Earlier today I was at an Edinburgh and Lothian meeting against the Bedroom Tax which aimed to launch a coalition of all the local groups and campaigns currently existing and to encourage groups in new areas.
Like a lot of these sort of meetings there was a good bit of repetition and I was really gasping for a cup of tea by the end of it. Overall, though, I thought it had a really positive outcome.
The meeting agreed that decision-making power should be in the hands of local groups and that the co-ordination between them should be done through recallable delegates.
Instead of handing over power to some committee or media personality, by stressing this organising principle we should have a genuinely grassroots federation and campaign, controlled by ordinary folk – and I hope those directly affected by the tax will become particularly involved.
This was argued for by a number of anarchists and other activists, but it seemed that most people present were in favour anyway. I like to think this shows that we have a reasonably good culture in the Edinburgh left, and that bottom-up ideas are becoming more widespread. At the same time, grassroots organising also allows competing factions to co-operate in the first place.
The meeting, as I understand it, was meant to be for group delegates and observers but this could have been clearer and hopefully there won’t be any confusion at the next real federation meeting.
There were differences in perspective between those who put more emphasis on engaging in a dialogue with politicians and those more emphatically in favour of no compromise and direct action, like anarchists. In the end it seemed like the meeting agreed that different tactics could be pursued by different groups or individuals. Also, to be fair, no-one was arguing against a direct action approach.
Another outcome was that local groups alone will send delegates to the first Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Conference on the 27th April, instead of another proposal that the meeting today will also send four delegates. This was the right decision. Today’s meeting was only meant to co-ordinate local groups and potential groups, and they hadn’t had a chance to discuss the national conference themselves.
The question, though, is what will the national conference amount to? This was called by the West of Scotland Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation, which I’ve been critical of in the past for putting Tommy Sheridan onto it’s ‘interim committee’ which he subsequently resigned from. How are they organised now and how many local groups do they have? Will there be a clash between the directly democratic structure of the Edinburgh groups and that of the Glasgow federation(s)?
A delegate from the West of Scotland federation was present at today’s meeting and talked far too much about politicians’ backing and fighting the Tories. We need an independent campaign that’s critical of all politicians and doesn’t just slide into an easy anti-Toryism. At Westminster, Labour is in favour of the tax, and in Holyrood, the SNP could do a lot more to ensure that people won’t be evicted. In short, just like we don’t want to give up control to committees neither should we give it to any politician or union bureaucrat.
The meeting in Edinburgh was only a first step towards a wider federation organised from below. There’s a lot of work to be done to set up new groups and to create a campaign that has effective tactics and gets results. We also need to build on this, and argue for recallable delegates and autonomous local groups across Scotland.
If you’re in the Edinburgh and Lothians area, get involved in your local anti-cuts group. You can find details on the Edinburgh Anti-Cuts Alliance site.