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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Tanith Livingston -road protestor

Newbury Road Protest-9 Jan 1996 : Attempts to start clearance work on the route of the Newbury bypass are foiled when hundreds of security guards and contractors are prevented from leaving their overnight base by protestors perched on scaffold tripods.

Here are scans of three road protest related documents composed by Tanith Livingtson (1962-1996)

First set- Newbury 1996
Tanith (aka Pinki) last piece of direct action was posthumous. On 4 January 1996 she reflected on her experiences at the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp (from 1981 to 1984) to make some suggestions for the ongoing Newbury Road Protest. I typed them up on 5 January and took the pages through to show her in the bedroom ...only to discover that she was dead. However, thanks to her best friend Tinsel the suggestions got passed on and one of them- to blockade the bailiffs/ security guards/ contractors in their camp -was used successfully on 9 January.

Second set Bath 1994
In 1994 Tanith had been a protestor at the Bath Road Protest and been arrested- she reckoned it was her 24 'political' arrest. She was summoned to appear before Bath Magistrates Court 15 July 1994. Tanith had been a student at the London Schoolof Oriental and African Studies on and off since 1987 and had most recently passed courses on Public International Law and Law and the Environment.  She used this knowledge to construct a her defence based on international environmental law. However, although we all went down to Bath for the 15th, her case wasn't heard and seems to have been dropped.

Thirds set- Wanstead/ M11 1993
In 1993, Tanith was involved with the ant-M11 extension Road Protest at Wanstead in east London. The protestors occupied a couple of houses due for demolition and decided to declare independence for Wanstonia as they called it.[This was probably inspired by Frestonia ] Tanith decided to take this idea seriously and used her international law text books to explain how Wanstoniua could declare independence properly.

1. Newbury Road Protest 1995

2. Bath Road Protest 1994

3. M 11 Road Protest- Wanstead/ Wanstonia 1993 

The Peace Convoy 1986 Report

From 1986, a booklet about the Peace Convoy (new travellers) in the aftermath of the eviction of Molesworth Peace Camp and the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985. I contributed some discussion about punk and the 'bomb culture' (page 9). I met the authors Ann Morgan and Nick Mann at Glastonbury where survivors of Molesworth and the Beanfield were given refuge at Greenlands farm. This did not just create problem with the ordinary residents of Glastonbury. The 'new age' (crystals and mysticism) residents of  Glastonbury who had settled there since the late 60s and were  now almost respectable were also unsettled by the travellers. Although Ann Morgan and Nick Mann [author of 'The Cauldron and the Grail' 1985] were part of Galstonbury's mystical community, they were sympathetic to the travellers -hence this booklet. Bruce Garrard who is mentioned in the credits is still running his Unique Publications in Glastonbury.   

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Raw Power

Another bad day for the Stock Market

So it’s a mess. It would have been a mess either way the vote went. If it had been a Yes I was expecting an economic / sterling crisis. The No vote has postponed that crisis, but now we have a constitutional crisis which has the potential to tear the Union apart anyway.  You can‘t have a Union Parliament and ‘English votes for English laws’.

If there had been a Yes vote I would have been writing about a Scottish constitution and the problem of how to embed social and economic justice in it. The problem I was going to focus on was how to establish democratic power over economic power. Instead of that, here are some thoughts on  economic power and the British constitution .

The British constitution goes back to 1100 when king Henry I of England needed to legitimise his rule in the face of opposition from the barons, the Church and the recently conquered  (Anglo-Saxon) English .he did this by offering concessions to all three groups in a ‘Charter of Liberties’. In 1215, king John 1 of England had to make  similar concessions in order to legitimise his rule- the famous Magna Carta. One of the signatories was Alan, lord of Galloway and constable of Scotland. The aim of these charters was to resolve disputes between the centre represented by the king and peripheries represented by regionally powerful barons. The power of the barons was determined by  their military strength, which was influenced by  their wealth which was influenced by the agricultural/ economic  prosperity of the lands they owned.

Four hundred years on from Magna Carta, the English economy had developed and with it the English constitution. Now rent from land rather than military strength indicated the barons’ power. This power was exercised through the House of Lords. The beginnings of  ‘middle class’ also existed in the House of Commons, occupied by wealthier farmers and merchants. Taxation was the source of the constitutional conflict which led to a civil war across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The turmoil lasted  from  1638  to 1746-  from Charles I’s  first war against the Scots to the defeat of the Stuart cause at Culloden.

The end result, which included  the Union of Parliaments as a side effect, was an increase in the power of the English Parliament and a dramatic reduction in the power of British queens and kings.  However, the power of the new British Parliament was then challenged by the American colonies over a constitutional problem- taxation without representation. The new American state then adopted a written constitution.

The French had supported the American’s against the British but to meet the cost of this support the French needed to raise money through taxation.  To do this, an assembly called the Estates General which had not met since 1614 was summoned in 1787 by Louis XVI. This was done to bypass the Paris Parliament which was refusing to help the king. But, similar to the problems experienced by Charles I in England, the Estates General made demands on the king in exchange for agreeing to new taxes.

When these demands were refused a constitutional crisis broke out which led to a revolution and Louis XVI’s execution.  Like the revolutionaries in America, the French revolutionaries drafted a written constitution in 1793. This was ratified by a referendum but then replaced by a fresh constitution in 1795.

In Britain, the idea of a written constitution became associated with fears of revolution and democracy. The situation was further complicated by the industrial revolution which shifted economic power towards the midlands and north of England, to south Wales and to Scotland. The industrial revolution also led to the rapid growth of new industrial towns and cities although few of their inhabitants had the right to vote.

Gradually and grudgingly the constitutional system was reformed until representation in the House of Commons, but not the House of Lords, roughly matched the new economic and demographic reality. This created a rough balance of power between the financial interests of the City of London and the manufacturing regions. But as  the UK’s role as ‘workshop of the world’ declined, so economic power and hence political power shifted  to London as a centre of global finance. This process has speeded up over the past 35 years.

The central problem with this concentration of economic power in London is that because it is based on banking and financial services it relies on the confidence of global markets that London will remain a good place to do business. If that confidence wavers, London’s wealth will vanish in an instant. At the same time, given the problems of a global economy which is still struggling to  recover from  the collapse of confidence which occurred in 2008, London’s failure could well trigger another global crisis of capital.

"The British pound (also called the pound sterling) is one of the most economically and financially important currencies in the world. The pound is the fourth-most traded currency in terms of turnover and it is the third-most widely held reserve currencies among the countries of the world."

Any threat to the value of the British pound is therefore of international as well as local importance. The loss of export earnings from oil would have impacted on the British pound’s international status. That fear has now receded, but the constitutional crisis triggered by the No vote may also have an economic impact.

The problem here is that to maintain London as a centre of global finance requires huge investments in London’s infrastructure, including transport. But, as the Scottish independence campaign showed, this is at the expense not just of Scotland, but of other English regions, Wales and Northern Ireland. The ‘devolution all round’ demands from other parts of the UK which have emerged  in response to  the ‘vows’ of more power to Scotland conflict with the need to maintain investment in London. The political demands to rebalance the UK economy, to shift power away from London, are impossible demands.

It is very difficult to see how the UK’s  Londoncentric status quo can be maintained  in the face of  a UK wide constitutional crisis. If Scotland is not given more powers, then  pressure for independence will increase. But if Scotland is given more powers, then pressure for a shift of resources away from London will also increase. This risks checking London’s growth and disrupting economic policies designed to maintain London as a global financial centre.

A further constitutional conundrum is the idea of  ‘English Votes for English Laws’ as a solution to the West Lothian question.  Labour are against it because it would mean that even if  elected,  Scottish and Welsh Labour MPs  could not be used as lobby-fodder to push through reforming legislation affecting England. If more powers are transferred to Scotland, the scope of  EVEL would be increased.  The danger  for Labour in Scotland would be having a group of second class MPs with  no effective power.

The answer would be for Labour to win a majority  in England so they don’t have to rely on their Scottish and Welsh MPs. However to win in England Labour have to break out of their traditional heartlands and gain LibDem and Tory seats. That will be very difficult if Labour are seen as being ‘soft on the Scots’ - which they need to be to win seats in Scotland. Even in their traditional heartlands, Labour could suffer if they are seen as neglecting deprived areas of England by failing to promise them equivalent devolved powers.

To conclude.

Constitutional history is rooted in civil wars and revolutions. Constitutional change is driven by crises of legitimacy, by an old order trying to hang on to power or a new order seeking to establish itself. Changes in constitutions reflect changes in the structures of power and the balance between economic and political power.

In the nineteenth century, the present ‘unwritten’ UK constitution was forced to adapt itself to economic and demographic changes which  followed the industrial revolution  The UK is no longer a significant industrial power but it is, via the City of London, a key part of the global financial system. Economic power dictates that the rest of the UK is drained of resources in order to maintain  this status.

The fearful desperation which drove the No campaign to hold onto Scotland at all costs was driven by the nightmare scenario of a loss of global confidence in UK plc and the British pound. That moment of fear has passed, but the slowly unfolding constitutional crisis which victory has wrought will be no less damaging.
Stop the City flyer from 1983

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Making an exhibition of my book.

Image of iron furnaces from 1853 plus text from book
For the launch of my book - on sale here -there will be an event and exhibition in September 2014. It will be held at the  Workshop Gallery in Castle Douglas (where I live in Scotland). The gallery is attached to my brothers’ furniture restoration/making workshop.

The plan is to illustrate the themes of the book with a collection of graphic images. I have done a quick trawl through images I have but they will need to be whittled down to 12 or so. There will also be some of my daughter Elizabeth’s paintings. Elizabeth designed the cover image of my book.

The chapters in the book began life as a series of blog posts for Radical Independence Dumfries and Galloway. Reading through them in print there are three phases of history  present

I. Deep history
This  phase runs from the origins of feudal land ownership in Scotland a nearly  thousand years ago when Scots kings borrowed the idea from the Normans in England. This phase carries on through taking in the Reformation, the ‘English’ civil war, the Jacobite rebellions, the Scottish Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and  reaches the present with the idea that the aim of Scottish independence is a democratic revolution .

2. Modern history
This phase covers the past 40 years. The argument here is that the radical possibilities of the 1970s, which could have pushed the post-war social democratic consensus towards a more sustainable society through a combination of social, economic and ecological justice, were  blocked by a neoliberal counter-revolution. More than blocked, the radical possibilities were actively suppressed. The problem here is that I link together what were quite separate ‘alternatives’ at the time- for example punk and the proto-Green radical technology movement .

3. Immediate history
This is where I am responding to, for example, Nigel Farage of Ukip being run out of Edinburgh last year. It is where I try to bring  the deep  history and modern history phases into alignment with the as yet unknown outcome of the Scottish independence referendum vote on 18 September.

To overcome the ‘too long, didn’t read’ problem, the text of the original blog posts is broken up by the insertion of images every 500 words or so.  Although there are illustrations/images in the booklet there are far fewer. The idea of the book launch exhibition is to re-illustrate the book  with a set of powerful/striking images.

Here are some of the possible exhibition images,

From the 'School Kids Oz' 1970

South Scotland Bio-sphere Reserve

Stop the City

Nigel Farage plus Sex Pistols/Jamie Reid graphic

Wind farm


Airds Moss, Ayrshire- monument to Richard Cameron and his followers
 killed after declaring war on Charles II in 1680.

Tipping the Slag by Edwin Butler Bayliss 1870-1950

Coal miner working narrow wet seam, Lanarkshire 1950s
The Mob- Kill Your Pet Puppy 1981
Lugar Iron Works 1858- close to Airds Moss above

Original art work for  Mob album
Let the Tribe Increase, 1983

Poll tax riot Trafalgar Square 1990 plus Situationist text

Situationist image on cover of International Times no.26.