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LAST August, the People’s Assembly Scotland published its latest version of the publication In Place of Austerity.
This third edition was subtitled “A Programme for the People” and, while focused on influencing debate in the run-up to local authority budget-setting, it attempted to go beyond this, providing the opportunity for discussion around what our communities actually need and how we could achieve this.
It’s a campaigning document aimed at affiliates and activists on the front line of the protests against cuts in local services.
It has also been sent to every councillor regardless of political affiliation in Scotland, with an offer to discuss its contents and reach out to those making difficult decisions that affect all our lives.
Few take up these offers and those who do usually justify their actions by trying to alleviate the worst of the cuts.
This year, the Scottish government has imposed a real-terms cut of around £95 million on local government revenue budgets, in addition to a £117m cut in the capital spending budget.
In doing so, it continues a decade-long pattern of Westminster government cuts being passed on and intensified by the SNP Scottish government.
Both the SNP and the Scottish Labour Party stood on anti-austerity platforms, though there is little evidence of this in our council chambers.
While some in the Labour Party have attempted to mitigate the effects of cuts throughout Scotland, it has not developed a strategy for outright opposition based on mobilising the trade unionists and communities who suffer as a result of them.
This is a key part of the People’s Assembly’s strategy in challenging the orthodoxy that there is no alternative to the continued cutting of services that are already pared to the bone.
It appears that, for some principled councillors, they can no longer inflict more pain and uncertainty over what services will be lost on the weakest of their constituents.
A few are refusing to be party to the process of deciding the least bad outcomes as every option has negative results for some of the most vulnerable.
Matt Kerr in Glasgow and Gordon Munro in Edinburgh have decided that they want a fightback, not a capitulation.
By refusing to support any budget proposals that generate harmful further cuts to their communities, they hope other – especially Labour councillors – will follow their example.
Munro’s defiance was a response to what he saw as a betrayal of the SNP-Labour coalition agreement.
With the proposed budget breaking its commitment to campaign against austerity, he felt he had no alternative but to abstain rather than vote for a package which he said would mean jobs going and facilities closing.
“I have been critical and have been loyal to date, but enough is enough. I cannot support a budget which makes cuts that will impact in every ward in the city – cuts on our schools, leisure centres, libraries, council services. Jobs will go, facilities will close.
“But worse than that we will not be able to do what needs to be done. We need to build homes, new schools, tackle the demographics of a growing city and its growing needs.”
On the other side of the country in Glasgow, the SNP minority council was only able to push through £51m of cuts with Green Party support.
Kerr made a passionate intervention to the pre-budget debate: “Local government is not an arms-length delivery vehicle for SNP cuts. I have had enough; this city has had enough, and we owe it to the people we represent to put up a fight. I hope my action generates debate throughout Labour in Scotland.”
As a candidate for the deputy leadership of the SLP, he had opprobrium showered upon him by his “colleagues.”
With no sense of irony, a former MP and deputy leader attacked him for refusing to support Labour’s alternative budget proposal of increasing class sizes.
Unlike Kerr’s family this MSP’s children would be unaffected as they are privately educated. One councillor claimed Kerr had thrown the Labour group under a bus, whereas Kerr’s position was to stop schoolkids being thrown off the bus!
In addition to a loss or reduction in services, to add insult to injury, council taxpayers also face steep increases.
Glasgow’s SNP administration has set the rise at 4.64 per cent while Edinburgh’s SNP-Labour coalition agreed 4.79 per cent.
Scotland’s People’s Assembly salutes Kerr and Munro’s courageous stand and calls on all councillors to adopt this approach. We ask that councillors join with the People’s Assembly, local government trade unions, trade union councils, community groups and support the building of mass resistance to attacks on local jobs and services.
Keith Stoddart is secretary of People’s Assembly Scotland.
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