Edinburgh At ACORN, we’ve always said that one of the assets of political campaigns, even in losing, is the ability to test and prove your base, allowing an organization to expand its capacity and measure its support. Never has that been truer that the depth of the engagement of people in Scotland in the wake of the independence vote that though unsuccessful, pulled 85% of the people into participation. Spending a day with organizers and leaders of ACORN Scotland, EPTAG, the Edinburgh Private Tenant Action Group, our first affiliate, and the newly activated members of our first community organization, ACORN Leith, might have skewed my perspective, but even in the aftermath of the vote, it was amazing to hear random people on the street stopping at our Living Rent campaign stall and bringing up the issues and expectations as they joined thousands of others in signing postcards for the campaign which we will present to Parliament in the coming week.
Part of this surge in civic engagement is measurable. Reports of huge membership increases in the Scottish National Party, which drove the campaign for independence, have been documented. A similar wave of new membership has occurred in the Green Party, which also supported the “Yes” campaign. And, remember these were the losers!
Part of the continuing excitement, and contention, can be found in the ongoing struggles that will now be played out between Scotland and Westminster over the devolution of various powers to Scotland. There were promises made by all of the major United Kingdom parties about increased authority that they would give to Scotland if independence was rejected. For the “Yes” voters, nothing less than the whole loaf will ever be acceptable, so counting the slices being put on the table by London will be a continuing controversy.
In such times, there are always huge organizational opportunities that open in this window, and the Living Rent campaign being driven by EPTAG, ACORN Scotland, and significant allies like the Scottish Union of Students and the Scottish Tenant Farmers’ Association, is a good example of seizing the time. The key demands are for greater tenant security, meaning longer term leases, but the real prize of the campaign is the chance to win some solid measures of rent control. Rents have gone up 17% in recent years in Edinburgh for private tenants, and 50% in Aberdeen, so there’s heat here. Furthermore, there’s real political traction with the Scottish government engaged in its first consultation on rent in 25 years and even the Labour Party calling now for rent control in UK as part of its platform for the upcoming May 2015 elections. We are at the table with our allies on this issue, which explains the card signing in the bitter cold next to the bus stop in Leith for all of us before last night’s meeting. It also explains why our organizers believe the action in Parliament might see us produce up to a 1000 in support of rent control.
Crazy? I’m not sure anymore, because it times like these when people from the grassroots up are totally engaged and embracing change, organizers and organizations doing the hard, day to day, grinding work of organizing, can find there’s a wind of movement at their backs that can change normal organizing math into something very different, special, and powerful.
My next stop will be working with ACORN London, but I’m keeping my eyes on Scotland. Something is blowing in the wind, and it’s not just winter coming!