2016 in review: How grassroots action delivered the goods in Scotland


With 2016 a rough year on the political front, CommonSpace looks at some of the highlights of grassroots politics in Scotland and remembers the power of ordinary people working together

2016 HAS BEEN, as is well documented, a year of some chaos and consternation.

From President-Elect Donald Trump to brexit figurhead Nigel Farage, the rich and powerful have been able to pose themselves as the alternative to their own establishment and pivot politics to the right.

But 2016 is also a year that has seen protest and people power, of the initiative and hope of ordinary people.

CommonSpace looks at a year of grassroots activity, community organisation and direct action.

Time for Inclusive Education

The Time for Inclusive Education campaign (Tie) have had a bumper year. The endorsements keep rolling in for the campaign that wants an education in Scottish schools about the range of sexualities and sexual and gender identities in society, in a bid to reduce the epidemic rates of abuse and self-harm among LGBT+ youth.

They have included, this year alone, the Scottish secretary for the UK Government David Mundell, popular leftwing commentator Owen Jones and the Scottish children’s commissioner Tam Bailie. The campaign’s aims were also endorsed by Kelly Moorhead, whose daughter, 15 year old school student Chloe Orr was tragically driven to suicide by bullying she experienced after coming out as a lesbian.

The campaign also came to a new political prominence with a historic LGBT+ hustings organised by Stonewall at the time of the May elections. Tie also led the Glasgow Pride procession in Glasgow, making it the most political in many years.

Read more: SNP parliamentarians support LGBTI+ education lobby at Glasgow Pride

Read more: How the LGBT+ Tie campaign made Scotland sit up and notice

Fans Against Criminalisation

Fans Against Criminalisation’s (FAC) long campaign against the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBFA) has also borne fruit.

The movement which has combined demonstrations at football games and on the streets with parliamentary lobbying in an attempt to overturn legislation which bans “offensive behaviour” at football matches. Critics claim the legislation is poorly designed, unenforceable and criminalises working class fans.

The year has seen the exposure of the OFBA to a cross-party challenge in the Scottish Parliament, led by the Scottish Labour MSP James Kelly. A majority in Holyrood backed an indicative vote against the OBFA, bringing its possible all-out repeal closer.

Paul Quigley: Why fans’ fight against the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is not about sectarianism

The anti-Trident movement

2016 saw both highs and lows for the anti-Trident and wider anti-nuclear weapons movement. In July the UK Parliament voted for the renewal of the Trident Nuclear weapons system at Faslane on the Clyde, despite opposition from the Scottish Parliament and all but one Scottish MP.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had made a historic keynote address at a London rally against renewal, where she was joined by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong opponent of nuclear weapons, marking the historic cross-party convergence around anti-Trident politics.

The direct action movement against nuclear armaments continued unabated through the summer in England at a Burghfield nuclear weapons factory which produces warheads for Trident renewal.

Attention shifted in the second half of the year to a successful breakthrough on the international front, with a Scottish delegation making its way to the UN in New York to help moves towards an international treaty banning nuclear weapons – efforts resisted by the UK Government.

Military recruitment in schools and the arms trade

There has been new pressure brought against military recruitment in Scotland’s schools in 2016. Both a parliamentary committee and the SNP’s Youth section have pushed for restrictions on the army’s ability to recruit in Scotland’s schools.

In addition, there has been new scrutiny of the extent of investments by Scottish local authorities in the global trade in arms.

Common Weal South Lanarkshire activists have unveiled the enormous investments in the arms trade and the profits realised by Scottish councils.

Feminism in action 

Scottish feminists fought a number of battles and scored victories in 2016.

In February protestors prevented a gathering of ‘men’s rights activists’ in Glasgow, as part of an international storm of protest against plans for gatherings promoted by ‘pick-up artist’ Roosh V. Glasgow became one of the world hotspots of resistance to the promulgation a misogynistic ideas, leading Roosh and his supporters to complain about the city.

Scottish women workers also protested along with women across the UK for pension equality.

Feminist charity Engender also called in 2016 for the total decriminalisation of abortion.

Better than Zero

The campaign against zero hours contracts and the workplace exploitation of young people has also thoroughly established itself in Scotland in 2016. Though born in Glasgow with a series of creative protests against G1, one of Scotland’s largest service industry employers, it has since established itself in the capital and engaged in actions from Fife to Stirling to South Lanarkshire.

The campaign helped to end the practice of deducting a portion of employee tips at the Las Iguanas restaurant in Glasgow following a protest there. The policy was also abandoned across the UK.

The young trade unionists and activists recently helped to prevent operations at an Amazon warehouse in protests against working conditions at the online shopping giant.

Its activists have also begun skill sharing with young people in workshops to help develop future campaigners.

Scottish independence

June 2016 saw the UK as a whole vote for brexit, but Scotland vote to remain within the 28 member state block, the precise conditions outlined by the SNP, during the 2016 Scottish elections, under which another independence referendum might take place.

Subsequent months have seen the re-emergence of elements of the grassroots independence movement.

2016 in review: The return of the grassroots Scottish independence movement?

Network rail strikes

Strikes on Scotland’s rail network presaged far larger and more disruptive industrial action on Southern rail in England over Driver Only Operated trains. The RMT and Aslef train workers unions were eventually victorious in Scotland after a series of rolling strikes, aimed at stopping the spread of train services without staff performing safety critical door duties.

Lobbying by the RMT union also helped to secure the Calmac Islands ferry service in public hands.

Picture courtesy of Defence images, Feral X, Celtic Network, Craig Paterson, CommonSpace, Ewan Macintosh, Suki Sangha

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