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I feel deeply sad that the Scots decided to vote No to independence. Although Alex Salmond and the SNP definitely had their faults (especially with some of their policies), and I had more sympathies with the vision of the Radical Independence Campaign, Common Weal  and the Scottish Greens, what the YES campaign did was to inspire hope that another kind of politics could happen, as George Monbiot argued so well. That there could be an alternative to the last 30 years of neoliberalism, ramped up by Margaret Thatcher and continued by New Labour. An alternative to austerity economics, which has hit the poorest the hardest, has further entrenched inequality (of wealth, property, opportunity), foodbanks, homelessness and which has given the excuse to privatise the Royal Mail, large parts of the NHS, and much more. I wanted to see if Scotland could go down a different path

Although Salmond has at times been in bed with Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump, and had advocated lowering corporation tax if Scotland gained independence, there were signs that an independent Scotland could have gone a different direction. One of them was that Rupert Murdoch came out against some of Salmond’s allies and policies at the end, which meant the Scottish Sun didn’t support independence. Murdoch said on twitter:

Already in Scotland there are much more progressive policies in many areas. University education is currently free in Scotland, instead of up to £9,000 a year in England, which can end up as around £100,000 in repayments. They have a roadmap to generate the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s gross annual electricity consumption with renewables by 2020 (although some of what they include as renewable is contentious, is reliant on exporting and importing energy to England during peak and trough times and it is uncertain if they will meet this ambitious target), instead of the situation in Westminster where a very large proportion of Conservative MPs still don’t even believe climate change is caused by humans, including the former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson. Much more of the NHS in Scotland is still in public hands, unlike in England, where New Labour and then the ConDem coalition have been privatising it like crazy. It’s got so bad in the rest of the UK that Doctors told Scots in The Lancet to vote for independence to stop it being privatised as well as the fact that doctors, nurses and other medical professionals have also gotten together to form their own political party to fight to protect the NHS – the National Health Action Party.  The Scots have also been discussing land reform, including from the 432 people who own 50 per cent of rural Scotland, and have made initial steps to implement it. They already have a more democratic and proportional voting system for the Scottish Parliament than the first past the post system used in the UK general elections. I could go on.

I had hoped to see how an independent Scotland would continue these many trends. If they gained independence, Salmond, amongst other things, had promised to:

Whether they would have done those things once independent is another matter, but it would have been exciting to see them try, and maybe that would have helped shift the debate in the rest of the UK as the Scottish led the way on what could be achieved.

So, why did they lose the vote?

Of the  84.15% of the Scottish population who turned out to vote, 45% voted YES for independence, while 55% voted NO. Unfortunately there were no exit polls, but an Ashcroft poll of more than 2,000 people showed how different age groups voted:

HowVoteInReferendum(Source)

This led to some saying: “The old have killed the hopes of the young”. However, when looking at the above data, it’s important not to make too much of the 71% of 16-17 year olds who voted for YES. As Full Fact pointed out:

Various media sources and Twitter users have today reported on the results of a poll by Lord Ashcroft, which showed that 71% of 16- and 17-year-old respondents said they voted Yes to independence. However, this figure (available in underlying data tables) is based on just 14 responses in this age group – that’s ten yes-voters. Such a small sample means there’s a huge range of uncertainty around the estimate, so it’s impossible to say whether this figure is representative of the actual proportion. The proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds that said they had voted yes (based on a more robust 98 cases) was 51%.

Even still, a majority of people from 25-54 voted YES, and those over 65 overwhelmingly voted NO.

Others pointed out that areas with more deprivation, unemployment, urban population and shorter life expectancy had bigger support for independence (although the small sample of 32 local authorities may be too small to be certain about that):

ScotVotingLifeExpectancy

(Source)

votedeprevation

(Source)

(For more graphs looking at the relationship between urban/rural population, percentage of those on unemployment benefits and more see this and this)

So, if you believe the above correlations as being significant with the limited data available, the old and the rich were much more likely to vote NO, and the poor and young were much likely to vote YES. There are many theories as to why that is, which I wont go into here.

It’s also interesting to look at what the main reasons which were given for voting NO. As Ashcroft pointed out from his poll:

By far the most important reason [for voting NO] was that “the risks of becoming independent looked too great when it came to things like the currency, EU membership, the economy, jobs and prices”. Nearly half (47%) of No voters said this was their biggest consideration. This was echoed in the more specific issues people said had played a part in their vote. The pound was the single most important of these, mentioned by more than half (57%) of all No voters. Nearly four in ten (37%) were concerned about pensions, and 36% cited the NHS (as did more than half of those who voted Yes).

So it wasn’t just about age and wealth.

Propaganda onslaught

To be honest, I’m amazed that 45% of the population did vote YES with the propaganda onslaught against independence. As Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan and Rector of the University of Dundee, pointed out:

My heart is still bursting with pride that 45% of Scots – a people devoid of political autonomy for three hundred years – had the nerve, intellect and will to see through the avalanche of propaganda from the entire mainstream media, political establishment, banking sector and corporate world. I met numerous voters who had received letters from their employers – including Diageo, BP, RNS and many others – telling them to vote No or their job was in danger. I met the old lady in Dundee who was told by the Labour Party that independent Scotland would flood the country with immigrants, and a Romanian building worker in Edinburgh who had been told by the Labour Party that Independent Scotland would deport all East Europeans.

George Monbiot also pointed out that:

there is no newspaper – local, regional or national, English or Scottish – that supports independence except the Sunday Herald.

A team of academics even studied the BBC’s coverage of the independence referendum between 17 September 2012 – 18 September 2013, looking at 730 hours of evening TV news output broadcast by BBC Scotland and Scottish Television (STV), and found the BBC to be very biased against Scottish independence. This research was then stonewalled and mostly unreported by the BBC. The BBC then went above the researchers head to his Principal at the University of West Scotland to try (unsuccessfully) to discredit the research.

Other studies of the BBC, on other aspects of their reporting, have found similar results of bias, including:

On BBC News at Six, business representatives outnumbered trade union spokespersons by more than five to one (11 vs 2) in 2007 and by 19 to one in 2012.

So, bearing all this in mind, it really is amazing that 45% of the Scottish population voted for independence. Even though they didn’t win, it seems like a small victory for alternative media (Bella Caledonia, Open Democracy) and other information sources (Twitter, Facebook), which provided lots of analysis and facts supporting the case for independence. This is maybe a sign of hope for the future, as ideas not normally presented in the corporate media (whether due to the Manufacturing of Consent as described by Noam Chomsky or the Churnalism as described by Nick Davies) were able to be distributed and discussed through alternative channels. As the internet generation gets older, and hopefully less exclusively reliant on corporate media, maybe it will vote YES at the next referendum for independence?

The future in Scotland?

Even though Scotland voted NO to independence, there has been a massive shift in political consciousness. A facebook community has been created after the vote – We are the 45% – which now has over 160,000 people following it. The Radical Independence Conference has now had over 6000 people sign up to attend. Over 3000 people, since the referendum, have joined the Scottish Green Party (who supported independence), more than doubling its size:

While the SNP has experienced an even bigger surge of support:

The Scottish Socialist Party has also almost doubled in size.

Many are channelling their recent politicisation by the referendum into the political parties and movements which supported independence. Whether we like it or not, the state makes the rules and laws which govern our lives, so more active engagement with politics by a larger amount of people gives me hope for the future direction of Scottish politics and that better policies will be introduced. As Andy Wightman, author of The Poor Had No Lawyers: Who Owns Scotland (And How They Got It), recently said:

Meanwhile, in England, Jack Straw, the Labour MP who helped take the UK into the illegal war in Iraq, now wants to make it illegal to dissolve the union in the future unless a majority of MPs in Westminster parliament agree to it.  And many are questioning whether the ConDemLab coalition will follow through with the vow of further devolution promised if a NO vote happened.

Whatever happens, it is exciting times for Scotland ahead. The population has been politicised and will fight even more for change.

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Article originally published on 27 April 2014 in The Independent.

Local authorities have ‘conflict of interest’ on fracking investments

By Jan Goodey, Cahal Milmo, Will Cottrell and Ed Jones

Councils that will play a key role in deciding the future of fracking in Britain have investments worth millions of pounds in companies behind the energy extraction method, The Independent can reveal.

Local authorities in areas identified as potential sources of gas have holdings via their pension funds in firms seeking to drill within their boundaries. One of the most significant investments is £1.9m held by Lincolnshire County Council’s pension fund in Total, the French company that earlier this year became the first oil major to enter Britain’s dash for shale gas, with a £30m stake in two exploration projects in the county.

West Sussex County Council also has indirect holdings in Cuadrilla, which was at the centre of controversial tests in the village of Balcombe last summer. The council also has substantial investments, currently worth £3.5m, in Centrica, the parent company of British Gas – which last year took a 25 per cent stake in a Lancashire shale-gas project operated by Cuadrilla, albeit not directly.

The Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF), which invests on behalf of Salford and Trafford councils,  holds shares in Henderson Group, a major investor in IGas, another fracking exploration company that is conducting shale-gas tests in the Salford area.

All the councils insisted there was no conflict of interest between their pension-fund investments and past or future planning decisions on fracking projects. They pointed out that shares had been bought in all cases except Lincolnshire via investment funds,  and councillors involved with pension fund-related decisions did not sit on their planning committees.

But campaigners said it sent the wrong signal and called on the local authorities to sell their holdings.

Simon Clydesdale, energy campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “It’s a worrying discovery. Fracking is already a dirty enough industry without getting mired in the murky waters of conflicts of interest. Councils must disinvest and show local voters that they can be trusted to put the interests of their constituents first when making crucial decisions on fracking applications.”

With assets worth about £120bn, local authority pension funds are among Britain’s largest investors.

David Forbes, Lincolnshire’s assistant director of resources, said: “The pension scheme operates within a set of clear investment principles and is overseen by the pension committee, which makes its decisions independently from the county council.”

West Sussex County Council said its investment in Cuadrilla, worth some £26,000, was minimal and equated to some 0.001 per cent of the total value of its £2.45bn pension fund. In a statement, the council said: “Any indirect investments made by the pension fund’s investment managers would not have any influence at all in determining a planning application.”

Salford City Council said its planning panel members had no role in deciding where GMPF invested its funds. GMPF acknowledged its holding in Henderson Group but said it had no investment, direct or indirect, in IGas.

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The article below was originally published in Red Pepper in February 2014

Brighton & Hove’s council tax referendum: the pros and cons
Ed Jones looks at the rights and wrongs of a referendum on whether to raise council tax by 4.75 per cent in order to protect services

brighton-pierPhoto: dawarwickphotography/Flickr

Almost all government policies have pros and cons, winners and losers – and the proposed Brighton & Hove referendum to raise council tax by 4.75 per cent is no exception. This article looks at who would gain and who would lose from the plan.

Firstly we need to put the referendum in context. It is being held because of the austerity measures imposed by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, which have meant that Brighton & Hove’s council budget has to be cut by around £100 million over four years. The referendum on a 4.75 per cent council tax rise has come about because of a cap on council tax increases above 2 per cent imposed by central government. The only way to get a rise above that approved – to help protect the services which vulnerable people depend on – is a referendum.

Already, many poor, sick and disabled people are suffering as a result of austerity measures while taxes are being cut for the rich and corporations. There has been a soaring rise in homelessness, food bank usage and people choosing between heating their homes or feeding themselves. Further cuts would most likely continue this trend.

Council tax in Brighton

It is important to know that Brighton & Hove administrations of all political hues have previously raised council tax at higher levels than 4.75 per cent, and sometimes much higher, before the law changed on council tax rises. Here is a year-by-year breakdown of council tax rises in recent years. Red indicates Labour administrations, blue Conservative, and green Green.

tax-increaseFigures provided by the Green Group of councillors

The Greens are a minority administration, which means that Labour and the Tories have been able to team up and prevent previous council tax rises – this is why the 2012-13 rise was 0 per cent. This, taken alongside inflation, has made the funding shortfall for services even more serious.

So, what are the pros and cons of the plan?

Cons

1) The price of the referendum

Opponents of the referendum have argued it is an additional expense that the council can ill afford. There are a range of estimates of how much the referendum will cost. The Green group of councillors says the cost of holding the referendum at the same time as the European elections in May ‘is currently estimated at about £230,000, though this doesn’t include other costs such as dealing with an increased volume of residents’ enquiries about council tax’.

According to council figures, there are currently around 275,000 people living in Brighton & Hove, with around 120,000 eligible households which pay council tax, before taking into account discounts such as those available to those on low incomes and single person households. That means, if the above figures are correct, the referendum would cost around £1 per person in Brighton & Hove, or £2 per eligible household.

2) Residents can’t afford to pay more council tax

There is a cost of living crisis as the prices of housing, food, energy, water, transport and more skyrocket while wages continue to stagnate. In this climate, will people want – or be able – to pay more council tax, even if it is to protect services for some of the most vulnerable people?

Here are the projected figures for what a 4.75 per cent rise would mean across the council tax bands:

band-increases*entitled to disabled relief
Figures provided by the Green Group of councillors

Will the citizens of Brighton & Hove bear these extra costs? Informal polling by the local newspaper, the Argus, says that most people are currently against the idea, but so far there have been no scientifically conducted polls that have asked the citizens of Brighton & Hove the question. Only a referendum could tell us for certain. One of the biggest problems with council tax is that its bands are based on 1 April 1991 levels of value, not what property is worth today, however council tax rises would still be progressive with those at the top paying more.

One alternative idea that some members of the Green Party have previously suggested is the ‘progressive council tax’. This would lower council tax for 80 per cent of the population while raising it for the top 20 per cent – which would probably be more popular! It is currently being looked at by a Green Party working group to see if it is even feasible.

3) The referendum might fail

A council tax rise would be a difficult vote to win at the best of times. In Brighton, however, people might also vote No in the referendum to spite the Greens because there is bitterness about some of their previous decisions. The bin strike, in particular, was a disaster for Jason Kitcat’s administration.

However, they have done many positive things in the city, such as erecting shelters for homeless people, building council houses, and expanding the living wage as well as bringing down the ratio between highest earners and lowest earners in the council to 10:1. For me, on balance, the Greens have been a force for good in the city, especially given the constraints they have to work with. The referendum, though, risks being seen as a referendum not just on the council tax rise but on the Green administration itself.

Pros

1) It would fund services for poor and vulnerable people

Most of us will become old, sick and/or vulnerable during our lives and may need to access similar services. If they are not there any more, not only the current people using them will suffer but many of us in the future will not be able to access them.

According to the Greens, a 4.75 per cent rise in council tax would raise £2.75 million in additional funds. This would go towards key adult social care services, including home care, residential community care, day services and supported employment for disabled people, as well as grants to the third sector.

Further details will be revealed on 13 February, and the devil may be in the detail. However, some unions that traditionally support Labour, such as the GMB and Unison, have already come out in support of the referendum. Mark Turner, the city’s GMB branch secretary, has said: ‘This new budget would protect frontline services in adult social care and a disabled workshop where we have members. Cuts would have absolutely terrible consequences on people’s lives. It is only right that the public have a chance to vote on this proposal.’

2) Referendums promote local debate and democracy

Referendums educate people, getting them to talk about current politics and think about policy. Already councillors have addressed a GMB branch meeting about the council budget, three public debates have been organised about the referendum (on 6 Feb, another on 6 Feb, and 10 Feb), a multitude of articles have been written about it and people across the city are discussing it. Actively engaging people in politics makes them more empowered, less apathetic and more able to appreciate the complexities of political decision making. And all this, as we’ve seen above, for only £1-2 a person!

The Scottish will have a chance to discuss and vote in a referendum on their independence on 18 September. Referendums are regularly held in Switzerland, where they recently decided to curb executive pay (although decided against introducing a cap of top salaries at 12 times that of a company’s lowest-paid worker). The Swiss will be voting in 2014 on the country’s procurement of Saab Gripen E fighter aircraft, amongst other things, and at some point are even set to debate and vote on a national basic or citizen’s income.

If the Scottish and Swiss can have referendums over such wide-ranging and important decisions, I am sure the citizens of Brighton & Hove could vote on a council tax rise.

3) It would send a message

A Yes vote would be a clear signal to the Tory-Liberal coalition that the citizens of Brighton & Hove do not agree with their policies.

The media coverage would be immense and could help shift the frame of debate around austerity economics and politics. It would have ripple effects around the country, and would likely encourage other councils to think about more daring strategies to oppose the cuts.

Final thoughts

Overall, I hope that the referendum goes ahead. It will give citizens a chance to debate and decide on the future direction of the city (for good or for bad). I am disappointed that the local Labour Party has till now opposed the referendum and not tried to find significant alternatives to austerity.

If the residents of Brighton & Hove do get to have a referendum, the way the question is phrased will really matter. People would vote very differently if they saw the following two questions:

a) Do you agree to the council tax rise of 4.5 per cent? OR

b) Do you agree to the council tax rise of 4.5 per cent to protect services for some of the most vulnerable in the city, which are facing cuts as a result of austerity imposed by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition?

Also, the way this issue is reported in the media will make a big difference. The local newspaper, the Argus, is owned by Newsquest, which is in turn owned by Gannett Corporation – a giant multinational media corporation. There are many good journalists at the Argus, however they are under-staffed and under-funded and constrained by the structures which they work within. Not so long ago, workers at the Argus went on strike due to job losses.

These contraints drastically affect what issues are covered and how they are covered, and will affect how the proposed referendum is presented to the public. That is why, if nothing else, it is important we make ourselves aware of the facts.

The timeline

13 February: Budget policy & resources committee meeting. Final draft of budget proposals are published and agreed on at committee. It would require one or both of the opposition parties to support the referendum proposals, or abstain, for the decision to go to the budget meeting on 27 February.

27 February: Budget. Council budget for 2014-15 is set. Final decision on whether to freeze or increase council tax will be taken here by all councillors. If an increase above the referendum trigger threshold is set, a referendum would then be held in May.

22 May: Possible Referendum Date. If agreed at the budget meeting in February, this would be the date for a referendum on council tax – the same day as the European elections.

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A friend has asked me to write my thoughts on the Green Party’s recent Economic Democracy Motion. Specifically, what I thought about this paragraph:

“We will grant employees the legal right to buy out their companies and turn them into workers co-operatives. Buy-outs would be funded by a Green National Investment Bank and contingent on the co-ops following green and ethical policies. These co-operatives would localise economic decision-making and give employees incentives for greater productivity.”

I think that the proposers of the motion had their hearts in the right place, however I can see many potential problems which could come from such a policy, some of which I will outline here. Please bear in mind that this is not a detailed analysis of this policy, but just some initial thoughts.

Ultimately, the aim of this blog post is to help bring forward a better motion in the future as well as to encourage more reading, thinking and discussion within the Green Party on this subject.

Before continuing, I need to let you know that I have a lot of love for workers’ co-operatives and I really want them to grow in the UK. I studied them during my Masters and wrote a few papers about them at the time (see the papers Are workers’ co-operatives schools of democracy? A case study of two UK workers’ co-operatives as well as Power in Utopia? Analysis of two UK workers’ co-operatives through Steven Lukes’ three-dimensional lens). I have also volunteered in a community bike co-operative, helped set up a small eco-village run on co-operative principles and just before I became unwell, I was starting to set up a workers’ co-operative with a few others.

During this time – through exploring theory, ideals and what actually works in practice – I have discovered several things which are relevant to the Green Party’s Economic Democracy Motion.

Co-operative education

Firstly, the level of knowledge in the UK about co-operatives is very low, especially when compared to many other countries. Most people don’t even know what a workers’ co-operative is and how they work in practice. People are not used to – or trained – to work in a co-operative way. Almost everything in our society, from school to multinational corporations, teaches us to work in another way. I’ve written about this before in other blog posts (See here and here). As Professor Anderson has written about schools:

“For centuries, leading educationalists have advocated learning by doing, instead of by listening passively to confusing dry abstractions. Even very young and unschooled children can understand complicated aspects of democracy, rights, justice and respect, through their activities and achievements.

“Democracy is practical and pervades all relationships. We cannot avoid either ‘doing’ democracy or else being actively undemocratic; there is no middle way. Undemocratic schools powerfully teach, by example, lessons of intolerance, mistrust, disrespect, repression and fear of change. If they preach democracy, they teach duplicity.” (see more here)

Unfortunately most people in the UK go to undemocratic schools. Most people work in undemocratic workplaces. Most people do not currently have the democratic skills necessary to successfully run a workers’ co-operative.

So, just granting people the legal right to buy out companies as is proposed in the motion, without any previous co-operative training, whether in school or elsewhere, could potentially be disastrous.

In the UK, many are just plain alienated from each other and very far from having the skills necessary to make decisions together in a co-operative workplace. This is not to say that it isn’t possible. Just that you need a lot of support and training, preferably from a young age (The organisation Young Co-operatives does great work in this area. Please read a previous blog post I have written about them).

In this country, workers’ co-operatives often start out small with a few people who are dedicated to the cause, who are knowledgeable about the co-operative ideology, who do research on what works and what doesn’t. They experiment and, if they do well, expand and add new members, often with a trial period so that they don’t introduce people who wont fit within the co-op ethos.

If workers just decide to buy-out workplaces and turn them into co-ops, they sidestep this whole process, with all of the learning that comes with it. That makes it much more difficult for it to function. If workers just buy-out a company and turn it into a co-operative it will take a lot of time and effort for everyone to learn how to run it and make decisions together – this doesn’t really fit in with the capitalist system we live in, where there is a lot of pressure to produce and get good returns. It takes time for people to develop:

– financial management skills (e.g. working with budgets),
– skills related to meetings (facilitating, minute taking, working to agenda, consensus or voting methods, the self-confidence and ability to speak in public meetings, the ability to work towards a common goal),
– conflict resolution skills
– community organisation skills (working with and supporting local communities),
– knowledge about laws and political systems that affect the workplace and co-operatives
– and much more besides.

If workers buy-out an existing company, it would also make it much more difficult to exclude people who do not fit in to the co-operative ethos as there would be no initial trial period for all of the workers who buy into it.

Again, it is possible for people to do this and to make it work, as some examples in Argentina, Venezuela and elsewhere around the world have shown. However, it is more difficult and needs real determination – and ideally a lot of support from experienced co-operators – for it to succeed.

Cultural questions

One of the reasons why co-operatives have done so well in other countries or regions is because of very specific cultural, economic and social circumstances. It is not just about granting employees the legal right to buy out companies.

The best book that I know of which explores these specific circumstances is:

La Lega: The making of a successful cooperative network by P. Ammirato (1996) (see the first 10 pages of this book here)

It discusses the development of co-operative networks in Italy, Spain and the UK and is well worth a read.

Other insightful books include:

The Anarchist Collectives: Workers’ Self-management in the Spanish Revolution 1936-1939 by Sam Dolgoff (find the .pdf of this book here)

Making Mondragón: The Growth and Dynamics of the Worker Cooperative Complex by William Foote Whyte and Kathleen King Whyte

The Myth of Mondragon: Cooperatives, Politics, and Working-Class Life in a Basque Town by Sharryn Kasmir

I am not going to expand in this blog on the specific circumstances which enabled co-operatives to flourish in some of these regions. For more information read some of these books.

In 2012, Co-operativesUK estimated as part of their co-operative review that there are approximately 493 worker owned and controlled co-operatives in the United Kingdom which employ 78,500 people (see page 21 – these workers’ co-operatives vary in size, ownership and management structure). (please also see this document which has a much lower – and likely more accurate – estimate of the size of the UK co-operative sector which states there are around 3,000 employees in 431 workers’ co-operatives. It all depends on how you measure the sector.)

If the Green Party wants to have a much larger worker co-operative sector in the UK it must seriously engage with the history of how co-operatives have developed in other countries, and look at why co-operatives have succeeded in some regions and not others. The economic democracy motion, as it is currently written, does not reflect that kind of serious analysis.

Economic questions

Moving on to the economic question, how much would this economic democracy motion cost? What would happen if lots of people suddenly wanted to buy-out multinational corporations? Would the Green National Investment Bank be lending the entire amount the corporations are valued at, therefore effectively transferring ownership to the state bank until the workers pay the loans back? Or would the workers put up part of the money so they shared initial ownership with the state?

Also, who decides the value of these corporations? Would this policy massively decrease the value of corporations as they would know that they could potentially be bought out? What effect would that have on the wider economy? Also, how would this policy practically work, when some of these companies have hundreds or thousands of employees? What kind of infrastructure would need to be introduced for this to work?

And what would happen if lots of these new co-ops failed because the workers didn’t have adequate training on how to run a co-operative or couldn’t compete against existing corporations? Would the Green National Investment Bank then go bankrupt? Then what?

I’m sure there are many more economic, costing and organisational questions which could be asked about this motion.

For this to even begin to work, there would have to be massive knowledge sharing between the UK and countries with much bigger co-operative sectors. There would also have to be co-operative training, ideally from a young age, on a very big scale.

It would be easier – although not as far reaching – for the Green Investment Bank to focus on lending to new start-up and existing workers’ co-ops. If it wants to go further than this much more detailed proposals need to be put forward on how this would practically work.

Final thoughts

There are examples of the state trying – and failing – to use the co-operative model to save British companies in the past, for example  Scottish Daily News and the Meriden Motorcycle Co-operative (click on the link to see a good report on this). The state can help the co-operative movement expand, however it must be done in a way which learns from the mistakes of previous governments.

It is very important that the Green Party gets it approach right in regard to co-operatives. As I wrote in one of my papers, “because workers’ co-operatives demonstrate unique opportunities for work reorganisation, democratic management structures, economic self-governance and even a redefinition of work and property, as Adams et al. put it, “Worker-ownership offers a vision of what ought to be.””

Some people within the Green Party have studied co-operatives in-depth, such as Molly Scott Cato (see here for some of her work on co-operatives). I hope that they can put forward more detailed – and thought out – economic democracy proposals in the future which learn from the lessons of other countries and from the past.

Source of picture: Made – and promoted – by Calverts workers’ co-operative

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First published in 2007.

Before you read this please bear in mind that I am not an expert on Survival International. This blog just reflects my thoughts after going to one lecture about them. I have heard that Survival International do many great things all around the world and you should bear in mind that this blog is probably not representative of Survival International or what they do in the real world. It is as much a reflection on what I was thinking about at the time – as well as my state of my mind – as what Jo Woodman was talking about. Jo also did not get a chance to answer some of the issues I have raised here. Please look elsewhere for more detailed analysis of Survival International or get involved with them yourself and see what the experience is like.

I recently went to a talk by Jo Woodman from Survival International on “‘Development’ and the health of tribal peoples”

Find the slides online here. They are very direct, powerful and thought provoking. (Warning: the slides are 13MB). I would recommend people have a read. Here is a sample:

Jo also distributed a short cartoon book at the talk which satirises development (and development studies). You can watch the 2 minute slide show of the book, There you go! online.

I realised while listening to her talk that Survival International’s position reminded me of the Communist Manifesto. These sections in particular came to mind:
(more…)

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Power illlustrated

First published in 2007

(see full size diagram here)

Above is a diagram from page 13 of Making Change happen: POWER – Concepts for Revisioning Power for Justice, Equality and Peace that I mentioned in one of my blog entries.

It clearly shows how the academic theory of Stephen Lukes’ three dimensions of power (the book is not an easy read) can be taken and used to explain power to everyone. Many will already be aware of the ideas presented above, but most will not have articulated or discussed them clearly with each other. The trick is to talk to people about these different dimensions of power so as to, as Haugaard puts it, convert “practical consciousness into discusive consciousness.” (p.101)

Haugaard outlines the benefits of this:

“The conversion of practical consciousness into discusive knowledge is not a matter of truth and falsity, rather a question of recognition. When we read Foucault’s description of the Panopticon, it is not the case that truth is revealed to us but that we recognise the patterns of modes of thought which we have internalized in school or possibly the workplace. When knowledge remains merely tacit, it is not confrontable but once rendered discursive it becomes something which we can distance ourselves from, recognize and evaluate.” (p.102) [my emphasis]
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First published on Mon, 2006-05-08

I’m not going to go into detail about the contents of Saturday’s Power Conference. For that, you can look at Davide Simonetti reporting/blogging it here.

What I will say is that I got the chance to ask David Cameron whether he supported participatory budgets. My question was more or less as follows: “Mr Cameron, one of the main things that I took from the Power Inquiry is the lack of power that I have as an individual over decisions that affect my life. What do you think about participatory budgets, like the one in Porto Alegre, where citizens have control over 17% over their local budget? There have been initial experiments in the UK with participatory budgets, such as in Harrow. Do you support these in the UK?”

In typical politician fashion, he did not directly answer my question. He did not address the idea of communities and individuals having control over a portion of the budget, or the idea of truly giving power to people. Instead, he talked about the fact that police commissioners should be elected and that visionary civic leaders are needed. Bastard! I should have shouted out that he didn’t answer my question, like other people did later when he didn’t answer their questions. Oh well, I’ve learnt my lesson there. Instead I sent him an email, although I doubt he will respond.

Apparently the event will be covered this week on BBC Parliament, so people out there will be lucky enough to see me ask my question (and David Cameron’s rubbish answer).

Exploring Active Citizenship

I have just finished reading a book which I picked up from the Power Conference which has gone straight onto my list of favourite books of all time: Beyond the Classroom – Exploring Active Citizenship in 11-16 Education which is edited by Benjamin Linsley and Elisabeth Rayment.
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