Living Rent Making Progress

meeting with living rent members and others at University of Glasgow

Glasgow      Another day, another city, another screening, more discussion of Nuts & Bolts, and a chance to catch up with things in Scotland, including the progress of the Living Rent campaign, an affiliate of ACORN, as well as the Radical Learning Network being organized by our colleague Dave Beck of the University of Glasgow.

Living Rent is of course a great name for the campaign, much as Living Wages was our standard for the many campaigns to raise minimum wages to living wages in the United States and Canada.  Recently, the Living Rent “Winter Break” campaign got a huge lift after months of work when the leader of the Scottish Labor Party publicly indicated that our position needed study, followed by the leader of the majority Scottish National Party also agreeing that thorough evaluation was needed.  The demand has been that there would be no rental evictions during the winter months from November 1st until March 31st.  Caught now in the throes of the Siberian cold front they are calling the “beast from the east” in all the news reports, politicians may be racing to jump on the Living Rent train.

The other update involved the “rent pressure zones” that we had won from the Scottish Parliament earlier.  These zones are a euphemism for a version of rent controls and would limit allowable rent increases where they are escalating out of control.  Both Glasgow and Edinburgh have been pushing the city councils about the need to create rent pressure zones out of the entire city.  There are already 3000 signatures on petitions making the demand in Edinburgh and Glasgow is not far behind.  In essence we are now putting politicians in our own “pressure zone about rent,” making all of this progress very exciting.

The Radical Learning Network has been an outgrowth of the community development department and its practice at the University of Glasgow by Beck and his colleagues, students and former students.  Launching in December as a Facebook sharing site, 400 have joined in a little more than two months.  The name is somewhat of a mouthful, but the point of the project is to encourage more discussion and therefore experimentation with alternatives in communities to deal with a variety of issues.

After the screening in Glasgow for example I got a lot of questions about the impacts of gentrification and how to deal with it, which is a global problem with increasing force and no conviction of an effective model to offset its impacts.  We also had interesting conversations about how to deal with neighborhoods impacted by deindustrialization, an issue every bit as critical in Scotland and northern England as in Detroit, Youngstown, Cleveland, and other cities.

Great to be part of these discussions with hopes that it produces some new and important directions for future work.


Scotland at a Crossroads with Independence Vote Coming

Saltire and union flagGlasgow   September 18th may not already be circled on your calendar but it’s a huge date in Scotland when the vote will be taken on the referendum of whether or not Scotland will be independent of the United Kingdom.  The papers are full of charges and counter-charges about the impact of the vote and speculation about who would control the oil reserves in the North Sea, whether or not Scotland would be able to use the pound sterling, and what in the world either a “yes” or a “no” vote might mean.

            It’s not fair to say that I have heard the discussion on everyone’s lips over my days in Scotland, but it is fair to say that in the 9 months since my first visit to the country, the conversation has become much more serious as both the date of the election and the margins on the polls have tightened.  Last year even among advocates of independence there was more of a “keep pushing” attitude than a sense that victory might be possible.  Now with many polls saying that the margin may only be 9% with “no” leading, but “yes” closing the gap, supporters are anything but overconfident, but there is a lot more discussion of “when,” rather than “if.”  In Glasgow, after a meeting of the organizing committee for ACORN International’s Glasgow affiliate, I heard about the work of the Jack Reed Foundation in funding and doing research now so that there would be plans and policies ready for muster in the event of a victory. 

            Much of the initiative for the referendum has come from the Scottish National Party (SNP), a nationalist outfit, which is by far the largest political party in the country and operating widely at the local governmental levels.  The vote is especially complicating for many of our union allies because they are strongly wedded to the Labour Party and therefore strong “no” voices in favor of the continued bonds of the United Kingdom, even realizing that many of their members and their activists are more inclined to vote yes.  Some of the organizers expressed frank worries about the future of the Labour Party in Scotland, win or lose, because of this position, and the increasing dominance of the SNP, given their leadership on the referendum, once again, win or lose.

            Talking to professors at the University of Glasgow after a fun couple of hours with almost 50 folks who had crowded into a room and filled every chair to learn about ACORN International and our work around the world and in Scotland, they reported that students and the campus itself was very quiet on the issue of Scottish independence.  I found that surprising, having assumed that students were probably a natural constituency for a “Yes” campaign.  In fact listening to some of the organizers later who had been on the doors, it was also surprising to hear that in talking to older people there was also a strong “No” vote that just didn’t believe that the Scots were really capable of self-governance, which might have been a predictable sentiment from some in a developing, post-colonial nation, but caught me looking when it came from a sophisticated, modern democratic entity.

            Who knows, and passing through, I was hardly able to have a straw poll in my several days of careful listening, though it seems a close vote is likely, the “yesses” have the more uphill climb.  What was certain, speaking simply as an organizer, is that air of change, transition, and uncertainty provides the kind of unsettling political climate that is made to order for putting the pedal to the metal in building organization to force issues to the forefront.