On the eve of the May 2010 UK parliamentary elections, local parents and residents from the Wyndford held a march through the estate and onto Maryhill Road to protest outside the Labour Party election headquarters for Glasgow North.
The protest was a reminder of Glasgow City Council’s decision to close the Wyndford and St Gregory’s primary schools last year (as part of 25 closures across the city).
Local residents were aware of the fact that any campaign needs to be at the very least a visible presence and decided to coincide the protest with the elections for a greater impact, not to mention the anniversary of the occupations of the schools, in April and June 2009.
The protest and the election raise important questions about participation in our communities – do we rely on the ballot box and a ‘representative’ democracy to solve our problems or are genuine community-led initiatives a legitimate and realistic way forward?
Following the election, the ‘first past the post’ voting system has once again brought up the question of ‘alternative voting’ – something the Westminster coalition has promised a referendum over. With only one Conservative seat won in the whole country, it is the same old story in Scotland and shows the current system is ludicrous and outdated.
But what difference would we feel locally if, say, Katy Gordon (Lib-Dem) or Patrick Grady (SNP) had won this seat? Both of these MPs opposed the closure of our local schools, as did the successful candidate, Labour’s Ann McKechin, whose office local schools protesters marched to. The key here is that as MPs and not councillors, these politicians enjoyed the safety of not being complicit in council decisions – but who is to say they would not have
behaved the same in an environment run similarly to that of the crony-ridden Glasgow City Council?
The political choices we are faced with today’s – the parties which can realistically gain power in government or councils – are so narrow and dominated by similar agendas it is no wonder so many of the population feel alienated from the whole process. The election becomes a mere ‘event’ , no different than X-Factor, instead of an actual process impacting upon our daily lives.
People Power – local struggles within the community
Despite all this doom and gloom, Glasgow is not without precedent when it comes to popular struggle: from the ‘Red Clydeside’ era (including the female-dominated rent strikes of 1915) through to the work-ins of the Upper Clyde shipbuilders in the 70s and the anti-poll tax actions of the 80s and 90s.
In recent times we have seen residents’ groups join with community activists and unions in striking against Glasgow Housing Association’s plans to remove concierge staff from tower blocks. This struggle in 2005 resulted in victory after GHA backed down on their initial plans.
Since October 2008 local residents have formed ‘North Kelvin Meadow Campaign’ and turned disused playing fields into a multi-use area with allotments and an orchard. Much of this has combined DIY community work with clever tactics like installing bat boxes in the meadow. Bats are a known protected species making it very difficult for the land to be redeveloped.
More recently, we have last year’s schools closure campaigns. Despite defeat for local parents and kids, the campaign proved very positive. Through their occupation of the schools, to savvy promotion and management of local and national media, the campaigners were able to win the support of the city. This showed in the local solidarity given from shops, hair salons and even Partick Thistle FC.
The fight can be said to have influenced two great achievements for locals: the forming of a Wyndford and District Community Council and the renovation of St Gregory’s school building as a new family centre.
Many physical improvements in our own areas have been at the hands of local residents and activists. For all their talk on those election leaflets, how many of the local MPs can say they have done as much?