This blast from the past is an interview with George Galloway MP, which appeared in TAL Issue 37 from Winter 2003/2004. TAL’s London Rep. Marxman along with editor Talman met up with the then MP for Glasgow Hillhead who had recently been expelled from the British Labour Party. At the time of the interview a military alliance led by British and US armed forces was an occupying force in Iraq. Other issues that came up for discussion included Palestinian solidarity, the long-term prospects for peace in Ireland, sectarianism and anti-Irish racism in Scotland, and of course, the future of Celtic FC.
Currying Favour With George Galloway
We meet George Galloway MP for the Respect Party at London’s Euston Station. George suggests going for veggie curry at one of the nearby Indian restaurants. He asks if we want to go to the one with alcohol or the one without alcohol. We opt for the alcohol free place, its nearer and, anyway, we’re on our best behaviour. We’ll get pissed after the interview. To the restaurant we adjourn, paper, pen and dictaphone at the ready. But first there was food to be eaten…
There’s something about the experience of veggie curry served in large dishes for ‘sharing’, in fact, any kind of food served anywhere in big ‘sharing’ bowls is just hippy madness, in my opinion. I know it’s all Buddhist and Eastern to ‘share’, but feck it, when it comes to grub, my plate’s my own. And with vegetarian food, you’re always left feeling like somebody else must have eaten all the best bits – sorry veggies. Marxman, sitting beside me, is a big lad and could easily have devoured the whole bowl himself. So there we were, two starving fat guys from a football fanzine in a highly recommended Indian vegetarian restaurant in London to interview the firebrand left-wing MP and we couldn’t talk for having a silent battle for supremacy over the curry portions.
I don’t know if it’s a Dundonian thing – and who am I to cast aspersions – but given the ample proportions of the company present maybe more than one solitary bowl of curried potatoes to share was in order? I didn’t get a look-in, between the two of them guzzling spicy spuds, I had no chance. I was suspicious that George had plated well over his fair share of curried potatoes. At one point, I considered just going for it and forking a couple off his dish, then I had a momentary flash of John Reid landing on his arse in the House of Commons and I remembered that George throws a mean jab, so I left my belly to rumble and George to scoff the tatties…
After all, the Milky Bars (or at least the curries!) were on him.
In relation to the war in Iraq George Galloway was absolutely convinced of the correctness of his political stance against the US/British invasion and subsequent occupation of the country.
“Everything the anti-war movement predicted has come true. We said that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction and there aren’t. We said that Iraq was not a threat or danger to anyone else, either in the West or even to its Arab neighbours, and it wasn’t. Let’s face it, it couldn’t even defend it’s own capital city for more than a couple of days.”
During the course of the interview Galloway, who has an insight into Iraqi politics that few other politicians on these islands possess, ominously predicted the large-scale resistance to the western military occupation that has become all too real in recent days and weeks. He was also scathing of the reasons given by Bush and Blair for the war, stating as the real reason for the conflict the quest to plunder the rich oil fields of Iraq by multinational corporations allied to the determination of the US political/military establishment to create another bridgehead of political control in the region outside of their client state, Israel.
“ We said that the war would increase rather than decrease Terrorism in the world and it has. We predicted that the level of hatred towards Britain and the USA would increase and it most certainly has. You only have to look at the British Foreign Office’s own website to see that the number of countries now considered to be dangerous for its nationals to travel to has greatly increased as a result of the war.
“And the real reasons for the war were apparent almost immediately as American companies lined up to receive the contracts that would allow them to strip the country of its wealth. All the prime contracts have been sliced up and handed out to the corporate friends of the Bush regime, including among them the Vectra Corporation whose day job incidentally is the privatisation of London Underground.”
He is also pessimistic about the prospects now for an early withdrawal of troops from Iraq given the massive damage that has been done to the infrastructure of the country by the invading forces.
“This is Vietnam all over again. There is going to be no easy way out for them now. They are seriously considering privately the prospect of an occupation force that could be in Iraq for as long as 5years, 10years or maybe even longer.”
We decided to tackle George about the continual criticisms of him in the media for his alleged contacts with the Saddam Hussein regime. Did he think that it was justified for him to have travelled to Iraq and met the dictator in the past?
“I met Saddam Hussein twice. That’s exactly the same number of times that Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is that Rumsfeld was meeting him on behalf of the US Government to sell him guns whereas I was there to try to persuade him to destroy guns.
“Neither do I buy the idea that just because I met Saddam it somehow means that I supported his regime, but it sometimes amazes me that people are taken in by the tabloid attacks on me. I’ve even had a wee bit of abuse at Celtic Park. I was on my way into the ground for a match and one guy shouted at me, ‘There’s the Tripoli Shamrock!’ A bit of a lapse in geography there. I’ve also been accused of being ‘Gaddaffi’s Friend’ even though I’ve never been to Libya and I’ve never actually met the Colonel!”
The MP for Hillhead is nothing if not philosophical about the tabloids’ view of him. A recent issue of The Sun newspaper ran a headline accusing him of being a “Traitor” and demanding that he be tried for treason.
“Funnily enough, the first time The Sun ran a “Traitor” headline against me was in 1990 when I marched in Dublin alongside Gerry Adams. Their line then was that no-one should be meeting or speaking with Adams.
“What’s better, talking to people in order to reach an agreement and avoid war or having a war where thousands of people get killed?
“If the British government had met the Irish Republican Movement earlier and dealt with the political demands of the nationalist community we may have avoided years of war and violence and many people who are not with us today might still be alive.
“And exactly the same is true of Iraq.”
George Galloway has for many years been a supporter of the cause of Palestine. His solidarity with the Palestinian people goes right back to his early political career in Dundee. It’s an issue that is familiar to TAL readers and supporters and despite the years that have passed and what appears at times to be an almost insoluble political situation he remains passionately committed to the rights of the Palestinians.
“A gratifying development in more recent years for me has been the realisation among many Celtic supporters of the importance of the Palestinian issue; how it’s not something that is foreign to them; that the Palestinians are fighting against the same forces that have so destroyed and stultified Ireland and the Irish people. Forces that have driven the Irish to the four corners of the world, just as the Palestinians have been driven to the four corners of the world.
“I am so happy when I see Palestinian flags flying among the crowd at Celtic Park. I feel a particular satisfaction about that because I have been so involved with that issue going back to the early 1970’s.”
As one of the few MP’s who has consistently campaigned for British disengagement from Ireland he also derives some personal as well as political satisfaction from the current political process that has pushed republicans to the fore in their efforts for a political solution to the conflict.
“It generally takes a long time to be vindicated in politics especially when you’ve taken a stand that is widely reviled at the time you first argue for it. In the case of Ireland, when I was being roundly condemned as a traitor for speaking with Gerry Adams in public, it turns out that all the time Mrs Thatcher and her representatives were speaking to him in private! It just goes to show the total hypocrisy of the British state in this regard.
“I’ve always believed that Britain should disengage from Ireland. For someone from my own background, as the grandson of Irish immigrants, it really isn’t possible for me to have taken any other view. Britain doesn’t have an Irish problem – Ireland has a British problem.”
It won’t surprise TAL readers to hear that due to his forthright views on Ireland Galloway has been a target of hate for loyalists in Scotland. Even the baptism of his grandson Sean managed to create controversy when it was publicised that the baby’s christening was the first Catholic baptism ceremony to be performed in the House of Commons since the days of Guy Fawkes. Despite the threats and abuse he has received over the years, he remains committed to peace in Ireland and to resolving sectarian conflict in Scotland. He imparts some advice to loyalists in the 6 Counties about the choices that they face.
“I concur with the advice given to them by Tim Pat Coogan, that they should ‘cut a deal’ before it’s too late. Essentially that was the conclusion drawn by the whites in South Africa. Unfortunately it’s not a position that has been adopted by the Israeli settlers and you can see the results.
“In the same way that the South African solution enshrined the rights of minorities, even the rights of the formerly dominant white minority, so too must any arrangement reached in Ireland preserve the rights and interests of the two traditions. The interests of all of the people of the island must be guaranteed.
“It would be just as intolerable for the nationalist majority in Ireland as a whole to treat the unionist minority badly as was the reverse in the Northern Ireland statelet for so many decades.
“I’d say to the loyalist population that they should stop fooling themselves that Britain has any interest in maintaining their supremacy. What you share in common with the rest of the people in Ireland far outweighs the things that you don’t have in common.
No-one wants to take away your churches or your orange halls. You can live as you want to, but you must also accept that other Irish people are your equal and they have a right to elect a government of their choice and as long as that government is one that respects your human rights as a community and as individuals. That is the best option available to unionists as a community because the British fell out of love with Ian Paisley & Co a long time ago.”
We asked George about his perceptions of “sectarianism” in Scotland and what he thinks of the Scottish Parliament’s proposals regarding the banning of marches that are deemed to be sectarian.
“I don’t want to see any marches banned. Where possible we should seek to accommodate all views within communities. Banning marches is not the way to address views that you disagree with or object to. Obviously a slightly different approach has to be taken if a march is proposed to go through an area with the specific aim of provoking trouble – as is the case in areas of the 6 Counties – but even then they are sometimes allowed with conditions placed upon them.
“You cannot equate republican marches with those of the orange order. There is certainly a difference between republican politics and religion. Michael Davitt was Protestant; Wolfe Tone was Protestant. You do not have to be a Roman Catholic to be an Irish republican. Republicanism is not a religion it is a political tenet, one that is shared by a very large number of people. Of course it’s not sectarian to be a republican – it’s the opposite of sectarianism.”
Finally we got down to the issue of football and despite our suspicions that George was in fact a Dundee United sympathiser (he has a soft spot for ‘the Arabs’ from his time in Dundee) he professes a life long affection for The Bhoys. Not surprisingly, as a Celtic supporter, he is as passionate about how our club is run as he is about how the country should be governed.
“I had a disagreement with Fergus McCann some years ago when he came down to London to address our Westminster branch Celtic Supporters Club. I challenged him about his description of the fans as customers. I said that ‘customers’ can choose to change brands if they are dissatisfied with the product but as supporters of our club it’s impossible for us to make that kind of consumerist approach. As Celtic supporters we can’t change to another brand because WE are the club and WE support them through good, bad or indifferent times.
“It’s a cultural thing that means everything to so many people. It’s our lives, so please don’t call us ‘customers’ because it’s an insult. We’re not buying chocolate biscuits – this is Celtic we’re talking about.
“As I said to McCann at the time, ‘This club and its supporters were here long before you and they’ll be here long after you.’ “
George Galloway said a lot more about his ideals for the club and those that he thought would be in the best position to take it forward. He cited his friend Brian Dempsey, as being “Celtic through and through” and expressed disappointment that there is still no place for Dempsey in the structure of the club. He also expressed agreement with TAL’s position of supporters having a greater say in the running of the club.
“I strongly support greater involvement of supporters at every level of the club. That is ultimately how the club should be run. We need a genuine coalition of Celtic people; the rich ones who can provide the necessary finance and the ordinary Celtic supporters who, come rain or shine, through thick and thin, remain the backbone of the club.”
Love him or loathe him, George Galloway remains a figure of political controversy, but he is also firmly committed to the issues in which he believes. His views on Ireland and Palestine may be more popular nowadays but it wasn’t always so. He has recently helped to establish a new electoral organisation called the Respect Unity Coalition. Our thanks to him for agreeing to be interviewed – and for paying for the curries when the bill came around!
(c) TAL & George Galloway
This Interview first appeared in TAL Issue 37