By Nick Dearden, director of campaigning organisation Global Justice Now.
Scotland has established impressive radical political credentials in the last two years (particularly when compared to the rest of the UK). It has shaken a complacent Westminster elite to the core, and proved that disengagement from politics can be overcome.
in the European context, Scotland follows on the heels of Greece and Spain in presenting a direct challenge to the austerity programmes being imposed in the interests of big banks by European elites. But as the screws are applied ever tighter to Greece, it becomes clearer that in changing Scotland and changing Britain we are stronger when we connect with these kinds of struggle across Europe and around the world.
Our organisation works in Scotland and across the UK, linking in with social movements around the world. And because we see so much hope for change in the new Scottish reality, as well as links to positive change around the world, we’re focusing our annual conference in Glasgow next Saturday on internationalism, global solidarity and their place in the new Scottish landscape.
At the heart of this lies the need to challenge the economic system that imprisons us and permeates the decisions that governments take on domestic and international policy. This requires changing the common perception that there is no alternative and it means challenging the so-called ‘free market’ model, which is in fact a system for the promotion of corporate interests and power, and sees the state as no more than a provider of funds and enforcer of rules which benefit a small handful of mega corporations.
Successive Westminster governments have been at the forefront of pushing neoliberalism onto the world, from Margaret Thatcher onwards. So we in the UK have a special responsibility to roll back these policies, which means, for example, stopping the British government from using the aid budget as a slush fund for corporate interests and use it instead to build decent welfare states around the world; stopping the disastrous US-EU trade deal (TTIP) and related bilateral trade deals in their tracks and supporting Latin American calls for a new tax treaty and an international court to hold corporations to account for human rights abuses, challenging the British block on tougher financial rules at an EU level and instead ‘shrinking the city’ and rebalancing our economy.
None of this will happen just through electing politicians. Even where politicians are elected on progressive platforms – and there are a number of welcome proposals in the SNP’s demands – they operate under acute constraints, which is why popular mobilisation is always so important. The incredible impact that activism in Scotland is already having on policies and power dynamics which seemed ‘untouchable’ gives a real sense of hope. Redistributing land is barely talked about as a major political issue down south, yet it is now on the Scottish agenda. That gives people in Scotland a tangible connection with small farmers throughout Africa whose common land is being taken over by big business.
In Scotland, there is also inspiring work on food sovereignty – giving people more control over food production and quality – on decarbonising our economies by setting up locally controlled energy systems, on challenging privatisation by building more accountable public services. All of these have relevance for global policy, and the struggles going on in Scotland mirror struggles going on across the world.
The most important thing activists can do for counterparts around the world, including in the global south, is precisely to fight and win these battles – because nothing is so challenging as a positive example. But in our activism we can also build in a global dimension – discussing and sharing with those around the world in similar situations. This also helps move us away from the sort of patronising perspective which has dominated our discussions of the ‘third world’ for too long – that they have their own issues which can be solved through charity.
In coming years, then, we hope to continue to work with movements in Scotland to precisely build this global dimension. To see where international experiences can give strength Scottish movements. That’s why we’re bringing a Nigerian environmental justice activist to our event next weekend. And hopefully we will see where Scottish victories can give hope to struggles elsewhere. We hope land reform will be a key victory – because we can’t make land distribution fairer in Scotland while our corporations are snatching up much needed land across Africa. We also hope to continue have a role in mobilising around international issues like TTIP.
We have gained so much hope and strength from the upsurge of activism in Scotland. We now want to say, we only change Scotland by changing the world and we only change the world by changing Scotland.
Our conference takes place in Glasgow on 13 June. For more info and to register see here.
It’s followed by Shifting Sounds, an evening of live music and poetry at the Rum Shack that evening.
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