At 4.30pm on Wednesday around 200 students, workers and claimants occupied lecture theatre 2 in Appleton Tower in solidarity with occupations across the country. As I write this we’re just settling down for the third night of that occupation, and we’ve voted to stay till at least Tuesday, when the next national day of action has been called.
We hadn’t planned an occupation, in fact at the planning meeting last week we decided against it. But when 130,000 students, staff and pupils marched and demonstrated against cuts on Wednesday and occupations sprang up at universities from Cardiff to UCL to Oxford we knew we couldn’t just let our protest fizzle out and drift off home. There was too much energy, and too much at stake.
Of course, you might wonder why students would want to protest up here in Scotland, after all we won’t see the huge increases in fees being proposed down South (we don’t even have fees for most students here), and the SNP’s draft budget the other week basically protected EMAs, with only a relatively small cut in funding. But our protest isn’t just about the current proposals, and it isn’t just about education.
We’re lucky in Edinburgh that our university offers basically free tuition and we’re lucky that our university management and student union support that position. But not everyone is as lucky as us, many of our friends and family won’t be as lucky, and who knows how long our fortunate status will last once fees jump to £9000 in England and arts, humanities and social sciences become essentially privatised. No party is yet proposing to bring back fees in Scotland but if we don’t show our resolve now who knows how long that will last.
And, as Adam pointed out so well, we have to see these occupations, these rallies and these protests not as the end of a campaign but only as the start. As the start of a broader movement that will oppose cuts across society and dare to envision a different country, where we value our public services and put the needs of people above profit. We are here not to stop Edinburgh introducing fees but to defend the ideal of free education. We are here to show solidarity with students facing a far harsher future than we do and, I hope, to inspire workers and communities facing even harsher action to join with us.