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Breaking the power of fossil fuels: divestment at work

 

It’s not right, but money talks and money makes the world go round. Despite years of scandal, failure and chaos, financiers in the City of London continue to make the big calls on how to invest, and in doing so, hold our common future in their hands. Almost 10 years since the financial crash this is a frightening and precarious state of affairs.

The City doesn’t know best

Campaigners are challenging the power of big finance by insisting that investors commit to divest from fossil fuel companies. By demanding divestment we are saying that we know better than the financial industry and in many cases, we are forcing them to act.

And it’s working. Funds worth $6.15 trillion have made some sort of policy commitment to withdraw from fossil fuels. On 24th May the Financial Times reported that UK investment in green funds had “shot to a record high” with a 500 per cent increase over the last 10 years.

However despite more funds “going ethical” such funds still only make up 1.3 per cent of investment. A complete sea change across the sector or top-down regulation by the UK Government would be needed before the financial industry can spearhead a green revolution for the UK. At the rate which our climate is deteriorating it often feels like we can’t wait for this change: we need campaigning tactics that are more urgent. But divestment campaigning is also spurring deep changes far outside of the City of London, subtle changes that most wouldn’t even notice are happening.

Reputational damage well deserved

When Glasgow students won Europe’s first University commitment to divest from all fossil fuels they spurred the reallocation of £18 million of the university’s investments. But they also got one of Scotland’s wealthiest and most influential institutions to make a strong statement against fossil fuel corporations. Glasgow told big oil ‘we don’t buy your version of the future: be gone’.

New research suggests that divestment can reshape ‘social norms’ by undermining the credibility of fossil fuel companies. That is a big deal, because it is the ‘soft power’ held by fossil fuel companies that gives them so much influence in our society. Wealthy and broadly popular companies like these wield huge power over political systems, ensuring that fossil fuels (instead of renewables) benefit from subsidies, low taxes and minimal regulation. By helping to break this power, divestment is making victory for the whole climate change movement possible.

Oil major Shell recently acknowledged this phenomenon. According to the website Desmog, their annual report states that divestment could cut the company’s value and make it harder for them to borrow money for new projects. In other words, Shell are worried that divestment will make it harder for them to get oil out of the ground.

Having difficult, necessary conversations

Four years after Glasgow’s victory campaigners at Edinburgh received the same level of commitment from their university – and a whole lot more. A relentless campaign that lasted more than a half decade made new connections with staff and researchers and influenced multiple generations of students. The continuation of oil and gas research and false solutions like carbon capture and storage in the University had been seriously
questioned, as was the presence of polluting companies at careers fairs.

In May the Church of Scotland General Assembly narrowly voted against divestment, to the dismay of just under half of the Church’s delegates. But thanks to the issue being raised 600 or so assembled commissioners spent over two hours discussing action on climate change and what the Church could do about it. They listened as ministers from as far afield as South India and Malta expressed alarm and dismay at the Kirk’s investments, speaking in blunt terms about the impacts of climate change on communities in poverty.

Others brought the problem home to Scotland sharing efforts local churches were making to use electric vehicles, go renewable and cut energy usage, and posing difficult but critical questions about how we ensure good employment and vibrant Scottish communities in a fossil free future.

Just as Edinburgh University found these are not all easy provocations to resolve.  But by exploring them honestly, and having the conviction to act on what is unearthed, is the only way our communities will truly rise to the challenge of climate change.

Climate change is pretty scary, and a rapid transition away from fossil fuels looks far off whilst oil companies are keeping their choke hold on our society. We need campaigning approaches which are both radical and immediate.

Fossil fuel divestment is giving oil companies the bad reputation they deserve, reclaiming our future from big finance, and provoking profoundly productive debates within institutions and communities.

This blog originally appeared on the Friends of the Earth Scotland blog.

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21 acts of defiance: Scottish people’s 10 year war against Trump and the politicans who backed him

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Protestors march on Donald Trump’s half-built golf course at Menie, Aberdeenshire, 2010. Photo copyright Aaron Sneddon, used with permission.

Scotland’s fight against Trump wasn’t about his bulging personality, but corporate power.

Earlier this year Scotland was engaged, if not enthralled, in one of the more progressive parliamentary election campaigns in the wee Parliament’s short history.

At a BBC debate held in March the chair filled out the last few minutes with the apparently obligatory ‘funny question’. The topic: Donald Trump; specifically, what would you do if he phoned you as First Minister?

The speakers, from UKIP to the Greens and everyone in between, were falling over each other to point out just how much they hated Trump.

“Get off my phone”, barked Willie Rennie (Liberal). “Can I have fries with that”, smirked Ruth Cameron (Conservative). “I’m on the other line sorry” retorted Nicola Sturgeon (SNP). Patrick Harvie of the Greens said he’d be speechless and even UKIP’s candidate was scornful. Adopting a somewhat more serious tone Labour’s Kezia Dugdale said she’d get straight to the point: “I’d tell him to stop preaching hate.”

Their chorus was perfectly in tune. The message: Scotland hates bigots and bullies. Scotland hates bigots and bullies so much most of them didn’t event think it was worth taking the question seriously.

The Scottish people do indeed have a strong record of calling out this “racist, xenophobic, misoginistic, odous man”, to quote Patrick Harvie, and we should celebrate this. But it’s high time we also reminded ourselves of how we got here: Scots had to stand up to Trump because Scottish leaders courted him, invited him over, rolled out the red carpet, surrounded him with sycophantic journalists and cut out people and due process to let him have his way.

We had to do something.

So what exactly did Trump do to fall so far out of favour with Scotland?

It began ten years ago when Trump had a series of meetings with the then First Minister, Labour’s Jack McConnell. Trump was making plans to build a vast new golf course on the Menie Estate just north of Aberdeen. The Scottish Government wanted to show the world the country was open for business, and making friends with Trump seemed a pretty canny way to do it.

The plans for Menie were unveiled in 2007 as the SNP took over the Scottish Goverment from Labour. Trump was on the offensive describing his plans with almost religious gusto: it would be “a source of pride for both Aberdeenshire and Scotland for many generations”.

He visited the Isle of Lewis to see the house his mother grew up in (spending a total of 97 seconds inside the house, according to an amused Guardian correspondent) and accepted a role as a “GlobalScot”, a Government funded club for business people connected with Scotland. Trump was in.

1. Aberdeenshire Councillors reject Trump’s plans

Labour and SNP Scottish Governments were openly enthusiatic about Trumps plans. But in Aberdeenshire the local council wasn’t so sure.

There was widespread evidence of severe environmental damage resulting from his proposed two golf courses, hotel and apartment complex, and his claim that the project would create “thousands of jobs” didn’t stack up to much scrutiny.

Small wonder then that Aberdeenshire Council’s planning committee rejected the tycoon’s proposal, albeit by a margin of 1 vote, in 2007.

A brave act in the face of aggressive lobbying by national government and Trump’s global business organisation.

If Aberdeenshire Council was brave, what happened next left a sour taste. The plans were ‘brought in’ by the Scottish Government, a procedure intended for major developments of national importance, and approved the Government in 2008. The Council had been overrulled.

The new First Minister, the SNP’s Alex Salmond said the destruction of the local environment was justified by the wide array of benefits Trump’s arrival would bring to the North East of Scotland.

Yet very shortly after construction began Trump put the brakes on. A wind farm development some miles offshore was announced. Trump said it would spoil the view from his golf course, and insisted he wouldn’t complete his plans if the renewable energy scheme went ahead. Scotland would have to choose between being pals with Donald Trump and developing clean energy.

2. Molly Forbes takes Trump to court

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Michael and Molly Forbes at Menie. Photo copyright Aaron Sneddon, used with permission.

Enter the residents of Menie.

Quite a lot of people lived on the land adjacent to Trump’s planned new resort and Trump wanted rid of them. First he tried paying them off. Then he tried slandering them and appeared to encourage polic intimidation. Legal action was attempted. The final solution was to plant huge hedges and build mounds of earth around people’s houses to shield them from view.

Susan Munroe and David Milne saw their local area transformed by construction work. Trump threatened to take Milne to court claiming that, based on outdated maps, that his shed was on Trump’s land.

The residents did not take any of this lightly.

Molly Forbes, now 92, lost her water supply when Trump’s construction team showed up, and it hasn’t ever returned. She has attempted taking him to court on behalf of the local people but lost the case due to a technicality and in 2010 was asked to pay £50,000 in court fees.

3. Don’t mess with Michael Forbes

Trump repeatedly vilified local farmer Michael Forbes, calling him a “pig”. Forbes hit back by daubing the walls of him barns, which overlooked his new course, with slogans like “NO MORE TRUMP LIES” and hosting campaigning events and local art shows in on the farm.

4. Tripping Up Trump

Aberdeenshire residents got organised through the brilliant ‘Tripping Up Trump’ campaign targeting the local council and national government over the plans.

When the Aberdeen’s Press & Journal newspaper, long criticised for being in the pocket of business, refused to cover their efforts they launched their own news-sheet ‘Menie Voices’ in 2010.

5. University Principal tears up his degree

Another long-time best friend of Scottish big business was Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University. They saw Trump as a top notch publicity opportunity, and duly awarded him an honorary degree in 2010.

However the ceremony didn’t quite go to plan. In full view of the Scottish media and alongside Tripping Up Trump protesters gathered outside, former RGU Principal Dr. David Kennedy handed back his honorary degree marked NOT WANTED.

He told the BBC: “I don’t wish to have an honorary degree from a university which admires and promotes a person such as Donald Trump… [He] claims to be brutal and tough, he claims that one cannot be too greedy, he boasts about the number of people he has fired… These are not the qualities that I admire nor with which I wish to be associated and that is why I am returning my honorary degree.”

6. Environmental groups condemn Trump’s plans

Back in 2007 Scottish environmental organisations were pretty clear about their opposition to Trump’s development, which planned to tear up a Site of Special Scientific Interest at Menie.

Their opposition only got louder as his plans advanced. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, not known for their love for wind farms, sided with the renewable energy industry in 2012 when Trump took arms against the proposed wind-farm development nearbye.

7. The Wightman Report

Bemused at the total lack of any economic analysis of the plans for the Menie estate, land rights campaigner and now Green MSP Andy Wightman produced his own study about Trump’s project in 2011.

His conclusions were damning:

“Perhaps this vanity project will indeed end in tears on a rock of hubris and recrimination. If it does, at least the long suffering residents of the Menie Estate will be able to live in peace once more and those responsible for bringing about this saga can reflect on their role and consider whether this is in fact the kind of sustainable development we want in the new Scotland.”

8. The march on Trump’s golf course

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Photo copyright Fiona Fraser, used with permission.

Aberdeenshire residents wanted to reclaim the site and show solidarity with local residents whose homes were being wrecked.

In 2011 the Tripping Up Trump campaign organised an iconic rally to the site: ‘The March of Menie’, concluding with tea and cake at Michael Forbes’ farm.

9. Michael Forbes voted man of the year

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Photo copyright Fiona Fraser, used with permission.

In 2012 Scots trolled Trump by launching a campaign to see Michael Forbes granted the publicly-voted Glenfiddich ‘Spirit of Scotland award’. He won by some margin.

10. Queen rock legend joins the campaign: “Nothing really matters – but me”

When astronomer and rock legend Brian May expressed him sympathies for the campaign in 2012 Tripping Up Trump seized the opportunity and got permission to record their own version of Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s wonderful.

The video features a puppet of Donald Trump who has his own Twitter feed. Puppet Trump has vigilantly followed Trump on his many self-agrandising visits to Scotland.

11. A boring movie: “You’ve Been Trumped”

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The battle fought at Menie and Aberdeen was recorded by local film-maker Anthony Baxter in ‘You’ve Been Trumped’.vThe movie was released in 2012 and is a damning indictment of national decision makers, the police, and Trump’s own organisation.

Arrested during the course of filming, Baxter’s movie brought local people’s side of the story to audiences outside the North East of Scotland. Trump said he heard it was “boring”. It’s not.

Baxter released a sequel: You’ve Been Trumped Too, broadcasting it live on Facebook for the first time on Thursday. Watch it here.

12. MSP gives Trump the finger in Parliament

As the SNP’s enthusiasm for Trumps plans began to receive long-overdue national scrutiny, the Conservative chair of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee of the Scottish Parliament invited the man himself to speak to Parliament in 2012.

Never one to pass up an opportunity for a show, Trump said yes.

At the Committee hearing, when asked what evidence he could provide to back his claim that ‘tourists didn’t like wind turbines’ Trump replied (to the sound of derisory laughter): “I am the evidence.”

After the meeting Green MSP Patrick Harvie gave trump a two fingered salute, which must have upset him as Trump then lodged a formal complaint with the Parliament standards body – not for his hand gesture – but over a tweet referencing Monty Python’s Life of Brian which Trump claimed was blasphemous.

Unsurprisingly, Harvie emerged unscathed.

13. Protester makes Trump’s hair stand on end

When Trump left the Parliament building to escape in his car he was greeted with a wall of anti- and pro- wind power protesters.

One of the later group was a supremely well prepared. Donning an anti-Trump t-shirt carrying the slogan “WIGS: Wind is Good Scotland” the activist held a staticly charged party balloon over Trump’s comb-over. You’ll have to click through to the Daily Mail to see the photos (sorry).

14. Pro-green energy protesters meet Trump with ‘near riot’

Photo by FOES and Maverick 2

Photo by FOES and Maverick
Photos by Friends of the Earth Scotland / Merick Photo Agency, used with permission.

The Guardian’s Severin Carrell described the scene outside the Parliament that day as a ‘near riot’. But for most of the morning the atmosphere was good natured with pro-green energy activists dressed as wind-turbines taking the opportunity to remind Trump that there was more at stake here than his hotel businesses.

15. Scottish government stands up for clean energy

The more publicity Trump received the less his plans seemed to stack up, and activists had been doing an exellent job of making sure he was getting lots of negative publicity.

Scotland was beginning to wake up to Trump’s reprehensible rhetoric and eventually the Scottish Government started sticking up for their renewable energy plans – and not Trump’s golf course.

Trump’s increasingly desperate fight against the wind scheme went as far as the UK’s supreme court, where he lost, and announced he was moving his money elsewhere.

Alex Salmond, former friend of trump and now former First Minister, branded Trump “three times a loser”, referring to Trump’s repeated defeats in the Scottish and Supreme courts.

One golf course was built, but a major apartment complex and second course were to be shelved. Campaigners had scored a hugely significant victory.

16. Golf turns against Trump

Frustrated that bullying had failed to deliver him a windmill-free skyline at Menie, Trump purchased the world famous Turnberry course in Ayshire in 2014, promising millions of dollars of investment.

The course had hosted golf’s most prestigous tournament, the Open Championship, on a number of occasions and was next expected to host it in 2020. Ownership of Turnberry should have allowed him an easy ticket to the top of golf.

But golf’s governing body, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (to give you an idea of how conservative they are, women have only been admitted as members since 2014) couldn’t stomach Trump’s racist and sexist comments. In December 2015 they quietly let it be known that the Open wouldn’t be coming to Trump’s patch whilst he owned it.

17. Sturgeon revokes Trump’s GlobalScot status

As Trump’s presidential campaign gathered steam his palatability to Scottish politicians took a dive. In late 2015 his proposed ban on muslims entering the United States led to widespread outcry in the UK.

When he first arrived in Scotland Scottish elites were fighting over each other to accommodate him in their institutions. No longer. Trump was now toxic.

Amid high-profile popular pressure First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revoked his Scottish business ambassador ‘GlobalScot’ status.

18. Trump is stripped of his RGU honary degree

Remember act number 5? Scotland did.

Begun by Suzanne Kelly from the blog Aberdeen Voice, a petition calling for called for Robert Gordon University to take the Scottish Government’s lead and strip him of their honours receieved 80,000 names.

The University responded in a matter of days, revoking his degree.

19. MPs debate banning Trump from the UK

Prompted by Trumps call to ban Muslims from entering the Unites States, the aforementioned Aberdeen Voice started a UK Parliament petition calling for Donald Trump to be banned from entering the UK.

The petition gained over half a million signatures requiring MPs to hold a debate on the issue which they duly did in January 2016.

20. Opulent occupation

In the new year of 2016 Trump was busy tallying up Republican party delegates, and Scots were busy ensuring opposition to him remained in the news at home.

Upstart Scottish socialists RISE did the only sensible thing anyone could do in the face of Trump’s accelerating bandwagon and occupied his hotel at Menie in Aberdeenshire.

21. Trump: visit our mosques

As the mayor of London invited Trump to visit the parts of London he said were ‘too dangerous to visit’, a petition gained 18,000 names inviting Trump to visit the Scottish capital and visit Edinburgh mosques to learn about Islam.

He didn’t accept.

22. Stand up to Racism

The day after the UK voted to leave the European Union Trump took a break from his presidential run to visit his golf courses and lecture us about European multinational cooperation.

In Aberdeenshire his course was invaded by protesters waving the flag of Mexico, taunting him over his incendiary remarks about the country.

Over in Ayrshire a huge ‘Stand up to Racism’ rally marched on his course at Turnberry.

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Photo by Stand up to Racism.

23. New merchandise

At Turnberry, poised to began his speech to a gaggle of specially invited journalists, Trump was interrupted by comedian Lee Nelson who popped up in front of the podium and announced Trump Turnberry’s new official merchandise.

Nelson was gently removed from the site, not before he scatted a barrel of the balls around Trump’s feet. Trump was forced to deliver his speech surrounded by golf balls emblazened with tiny swastikas. His presence in Scotland had descended into farce.

24. Trump is a cunt

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Photo courtesy of Jane Godley, used with permission.

Scottish comedian Jane Godley saw this visit as an excellent chance to have the last word on Donald Trump’s war on Scotland.

While Trump’s organisation entertained guests inside his Turnberry hotel Godley turned up outside wearing a wind-swept expression and a placard reading TRUMP IS A CUNT (this is, incidentally, the title of her current stand-up tour). Some beautiful t-shirts have also been designed to mark the occasion.

25. Flying the flag for Mexico

The last word must in fact go to the residents of Menie. Ten years ago they were the object of his wrath in rural Aberdeenshire. Today Trump’s vile language takes aim at whole nations and ethnic groups. Solidarity crosses these boundaries.

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The next Donald Trump?

A lot of people in the UK have spent the last year asking “what kind of a people would allow such a man into power?”

You don’t have to look far to see how this could happen, because it happened in Scotland, and it is still happening. Trump’s brand is still emblazoned on the golf courses of Scotland, placed there with the warmly given support of two succesive First Ministers.

At that same BBC debate back in March Labour leader Kez Dugdale concluded:

“I’m sure Nicola [Sturgeon] regrets it now but all she was trying to do was bring investment and jobs to Scotland. It’s just a shame it had to be from a character like that.”

Dugdale and Sturgeon would have us believe that they were ‘duped’ by some con artist. In reality our leaders were cosying up to corporate power, gambling that it would pay off. And they haven’t learnt their lesson.

This wasn’t just a story about a reprehensible American tycoon and those who fought against him. It is also a story about those who let him have his way.

Scotland’s business and political elites must take responsibility for letting him destroy communities and lives in Aberdeenshire.

Our universities continue to give honours to dubious billionaires; golf courses are still owned by a wealthy, sexist elite; hate-filled, tory-owned newspapers fill control our media; and the language of big business still dominates the political agenda, with our Government in Edinburgh pledging to cut business rates, aviation tax, and lobbying for billions in subsidies for north sea oil.

Until we end our love affair with unfettered big business there will be many more Donald Trumps to come.

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This article was updated on 20 Jan 2017. Many thanks to those who offered corrections and additional info, and a special thanks to the photographers for letting us use their excellent pictures.

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Originally posted on Bright Green.

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7 things on Brexit

7 things on Brexit: chinks of light through a constitutional clusterfuck

Good morning readers. Time to eat your brexit: the UK has voted to leave the European Union.

There is a lot to come to terms with, a lot to think about, and a lot to do. Some things we know, and they might help crystallise a vision for how we can go forward.

1. This is a constitutional cluster-fuck

The muddle and mess that is the British constitution will be fully exposed, and may begin to completely unravel in the coming days.

The SNP leadership have indicated an interest in retaining EU membership if the rest of the UK intends to leave. With such a high remain vote in Scotland they have a very strong mandate to do this.

Alternatively if Scotland is ‘dragged out by England’ another referendum on Scottish Independence seems highly likely.

Northern Ireland voted clearly for EU membership and is faced with deep uncertainty about its relationship with the Republic. Northern Ireland will now have to live with an EU border. Nationalists will propose an alternative: a referendum on unification.

The whole tone of the official leave campaign has been about independence for the English. This will surely bolster calls for English Votes for English Laws and other measures to strengthen the political power of England.

Finally and by no means least of all the UK is entering unprecedented series of negotiations with the EU and global trading partners. It seems very likely it will be offered a tough deal, and if so, we may be faced with another referendum on our deal with Europe.

How all of these issues may be resolved is utterly unclear. We should start talking about them right away to offer our solutions: more, not less democracy.

2. The right has been tearing itself apart

This referendum was an accident. The Conservative leadership, outmanoeuvred by its own back bench MPs, and given an unexpected majority in Parliament, set the date of the vote. The already divided tories split their own cabinet over this issue, and senior figures have flown insults left and right at one another. UKIPers have been at each others’ throats, and whilst they have won many arguments on a national level in England and Wales many of their members may now feel the party has lost their raison d’etre.

Meanwhile the left, in Labour, Greens, and nationalists in Scotland and Wales, have been united. This is a huge advantage.

It matters for public perception, but perhaps more importantly for cooperation. We’re still friends with one another, and should build up our alliances to defend human rights, the environment and people who’ve migrated to the UK.

3. We need to steal the initiative

Post election analysis has considered some populist themes of the remain campaign which aren’t inherently regressive.

Many leave campaigners talked angrily about George Osborne’s post-leave-vote ‘punishment budget’ and how they won’t accept further austerity. Osborne’s welfare cuts being removed from the 2016 budget was a key political event of the Spring. We must keep this sentiment alive.

A key theme throughout has been the idea of people being ‘fed up with the establishment and elites telling them what to do’. This can spiral into conspiracy theorydom – but it can also be taken as an anti-corporate, anti-centralisation, and anti-autocracy – very much in tune with Bernie Sanders’ inspiring campaign for US President. They are all strong anti-capitalist, green, progressive themes, and we should adopt them.

4. The fight is on to save the European Court of Human Rights

We will need to grab all of these opportunities to win a future General Election (including if one happens before 2020 – a real possibility now that Cameron has resigned) and to defend worker, migrant and environmental rights as our relationship with our neighbours is redrawn.

Long before it was clear that an EU referendum would take place, the Conservative Party had indicated its intention to leave the European Court of Human Rights and replace it with a ‘British Human Rights Act’. This seems unstoppable now – their story is that this is exactly the kind of ‘red tape’ that the EU forces upon us. We’ve got a fight on our hands to retain basic fundamental rights.

5. Bankers will be crying, fascists will be smiling

The 1% didn’t want this, and they will be somewhat astray for the next weeks and months. This does present an opportunity.

On the other hand, the result is exactly what the far right wanted. They will be gearing up to take to the streets to call for the UK to kick out anyone they don’t like the look of. A wider political movement against Islam and workers who aren’t UK nationals will gain momentum. We will have a job to do to stop it.

We shouldn’t forget that before last week it was some time since a sitting MP had been murdered. This will get worse before it gets better.

6. We will still need our friends in Europe

This vote is a blow for Syriza, Podemos, and other progressive forces in the EU who have been asking for our solidarity in democratising Europe. Their fight remains intrinsically linked with our fight for a Europe that protects human rights and upholds democracy.

7. Referenda aren’t all bad

This campaign, and the fallout of it, have had some appallingly regressive outcomes for the UK. But referenda are not in principle bad.

In Scotland the independence referendum had an incredibly positive impact on political engagement. When people have the chance to vote for something better, progressive change is always possible.

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Note: this article, originally posted at 5am, was updated to accommodate Cameron’s resignation

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The Paris deal did not fix climate change. But we will (and here’s how)

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People from Norway marching in Paris on Saturday as part of “Red Lines”, organised by 350.org. Photo: Ric Lander.

Let’s recap.

Climate change is predicted to kill 250,000 people per year from malnutrition, malaria and other effects from 2010 onwards. These people will predominantly be the poorest.

Rising temperatures and changing weather patterns threaten the life support systems of vulnerable people and will cause an unprecedented global mass extinction of species.

Conflicts inflamed by lack of food and water will destabilise nation states and uproot millions of people, causing mass migrations (sound familiar?).

These changes are mainly caused the the burning of fossil fuels by the worlds’ rich. These fuels are extracted, refined and sold at great profit by private and public companies.

250,000 people every year: a threat so great that world leaders have spent over 20 years deliberating over a solution.

Must politics move so slowly? 130 people are killed in Paris in November, and the UK Government is willing to commit to avenge their deaths in a bombing campaign approved so quickly that the payloads were falling inside of 3 weeks.

Clearly we have a problem, and it’s not just to do with our climate.

Did the deal cut on Saturday solve this problem? Not on your nelly.

The words missing from the Paris Pact: fossil fuels

World leaders signed the Paris Pact, pledging to make “efforts” to limit a global temperature rise to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels.

This number, 1.5oC is both the boldest part of the pact and its deepest betrayal. The very basic aim of the pact – to keep greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a safe level – is totally incommensurate with promised national emissions cuts. The pledged cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and lets remember how rarely such pledges are kept, add up to a catastrophic 2.7-3.7°C of warming.

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Protesters call for an end to fossil fuel use at the Eiffel Tower. Image: Ric Lander.

The deal makes no mention of any fossil fuels.  Instead the solutions preferred by the UN would have us perpetuate more false solutions:

  • Carbon trading schemes have totally failed to curb emissions in Europe, but are now being introduced in China among other places. They are part of a wider set of policies which privatise natural commons (in this case the air) leaving them to be self-regulated in the custody of markets.
  • Carbon capture and storage schemes aim to allow fossil fuels to burnt as the pollution is removed from the air. Unfortunately they have proved wildly expensive and cannot account for the vast quantities of emissions from the extraction of fossil fuels.
  • ‘Internationally transferred mitigation outcomes’ feature in the deal. These are basically mechanisms whereby rich countries can pay poor countries to do their carbon cuts for them. For the rich it’s a neat solution: developing countries have been offered no-where near the cash they need to face this problem. By using trading schemes the rich keep milking fossils fuels whilst paying the poor to use less.
  • Carbon sinks are explicitly mentioned in the pact, inviting in proposals for potentially dangerous geo-engineering schemes to “suck” greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, as well as ploughing on with the UN’s REDD++ scheme, which encourages poor countries to sell their forests to the rich to enable them to carry on polluting (the people that live in these forests don’t much like this idea).

None of these proposals get to the root of the problem: leaving fossil fuels in the ground. This may be a surprise to those of you who heard the Guardian proclaim the deal marked “the end of the fossil fuel age”.

The deal could have been worse – but that doesn’t make it a victory.

The summit has swelled the egos of politicians and a few NGOs: but the gulf between the stated ambitions of the Paris Pact and its effect is vast, and its the difference between millions of lives. It is a gulf that the media have largely ignored.

A momentous year in the fight for climate justice

We can no longer pretend that fixing climate change is a simple question of putting legal limits in carbon emissions and trusting that everything else will follow.

It must be about taking on vested interests and taking down the companies profiting from this crisis, about standing in solidarity with those affected by opening our borders to those who seek refuge and a home, about getting politicians to put some money up for a just transition which can re-engineer our economies in a way that eases the shut-down for those who work in our dirty industries, and it’s about doing this as a broad social movement, not a science obsessed clique, but a broad a movement with workers and the global poor at its heart.

We are beginning to put these lessons into practice, as 2015 has been a landmark year for the fight for climate justice.

The mass movement of people from Syria throughout Europe as awakened people to the reality of a world with an altering climate, with more and more people fleeing wars fuelled by drought and the ensuing lack of food and water.

The UK Government has been quick to respond by dropping bombs on the problem. This has called for climate activists to become advocates of open borders and migrant rights – and refugee and ant-war activists to join up with environmentalists.

After a shocking victory in May another wake up call came when the new Conservative UK Government binned the remaining renewable energy subsidises, wrecking years of hard won progress to decarbonise Britain’s electricity and heat generation. The more liberal and conservative of the conscientious could no longer pretend “we’re all in this together”. The environment has gotten political again.

At the start of the year the fight against fracking made huge strides as Scotland and Wales joined others globally in putting a moratorium on fracking for gas. This is a social movement doing something virtually unprecedented: stopping fossil fuels from being taken out of the ground. A victory hard won by mass community mobilisation and a dedicated alliances of community groups and NGOs.

In August 1,500 people trespassed onto, and shut down, one of Europe’s most polluting coal mines. 800 people were arrested at “Ende Gelende” (Here and no further), Germany, in an inspiring show of strength by climate activists (watch the video).

In September 350 announced that funds worth $2.6 trillion have now gone “fossil free” with UK student group People & Planet announcing later that 17 British Universities have in some form divested from fossil fuels, driven to move their money by students, staff, petitions and numerous occupations.

The whole year was a torrid time for coal companies in particular. Deprived of customers and investment they held a conference called “Mines and Money” to discuss how the industry could get out of its financial troubles.

In November the Keystone XL oil pipeline, planned to carry ultra-dirty tar sands oil from Canada, was finally scrapped: the first time a major international piece of fossil fuel infrastructure has been beaten by climate campaigners.

Drawing our red lines

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Paris, Saturday: flowers are left for the victims of climate change and red lines mark the limits the climate movement won’t allow politicians to cross. Photo: Ric Lander.

Then at the end of the year people gathered in a historic mobilisation in which 800,000 people took part in towns and cities in 175 countries around the world, marking the start of the UN talks in Paris.

At the end of the talks, determined to have the last word, 15,000 of those people converged on the streets of Paris to reclaim the city from the UN talks and draw red lines – a warning to world leaders that the climate justice movement would not let politicians negotiate away our planet.

Ordinarily this would be unremarkable, but it is just a few weeks after the deadly terrorist attacks and a state of emergency remains in place prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people. That anything happened on the streets at all in such a highly tense and uneasy atmosphere, on streets thronged with armed police, at all is a small miracle.

The Paris Pact may be a miserable failure.

But it was a victory that we took the streets.

It was a victory that when we did, and when thousands of others marched and took direct action and got in the way this year they did so not to ask politely for world leaders to do something, but to dictate their terms.

We are the ones who will stop climate change.

We are learning how to stop fossil fuels in their tracks, to build a just transition, and to get climate justice. But perhaps the biggest victory of the year is that we’re not asking politely for the politicians do to it for us.

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A thriving, sustainable society needs democratic and accountable banks

By Gemma Bone and Ric Lander

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Bailout protests on Wall Street, New York, 2008. Image credit: Eyewash, Flickr.

 

If we want social change we need to think about finance. To create a society that lives within natural limits we need to fit together some proposals about how we can sustain people and their communities, what infrastructure we need to reform, remove or rebuild, and how we’ll supply the resources we need. We also need to have some pretty bright ideas about how we instigate this change.

Banking and finance should provide the mechanism by which we move around resources in society to instigate such changes. However neoliberal reforms have created a “financial industry” which serves itself and capital – not society. This industry is now the most significant barrier in the way of our efforts to create a sustainable society.

Divestment, the campaign for public investments to be withdrawn from fossil fuel companies, is a first step in challenging this system. It is a shock tactic. The finance and fossil fuel economy, defended by global financiers headquartered in the City of London, a creaking but towering political consensus at Holyrood and Westminster, and its arms and legs: oil, gas and coal companies, will not and cannot be redeployed to invest for the future by gentle persuasion and reasonable argument. So it must be undermined. Divestment allows our institutions and communities – places which are by their scale and nature more human, more responsive – to mark out their territory as moving apart from the fossil fuel power block and part of something new. In doing so they create political and cultural pressure for new thinking.

However this really is only a first step, or rather, one side of the coin. If divestment is the withdrawal of vast sums of money from businesses and organisations which are destroying our collective futures, then we are left with the problem of reinvestment, i.e. where can we channel divested funds to kickstart the radical change that we really need. In other words, if we want a future where society thrives within ecological limits we need a massive redeployment of resources, not just from small public pots, but from big finance too. Our self-serving “financial industry” as it currently stands, is not capable of thinking sustainably over the long term. So banking and finance must be reimagined, redesigned, and rebuilt as democratic and accountable services.

But where do we start with what seems like a colossal challenge, finding alternatives to the neoliberalised finance system? Firstly, we must remind ourselves that even in the UK, which has one of the most concentrated banking sectors in the world, there are some already existing alternatives which are, in some way, ‘better’ than the mainstream. There are the ‘disruptive innovators’ seeking to create new business models which place environmental and social justice at the heart of their practice. The relatively new crowdfunding industry for example, has the potential to circumvent some of the power relations of finance, enabling projects, businesses and renewable technologies to be funded by the ‘crowd’, crucial when bank loans are hard to come by.

Secondly, we can look to other business models for inspiration including the quiet strengths of those local mutual and savings banks who have managed to hang on throughout the ‘big bang’ of 1980’s regulatory reforms, and newer, more ethically focused financial businesses such as Triodos and Abundance who focus specifically on channelling resource to renewable energy production. We can also look to other countries banking structures which put diversity and locality at the (regulated) heart of what they do, such as the Sparkassen in Germany, a network of publically owned and regionally accountable local banks.

What these brief examples show, coupled with the successes of the movement towards divestment, is that there is a cultural push for a systemic change in finance. We no longer expect or accept that the only duty of finance is to create profit no matter what. Divestment campaigners, disruptive innovators and mutual and co-operative supporters are showing that other motivations and values are not secondary, they can and should be at the heart of the purpose of banking and finance. They are challenging the sovereignty of the profit maximisation principle and show that finance is not free from the demands and responsibilities of social and environmental justice, but that instead it can play a crucial role in creating a better society for us all.

This is a huge challenge, but the more we make finance accountable and democratically controlled, the more opportunities we create to invest for the long-term in a thriving sustainable future. We can start this journey by reforming the investment practices of public investors, and setting up community banks and other institutions which can take over and attract investment whilst creating and enabling the fulfilment of social and environmental needs. We need to stand against irresponsible and short-termist finance, take back our collective power and continue to take action on multiple fronts, as pension-holders, voters, consumers, opinion formers and most importantly, citizens.

This article was originally posted in Issue 89 of the Scottish Left Review.

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Going on the offensive – A picture of Scotland’s anti-fracking movement

By Ellen Young and Ric Lander

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“The People’s Voice” anti-fracking rally at Grangemouth, Sunday 7 December 2014. For more info see here.

Community groups have led the way on the path to the moratorium on unconventional fossil-fuels in Scotland, and continue to do so in the ongoing struggle for a full ban. The effective grassroots campaigning of these communities, who have fought the Scottish government and unconventional gas companies, is an inspiring story for those across the UK and the rest of Europe.

Policy shift: independence and persistence

It is not in the nature of national governments to give much thought to the views of communities when planning energy infrastructure. Little of Scotland’s current renewables bounty goes to communities and in the energy boom before that, Scotland’s 20th century North Sea oil bonanza, communities looked on as local councils vied with each to host incoming oil multinationals.

Scotland’s anti-fracking movement has changed all that. People are demanding, not just to be consulted, but to take decisions themselves. How did this happen?

Concerted campaigning by communities has been gradually ramping up the formal political debate on unconventional gas for some years. The ground was laid by groups such as Concerned Communities of Falkirk and Friends of the Earth Scotland who developed considerable technical knowledge and local support focused not around fracking, but a ruling over coal-bed methane drilling. The Falkirk community secured thousands of objections to the proposals and when the local government dithered on the case, a public inquiry was called: a tense and costly legal battle which pitched big industry against local people. Unconventional gas stayed in the news as new shale drilling licences were issued, raising the spectre of fracking in central Scotland.

Throughout 2014 Scotland was getting wise to the clever tricks of industry barons and politicians who would say one thing to business and another to the voters. The story of what was going on in Falkirk was passed around from doorsteps to public meetings to TV debates and back. In Scotland’s independence referendum debate, people were angry about having policies imposed upon them from London, but they were also getting angry about having policies imposed upon them from anywhere. Scotland’s independence debate created new local political spaces, and fracking and Falkirk’s fight were just the kind of injustices that people wanted to talk about.

A true social movement

Scotland’s flourishing town hall democratic spirit did not end with the “No” vote on Scottish independence. Instead newly created groups like the Radical Independence were chomping at the bit for a new way to exert their power. They almost brought down a 300 year-old union of nations – surely they could do away with fracking. The fight of a few plucky campaigners was turning into a true social movement.

At the same time, immediately after the referendum, political parties negotiated new powers for the Scottish Parliament to approve on-shore oil and gas licences. No longer could any excuse be made that fracking was being “imposed” on Scotland by the UK Government. There was no ambiguity: fracking could now be stopped at home.

Into this fray Scotland’s two biggest political parties installed new populist leaders: Jim Murphy for Labour and Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP, Sturgeon with a new focus on inequality and Murphy seemingly hell-bent on supporting any policy that sounded popular (his first policy announcement was to remove the ban on alcohol at football matches). More than ever both parties were keen to put as much distance between themselves and that of the Conservative-led, pro-fracking, UK Government.

Thousands of letters were signed to SNP and Labour leaders. Local MPs and MSPs were lobbied. Events and conferences were organised. Demonstrations were held at oil refineries. Communities were being very noisy, and their voices were being amplified by a newly attentive Scottish media.

The pieces moved at the end of January.

Scottish Labour announced a new policy to give local referendums on fracking proposals, the SNP immediately moved to support a UK-wide moratorium, and three days later the Energy Minister Fergus Ewing told the Scottish Parliament: “from today there will be a moratorium on all unconventional oil and gas extraction.”

Two years ago the message local communities heard was “don’t worry about fracking, the government is taking care of it.” Now Scottish politicians are outdoing each other to see who can claim to respond best to the community’s views.

Falkirk: a large scale mobilisation

The campaign in Scotland has been built around local groups of people coming together to protect where they live. Initially fighting the industry planning application by planning application, the movement has grown until it has been able to go on the offensive.

Leading the way have been the Concerned Communities of Falkirk. In 2012 they co-created an objection letter to a coal-bed methane drilling proposal through large democratically-run public meetings. The letter was signed by over 2,500 residents and contributed to the largest response to a planning application the local council had ever seen. The resulting escalation led to a public inquiry: when the Government Minister told them “communities are capable of representing themselves” they raised £70,000 for a lawyer to oppose the gas company’s top legal team. They also co-created a community charter setting out “all the things in our local area which residents have agreed are fundamental to the present and future health of our communities” and are working on creating a community chartering network, where the ‘cultural heritage’ they define can be defended under European law to help ensure sustainable development in other communities.

Falkirk’s lead has been taken up by communities at risk from across the country.  The mobilisation of large numbers of people is now a clear characteristic of the movement in Scotland.

Anti-fracking community

As stated, the referendum on Scottish independence was critical: with awareness spread through new media and public debate, and new groups and spaces for debate and action born.  Frack Off UK, a resource and contact point for activists across the UK, reported ‘in the weeks following the referendum there were new anti-fracking community groups forming daily in Scotland.”

There are now over 50 community groups across the central belt of Scotland, some formed proactively over shale gas fields, others as issue-based campaign groups in cities and elsewhere. As well as helping achieve huge national policy shifts, new groups and activists have taken forward local fights from longer-active campaigners to tackle the industry on individual planning applications.

Although highly decentralised, community groups have also come together to collectively articulate their shared concerns at crucial points in the campaign. The Broad Alliance, which is a coalition of 30 community groups, published a number of influential open letters in the national press demanding a moratorium. They have also successfully demanded to be part of the stakeholder consultation process of the moratorium, originally reserved for industry and established NGOs.

Right now communities are making their impact on the ‘engagement’ efforts of the companies.

Ineos, the biggest player in the Scottish unconventional gas industry, is carrying out a ‘community engagement’ tour meeting residents in libraries and at one-to-one meetings, and promising to share £ 2.5 billion of its profits with communities who accept drilling in their vicinity.  As well as previously dismissing concerns about fracking, Ineos are deeply unpopular following a recent union battle in which billionaire company-owner Jim Ratcliffe threatened to shut Scotland’s largest oil refinery.

The new narrative of engagement is nothing more than a thinly disguised PR exercise, and offers nothing in the way of meaningful engagement with communities. The result: it has been followed at every stop by activists and residents asking detailed technical questions, holding protests, and staging walk-outs.

The road ahead: inquiries, consultations, social change?

Engagement from companies and weak promises of a regulated fracking industry have been rejected in Scotland. People now expect communities to have their say. How does the Government see this happening?

When announcing the moratorium, the Scottish Government also all announced an inquiry on potential public health impacts and a public consultation. There are initial concerns that the health inquiry may be seriously rushed, and there are troubling questions over how long-term impacts like cancer rates can be honestly assessed. Public consultations are often tokenistic affairs, and communities will need to mobilise strong support to make an irrefutable case.  In an aborted consultative effort in 2013 the Scottish Government tried to placate initial concerns about drilling by proposing loose “buffer zones”, but opted not to engage community groups on their size, instead delegating the decision the drilling companies themselves.  Much of this campaign has been bitterly hard-fought, and communities are well aware that the moratorium could disappear very quickly if it the debate cools down.

There is much to be done to achieve a complete ban on all forms of unconventional fossil-fuels in Scotland.  The moratorium is a huge achievement, and so is the level of mobilisation on this issue.  The people have become powerful, but the industry, and their government insiders, have not yet been beaten.

Resistance beyond the border

If Scotland completes its journey to a ban on fracking and unconventional oil and gas, will the rest of the UK follow?

There has already been a significant spillover effect to the debate in Wales, with restrictions on fracking promised shortly after Scotland’s policy shift.

Experience in England is more sobering. A local moratorium in Blackpool, which followed earthquakes caused by fracking, lasted less than a year. Opposition is widespread and angry, but is largely focused on local fights. The UK’s biggest political parties were broadly pro-fracking going into May’s General Election, and bolstered by an unexpectedly strong election victory, the Conservatives are likely to run one of the most pro-fracking governments in Europe. The SNP’s landslide victory in the General Election, winning all but three seats in Scotland, provides hope for some, yet despite imposing the moratorium in Scotland their stance on fracking still remains ambiguous and the impact they could have on a Conservative majority government remains uncertain.  Scottish communities can, and will, inspire battles in the rest of the UK, but they cannot lead them.

In Europe, despite moratoriums in France and Germany, the level of mobilisation in Scotland is still seen as something to aspire to.  This hard working and highly effective Scottish community movement can clearly be a leading light to many others globally.

Activists who began fighting drilling proposals were shocked into action by stories of acute health and environmental impacts in America and Australia.  The movement those campaigners build is now as much about sovereignty and democracy.  What other victories can this inspire?

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Your kindness could kill

By Amie Robertson and Ric Lander

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A poster in a Sainsburys in Ipswich, Suffolk, reads “could you spare 20p for a cup of tea? How about £10 for a bag of heroin? £12 for a rock of crack?”

The poster asks people to donate to a local homeless fund and gives a contact for Streetlink, who offer services to homeless people.

Demonising people who are begging under the guise of helping homeless people is not a new tactic for the police, but for homeless charities the emphasis of this campaign is part of a new, worrying trend.

Flyers designed to accompany the poster campaign read “in a recent radio programme one person claimed he could earn up to £150 per day.” No further evidence is offered.

Getting the facts straight

The campaign seems to rely on two core assertions: that “most people sleeping rough do not beg” and secondly that “most people begging do not sleep rough.”

We are invited to infer from these statements that homeless people are the deserving poor, people begging are drug addicts, and these are two different groups of people. Or to put it another way, people begging on the street are drug addicts pretending to be homeless.

Is it true that “most people sleeping rough do not beg”?

On the face of it, the 2011 Complex Lives study, coordinated by the UK Government Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), appears to agree with this statement. Its comprehensive study in seven UK cities found that 32% of homeless people reported having begged.

However, the study also found that begging was typically something that people engaged in “in the middle-late phase of homelessness.” This is vital because it suggest that people are only likely to resort to begging if they have been homeless for some time. The study also suggests that people in such situations are more likely to be cut off from society in other ways, more in need of help.

What about the second claim, that “most people begging do not sleep rough”?

Homeless charity Thames Reach takes this claim further saying that “the link is between begging and drug and alcohol misuse, not homelessness and begging, nor even homelessness and drugs.”

Again the ESRC study suggests this is misleading. It found that over time there was a close relationship between homelessness and begging: “there is a strong overlap between experiences of more extreme forms of homelessness and other support needs, with nearly half of service users reporting experience of institutional care, substance misuse, and street activities (such as begging), as well as homelessness.”

To be clear, it is not that there is no relationship between substance abuse and begging, or substance abuse and homelessness. It would not be fair to say that people begging on the street aren’t going to spend any of their money on drugs. It probably is safer to offer food, blankets or a hot drink, instead of money.

What is important here is that these posters imply that people begging are “frauds” and “not real homeless people” without offering clear evidence for this idea and with little apparent concern about the impact of pasting these false claims all over the streets.

Those involved appear to have thought little of the demonising effect of their campaign. For the sake of raising a few pennies these charities are selling the dignity of the very people they exist to help.

Surely we can help those suffering on the streets without erecting media campaigns further stereotyping an already extremely vulnerable group and stopping one of their few options for generating their own income.

We’ve all heard the stereotyping, that friend you have that tells you the supposed “Romanians” you see on the street “aren’t actually homeless”. These posters purposefully support the image of people on the streets as criminals and liars. Surely this is what we must collectively fight against?

A poster copied across England

How did it come to this? How did homeless charities hit on the idea of asking for people to donate by text, and turn away from people begging.

The poster seems to have originated from London-based Thames Reach. Their “your kindness can kill” campaign has been running since 2003, and they have extensive web-pages explaining it.

Thames Reach’s original design has since been remodelled and reworked by many councils in England, including Manchester, York, Liverpool, Cheshire, Kent, Bournemouth, and Exeter. Although Suffolk is a notable exception, most councils seem to have used less aggressive language than Thames Reach’s original design.

lydia_james_manchester-1A version of the posters in Manchester. Image: Lydia James/caption]

Why are these campaigns supported?

One can’t escape the feeling that these campaigns continue to be successful primarily because they make “the rest of us” feel more comfortable doing what most people are already doing: ignoring people on the street.

One Oxford University student told a student paper: “I feel ashamed when I see tourists who come to Oxford having to walk past beggars and homeless people on the streets. What sort of impression does this give of our city and our society as a whole?”

Jeremy Swain, Chief Executive of the London charity who invented the posters, Thames Reach, told The Guardian in 2013 that he wants to stop begging because “because of the incontrovertible evidence that the vast majority of people begging on the streets are doing so in order to purchase hard drugs.” But he goes on “I have stopped giving to beggars for another reason too. It is, I’m afraid, because I’m sick of them. One of the regulars round my way, a bit clever, fag in hand, became so persistent, so intrusive, that I got quite hostile, dismissing him with the same curt tone I find myself using with cold callers who plague my phone.”

Concern that the posters exacerbate negative images of people on the street made the campaign controversial when it launched in the City of Oxford. City Councillor Sam Hollick told us: “These posters seem more focussed on preventing people asking for money in the street than addressing the problems that cause people to do it. The message of the posters reinforces the idea in people’s minds that any interaction with someone in the street asking for money is with an addict, and is somehow dangerous. This only increases the gulf between people who are homeless and those who aren’t, which can cause a hardening of attitudes against people worst hit by societies problems.”

A City Council run review of the Oxford campaign highlighted other problems. The evaluation found concern, from people begging themselves and service providers, that the campaign would “affect trust-based relationships with the beggars”, have an unfair impact on the minority of people begging who did so for necessities, and encourage people to turn to crime for income. There is also some evidence that these campaigns don’t have a significant effect on giving to homeless charities.

Kindness doesn’t kill

There is compounding evidence that homelessness is linked to volatile life circumstances which would often already cause high levels of social stigmatisation. These can lead to a variation of homeless experience where form of income has to be navigated outside safety of permanent or even regular residence.

Homogenising homeless experiences into one stereotypical understanding is not only patronising but ignorant.

Further categorising those self identifying as homeless into ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ only propels the stigmatisation of those in the most vulnerable positions, often without the connections to such caring organisations, and indeed pushes them further away from any kind of inclusion into society.

There is not enough social housing in Britain; cutbacks to public sector spending is closing some of the most critical care and rehabilitation centres; we are becoming the imprisonment capital of Europe; and the welfare state is being violently eroded whilst at the same time wages have never been so low and insecure.

This is a way of constructing society that WILL make people homeless, and yet charities on the front line of care provision for those within this traumatic experience are concerning themselves with making money by demonising those they seek to represent.

If this is the true face of austerity then God help us.

Or better yet, let’s help each other. Suspicious and dividing narratives like these only serve to enforce a more individualistic society where governments can further enforce draconian policies in the knowledge that our communities are fractured and in judgement of each other.

Giving your pound to those begging on the street will not solve anything. In fact the best that money will do is absolve your guilt for the next ten minutes until you see that someone else that has been forced into the street within this system which you remain economically privileged within.

However, as a man begging outside Haymarket Station, Edinburgh, so rightly put it, “it’s no about wanting all your money, but at least see me as a person.” Stopping to give someone the time of day on the street is a radical act of change in a society that demands we see each other as competition for the recourses those in authority refuse to give us. When we acknowledge that specific people on the street will often have experienced violent circumstances and stigmatisation within their daily life, it’s not just a radical act, but a way of resisting their further subjugation.

They are not just ‘beggars’, they are our brothers, our uncles, our aunties and our mothers, and their lives did not begin when they sat down and asked you for a spare bit of change.

I do not believe our kindness could kill, but rather that it could be transformative. Let our daily conversations become the building blocks for community organising where those affected by such issues are brought to the front line of grass-roots resistance against discrimination, and we work together to create an alternative society that puts the resources available in the public hands.

Oh, and what happened to that poster in the Sainsbury’s in Ipswich?

After the picture was shared widely on Facebook, Wesley Hall, a volunteer for Help the Homeless called up the shop asking for it to be removed. Although only put up that morning, the manager agreed to take the poster down.

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The fight against fossils: are we beginning to win?

Tomorrow is the world’s first ever Global Divestment Day. I’m quite excited.

The environmental movement used to be all about changing light bulbs and taking shorter showers. It is now getting organised around defeating the fossil fuel industry.  How did this happen?  And more importantly, how can it win?

For years environmental groups had been encouraging people to cut their own emissions.  In the late 2000s we got organised to get our governments to take a lead.  There was Climate Camp, “The Big Ask”, I Count, Plane Stupid, and a lot more.

We won. In 2008-9, shortly after the world economy crashed, the UK and its devolved parliaments passed world leading climate legislation.

So we asked the UN to join in. We lost.

Some people went back to the beginning and focused their efforts on local resilience, building low-carbon community projects. For a while this was the mode. It didn’t last. People weren’t just optimistic, they were angry. How could we push for the world-wide change we needed?

Sitting in the background, never quite top of the agenda, were a colourful bundle of campaigning ideas that hit climate change at the source: keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

In the early 2000s a campaign called Stop ESSO channeled the fury of environmentalists at a fossil fuel company that was worse that the worst: they funded massive climate denying PR, they were responsible for spills galore, they were even named as complicit in the Iraq war. The campaign was huge, but did not appear to have had much impact. It suffered from two fundamental problems. Firstly it asked people to boycott ESSO, but where do you then go – There is no “ethical petrol”. Secondly, even if you do have an impact on the company – what then? You can’t tell an oil company not to be an oil company. At the same time BP was trying to convince us an oil company could not be an oil company. It didn’t last.

When students started to focus on fossil fuels again in 2007 with the ‘Ditch Dirty Development‘ campaign, they didn’t make these mistakes. Their campaign wasn’t about the symptom (people putting fuel in their cars) but the cause: people getting it out of the ground. And it was cleverer than that still: it followed the money. First to UK banks, then to universities, cities and government.

Targeting the fossil-fuel brand, as Stop ESSO attempted, is not futile, but the target needs to be directed to the right outcome. We won’t get far telling people to get fuel from a different petrol garage, but we can do a lot depriving the industry of staff recruits, severing their ties with Governments, and stopping their PR machine. Fossil-fuels, not just one company, not even just one fuel, but fossil-fuels must be the target.

All other things being equal this effort could just have the effect of slowing production.  Great news for the climate in the short-run, but it’d also make fossil-fuels more expensive: terrible for the poor and furthermore, higher prices will rekindle production.

The opportunity created by this movement needs to be used to redirect that capital, all the subsidies, all the patronage, all the bright people, into the emerging renewable economy. We don’t necessarily need to work out how to do that now, but we do need to understand the plan.

We need a movement against fossil-fuels that has an industry-wide aim and a long term plan. Well we’re in luck, because we do, and tomorrow it goes big.

Map of planned actions for Global Divestment Day, 13-14 February 2015.

An amazing movement is coming together to get to tackle the heart of capitalism’s biggest catastrophe:

  • Fighting fossil-fuels at home: local community groups, anarchist networks and NGOs are making amazing strides to block onshore oil and gas, galvanised by real public outrage at the threat of fracking in the UK. Just last month fracking bans were tabled in Scotland and Wales, and these campaigns have brought in traditionally pro-fossil-fuel groups like trade unions.
  • On campuses: student groups are campaigning for “Fossil-Free” universities, not just in the UK, but around the world – first seeking to divest endowment funds from fossil fuels, then pensions and then perhaps cutting research links.  This is the lead guard of global divestment day.
  • Church groups are organising to divest parishes, diocese and faith organisations from fossil-fuels. Their part in the hugely successful apartheid divestment campaign was vital.
  • A growing group of organisations is supporting divestment of local government, bank and pensions funds.
  • Anti-poverty NGOs like the recently relaunched Global Justice Now(1) are calling for “Energy Justice” in solidarity with communities affected by fossil fuels. This builds on the work of organisations like Platform London and the London Mining Network who detail about how fossil fuel exploitation affects communities in the Global South, like Ogoniland in the Niger Delta.
  • Fossil-free politics: big NGOs like Friends of the Earth and Oxfam are drawing eyes on the fossil-fuel industries’ access to the 2015 UN climate conference. This forms part of a wider need to stop the lobbying and embarrass politicians for their oil, coal and gas connections.
  • Fighting fossil-fuels offshore: until it goes violently wrong there are no residents around to much care about deep-sea drilling. That’s part of why Greenpeace’s campaign against Arctic oil is such an important piece of this movement: we cannot just rely on people to stop what’s in their backyards.
  • Spilling the greenwash: Art Not Oil have kept the pressure on the Tate and National Galleries in London to counter their sponsorship by BP. Fossil fuel companies get credit for sponsoring all manor of events in the UK. Art Not Oil’s lead could be taken up in many other places.

With this much going on there has been much speculation about the political and financial implications of what’s being demanded.

Much of this has coalesced around the carbon bubble – the stock market value of fossil fuels which would be rendered “unburnable” by action on climate change.

Some financial pundits have suggested this bubble poses real present risk to financial systems and as such action must be taken to invest in green alternatives.

We need to understand these arguments – and then to avoid them.

The carbon bubble does not yet exist. When Shell and BP claim that none of their carbon reserves are “unburnable” they are right. The current plan, implicitly supported by their directors and investors, is to burn it all and live in a 6oC warmed world.  No, this carbon will only become unburnable if we start winning, and we have a long way to go yet.

Financiers may sell their fossil-fuel shares because they think we pose a present risk to the value of fossil-fuel stocks. They may be right, but they will buy them back up when the industry rebounds, and in the process we will have sent out a very bad message: listen to the money men.

We don’t need clever financial arguments to burst the carbon bubble. If we tackle the fossil fuel industry effectively and achieve a just transition it will deflate of its own accord.

The current financial turmoil of the fossil-fuel industry does provide us, though, with a great opportunity to question its future.

This effort is more timely still. There is widespread anger about onshore fossil-fuels and fracking. The future of the North Sea is in question. The UN is poised to meet to sign a treaty made worthless by the gentle whispers of lobbyists’ in negotiators ears. Divestment Day is coming.

Now is the time for us to draw these campaigns together to make a truly global movement against dirty energy.

It has run the world for almost 100 years. In fact it made the modern world and now stands on the brink of destroying it. The fossil fuel industry has been winning for an awful long time. Let’s make 2015 the year we started winning.

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*Formerly the World Development Movement.

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Dust. Settled. Go Scotland: a 7 item to-do list

For two years up to September the country was in fever pitch with friends, colleagues, families and strangers debating and cajoling each other on every issue we have.  It was all encompassing and it was fascinating – but ultimately it was leading up to answering a binary question.

After we got our answer on September 19th the pieces made their moves.  Two party leaders resigned.  A key leader of the No campaign, Gordon Brown, then announced his intention not to return to Westminster.  And inside of two months the Smith Commission met, argued, and agreed limited new powers for the Scottish Parliament.  It has been quite a storm.

Scotland remains in political ferment. But the dust is starting to settle.

Politics in Scotland is complicated again, but not everyone has yet come to terms with that change.  Independence, the issue that changed everything, is still the number political issue on the street.  But many people have jumped into the ferment for other reasons: to alleviate poverty, to strengthen their communities, to stop fracking, to start talking to one another, to stop austerity and to grow alternatives.

The two biggest game changers are now on their way to settling: we have a new First Minister and a new agreement on powers for the Scottish Parliament.  Soon we’ll also know the Leader of Scottish Labour.

We know enough to get organised again.  What can we do?

Many things are vital.  Some of these things are especially vital right now.  The following is a list of things Scotland needs to do right now.

1. Nationalise our railways

“The power will be devolved to the Scottish Government to allow public sector operators to bid for rail franchises funded and specified by Scottish Ministers.”, p.21, Smith Commission report.

Well?  What are we waiting for?

Public support for renationalising the railways is historically high and considerable anger is mounting over the East Coast sell off, due this Spring.  This is the perfect time to reclaim the railways.

The Green alternative is not just about reversing the past. Public transport in public hands has been working effectively since privatisation including the Glasgow subway and the Edinburgh buses.  But we can go further.  Public transport is a basic need for many people: so why not make it free?

Who to talk to?

2. Champion the welfare state

Labour and the Conservatives are trying to out-do each other about who can make the biggest cuts.  Among other pledges, Labour have promised to scrap welfare for the under 25s.  Conservative plans will lead to “colossal” cuts, according to the IFS yesterday.  The 2015 General Election will be the first chance we’ve had to vote for an alternative for the UK.

The contract for work capability assessments is to be auctioned off in early 2015 following ATOS’ early termination. Labour say they want to “reform Work Capability Assessments to help more disabled people into work“(1).  But these assessments weren’t just mismanaged: they are plain wrong.

A small proportion of powers over welfare are to be devolved to Scotland.  These will allow the SNP to block things like the bedroom tax, but their overall impact may not be big.

Welfare is our vital infrastructure for a functioning society, as Adam Ramsay puts it.  We need the Scottish Government to know we’re watching how new powers will be used and we must join up with groups across the UK to defend the welfare we have.

We have positive stories to tell.  Greens have campaigned successfully to stop workfare and the bedroom tax in Scotland.  And we have a clear alternative to benefit cuts and means testing: a universal basic income.  This is the right time to talk about it.

Who to talk to?

3. Stop TTIP

A truly European-wide campaign has been born this year against two dangerous trade treaties which will codify new rights for US and Canadian corporations over UK markets. The NHS being exempted from TTIP is not enough – the treaty must be stopped.  Nicola Sturgeon has signalled some concerns about TTIP.  In 2015 it will either be signed or torn up.  Scotland could lead the opposition.

Who to talk to?

4. Tax the rich

At a time of austerity the UK Government’s response has been to cut taxes for wealthy people and wealthy companies.  In the first years of the Coalition UK Uncut did a brilliant job of reminding people what austerity was all about: we need to resurrect their energy and make redistributive taxation part of the debate in the 2015 General Election.

The Scottish Parliament is to receive new powers over income tax.  Although, as Iain Macwhirter points out, there isn’t much money to be raised from changing these rates, it is crucial that the SNP rethinks its low tax approach.  Corporation tax cuts, a key plank of the Independence White Paper and a continuing theme of Conservative Government, need to be clearly opposed.

Nicola Sturgeon has chosen to make land reform a key issue of her new leadership.  We need to make tax part of the debate: aspirations to redistribute land would clearly be advanced with a land value tax.  This is a solid green idea that also responds to another question raised by the Scottish Government: how to replace the council tax.

Who to talk to?

5. Defend migrants

The London media have set the stage for the 2015 General Election and Nigel Farage will be their leading star.  Immigrants are already getting the blame for most of society’s ills but never in our lifetime has a general election campaign had immigration as the central issue.  The SNP will claim they are pro-immigration by rejecting Labour and Conservative policies: that is not good enough.  We need a just and welcoming Scotland, to show that Scotland and the world would be better off if we opened our borders.

Who to talk to:

6. Stop fracking and unconventional gas

Scotland is facing an especially dirty wave of new mining.  Unconventional gas drilling, including shale, coal bed methane (CBM), and underground coal gasification, using new techniques such as fracking are on their way.  They have developed slower in Scotland having been met with caution from the Scottish Government but their time is coming: Ineos announced plans last month to bid for new drilling licences in central Scotland; there are new plans to get gas from lighting coal seems; and the enquiry on CBM in Airth will report in the Spring.

New powers are now due from the Smith Commission which said:

“the licensing of onshore oil and gas extraction underlying Scotland [and] responsibility for mineral access rights for underground onshore extraction of oil and gas in Scotland will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.” p.21, Smith Commission report.

These powers could be used to stop extreme energy technologies but this will only happen if we get organised – now.

The Green alternative is clear: a green new deal with jobs from clean, locally-owned renewables and energy efficiency improvements to stop fuel poverty.

Who to talk to:

7. Discuss, critique, plan, prepare and join in

There has never been a better time to be organised in Scotland. There are some suggestions about places to start in the paragraphs above.  Here are some more:

Many people were brought into the conversation around remaking Scotland in the context of the referendum.  Today’s politics need to be different.  A yes vote is not coming our way to answer all our problems.  The new Scotland is so much more interesting than that.

We need to take the time to be critical of the SNP’s proposals for independence and build long term support for a more radical, coherent vision of change in this country – on currency, on energy, on tax, to name but a few examples.

Through radical action that’s needed now, and debating our vision for what’s next, we will become better organised than ever to build a just Scotland.

At the Radical Independence Conference in October 2013 Leslie Riddoch said Scotland was a socially democratic cat-in-the-bag, and it was time to open the bag.  A lot has changed in these 13 months.  Perhaps the cat could pop out for an adventure?


Extra!

It’s been pointed out that this is also a very good time to be getting active on housing in Scotland, with a consultation on Scottish Government reforms out and support from Labour for some private rent controls.  There’s more info at the Living Rent Campaign.

References

(1) October 29, Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Disabled People.

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Hope as Resistance: 16 Pictures of Dissent to World War One

The last surviving British veteran of the First World War, Harry Patch, died in 2009.  With him dies the collective memory of a generation that fought, resisted, endured and dreamed.

Living memory is a powerful thing.  It can assert itself in ways the dead cannot.  Patch himself met Tony Blair.   He told him “war is organised murder” (1).

Now he sleeps, the experience of his generation are up for grabs: a quote for a statue, an artefact for a museum, a sound-bite for a speech.  With their voices gone, our leaders are free to resurrect the same old lie: it is sweet and honourable it is to die for one’s country.

Yet we can all be custodians of their memory and we can all reclaim history.  When the Government announced a year of “celebrations” to mark the start of the First World War, some of us started a radical history project to uncover more about the War to End All Wars.  Here is a picture of what we have found so far.

Britain’s entry to the First World War was opposed by many, including the then Labour Party under Keir Hardie, pictured here speaking in Trafalgar Square, 2 August, the day before Germany declared war on France. Image: Magnoliabox.

Entry to the war was opposed by campaigners in the Central Powers too.  A 1914 Hungarian Social Democratic Party poster calls for the people of Budapest to “march against the horrors of war”. Image: “Posters: A Concise History” Thames and Hudson.

Britain entered the war having learnt total brutality from its imperial adventures.  Prior to the new European War the British Army’s most recent experience of large-scale combat was in South Africa, where Field Marshal Kitchener pioneered a scorched earth policy and the use of concentration camps against civilians.  Lizzie van Zyl (pictured) died in British custody in the Boer War, aged 7.  Image: Wikimedia.

After early advances and retreat the Western Front moved only a few miles between Winter 1914 and Spring 1918.  Allied tactics insisted on repeated pushes into German lines totally fortified far beyond the front lines.  Advance through such fortifications was near-impossible.  Allied Trench maps show the detail of understanding of the futility of these advances.  Image: National Library of Scotland.

German use of gas on the war field was frequently used to make the case for continued British sacrifice.  Yet chemical weapons were adopted by all sides and allied chemical attacks caused 300,000 causalities.  Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty during the war reflected in 1919 “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum.” Image: Wikimedia.

On the home front white feathers were distributed to shame men who has chosen not enlist.  Official poster campaigns asked ‘what will you answer when your children grow up and say “father, weren’t you a soldier too?”‘.  Conscientious objectors, promised some rights as part of the Conscription Act, were persecuted.  Image: National Library of Scotland.

On Christmas Day 1914 many battle lines went quiet and, in places troops left their positions, climbed into no-man’s land, and shook hands with their opponents.  Some played cards, some drank together, some sang together.  Near the town of Ypres a football match was held (which German troops won 2-1).  To mark the centenary of the match the English Premier League is funding for a new pitch for local clubs in Ypres, Belgium.  In subsequent years of the war such meetings were banned.  Image: Wikipedia.

In 1916 1,200 women from Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Poland, Belgium and the United States met in the Hague to campaign to stop the war.   This photo shows the American delegation.  The International Congress of Women plotted an alternative, non-violent form of conflict resolution and demanded mediation and peace.  Image: Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

The British front line in Dublin.  In 1916 British troops were sent in to crush the proclamation of the Republic of Ireland in the Easter Rising.  The rebellion was over in five days with 466 killed. Image: Wikimedia.

Unrest was rife elsewhere at home.  Three years after the Easter Rising tanks were sent in to the ‘Battle of George Square‘ in Glasgow when 60,000 rent and wage strikers took to the streets demanding better conditions. Image: Wikimedia.

Organised resistance took its toll on both warring sides. As Paul Mason recalls in October 1918 German workers and soldiers organised to bring down their own army, shutting down factories, the navy, and eventually taking Berlin.  Organised workers began a German revolution making continued fighting impossible.  On 9 November the Kaiser was forced to abdicate ending the First World War. Banner readers “no war”. Image: Libcom.

With hope for internationalism President Atatürk of Turkey told the families of the Allied dead of Gallipoli “your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”  His words are recorded in a memorial at Anzac Parade, Canberra, Australia. Image: Flickr.

How many lost their lives? Many more than we care to remember.  In 2014 responding to calls for the extension of the Tower of London’s installation of ceramic poppies (marking British fatalities), the Quakers mapped how much of central London would be covered if all the war dead were commemorated in this way. Image: Quakers/Google Maps.

Flags_of_the_British_Empire_in_Africa

Was all of this sacrifice made for the liberty of plucky Belgium?  A legacy of the First World War was the beginning of 96 years of decline of the British Empire – but territorially it was a huge victory for the allies.  By the end of the war Britain had gained control of modern day Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Palestine/Israel, Namibia, Tanzania, Cameroon, Togo, and Papua New Guinea. Images: atlasofbritempire.com

The Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, was one of the deadliest battles in history.  70% of the dead, 35,000 men, were never found: their bodies sinking into the mud.  Image: Wikimedia.

In 1919 Paul Nash records the desolation at Ypres with awesome precision in his painting “The Menin Road” (click to view).

95 years on the British Prime Minister David Cameron stands in front of Nash’s picture to announce a year of “celebrations” to mark the start of the first world war.

Now they are dead the memories of the First World War generation belong to us.  Don’t let the Government take them over.

 

References and further reading

  1. No Glory: the Real History of the First World War (pamphlet). Neil Faulkner. Stop the War Coalition, 2014.  Available from here.
  2. To End All Wars (book). Adam Hochschild. Macmillan, 2011.
  3. Opposing World War One: Courage and Conscience (pamphlet).  Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi, Peace Pledge Union, Quakers and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 2013. Free download here.
  4. No More War (website), Peace Pledge Union project for 2014-18.

Postscript

Other great projects I’ve been made aware of are the White Feather Diaries (http://www.whitefeatherdiaries.org.uk/) and Campaign Against the Arms Trade’s “Arming All Sides” project (http://armingallsides.on-the-record.org.uk/).  Both arms profiteering and conscientious objectors are ill-covered by this piece and should be revisited.

The quote from the the Prime Minister is from his IWM speech which you can read here.  In the speech he says:

“Our ambition is a truly national commemoration, worth of this historic centenary. I want a commemoration that captures our national spirit, in every corner of the country, from our schools to our workplaces, to our town halls and local communities. A commemoration that, like the Diamond Jubilee celebrated this year, says something about who we are as a people.”

The use of the word celebration here, alongside the direct comparison with the Jubilee, which was intended after all to be a big national party, is surely deeply inappropriate.

I was also sad to learn that the MP overseeing these commemorations, Andrew Murrison, is debating at Exeter University on Friday in favour of the motion “This house believes that World War One was a great British victory.”

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