New Year Reflections
So 2013 comes to a close and I sit on an island off the West coast, far from the usual chaos of Hogmanay. I’ve got the luxury of a little time to reflect on 2013 and look forward to the coming year.
As I ponder, my thoughts focus on Independence, RIC, the Referendum in September, and the work we have to do. Since the Radical Independence Conference in 2012, the most inspiring political event I’ve ever been to, I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride. It sounds trite, but the conference turned me from someone who wanted change, someone who was politically literate with no plan, into an inspired, budding political activist.
Then in 2013 I started to meet people. I met like minded folk who honed my enthusiasm, who began the process of turning me into a fully fledged activist. The process of forming an active RIC group in Aberdeen has taken my intellectual, theoretical politics and forged it into a practical program to affect change.
The conference hall in 2012 was a catalyst for this because it held such a disparate group of people, more accustomed to bickering amongst themselves than working together. RIC has melded them together into an effective grassroots campaigning group with a clear aim. RIC has support from almost every progressive tradition in Scotland along with a lot of people, like me, who despaired at the constant infighting on the left and now see this set to one side. This is the real strength of RIC. It has actually achieved unity among progressives in Scotland. We know that if we have any hope for another, better, Scotland then we must achieve a Yes vote.
There have been a lot of different campaigning tactics across Scotland adapted to suit local conditions and in Aberdeen we’ve had a People’s Assembly, public meetings and a pub quiz – but the backbone of our campaign has been canvassing. Since training in the summer, Aberdeen RIC have been out almost every week in the regeneration areas of the city, knocking on doors. We have targeted these areas as folk there are often disenfranchised and disillusioned with mainstream politics, put off by scare stories or by being patronized by the mainstream media. It is crucial that they know this referendum is an important opportunity to make real changes to their lives. Directly engaging with people lets them know that they count in this referendum.
So how do the conversations go on the doors? What do people ask?
Well, our initial conversations vary enormously so I thought I’d discuss two of the topics that come up most often, Immigration and the Bedroom Tax.
Now Immigration argument that most folk raise isn’t the Daily Mail what-about-them-immigrants rant. It’s quite the opposite. It’s people from Eastern Europe concerned about their immigration status in an independent Scotland. So the discussion tends to go something like this:
“I’m worried I won’t be able to stay in Scotland if it becomes independent and leaves the EU.”
My response would be, “You stand more of a chance of remaining in the EU if you vote Yes. Under the current system we’re more than likely to get a Tory/UKIP coalition after the next UK election. The price UKIP will charge for this is a referendum on independence for the UK from the EU. If this referendum is held there is every chance that it would lead to the UK withdrawing from the EU. This will lead to the industrious folk that have moved here and contribute so much to our communities and economy having to leave.”
Scotland needs immigrants because the population is aging. We need fresh, enthusiastic people of working age to make the place we live in better. The Tories would sell this need out for the political expedient of clinging on to power at Westminster for a little longer.
The Bedroom tax is the next most popular topic of conversation. It is one of the most iniquitous and cynical policies since the Poll Tax. It has produced some hideous situations, like this example of a mother hit with the charge over her disabled daughter’s sensory room:
And this, showing the effect it is having on households where there is a carer:
Aside from these examples, and there are many more, this is a blatant attack on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. It is thoughtless and callous – but even more than this, it takes no account of the crucial flexibility that ‘spare’ rooms provide, and the social capital they create. For example, if a lone grandmother has a ‘spare’ room, it means she can look after her grandchildren at the weekend, allowing the children’s parent(s) to work. If a divorced parent has a ‘spare’ room they are able to maintain a proper relationship with their children, even without full-time custody.
The bedroom tax also takes money from the public purse, and channels it into the private sector. If an individual can’t afford their new situation they will have to move to a new property and often there are no single bedroom flats available in their council area. This means that councils must re-house these tenants in the private sector, often B&Bs that are unsuitable for long-term accommodation. Of course, private flats or B&Bs present a huge expense to councils, as this article shows:
Most people need little convincing that the Bedroom Tax should be done away with.
So as the New Year opens up before me and I look ahead, I can’t wait to get back out there chapping doors with the message of a brighter future. A future without the Bedroom Tax, a future where we don’t have nuclear weapons on the Clyde, a brighter, greener, fairer future for everyone who lives in this land. Another Scotland is possible, and if you listen really, really carefully, you can hear it coming.
Anyone interested joining in with canvassing is welcome to come along on Wednesday nights when they will be paired with an experienced canvasser to learn the ropes. For that, or to get involved in any other way click to: https://www.facebook.com/ricaberdeen or call 07813085896 for details.