activism

The Yes campaign may have won the #indyref

Update: The SNP now look on track for 60,000 members after hitting 50,000 yesterday and now standing at 59,000 (as of 1pm Wednesday – no signs of slowing, either). They have overtaken the Lib Dems’ and UKIP’ total British membership numbers by a long stretch. Meanwhile the Scottish Socialists are processing over 2,000 membership applications and the Greens over 3,000 (plus hundreds more in England, too). 

The SNP’s doubled membership means that over 1 in every 100 Scots are now members of the party – a higher proportion than party memebership of ALL parties across the UK as a whole. A back of the envelope calculation puts the membership fees gained from the over 33,000 new recruits shows if they all paid:

  • The recommended fee – £5 a month: The party would rake in £2m in extra subs for the next year
  • The lower fee: £3 a month: £1.2m in extra subs for the year ahead
  • The minimum fee: £1 a month: £400,000 extra for the next year

That’s a lot of money (in addition to the tens/hundreds of thousands that will have been donated over the past week – genuinely). It’s also 33,000 additional foot-soldiers who have an experience of campaigning.

Something incredible is happening in Scotland – people are actually getting excited about democracy. Meanwhile a poll puts the SNP on 49% for Holyrood and catching up with Labour for the Westminster election next year. 

The article below was originally published at Left Foot Forward

With pro-independence parties seeing record-breaking membership growth, the indy camp could be the real winners after all

Who do you think won the Scottish independence referendum on Thursday? You’d probably have a fair claim to say it was the unionist campaign, winning 55 per cent of the vote.

But a few facts suggest that in the long run, it could be the parties that campaigned for independence.

Why? Over the past three days, membership of the SNP has risen by at least 14,000, nearly half of which joined in the 24 hours after polls closed. To put that into perspective, that was the SNP’s total membership ten years ago. They’ve now added that since Thursday night.

This now makes the SNP by far the largest party in Scotland with over 45,000 members – far more than both UKIP and the Lib Dems’ total membership across the whole of the UK. It’s also, according to a Green Party activist I spoke to, nearly four times Labour’s membership in Scotland.

It’s hard to even accurately assess the extent to which people want to sign up: the SNP’s website crashed on Sunday for two hours when 500 tried to join in one hour. There were fascinating stories circulating on social media – such as an extended family of 18 people simultaneously resigning from Labour to join the Nationalists.

This has to be a total rarity in modern British politics at a time when membership of the mainstream parties is stagnant or plummeting. People are, whisper it, actually getting excited about politics.

It’s not just the SNP that is facing this surge either. 2,500 joined the Scottish Green Partybetween polls closing and Saturday evening – a faster rate than the SNP. Earlier this year the Greens had just 1,200 members in Scotland, meaning in a few days they have doubled or more in size. The impact? They could end up with over dozen MSPs in nine month’s time; their highest ever.

It’s hard to fathom the impact that could have on politics north of the border. The combined membership of the England & Wales and Scottish Green Parties is now around half that of the Lib Dems nationally. They’re gaining ground, a fact reflected in the polls, too.

Even the Scottish Socialist Party has seen a minor revival, with another 600 members in the two days following the referendum.

I could go on. But the key issue isn’t the numbers here – as impressive as they are – but the issue of why, and what impact this could have on Scottish politics.

Yes Scotland shared a Facebook status pointing to the astonishing recruitment figures (it was shared over 2,300 times). Of the more than 1000 comments, almost all were from new activists. And many are deeply interesting.

One of the most popular comments appears to sum up the mood:

“I will not lie down and accept this result. I will not suck it up, and move on. Nobody achieved anything in life by rolling over and accepting the status quo. I will continue to hope for an independent Scotland in my lifetime. I’ve never really taken an interest in politics before this referendum, but today I’ve become one of the 4000+ people to join the SNP in the last 24 hours. We are the 45 per cent and we will not be silenced.”

Another:

“We lost the battle but were not losing the war.” Again: “Yesterday we cried, today we move forward with renewed determination to claim what is rightfully ours.”

All these reflect the fact that the referendum was not the end of the road, but perhaps the start of a process. Many were disgruntled with the BBC and the rest of the almost entirely unionist press, 70,000-strong allegations – however ridiculous – of vote rigging, and the apparent reneging on promises to grant further devolution just one day after the referendum.

But they were also impressed by the principled move of Salmond to stand down upon losing the vote, and the vibrant radical grassroots campaign which mobilised working-class people who had long been ignored by neoliberal politics.

Those activists are now becoming party political: “Now that there’s no referendum campaign to be involved in, these people, who have been politicised for the first time in many cases, are looking for some political activity to get involved in – they’re not going back to their sofas,” Edinburgh Greens’ membership secretary Mike Williamson told me.

They also, crucially, have experience of campaigning that will help them in next year’s election. Paper members they shall not be.

The vast reawakening of the democratic spirit in Scotland on the Yes side in the months running up to the #indyref suggests it is a political resurgence that will not go away quietly. We can laugh at the rhetoric of ‘We are the 45 per cent’ [the total Yes vote] – but the major party leaders may not be laughing come next year’s elections. Johann Lamont’s own constituency voted overwhelmingly for yes, after all.

With pro-independence parties all seeing record-breaking membership growth (and thus resource growth – finances and feet on the ground), it looks like the indy camp may be the real winners after all.

The Young Greens’ letter in the Guardian today

The Young Greens are in the letters page of the Guardian today arguing that the Green Party are the real third party in British youth politics.

It follows a fawning Guardian article earlier this week on Young Independence, the youth wing of UKIP.

I was pleased to write and sign the letter along with over 50 other Young Green activists and the entire National Committee.

Please share widely!

Young Greens’ growth spurt

While we welcome opening up the debate about parties, your article on Young Independence (Not all rich, not all white, totally Eurosceptic: meet Ukip’s youth, 4 August) ignored the real third force in youth politics right now – the Green party. The Young Greens, the youth branch of the Green party, has grown by 70% since March this year alone, now standing at well over 3,000 members – more than Young Independence – and we have 60 branches in dozens of towns and cities across the UK.

This puts us ahead of the Liberal Democrats and catching up with Labour to be a highly significant force among young people, both within the student movement and outside. Poll after poll puts Green party support among young people at over 15%, more than the Liberal Democrats and Ukip combined.

Young Greens are at the forefront of campaigns across the country opposing the politics of the hard right and fighting for decent housing and jobs for all, free education, a living wage and publicly owned services – and opposing austerity, which hits young people incredibly hard. In contrast to the mainstream parties, we are also proud to be against the scapegoating of migrants and the refusal to tackle climate change.

This October we will be holding our convention in Brighton. We welcome all those who similarly value social and environmental justice to come along.
Siobhan MacMahon and Clifford Fleming Young Greens co-chairs, Josiah Mortimer, Laura Summers, Thom French and Fiona Costello National committee members, Charlene Concepcion National treasurer and London Young Greens co-chair, Amelia Womack Lambeth Green party, deputy leader candidate, Bradley Allsop Chair of Northampton Young Greens, Howard Thorpe Green party campaigns coordinator, Sahaya James Gloucestershire Young Greens chair, Karl Stanley Co-convener Young Greens North, Hannah Ellen Clare, Co-convenor Young Greens North, Joseph Clough Manchester Young Greens treasurer, Jantje Technau Canterbury Young Greens chair, Deborah Fenney Leeds University Union Green party secretary, Pete Kennedy Coordinator, Doncaster Green party, Samantha Pancheri Chair Milton Keynes Young Greens, Jo Kidd Chair Canterbury district Green party, Ross Campbell Liverpool Young Greens chair, Benjamin Sweeney Co-chair Dudley Green party, Mani Blondel North Staffordshire Green party, Keele University Young Greens, Rory Lee Bath & North East Somerset Green party, Darren Bisby-Boyd Peterborough Young Greens, Alex Bailey Peterborough Young Greens, Jack Tainsh Peterborough Young Greens, Emma Carter Leeds Young Greens, David Stringer Teesside Young Greens organiser, Alexander Catt Blackwater Valley Green party, Glen Marsden Manchester Young Greens, Duncan Davis Nottingham Young Greens, George Blake Keele Student Greens, Mike Lunn-Parsons North Staffordshire Green party and Keele Young Greens, William Pinkney-Baird Durham Young Greens, Harriet Pugh Manchester Young Greens, Merlin Drake Ceredigion Green party, Lisa Camps York Green party, Grant Bishop Birmingham Green party, Sam Peters Surrey Green party, Matthew Genn Sheffield and Rotherham Young Greens, Lucy Bannister Manchester Young Greens, Rustam Majainah Surrey GP, Matthew Maddock Keele University Young Greens, Huseyin Kishi London Young Greens, Portia Cocks Mid Sussex, Crawley and Horsham Greens, Graham Bliss Rugby Greens, Andrew Iredale Young Greens, Andrea Grainger Keele University Young Greens, Julia Lagoutte Durham University Young Greens, Lee Burkwood Waltham Forest and Redbridge, Alan Borgars Welwyn Hatfield Green party, Miles Grindey South East Hampshire Green party, Merryn Davies-Deacon South West Young Greens

Statement: We Condemn the Crackdown on Campus Activism

This open statement from University of York students and alumni was drafted following ULU President Michael Chessum’s arrest on Thursday. To add your name, write in the comments box or email jm1053@york.ac.uk. Other university students and groups across the UK are encouraged to write similar statements and share widely.

We, University of York students, alumni and society representatives, condemn the arrest of University of London Union President Michael Chessum on Thursday 14th November and the broader clampdown on activism on campuses across the UK.

Though Chessum has now been released, we write to wholeheartedly oppose the police’s behaviour and indeed treatment of peaceful protesters in the UK today. Chessum was arrested after leaving a meeting with University of London management over the forced University takeover of the Union, the largest SU in Europe, which hundreds of students had marched against the day before.

It is understood that the arrest was in response to this demonstration, organised by ULU. Thousands of students are demanding the Union remain student-led and the response from both the University and the police has been incredibly heavy-handed.

We, joining with the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts (NCAFC) state our full support for Michael Chessum and the campaign to defend ULU.

We call for all charges against Chessum to be dropped and his highly restrictive bail conditions – preventing him from engaging with any protest – removed.

The arrest comes in the same week that the Guardian revealed that police in Cambridge have been attempting to recruit students as informants to spy on student union activities, and the activities of student environmental and anti-cuts groups.

This follows a number of recent crackdowns on student demonstrations and a worrying increase in collusion between the police and our institutions. This includes the recent arrest of ULU Vice President Daniel Cooper for challenging the police stop-and-search policy, the arrest of two Edinburgh students for being on campus and nearby Princess Anne without permission, and the heavy-handed and violent police response to student chalking. Moreover, new legislation is currently being passed to further curtail protests that ‘disturb local residents’ – effectively crushing freedom of assembly at any point it is deemed a ‘nuisance’ by the police.

At this time of police repression and the withering of our democratic rights it is vital that students stand firm to defend these rights. We demand the right to protest when, where and how we see fit. We demand the right move freely through our campuses. We demand the right to organise autonomously, free from management interference.

As a movement we cannot allow them to succeed in quashing dissent.

We call on students nationally to stand together to protect the right to organise freely without fear of intimidation.

Signed:

Nick Devlin – University of York Green Party Chair
Rachel Statham – University of York Amnesty International Co-Chair
Euan Raffle – University of York Amnesty International Co-Chair
Melissa Saviste – University of York People and Planet Chair
Dylan Wilby – University of York Amnesty International Social Secretary
Hannah Jeans – University of York Palestinian Solidarity society Co-Chair
Sophie Mak-Schram – Student Action for Refugees Co-Chair
Katie Mapp – University of York Oxfam Chair
Denise Wong – People and Planet Secretary
Elizabeth Sheerin- Vice President Politics Society
Josiah Mortimer – University of York Green Party Press Officer
Leon Morris – YUSU Campaigns Officer, York Vision’s News Editor
Shakti Shah – University of York Green Party Campaigns Officer
Dave Taylor – former student, York Green Party councillor
Emma Brownbill – former YUSU LGBT Officer
Josh Allen – community journalist, UoY alumnus
Helena Horton – student journalist
Harkirit Boparai – Applied Human Rights MA 2013
Sanja Billic – post-graduate student
Sarah Vowden – 1st Year rep Politics Society
Alice Kewellhampton – 3rd year student, University of York
Sami Al Suwaidi – 2nd year student
Robin Monckton-milnes – 3rd Year Historical Archaeology
Indrani Sigamany – PhD student, Centre for Applied Human Rights

More names forthcoming

There’s hope yet for the left in York

It’s not that often at left-wing gatherings that you run out of space – usually the stereotype of a few mates declaring the revolution in a pub is pretty accurate. But the launch of the York People’s Assembly on Wednesday was different, in more ways than one.

You’d be forgiven for not knowing what it is, but the York People’s Assembly is the newly formed local section of the national People’s Assembly Against Austerity, a movement launched on June 22nd in London when over 4,000 delegates from across the UK (including a few from our very own University of York) gathered to end the sectarianism that has dogged the anti-austerity current in Britain since it began – and start, at long last, a coordinated attempt to shift not only the debate on fiscal austerity, but to stop and reverse the cuts altogether.

It was in this spirit that the launch of the York section of the movement kicked off this week, when nearly 50 local activists got together at the rather progressive venue of the Friends Meeting House to discuss how exactly to fight the neoliberal scourge of Osbornomics from the grassroots. And it was refreshing, even for the worn-out veterans among the ranks.

For a start, it looked different to your average lefty get-together. Not just because the average age was under 40. It was young, and fairly diverse, and would have been even bigger and more youthful had not all the uni students fled home for the summer (you class traitors, you).

It wasn’t just the usual suspects attending either – i.e. members of the 57-varieties of British socialist parties – although there was a fair sprinkling. There were union reps, college students, NHS campaigners, the unemployed, and more encouragingly, ordinary people who just fancied tackling the pro-cuts consensus. A coalition, if you like – just not one you’ll see running the country any time soon. Though we can hope.

Feedback from those who trekked down to the national People’s Assembly conference was mixed, but positive on the whole, with most seeing it as a springboard (dotted with rising red stars like Owen Jones and Mark Steel) for broader and more localised action. And York is already leading the way nationally in terms of how organised its group is, according to co-organiser Graham Martin.

Gone was the old language of the left. College students and nurses generally have little time for being called comrade or brother/sister (though personally I’m quite fond of the terms). Instead, and despite minor debates and deviations, the overall theme was one of actually doing stuff – petitioning, door-knocking, rallying, flash-mobbing and even, whisper it, striking. The full activist tool-kit.

That’s what will be needed to tackle the barrage of further cuts and privatisations coming our way – the sell-off of Royal Mail, the East Coast mainline and even the student loan book, the benefit cap, the bedroom tax, NHS dismantlement by stealth, public sector lay-offs and union-bashing on an industrial scale. Among many other attacks, of course.

Yet in the face of all this, there’s plenty of resistance planned. In York, the petition to stop those hit by the bedroom tax being evicted over arrears is nearing the 1000 signatures required to force a debate. The Tory Conference in Manchester this September should see thousands march in the birthplace of the NHS against the so-called health ‘reforms’. November 5th – Bonfire Night – holds more exciting scenes as direct action takes place nationally on an unprecedented scale. And with teachers and civil servants on strike in coming months there’s plenty to organise around.

There’s a lot to do, little time and limited resources. And there are few mainstream allies, with Labour buying into the austerity-agenda wholesale. But perhaps at long last the left has, at least locally, come together and stopped lamenting its weakness over pints down the York Arms. It’s acquired a new vitality – and thank god, because we’re going to need it.

The next York People’s Assembly meeting is on July 29th, 7:30-9pm at Friends’ Meeting House, with an inaugural conference in October.

Sofa Protest and ‘Clicktivism’ – A New Unity?

Clicktivism used to be a derisory term. That seems to be falling out of fashion.The attacks on Disability Living Allowance and other provisions for disabled people are being made with the implicit acknowledgement that these are the least likely people to take to the streets. And perhaps there is an element of truth in that. But social media has brought with it huge advances for ‘sofa protest’, and many who can’t make the demonstration on the 26th of March demonstration in London will be participating in the ‘virtual march’ of the ‘Armchair Army‘ on the same day. The objective is solidarity, and bombarding the media with public anger. If it gains support, the massive protest will have running parallel to it a constant flurry of angry citizens phoning in to radio stations, writing to newspapers and MPs, blogging, tweeting and staging all kinds of stationary dissent.

But before that, this Sunday, an ingenious idea will take shape. ‘National They Don’t Speak for Us Day‘ will see hundreds of callers phoning in to their radio stations and asking that they play ‘No Surprises’ by Radiohead. Why? It contains the line ‘they don’t speak for us’. Obviously the callers will explain that the government is pushing through the breakup of the NHS – without a mandate. Draconian cuts – without a mandate. And 22 members of the cabinet are millionaires. Representative democracy is only representative by name.

In fact, Facebook and Twitter, for many, has become a vital tool in the fight-back. But even by email – that arcane medium! the organisation 38 Degrees has had huge success, gathering over half a million signatures for its forest anti-sell off campaign and getting ads in national newspapers. Unite Against Fascism recently raised thousands in just a few days through a simple online campaign. Action is now online, alongside some of the largest and most vibrant demonstrations Britain has seen for years.

Hold your MP to account. Use They Work For You to see how they vote. Use Write to Them to express your disgust with what they’re doing.

Organise an action against tax dodging on the UK Uncut website in minutes. You can even vote on what 38 Degrees pick as their next campaign. This is no longer your average top-down organisational structure.

This Sunday the 13th, become a sofa-activist, if you’re not already, and (if you live in Cornwall) call Atlantic FM, BBC Cornwall, Pirate FM, demanding they play ‘No Surprises’. And if you can’t come to the demonstration on the 26th, make sure you bombard our (incredibly pluralistic, eh hem) national media demanding the government u-turn, fast. I’m generally the first one to encourage vociferous street protest – but an era of unity between the march and the mouse-click has arrived. It would be almost as dumb as this government is to ignore either.

Truro needs a student union more than ever

For those of you who are students at Truro College, it is obvious that many at the college are involved in local politics. But when myself and another fellow student found ourselves being escorted out of our lectures last week by senior management, to a meeting with two uniformed members of police, the intention seemed clear. Stifling any emerging activism.

The two officers in the meeting room were sitting happily with another member of senior management, and proceeded to effectively interrogate us about whether we were planning a demonstration, when it would be, and where it would be.

This was a meeting in college, with police, about what we were organising outside of college. The links between Truro College and local police are, I believe, close and politicised. And in a way, frightening. The college never hesitate to bring the police in on the slightest hint of a planned peaceful protest, despite it not being legally required that even the organisers contact the authorities. They have been all too willing to hand over any details to the police, and ‘warn’ them about local activity that students are planning. This meeting was just one of several we have been pressured to have with police, for almost every demonstration over the past few months. Being told by the police that they had ‘intelligence’ about another planned protest is almost inciting paranoia, and though not anything like the involvement of anti-terror police against the student movement in London, it is still somewhat worrying for all students, regardless of their political views.

It is understandable that a further education institution would want to be in liaison with the community police force, and despite some over-policing, the local force has been broadly supportive of our right to protest – perhaps even sympathetic when one considers the scale of police cuts Cornwall. But the barrage of calls and meetings, largely organised by the college, with police, has been verging on intimidatory. For a couple of FE students to be made without warning to meet with officers to disclose plans, existent or otherwise, for demonstrations, seems to be intentionally discouraging any exercise of our legitimate right to protest.

These are not isolated events. Members of the Student Council who have been participating in the demonstrations have been threatened with removal from their posts on the student body. However weak the student council is, this sort of interference cannot be tolerated. Elected members are being told they cannot march for their political views or they will be kicked off the council. An NUS-backed union would go a long way to stopping this happening.

At a time when young people are facing unprecedented attacks from the Tory-led government with the scrapping of the EMA, the tripling of fees, high youth unemployment and the effective privatisation of our education system, we need representation more than ever, we need to be allowed to express our political views without fear of recrimination, and we need an independent voice that does not have to submit to the whims of senior management.

Our attempts to form a union have so far been met with difficulty. We were refused a direct meeting with the Principal, and have been waiting for weeks for a meeting with the Director of Studies, who has several times postponed the planned meeting. It cannot wait any longer. The NUS are asking for delegates for the conference in just a few months, and ideally we need an SU before then. So we are asking all students, UCU/NUS members, activists and representatives to back our campaign.

There are some things deeply wrong with Truro College. The fact that there are more business-owners on the governing board than students, the lack of transparency in how the college is run, or the unfolding farce that is the poorly funded and powerless Student Council – these are all troubling issues, and for the many problems, there is a solution. Students need representation, independence and political freedom. We need a union.

Urgent UK Uncut Meeting: Truro – 22nd January

UK Uncut activists will be meeting up this Saturday to talk about where to take the anti-tax dodging movement in Truro, and to prepare for more grass-roots campaigning. Local workers, anti-cuts activists and students are urged to come and discuss how best to organise for another Day of Action against tax avoidance.

The meeting will take place at Archie Browns (vegetarian cafe) on Kenwyn Street in Truro at 1pm, this Saturday the 22nd.