With the publication of the Scottish Government’s white paper last week came the much anticipated “facts” of independence and the negotiating terms for a post-Yes vote in September, plus of course a few manifesto promises from the SNP thrown in for good measure. Equally anticipated were the counter-allegations from the No camp of empty promises, certainty where there was none and uncertainty where they would rather there was some. In fact the counter claims were so eagerly anticipated that National Collective produced a white paper bingo sheet so we could all play along at home every time one of the Alistairs called it a ‘wish list’.
The amount of column inches and airtime given to the publication of Scotland’s Future, as the white paper is uncompromisingly called, has been enormous. But I worry that for all the media analysis of a Spanish Prime Minister’s posturing over EU membership or the Bank of England’s negotiating stance on Sterling, the ideas and debates that are really important for many people are being left behind.
There’s much made of the fact that somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent of voters are undecided and that it’s therefore all still to play for. I don’t doubt that, but the current focus on such issues as currency risks pushing those people further from the debate and driving them away from politics in general. The problem, I think, is that “politics” is just as alien a concept for many people as particle physics. So to use the argument that the independence debate and the politics surrounding it ought to be of interest may be just as ineffective as suggesting that people ought to take a more active interest in the mechanics of the Large Hadron Collider. Ask a disinterested voter with a quizzical look on your face why they wouldn’t want to hold the levers of political power and you may end up with the same reaction as if you’d asked them why they wouldn’t want to run CERN.
Such power has little relevance and is frankly rather frightening. Surely that kind of power should be wielded by someone who knows what they’re doing?
This fear, this nervous reluctance to take up the reins of power is symptomatic of a wide scale failure of our democracy. When power is so distant from most people and when it is used by a far off elite for their own benefit, it becomes alien and therefore alienating. One of the most interesting and depressing articles I’ve read this last week was by Derek Bateman, contemplating why it is that so many Scots don’t see why independence should be of interest to them, never mind something they might want to vote for.
In it he says:
“They see Scotland as not a country at all but the way it is seen from London, as a region with history and some differences but, like all subsidiary units, not an equal for the founding nation. It leads to disbelieving outbursts accompanied by furrowed foreheads about “Scotland… a nation. Don’t be ridiculous” sometimes followed with “I’ll emigrate if that happens”… They are not listening to the argument, as is their right, and they probably don’t listen at election time either preferring to believe nothing will change so why bother.”
So should we give up on people who hold these views and accept that large swathes of the don’t knows are in fact don’t cares? I think not. To return to particle physics and politics, I think there are two important things to keep in mind. Firstly, I’d argue there are more ways to communicate the many and varied ways in which politics touches all our lives than the methods at hand to communicate particle physics (though anyone trying would do well to look at what Brian Cox has achieved in making physics accessible). I’ve always had a fondness for the kind of approach that the Electoral Commission took in the 2004 European election, saying “politics affects almost everything, so if you don’t do politics, there’s not much you do do.”
But the second point is that it’s not enough to simply work out new ways of communicating the importance of politics. We have to change how politics works for most people. If you have a chance of affecting the outcome of something to your liking, you’re more likely to take part, simple as. For me, a Yes vote means the chance to bring power closer to the people and to take it from the hands of the self serving elite and trust the people to use it for the common weal. And whilst independence would give us the power to make that change, we don’t have to wait for independence to make some smaller changes in the existing balance of power.
We can all promote better democracy in our own lives to a small extent. Call for trade union or workers’ representatives on your board at work. Join a food coop and take a hand in what’s grown, sold and eaten by you and the people around you rather than letting the supermarket giants dictate your diet. Use your elected representatives to fight for the issues you care about and shout about it when you win together. These steps may be small, but the more we all take a hand in transferring power to the people, the more those don’t cares will start to care.
By Phin Harper and Adam Ramsay
Flick Monk was a youth delegate to the UN climate change summit in Warsaw this November.
The corporate sponsorship of the 19th United Nations climate conference, or COP19, was so blatant that it made me thoroughly rethink who rules the world. There were representatives from every government on the planet, packed into the somewhat bizarre football-stadium-come-conference-venue, as well as thousands from Civil Society – businesses, environmental NGOs, gender groups, indigenous leaders, youth delegates and researchers. It became very clear, however, that large, greenhouse gas emitting corporations had been allowed in to the conference well before it had even started. The corridors were filled to the brim with branded products, from shiny red beanbags courtesy of Fly Emirates, to free shoulder bags full of swag paid for by LOTOS Group. And, proudly parked outside the conference venue gates in a large, sparkling glass box sat BMW’s newest gas-guzzling specimen.
The corporate sponsorship was one thing – but it was the corporations present that was most distressing. I was shocked, as a youth delegate attending the talks in order to lobby the UK government to be more ambitious in cutting emissions, at the blatant presence of these fossil fuel companies. Their business models go against solving climate change, or even getting a legally binding Global Treaty that countries are currently working towards. Why should companies that have an agenda in stopping progress be allowed to decorate the venue with their brands?
The role of Civil Society
If corporate influence was present in the conference, the voice of environmental NGOs and youth was not. After nearly two weeks of lobbying governments, planning and staging actions, holding press conferences and sharing expertise on mitigation, technologies, adaptation and campaigning, powerful countries were not listening. Japan backtracked on its previously agreed pledges, while Canada and Australia reached an all-time low in terms of ambition. Few rich countries came forward with the necessary financial pledges to help developing countries adapt to catastrophic climate change.
In fact, the situation became so depressing that on the day before the talks were scheduled to end, environmental NGOs staged a mass walk-out of the conference. We had had enough. After nearly twenty years of failure, we wanted to send a strong signal that inaction on climate change was unacceptable.
And yet the talks still ended with little progress made. As usual, the issue of ‘historical responsibility’ (which countries are historically responsible for most emissions?) became the battle-field, with developed countries refusing to offer the necessary concessions when, historically, they have done the most damage. It’s a battle that has raged for decades and has created deadlock – and meanwhile, the earth has kept warming.
The Lines are Drawn
Where, then, to put our energy – into lobbying the state? Perhaps the corporate sponsorship was good for one thing – it made it plain to see who was behind much of the failure of the talks. The UN is an interesting phenomenon, in that it really is a sort of ritualistic façade of great power, a grand show of puppets and dummies being pulled by corporate lobbyists from behind. We do not live in the era for which the UN was created. Neoliberal capitalism has destroyed the primacy of the state in international relations.
Our focus, then, must shift away from governments and directly towards those actors that are actively destroying the planet and will go on destroying the planet if they are not stopped. I think this is where the fast-growing divestment movement has real potential; we must bankrupt fossil fuel companies morally by shifting investment elsewhere. Research that found 90 companies responsible for nearly two-thirds of emissions puts this in perspective even further – and helps to shift the developing-developed country deadlock that has held up the talks for decades.
University of Edinburgh Rector Peter McColl stated at the official launch of the Fossil Free campaign in the UK: this is our call to arms – to fight the corporations that are responsible for designing a world that makes us dependent on fossil fuels. We must of course go to the UN and lobby our governments – but our main efforts should be on the bigger, more important struggle of stopping large-scale destruction by interests that currently rule the world.
Saturday saw the launch of a new left-wing political party in Britain – Left Unity. I won’t attempt to report on it, as I wasn’t there (nor did I want especially want to be). I just want to lay down a few thoughts on its implications for the wider left, particularly the Greens – speaking as someone who was initially positive (I signed up to the launch appeal) but who is growing increasingly sceptical.
Just under 500 officially attended* the inaugural conference of Left Unity, the project set up by socialist film maker Ken Loach and backed by leading left figures such as Kate Hudson, Richard Seymour and others.
Here’s 9 points from a loyal-but-concerned Green Party activist on the founding gathering of the initiative.
- There is clearly demand for Left Unity – more than 10,000 people have registered as supporters, and over 1200 people have formally joined since membership launched just a few months ago. A third of those attended last weekend’s conference. Explaining the demand for a new project is partly down to disillusionment with Labour, and the many sects to its left (not to mention their behaviour – the SWP’s Comrade Delta scandal e.g.). But it also has to be put down to something the Greens are doing, or not doing. The party’s actions in Brighton – i.e. passing austerity budgets – is obviously a major factor. We only have to look to the stream of Greens who have joined Left Unity in recent months – most/all of whom put their defection down to Brighton Council.
- At the same time however, there are arguably already more than enough left-wing parties in the UK (of which Labour is clearly not one). Of them, the Greens are the largest and have the most representation at all elected levels (and unelected levels, if our first peer for some years, Jenny Jones, is included). TUSC, Respect, the Greens and now Left Unity reflect the electoral mish-mash of British leftist politics now – not to mention the vast array of tiny groups which don’t generally contest elections.
- The party already seems to have overcome some of the stereotypes of the far-left. Far from resembling the misogyny of the SWP, it adopted a 50%+ female-leadership quota. It also saw its dogmatic communist arm routed in a conference vote on which platform to back – the more mainstream Left Party Platform easily winning over the Socialist and Communist Platforms. This comes with caveats, however. The conference provided no crèche, was mostly white male-dominated and refused to allow extra time for safe spaces policy to be discussed. A mixed start, then.
- If Left Unity is to mean anything, it has to mean genuine unity. Partly that means there has to be a serious reduction in the number of random socialist parties – something that is only marginally currently happening (with the mooted merger of the ex-SWP International Socialist Network, the ex-Workers’ Power Anti-Capitalist Network and the [eco-]Socialist Resistance).
- The whole project puts Greens in a dilemma. For a start, the party is almost certain to contest the next bunch of elections – definitely in 2015, at any rate. This means they will in many cases be standing against Greens. Do the Greens simply try to shrug them off, or do we attempt to engage? Clearly we can no longer do that from within Left Unity, as it is now a separate membership organisation and an electoral party. Instead, there have to be serious talks at local and national levels about pacts – lest the Greens be wiped out under our already-hostile electoral system as another group joins the fray. It doesn’t look like Left Unity is planning to start such a debate – a large number of its members are actively hostile to the Green Party (Loach himself is sympathetic to the Greens but argues we can never become a mass party of the un/organised working-class). We thus need to make the first move.
- If Caroline Lucas loses her seat in 2015, many Greens are, sadly, likely to leave the party – possibly towards Left Unity. Already, a number of left-wing Green councillors in Brighton are thinking of defecting. If Caroline loses, this number will undoubtedly rise – both in Brighton and across the country. I’ve spoken to a large number of Greens – many of them young and active – for whom this is the case. Such an outpouring of elected councillors and members will be a huge boost to Left Unity after its first electoral showing – potentially pitching it as the second ‘major’ left-wing party of England (if not Britain).
- At this time, many on the independent left are adopting a ‘wait and see’ policy about Left Unity – if it doesn’t quickly descend into factional bickering (as I’ve heard it has in some branches already), they will jump aboard.
- However, for the Greens there are few genuinely good potential outcomes of Left Unity – if it succeeds, the Greens may be decimated and replaced by a less ecologically-focused old-school left project. If it fails, a massive swathe of the left will likely drift (again, in many cases) into inaction and despair – as in the past with the Socialist Alliance.
- The best outcome is for a decent working relationship with the Green Party – some form of electoral pact, as I’ve argued elsewhere. This will require hard work and mutual engagement. At the moment, such a prospect seems unlikely. But if Left Unity isn’t to become a slightly-bigger version of TUSC, it’s essential. What’s more, it’s also important for the survival of the Greens: without cooperation, Greens will face a choice. With an insurgent socialist force emerging as a serious left-challenge to our party and the political system, many will be asking themselves – ‘should I stay or should I go?’ Some have already made their mind up. After the next elections, which offer uncertain chances for the Greens in Brighton and nationally, many more may follow.
This is a guest post by Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London, who is hosting an event today on ‘Building our Green economic future’, more details of which can be found here. Jean tweets at @GreenJeanMEP.
It has long been argued that the Greens and the trade union movement have little in common: but I think the opposite is the case. Both movements are about creating a fairer society, more decent jobs where workers are treated with respect, making life easier for all of us – and solving global crises as we do so.
We face multiple crises in the world today: climate change, spiraling personal debt, rising unemployment and falling wages, mass cuts to public budgets – especially those for health and social care and benefits, growing inequality and poverty, to name just a few.
Of course, these are crises for everyone – and the solutions are, often, the same: a move towards a Green economy.
Take climate change, for example: the scientists are clear – we simply must reduce global greenhouse gas emissions if we are to reduce the risks and impact of runaway climate chaos.
But, crucially: that doesn’t mean doing less – it means doing different.
We’ll need a massive efforts to insulate all our homes, for example, in order to reduce the amount of energy we spend heating them in winter and cooling them in summer.
We’ll need to build and maintain all the necessary renewable infrastructure for renewable energy generation.
We’ll need to redeploy all the engineers currently working in the fossil fuel industries to make this happen.
We’ll need to create jobs for teachers and lecturers to give our workers the skills they’ll need – and all these will have to be decent jobs, with decent pay and conditions to ensure our newly-trained workforce feels secure enough to continue working in the green energy industry when alternatives present themselves.
Already the low carbon sector provides about 165,000 jobs – and is worth just short of £30bn a year – in London alone: it could be much bigger, with the right combination of investment and political will. And that’s just the domestic energy sector. There are, of course, many more sectors of the economy, where similar arguments work: agriculture, for example, or transport: where a shift to a more ‘green’ way of doing things could create thousands of decent jobs – and tackle global, political, crises. Providing a win-win, in other words.
But this argument is all-too infrequently made by some trade unionists. Of course, that’s changing, thanks to the work of the Climate Change Trade Union Network, and the Green Party Trade Union Group and others. The Trade Union Congress itself has excellent policies and positions on climate change, and the opportunities tackling it presents its members.
It’s to try and change this narrative that I’m hosting an event – ‘Building Our Green Economic Future’ – to bring together greens, trade unionists, policy-makers and employers.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, EU Commissioner Laszlo Andor – and Andrew Raingold, Executive Director of the Aldersgate Group (which describes itself as ‘an alliance of leaders from business, politics and society that drives action for a sustainable economy’) will be outlining some of the shared challenges we face, and their will be sessions of how best to work together to meet them, and the skills workers in various relevant economic sectors will need.
All the details – including how to book a free place – are available here:
A truly sustainable economic recovery will only be possible with investment in key industries, new skills and new jobs – and that will only happen with the support and active engagement of trade unionists, employers and policy-makers. I hope today’s event can play a significant role in making that happen.
Edinburgh city councillor, European Parliament candidate and Bright Green editor Maggie Chapman has been elected unopposed as the new female co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party. She succeeds Glasgow councillor Martha Wardrop, who stood instead as vice-convenor, and joins male co-convenor Patrick Harvie MSP.
Originally from Harare, Zimbabwe, Maggie Chapman is a university lecturer and has been a councillor since 2007. In Edinburgh, she has has successfully fought against the privatisation of social care services and the Westminster government’s Workfare schemes, and has given residents the right to decide directly on a portion of council spending in the city’s first participatory budgeting project.
Maggie will contest next year’s European Parliament election, with a strong chance of becoming the Greens’ first Scottish MEP. With the sixth and final seat in the Scotland constituency likely to come down to a straight fight between the Greens and UKIP’s London chairman David Coburn, victory for Maggie would also likely make Scotland the only British constituency to shut out the far-right party.
“With the independence referendum less than a year away, we need to raise our voices for a different kind of Scotland. We need to stand up to Westminster politicians who are trying to shift blame for our economic woes off bankers and onto immigrants; off the rich and onto the unemployed. I’ll be campaigning for a Scotland that’s run for people, not for profit; that hands power to communities, not to corporations.
“To win the referendum, it’s going to be crucial that Greens inspire people with a vision of a different kind of Scotland – where we build an economy which pays work properly and respects carers; where we see public services as the bedrock of our civilisation; where we put equality ahead of greed.”
Paying tribute to outgoing co-convenor Martha Wardrop, Patrick Harvie said:
“Maggie Chapman will build on the good job Martha Wardrop has done in the role and we’d all like to thank Martha for her work. Our eyes are firmly on getting Scotland its first Green MEP and securing a Yes vote in the independence referendum.”
Maggie was endorsed and Patrick re-elected in a postal ballot of Scottish Green Party members. Other officers elected were:
Vice-convenor: Cllr Martha Wardrop
Co-convenor: John Palmer
Treasurer: Ian Baxter
Campaigns officer: Dave Owen
Communicationsns co-ordinator: Gary Dunion
Membership secretary: John Nichol
Ordinary member: John McCallum
Elections and Campaigns Committee
Convenor: Ross Greer
Vice-convenor: Gavin Corbett
Ordinary member: Sarah Beattie-Smith
Ordinary member: Moira Crawford
Ordinary member: Fabio Villani
Ordinary member: Anni Pues
Ordinary member: David Braunholtz
Ordinary member: Janet Moxley
Ordinary member: Peter Mountford-Smith
Vice-convenor: Elliott Russell
Ordinary member: Chas Booth
Ordinary member: Anne Thomas
Standing Orders Committee
Convenor: Moira Dunworth
Vice-convenor: Chris Ballance
Returning officer: Chris Horton
Ordinary member: Anne Bannatyne
Ordinary member: Sally Curtis
Ordinary member: Donald Fraser
Ordinary member: Joe Patrizio
Ordinary member: Mike Williamson
I have a generalist attitude to political campaigning. To use the traditional metaphor, I think that left wing social movements should use all of the tools in the box. These include civil disobedience, and mass public mobilisations, and education, and publicity stunts. And electioneering is one such gadget. Specifically, I’m a member of the Green Party, but why it’s best is not what I want to chat about today.
I’ve been involved in different ways over the years in applying various of the sorts of gizmos that left wing activists tend to use in the UK. I’ve found most of them amazingly helpful for some things and all to be utterly useless for others. Using a feather duster to crack a nut doesn’t work. You might, however, want to present it as a comedy trophy to a corporate boss who’s soiled with corruption. Blockading a street is a useless way to convince its residents to support you, but a wonderful way to stop a military convoy from going along it.
And as well as being useful or not in particular contexts, I’ve found that different kinds of tactic don’t just have short term impacts, but longer ones too. They teach us lessons about the world. They push us in a particular direction. They shape us, and they shape our movements. In that context, I often find it frustrating when people dismiss party politics and standing in elections as tactics. I think they can be really useful. Here are six reasons why.
1) Regular elections help keep you active
Without clear some kind of structure, I find work hard. With no to-do lists or deadlines, it’s only the headache from a dearth of caffeine which gets me out of bed before midday. Without a required output, I am liable to waste my afternoons away on Facebook.
The same often seems true of social movements. Electoral politics are helpful because they provide a clear timetable. There are regular (usually roughly annual) elections of some sort or another to get excited about and to build momentum up to. There are cycles of conferences to persuade of your policy passions. There are doors to knock on or to push leaflets through.
Mass street movements flash every now and then. Once they’ve passed, people become despondent, and drift back into their lives, nothing new to excite them. Regular elections, on the other hand, like regular board game nights or Sunday brunches for an old group of friends, keep people active and involved in the slow times as well as the fast. They give you something to get out of bed for.
2) Regular elections keep you recruiting
It’s way too easy for activist groups to end up as cliques: people meet through some kind of political activity – on a protest, perhaps. They drift into a friendship group. Gradually they spend more and more of their time going for drinks together and less and less of their time recruiting new people. Soon, you find radical activism full of affinity groups of chums, with too few entry points and no new recruits.
Now, political parties are certainly susceptible to this problem too. But if this happens, they quickly lose. And so there is an ongoing pressure to break the walls of the clique, to find new people and to maintain contact with that guy who’s a bit annoying but excellent at website maintenance. Or whatever. And this is a good thing.
More importantly, there is an endless practical pressure to reflect the diversity of your community. If you want to win, you have to know the major issues angering every street you seek to represent: the things which are pissing off each ethnic group; the gripes of the young and the dreams of the old; the injustices faced by your local LGBT community and the barriers erected in front of their disabled neighbours, the concerns of those who work and the worries of those who care for their children or parents. You need votes from women and trans people, from long term residents and transient people. If your work isn’t at the very least guided by, and ideally led by, those embedded in all these communities, living these lives, then you erode your collective chances of success. Every activist group I’ve ever been in has talked about how diversity matters, but only in political parties is the imperative so overwhelmingly obvious.
3) Canvassing helps you see outside your bubble
I know loads of awesome activists, who spend nearly all of their waking lives organising against the powerful, and yet who have never once knocked on a door and spoken to the stranger behind it about what matters in their life. Of course, it’s entirely possible to canvass without a party rosette (though you can’t get the full electoral register, which makes it harder). But there is much more of an immediate drive to do so if your aim is to win a vote. And door-knocking is vital, I think, for three reasons.
First, if you believe that radicals are never going to win through the pages of the corporate media, then we need to be able to communicate in other ways. There are various of these. But best of all is face to face chats – they are to us what Fox News is to right wing America: it is how we pass on our messages, unfiltered. They have the airwaves. We must have the streets.
Second, it changes the canvasser. We are, too often, taught to believe that politics is an abstract geeky hobby. We are told it’s like Star Trek or stamp collecting, but without the popular support. In fact, it’s about people, communities – what they yearn for when they enthuse in the pub and what they fear when they can’t sleep at night. There are few better ways to be reminded of this than knocking on strangers’ doors, and asking them what matters most to them.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, canvassing is how I charge up my belief in human goodness. We live in a world where adverts and newspapers attempt to divide us. Capitalist realism – the doctrine that there is no alternative – depends on the trope of the lonely left winger. We are forever persuaded to believe that people are the tabloids they read: selfish and cruel and, most of all, right wing.
You only need to knock on the doors down any street in the country I have ever visited to discover that this is a lie. People are awesome. And kind. And funny. And on many issues – many of the most important issues – they are significantly more left wing than the mainstream would ever let on. On other issues – such as immigration – people have been persuaded by reactionaries. But they are remarkably easy to sway: they wish, most of all, to be kind. Humans are instinctively solidaristic. Nudge them onto an explanatory track along which they can be, and they will be. Or that’s my experience.
4) Elections let you see what works
In an election, your success is mathematically measurable. If you make a mistake, you find out pretty quickly: polling day is an inescapable deadline. If you get something right, it’s easy to tell. All too often when I’ve been involved in other kinds of campaigns, it’s been incredibly hard to know if what we were doing was working. It is entirely possible I’ve spent years following plans that were never going to work. Of course, that doesn’t mean I was wrong to do that thing – some of the most important contributions are almost impossible to measure. But it’s sometimes nice to get speedy feedback. Even if you believe the aim of electing someone is futile, learning how to mobilise your local community around the issues you care about is helpful, surely?
5) If you win, you get a paid organiser
Local councillors go to a formal meeting a couple of times a month or so. But the rest of the time, they are basically paid to organise their community. They usually aren’t paid well enough to be full time, but having someone in your activist group with any salary to organise in your area is pretty damned useful. Without it, energy soon saps as people are dragged into busy lives and monthly rent requirements.
6) Parties encourage you to think systemically
Too much of modern activism involves talking about one issue as though it is the only and the most important one. Political parties, by their nature, end up discussing and engaging in policy on the whole range of issues. They bring together activists who are passionate and knowledgable about different things. The result is that it’s hard not to begin to think about the systems behind what you’re all campaigning on and the potential strategies for overcoming them.
None of these are reasons not to do other things – I may one day write six reasons that civil disobedience is awesome, or seven reasons to join a trade union, or a treatise on why NGOs aren’t always terrible. Etc. And of course, I haven’t touched on the fact that engaging in party politics is a direct confrontation to one important form of power exercised by our rulers – that secured through elections. Nor have I mentioned that it allows us to secure the soft (shaping the debate) and hard (voting on motions) powers of elected politicians – because they are obvious. But they are, obviously, true, and crucial, too.
I should also probably say that, for some people, party politics probably isnt the right thing. We can’t all do everything. But I think it probably would be useful for many more radicals than are currently in a party. So, go on. Think about joining one. And if you are wondering which one, well, you know where I stand.
Andy Chyba is a member of the Green Party in Wales, and was the lead candidate for the Welsh Greens in the European Parliament elections. He withdrew last week, explaining that he did not want to take votes away from Plaid Cymru, who share many of the ecosocialist goals of the Green Party of England and Wales. Here he explores the possibility of an electoral pact between the Green Party and Plaid.
Being a member of GPEW in Wales is more difficult than in any other region of the Party. Some of those difficulties could be considered self-inflicted, but I don’t want to dwell on those. The main and unavoidable issue is the fundamentally different political landscape to anywhere in England. The Plaid Cymru factor can be seen as a massive additional obstacle, or a massive opportunity.
First a little background. Plaid Cymru translates as ‘The Party of Wales’. It is understandably perceived as ‘nationalist’ party, with all the images that term tends to throw up. It has had a colourful and somewhat chequered history, but started to take shape as a distinctly left-wing, socialist party in the 1980s when it adopted “community socialism” as a constitutional aim. It has evolved into a much more palatable form of nationalism too. Former Green Party member, and my mentor when I joined the Green Party, Keith Ross, puts it thus: “I don’t see Plaid as necessarily nationalist in the generally accepted sense of the word. For me the desire for greater (though perhaps not complete) independence for Wales (and Scotland, and the English Regions) is more about allowing people to take more responsibility for their own lives, so loosening the grip of multi-national corporations; and allowing people to have more of an influence over political decision making, so loosening the grip of the big party machines.”
When I first moved to Wales, in the early 1990s, Neil Kinnock was still at the helm of the Labour Party and Labour was very much the party of Wales, whatever Plaid Cymru said. But then Tony Blair came along and destroyed the socialist principles of the Labour Party, as we know now, forever. This has allowed PC to make some headway in attracting support away from Labour – although the majority of Labour supporters are still in denial that Labour have abandoned them to join the neo-liberal caucus.
I still could not recognise them as ecosocialist comrades though! Welsh independence and promotion of a moribund language remained higher in their perceived priorities than social and environmental justice. That has well and truly changed in March 2012 when Leanne Wood became leader of the Party. In selecting a 40 year-old woman who didn’t speak Welsh, the Party was clearly and unequivocally signalling a change of emphasis. Its fortunes under the previous regime were in decline, but Leanne has been a breath of fresh air and demonstrably a true ecosocialist. She published her “Greenprint for the Valleys” in 2011. It is an ecosocialist manifesto, and the foundation of her campaign to become PC Leader. It also took all the wind out of WGP’s (tiny dinghy) sails.
PC membership has soared to record levels and there is every indication that they will build on their electoral successes. Plaid Cymru currently has about 8000 members, to WGP’s 400 or so. It has 3 MPs out of 40 in Wales (compared to UK Greens one out 650). It has 206 councillors in Wales, compared to WGP’s zero and GPEW’s 139 in the whole of England and Wales.
So this is what we are up against. In my local area, Bridgend, we have built a rapport with local Plaid Cymru members and worked closely with them on ‘Bridgend Against the Bedroom Tax’ in particular, and have informal agreements to ensure we avoid getting in each others way in our target wards. We are, I believe, seen as more or less equal parties working co-operatively for shared objectives. I see the relationship growing and being of mutual benefit.
The current Wales Green Party officers seem set against attempting to do anything similar at a Wales level, citing historical issues that bear little relevance to current realities. And of course we would be in a pretty weak bargaining position, given the figures above. We could not expect equal shares in any electoral pact for sure. But if we do not come to some arrangement, we risk being obliterated. I happen to believe that Leanne Wood would welcome having her own ecosocialist principles endorsed by the Green Party – GPEW, if not WGP, is a bigger party, and it would, after all, be little more than an extension of, and recognition of, the fact that we are already formal allies in Brussels with GPEW and PC MEPs sitting and working together as part of the Green/EFA grouping.
It also follows in the growing recognition of left wing factions having to pool their resources and build a spirit of co-operation if we are ever going to defeat the neo-liberal caucus represented by the big three parties and the right wing fringe parties – at the ballot box at least. This is the rationale behind the PAAA and Left Unity, for example. In this respect, working with Plaid Cymru makes even more sense as here in Wales they are an electoral force already. A Welsh Ecosocialist Alliance could well provide electoral credibility for left wing alliances across the UK. If Leanne Wood was able to take most of the credit for that, I am sure she would buy into it. In her own words:
“Plaid Cymru genuinely wants to support people in England who want to rebalance political and economic power. Our party is co-operative, internationalist and of the left. We will work with progressives of any hue in England who want to decentralise. We are also prepared to actively support a new Left party in England.”
Irrespective of the views of some in WGP and GPEW, I am personally determined that one of the hues Plaid Cymru work with in Wales will be Green. I think that both Leanne and I share not just ecosocialist principles, but an understanding that it has to be about change on the ground – positive changes to people’s lives – ahead of any party sectarianism. So be it.
This morning I listened to this programme on the World Service. It’s the touching story of Riace, a village in southern Italy which has opened its arms to migrants coming across the Mediterranean. It’s only half an hour long, and I consider it a half hour well spent, but if you don’t have time you can also read this shorter account.
The people who tell their stories within this programme have faced terrible hardships. One watched his entire village burn to the ground, victims of racism, and others have seen their friends starve to death as their boat lay adrift in the Mediterranean on their journey away from danger. Often drifting boats are ignored by fishermen and other civilian vessels, as coming to their aid is often treated by authorities as akin to people smuggling.
The response of the EU to this tragedy is to give greater powers to Frontex, its border agency, and to launch EUROSUR, a border surveillance system which uses drones and satellites to detect migrants in the Mediterranean and which helps member states to repel migrants from their waters. Whilst officially one of EUROSUR’s aims is also to save the lives of stranded migrants, this seems an afterthought, and in practice the provision to actually do so is very weak. There is already speculation that regional cooperation agreements mean that EUROSUR will be used to warn North African countries of migrants leaving their territories, leaving migrants in the hands of the authorities they may well be fleeing. Our representatives, seeing a humanitarian crisis, have chosen to push it out of their jurisdiction.
The story of Riace is interesting. The town has even created its own currency (or tokens, since its value is linked to the Euro), with pictures of Gandhi, Che Guevara and Martin Luthur King, which migrants can use whilst they wait for Italy’s slow bureacracy to respond to need for subsidy.
Whilst many of the inhabitants speak of their inspiration by their religion, in reality it seems that the actions of the town are inspired by self-interest. All of the reports from journalists who have visited the region note that the town is now flourishing. Besides the obvious cultural advantages which the town now enjoys thanks to its new residents from all over Africa, the migrants are also helping to prop up a town which was previously losing people by the year. Where young Riaceans once moved to other parts of Italy to find work, leaving their former homes empty and leaving Riace with a fast-ageing population, now the town’s artisan trades are booming.
And that is the lesson that Scotland can learn from this tiny village in southern Italy. There are small towns and villages all over Scotland who face an existential threat from migration [.doc file]. As young people in the Highlands abandon rural life and move to the cities for education or employment, those left behind are getting older and more sparse. Migration can help preserve life in these towns and villages. Scotland’s ageing population also spells trouble for our social services and pensions, and migration can help there too.
And it seems that this isn’t lost on everyone. Surveys on Scottish attitudes towards migration consistently show that at least 20% of Scots believe that immigration should be increased ‘a lot’. Read that again. Despite all the immigrant bashing in the media, despite all the hysterical warnings that Britain will sink into the sea if our population increases anymore, over 20% of Scots say the exact opposite. It would be unbelievable anywhere else. Equivalent numbers in the rest of the UK are around 2%.
The truth is that immigration is in Scotland’s interest. And as the only major party with a pro-migrant position, it’s in the interests of Greens to shout about it loud and clear.
On Thursday 31st October I am going on strike for the first time in my life. I’m not a lecturer or a researcher but for the past seven years I’ve worked in a university, and I’m one of the thousands of support staff who will be out on the picket lines this week. Despite what you might have inferred from the discussion around the strike, it’s not just academic (i.e. teaching and research) staff who are striking for a better pay offer this week; the offer of a 1% pay increment, and the years of below-inflation increases that have preceded it, affect everyone working in higher education.
The relationship between different types of staff in a university is complicated, so the fact that UCU, Unison and Unite have organised their first combined strike is itself a big deal. We can be quite divided as a workforce, split between different departments and job types and pulling in different directions because of it. As we get ready to stand together on the picket line, we need to consider why this kind of solidarity is so uncommon.
A modern university is a huge organisation employing thousands of people from a wide range of backgrounds, but our roles within it are typically divided up along lines of gender, race and class. Although academia is gradually becoming more diverse, it is still dominated by white people from affluent backgrounds, and the number of women dwindles at the most senior levels. Maintenance, IT, security and portering jobs are mostly done by men, while cleaners and clerical staff are usually women. It’s no different from the rest of the economy, but this dynamic further entrenches the divides between staff doing different kinds of work; not only do we have different jobs, but we view the world from different angles. Society values us differently depending on who we are and what we do for a living, and this kind of hierarchy can make working together as equals in an industrial dispute kind of socially awkward.
It also doesn’t help that we all seem to think that everyone else has got it better than us. Junior teaching and research on short-term contracts (or even zero hours contracts) want the kind of job security that many support staff have, but support staff don’t always have a lot of sympathy for the “hardship” of people earning more money than them. Living with a lack of job security can be horrible, but full-time postdocs (PhD graduates employed on research projects) generally earn twice as much as the lowest paid university staff, and being able to plan for your future isn’t a great comfort if it’s a future where you’re always going to struggle financially.
We butt against each other in our job roles as well. To support staff, academics are the often people who create extra work for us – sometimes they make a mess, or their equipment gets damaged, or they have to be chased up repeatedly for paperwork – and although the vast majority of interactions are civil, there can be times when it feels like someone is being unreasonable. To academics, support staff (particularly admin staff) are the ones creating extra work for them.
Because our problems aren’t exactly the same we sometimes start to see them as conflicting demands. Teaching jobs versus admin jobs, or better pay versus better conditions. We get so caught up in resenting one other that we forget how much common ground we have: we’re all worried about our pay and conditions, and we’re all under pressure to do more work. Our concerns don’t have to be mutually exclusive – it’s possible to want a living wage for cleaners and a better deal for tutors; we shouldn’t have to choose one over the other.
Working together on this strike won’t solve all our problems, but it’s a good start. If you’re out on a picket line talk to people from the other unions, try to understand them as people rather than job titles, and remember that sense of solidarity when you go back to work.
Plashing Vole, Why I will be on strike tomorrow
UCU HE Pay Dispute