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Time to heed the advice of the People's Assembly

A greater resolve is urgently required from Scottish politicians in tackling widespread social injustice, writes ELAINE SMITH

The Scottish People's Assembly launched to a packed audience in Glasgow on January 25 this year. This showed a growing realisation that to fight the Tory cuts and challenge austerity we need to do it in a more co-ordinated way across the Scottish left by engaging every individual and organisation who believe that the poor shouldn't be paying for the excesses of the rich.

It's something of an understatement to say that it's difficult at this time in Scotland to put aside constitutional differences and focus on the real problems facing our communities.

However, in the main, the launch managed to do that.

Most of those attending conducted themselves in a comradely fashion giving us hope that whatever the outcome of the referendum, at least the Scottish left will be able to move forward united to fight poverty and inequality with all the tools at our disposal.

The Scottish People's Assembly has now subsumed the People's Charter, an idea with great potential but not enough popular support.

Despite its modest ambitions, the charter didn't even gain the full support of any major party. Most of the trade unions in Scotland supported it as did their unions across Britain.

Len McCluskey said: "We have to offer an alternative, and we have one - it's called the People's Charter, which is both Unite and TUC policy." Despite this support and an online presence the People's Charter petition to the Scottish Parliament only received 3,000 signatures.

Vince Mills and John Foster presented evidence to the petitions committee and pointed out that the charter should be seen as response to, and refutation of, the politics of austerity.

They gave examples under the six main themes where the Scottish Parliament could act to build a better life for the majority of the Scottish people.

They argued that the austerity-mongers, by contrast, give us recession, fewer jobs, poor services for the poor and decent services only for the rich along with greater inequality and continuous conflict.

These were exactly the kind of demands that those who began the campaign for a Scottish Parliament would have wanted it to be discussing. Policies to advance the interests of the working class have been made all the more important because the gains made through the labour and trade union movement are now under severe attack.

A cross party group of MSPs also signed a statement declaring: "The People's Charter reminds us of the first principle of politics - that government should always serve the people first.

"But the economic crisis and the imposition of austerity on workers and families to protect big commercial interests shows that globally this principle has been forgotten.

"We do not agree on everything, but we all agree that it is time politics was rebalanced in favour of the people. That is why we have come together to urge people to sign the petition in support of the People's Charter. Now is the time for Scotland, Britain and the world to change course."

Disappointingly, the committee closed the petition on the grounds that the Scottish government already had its programme in place. So undoubtedly a new front must be opened for the mass battle against poverty, austerity measures and public-sector cuts.

It is astonishing that the collapse of the banks, following all the financial shenanigans and greed, did not spell the end for rampant capitalism. But as we know it's not the bankers who are suffering as they continue to receive massive bonuses and big pay-offs. It's not the loan sharks either, who continue to prey on the poor. And it's certainly not those with inherited wealth who continue to get richer while the poor get ever poorer.

The recession has been used instead to make the poor pay for the excesses of the rich, to attack the welfare state and to cut the public sector - giving opportunities for privateers to move in and make a killing.

Oxfam recently reported that almost half the world's wealth is owned by 1 per cent of population. The richest 85 people have fortunes equivalent to the combined wealth of the poorest 3.5 billion.

So while a tiny elite of multibillionaires' fortunes grow, the masses suffer poverty and inequality.

People are increasingly resorting to foodbanks and payday loan companies just to feed and clothe their family and 5,000 children in Scotland today are homeless.

The time has come to take forward our socialist response to austerity and encourage solidarity in our communities to fight back against the cuts.

Now more than ever we need people power to ensure that our governments listen and are made to act in best interests of the many, not the few.

The People's Assembly can be the vehicle for that and become a mass solidarity movement to build a fair society for all.

 

Elaine Smith is Labour MSP for Coatbridge and Chryston

 

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