On Wednesday the first Scottish rally of the Enough is Enough movement came to Scotland – starting in Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket in the city centre.
The tickets for the event had sold out (twice) and so perhaps none of us should have been surprised when we arrived and found ourselves queueing outside. In fact, we were queuing down the street, around the corner, into the car park, and around the car park in a snaking line. Around 1200 people showed up and, with respect, that crowd had the breath of fresh air that independence marches seem to be lacking these days: there were many old and even more young, there were activists, campaigners, union folks and many more were none of the above. We all know that People make Glasgow, but it wasn’t only Glaswegians who turned up, and Scotland’s hunger for change travelled in from Ayrshire and Edinburgh, Stirling, Lanarkshire and even further afield.
The rally had been supposed to start at 7pm but it took another 50 minutes to safely see everyone inside the suddenly slightly-too-cosy sauna the hall turned into. Former Labour leader of North Ayrshire council Joe Cullinane hosted the event, introducing close to 10 speakers in succession:
Roz Foyer, general secretary of the STUC, opened the evening with a comprehensive list of unions and their recent achievements for their members while also offering an impressively common (Weal) sense library of achievable, socially valuable, progressive policy goals.
Next Annie Craig from Living Rent shared her perspective in that powerful, irreverent, authentic, incessant way only indomitable Scottish women are able to (I say this with love as a non-Scot!), reminding each and every one of us that we have no excuses not to be the change we want to see in the world; and that small-but-mighty organisations like Living Rent aren’t Davids in the face of Goliath, no, they are the quarries of stones ideally suited for liberal application to a horde of giant’s foreheads. Annie now lives in Govan and no one should be in any doubt that Mary Barbour herself would have been proud to see her footsteps filled by such tough, resilient boots on the ground. “It’s the Cost of Greed Crisis”, Annie said. And we all cheered.
Aamer Anwar, you may have heard of him from just about every relevant legal case in modern Scottish history, chose to turn down a fancy evening invitation in Edinburgh to rally to share a story that should resonate with all of us.
Remember Kenmure Street? Of course you do. Aamer decided to take his beautiful wee family for a ‘lockdown walk’ that day. A walk that lead him into the back of that Police Scotland van, where he offered two options: Either you release these men into my care, allow us to walk them to the nearby mosque and then peacefully leave our community (as you may have guessed Police Scotland immediately claimed that due to the presence of the UK Home Office this was not possible)…
… or you take your 200+ police officers, horses, barriers, vans and all the other deployed force you sent here today, face these thousands of protesters chanting “Let them go! They’re our neighbours!” outside and you bring your force to bear on us. Bring it.
You already know what happened next and so it should suffice to note that Aamer’s story was not about ‘winning’, but about people power calling the bluffs of authority, no matter where and how they may present themselves.
Which leads us to the most surprising and encouraging undercurrent of the Enough Is Enough rally: Both speakers and audience made no bones about the fact that neither Westminster nor Holyrood sufficiently serve the people of Scotland in the face of poverty, climate collapse and social injustice. Where for the past decade blame-shifting between parliaments and parties was unwelcome but not unexpected out of nowhere appeared a clear and palpable tipping point with distinct clarity that rhetoric without concrete, comprehensive action has become unacceptable. As one audience member shouted: “We don’t have any more time for this [digestive end product].”
This was by far not the only instance of audience interjections. At one point about half the audience broke into chants of “F*** the Tories” for about 15 seconds, the rest of us waited until it subsided and then all peacefully listened to the next speaker. And all this without even signing a pledge of allegience to someone elses’ moral barometer? Almost as if we all have much bigger problems to tackle and don’t have any hands to spare for pearl-clutching when actual work needs to be done on the largest common denominators. Together and apart.
On that note, the trickier side of Enough Is Enough centres around how to move forward with a budding UK-wide movement in the context of increasingly disparate constituent parts of a union that is not only inequitable but also impossible to repair or neatly set back behind glass. It took less than 10 minutes from the start of the event for an audience member to shout “What about independence?!”. The brief, awkward silence that accompanied some equally awkward and brief clapping seemed more due to the communal embarrassment about our wee nation’s lack of progress on that front than about any hint of pro-union sentiment in the room.
Everyone seems to expect Enough is Enough to sooner or later form a political party. How would that work? Another party headquartered down south with devolved nation outposts to execute orders from below is unlikely to gain credibility nor traction, not even from the inside of this newborn seedling movement. The alternative would be independent but affiliated Scottish, Welsh, English and Northern Irish parties, each starting anew and attempting to build their own traction while trying to avoid falling into the exact same traps the politicians Enough is Enough might be seeking to crowd out already fell into. Maybe it finally is time to admit that political parties are not a vehicle for change but a vehicle for the preservation of the status quo.
The challenge to a movement trying to rise out of trade union traditions is overcoming its own overt bias on campaigning for and to the working class. We all know that a working-class campaign for independence is the only morally responsible and tactically sound way for Scotland to leave the UK but this isn’t about independence – none of the speakers mentioned a word about it. The nature of a cost of living crisis is that it affects nearly 95% of the population, including businesses and upper and lower middle classes, many of whom up until recently may never have considered themselves as part of the working class and may still be a very long way from being willing to risk throwing their weight behind the meaningful structural, political and social changes required, even if it is to build a future worth having.
Make no mistake: What Enough Is Enough is calling for is meaningful change through non-violent direct action. If that thought makes you uncomfortable you’re not alone, but it is your responsibility to reflect on your own personal reasons for your discomfort. Do you know that non-violent direct action is a tool box full of approaches and that you have already used some of those tools throughout your life. Been on a political march? Disobedient you! Not paying TV license fees? You scoundrel. Ever broke a rule because it was stupid? Of course you have.
Enough is Enough when we say it is. My hope is that in Scotland this movement will help Scots gain the confidence to stop looking for a messianic leader and instead follow the heartbeat drum of community. Maybe, just maybe, in two or three years, there will be 1200 passionate people crammed in an overheated hall and instead of each cooling ourselves with a makeshift flyer fan, we’ll each fan the person in front of us. All of us first.
[This article first appeared in the Common Weal Newsletter, 09/09/2022]