by southern English votes. They want to defend their health services and education, and wish their country's oil wealth could have been put to better use than boosting the City of London speculators.

Far from being mere nationalists, some are internationalist; enough to want to see Scotland free to pursue its own foreign policy, establishing new friendships, while ceasing to be used as a nuclear submarine base or source of regiments for imperialist ventures around the world.

On the other hand, it is hard to see Alec Salmond and his party going that far, when he has been at pains to pledge Scotland's continued contribution to NATO and stress that the Queen, and not he or any other prime minister, would remain head of "our" armed forces.

Meanwhile, Scotland's departure would leave us weakened in England and Wales, removing more than forty Labour MPs from facing the Tories at Westminster. Not all those Scottish MPs are like Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, some of them are socialists.

All the same, I can't begrudge my Scottish comrades, who have already experienced having Scottish Socialist MSPs, the chance to give this government a kick up the jaxy and break for freedom, while they wait for us to catch up.

Looking at some of those urging a 'No' vote would be enough to persuade me to vote 'Yes'.  Who wants to stay "together" with Cameron and Boris, or Darling and Gordon?  Do Scots have to listen to no longer Gorgeous Georgie paying a return to Dundee to denounce what he called "Reds in Kilts", or to the Orange Order banging its big drums in Edinburgh on September 13 demanding a 'No' vote?
(According to blogging ex-diplomat and 'Yes' supporter Craig Murray the BBC has decided not to cover this in case it gives the 'No' campaign a bad image. Too late, Beeb, we'll do our best to spread it.)

 Something that's been interesting me since the Grangemouth dispute last year is whether an independent Scottish government elected on a mood of confidence in a better future could sit back while a private company headquartered in Switzerland threatened to close Scotland's only oil refinery and much of Scottish industry?  The SNP could not stand up to this, and the Labour Party leadership preferred to bite the hand that feeds by joining the Tory attack on my trade union.

The SNP has also backed away from re-regulating public transport, let alone restoring public ownership, and this month Sir Brian Souter boss of Stagecoach  coughed up another £1 million to party funds.  On the other hand, the Better Together campaign received a £500,000 donation from businessman Ian Taylor, chief executive of the oil trading firm Vitol, to help secure a "no" vote in the referendum.

This starts to sound almost like the 1707 Act of Union, which a Scottish historian dubbed the "job" of the century, but now as then, there's more to this than private interests, the public are not as easily bought as MPs or  parties, and a vote for independence  does not necessarily mean  a vote for Alex Salmond's party. Like the referendum in 1997 which led to reopening a Scottish parliament, it could open up all sorts of new possibilities.

"But", asks a doubter, "in what sense can either Scotland or the rest of Great Britain ever be said to be independent when we are all controlled by the banks, the EU, and the IMF etc.? " Good question. To which, without going into whether it makes any difference whether we're talking about banks on Wall Street, in the City of London, or Edinburgh, I can only say these things are relative; and that we may as well find out.

One set of initials I've not seen mentioned in this debate, nor almost any other, is TTIP, standing for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The United States and European Union have been negotiating this since July 2013, and talks could be concluded by next year.

The annual conference of trades union councils held in Cardiff on June 14-15 adopted a resolution  from Ealing trades council warning that this agreement could enable big US and multinational companies which have already penetrated the National Health Service to complete their takeover.
"If the EU and the US agree to TTIP without excluding the NHS from its provisions, the result could mean the end of the NHS as a public service. Corporations could permanently have the legal right to run health services with or without approval of the British Government. The marketisation of the NHS under the Health and Social Care Act means that the NHS will no longer be categorised as a ‘public service’ and would therefore be included in the provisions of the TTIP wich restrict or prevent national governments from determining how industries are run. TTIP can override not only health and safety, but pay arrangements, union agreements and other basic standards. The markets take legal priority".
There were assurances afterwards that the NHS would be protected ("Safe in Our Hands"?) but the negotiations have been conducted largely in secrecy, and David Cameron sacked the minister who was supposed to be safeguardung the service.

The magazine New Internationalist reported earlier this year that the TTIP and its equivalent in the Pacific would "swing the power balance away from states in favour of big business". Giving '10 Reasons to be worried about the trojan treaties',  Hazel Healy instanced US firms wanting to remove EU food-labelling laws and restrictions; US tobacco giant Philip Morris suing governments which tried to combat smoking; US investors wanting to take away workers' right to organise in unions; and moves affecting both health services and the environment. As a sign of things to come, under the North Atlantic Free Trade Area (NAFTA) agreement a US company was suing Canada for $250 million because Quebec province banned fracking.

The development charity War on Want has also warned that TTIP could endanger decades of campaigning  and legislation on issues from food safety and hygiene to banking laws and labour rights. War on Want executive director John Hilary has written a  book about it.

What is noticeable is that while trade unionists have raised concerns about this secret treaty  and campaigners have sought to make us aware of the dangers, we hear little on the media or from political parties, including those bold patriots in UKIP. It seems Farage's fighters want to defend our freedom from "Brussels Bureaucrats" and Polish plumbers, but would not dream of saying a word against big corporations.

Would an independent Scotland defend its independence against big business, or will whatever we vote for be ignored, and whatever is passed by parliaments in Westminster or Holyrood be torn to shreds by big companies and their lawyers,  under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? We might as well find out now. And demand that governments we elect should not be bound by agreements we have not seen or had a say in.  

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