OLDHAM - CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST!
25th June '01
Reproduced from Anti-Fascist Action (22nd June)
The 'Oldham - what now?' article in AFA News (see below, June 21) refers to a letter from Oldham Council that appeared in the New Statesman attacking Darcus Howe's prediction of racial strife in their town. Below we reprint the letter, which appeared in the magazine in July 1999, and an extract from Darcus Howe's original article.
"Darcus Howe (28 June) leaves Oldham with dread. In fact he frequently leaves chaos behind him, much of which is caused by meaningless, judgmental assertions. Oldham is not the stereotype he pretends.
Our communities are very complex, with almost one-fifth emanating from the Asian sub-continent, and it's true that many are young and some get excited. But this is not a town of tensions, or of violence, or of racial conflict. Combat 18 is irrelevant, although Howe has no doubt given them a significance they would not have dreamed of.
Our people - white, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi - integrate well. Visit our sixth-form college: 2,400 16-19 year olds working together, widening participation, improving results. Oldham's educational experience across the population is a story of improvement in numbers participating and quality of outcome. Not of violence and fracture.
The town is also improving, regenerating itself. Technology, retail and culture have taken over from the mills. Unemployment is rapidly declining, and it is these opportunities which have allowed us not to suffer the story coming from Howe. Without that regeneration he might have been right, but we have all worked together to ensure his nightmare has no reality here. [AFA emphasis]
John Battye, Leader of the Council - Oldham Metropolitan Borough
Nick Brown, Principal - Oldham Sixth Form College
Carol Gibson, Principal - Oldham College
John Gracie, Chief Executive - Oldham Chamber of Commerce, Training and Enterprise
Gloria Oates, Chief Executive - Oldham NHS Trust
The letter was a reply to the following article (which we reproduce in part):
"Why I left Oldham with a feeling of dread.
The racial situation in England is changing so swiftly that the old stereotypes just won't do any more. Except in Oldham, my next stop. This is a very divided city and dangerously so. It is a racial division. Oldham was once a thriving town which, residents tell me, contained 365 textile mills. The tensions began in those days and continue to this day. Punjabis undercut the wages, working long hours for little money, and Paki-bashing was the consequence.
I talked to whites in their forties and fifties. They have fond memories. The booze flowed and, on the way to the local curry house, a "Paki" got a good kicking. It was a sport, a way of life.
The mills have gone. New technology required less labour and the Far East provides the cheapest there is in the modern world. Now a new generation of Pakistanis has grown up. Those who saw them at cricket's World Cup will know what I am talking about. They are extremely solid as a social group and aggressively so.
It is their time now. They have carved out their territory in Oldham. Should a Pakistani be attacked, a posse is mobilised in the twinkling of an eye. The whites talk about two vans out of which the Pakistanis tumble; the violence is short, sharp and thorough.
I talked extensively to poor, very poor, whites. They were preparing for bloodshed, they told me. This is a stronghold of the fascist group, Combat 18. A young woman terrified me. She talked herself into a frenzy about Pakistani filth, about their personal habits. I wince as I write.
Her neighbour joined us. Hundreds would die, he said. And wherever I went, I heard similar forecasts which, I suspect, are being pushed by right-wing groups. Night after night, there are clashes. I met young whites who give details of time and place. Both sides move in gangs of between 20 and 40. The mobile phone makes mobilisation easy.
White people, living in poor housing, claim that the Pakistanis are the darlings of the local council. They have got everything, they cry: the best houses, mosques, temples, you name it. When you stare into their eyes you know that they don't really believe it.
And the final straw. "The Pakistanis have taken over the local park," I was told. "It is a no-go area for whites." I had had enough of these people and drove by the park on my way home. White children were playing happily on a summer's day, their parents strolling around without a care in the world. Yet I left Oldham with a heavy heart and a feeling of dread." (New Statesman, 28/6/99)
OLDHAM - WHAT NOW?
25th June '01
Reproduced from Anti-Fascist Action (21st June)
"White extremists to blame - Blair" ran the Guardian headline on 29th May, referring to the Oldham riots. A week later, after the BNP gained 11,643 votes in Oldham in the general election, a different story started to emerge. "A backlash against the riots fuelled by strong feelings among the white working class that Asian people received preferential treatment led to success for the Far Right BNP in Oldham, a local MP said yesterday." (Guardian 9/6/01)
In contrast to Oldham council's previous outrage at Darcus Howe's prediction of serious racial conflict, expressed in an article in the New Statesman at the time, council leader Richard Knowles was now prepared to admit that the council's existing programmes needed to be looked at. Even Oldham West MP Michael Meacher conceded that there was more to the election results than 'outside extremists': "It is important that money which had previously been targeted on particular areas, and which had produced a very strong perception of unfairness - that certain parts of the community are being favoured over others - goes borough-wide." (Guardian 15/6/01)
It is ironic that while New Labour MPs and the local political establishment have recognised that the BNP vote reflects real dissatisfaction amongst the white working class, the 'revolutionary' SWP and their anti-fascist front the ANL have learnt nothing. In a strongly worded attack on the Oldham Chronicle the ANL accuse the editor of "pandering to nazis". How?
The editorial on 11 June wrote: "The political landscape in Oldham has changed and though the ANL might not like it, it has been changed through the proper democratic process by Mr Nick Griffin and his BNP campaigning properly and legally and persuading people to vote for them. Mr Griffin and the BNP now has a mandate from 11000 Oldham residents to represent their point of view and has promised to contest next May's elections. At a stroke, the BNP has gained political legitimacy in Oldham, and while the majority of Oldhamers may not like it, protestors cannot change that by demonstrating on the streets, but by legitimate opposition at the ballot box."
Rather than accept the obvious, and look to replace the BNP's racial solutions with progressive working class ones, the ANL demand the Chronicle should highlight Griffin's convictions (which he is probably very proud of - 'man of action' etc.) and expose him as a "jack booted thug."
Someone should remind the ANL that the election is over, Griffin got 16.4% of the vote, and the ANL strategy of trying to stop people voting BNP by exposing them as violent criminals and Hitler worshippers has failed. Although for different reasons, many people would probably agree with the Chronicle's comment that the ANL "are becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution."
The decision by the Socialist Alliance (SA), which the SWP dominate, not to stand against the BNP in Oldham reveals a real lack of ambition and an indifference to the white working class. It has been noticeable that there has been no critical analysis of the disappointing results that the SA got in the general election. An exception being a letter in the Weekly Worker (7/6/01), criticising the Oldham decision, which makes a valid point: "The question we must ask ourselves surely is how come, almost a century after the Russian Revolution, we, the extra-parliamentary Left, have such shallow roots in the class that, in towns like Oldham, we cannot muster the resources necessary to run a better campaign?"
The so-called 'revolutionary Left' is in fact a conservative force. Rather than speak to working class whites as to why they voted BNP, it was left to the mainstream media, both liberal and right-wing, to uncover the stories of non-racist BNP voters who felt they had no alternative. The Left meanwhile were busy concentrating on the Asian community, and missed the opportunity to do some useful 'market research'.
Even before the riots started it was possible to identify potential problems. A young Asian interviewed on Radio 4's Today programme (19/4/01) revealed how, in the absence of a political strategy to isolate and combat race attackers, the chosen response was random tit-for-tat attacks on whites: "I got slashed by some whites so that I'm totally racist. I don't like whites. It's like this now, we go to a white area and we get done over. It's like them coming here they get done over ... it's your own hood."
Not only is this reactionary attitude overlooked, but the Left present the Asian community as a homogenous unit. Class and religious divisions are also overlooked. A letter in the Guardian suggested all was not sweetness and light: "During the past three years, a mini ethnic cleansing, largely encouraged by mullahs from mosques, has been taking place in Oldham. Young Muslims have been encouraged to attack Hindu homes and shops. The mainstream media have ignored this terrorism, but the ethnic press has reported it. The most terrifying incident was in 1999 when the Diwali celebration lights in a Hindu enclave were torn down and destroyed by Muslim thugs."(31/5/01)
In Bradford these tensions are higher, a BBC Radio report on the 19th May revealed "disturbing allegations that Hindu families are being systematically driven out of their homes by young Muslims." Whose side would the Left take on these incidents?
A refreshing alternative to the 'one-sided' approach comes from Darcus Howe, who is quite prepared to criticise anybody where appropriate: "In those days [1970s], the elders of the Asian community had considerable influence. A young Asian in Blackburn was once beaten almost to death for challenging them and their dodgy leadership. The municipal wallahs used housing funds to separate the communities. The Labour mafia presided over this process. The quality of the housing they built is a disgrace. The scramble over who got the best of the regeneration funds - mere scraps from the Treasury's table - is the basis for the current conflict." (New Statesman 4/6/01)
The refusal of the Left to put class above race, and break with liberal anti-racism, leads to this blinkered approach which, as old allegiances to Labour disappear, is driving thousands of working class whites into the arms of the Far Right. Anything other than blanket condemnation of the white community and unconditional support for the Asian community is denounced as 'right-wing', which means communities then become immune to criticism; for example, the young Asian interviewed in The Independent (17/6/01) who "attacked Keighley's MP, Ann Cryer, for taking up the cases of Asian women who alleged that they had been forced into marriage, saying: "How can she come between us and our sisters, encouraging them to go to court?" After all, she is white.
AFA supports the right of communities to resist racist attacks, and AFA supports the right of communities to resist police harassment, but the question for the likes of the SWP and those who can 'see no evil' in black or Asian communities is what happens when these communities then become dominated by criminal or religious militants? They would then become as unwelcome in these communities as they are in many white working class communities.
And the trouble is Oldham isn't unique. Tension is high in several towns across the north of England, and with the BNP optimistic that 3% results in general election constituencies can be translated into 25% in council elections, the prospects are not good.
ADAMS: MY CONTRACT WITH WEST BELFAST
18th June '01
Reproduced from Andersonstown News, 14th June
Gerry Adams has drawn up a unique social contract with the voters who returned him with a huge majority – and challenged them to watch him deliver.
Writing exclusively in today’s Andersonstown News, Mr Adams said his increased mandate would enable him and his team to go into next Monday’s negotiations with the British determined to resolve the issue of policing, demilitarisation and arms.
He also outlined his vision for the future, promising that he would tackle key issues of concern to the community, including anti-social behaviour, education, health and unemployment.
My contract with West Belfast
Last Thursday the people of West Belfast gave Sinn Féin a resounding endorsement. I thank everyone who voted for us and everyone who worked for us. 27,096 people voted for Sinn Féin’s peace strategy and for Sinn Féin’s record in providing effective representation. This is the highest vote of any constituency on these islands.
In both the Lower and Upper Falls we polled our biggest ever vote with Paul Maskey topping the poll in Upper Falls. Our eight councillors in West Belfast join six others in making Sinn Féin the largest party in Belfast in terms of both seats and votes.
In Lisburn we received over 7,000 votes, an increase of 60%. We are returning a strong team to challenge the sectarianism and discrimination of this Council.
The growth of Sinn Féin has been witnessed in constituencies throughout the six counties. However, we do not fight elections only to win seats for Sinn Féin. We fight elections in order to deliver the type of changes which our communities want and are entitled too.
The credit for our success goes to our election team, the West Belfast directorate and our Comhairle Ceanntair. I congratulate all our candidates.
With this success comes responsibility. We have to use our mandate wisely to advance our political goals and to achieve the changes that are essential if the peace process and the political process is to make a real difference in people’s lives.
Sinn Fein is the only all-Ireland party fighting elections throughout the island. People in Derry and Kerry, in West Belfast and West Cork are voting for Sinn Féin, as was evident last week, and this they are doing in increasing numbers. Our vision is for a national republic on this island.
Sinn Fein’s determination and commitment has changed the face of politics in the north and increasingly so in the south. Our record of work in local councils, in Leinster House, in the Assembly, and especially that of our two Ministers in the Executive, Bairbre de Brun – a West Belfast MLA - and Martin McGuinness, is second to none.
Sinn Féin has worked consistently to build on the Good Friday Agreement and when it has been threatened, to do our best to save it from collapse. We want to see the Agreement implemented.
However, because of the failure of the unionist leadership and the British Government to honour their commitments, we are facing into another major crisis and negotiation which will commence next Monday.
We asked the electorate for, and you gave us, a stronger mandate to empower us in the negotiations. Sinn Féin will pursue with determination a resolution of the outstanding issues of policing, demilitarisation and arms.
But the stronger Sinn Féin mandate will also empower this community to tackle the issues of social and economic inequality affecting the people of West Belfast. Because unless the peace process brings improvements in the daily lives of people then it has failed.
Some of the key issues facing West Belfast in the time ahead are:
Sinn Féin is working to bring about safer communities. I believe that we can best tackle anti-social behaviour and criminality by challenging those involved in this behaviour and by changing the conditions which perpetuate such behaviour. This issue cannot be divorced from the need for a new policing service. The RUC have encouraged car thieves and drug dealers.
We will continue to work with communities and support neighbourhood watch schemes and Community Restorative Justice and seek to ensure that all of the statutory agencies provide adequate resources. Sinn Féin will continue to campaign for facilities for our young people and our community.
We will also continue to campaign for a policing service that this community can welcome, not a force which see us as the enemy.
Currently West Belfast has both the highest rates of general unemployment and the highest number of long -erm unemployed in the six counties. These figures do not accurately reflect the reality of poverty experienced by our families and children. This is unacceptable.
We recently succeeded in securing the establishment of an Economic Task Force to make proposals on how we can attract new jobs, promote Irish language business and cultural industries and build a future for our young people.
Sinn Féin will press for the full implementation of the Task Force’s proposals and we will support training programmes to match skills to jobs and to support local labour schemes to place local people into jobs.
The revival of the Irish language is the success story of West Belfast. We have more gaelscoileanna in this constituency than any other area of comparable size. West Belfast has become an urban Gaeltacht.
Those of us who wish to can do business, shop, socialise and educate our children through the medium of Irish. But much more needs to be done and we will be working to ensure that the report of the Economic Task Force reflects the reality of the Irish language in West Belfast and in the need to develop new opportunities for investment and jobs.
The health of our community is related to poverty and our environment. Bairbre de Brún has increased funding for the health service and sought to put patients at the centre of care. At a local level Sinn Féin has campaigned to develop healthy and safe communities. We have campaigned and succeeded in delivering traffic calming in areas across the constituency.
However, there is much to do, such as prioritising the needs of our older people, our children and our ill and our disabled.
Sinn Féin is firmly opposed to cutbacks in services to our elderly and especially to the home help service. We are for free transport, TV licences and decent pensions. With fuel and food prizes higher here than in Britain, more help needs to be given to compensate for this additional burden.
As a party Sinn Féin will promote a disabled-friendly environment, campaign for accessible and appropriate play areas for children, extend traffic calming throughout the constituency and promote public transport including Black Taxis as a method to reduce traffic congestion and pollution.
West Belfast has changed over the years with new estates, roads and shops. However, we need to retain the natural beauty of our surroundings. The Black Mountain, the Belfast Hills, the Colin and Lagmore Glens and the Bog Meadows make West Belfast unique. Housing developments, quarrying and road expansions all now threaten our natural environment.
Sinn Féin is campaigning to end quarrying on the Black Mountain, we have actively supported the conservation of the Bog Meadows and are promoting the establishment of a regional park across the Belfast Hills. We are also campaigning to have the City Council contribute to the renovation of Milltown Cemetery and will continue to campaign against the extension of the Westlink
Belfast and Lisburn Councils
After the elections, stronger Sinn Féin council teams will seek to end discrimination and sectarianism in Belfast and Lisburn Councils. We will seek investment in leisure and children’s services. We will ensure proper street cleansing and promote Belfast and Lisburn as a place to invest in. In Belfast we will push for the election of a republican Mayor.
Our young people deserve a proper start to life. They deserve a good education.
Martin McGuinness has campaigned for additional money to invest in our children. He has reviewed the 11-plus and encouraged the development of integrated and Irish language schools.
Sinn Féin is committed to ending the 11-plus. We will work with the schools to secure greater investment and we will support initiatives for adults returning to education.
The Springvale Campus provides a unique educational opportunity, as well as the possibility of bringing jobs and investment to West Belfast. Recently serious concerns have arisen about the development of Springvale, its commitment to the local community and the educational programme it will provide. Sinn Féin will vigorously tackle this issue and seek from the University of Ulster and the Department a return to the vision of Springvale which first made it so attractive and which secured it much of its initial funding.
There are over 1,300 homeless cases in West Belfast. On average each case will wait in excess of 18 months to be housed. There is a crisis in housing in West Belfast. We need new housing, on brown field sites, and we need investment in the existing housing stock.
Sinn Féin has a record in delivering on the housing issue, from the demolition of Divis, Moyard and Springhill to working in partnership with the Housing Executive and local communities to design and build model communities.
We will continue working to tackle housing waiting lists, to upgrade current housing stock, to ensure housing meets the needs of older and disabled residents and we will support the development of group housing schemes for Travellers.
Arts and Tourism
We have made good progress in recent years in selling West Belfast as a place for tourists to visit.
Féile an Phobail is the most successful community-based festival on this island. It has contributed enormously towards underpinning the cultural strength of West Belfast.
But much more needs to be done to secure funding, provide training for our young people in the tourist industry, provide accommodation and encourage the efforts of local groups who are seeking to expand our already vibrant arts economy.
Sinn Féin will also vigorously support the Belfast St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
That is our contract with the people – and like every other contract we have entered into we will honour it.
The advances we have made and will continue to pursue will be meaningless unless they translate into real change in people’s lives. West Belfast will be the litmus test for the ability of the new political structures to deliver.
MAY 2002 - SHOWTIME
13th June '01
Writing in yesterday's Guardian, columnist Gary Younge poured scorn on the Socialist Alliance's (SA) claim that it's performance in the recent general election was 'a good start'. Younge, a sympathiser, described their explanation for the poor showing as 'desperate'. In 1999 Gary Younge took part in a public debate organised by Anti-Fascist Action (AFA). Just eighteen months ago he happily defended multiculturalism, while insisting 'anti-racism was working'. Dire warnings by the AFA spokesperson of the potential for far-right growth were, he obviously felt at the time, almost certainly exaggerated. Not too surprisingly, in light of events in Oldham and elsewhere, he seems to have revised his opinions.
On the SA claim that its result is vindicated by history, Younge comments: "The Socialist Alliance is putting a brave face on it. But its claim to have performed better than the Communist party did in 1950 rings hollow. First, travelling more than half a century back in time in search of electoral sustenance smacks of desperation."
" Second, the two scenarios couldn't be more different. In 1950 Communists were standing against a Labour government that had just introduced the National Health Service." And as against the lowest turnout since 1918 now, "at 84% the turnout [in 1950] was the highest of the century".
'Three' he might have added, the Labour party back then was an avowedly socialist party, with a mass working class base. And 'four' again unlike now, 1950 was around the time the spectre of Soviet aggression began haunting Europe, and cold war paranoia kicked in.
Had in such circumstances the communists put in such a wretched performance, it might have been understandable. For the Socialist Alliance to do so is less easily explained.
By general consensus, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) with a 70,000 total did more credibly. Particularly when you take into account the population of Scotland being only 5 million. Even then, the SSP overestimated its own appeal by a full third, insisting prior to the election that a 100,000 target was comfortably within its capacity.
Meanwhile the only target forecast on behalf of the SA in England and Wales, was from its most enthusiastic backer Weekly Worker. '250,000' would be a credible return it felt. In the event that prediction came in almost a full 200,000 short. A return of 55,000, also left it 15,000 short of the SSP total. But that is hardly the whole story. According to an SSP spokesperson, the 70,000 was politically equivalent to 700,000 votes in England and Wales. If so, for parity of ambition, the SA aim would have needed to top a million.
Looking at progress since the Greater London Assembly elections last year is hardly any more comforting. Then the London Socialist Alliance polled 47,000 votes, on a 33% turnout. Throw on another 8,000 in 2001, and you now have the return for - the rest of the country. No matter how you cut it, momentum this is not. In truth, the entire Socialist Alliance project a little more than year or so after being formed is already on the slide, and in desperate trouble. Even if such figures are startling enough on their own, as Gary Younge points out, things can get worse, very much worse.
"In Oldham's two constituencies alone the BNP received a fifth of the votes that the Socialist Alliance mustered in around 100." Moreover, "in the 17 seats where the BNP or National Front stood, against either the Greens or the hard left, the BNP" Younge reckons "was always more likely to win".
In addition, the three best results attained by fringe candidates anywhere, including Scotland, have the initials BNP beside them. Figures which remind you that these days not only is the SA a fringe party, but socialism itself is very much a marginal ideology.
Needless to say SWP spin doctors will have none of it. True to form, Socialist Worker has sought succour in the fact that the BNP 'stood less candidates than in 1997'. The reality for anyone even vaguely interested, is that the BNP stated last year, and repeated a number of times since, that its focus would not be on the general election, but on the metropolitan council elections, particularly in London, in 2002. For them this makes sense. As a small party the BNP are aware that the elusive electoral success, which it believes will catapult it into the political mainstream is most likely to happen at a local council level. Long before the Oldham boost, it was already within touching distance, clocking up well over 20% in areas as diverse as Burnley, Tipton in the West Midlands, and not forgetting the 27% it took when knocking the Tories into third place in Bexley south east London in June last year.
The SA might have followed a similar strategy had it ever sat down to consider strategy in the first place.
That said, there are rather curious statistics that might have prevented any SA strategist wholeheartedly recommending such an approach. The fact is, unlike the BNP, the farther the LSA stays from its chosen constituency the better it does electorally.
For example in the by-election caused by the death of Bernie Grant last year, the SA saved its deposit. Much capital was made of this at the time. However when it returned to the Tottenham area a couple of months later to contest a council by-election, and incidentally, canvassed heavily, it got the same percentage of the vote, 5% it had taken in the parliamentary contest. Attracting a mere 60 votes is not heartening, but this is on average what SA candidates can expect to take, if past results are anything to by, in council by-elections in the capital in the near future.
No wonder the SWP were not keen to contest Beckton with the BNP. Fear of 'taking second prize', saw the SA in Southwark duck even the NF in Bermondsey. Exactly that rationale was offered for the failure to challenge the BNP in Oldham.
Prior to the suspension of the LSA executive in February, Red Action delegate's sought, whenever the opportunity presented itself, to bring a modicum of reality to discussions. A number of policy documents were submitted. When not more or less openly accused of racism, 'refugees welcome here', was quite simply 'a vote winner' we were told. In our absence, the slogan has it appears, without explanation of course, been ditched.
In another staggering example of the blind leading the blind, the Weekly Worker editor Peter Manson, following a poor showing from the BNP in a parliamentary by-election in Preston, (it transpired the candidate had fallen out with the leadership and was not even in the country in the run up to the election) more or less demanded any further discussion on the possibility of 'a BNP breakthrough be scotched - for once and for all'. Whether it was intended as a public rebuke to AFA and RA, or whether he was just making editorial policy on the hoof, it does at least explain why Red Action letters are repeatedly cut, or simply not printed.
Censorship apart, what is probably most disturbing, if not unnerving about discussions within Weekly Worker or inside the LSA, is that regardless of what is really happening on the ground, soundbites inside and out, are relentlessly upbeat. There are a number of possible explanations. First, they do not really know what is going on. Second, such is the introspection they do not care what is going on. Third, and most cynical of all, the SWP leadership are fully aware, but will resist any comprehensive review for fear it might not survive the analysis. Their fears are well grounded. Up to now, due mainly but not exclusively, to the SWP stranglehold there has been no mature analysis, with the result that the strategy is shambolic, and the tactics (the SWP put a ban on canvassing for example) imbecilic. If the LSA in particular, is to even survive the council elections in less than eleven months time, the general election results 'ought to scotch once and for all the notion' that it is set for some kind of 'breakthrough'. What is needed now is a period of sober, comprehensive, and more than anything honest re-assessment.
Ultimately, the LSA needs to decide whether, come May, it is going attempt to offer a real alternative to the BNP. What do we mean by this? It is very, very simple. In light of the election results there needs to be a general acceptance that the fiction of 'socialism without the working class' cannot be sustained any longer. Without the tacit support of the bottom 40% of society 'radical change is possible, but progressive social change is inconcievable'. More listening and less lecturing must be the order of the day.
When, (or possibly if) the London executive in reconvened in July, this is the first item RA delegates intend to put on the agenda. If responses are at all reasonable, then perhaps we can all sit down and see how we might collectively 'remedy the situation'. Whatever happens, for all concerned there is one inescapable reality. May 2002 - showtime. 320 days and counting.
WONDERFUL WORLD. BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE
11th June '01
By Danny Morrison (Andersonstown News 11/06/01)
Whilst I was more than pleased with Sinn Fein's increased vote in all the constituencies, and with Pat Doherty's stupendous victory in West Tyrone, it was the final result in Fermanagh and South Tyrone at twenty past ten on Friday night that moved me the most and made me feel immensely proud to be an Irish republican and part of a brilliant community.
On this, the twentieth anniversary of the hunger strike, it was like a rendezvous with history. I had heard Michelle Gildernew at the re- launch of Bobby Sands' 'One Day In My Life' in April speak about being eleven years old in 1981 when Bobby died and being astonished and humbled at his and the other hunger strikers' sacrifice. You could hear the raw emotion in her voice, a memory come alive as she relived those heart-breaking days.
Eleven years of age!
And now, with 17,700 votes, she is the first woman republican abstentionist MP since the election of Countess Markievicz with 7,835 votes in December 1918. When you hear the words 'Fermanagh and South Tyrone' you always think of Bobby Sands and 1981 long before you think of Churchill's 'dreary spires'. 1981 changed our lives and those of our young and I predict that the rally in Belfast this August to commemorate the memory of those ten dead men and their comrades Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg will see the biggest turn-out of republicans in a hundred years.
What are we to make of the highest ever republican electoral performance since the foundation of this state, Sinn Fein's outpolling of constitutional nationalists, its effect on the peace process, and the drive for Irish independence?
Firstly, at a national level Sinn Fein has proved to be spot on. In the Twenty-Six Counties it was castigated by that coalition government luminary, Tanaiste Mary Harney of the 'Regressive' Democrats, not solely for being inextricably linked to you-know-who, but for having crazy world politics! Yet, Sinn Fein and the Green Party won the referendum opposing the Nice Treaty, and demonstrably refuted - in the words of John Hume and Alex Attwood - that "we are in a post-nationalist era".
The people who came out and voted 'No' in the South form the real conscience of the Irish nation and are saying that despite the purported benefits of membership of the European Union their souls, their sovereignty, are not up for sale. The world has to remain a rainbow coalition of independent and good people, and if 'nationalism' means denying the bad people the authority to aggrandize power, and in our name to bomb people and nations we do not know or understand, who are of no threat, then 'nationalism' has to be for us.
Secondly, at a six-county level, Sinn Fein's rise has changed everything - even more than the DUP's increase in seats. Sinn Fein taps into a mood for freedom and generosity: the DUP into fear and intolerance. Working-class Gerry Adams now has more clout than John Hume in London, Dublin, Washington and Brussels - though those powers may well be in denial for a while.
Not all Sinn Fein's votes came solely from young people. Thus, it is a great tribute to former SDLP voters and households, that they had the maturity to change, to ditch the Gerry Fitt-ism and the nonsense of Alex Attwood, and embrace a party which will robustly defend their interests on policing, equality, justice and freedom.
I sat in an RTE studio on Friday with Carmel Hanna of the SDLP and I said to her that Attwood had made a major blunder by describing West Tyrone as the party's 'Stalingrad'. She tetchily corrected me and said that it wasn't the SDLP but the BBC's political correspondent, Stephen Grimason, who invented the comparison. I made the point that not only had they not demurred from the analogy but that their spokespersons were enthusiastically quoting it on a number of occasions. Of course, you can't blame the SDLP alone. They had their confederates in the media, east of the Bann, part of a campaign machine which undoubtedly also sorely felt the loss, except that after the election these hypocrites had the temerity to say that they knew all along that Doherty would take West Tyrone!
On the unionist side David Trimble lost Strangford to DUP's Iris Robinson, regained South Antrim from Willie McCrea, lost East Derry to Gregory Campbell (who could yet turn out to be a pragmatist), and gained North Down from Bob McCartney. The Ulster Unionists vote overall was up but it is the perception that counts, those lost seats. Trimble asserted himself in North Down where he opposed the candidature of Peter Weir and successfully replaced him with pro- Agreement candidate Lady Sylvia Hermon (with whose husband, Jack Hermon, I have spent more weekends than her!).
However, not all votes for the Ulster Unionist Party can be said to be votes for the Good Friday Agreement. The only thing missing from the rabid David Burnside in his acceptance speech in South Antrim was a Free Presbyterian dog collar. He demanded IRA decommissioning.
And there will never, ever, be IRA decommissioning, an IRA surrender.
What there is, is a republican commitment to peace, and a commitment to put the guns beyond use.
So, David Trimble says he will resign on July 1st when the guns aren't melted down, and the man who may hold the reins for a very short time, is a man upon whom the Newry and Armagh sun is setting, Seamus Mallon.
For years the coming of a 'political vacuum' has been predicted and that such a scenario would spark widespread community violence. Look at the election. Absolutely no support for dissident republicans; the unionists confused, split, disillusioned, and, even with the DUP's successes, without any real focus or authority.
In a few years Ian Paisley will know whether there's a God, his charisma-challenged son will be MP for North Antrim, Peter and Iris will be a double-act on 'Have I Got News For You', David Burnside will be leader of the Ulster Unionists, Tony Blair will be in his third term, and we republicans will be strong, united and confident, and in control of much of our country and our lives.
Text © Danny Morrison - design ©Blacknight Solutions 2000-2001
SSP ELECTION RESULTS
10th June '01
Reproduced from The Scotsman
TOMMY Sheridan's Scottish Socialist Party has claimed a breakthrough of "historic" proportions after it took more than three per cent of the vote in Scotland.
While the party failed to claim any seats, it managed to win around 70,000 votes after fielding candidates in all 72 Scottish constituencies - a feat which Mr Sheridan believes has established the SSP as the fifth force in Scottish politics.
The convenor of the party also predicted that the SSP, which finished third in three Glasgow constituencies, could win up to eight seats, and the balance of power, in the Scottish elections in 2003.
Mr Sheridan said: "We suffer from the fact that this is a Westminster election and we're a Scottish party, so some people will think they should vote for a Westminster-wide party. I accept that."
"I think we will surpass 100,000 votes in Scotland next time. We have gone from 40,000 votes in 1999 to 70,000 votes in two years. In the next two years, we will build a party that will deliver not one MSP, but eight, one for every region in Scotland."
In Glasgow Cathcart, the SSP achieved a 6.3 per cent share of the vote - enough to ensure both a kept deposit for candidate Ronnie Stevenson and sharp swing away from both Labour and the SNP.
In Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, it achieved a 4.3 per cent share of the vote - slightly up on its 3.65 per cent share in the 1999 Holyrood elections. In Glasgow Kelvin, it polled 6.89 per cent, compared with 1.85 per cent in 1999.
Immediate comparisons with previous results are difficult because the SSP did not exist at the 1997 general election, and only stood in some of the constituencies at the 1999 Holyrood election.
In the ten parliamentary constituencies that make up the Glasgow area the SSP won 7.25 per cent of the total number of votes - mostly helped by Mr Sheridan's storming 21.51 per cent share in Glasgow Pollok. The SSP has defeated the Liberal Democrats in Scotland in four out of the last five by-elections.
Although the party was never likely to win any seats, it remains to be seen if Mr Sheridan's aim to raise his party's public profile has paid off.
He said: "It's been a very, very good election for us - we have arrived on the political scene. We have not realised the 100,000 target, which we knew was ambitious, but what we didn't foresee was the huge drop in turnout which is a badge of shame for the four big business parties.
"They have had wall-to-wall, cover-to-cover TV and newspaper coverage, and yet they have failed to inspire the electorate of Glasgow and Scotland.
"Despite the political censorship of our campaign by the broadcast media and the daily broadsheets, we have secured a magnificent 70,000 votes for genuine, radical socialism and we feel we have now arrived on the political scene in Scotland."
The SSP was born in 1998 out of the Scottish Socialist Alliance and brought together a number of disparate parties. The parties said they had come to agree that they could form a united front, while accepting that differences on some issues still existed.
Foremost is the Socialist principle of class struggle and the need to transform Scotland into a democratic, pluralist and progressive society which is internationalist in its outlook.
The SSP sees devolution as offering a "modest democratic change" but says it is still a long way off creating a country with total control of its economy, welfare system and defence system.
Its key policies include a commitment to a £7-an-hour minimum wage, the cancellation of Scottish councils' estimated £4billion housing debt and the bringing of all transport services into public ownership.
THE SIEGE OF WEST TYRONEGRAD
By Danny Morrison
10th June '01
Having been moved to tears by Commander Alex-Mandy Attwood's despatches about the war crimes against his people in West Tyrone, your intrepid reporter has risked his life, crossed the Strule River under cover of darkness, and broke through the lines of the Sinn Fein besiegers, to report at first hand the massacres taking place in this most distressful county.
Unknown to the outside world, and to BBC and UTV, food is still getting through, though I did see some demoralised troopers balk at the prospect of having to eat their hats in the grim days ahead. Ordinary people appear oblivious to the siege and go about their everyday lives, working, eating, drinking, golfing, fishing, completing crosswords. However, from David Sharrock of the 'Daily Telegraph' a disturbing despatch is emerging of serious war crimes in the smouldering village of Greencastle. It appears that twice in the space of one hour, Commander Attwood's lieutenant, Brid Rogers, was twice insulted and called bad names by a man who was home from England for a holiday and had had a few drinks.
On a more serious note, has the SDLP completely lost the run of itself? I strongly suspect that it was Alex Attwood who came up with the silly idea of describing the battle for West Tyrone in the general election as the SDLP's 'Stalingrad'. In history the 1942 siege of Stalingrad simplistically represents the forces of good (the starving citizens of that city and its outnumbered Soviet Army defenders)seeing off the forces of evil (Hitler's armies) and reversing the tide of WWII. But a little bit of history, like knowledge, can be a big bit dangerous. At Stalingrad Hitler was humiliated and found himself out-manoeuvred by the unexpectedly talented young Soviet commander Zhukov, whom Alex is trying to emulate.
By describing the battle in West Tyrone as its Stalingrad the SDLP is putting all its eggs in one basket, so to speak. I believe Pat Doherty (Sinn Fein) is going to win and when he does the SDLP will then have conceded in one fell sweep that Sinn Fein has effectively won the battle for the hearts and minds of northern nationalists. No political party should ever allow its future to be decided in one constituency. The use of the Stalingrad analogy/metaphor smacks of desperation and an attempt to galvanise otherwise despondent party workers and supporters.
Having been up this week in West Tyrone, which is one half of the former Mid-Ulster constituency to which I was once elected, I have a number of observations to make. Firstly, Sinn Fein was significantly ahead of the SDLP in the 1997 local elections (32% to the SDLP's 23%) and the 1998 Assembly election (34% to the SDLP's 26%). In the most recent by-election last year Sinn Fein dramatically trounced the SDLP.
Secondly, it was generally accepted that in this election Pat Doherty would massively outpoll Joe Byrne of the SDLP and take the seat from Willie Thompson. The SDLP, as it was entitled to do, pushed Byrne aside and replaced him with the high profile Brid Rogers, with no real hope of her succeeding but with the intention, I believe, of stopping Doherty.
I say this with good reason because if the SDLP really believed they were going to beat Sinn Fein then you would have expected them to match their anticipated high poll and put up a large number of candidates for the council elections which also take place on June 7th. Instead, the SDLP in West Tyrone are putting up just twelve candidates (two less than before) to Sinn Fein's twenty candidates (seven more than before). If anyone can explain to me how this represents a sign of confidence I will eat Alex Attwood's baseball hat whilst it's on his head and he's running a marathon.
People aren't stupid and it is for this reason that Brid Rogers' intervention, being parachuted in from Upper Bann which she represents in the Assembly, is generally seen as a spoiling exercise against Pat Doherty, who has been actively representing West Tyrone for over four years. The hysterical reaction of the SDLP to the cut- and-thrust of the election campaign, where insults are traded on the street and people on doorsteps tear your literature up, is nothing more than a headline-grabbing attempt at garnering sympathy.
A Sinn Fein election worker in North Antrim has been threatened by the LVF and has had his car burned; a Sinn Fein candidate in Newtownabbey has been threatened by loyalists with hatchets; a Sinn Fein candidate in South Antrim has recently received two death threats (having had his home shot-up twice in recent months) and yet none of these incidents received the type of television coverage that Brid Rogers' encounter with a drunk man in Greencastle received. A big part of the SDLP's election personnel is in the newsrooms of distant Belfast, London and Dublin.
At the end of the day, the republicans are still seen, especially by the media, as the threat, those most determined to challenge and change the status quo. Who really believes the ridiculous 'Belfast Telegraph' poll on voters' intentions? This week the 'Financial Times' stated that a private poll by the NIO indicated that Pat Doherty was ahead in West Tyrone, but that too is irrelevant. Polls are manipulated and abused, and are as accurate as gossip, though I don't believe they should be banned.
Finally, next week's two elections are extremely important to our future and to the negotiations that will take place in the weeks ahead. If you have a vote, use it. Nationalist people marched and were battered into the ground demanding the right to vote. And they came up again and again. This Thursday unionist domination of Belfast City Council can come to an end through the ballot box.
This Thursday can represent another step on the road to freedom.
Text © Danny Morrison
design © Blacknight Solutions 2000-2001
MICHELLE GILDERNEW ELECTED MP FOR FERMANAGH/S. TYRONE
9th June '01
Reproduced from RM Distribution
It is hard to believe.
Twenty years after Bobby Sands was elected MP , Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew has won back his seat -- by just 53 votes.
Michelle becomes the first female Sinn Fein MP since Countess Markiewicz.
Sinn Fein has now doubled its representation in Westminster and is the largest nationalist party in the Six Counties.
Statements of hope and imagination have become reality.
Omagh was the place to be. As Gerry Adams offered, history was made there and three Sinn Fein MPs were carried out of the count centre. Pat Doherty and Michelle Gildernew joined Mid-Ulster MP Martin McGuinness as MPs for West Tyrone and Fermanagh/South Tyrone respectively.
Free Derry became the Free West, within the barbed wire state of the Six Counties.
It was played down in the British media, as you would expect. But the political landscape in the North has changed forever, and not because of a shifting within unionism. The challenge to the old order is real and that challenge is obviously Sinn Fein.
The Fermanagh/South Tyrone result may be challenged by Ulster Unionists in the High Court who are bitter over the small margin. But it is not just UUP leader David Trimble feeling the pain. The days of hegemony for the SDLP in nationalist areas are over. All over the north, there are growing numbers of voters who are demanding real equality and who won't take 'No' for an answer. There is no turning back.
In other late results, Ulster Unionists held on to east Antrim from the dubious challenge of the DUP's Sammy Wilson, while the SDLP survived the challenge of Sinn Fein in Newry/South Armagh and South Down. But with the result of the Nice referendum in the South, Sinn Fein are now a political force to be reckoned with in any part of Ireland and even these seats are in doubt next time out.
Martin McGuinness, whose majority in Mid-Ulster rocketed from 1,800 to 10,000 said: "We are well on the way to becoming the largest political party in the north. It is appropriate for all of us that the changes taking place are going to succeed.
"It is time to end the division and hatred of the past."
With the overall Sinn Fein vote likely to be strengthened in next week's local government election results, demands on British Prime Minister Tony Blair to secure a realistic and peaceful future for the North will be deafening when he returns to Belfast later this month.
New negotiations to try to end the deadlock over policing, demilitarisation and Trimble-imposed 'sanctions' on the 1998 Good Friday Agreement are due to begin on June 18.
Gerry Adams tonight said the British PM held the key to resolving the outstanding issues.
He said: "It is a challenge for Mr Blair. The chickens for unionism are coming home to roost, because this is a society going through change. It can be quite difficult, particularly when you have the DUP exploiting fears, using the Agreement in their battle for the leadership of unionism.
"Mr Blair is in for a historic second term. Are the rights of nationalists and all those who voted for the Good Friday Agreement now being going to be filtered through a prism of DUPism?"
But media attention focused on Ian Paisley's DUP, who won three seats (North Belfast, Strangford, East Derry) from the so-called UUP 'dinosaurs'. They also lost one to the UUP in South Antrim, while anti-Agreement unionist Bob McCartney was replaced by pro-Agreement UUP candidate Sylvia Hermon in North Down. Overall, there was no visible swing to the anti-Agreement side -- not that the mainstream pro-British media will tell you.
Nevertheless, Paisley insisted the Good Friday Agreement would have to go because a majority of unionists didn't want it.
He said: "The rule of the Agreement was that if the majority of nationalists want it and the majority of unionists want it, then we must have it but it has now been proved that there is not a majority of unionists for this Agreement."
But, in another sign of the times, the aging war-horse lost his status tonight as holding the largest majority in the North -- that is now enjoyed by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, MP for West Belfast, who won a 20,000 majority in Belfast.
The SDLP was decimated in the capital city, and the expectation must now be for a Sinn Fein Mayor in Belfast when the votes are counted in the local elections on Monday and Tuesday.
Mr Adams said the republican vote confirmed Sinn Fein's commitment to the Agreement and the peace process. He added: "The people have endorsed the vision of tomorrow -- an Ireland at peace and free from the shackles of the union with Britain."
These were the final results:
Fermanagh/South Tyrone: Gildernew (SF) 17,739; Cooper (UUP) 17,686; Gallagher (SDLP) 9,706; Dixon (Ind. U) 6,843.
East Antrim: Beggs (UUP) 13,101; Wilson (DUP) 12,973; Mathews (Alliance) 4,483; O'Connor (SDLP) 2,641; Graffin (SF) 903
South Down: McGrady (SDLP) 24,136; Mick Murphy (SF) 10,278; Nesbitt (UUP) 9,173; Wells (DUP) 7,802
Newry/Armagh: Mallon (SDLP) 20,785; Conor Murphy (SF) 17,209; Berry (DUP) 10,795; McRoberts (UUP) 6,833
TIME FOR ANTI-FASCISM 'TO DUMP' MULTICULTURALISM
4th June '01
According to the Institute for Social and Economic Research, ‘Britain has the highest number of interracial relationships in the world’. This however, is not due multiculturalism but in spite of it. For multiculturalism, which believes that ‘culture makes man’ rather than the other way round sets its face firmly against miscegenation, integration and assimilation - on principle.
“Multiculturalism actually promotes racism. It engenders confusion, resentment and bullying and prevents people developing a shared British identity. This idea should have been dumped long since”, wrote Minette Marrin in last Thursdays Guardian. Hers is not a typical liberal view, as she is a columnist for the Daily Telegraph. Thus her article was entitled ‘A view from the right’. But is it? Might it not as easily, or more accurately have been entitled ‘A view from the left’?
What prevents much of the left assessing the multicultural impact honestly, residual dullness aside, is mainly the fear of being denounced. So instead of addressing what is seriously wrong with say, the Robin Cook statement, the left feel under obligation to denounce any misgivings as right wing, and vigorously push the same agenda toward fundamentalist conclusions wherever the opportunity presents itself.
Thus in Oldham while the BNP canvass the white working class neighbourhoods, the Socialist Alliance (SA), whose analysis sees the white working class as the sole culprits, nevertheless distributes its propaganda, only in the exclusively non-white areas. What political purpose one asks is served by such tokenism, when if it took its responsibilities at all seriously the SA would have put up candidates against the BNP in the area to begin with. As it is, while the SA ‘intervention’ allowed impeccably white liberals to wear their multicultural heart on their sleeve for a few hours, the BNP is presumably going about its business establishing a bridgehead for the local elections in 2002 unhindered. This is not to suggest that the SA is politically equipped to win white working class minds. It is merely to point out that it has no ambition to do so. Instead it is perfectly happy to strike a pose, and pronounce on events from a thoroughly partisan, that is to say dishonest perspective.
Other factors detected within the debris of multiculturalism that is Oldham are also worth mentioning. First of all, there is the carefully cultivated myth that anti-racism is the preserve of social groups A, and B. Only with ‘education can there be enlightenment’ the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee announced recently. This is so often said, that it is now widely believed among all sections of society, to such an extent that for many, to be properly anti-racist it is necessary to be anti-working class. Yet, even a casual glance at the make up of working class communities reveal such a conceit to be a lie. It is among the working classes, and statistically, only among the working classes, that interracial relationships thrive. Elsewhere, apart from genially nodding to the man behind the counter in the corner shop, classes A and B contribute nothing to the project.
On top of that there is the equally wretched multicultural pretence that all ethnic communities are homogenous, and in an ideal world would be treated as such. Not only that, but while some such as ‘Operation Black Vote’ for instance, insist Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sikhs and Hindus, as well as African and those of West Indian descent must for general electoral convenience, be treated as ‘black’, along side this form of enforced integration, other multiculturalists are working just as hard to see the term ‘black’ further sub-divided on the grounds of ethnicity and religion. The aim? To have strict segregation in schools and housing (to begin with), not only for Blacks and Asians but, for Muslims, Hindus, Bangladeshis and so on, ad infinitum.
Of course, in the midst of this racial engineering, one word is carefully avoided. That is the word ‘class’. For the very good reason that the promotion of cultural diversity is intended to kill off, and replace the idea of social diversity. But despite such sleight of hand, that ‘class’ is as big a factor in the sense of alienation experienced by ‘Pakistani’ youth in Glodwick, as it is in the predominately white Fitton Hill is undeniable. For what is striking about their situation is that unlike many Indians, the Pakistani and Bangladeshi inhabitants of Oldham show little sign of the fabled enterprising spirit that all those of Asian origin, we are told, possess. They came here with nothing, to work in the mills as labourers, and labourers whether in work or not, they largely remain. They have not broken out - or up. Some pious humbugs like Ken Livingstone, will insist that is entirely due to endemic racism in British society. But if true, how to explain the equally downtrodden white counterparts with whom they are at war? If racism is the root cause, how to explain the inability of ‘Fitton Hillites’ to rise out of the ghetto? ‘Oh them, they are you know, just so much ‘white trash’’, many a multiculturalist will explain without blushing.
Certainly such opinions, and far worse, are not at all uncommon among ‘anti-fascist’ visitors to the National Front ‘guest-book’. Their ugly contributions are, bear in mind, should you be tempted to look, all products of a multicultural education of thirty years standing.
In a further tribute to the influence of such teaching, one Asian group, allegedly set up to fight the NF and Combat 18 has chosen for itself the title; ‘Combat 786’.
Like Combat ‘18’ which represents the A and H in the alphabet, ‘numbers 786’ are the Observer reports, ‘a numerical representation of Allah’.
That the segregationist ‘peace line’ solutions proposed by the BNP, are these days impeccably multiculturalist in tone and delivery is the final irony. Even more remarkably, the council seems intent on following BNP advice. ‘In one area' the Observer mentions ‘where an alleyway leads from Fitton Hill into an Asian street, the council plans to erect a metal gate to separate the communities’. How effortlessly euro-nationalism has appropriated the language of multiculturalism to meet its own objectives, demonstrates just how far the anti-racism of the 1970’s has drifted. How comfortable the euro-nationalists fit, unmasks the lie that multiculturalism is naturally progressive.
In reality it is more trouble than it’s worth. Currently there is much discussion on how the rise of the far right can be halted. The truthful answer is that an anti-fascism joined at hip with multiculturalism cannot do so. Indeed the higher the activity of the likes of the ANL, and now, and even more ridiculously the SA, the more entrenched the respective working class communities will become. Put bluntly, ‘racialising social problems’ is the motive force of both euro-nationalism and multiculturalism alike. For purposes of anti-fascist strategy, if for no more principled reasons, multiculturalism is ‘an idea that should have been dumped long since’. There is still time do so. But not it must be stressed, with council elections in 2002 looming, too much time.
MOTHERS ON ASYLUM WATCH
2nd June '01
(Reproduced from Sunday Times Scotland – 27th May)
They are not big on formality in Sighthill. At least, that is the impression inevitably formed on meeting the loose coalition of mothers determined to have their say on the asylum seekers that arrived last year. No cups of tea in the local community centre here; no huddling in a living room festooned with campaign leaflets. Instead, the search for a suitable conference spot concludes on a grassy embankment leading up to a communal football pitch. We perch at unusual, craning angles as the women make their case.
It might have been worse: we might have convened in a dark alley. That, especially if you caught the television news last week, is pretty much the last place you would wish to confront the mothers of Glasgow's Sighthill scheme. Concern over the rising number of racist attacks suffered by refugees (67 in the last year, including two hospitalisations) led to a meeting at which council and community leaders hoped to "build bridges".
However, there was a veritable River Kwai style of conflict as the self-nominated Sighthill spokeswomen made the point, with no little force, that any attacks on incomers were provoked and retaliatory. For good measure they further claimed that asylum seekers received preferential treatment so blatant that conflict was inevitable.
The meeting could only end in chaos with claims about refugees such as: well-appointed rent-free accommodation; luxury coaches to ferry their children to and from school; benefits that merely supplemented their illicit earnings; and not to mention softly-softly handling by a local constabulary only too happy to pin the blame on the locals.
"It's like the Bronx here now," says Rae Hillhouse, essentially the ringleader of the group. "Pensioners are frightened to leave their houses because gangs of asylum seekers are on every corner, acting aggressively, trying to shove us out. Our kids can't go out to play safely, so they're having their childhoods taken away from them.
"It's been painted a lot of other ways, but the truth is that we're not racists. We're happy to have the incomers here as long as their interests aren't put ahead of ours. But that's what's happening and we're angry."
She says that the current situation has driven herself and a colleague, who refused to give her name, to antidepressants.
Algy, a local youth aligned with the mothers, crouches on the grass verge, his white Nike shell suit reflecting in the sunshine. He is a resident of No 2 block in this deprived, mostly high-rise sector of north Glasgow. "We should do what the French do - stick them all in a big jail," he says.
In a sense, the authorities already have. Sighthill, with its mouldering concrete, its non-existent amenities, is nobody's idea of a walk in the park. The landscape is dominated by a particularly Gothic graveyard on a hill. You feel like offering sympathy long before the tales of one set of inmates preying on another unfurl.
Whether or not they have a point (and most of the authorities involved - police, social services, Glasgow City Council - are adamant they do not) there is no denying that the women of Sighthill fit into a recognisable contemporary Scottish tradition, that of the down-trodden matriarchs who are not going to take it any more.
For further examples, see the doomed attempt by Mags Haney to convince the world she was not running a drug ring from her flat on Stirling's Raploch estate; or, more commendably, the Mothers Against Drugs group that operates from blighted Cranhill.
The style is immediately recognisable: the gold sovereign rings wedged onto every finger; the crudely flamboyant tattoos that poke from the tops of low-cut T-shirts or the bottom of sleeves; the righteous, rapid-fire delivery that follows paths unconnected to whatever question is being asked. Like the women of Cranhill, the point is made over and over again: this is all for the benefit of the kids.
The absence of any reported hospitalisations of Sighthill's natives, however, is not the only thing that throws scepticism on their claims. So comprehensive is the transgression of the asylum seekers, by the account of the women the suspicion of clinical paranoia begins to form.
They allege that despite receiving £10 a week spending money and £25 in food vouchers, many refugees apparently sport mobile phones, expensive trainers and, most damnably, several have been seen in enviable cars. They claim vans are constantly coming and going, taking incomers to illicit shifts in the construction industry.
It is believed that asylum seekers wanted for a murder in Liverpool are currently hiding out in Sighthill, and that accommodation is being provided for illegal immigrants. The luxury coaches that ferry incomers' children to local schools are a particular source of anger. Local children, it is said, have also been unable to use the area's sole amenity, the grass pitch, because the asylum seekers play football.
There are tales of a Sighthill girl who was offered £100 for sex, and of another girl who became pregnant at 13 to an asylum seeker in his mid-20s. Police officers are said to be disregarding pleas for help and favouring the incomers because of the post-Stephen Lawrence political correctness in the higher echelons of the force. Even the BBC is in on it: "On the television they showed the two minutes where things got heated," says one of them. "They didn't show us when we were being reasonable and making our points."
The facts certainly seem to be in the refugees' favour. Last month, two Palestinian brothers, Iyad and Haitham Saada, were hospitalised after being reportedly attacked by a 30-strong gang; in March, three Sudanese men were on the receiving end. Twenty seven incoming families have requested to be moved from the area. Perhaps all that can be said for certain is the problem is bound to worsen. Glasgow has pledged to house 7,000 refugees by the autumn, which in Sighthill means numbers will more than double to 2,000.
Algy's engagement could be seen as symptomatic. Of the 98 locals so far identified by Strathclyde Police as being involved, 50 have been under the age of 16 and only three have been older than 30. If battles are being fought, it is by the young. Yet, as was noted by Charles Gordon, leader of Glasgow City Council, "a minority of local families are at the centre of a substantial increase in attacks".
When last week's meeting between council officials and the two local communities degenerated into a slanging match, it was a noticeably older, parental generation doing the slanging. So, are we looking at a two-pronged approach, where a vocal minority state their case while their youngsters take the more practical approach of violence?
If this is the case the minority in question is to be found here. Jean Brown, another resident of 2B, produces a letter from her purse. It is from the Children's Panel. Her 11-year-old son has been summoned to appear in respect of a fight with several asylum seekers two months previously. For her, the letter says it all. When, she asks, will the incomers be summoned to appear?
In a bid to restore Glasgow's reputation as a welcoming city, the council has pledged to evict any family found to have attacked or abused asylum seekers. Last week, she received notice that her family face eviction.
The activists claim "99.9%" of Sighthill's local population are backing them. But backing them in what? "There are some here who get on fine with them," says Brown. "But they don't have children to worry about. I get on fine with them if they make the effort to get on with me."
There isn't, however, much to be done about the allegations that asylum seekers are housed in properties better maintained than their own; the flats were spare anyway, and any dissatisfaction in this respect is properly better directed at the housing association.
The locals, in their own way, admit cultural differences are bound to play a part in creating friction. "The Iranians and Iraqis fight each other in their own countries, so why should it be different here?" asks Hillhouse. "Although that doesn't give four of them the right to chase my son with a knife. And half these refugees are ex-soldiers. At home, they're allowed to have sex with under-16s, so they try the same thing here."
Despite the ferocity of their claims, it seems the consensus is against them. Hillhouse admits there have been serious incidents, but that the local response has always been provoked. In the meantime, what they want most of all is a fair hearing from the police, a neutral arbiter in disputes.
Bashir Maan, the anti-racism campaigning city councillor, stated his belief the tensions were not racially motivated, but stemmed from how badly supervised local youths are. For some reason, though, this is not a point you care to put to the mothers of Sighthill.
2nd June '01
Reproduced from AFA
"Police and council officials yesterday blamed the National Front and British National Party for stirring racial tensions." Daily Mirror (29/5/01)
"Nazis to blame for Oldham riots." ANL (28/5/01)
While it is true that the Far Right are seeking to exploit the situation in Oldham, it is wrong to say they caused the problems in the first place. A recent report on the BBC showed the run down housing and lack of community resources in the working class areas of Oldham, and suggested they led to frustration in both Asian and white communities. And who is responsible for this state of affairs? The council. No wonder they want to blame the nazis.
And the police, who in the Mirror editorial, supporting their handling of the riots, suggest "must do an equally good job in cracking down on the racists who cause them in the first place", also have good reason to blame the Far Right. Lee Jasper, interviewed in the Guardian (29/5/01), talked about policing in Oldham when he was growing up: "Once my mother was trying to find out why I was in a police car. She was told by the officer: 'Fuck off, you nigger bitch'. Police response to victims of racial attacks was: 'If you don't like it, move."
The Socialist Alliance, missing the opportunity to put forward a class analysis have opted instead for race. In a statement put out on 28th May they fall into the inevitable trap. In a typical display of indifference, they manage to alienate further sections of the white community by seeming to justify the attack on an elderly white man. An SA spokesman said: "While the isolated attack on an elderly white man in Oldham was given extensive and sensational publicity, the more numerous attacks on Asians in the Oldham area have gone largely unreported."
They continue: "Since the police began compiling reports, their statistics have been massaged to show 60% of racial attacks as Asian on white. This is in complete contradiction to the trend elsewhere." It may well be in contradiction to the trend elsewhere, but to dismiss it out of hand convinces no one. Where is the evidence to show it isn't true? Have all the attacks on whites reported in the press been made up? The danger is that the Left are seen to be inconsistent. Racial attacks by whites, bad. Racial attacks by non-whites, don't happen. Anti-social crime by whites, bad. Anti-social behaviour by non-whites, doesn't happen. It is this failure to look at the situation from a working class point of view that allows the BNP to be seen as the only party prepared to stand up for the white working class. The BNP understand this and they have exploited it. As the BNP organiser for Oldham said: "The media have a duty to let us speak for our community." Why is it the fascists who are taking the initiative in Oldham? Where are the proposals from the Left?
It is the absence of any progressive voices coming from either the white or Asian working class communities that allows the BNP to make the political running. While everyone else runs round in circles the BNP have put forward 'radical' proposals. Introducing new ideas and at the same time being seen to represent the white community, they said: "BNP activists are calling for calm, and the party will later today start a campaign calling on people to protest against Asian racism peacefully, by boycotting Asian businesses, rather than by confrontation and violence." Nick Griffin, BNP leader and Oldham candidate, added: "We would advocate that Asian people should move out of predominantly white areas and white people should move out of Asian neighbourhoods, and walls can be erected to keep the peace." Ironically this echoes the views of the chair of a government advisory body on housing, Parmjit Uppal, who said "the voice of the black housing sector in Britain is saying segregation is not necessarily a bad thing." So how could the advocates of black segregation not support the demands of the BNP? And what would the ANL have to say about this? They say the BNP's housing suggestion would lead to "apartheid as a prelude to a Nazi genocide."
The appearance of the Far Right has proved convenient for many, but it has allowed the focus to shift away from the real problems. Where communities are divided along racial lines, and the only 'organised' presence is either criminal or reactionary, then Oldham won't be a one off. AFA has said many times before that 'multiculturalism' as a political strategy leads to competition for resources between different racial groups. And worse than that, as a Daily Telegraph columnist wrote in the Guardian (29/5/01): "Worse still, this celebration of ethnic diversity has tended, pointedly, to exclude only one ethnic tradition - Englishness (or sometimes, more loosely, Britishness ... the non-appearance of the word English in an academic book I have which purports to celebrate Britain's various cultures. English ungood." And you wonder why the BNP are gaining support?
We need to start building in the community, around the issues that effect the community. We need to re-establish that any hope for a progressive alternative to the reactionaries of all colours is not to promote our differences, but to find what unites us.