REPORT: KEVIN WILLIAMSON
The recent emergence of The Edinburgh Party has made the established political parties sit up and take notice. Thus far The Edinburgh Party has steered clear of elections but observers have noted a change of direction from the influential network of community activists based in the Scottish capital. News has filtered out that The Edinburgh Party have targeted the forthcoming local authority elections and the stage look sets for a serious challenge to the political establishment.
When The Edinburgh Party was formed a few years ago, famously in the backroom of a seaside Portobello pub, few of those present knew what they were getting into. The gathering was dominated by local issues, most notably resistance to yet another supermarket development earmarked for the area. The political scene nationally, however, was far removed from their concerns, dominated as it was by the eternal battle over the country’s constitutional future.
Local authorities are a whole different ball game. In councils across the country idealism and ideology have long since disintegrated into be-suited managerialism. Elected representatives are virtually indistinguishable from one another. Everyone is lining their own pockets, legally or illegally, bar the naive oddballs who make up the numbers. Naturally the public feel increasingly unhappy and short-changed by their local councillors.
The Edinburgh Party was formed in response to this widespread discontent. Its founders were an intriguing alliance of community activists, leftists disillusioned with nanny state socialism, plus conservative rebels who took to heart the London government’s empty rhetoric about ‘Big Society’. All pledged their allegiance to localism.
Quickly, far too quickly some said, there was talk of putting Edinburgh Party candidates up against the old guard. “A new epoch in party politics has arrived” said grizzled survivors of the old left. Some jumped up and down enthusiastically with the delusional energy that often pervades the start of a new political project. The non-glaikit majority said little, raised their eyebrows, looked at one another, and set to work.
The inaugural meeting at Portobello High School was a stormy affair by all accounts. The Edinburgh Party was eventually declared a non-electoral movement whose stated objective was to be an independent network of self-sacrificing volunteers unmotivated by salaried position. Localism was the guiding philosophy. It was agreed – by a sizeable majority – that membership of the new party was to be severely restricted.
Naturally, the leftists got hot under the collar and shouted themselves hoarse about “inclusiveness”. Some even chanted “down with elitism.” But the membership ruling was passed. The core belief of the new party was that all members had to prove conclusively, and with corroborating evidence, that they had worked hard to make their local community a better place to live in. Failure to do so would bar them from joining. No exceptions.
There was a sting in the tail. Paid employment in the public sector was to be excluded as supportive grounds for membership. Salaried community work was considered no more and no less virtuous than any other paid employment.
The old leftists couldn’t handle this and walked out. They denounced the community activists as ruling class dupes. “This is little more than charity by another name” they cried. “You’re doing the Tory party’s dirty work for them. You’re destroying local services and putting trade unionists on the dole.” This was rounded off with the bitter denunciation: “You’re all class traitors.”
These leftists couldn’t believe that a bunch of community nobodies were refusing to bend over backwards to accommodate their years of experience in organising protests, speaking at meetings, and other such important tasks. Some of them were even acknowledged experts in taking minutes or setting up email debate lists. They knew how politics worked. It needed organisation and they were fantastic organisers, with the badges to prove it.
This altercation merely steeled the resolve of The Edinburgh Party. They vowed to make membership even tougher to help root out careerists, bandwagon-jumpers, blawhards and assorted time-wasters. One black ball from your local Edinburgh Party group and you were out in the cold. Special approbation was held for individuals known to be in charge of local arts projects funded by the council. Applications to join from these jokers were to be immediately despatched to the cludgie for appropriate usage.
A constitution was wiki-ed and the rules were clarified. The constitution explained what was meant by “working to make your community a better place to live in”. This could mean unpaid involvement in a local cultural initiative for at least twelve consecutive months. Unpaid involvement with a skills-sharing workshop was also looked upon favourably. As was unpaid commitment to social housing projects, help the elderly initiatives, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, or communal transport projects. Anyone who didn’t have the imagination to initiate or contribute to such a project was deemed unworthy of membership. The constitution also allowed for participation in certain types of economic enterprises such as workers co-operatives or community-owned businesses.
The actual wording of the constitution was flexible enough to allow each application to be decided upon its own merits. But failure to remain actively involved in making your community a better, happier, more caring, sharing place to live in automatically resulted in the removal of all membership rights.
As time passed, and as its reputation soared, The Edinburgh Party grew in numbers and influence. Its members were solid and reliable. They lived for each other’s happiness as well as their own. Their infectious enthusiasm rubbed off on everyone they came in contact with.
The Edinburgh Party grew stronger and ever more popular. Its vast network of community activists was the first place people turned when something was needed or when something went wrong. The party was at the centre of everything good in local communities and worked tirelessly to develop skills and self-confidence among local people.
As local communities grew in self-confidence many people became economically independent and attempted self-sufficient living where possible. Off-grid experiments in renewable energy could be found in places like Wester Hailes or The Inch. Where satellite dishes once sprouted from crumbling walls, windmills now rotated silently on tenement rooftops. The big power companies were furious, naturally, and tried everything to sabotage such projects. But to no avail. Small electric cars plugged into community-owned renewable energy hubs. Street markets appeared on every high street where produce and skills were traded, and not always for the currency of the state. Sharing and co-operation became bywords for success, innovation and happiness. Slowly, piece-by-piece, communities were rebuilt.
Community-owned businesses thrived while chain stores and supermarkets gave up the ghost as customers deserted them in droves. Everything from community-owned pubs and bookmakers to clothes designers and butchers were enjoying a new lease of life as local residents turned their backs on the corporate rip-off merchants. There were even collectivist brothels who poured part of their profits into cultural and social projects. Business was booming.
In their early days The Edinburgh Party rejected all talk of electioneering. “Elections are for career politicians who think that sitting at meetings improves the lot of the people,” was the standard response. “These people are vampires.” But the clamour for standing in elections increased as official councillors squandered the people’s hard-earned money on vanity projects, bureaucratic monoliths, or simply on themselves.
Occasionally, the establishment politicians would go on charm offensives, even so far as seeking endorsement from The Edinburgh Party. But this never materialised. Cheesy politicians who sat on local committees or “showed face” at local gatherings were increasingly seen for what they were: patronising shirkers who contribute nothing.
Crucially, The Edinburgh Party worked out a coherent media strategy from day one. Any member caught talking on their behalf to any media organisation, newspaper, magazine, radio or TV station, internet site, or worst of all the BBC, faced immediate expulsion. This, they said, was the only way to effectively control the rampant egotism that infected every other political party.
The Edinburgh Party’s engagement with media was limited to facilitation: setting up community radio stations; leading skills training workshops, and suchlike. Pandering to the whims and prejudices of the corporate media was considered beneath them. Giving sound-bites over the phone to journalists – which were then edited at random and served up as opinion – was deemed below contempt. Even putting comments on a public blog or internet forum was frowned upon, unless it was done anonymously. The Edinburgh Party had no need to blow its own trumpet. Propaganda of the deed was infinitely preferable to shallow self-promotion.
Accusations of a shadowy central elite were levelled at The Edinburgh Party from time to time. Everyone knew that the original group had registered the name of the party and instructed lawyers to sue for any unauthorised use. But that was as far as it went. Even so, clones emerged. The Glasgow Party. The Aberdeen Party. There was even a highly respected Wick Party. While some of these organisations were pale imitations of the real thing – often set up by dodgy leftists or Tory businessmen – the momentum towards localism had become unstoppable.
The success of The Edinburgh Party had an effect on national politics. The politics of dependency became associated with London rule. Independence, co-operation, self-government, autonomy and self-sufficiency were the buzzwords of the day. People in Scotland wanted politicians and decision-making brought home. Just to keep an eye on the bastards.
As news emerges of The Edinburgh Party’s decision to stand in the forthcoming council elections it should come as no surprise that the West Edinburgh Question has been re-invoked. “Why should politicians elected in Cramond or Barnton be allowed any say on decisions that only effect Leith or Portobello?”
Planning permissions? Licensing laws? Local by-laws? The Edinburgh Party promises to decentralise as much decision-making as possible if they win. Each of their candidates also promises to resign after just six months in office and force a by-election. Six months, they say, is long enough for any individual to remain in an elected position. Any longer and the leather seats would start to mould around their arses.
Whether The Edinburgh Party will sweep to power is still in the balance. Opinion polls suggest it is likely. The Edinburgh Party have responded by stating, in pubs and over garden fences, that they will not issue any election material because trees are more important than leaflets. Nor will they engage in pointless debates. Naturally this has infuriated opposition parties and reduced the mainstream media to impotent rage. But The Edinburgh Party claim that local people know who they are and what they have done. That should be enough.
The Edinburgh Party know fine well that political power, even at a local level, has been designed to co-opt, de-politicise and corrupt all who have access to it. But will they be sucked into the bureaucratic machinery of government like so many idealists before them? We’ll find out soon enough.