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Gaza

Binyamin Netanyahu <em>Picture: Russian Federation press office</em>

Binyamin Netanyahu Picture: Russian Federation press office

President Barack Obama’s vision of a new Middle East, unveiled this week in the midst of the Arab Spring and in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden, has left Israel wondering how it is going to fit in.

This was not a soundbite or a media interview – this was the president of the United States addressing the world from a pulpit in the State Department. No amount of future spin will undo what he has set forth as US policy, which is to back all democracy movements across the Arab world, but at the same time has left Israel with a desperate conundrum: how can Israel continue to refuse to return to its pre-Six Day War borders without confronting its greatest benefactor?

Binyamin Netanyahu may have rejected outright Obama’s policy – is it possible that he didn’t see it coming? – but it is hard to see what the Israeli prime minister can do about it other than hope that Obama’s words will be forgotten by the media after his visit to Washington is overtaken by other events, so that he can start stalling for time yet again. For now, this is the reality he will have to live with.

Obama insists that in any peace settlement Israel must feel secure within its borders, but it is clear that in his view turning the clock back to 1967 is a starting point for any meaningful negotiations to end decades of strife and bring about the creation of a Palestinian state. But does Netanyahu want a Palestinian state? He seems quite at home with the decades-old status quo of brinkmanship involving conflict, followed by negotiations, followed by conflict, followed by more negotiations, ad infinitum.

Netanyahu says the 1967 borders would be indefensible for Israel, and claims the Bush administration guaranteed in 2004 that Israel would not have to withdraw, not least because some major Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria would be left stranded in a new Palestinian state.

Obama, who ignored the vexed question of what to do with Jerusalem, has admitted to aides that he expects Netanyahu to have a hard time trying to sell the withdrawal plan back home – but he wants to build on other developments in the region, such as a unity deal signed between Fatah and Hamas earlier this month, which for now, at least, has repaired the bitter rift between the two Palestinian movements which are dominant in the West Bank and Gaza respectively. The agreement removed the Israeli complaint that it cannot talk peace with the Palestinians because it doesn’t know who to negotiate with.

And, with US pressure mounting on Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to stop persecuting pro-democracy activists; Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi’s regime now closer to crumbling; democrats in Egypt and Tunisia promised US support; and Bahrain’s regime coming in for harsh criticism from Obama (even as David Cameron greeted Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa at Downing Street), Netanyahu’s intransigence looks oddly out of place in a changing world – more akin to the antics of the Arab despots he so despises but who are no longer there or will be departing soon.

Israel has long boasted, and rightly so, that it is the only truly democratic state in the Middle East. That seems to be changing, but Netanyahu has said little about these developments – does he fear the birth of Arab democracies, or suspect that they will fail only to pose a greater future threat to his country? Either way, it is out of his hands.

The Israeli leader has bitter opponents at home, where liberals – and there are many – have accused him of turning his country into a pariah state. Netanyahu has a chance to make history, treading carefully as he must, in the direction of a new Middle East order, which Obama at least clearly believes is unfolding. But will he?

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Bashar al-Assad <em>Picture: Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr</em>

Bashar al-Assad Picture: Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr

Syria’s embattled dictator, Bashar al-Assad, looks set for a continued confrontation with anti-government protesters after he reneged on a pledge to lift a state of emergency that was put in place in 1963. Instead, he appealed this week to Syrians for national unity in the face of violence which he says is instigated by “foreign” parties carrying out an Israeli agenda.

That appeal seems likely to fall on deaf ears. Assad, 45 – who has ruled Syria since the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000 – accepted his cabinet’s resignation on Tuesday after two weeks of unrest in which at least 60 people were killed. However, the inner workings of a cabinet where power is concentrated in Assad’s hands are meaningless to most Syrians, and pro-democracy activists have called for the “free people of Syria” to stage sit-ins across the country on Friday.

For now, Assad, a British-trained ophthalmologist, may not be that worried. Tens of thousands took to the streets in his support this week, though the demonstrations looked staged. World leaders meeting in London diverged slightly from the text (and legality) of UN Resolution 1973 to pledge to continue to bomb Muammar al-Gaddafi’s forces in the Libyan civil war, but let Assad off the hook, at least for the time being.

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Assad will have drawn encouragement from statements by the US State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, acknowledging that the Syrian leader had “claimed the mantle of reform” (he was referring to financial reforms, though the US was still waiting for him to deliver on the political front), and from Nick Clegg, who on a visit to Mexico said “it is not now the role of the international community to try and intervene directly in every country”.

Perhaps not, but that doesn’t mean that whatever happens in Syria can’t have a profound effect on the entire region.

At the root of the protests, which were fanned by the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and which began in the southern city of Deraa, is the Sunni Muslim majority’s aim to put an end to 50 years of minority Shia Alawite rule. Though granted some concessions by Assad in recent years, the Sunni opposition is intent on settling old scores with the regime, which had thousands killed in the 1980s when Assad’s father Hafez was in power. However, the armed forces, too, are under Alawite control.

The Syrian security machine is well-oiled and could preserve the status quo for months or even years, but Bashar Assad has always been a more conciliatory leader than his father – hence the West’s patience so far. The concern in Western capitals is that should the Alawite regime fall, it could plunge the Middle East into sectarian fighting on a scale not seen since the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s.

Though it is not clear what kind of regime would replace Assad’s if he fell, his departure would sever Damascus’s close link with Tehran and weaken Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza in their confrontation with Israel. This does not mean, however, that peace would instantly reign in the region.

Iran would be averse to losing an ally which has been useful as a buffer to US and Israeli influence, and might find other means of backing its allies. Turkey, which in recent years has forged close ties with Damascus as it tries to extend its influence in the Arab world, might also take a dim view of any change in Damascus.

Then there is Israel. Assad offered to resume peace talks with Israel, but with the condition that it withdraw from the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Six Day War. However, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected the offer, and he is even less likely to hand the Heights back now, when the perception is that Assad’s regime has been weakened by an internal uprising and could eventually collapse.

In fact, Netanyahu may even be tempted to embark on another adventure, when the world is focused on the Libyan civil war, and attack Lebanon and Gaza yet again to dispose of Hezbollah and Hamas. What would the West, not to mention Iran, do then?

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Dr Bill Wilson MSP

Dr Bill Wilson MSP

By Bill Wilson

Recently I had an article in the Scottish Left Review, also published on a number of websites. It described the horrific situation in Fallujah in Iraq, where women have been advised to avoid becoming pregnant due to the very high risk of gross birth deformities in their children.

It is notable that the first signs that something odd was happening (changing birth-gender ratios) appeared shortly after the first Gulf war. Since then, evidence has been mounting that a significant factor in the very high level of genetic abnormalities is the use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons.

I mention the events in Fallujah not because it is an isolated case, but because the situation – doctors advising an entire city of women not to become pregnant – is so extreme. However, the use of DU was not limited to Fallujah. In Basra there is a new cancer hospital, necessary due to the substantial rise in childhood cancers, and man’s inhumanity to man extends beyond Iraq.

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Think of the nations of the former Yugoslavia, think Gaza, think Afghanistan. Does it stop even there? Once in a while dust will arrive in Scotland from North Africa. Once DU particles enter the water, once they become dust, where does the pollution end?

Even if the dust never arrives, the effects will. Our servicemen and women are no more immune from breathing in, or drinking, the DU particles than are the civilians in the target zones. Of course the Ministry of Defence and the US Department of Defense continue to deny that DU presents a risk. Yet the Italian government paid some 170 million euros in compensation to their soldiers, and a coroner’s report in the UK quite specifically identified DU as the cause of death.

However, it is not my intention to discuss the evidence or effects of DU here. Those interested can check my home page, or can read the Scottish Left Review.

This article looks specifically at disinformation. When challenging the vested interests of the powerful, it is not unusual to have to deal with disinformation campaigns – think of smoking and climate change, for example. Such campaigns are fairly standard. So that there is no room for doubt, I am not referring to genuine scientific debate, but specifically to disinformation:

1 – the use of errors in minor details to cast doubt upon an entire case;
2 – the distortion/misrepresentation of facts;
3 – the creation of new facts lacking any evidence for such (which might also be referred to as lying);
4 – character assassination.

It did not take long for me to become aware of a disinformation campaign surrounding DU and its effects. Perhaps the first clear indication I had was from a former US colonel, who wrote an angry email noting that the DU campaign was based on lies, that the use of the word “weapon” was misleading, and that “There is no such thing as a uranium weapon. That is [the] term that they made up to make DU kinetic energy penetrators look like weapons of mass destruction instead of tank killing bullets”.

As the argument goes, it certainly fits into category 2, as I cannot really see any difference between a bullet and a weapon. There is an attempt at 1, as even if a bullet is not a weapon the end result, particularly with DU, is the same. And certainly 3, as DU is also used in “bunker busters” and other munitions used to attack buildings and is not restricted to use against tanks. (Hence its use in Gaza, where the Palestinians have a distinct lack of tanks.)

In case you think that I am splitting hairs, I should note that this self-same US colonel went on to argue that DU could not have been used at Fallujah because there were “no tank battles in Fallujah”. In effect, he was using the “fact” that DU was only used in anti-tank shells to cast doubt on their use in Fallujah. Thus the point is not one of hair-splitting, but rather more significant than that. All this within a matter of hours of my dipping my toe into the DU nightmare!

Dr Doug Rokke is a retired US Army major. He was appointed by the Pentagon to devise the protocols in handling DU, and how/if it might safely be used. Dr Rokke duly provided the Pentagon with the required report and protocols. He also had responsibility for the limited clear-up of some sites in Iraq. There is a tragic side to this, as Dr Rokke, an honourable and decent man, is seriously ill, and many of his team are dead or likewise seriously ill. Dr Rokke has no doubt as to the source of their ill-health: DU does not just affect civilians.

Why the detour to describe Dr Rokke and his team? Well, the disinformation did not stop at modifying or redefining facts. It went on from there. I was reading a blog article on DU and glanced at the responses below. I was immediately confused. A respondent angrily attacked Doug Rokke because he had been supporting the DU lobby in viciously attacking him when the respondent had written on DU. This was bizarre, really bizarre.

Dr Rokke was actually accused of working with a man who had regularly smeared him. More confusing was that the arch anti-DU campaigner had suddenly become a DU supporter. What the heck was going on? It was clear that the original author of the blog was equally dumfounnart – to use the Scots word for dumbfounded.

There followed a confused and lengthy exchange between the blog author and the respondent. It moved on to the respondent wondering about Dr Rokke’s email address, as his IP address seemed similar to that of a notorious DU supporter. To cut a long story short, the respondent concluded with: “I am now watching the real Doug Rokke on YouTube”.

Somebody had gone out of their way to make it appear that Doug Rokke was working with the pro-DU lobby. This of a man seriously ill from the effects of DU, who is furious that the Pentagon has ignored his advice and protocols – insult to injury!

The above would certainly fall into my fourth category of disinformation: character assassination. A pretty unpleasant form of character assassination, given the circumstances. But of course it does not stop there. I have received a large number of emails specifically attacking the qualifications and character of various individuals with whom I have corresponded, or to whom I have referred in my articles/press releases.

Doug Rokke is specifically accused of having lied about his army service, lied about his depleted DU findings, and having very unpleasant connections (apparently somebody he knew had written something which may have used something else which may have come from an organisation with dubious repute – no, seriously!), and finally he is accused of smearing the man who sent me the email smearing Dr Rokke. I assume the latter works on the principle of distracting people from your own thieving by shouting, “Catch the thief!”

I have concentrated on Dr Rokke not because he is the only individual about whom I have received unpleasant (and dishonest) allegations, but rather because he seems to have earned the most vitriol.

Having become rather tired of all this, I wrote to the US ambassador asking if the individual who had been putting out many of the smears (I named him in the letter) worked for or had worked for the US government. I await the reply with anticipation.

Let me end with some useful Arabian advice for Doug Rokke and my other correspondents fighting for justice: “Tell the truth, but keep one foot in the stirrup”.

- Dr Bill Wilson is a list MSP for the West of Scotland.

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Laurel & HardyLast week, I began this sketch with a complaint about having to listen to porkies in Parliament. By a curious, almost cosmically mystical coincidence, it was also one of those rare occasions in which I thought Labour leader Elmer Fudd had made a good point. Oh, I should have known better. Silly, silly, silly me. But one desperately wants to be fair to the hopeless clot.

Readers will recall his claim that the youth employment agency, Skills Development Scotland, was going to rebrand itself as Scotland: The Works, at a cost of £0.5 million for new notepaper and £1.7 million for marketing. Elmer had the documentation and everything. Unfortunately, he might as well have brandished a bookie’s line, as the organisation had already rejected the name-change idea.

Flustered, Elmer later said he had another document showing it had indeed changed its name – while the organisation said it hadn’t – but declined to provide this in public, perhaps (and, in the absence of any better explanation, I am guessing here) because the Labour mole who leaked it might be identified. Or perhaps because the name-change couldn’t possibly be true.

To be fair, if the organisation was using expressions like “visual identity transition” and “brand migration plan”, then it should be wound up and its top staff imprisoned indefinitely. At any rate, in future, rest assured I’ll preface any backing for Mr Fudd with the words “Assuming he’s got his facts right … “.

It’s correct to say that it was a lovely sunny day outside today at Holyrood. There were rozzers everywhere. Unable to get into my usual cark park at Holyrood Palace, I hailed a constable. “Good morning, orifice. What’s afoot?” “Prince Charles is here. And your tax disc needs renewing.” “Splendid. Keep up the good work.” Embarrassing or what?

Meanwhile, in the Hall of Embarrassments, or Parliament debating chamber, we waited for Fudd’s latest offering. Really, he has only two choices: more of these truth-free “scoops” (anyone remember Balmoralgate?); or blaming the Eck for minor earthquakes in the Andes, adolescents with skin complaints and the fact that a lavatory in a Glasgow hospital was blocked for 15 minutes.

He began: “Presiding orifice, this week no surprises, no leaked documents” – no apologies – “just the Scottish Government’s own official figures on how many new teachers have found jobs.” Very few, according to Elmer, and that was “a disgrace”. It’s certainly odd that, at a time of UK-wide fiscal crisis and harsh cutbacks in spending, someone can’t get a job in the public sector. It’s mystifying.

First Minister Eck Salmond said 90 per cent of new teachers were finding jobs, and that pedagogical unemployment was lower in Scotia than the rest of the UK. Elmer said most of those finding jobs were supply teachers, sitting at home waiting for the phone to go.

Eck said the only way you could change the situation was to take funding away from other sectors. Where would Mr F suggest? The NHS? “[The] position of the Labour Party … is that we should increase all funding everywhere. And that is simply an extraordinary, untenable and ridiculous position.”

Eck accused Elmer of “crocodile tears”, adding that, oddly enough, the lowest rates of new teacher employment were in areas with Labour cooncils.

Elmer was irate. “Don’t accuse me of crocodile tears!” Oh, all right. Crocodile tears. Damn. Forgot already.

“It’s a Salmond shambles,” the leading Fuddite added. Ah, the old alliteration gambit. Shouldn’t that be a Shalmond shambles, Mr Moneypenny? Fudd’s fantastical floccinaucinihilipilification (real word: the act of describing something as worthless) continued with this bombshell analysis: “Is this the First Eck’s message to young people: if you want to be a teacher or nurse, emigrate?”

Why just a nurse or a teacher? Anybody would want to emigrate from this nuthouse of a country.

In Bedlam Avenue, meanwhile, Tory leader Annabel Goldie peeked out from her suburban hedge and demanded: “So what on Earth is going wrong in Kinloch Rannoch?” Good Lord, I’ve no idea. What was this? Something out of Take The High Road? She went on: “Why is the health secretary refusing to speak to the people of Kinloch Rannoch?” Nicola Sturgeon, the health secretary under advisement, looked totally fogged.

Eck looked equally baffled, but averred that community representatives from the aforementioned Kinloch R had met the parliament’s health committee. Karen Whitefield (Lab), meanwhile, was bawling away like a demented infant, forcing Alex “Hercules” Fergusson, the presiding orifice, to bring down his mighty club and warn: “I have had enough individual interventions from sedentary positions for the time being, thank you.” From her arse-based perspective, Karen looking guilty. By her side was Cathy Craigie (Lab), who was even worse. What a horrible high-pitched noise. She sounded like a sozzled Stan Laurel sitting on a tack after inhaling a large dose of helium.

Not all Labour MSPs are as bad. True, in front of these two harpies sat David “The Thug” Whitton, Duncan “Disorderly” McNeil, and Helen “Two Braincells” Eadie. But behind Karen and Cathy sat Richard Simpson, Malcolm Chisholm, Patricia Ferguson, Pauline McNeill, and that wee studenty wife, an aisle of sanity in the chaotic sea of bile around them. Wendy Alexander, meanwhile, just sits and reads the whole time.

Annabel was on up on her sensible brogues again: “The question I asked was about out of hours GP cover.” Good. Glad we cleared that one up. She wondered how many other rural areas were as unmedicated as Kinloch Rannoch. “Does he know?” Loud groans from the Nats’ front bench, possibly at the absurdity of the increasing number of “does he know” questions. “How many elderly men in the Anstruther area have syphilis? Does he not know? Eh? Eh?” Or it might have been, as the Eck explained, that the out-of-hours farce was created by the previous Labour administration.

The aformentioned Pauline M, one of those Labour MSPs with some dignity about them, rose to raise concerns about events in Gaza, a politically generous gesture since it risked making Scotland look like a normal country that might have a view on international affairs. She explained this by pointing out that “the First Eck is responsible for the general welfare of all Scots”, some of whom (one in her constituency) were involved.

Eck said he’d already sent a stiff letter to the Israeli ambassador (a missive treated, one imagines, with the same rapt attention as a letter to the Treasury). For this, and other gestures of disapprobation, he won sporting applause from Pauline and some of her colleagues.

Tory deputy leader Murdo Fraser asked the Eck about plans for another Homecoming in 2014. Eck thanked Murdo – normally a stickler for Queen, Union, and Glasgow Rangers – for his interest and drew attention to his recent press release, in which he stunned the nation by saying Bannockburn should be the centre of the celebrations. Eck said this made sense, since it would be the 700th anniversary of “a pivotal moment in Scottish history”.

Murdo then produced his hidden dagger and made a point about Nat ministers allegedly conspiring to dump a tourism boss. Shocking business. All together now: “Assuming it is true!” Eck said it was pish, and had more fun with Murdo’s press release, which called Bannockburn a significant Scottish victory against the English”. You could see Labour hackles rising at the very idea. Eck concluded: “Can I welcome Murdo to the cause?”

Murdo smiled wryly. Ten minutes later, outside in the sunshine, the Labour MSPs were cheesing away for a group photo. A tourist asked me: “What are they doing?”

“It’s for a progamme called Crimewatch,” I explained. “They’re among the suspects in The Case of the Missing Name-Change.”

STUC logoBy David Calder

The Scottish Trades Union Congress meets in Dundee today for the start of its annual gathering. It does so during an election campaign and thus will attract more than its usual attention. But in the current political and economic climate, how relevant is what they have to say?

Not so very long ago, newspapers and broadcasters would not exactly hang on every word which came from Congress House, but at least report it regularly. Today, an internet search suggests they attract less attention. And the papers are more often than not likely to raise questions about its policies.

Towards the end of last year for instance, they reported on the controversial call to Celtic fans to wave Palestinian flags during a football match against Israeli team Hapoel Tel Aviv. The aim was to protest at Israel’s invasion of Gaza. But it lead to an accusation of bias, if not outright anti-semitism.

As an organisation, the STUC, like the CBI and other pressure groups, is an essential part of the democratic framework of Scotland. It’s the co-ordinating body of trade unions, and local trades councils, in Scotland. Recent figures suggest that it represents over 600,000 workers in Scotland through some 39 affiliated unions.

It certainly works hard on behalf of key groups. For instance, the “Close the Gap” campaign seeks to reduce the gender gap in pay. Women in Scotland earn 14 per cent less than men and those working part-time earn up to 33 per cent less per hour than men’s equivalent rate. This, the STUC says, is bad for women, bad for business, and bad for Scotland’s economy.

It also has a strong role in education through Scottish Union Learning. The aim is to provide support to member unions to help spread the lifelong learning message to the workforce throughout the country, working in partnership with colleges, universities, sector skills councils and other bodies.

So the president, Martin Keenan, is quite right when he says that “… its opinions are sought from a wide range of sources including the Scottish Government, the Scottish shadow cabinet, senior civil servants, employers’ organisations, MPs and faith groups.”

But when it gets actively involved in party politics, some of its thinking seems to reflect a desire to march steadfastly to the Left and, quite possibly, the past rather than the future. Parts of Mr Keenan’s speech are blatant electioneering, especially when he talks of the “anti-trade union, anti -working class, service cutting, blood-sucking Tories – albeit dressed in a more subtle shade of blue”.

It’s also shown up not in the manifesto’s analysis of current affairs but its proffered solutions. It’s quite right in declaring that “history shows that withdrawing fiscal stimulus too early can cause double-dip recession – or even a depression. Introducing cuts now, will curtail any nascent recovery, restrict job opportunities and wreak social havoc in future years given the impact of extended periods of unemployment on individuals, families and communities.”

However, the idea of renationalising the railways and bringing the bailed-out banks into public ownership is, frankly, pie in the sky. And its plea for investment in public services is unlikely to find favour with whichever of the political parties wins the general election next month.

But that is exactly what this manifesto wants to do – to challenge the orthodox thinking. As Grahame Smith, the general secretary, makes clear: “Whilst there are certainly differences between the political parties on the speed and severity of spending cuts, they appear to share the mistaken view that deficit reduction should be the priority.

“To achieve a lasting economic recovery we need policies which can bring about a more fundamental rebalancing of the economy than is currently being proposed.”

There’s no doubt that the STUC has a role in politics. The movement gave birth to the Labour Party after all, and its money has helped Labour fight election campaigns for generations. But union members come in all shades of political opinion. At least one of the delegates at Dundee has already admitted that she has already voted SNP in the Scottish Election and may do so again on 6 May. It’s also worth recalling that the old Scottish Unionist Party won a majority of the popular vote before it merged with the Tories about 50 years ago.

For Martin Keenan himself, there may also be a sense of frustration. In any other year, he would probably have taken great pleasure in lambasting the current administration for betraying its working class roots (or some similar phrase). In the midst of an election, he must surely feel that in itself would be some kind of betrayal. So he limits his criticism to saying: “Many think that Labour has let them down, and perhaps it has – but the alternative is a million times worse.”

So how relevant is the STUC is the current economic and political climate? For a healthy debate on economics and politics, a broad spectrum of thinking is essential. If the STUC didn’t exist, someone would have to invent it or something rather like it. The views expressed at Dundee need to be carefully listened to, and taken seriously.

STUC logoBy David Calder

The Scottish Trades Union Congress meets in Dundee today for the start of its annual gathering. It does so during an election campaign and thus will attract more than its usual attention. But in the current political and economic climate, how relevant is what they have to say?

Not so very long ago, newspapers and broadcasters would not exactly hang on every word which came from Congress House, but at least report it regularly. Today, an internet search suggests they attract less attention. And the papers are more often than not likely to raise questions about its policies.

Towards the end of last year for instance, they reported on the controversial call to Celtic fans to wave Palestinian flags during a football match against Israeli team Hapoel Tel Aviv. The aim was to protest at Israel’s invasion of Gaza. But it lead to an accusation of bias, if not outright anti-semitism.

As an organisation, the STUC, like the CBI and other pressure groups, is an essential part of the democratic framework of Scotland. It’s the co-ordinating body of trade unions, and local trades councils, in Scotland. Recent figures suggest that it represents over 600,000 workers in Scotland through some 39 affiliated unions.

It certainly works hard on behalf of key groups. For instance, the “Close the Gap” campaign seeks to reduce the gender gap in pay. Women in Scotland earn 14 per cent less than men and those working part-time earn up to 33 per cent less per hour than men’s equivalent rate. This, the STUC says, is bad for women, bad for business, and bad for Scotland’s economy.

It also has a strong role in education through Scottish Union Learning. The aim is to provide support to member unions to help spread the lifelong learning message to the workforce throughout the country, working in partnership with colleges, universities, sector skills councils and other bodies.

So the president, Martin Keenan, is quite right when he says that “… its opinions are sought from a wide range of sources including the Scottish Government, the Scottish shadow cabinet, senior civil servants, employers’ organisations, MPs and faith groups.”

But when it gets actively involved in party politics, some of its thinking seems to reflect a desire to march steadfastly to the Left and, quite possibly, the past rather than the future. Parts of Mr Keenan’s speech are blatant electioneering, especially when he talks of the “anti-trade union, anti -working class, service cutting, blood-sucking Tories – albeit dressed in a more subtle shade of blue”.

It’s also shown up not in the manifesto’s analysis of current affairs but its proffered solutions. It’s quite right in declaring that “history shows that withdrawing fiscal stimulus too early can cause double-dip recession – or even a depression. Introducing cuts now, will curtail any nascent recovery, restrict job opportunities and wreak social havoc in future years given the impact of extended periods of unemployment on individuals, families and communities.”

However, the idea of renationalising the railways and bringing the bailed-out banks into public ownership is, frankly, pie in the sky. And its plea for investment in public services is unlikely to find favour with whichever of the political parties wins the general election next month.

But that is exactly what this manifesto wants to do – to challenge the orthodox thinking. As Grahame Smith, the general secretary, makes clear: “Whilst there are certainly differences between the political parties on the speed and severity of spending cuts, they appear to share the mistaken view that deficit reduction should be the priority.

“To achieve a lasting economic recovery we need policies which can bring about a more fundamental rebalancing of the economy than is currently being proposed.”

There’s no doubt that the STUC has a role in politics. The movement gave birth to the Labour Party after all, and its money has helped Labour fight election campaigns for generations. But union members come in all shades of political opinion. At least one of the delegates at Dundee has already admitted that she has already voted SNP in the Scottish Election and may do so again on 6 May. It’s also worth recalling that the old Scottish Unionist Party won a majority of the popular vote before it merged with the Tories about 50 years ago.

For Martin Keenan himself, there may also be a sense of frustration. In any other year, he would probably have taken great pleasure in lambasting the current administration for betraying its working class roots (or some similar phrase). In the midst of an election, he must surely feel that in itself would be some kind of betrayal. So he limits his criticism to saying: “Many think that Labour has let them down, and perhaps it has – but the alternative is a million times worse.”

So how relevant is the STUC is the current economic and political climate? For a healthy debate on economics and politics, a broad spectrum of thinking is essential. If the STUC didn’t exist, someone would have to invent it or something rather like it. The views expressed at Dundee need to be carefully listened to, and taken seriously.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. <em>Picture: Randam</em>

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Picture: Randam

Israel is carefully watching a crackdown by the Turkish government on the country’s staunchly secular armed forces, with observers warning that Turkey no longer regards Iran as an enemy, and one newspaper suggesting a coup might be the way out of the crisis.

Turkish General Saldiray Berk, commander of the 3rd Army, on Tuesday became the first serving general to be arrested in connection with an alleged plot to destabilise the Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

A state prosecutor, Ilhan Cihaner, who had been investigating Islamist networks in Turkey, was also arrested in the government’s attempt to root out members of what Turkish media has described as an ultra-nationalist movement known as Ergenekon, of which Berk is alleged to be the leader.

Over 200 people, including retired generals, lawyers and journalists, have been already been charged in connection with the organisation.

Israel and Turkey have held close links for years, partly because both share Western-style governments. The relationship is also strategic, with the Turkish armed forces seeking to distance the country from Sunni and Shiite Islamist fundamentalism.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, has edged away from this traditional policy, and in 2008 the constitutional court found the AKP guilty of attempting to turn Turkey from a secular into an Islamist state, though Erdogan and his party were not closed down. Relations with Israel took a turn for the worse when Israel’s war in Gaza in 2008 broke out just as Erdogan was playing “honest broker” in secret talks between Israel and Syria. The talks broke down as a result of the Israeli invasion.

Israel’s wars in Lebanon and Gaza have put most Turks at odds with their own armed forces.

Israeli analyst Shlomo Brom, told the Christian Science Monitor last month that Israel had noted that “Turkey’s military is no longer calling all the shots. Things have changed because there isn’t the same perception … that we have common enemies. Turkey is no longer looking at Iran as their enemy, as they did then.”

The Jerusalem Post today described the crackdown as the most severe crisis since Mustafa Kemal Attatürk founded the secular republic in 1923, saying “the denouement has major implications for Muslims everywhere.

“The AKP [has] thrown down the gauntlet, leaving the military leadership basically with two unattractive options: (1) continue selectively to acquiesce to the AKP and hope that fair elections by 2011 will terminate and reverse this process; or (2) stage a coup d’état, risking voter backlash and increased Islamist electoral strength…”

The Post seemed to be calling for the latter when it added: “AKP domination of the military means Islamists control the country’s most powerful secular institution, proving that, for the moment, they are unstoppable. But if the military retains its independence, Atatürk’s vision will remain alive in Turkey and offer Muslims worldwide an alternative to the Islamist juggernaut.”

BBC6 logoThe BBC have left the door open for public protests to bring a reprieve to the end of digital radio station BBC6 music.

The next 18 months are about to tell us whether Mildly Narked of Dennistoun is going to have the same impact on the BBC as Disgusted of Turnbridge Wells.

While complaints from (largely but not exclusively) the latter saw off Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, the power of the former – the kind of young protester, the Twitterati who scared the life out of Jan Moir and Trafigura – is about to be gauged.

The Beeb has just confirmed what someone at the Corporation must have leaked to The Times last Friday, that 6Music and the Asian Network face the axe in 2011.

On a podcast in the Guardian a BBC spokesman said that the BBC could be master of its own destiny by making cuts now. This statement also appears to give people room to protest in the face of anger over the decision.

Therefore, 6Music could be given a reprieve.

Unlikely partners from Conservative Shadow Arts Minister Ed Vaizey to David Bowie are begging for the station to be saved. As politicians and newspapers are less interested in the thoughts of folk who aren’t thirty-fortysomething white blokes or rock stars, the Asian Network is unlikely to have as many media cheerleaders.

The Asian Network is not so much of an entertainment channel as much as a community proposition (yes, you did just hear the sound of a writer passing the buck) and so we’ll stick to 6Music here.

Despite Vaizey’s support, 6Music’s endangered species status is widely attributed to the idea of an impending Conservative government. Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, no stranger to slagging off the BBC when it suits him, has pointed out that a Tory win is not inevitable (Listen to broadcast here) although to quote Mandy Rice-Davies, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

What happens at the polls in May can be safely left to Hamish, Rab and The Caledonian Mercury’s politics team. Here is what, in association with our friends at Total Guesswork Inc, could be ahead
further into the future, if 6Music does bite the bullet:-

1 John Peel, like Elvis and Nick Drake, will grow in status after his death. Any music fans all over the world old enough to remember John Peel could well look at the post-6Music BBC radio output with a deep-seated ferocity and loathing. Fearne Cotton and Vernon Kay may do well to face the brickbats redirected from 6Music fans who stopped throwing them at George Lamb.

In terms of new music champions, Nick Grimshaw, friend of Peaches Geldof and Kelly Osbourne, and current holder of the late night R1 torch, does not cut the mustard.

R2′s Radcliffe and Maconie are excellent, but operate looser and more freely as individual units than they do together. What Huw Stephens, Bethal Elfyn and Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway broadcast will have greater resonance and meaning to new bands in Wales and Scotland.

The way music is introduced, streamed and distributed on the internet has already been happening for a while but any dissolution of 6Music would accelerate matters. It took a whole station, 6Music, to incorporate everything that was good about Peel- breaking new acts, freewheeling musical ideas, slightly haphazard banter in a warm relationship with his audience.

If that is lost, the two main radio stations will be under much greater scrutiny from new music fans for vital signs. That’s the new music fans not entirely online who would need to use Google before they knew what Radio 1 is.

2 The axe will be sharpened on other parts of the BBC. Commercial media rivals will be pleased that BBC’s online commitments have shrunk, and that radio stations have been shed. They’re unlikely to leave it at that. The Corporation will likely have to sell its Lonely Planet guides, there will be calls for ads on the major networks like R1 to be privatised, product placement on EastEnders and for local news operations to share resources with the commmercial equivalents.

If you think Rupert Murdoch hates the BBC, son and likely heir James
isn’t exactly in the fan club either

3 Mark Thompson is unlikely to be forgiven – or possibly spared his job. The Director General is the man who reacted to the Jonathan Ross problem (anger over the arrogance of a man who cost licence-payers too much money) by hiring a private jet from Italy to deal with the problem. The man who can’t tell that the Disasters Emergeny Committee do essential, non-partisan humanitarian work and cancelled a life-saving appeal out of cowardice of protesters, enraging thousands including Lifelong British Labour party figurehead Tony Benn.

Tony Benn to BBC “If you wont broadcast the Gaza appeal then I will myself” A man who has concluded that 6Music’s niche but unique offering could be replicated by commercial radio (has he listened to it recently?) and the BBC3 should do “more comedy.”

There’s someone, like 99.99% of the rest of the nation who never saw Horne & Corden’s Disco Inferno or The Wall with Alexa Chung (Part 1). Look at playwright Sir David Hare on Thompson’s vision, or rather lack of it, here he’s spot on. Thompson gets too many of the big calls wrong to stay in this well-paid and important job in such turbulent media times.

4 Radios 1 & 2 will continue to be fixated with big names 6Music had an airhead with a questionable grasp of current and past music in George Lamb. Radios 1&2 have several. The two big stations will want to prove they have musical clout so shows like Richard Hawley’s four-part coastal odyssey, The Ocean, (just on R2) will acquire greater significance. Corrie & Red Dwarf actor Craig Charles’ Funk and Soul Show, currently on 6Music, would sit comfortably on the new R2 (Radio 2.0?).

Radio programmers’ unshakeable obsession with stardust will shift imperceptibly from the cosy likes of Richard Madeley or Liza Tarbuck to a different kind of fame – musicians and cred TV presenters.

Fans of Jarvis Cocker, Guy Garvey, Cerys Matthews and Lauren Laverne can probably rest easy. Jools Holland and Zane Lowe may get more work. Experienced music broadcasters not on the telly so much like Marc Riley, Shaun Keaveney and Gideon Coe are more likely to miss out. Consequently, so will the listeners.

5 Whither Digital radio? It might not go the way of Betamax but the general consensus has been that the BBC flat-packed in 6Music a station chock-full of broadcasting and musical talent, liable to break new bands and recruit & keep passionate admirers. There just weren’t that many of them.

Channel 4 pulled out of digital radio. So did many commercial stations. The BBC are losing interest. How many folk will listen to commentary on the London Olympics or Glasgow Commonwealth Games on DAB radio? At this rate, not that many.

6 The BBC will bring back Top of the Pops. Well, it has to try something to prove to everyone it loves music. And if it can bring back Come Dancing

If a life without 6Music depresses you, DJs on the station have been giving out the address to protest – it’s [email protected].

Or you could just listen to it.

Over on Salon magazine, Glenn Greenwald has reopened a big can of worms by using the word “apartheid” in reference to Israel and its control of the West Bank and Gaza – or rather, someone else has…

Apparently, there is a big pro-Israeli lobby move afoot to “Get Carter”, and the Washington Post has been picking on the former US president’s use of the “a” word four years ago as an example of his possible anti-semitic leanings.

Trouble is, Greenwald points out, the “a” word was used by none other than Israel’s defence minister, Ehud Barak, earlier this month. So was this yet another example of the campaign to demonise Jimmy Carter, or was it just another example of the formerly liberal Washington Post’s slide into a sloppy neo-conservative agenda?