Stuart Fairweather 18.4.2013
STUC – Yes and No
This year’s annual conference at Perth saw the Coalition’s cuts agenda dominate the official agenda. Alongside this the Yes and No campaigns made their first organised pitches in the run-up to September 2014.
The YES campaign was there in force. One delegate ‘complained’ that people were tweeting that ‘YES are all over this conference’. The YES campaign did appear well organised and relatively well received although tribalism was also evident. The inclusion of a YES Scotland stall within the conference venue appeared to cause some a degree of distress.
A fringe meeting away from the conference hall was more telling. The attendance was your fringe meeting average and the questions for Nicola Sturgeon and Denis Canavan were testing at times. However Jeanne Freeman’s chairing and the inclusion of Paul Holleran (National Union of Journalist) to the panel added to the discussion.
Better Together matched the Yes campaign organisationally. But their lack of response to the STUC’s A Just Scotland document left them politically naked. Unfortunately for the No campaign the attendance of Johann Lamont in the hall and Anas Anwar at their fringe did little to address this. Significantly ASELF (train drivers) appear early ‘converts’ to this cause. Backing also comes from individual trade unionists that are committed Labour Party members. This is augmented by the arguments and ideas of the Red Paper Collective.
Importantly, if unsurprisingly many trades unionist inclined to a no vote appear unimpressed by Labour’s alliance with the Tories and the Liberals and with the Party’s absence of guarantees of moving away from the New Labour legacy.
Sensibly the STUC is yet to make any decision on supporting either campaign. Scotland’s trade union centre sees the priority as raising the level of the political debate and obtaining answers and information for its affiliates. Whether it can retain this position during next year’s congress period remains to be seen.
Stuart Fairweather 23.12.11
Reclaiming Scottish Politics
In a society dominated by consumerism, celebrity and debt the ending of one year and the beginning of another affords little time to reflect. However it is important to consider the impact of the recent past, prior to moving forward.
Whilst economic uncertainty continues 2011 closed with Cameron having distanced Britain from Europe. It saw Salmond return from China to face a new leader of the Scottish Labour party. Johann Lamont, Ruth Davison and Willie Rennie will need to get into gear quickly to catch-up with the SNP government.
Beyond the politics of parties the experience of those that took part in the events surrounding November 30th could yet be the start of something significant. That said the Coalition’s ability to ‘divided and conquer’ is already being put into practice. The public sector unions need to maintain their unity. Returning to the membership will support them to reclaim the agenda and provide a real opposition to the Tory/Liberal plans.
In a not dissimilar fashion it is interesting to hear the spectre that is Michael Forsyth call for the Scottish Parliament to have the power to hold a referendum on independence. Interesting because he opposed the Parliament and tell us debate on the referendum is destabilising for the market. Those that want to retain the status quo will focus on the mechanics of the referendum rather than support discussion about our future. Scotland citizens need to be supported to reclaim this agenda too.
The future of public services and the governance of our little part of the world are not different matters. The Left needs to re-claim it place in Scottish politics to question both ‘unionist’ and nationalist versions of the future. This would mean those that wish us to remain ‘a full part of a Britain of cuts’ need to explain why? Equally the SNP government would need to do better than simply not following the same path as London. But from where is this pressure to come?
It might be simplistic to produce a list but coalitions of resistance need to be described as well built. Many trade unionists, greens, those that have previously voted socialist, welfare rights and social justice campaigners could play a part in alliances that generate something new: a politics that moves us towards a different sort of Scotland.
Paradoxically this does not mean imposing a predetermined list of policies but it does mean providing others with a vision of what could be. This suggests nurturing a ‘movement’ with many centres that connects to existing campaigning and learning.
Over the coming period there will be a number events that test our ability to do this. In addition to the outcome of the pension dispute and the nature of the referendum campaign there will be May’s local government elections. The Westminster Welfare Reform and the Holyrood Community Empowerment bills conversely offer threats and possibilities. With discussions about the future the other parts of Britain and the rest of Europe being related to ours.
Stuart Fairweather is Convener of Democratic Left Scotland
31st January 2010
The National Equality Panel has just published its work (1). A group of respected, government-appointed, academics tell us the rich are getting richer whilst the poor remain economically and geographically trapped. The consequences for health, for day-to-day lives, and the shared environmental are all too real (2).
None of this will be new to many. None of it will be greatly affected by the policies of the main parties contesting the forthcoming general election. Cuts in public services, in welfare are set to increasingly become front-page news (3). The Tories, Labour and the Liberals will compete on the basis of which cuts to make: on how humanely they can be instituted. The SNP’s more just rhetoric does little to disguise an enthusiasm for the primacy of market solutions.
It would an error to treat all the policy responses as simply the same. But all are underpinned by an approach that puts markets before people and planet. In government we have seen politicians drunk on Britain’s place in the world and on war. The least provided always pay the price.
Redistribution needs to be put back on the agenda. Local campaigns need to be connected to national action for redistribution and change (4).
All too simplistic – we need to build the infrastructure for a different sort of society now. Your thoughts would be welcome?
(1) See The National Equality Panel report – www.equalities.gov.uk/national_equality_panel.aspx Also Ian Bell, the Herald – Helping the Wealthy Help Themselves
(2) See The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett. Penguin 2009
(3) See The Sunday Herald – 31st January 2010, ‘£270m’ http://www.heraldscotland.com
(4) See Mach 13th Cut Trident not Jobs Demo – www.scotland4peace.org
Stuart Fairweather, Convener, DLS
25th January 2010
Public service or business as usual ?
Understandably anger at the economic crisis has been focussed on the banks. Calls are being made for Brown to follow Obama’s challenge to bonuses and other excesses.
In Scotland the SNP Government is calling for cuts in the bonuses of leading public sector executives. Good. But what is the motivation? Will we see other changes to public and voluntary organisations that end a culture borrowed from the worst aspects of the private sector?
The Tories, of course, want to use the crisis as a cover for cuts. Workers on £18,000 are in their sights. Last weekend saw resistance to this and attacks on budgets by Glasgow Unison – in the shape of their Public Works conference.
Actions like this, draw together trades unionists, voluntary and community groups. Saying no to cuts must be supported. But we also need to be brave enough to describe the kind of public services we need. This means discussions with communities about what roles they play in this.
At a time of economic crisis, and in the run-up to the general election defence is important. Unison, Unite and others however need also to go on the attack. We need to discuss how we build services free from the market’s worst excesses. It can’t be business as usual. Your views are welcome.
Stuart Fairweather, Convener, DLS.
Monday 7th December 2009
Three cheery things have happened today.
The first is that The Green New Deal Group (www.greennewdealgroup.org) has published a new report “The cuts won’t work” (available here: http://www.greennewdealgroup.org/?p=161). The report argues that cuts in public spending now will lead to a spiral of unemployment, and further debt. Instead, it says we need “green quantitative easing”.
The second is that the World Bank has essentially agreed. Justin Lin – the chief economist for The Bank has said that fiscal stimulus should stay in place until 2012:
“At this stage, it is more important to talk about how to improve the quality of fiscal stimulus, use the money in a way that can enhance the growth in the future,” Lin told Reuters (http://bit.ly/8JfJ49).
“If they can do that — the debt is building up but with growth enhanced in the future — they can pay back the debt”
“In high income countries they can use the money to invest in a green economy to stop the problem of global warming. To reduce the CO2 emissions,” Lin said.
“In the developing economies they can use this money not only in the green economy but they can also use this money to reduce their infrastructure bottlenecks.”
The third is that our friends at the Reheat Britain campaign have announced that they have won their campaign for a boiler scrappage scheme (see www.reheatbritain.org.uk). This is a genius idea. Essentially it is the same as the car scrappage scheme, but for old, inefficient boilers. It’s nice to see the government are planning to adopt it in the Pre-Budget Report – even if they have failed to deliver the broader green public spending needed.
The success of the Tories over the last year in changing the debate around the credit crunch has been astonishing. 12 months ago, the state was bailing out private finance. Now this has been used as an excuse to propose massive cuts to the capacity of the state. The Tories have always wanted cuts to public services. Now they are willing to ignore the World Bank, and risk extending the recession to deliver them. It is nice to see some heavyweights wading in and challenging a narrative that Labour and the Lib Dems have been too willing to accept.