Anatomy of an insurrection

26 August 2014: Riots, or insurrections, are rational responses to systemic subjugation, argues Robert Stephens II. The insurrection in Ferguson, Missouri, following the murder of Michael Brown, is clear proof of the sophisticated political agitation that often precipitates spontaneous uprisings by marginalized groups.


Michael Brown, a Black teenager in Ferguson, was murdered by the police on Saturday 9 August. Witnesses say Brown was running away from the policeman and had his hands in the air just before the officer shot him. Demonstrations erupted in the streets where the people went from holding candlelight vigils to full scale rioting. In the following days, the uprisings in Ferguson captured global attention, and despite the tear gas, raids, arrests, and overall belligerence of a heavily armed police force, the people’s rebellion has continued for nearly two weeks.

Riots in London in 2011 and Anaheim in 2012, saw numerous media outlets consistently paint those uprisings as irrational and criminal outbursts with no meaningful connection to politics. The scholarship is clear, however: Riots/spontaneous insurrections are rational expressions of group solidarity. The political nature of riots is, nonetheless, often elusive. The outrage in Ferguson quickly attracted marginalized people throughout the region to come and join the demonstrations. Rather than evidence of illegitimacy, the presence of these so-called outsiders, and their desire to identify with and join the rioters, reflected the magnetic power of the political moment.

The first thing to understand about Ferguson is that it's a city with a large concentration of poor and Brown people living under the control of overwhelmingly White institutions. Hours before the anti-police uprising would sweep the community, a crowd gathered at the site of Brown's murder. A video taken at the scene shows a number of political agitators talking with the crowd, converting momentary outrage into political unity. One speaker in particular, a young black male, offers a cogent political analysis that frames the injustice of police brutality as a byproduct of the community’s economic dislocation. He tells the crowd:

'We keep giving these crackers our money, staying in they complexes, and we can't get no justice. No respect. They ready to put you out [if you] miss a bill... We need to own our own, ladies and gentlemen... You got to be fed up.

Contrary to the belief - expressed every hour, on the hour by mainstream US news broadcasters - that the Ferguson rioters are merely mindless mobs predisposed to violence, the people of Ferguson were engaged in concerted political consciousness-raising leading up to the insurrection.

Riots create strong feelings of common identity and solidarity, usually in opposition to another group or force; an 'us vs. them' mentality. At one point during the rally shown in the video above, the woman holding the camera says, 'Where the thugs at? Where the street tribes when we need y'all?' The crowd then begins to call on various street gangs to abandon Black on Black violence and unite in struggle against oppression. Their words explode any notion that their uprising is irrational and apolitical.

The gathered crowd was attempting to use this opportunity to address their broader political needs. They knew that intraracial violence within the community was also an issue they needed to address. In anti-police uprisings, an opponent is easy to create and identify. However, in the case of gang and intraracial violence, 'them' is also 'us' -- the perpetrators of these crimes are the communities' children, cousins, friends, neighbors. As a result, it’s sometimes difficult to confront these more intimate forms of violence. Though many commentators claim that Black people don’t care about violence within our communities, the crowd’s calls for gang unity demonstrate that anti-police uprisings provide unique opportunities to unite people in ways that seek to resolve long-standing community concerns.

Following the first nights of the riots, participants continued to discuss the uprising in political terms. DeAndre Smith, who was present at the burned down QuikTrip, told the local news, 'I believe that they’re too much worried about what’s going on to their stores and their commerce and everything. They’re not worried about the murder.' A second man added, 'I just think what happened was necessary, to show the police that they don’t run everything.' Smith then concludes, 'I don’t think they [the rioters] did enough.

In a second interview, this time with Kim Bell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Smith expanded on his faith in the riot as a viable political strategy. He explains:

'This is exactly what's supposed to happen when an injustice is happening in your community... I was out here with the community, that's all I can say... I don't think it's over, honestly. I think they just got a case of what fighting back means, in St. Louis, the last state to abolish slavery. Do they think they still have power over certain things? I believe so. This is how they receive money: businesses and taxes, police stopping people and giving them tickets, taking them to court, locking them up; this is how they make money in St. Louis. Everything is all about money in St. Louis. So when you stop their flow of income.. they have things organized in a certain way, "we're gonna eat, you're gonna starve", gentrification - put you in a certain neighbourhood by yourself and see if you can starve... It's not going to happen, not in St. Louis.'

Smith identifies what so many self-proclaimed anti-racists and leftists fail to understand; that racism is not an issue of moral character. He recognizes that the broader economic order facilitates, and benefits from racial subjugation, and so, he's looking for ways to intervene and disrupt that process. Not only is this a more substantive form of political analysis than what is often offered on the left, but it's perhaps the only way to successfully address socially and politically entrenched racial hierarchy.

The futility of respectability politics, From London to Ferguson

Typically, when events like the Ferguson rebellion occur, well-meaning people rush to condemn the participants. At a minimum, they dismiss rioting as unproductive and opportunistic; a few bad apples spoiling the bunch. This is precisely the attitude that Smith pointed out in his first interview, together with other, similar efforts to dismiss the rioters’ political aspirations.

In 2011, rioting broke out in London after police murdered another unarmed Black man, Mark Duggan. In response, various media outlets took the position that the riots were thoughtless. As filmmaker John Akmfrah, whose film Handsworth Songs documented the aftermath of the 1985 London riots, told Red Pepper in 2012:

‘A lot of people asked me my thoughts on the [2011] riots, and a lot of their questions were framed in this way of “How are they different?”’ People were very fast to say: “This wasn’t political; this was about rampant consumerism and greed, for TVs and trainers”… [But ] of course it is political! When a family goes to a police station and says, “I want to know why my son was killed” and are refused answers, they are being treated with the same kind of contempt that all of the young people in the area experience every day, and identify with.’

Most detractors of rioters in London, as in Ferguson, and many of whom are Black themselves, seek to police these communities with respectability politics' - an attempt to make subjugated people present themselves in ways that are acceptable to the dominant class in a futile effort to make political gains. Frederick Harris, in his essay 'The Rise of Respectability Politics' argues:

'What started as a philosophy promulgated by Black elites to “uplift the race” by correcting the “bad” traits of the black poor has now evolved into one of the hallmarks of Black politics in the age of Obama; a governing philosophy that centers on managing the behavior of Black people left behind in a society touted as being full of opportunity... But the politics of respectability has been portrayed as an emancipatory strategy to the neglect of discussions about structural forces that hinder the mobility of the black poor and working class.'

Predictably, respectability politics was a major media narrative used to condemn the London insurrection. Now, three years later, people realize the insistence that grievances be 'respectably' framed didn't actually work. After speaking out against the London riots in 2011, Hackney resident Pauline Pierce now says 'I have sometimes wished I'd just kept my mouth shut altogether.' In her interview with The Daily Telegraph, Pierce, explained:

'Three years ago, I shouted down young men as they burnt cars on the streets of Hackney, where I live. Now they come in beards and bobble hats instead. Places such as Kingsland Road and Mare Street have become the trendiest places to be, but that has brought unrest of a different sort. The people who live here are not happy. There are a lot of issues with the social cleansing that is becoming increasingly evident around here... Money has come in since the riots, and that is all well and good, but it is not benefiting the poor people. The regeneration funds given to the council have been spent, in part, on a fashion hub. How is that helping the youngsters in the borough?

'For me, since I made that speech that evening, it has been a three-year journey and one that has been very difficult at times. I have sometimes wished I’d just kept my mouth shut altogether and continued on my way home.'

Despite her doubts about the political viability of rioting, Pierce now says that White gentrification is destroying the neighborhood. Unlike riots, gentrification and displacement aren't temporary, but are permanently embedded in our capitalist reality. In fact, the rhetorical foundation for this new wave of displacement was actually laid in the days following the riots.

In the three years since the London riots, Pierce has seen her Black and Brown neighbors displaced by trend-seeking White people eager to discover and develop the neighborhood. In the time spent calmly discussing the issues, only 16% of the money set aside for neighborhood recovery has been spent, and many of the reforms proposed by moderates have yet to begin, let alone be achieved. Whereas riots are often galvanizing community events with the potential to unleash concerted political energy in dynamic and unpredictable directions, the stale politics of respectability only leads to further marginalization and dislocation.

Of course, it is possible to disagree with the utility of insurrection. But these communities’ responses to subjugation demand to be discussed in political terms, and not simply dismissed out of hand. We live in a political context of neoliberal racism, where 'race-neutral' policies are used to deepen economic exploitation and racial hierarchy, and any overt attempts to address racism are dismantled, or disregarded. According to author and professor Henry Giroux, these policies only intensify the economic marginalization and poverty experienced by those at the margins.

'Neoliberal racism provides the ideological and legal framework for asserting that since American society is now a meritocracy, government should be race neutral, affirmative action programs dismantled, civil rights laws discarded, and the welfare state eliminated… [It] both ignore[s] and perpetuate[s] the stereotypes, structured violence, and massive inequalities produced by the racial state, the race-based attack on welfare, the destruction of social goods such as schools and healthcare, and the rise of the prison-industrial complex.'

Perhaps so many of us rush to condemn these types of disruptions because we’re actually content with neoliberalism’s post-racial illusion. At the burned down QuikTrip convenience store in Ferguson, someone left a note addressed to their 'corporate neighbor,' seemingly in the hope that the business would return:


By framing themselves as a customer in need of their 'corporate neighbor,' it’s possible that the author is acting not out of concern for the working people that lost their jobs — their actual neighbors — but from the fear that their shopping routine will be disturbed.

As Smith observed, we identify more strongly with broken windows than broken people. This mindset is intentionally cultivated by media and law enforcement as a way to prevent solidarity among marginalized people, which Lauren Friedman, for one, believes is a key strategy for maintaining order.

Such insight should not seem new to Black insurgents, or to anyone attempting to explain their actions. In 1964, Malcolm X gave a speech at the Oxford Union in which he borrowed the words of conservative lightning rod Barry Goldwater to announce: 'Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.' He understood that disruption, even extremism, was required in the face of subjugation.

His speech also reminds us that mainstream media is a key instrument of subjugation. Politicians, commentators, producers and editors determine which acts are respectable, and which are extreme and thus illegitimate. Instead of following that familiar script, we can use media - be it Twitter, YouTube, or even more 'respectable' outlets - to push back against narratives about this Ferguson community being irrational and criminal. The first step is to honestly observe and discuss their political needs, rather than simply dismissing their responses to subjugation.


Building new bonds of citizenship: Scotland and the North

20 August 2014: Paul Salveson of The Hannah Mitchell Foundation argues that Scottish independence will encourage shoots of radical growth in the North of England.

aye have a dream

(picture via @Aye4Scotland on Twitter)

Hannah Mitchell, the renowned democratic socialist and feminist, once said 'We must work as though we live in the early days of a better nation.' She would have been excited by what is happening in Scotland at the moment. The ferment of ideas goes way beyond the SNP. It is coming from a wide cross-section of society that includes Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party, many Labour Party members and a huge number of people who have not been involved in ‘politics’ before.

As things stand, people in the north of England are watching events in Scotland with mixed feelings. I don’t detect any ‘anti-Scots’ sentiment despite the intense London media hostility to Salmond and the nationalists. Quite a few people I speak to here say 'good luck to ‘em'. A few even express the idea of moving the border a hundred miles further south!

Here in the North there is a growing sense of grievance about the widening economic and social divide from London and the south-east. As yet it hasn’t really developed a political expression, but it’s going that way. Only weeks into its existence, the Yorkshire First party won nearly 20,000 votes in the 2014 European elections on a tiny campaign budget. Similar moves are afoot in the north-east and there are signs of interest in a pan-northern political movement.

As a Labour Party member, I want to see my own party embrace the idea of directly elected regional government on similar terms to those enjoyed by Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. Handing some money over to unaccountable ‘combined authorities’ based in the cities is not an adequate response. We need a real vision for the English regions within a federal Britain.

Fears of the northern left

Within the Labour Party there are quite a few of us at the grassroots who support independence. Most are against, for two main reasons. One is the electoral maths: an independent Scotland would mean fewer Labour MPs and the possibility of a permanent Tory majority. In fact the experience since the war has shown that in most general elections when Labour won, it would still have had a majority without its Scottish MPs.

The second reason perhaps has more resonance: a Scot-free England would become even more unbalanced, with the North being abandoned as the south-east ‘powerhouse’ steams ahead. This is a very real risk, regardless of who wins the election next year. Labour seems concerned to demonstrate it is not just ‘the party of the North’ even though that is where most of its support lies. It wants to win votes in the south. There is a certain irony that while the Tories (who need to win seats in the North) are suggesting major investment projects like the east-west HS3 rail line, Labour is silent or cynical.

The issue of an unbalanced England, with an increasingly rebellious Wales, will become more and more pronounced, driving demands for real regional devolution. A highly centralised England with only London enjoying its own regional government will be unsustainable. Change will have to come and it will be driven by a new coalition of political forces.

We can learn much from the tactics of the radical independence campaigners in Scotland who have mobilised new forces and adopted new tactics. They have found thousands of people who want change and feel disempowered by politics south of the border. It is for the people of Scotland to decide on their future, and whichever way the vote goes, we should strengthen our links with radical campaigners north of the border.

The recent ‘love bomb’ from 200 celebrities organised by Dan Snow was, on one level, laughable. In fact quite a few comedians, ranging from Bruce Forsyth and Ronnie Corbett to George Galloway figured strongly. I wouldn’t take guidance from any of them. But one of the things Snow said did make sense. He wanted to retain 'the bonds of citizenship' which unite us.

In reality however, the bonds between Scotland and England are invariably mediated by London and the Westminster bubble. Citizenship is not an abstract idea. It is about real, living links between people. These can, and do, cross national borders. I have more friends in the Irish Republic than Northern Ireland: the border is irrelevant. I very much hope over the coming months we can strengthen our bonds of citizenship with the people of Scotland, whatever choice they make.

Some on the left have argued that independence is either irrelevant or an obstacle to class solidarity. Why? We’ve seen precious little of this solidarity in recent years anyway. I would welcome more collaboration between trade unionists across the UK. But again, the border is irrelevant. It is interesting that a growing number of union activists have embraced the ‘yes’ campaign even if the London-based leaderships are against. It is a reflection on how our political elites – the unionist Tory, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties, plus the media commentariat – are largely anti-independence. No wonder, they stand to lose power and status. That can only be a good reason to vote ‘yes’.

Another world is possible

A vote for independence will have a major impact on the British state, showing that another world is possible. Yes, it is a leap in the dark. Nobody really knows how an independent Scotland will perform, though the experience of other emergent nations is that after a possibly bumpy start they will blossom. The alternative is to continue with the status quo, perhaps a bit more devolution, but continuing with the neo-liberal agenda shared by the main parties.

I think Scotland really would blossom – politically, economically and culturally – and encourage some shoots of radical growth in England.  We need to develop a debate with our friends in Scotland, Wales and Ireland about what a future democratised British Isles would look like. That debate needs to take place outside and beyond the London-based elite.

Thomas Paine, key to an earlier independence struggle for what became the United States of America, said 'We have it in power to begin the world over again'. Over two centuries later those words still ring true. We should reject the politics of fear and conservatism and embrace radical change in these isles. The first step for a new federal Britain is a ‘yes’ vote on 18 September.

This article is based on a speech delivered at a radical independence event hosted by Red Pepper and the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, Preston, 12 August, 2014. Views are the author’s own. The Hannah Mitchell Foundation was established to generate interest in democratic and inclusive regional government for the North. As a body they are neutral between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaign. Red Pepper are organising a Yes train to Glasgow to support and learn from the radical independence campaign. 


Reclaim the pier! Huge anti-fracking march

18 August 2014: Rebecca Newsom reports on Reclaim the Power's Solidarity Sunday

Anti fracking protesters demonstrate peacefully on a march

Once again a highlight of Reclaim The Power is the Solidarity Sunday march. Hundreds of anti-fracking groups from across Lancashire and beyond gathered on Blackpool seafront yesterday to march against the Government's proposals to introduce fracking and demand a more sustainable future. Members of the Reclaim The Power action camp also joined the march in solidarity, bringing total numbers to at least one thousand. We rallied with the wind beating through our hair, led by a troop of invincible mums and grandmas from Frack Free Lancashire. The march started at South pier and finished off at the North pier by Blackpool's iconic tower.

Many people were frustrated and angry that the Government continues to ignore their concerns about fracking – despite clear evidence of severe health and environmental risks. “Nobody's listening. We've tried and tried to have a debate with councillors, MPs and the fracking companies, but no one wants to know,” said Pam Foster of Residents Action on Fylde Fracking (RAFF). “It comes down to narrow-mindedness, short-sightedness and vested interests,” Ian Roberts (RAFF) added. “But the people of Lancashire aren't going to be bullied into this filthy industry, and our voice united is so powerful that the politicians are going to have to listen now.”

Peter Russell of Keep East Lancashire Frack Free (KELFF) agreed: “Politicians don't care about people; they only care about money and profit. But soon they will realise this isn't a vote winner and it's not economically viable so I'm very optimistic they will change their policy.”

Mums, dads and kids were out in full force – many were new to campaigning and activism, but compelled to take to the streets and piers. Lancashire mother and soon-to-be grandmother Lynda Smith explained: “I started off being pro-fracking because I didn't know anything about it, but then I went to a meeting and heard a professional geologist explain exactly what it was. I came out so shocked and horrified. I simply don't want my children to live in a poisoned world.”

The atmosphere was lively and positive, and it was clear everyone felt confident that fracking can be stopped. John Powney of Ribble Estuary Against Fracking (REAF) said: “I'm upbeat that we are going to beat fracking. Two or three years ago that wasn't the case, but we are now starting to see politicians listen, and crucially councils are starting to turn down planning applications, which is a massive victory for the whole movement. That's thanks to everyone working so hard to get the word out there, and thanks to marches like this one today. It is fantastic that Reclaim The Power has brought us all together; it's vital for this campaign.”

I was most excited to see how many people are passionate about renewable energy as an alternative to fracking. Fracking has opened up a new debate for many who hadn't engaged with it before about the issue of climate change and the need for sustainable, clean alternatives to fossil fuels to power our communities. As Peter Russell put it, “Britain is best placed in the whole of Europe to benefit from wind power and other renewables. It's time we put an end to fracking and become world leaders in this field.”


Reclaim the Power: The people against fracking

17 August 2014: A report from the Blackpool anti-fracking camp

Yesterday at Reclaim the Power the whole site was powered entirely by wind. Our self-built wind turbine was whizzing around generating 300 watts of power for all of our lighting and technology needs such as the media team’s laptops, phones and printers. We also have three solar energy systems, a much more diverse power system than last year. We have a large surplus of energy, powered by the clean, renewable sources.

The camp is demonstrating in practice that 100% renewable power is possible for the whole UK right now. The Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain report has shown how it is possible for the UK to be 100% powered by renewables by 2030 using only existing technology. The UK is Europe's windiest country, and one of the best locations for wind power in the world. We also have the largest amount of coastline with a huge capacity for offshore wind as well as tidal energy generation. Yet rather than invest in renewables the government is instead pushing ahead with a dash for fracked gas, against the wishes and interests of local communities.

Saturday afternoon’s Community Anti-Fracking Forum saw many anti-fracking activists and regional Frack Free groups talking about how they are resisting this. Diane from Frack Free Dee, a coalition of Frack Free groups in Cheshire, North Wales, North Shropshire and Merseyside, opened the session. Diane lives in rural Cheshire. Her anti-fracking activism began when she looked out of her windows one day and spotted a tower of lights in the distance, which transpired to be an exploratory drilling rig. Learning about fracking at the local public awareness meeting, she felt in her gut that something fundamental had changed in her life, and began to organise in her community.

Many groups shared their stories. We heard that Frack Free Farndon have set up camp near a test drill site, and that the local authority in Wrexham have rejected Dart Energy's planning application. Although the energy company is appealing the decision, Frack Free groups from across the region have written to the authority asking the council to uphold the decision. We heard that the proposed Underground Coal Gasification project in Wirral is across the water from a chemical plant. The community is horrified: Underground Coal Gasification has caused explosions elsewhere. We also heard that at one community meeting, the local Conservative, Labour, Green and Lib Dem candidates all declared they too were anti-fracking. Diane asks, and rightly so, why then is fracking happening? Who is benefiting? Where does the government think fracking's democratic mandate comes from?

The stories we heard of resistance within so many communities in the UK against fracking clearly show that the people are against fracking. These groups are firmly embedded within their communities and have organised along the principles of consensus, collaboration, collective ownership, inclusivity, positivity, non-violence and sharing facilitation, so no one person can override the community's collective decision. Anybody who attended the Community Anti-Fracking Forum would agree that it is these groups, not Westminster or the energy companies, that have the mandate to speak on behalf of their communities.


Fracking: Safe as houses?

17 August 2014: From the Reclaim the Power camp in Blackpool Guy Shrubsole sketches some thoughts on Cameron's fracking policies.

Fracking cartoon Guy Shrubsole

Find out more about how you can Join Reclaim the Power

Guy Shrubsole @guyshrubsole


Reclaim the Power in Blackpool

16 August 2014: Anti-fracking camp joins Lancashire residents in the struggle against dirty energy

Since Thursday Reclaim the Power, the activist anti-fracking camp, has set up in Blackpool. The camp will be there for 6 days of workshops, action and skill sharing. Red Pepper are there, find out how you can join us

The camp is taking place on land purchased by fracking company Cuadrilla, the company intend to use these fields for a fracking site. Lancashire residents have registered 14,000 complaints against Cuadrilla's fracking plans. Reclaim the Power joined the local Nana Camp made up of grandmothers, mothers and children from Frack Free Lancashire They did the hard job of occupying the field last Saturday.

Here are a few snaps of the camp being set up.

on the way

On the way to the camp, just checking the map…

Nana camp

Nana camp ready to welcome new arrivals

compost loo

Compost loos go up

Banner in solidarity with anti-fracking struggle in Romania-2

Showing some solidarity with the Romanian anti-fracking movement

solar panel

Solar panels shining under Blackpool sunshine

Haybale seating arrives

Hay bale seating arrives

Big marquee goes up

The big marquee goes up


Children play at Reclaim the Power

No Dash for Gas have all the details about how you can join the camp


The Yes Campaign speaks in the House of Commons

15 August 2014: Jane Shallice reports back from an event hosted by Red Pepper and openDemocracy, where many London radicals became inspired to support the Yes campaign.


Earlier this year Hilary Wainwright and I noted the complete absence of any expression of the Yes campaign in the British press. There were streams of articles which argued why such a vote would be catastrophic for the people of Scotland. How naive they were to imagine they could keep the pound, remain in the EU, prevent their descent into sheer profligacy, and would be overwhelmed by the most reactionary forms of nationalism. It was George Robertson who even suggested that a yes vote would give succour to Al Qaeda.

Unaware of what the Yes campaigners were arguing, we called a public meeting, considering this was such an important issue which could prise open a discussion about the sterile structures of the British state: Westminster, the Crown and the City being the vital triumvirate to be targeted.

With the help of Plaid Cymru we booked a room at the Palace of Westminster for 26 June. Where better to host the radical visions of a new state north of the border than in the belly of the beast herself? We had the largest committee room filled to the gills and it was one of those meetings which you would not have missed for the world. (Something that could seldom be said!)

Neal Acheson was the first speaker and opened 'The Union was dead and being red robed into dust when in 1999 the Scottish Parliament opened'. It was then that Winnie Ewing stated the Scottish Parliament had been 'reconvened'. But more importantly he thought the Yes campaign has won the referendum campaign as the discussion is being centred on the sort of independence they wanted.

Obviously heavy lifting gear will be needed to consider the economic and constitutional changes required. To reconsider the uncritical institutional powers that have developed - EIS, the Scotland of the Local Authorities etc and there are political powers that have been and need to be challenged.

Beyond the SNP

Gordon Brown stated that this is a campaign for or against the SNP but in this he is completely wrong. It is not about the SNP. It is a huge mass mobilisation, a social movement typified by labour supporters not trusting Salmond and yet who cannot bring themselves to vote no. The question which has to be faced is whether the SNP could survive a yes vote, as the Yes campaign has rearranged the political parties in Scotland.

It is possible (and essential) to wreck the supreme law and redistribute power to the people, more responsibility has to be allocated to them. A No vote will mean we have a Tory Britain and Brexit with Scotland dragged with them. The future will see further advance of neoliberalism and further mutilation of the public services and a major difficulty to defend the remnants of social democracy.

hands up

(Pic: Hands up for a Yes vote)

Rejecting nationalism

The second speaker Joyce McMillan is a drama critic, a writer on culture for the Scotsman and an activist. She had been present in Tusla when the Civic Forum was called. If the result is division then more dialogue is needed. She denied that it was nationalism which was the driving force for the Yes campaign but the most important principle was the drive for social justice. Today wishy washy social democracy is pathetic, a pale shadow of the movement for social justice which motivated the political and social changes of the 40s and 50s. Instead today we have regressed to living in a world akin to that described by Dickens. For her the love affair with Labour which was evident in Scotland is over; if you want a a Tory, it would be better to vote Tory.

'A nation without walls'

For the playwright David Greig the Yes campaign's model is the experience of the National Theatre of Scotland. In 1920s the building of such a theatre was being discussed but he said that he was mightily relieved that it was never built. They would have been saddled with Doric pillars and statues of Wallace and Burns and he would be campaigning to close it. Instead through the devolution campaign it was possible to debate and think about a way that the National theatre would be a genuine one . A theatre without walls and a truly nationally centred theatre. How else could you have a national? theatre? in Scotland. Today there is now a fleet of foot institution. A model for Scotland and others. In the 20s it would have been an imitation of UK with hard borders and an army etc.

For him the Yes campaign should be arguing for a nation without walls. An independence which could share and pool sovereignty from the European level to the local communities; 'We want a democracy that goes all the way down and through the front door.'

The whole process of debate around devolution has ensured that people are educating themselves about why are things the way they are? What are renewables? Crown estates? Renovation? Land reform? And there is a new media which is becoming their own media. 'At present we live in the choice in favour of the establishment' he said.

He also thought that the campaign holds a message for England, that 'change is possible'. "There is a shimmering on the water which could transform democracy as happened in 1945.'

The referendum is just the beginning


Cat Boyd, is a young activist who is one of the cofounders of Radical Independence, which is not a party or a think tank but a movement. Explaining that she had been 'outed' by a Labour MP for being a socialist. For her the campaign is not about nations for change but changing people's lives and their futures. The central question is what will be the best answer for people's lives.

This is not politics as normal. Whereas the No campaign is wanting it all to be over, for those who are supporting the Yes vote it will not finish with the vote on September 18th.

There are decisions that need to be made (and with independence can be made) on Trident and the nuclear convoy as well as the establishment of a society which will be based in responding to people's needs.


Pete Ramand is co-author of 'Yes: the radical case for Scottish independence'. He argued Britain is a most unequal society in the midst of a huge global economic crisis, and with a mounting ecological crisis. The answer to which is not green capitalism. He said that there as a need to be radical and the whole campaign opens up so many possibilities. Ed Miliband is selling his optimism with the slogan 'Britain can do better' , Brown was 'proud' of Britain's role in Africa! Blair argues that 'the destiny of Britain is to lead others'. Neil Ferguson argues that Britain has created Anglo globalisation, the British Empire handed the mantle to USA and the English speaking world operates as a wise council to the US colossus. 'Commerce, Christianity and civilisation'.

For him the key question is: which is the more dangerous - the old imperialism of Britain or a break up of an old state and potentially creating a new modern state?

Energy on the streets

The final speaker was Robin McAlpine, the director of the Jimmie Reid Foundation, and the Common Weal; a project to consider a model for the economic and social changes required for Scotland.

Inequality in Britain is starkly evident: 35% of the wealth is in the City of London and 3% in South Wales. The state operates under an air of contemptuous neglect.

He spoke about the energies and the creativity which has been unleashed by the debates around devolution. There is a thirst for discussion and answers and attendance at meetings throughout Scotland have shown a new spirit and new determination. He gave the example of the grandmother who after attending a meeting for the first time in her life, spoke and said that 'When this is over I'm not going back to my sofa'.

There is a new media with over 30,000 participating in Wings over Scotland. 'When you become yes it is not a bit yes!' He said, and the Yes campaign it is not a campaign of politicians. It is acceptable and necessary to have debates in order to create ideas about powers, he argued. It is necessary to educate ourselves and vital to create our own media.

Questions were then asked about what are the opportunities this referendum creates? What sort of a society do we want to live in? How will it be possible to maintain the movement and leave behind a stronger social democratic infrastructure. How, unlike Obama's heritage, will it be possible to leave behind a genuine mass movement? It was also noted that this will be a state which needs and welcomes immigration which will be a notable exception in the EU.

Finally it was agreed that we should organise a Yes train with a women's delegation to go and help canvass and give support. People were urged to phone everyone who can vote, as every person matters, to use social media, to respond to the press, and to 'be a witness for us'.

Join us on the weekend of 6 - 8 September to come to Scotland and canvass, attend meetings, support the work of the Yes campaigners and savour the excitement and the power that the Yes campaigners have generated.

(Pictures by Jack Macbean, see the full flickr album here)


Campaigners say ‘End subsidies for polluting biomass now’ as DECC publishes biomass carbon calculator

14 August 2014: Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch unpicks the latest government report on Biofuels. The report that has been welcomed by environmental NGOs and the biomass industry alike, both sides claim it vindicates their position.


The Life cycle impacts of biomass electricity in 2020 report assesses the carbon emissions associated with North American wood burned in UK power stations. Most pellets imported into the UK come from North America. One of the two authors is DECC’s outgoing Scientific Advisor, David McKay - a widely respected expert in energy technologies and their climate impacts.

So, does the report vindicate the biomass industry, or those who have been warning that burning millions of tonnes of wood in power stations is the last thing we need if we want to protect forests and avoid the worst impacts of climate change? The industry takes comfort from the report saying that it may (not will!) be possible to meet the UK’s 2020 bioenergy demand with low-carbon wood from North America. However, it hardly supports the likes of Drax and their suppliers – particularly since Drax cannot, for technical reasons, burn many of the ‘low-carbon’ residues identified in the report.

On the other hand, the authors confirm that a lot of biomass really is ‘dirtier than coal’. Crucially, they state that the methodology suggested by the European Commission for calculating biomass carbon emissions is deeply flawed and makes bioenergy appear as low-carbon even if it is linked to greater CO2 emissions than electricity from coal. That’s the same methodology that is used by the Government and on which their proposed biomass sustainability standards are based. The report thus implies that the Government’s biomass policy and their planned standards are not fit for purpose.

According to Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey 'this calculator shows that, done well, biomass can offer real carbon savings – which is why we are tightening our rules for sustainable biomass'. But what he means is simply that the very carbon standards demolished by this report will become mandatory from 2015.

Davey probably knows that aligning the proposed standards to the findings of the report would close down Drax and E.On’s Ironbridge power station and might stop other coal-to-biomass conversions and large new biomass power stations across the UK. For example the largest pellet producer in the US, Enviva, has been shown to source wood from clearcut wetland forests that had not been logged for at least a century. Enviva is a key supplier of Drax and has a supply contract with E.On, too. This, the report confirms, is worse for the climate than burning coal for well over 40 years.

An invitation to fraud

Are biomass carbon standards based on this new report the answer? Would they protect the climate, and might they even allow us to burn millions of tonnes of imported wood without harming forests and increasing carbon emissions in the process?

Well - no. There are fundamental problems with relying on sustainability standards, not least the fact that those rely on self-reporting by companies and their chosen consultants. The Government has admitted that companies’ declarations that vast amounts of their biofuels came from used cooking oil from the Netherlands were ‘implausible’ – i.e. misleading. Standards simply require companies to tick the right boxes – an invitation to fraud.

Moreover, DECC’s new report assesses a wide range of “scenarios”, all of which depend on assumptions about what would have happened in the absence of a demand for bioenergy – or what might happen in future, for example to US wood markets. Putative scenarios make for an interesting academic debate - for policy purposes they are of little use. For example, logging a native forest for bioenergy is shown to be climate friendly if, without the demand for bioenergy, that forest would have been converted to agricultural land. What’s to stop the industries from claiming that without their demand for wood, American forests would just be cut down and turned into cotton fields? Implausible – but who can ever prove what ‘would have happened’? All of the ‘sustainable’ scenarios depend on developments which are out of UK companies’ or our government’s control.

Furthermore, some of the scenarios and assumptions in the report are questionable, while important ones are missing. For example, the authors calculate how much different types of wood may be ‘available for UK biomass’ as if there wasn’t a fast-growing demand for bioenergy within North America, let alone from across Europe. There’s no scenario that sees UK demand force US biomass plants to run on wood from whole trees rather than residues. Many, though not all, such ‘indirect impacts’ have been ignored. Some scenarios assume that, without our bioenergy demand, vast amounts of sawmill and residues would be burned as waste on the roadside – which is most unlikely. Some are based on a low future demand for wood in North America - improbable without an economic crash. Nobody can draw up credible ‘carbon standards’ based on speculations about future wood prices.

As an EU member state, the UK government should base environmental policies on the precautionary principle (not something it has a record of doing). The government is subsidising company plans to burn more wood each year than the UK produces annually and there is clear evidence that biodiverse North American forests are already being destroyed as a result. Those subsidies must be stopped.

(Picture: Deforestation in Sumatra to make way for an oil palm plantation)

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The growing crisis of Calais’ migrant population

7 August 2014: The situation for migrants in Calais is at breaking point; support is desperately needed, writes Daniel Martin


10 Impasse Des Salines, Calais - France. With the impending mass eviction of over 800 migrants in the newly opened Fort Galoo squat and the migrant jungles that surround Calais also under threat of imminent eviction the situation is at crisis point. The migrants, travelling from Syria to Eritrea and everywhere in between, arrive in Calais hoping to cross the border to eventually claim asylum in the UK. Each one of them has a harrowing tale of deportation, death and persecution to tell. Yet the desire to cross the border into, what is for most, the promised land burns strong in their hearts, with every man, woman and child risking their lives on a daily basis not only to make the crossing but simply to stay alive.

Due to conflict and a lack of connections most migrants cannot go back to their home country even if offered voluntary deportation. On the other hand, if they manage to cross the border and make it into the UK they won't be much better off, with the asylum process notoriously difficult and often brutal. An estimated 23,507 appplications for asylum were made in 2013, however the real number is almost certainly higher with many choosing to live and work illegally to avoid hassle from authorities they have spent much of their lives under the watch of. There is, however, a third option. Asylum can be granted in France, yet for most this is not an option and instead they have to play a game of cat and mouse with border guards and riot police every day.

Recent clashes between Eritrean and Sudanese groups living at both the jungle and the squat have attracted further police attention and exacerbated the problem. Over 150 were involved in the rioting with many injured and one seriously wounded. Whilst tensions are bound to rise in such a dire situation, solidarity has to be found amongst all groups living there, with the only positive outcome of the fighting being to provide stronger resistance against the state.

The attitude of the French has been mixed. Local mayor Natacha Buchart has come down strongly on both migrants and the activist group NoBorders, claiming the latter treat Calais as a playground. Yet without NoBorders help the migrants would be in an even worse situation then they are now. It is thanks to the continued support of activists, local groups and aid organisations such as Médecins du Monde that the migrants are able to survive, being provided with water, blankets and supplies. Buchart's attitude, however, is shared by Sauvons Calais, a right wing fascist group that deliberately targets all involved in the struggle, having previously attacked aid workers and a migrant squat on Rue Du Colonge. A demonstration organised on Saturday July 12 that led to the opening of Fort Galoo provided the latest show of support and proof that Sauvons Calais are as unpopular as Buchart's policies.

The failure of Buchart to provide a solution to the growing humanitarian crisis in Calais highlights an important problem faced by the wider world when dealing with migrants. The idea of a migrant is someone that is kept in the shadows for the reason that they are viewed as exiles shunned from their home country.  In the eyes of Britain's right and neoliberal politicians across Europe having the additional label "illegal" automatically means bad. Yet in Calais and in the views of Buchart the term illegal exists without meaning. If trying to cross the border to claim asylum through the outdated Dublin Regulation and demanding the basic human rights denied by both governments is illegal, then yes, illegality is rife. Therefore, before a long term solution can be found—such as altering the convention and easing both countries' border restrictions—the idea of the migrant in the popular imagination has to change to better reflect reality and the needs of the migrants themselves.

Growing worse every day, support and more importantly people are needed urgently in Calais. Police brutality needs highlighting and more UK press coverage is required if these people are to gain the attention they require. People have the power to change the situation through solidarity and resistance and to end finally the suffering that should never have been experienced.


Petition: Drop the suspension of student protestors

7 August 2014: Activist group launch petition demanding reinstatement of University of Birmingham students suspended for protesting

The higher education activist group Defend Education Birmingham have launched a petition demanding that the University of Birmingham lift the year-long suspensions of Kelly Rodgers and Simon Furse and the six month suspended sentence handed out to the former Birmingham Guild of Students Vice President of Education, Hattie Craig. The students were charged for their involvement in an occupation at the University last November.

The petition already has over 350 signatures and once again shines an unwanted spotlight on the University of Birmingham, which has over the last year faced stringent criticism for its attitude towards protest and its treatment of student protestors. Following the arrest of 13 and the suspension of 5 students last January a number of respected academics, activists and artists signed an open letter in which they described the University's treatment of its students as "at odds with free speech".

The University of Birmingham further compounded its autocratic reputation on July 30 when it violently evicted a student occupation held in support of the suspended students. According to Defend Education Birmingham, over 25  bailiffs and as many police were called in to break up the occupation and acted with "no regard for the safety of any occupiers involved".

In a rare act of support for student protestors the National Union of Students has voted to support the campaign to overturn the suspensions and pledged to use money from its legal fund to contribute towards their court costs.

Click here to sign the petition.

For updates from Defend Education Birmingham follow @DefendEdBrum



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