Reflections of a Voice veteran as paper reaches 500th issue

by Roz Paterson • The Scottish Socialist Voice, the first socialist newspaper to be written and published in Scotland since Tom Johnstone’s Forward, is quite the grande dame now. Yet an independent journal, free from the constraints of advertising, and of collusion with the powers-that-be, has never been more important, or more worthy of support.

I joined the Voice staff in 2003, when it was all just kicking off. We had just had six SSP MSPs elected, including the inspirational Carolyn Leckie and Rosie Kane, our bid to introduce Free School Meals to every state school child in Scotland was making waves and gathering support from all corners, from pressure groups to celebrity chefs to cheeky radio personalities, and our principled opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq had earned us respect, increased our membership, and drawn vocal support from such luminaries as Mark Thomas and Ken Loach.

It was the hottest summer in decades, over 3000 people died in Paris because of it, and Loach, filming Ae Fond Kiss in Glasgow, found the blinding sunshine made for almost impossible filming conditions.
CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere were accelerating towards 380 parts per million, and climate scientists were raising the alarm on manmade climate change; this blazing, endless summer being a case in point.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that global temperatures were likely to keep rising, to between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees.

Meanwhile, following George W Bush’s ‘Shock and Awe’ bombing campaign over Baghdad, the Iraq Death Toll began to escalate and millions across Europe and America, who had marched so determinedly and hopefully against the war in the spring of that year, began to wonder what had happened to their democracy.

At the Voice, we kept Iraq in our sights, alongside the human cost of diverting millions of pounds and dollars of public money to the bottomless war chest.

Things were not getting better, not for young people trying to find meaningful, and paid, work; not for pensioners, struggling to pay for heating and food; not for refugees, seeking safety yet treated, by an increasingly racist Westminster government, like a bunch of chancers looking for the ‘good life’ on Housing Benefit.

Interviewing one of these economic ‘tourists’, in the single room he shared with two other men in Glasgow’s Cathcart, he talked of his isolation, the loss of his family, and his extreme poverty. His neighbours, also refugees, had sewn their mouths shut, in protest at the way their voices went unheard.

At the Voice, we met many refugees, desperate to avoid deportation. Some of them were sent ‘home’; others disappeared through the cracks, and we never saw them again. A few got to stay, and build their lives here.

We met many, many people, fighting the fight, including former miners in Netherthird, Cumnock, who had witnessed their community destroyed by Thatcher’s onslaught against the miners in 1984-5; the Cod Crusaders in Peterhead, two valiant women who presented a 250,000 signature petition, the largest ever, to Westminster and Brussels, calling for the restoration of national control over fishing grounds; Rose Gentle, from the community of Pollok in Glasgow, whose son Gordon was killed in Basra in 2004; and representatives from the SINALTRAINAL food workers’ trade union in Colombia, who pitted themselves against the might of Coca-Cola, despite the enormous odds against them, and despite the fact that, between 1986 and 2010, “on average, men and women trade unionists in Colombia have been killed at the rate of one every three days,” according to the International Trade Union Confederation, reporting in 2010.

We also met the elderly man who could no longer afford the charges to go swimming at his local pool, the families who had saved up for Farepak Christmas hampers, but were left high and dry when the company folded, the Soapworks strikers shivering on their Easterhouse picket line, the people, in short, who never make the papers because they don’t serve the narrative of free market capitalism.

For over five years, much of the SSP’s energy was consumed by the Tommy Sheridan saga, which finally ended in his being jailed for perjury in 2011.

Miraculously, the SSP survived to see our call for the abolition of prescription charges be taken up successfully by the Scottish Government, to participate in the campaign for a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum, and to see in the 500th issue of the paper many predicted would disappear in the rush to digital.

In 2017, we mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the point at which both this and the First World War start to slip from living memory.

There’s a belligerent businessman in the White House (when was there not?), an ailing Tory government in Westminster trying to hold Brexit together with some string and a bit of Kipling, CO2 concentrations have reached 400ppm, and Europe has had another heatwave to die for, literally.

Meanwhile, people are dying at the hands of a murderous austerity, kicked off benefits for arbitrary reasons, denied any chances in the brutish system we call the jobs and housing market, and educated to test, not to learn.

And the rich are now as rich as Rockerfellers, for the first time since the Rockerfellers. It is, once again, all kicking off.

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