(print by Willie Rodger)
It's easy to feel powerless now that we handed our sovereignty back after "holding it in our hands" for a day, in the words of Jim Sillars. I certainly felt that way at first, but it didn't last long. In fact it probably lasted about 72 hours in total in my case.
What empowers us now is our activism. In Aberdeen two key indyref groups continue to be very active. One is the one I head up, The Indy Quines (or to give us our official title Women for Independence, Aberdeen) and the other is our local RIC. The Yes campaign, although no longer called that, have dispersed into various new set ups. Last week I visited our new Common Weal group, who had an agenda so long it would have comfortably fitted on a roll of wallpaper. Aye, cool wallpaper, none of yer woodchip or flock, mind. If they manage to do even a fraction of what they are discussing, it'll be impressive and empowering stuff. They are only a month old and there's a healthy contingent already getting stuck into community council meetings for one thing, with bigger plans afoot.
The period we are in is tricky. Only two months ago we had one goal. Now we missed it (that's the football analogies over, relax), we seem to have hundreds of campaigns on our hands. Too many to tackle at once (OK, I lied). However in Aberdeen we have a real and pressing problem and that is the cavalier behaviour of our (narrowly) Labour run city council. One of the many problems with the administration is their Finance Convener, a man called Willie Young. For all intents and purposes Mr Young acts like he is Council Leader although he is careful to keep the responsibility of that position at arms length. However,he happily acts as spokesperson at any opportunity and seems to see himself as some kind of kingmaker. Indeed, it was Mr Young who waited until his colleague, and former council leader, Barney Crockett, was on council business in Houston (that's the one in Texas, not the one in Renfrewshire) until he staged a coup and had him replaced. Even the docile and largely unquestioning local press lead with the headline "Et Tu Willie".
During the referendum for independence Mr Young spearheaded the decision to include a paragraph stating the council's belief that Scotland should remain in the UK in the council tax letters. Yes, you read right- in the COUNCIL TAX bills sent out to every household. At the time a great deal of us wrote letters of complaint but our local Radical Independence group went one step further and organised a campaign to have them investigated by the Public Standards Commission. You can read RIC organiser and my friend Myshele Haywood's full account of their campaign here.
I am delighted to say the complaints have prompted a Public Standards Commission investigation. It is imminent. The report below came out in the Evening Express on Saturday just as Myshele was preparing to give a speech mentioning it to 3000 people at the RIC Convention in Glasgow. Empowering stuff, eh?
Willie Young is the one in the middle
who looks like Mayor Adam West
(Click to enlarge)
Similarly, Women for Independence were quick off the mark in drawing attention to another misuse of power by the same administration. Only weeks after thousands of previously disenfranchised voters put themselves back on the electoral roll (again thanks in no small part to the efforts of our local RIC), the council announces a move to claim POLL TAX arrears using the new double sized register. We immediately wrote to the Herald and were quoted on the front page condemning the decision. The decision was overturned by the end of the week- OK Mr Salmond waded in too- but we're not going to quibble over who had what idea first. (My full letter is here)
Now we are waiting to hear what the Smith Commission comes up with in terms of extra powers for Scotland. The Indy Quines spearheaded a training and letter campaign which saw hundreds of Aberdeen and shire citizens, who otherwise might not have managed, to send full and comprehensive submissions in. We blogged about it, we had public discussion sessions, we had stalls with quines and stamps and envelopes, we got organised. We'll do the same again if they fall short of our expectations, or the local council gets up to any more jiggery pokery.
One thing is clear, having had our eyes opened to the machinations of local politicians, we are very reluctant to let them away with anything at the expense of the public who rely on them to run their city. It was one thing to see them allow Better Together to stash their leaflets and stall in the Town House until the next Saturday when the rest of us had to give our cars and spare rooms over to campaign materials (we know this because we followed them one day), it's another to see them ride roughshod over democracy with gay abandon.
Be warned, Aberdeen is active.
As I suspect everywhere else is too.
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