by Richie Venton
Despite threadbare resources, the SSP is challenging the mainstream parties in the May council elections across Scotland.
From Nairn to Arran, Dundee to Drumchapel, and a dozen seats in between, we are putting up a socialist case that differs drastically from what’s on offer from Labour and SNP contenders for council control. Socialist measures that would transform the lives of working class communities and 250,000 council workers alike, provided a mass movement is built to achieve the changes proposed.
Councils at Sharp End of Austerity
Local government is at the sharp end of austerity, raining down from the Westminster Tories, left unsheltered by the SNP Holyrood government, who since 2010 have devolved £3billion in Tory cuts to councils, NHS boards and college authorities.
The recent SNP/Scottish Green budget added £170m in council funding cuts to the catastrophe already visited upon local authorities in recent years – including the 40,000 job losses, the £1.4billion slashed off the wage bill, and the 9.2% cut (from £10.5bn to £9.5bn) in Scottish government funding of councils since 2010/11 (Accounts Commission Report, March 2017).
The Fraser Allander Institute predicts a further £1billion will be hacked off council revenue funding from Holyrood by 2020.
As we’ve often argued, the stark choice is between defiance and destruction; either devolved devastation, or defiance and defeat of the Tory butchers.
That choice applies equally to the Scottish government, whose mandate was won on claims to be anti-austerity, and to local councils of whatever political stripe.
No Cuts Budgets: Win back our Stolen £Millions!
The SSP is contesting the council elections to broadcast our 100% anti-cuts, anti-austerity, anti-capitalist message… with a raft of positive, socialist alternatives that would easily shelter workers and communities from the storm of savage cuts originating in Westminster, passing through Holyrood unimpeded, blasting out from supine local councils, run by both Labour and the SNP.
We are arguing for No Cuts Budgets, and for reversal of the cuts already agreed last month by councillors who’ve failed to stand up for the people they now beg votes off. But we don’t see setting No Cuts budgets as an idle gesture, nor a folded arms exercise, but as the launchpad for a mighty battle by mobilized council workers and communities to “win back our stolen £millions”, off Westminster and Holyrood.
Axe The Council Tax – Make the Rich Pay
The SSP is championing a package of measures that would not only fund No Cuts budgets, standstill budgets, but would generate the resources to vastly expand jobs, local services and wage levels for council workers – including the band of super-exploited council apprentices.
We have consistently fought for our fully-costed alternative to the regressive Council Tax; the progressive, income-based Scottish Service Tax, which would simultaneously mean about 80% of Scottish people paying less in bills, and literally double the money raised locally for jobs and services; from £2billion in Council Tax last year, to £4billion under our new tax proposal.
Instead of adding 3% to the already-exorbitant Council Tax bills – in a taxation system that hammers low- and middle-income families far harder than the super-rich in their £million-plus mansions – we are demanding the Scottish government axe the Council Tax, and usher in a Scottish Service Tax based on ability to pay, exempting the first £11,000 income, but making the rich minority pay far greater sums, thereby doubling funds.
Drop the Debt! Fund People’s Services, not PFI Profits
Socialist councillors would provide the backbone lacking in other parties to challenge another form of daylight robbery of local people by the profiteers. As the Accounts Commission has confirmed, Scottish local authorities have combined debts of £15.2billion, costing a colossal £1.5billion in debt repayments every single year.
That’s cash that could be invested in improved social care for children, disabled people and the elderly; housebuilding and renovation; schools; libraries; community facilities; local bus services; free school meals; sports and recreation; parks; environmental improvements; bin services; local fresh food markets in every housing district; job creation; wage rises instead of 8 years of wage cuts for council workers…
But instead, that fortune is forked out to moneylenders, bankers and spivs who’ve plundered public resources for profits made out of long-ago council house building and, especially, the monumental ripoff of PFI/PPP schemes.
PFI/PPP: The School of Daylight Robbery
Schools and hospitals built or renovated under PFI and PPP – initiated by John Major’s Tories, but vastly expanded under Blair and Brown’s Labour governments from 1997 – will cost Scottish taxpayers £30.2billion by the time 30-35 years of repayments (“unitary charges”) have been completed. That’s equivalent to the entire annual budget of the Scottish government. On average, that means for every £1 invested in schools or hospitals through PFI/PPP schemes in Scotland, we are paying back £6!
In just 8 of Scotland’s 32 councils alone, £1.8billion has already been handed over to the PFI spivs for construction or maintenance of schools, but a further £4.5billion is still owed to these big business loan sharks. For example, Edinburgh city council face charges of £64m for each of the 25 PFI schools; Glasgow £1.5billion for 30 PFI schools that initially cost £225m to construct in 2001.
That’s theft on a gargantuan scale. It’s robbing not only this generation, but the next, and the one after, of resources desperately needed for useful jobs and services in the community.
44p in the £1 to Moneylenders!
The SSP is demanding that the debt is dropped; that councils discover the backbone to renegotiate and cancel historic debts, and the Scottish government aid them in this. There’s a clear precedent for dropping council debts; when the government imposed mass council housing stock transfers to the likes of Glasgow Housing Association in 2001, they wiped out debt to give that oversized quango a fresh start, lifting the burden of debts that had hung round the council’s neck, hampering their ability to build or renovate homes for rent.
Put simply, we demand an end to the crime where on average across Scotland, for every £1 paid by residents in Council Tax, 44p is handed over to the profiteering moneylenders. Imagine what could be done with all that dosh, swilling around in the bank accounts of, well, bankers, amongst others!
Minimum “£10 Now!” for Every Council Worker
High up amongst the unique policies being pushed by the SSP in the council elections is one that would transform the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of council staff, increase their spending power in the community, and generally boost local economies; our demand for a £10-an-hour minimum living wage for every council worker – with guaranteed equal pay for women.
It would be easily affordable – provided a fight is put up for extra funding, for a return of the stolen £millions, to win back the £1billion stolen off councils by Holyrood on behalf of Westminster since 2010/11 alone. Or by cancelling the debts. Or through the Scottish Service Tax doubling the money locally raised.
The Power to Guarantee £10 Now!
But have councils the powers to introduce a £10 minimum? Yes! They don’t have the power to legally insist on £10Now! across society; that’s reserved to Westminster. But already 13 of the 32 councils bask in the kudos of being Accredited Living Wage Employers, paying the voluntary £8.45 minimum advocated by the Living Wage Foundation.
In fact, in trying to impose a miserly 1% pay cap on council staff this year, they boast of offering an £8.51 minimum. So the SSP is demanding that councils introduce a £10 minimum – as a step towards ALL workers winning that, across all sectors – and enlist the support of the same staff in an almighty fight to fund the £10 minimum by cancelling ancient council debts, and winning back the funding stolen by governments who’ve chosen the path of austerity, planned poverty, to bail out the ailing, exploitative capitalist system.
Socialist Councillors’ Proud Tradition
The SSP stands in a long, proud socialist tradition of courageous men and women who’ve used their positions as councillors not to manage the machine, but to challenge the deprivation and class divisions imposed by the bigger, broader capitalist system.
The socialist councillors of 1920s Poplar, London, who went to jail rather than attack the working class, coining the slogan “Better to Break the Law than Break the Poor” – and whose mobilization of local people won vast improvements in housing, wages and services.
The 1970s Clay Cross, Derbyshire, socialist councillors who refused to implement Tory rent rises, built council houses, vastly increased council workers’ wages, and faced down the threat of jail to stand up for working class people.
And especially the 1980s Liverpool socialist council, which led a mass movement of the Merseyside working class, beat back the notoriously hard-faced Maggie Thatcher government, and won £60million in government grants off Westminster to sustain an inspiring programme of radical reforms. Life-changing reforms, including 5,000 new council houses; an 8-year rent freeze; 12,000 new construction workers’ jobs; new nurseries, leisure centres and parks; vastly improved schools and FE colleges; expanded services; and a £100-a-week minimum wage for a 35 hour week for its 31,000 staff.
It can be done; it needs to be done; the alternative is devastation.
Choose SSP #1 on May 4th
The choice on May 4th is fundamentally between a variety of mainstream parties, indulging in tribal warfare and largely manufactured differences on policy, but all wedded to obedience of the cuts handed down by the Westminster Tories – or socialist candidates prepared to help lead a movement to defy and defeat the Tory vandals.
Every first preference vote for the SSP is a statement of intent. A declaration of defiance of the endless round of cuts to jobs, facilities and services. An endorsement of policies that put the interests and livelihoods of working class communities and council workers before the profiteering and privileges of the PFI moneylenders, the bankers, and the 1% who wallow in obscene wealth through tax cuts at the expense of our daily living conditions.
Choose a better life; choose socialism; vote SSP. Elect fighting, principled socialists.
Inverness Ness-side – Feargus Murray
Cumbernauld East – Andy Locke
Nairn and Cawdor – Louis Mcintosh
Cumbernauld North – John Miller
Dundee West – Tam Wilson
Cumbernauld South – Kevin McVey
Paisley NW – Sandra Webster
Baillieston – Liam McLaughlan
Paisley SE – John Miller
Govan – Bill Bonnar
Paisley NE and Ralston – Lindsay Brown
Drumchapel/Anniesland – Joe Meehan
Johnstone North, Kilbarchan, Howwood and Lochwinnoch – Geoff Knowles
Blantyre – Gerry McMahon
Arran and Ardrossan – Colin Turbett