Glasgow is the fifth most indebted city in the UK. Overly focused on retail, tourism and property development (which are now failing) – austerity and cuts in services continue to bite. Skewed by the City Deal, large companies continue to be prioritised over local suppliers. As climate breakdown accelerates, Glasgow City Council plans to spend billions on private sector responses which previously have created little lasting benefit for people here. The decisions made over the coming months and years will set a direction for Glasgow from which it will be hard to return. We are at risk of losing what gives our city its heart, and experience suggests that many in our city will continue to be failed.
Electoral politics offers limited scope for radical change and is deeply unrepresentative in Glasgow. Possilpark had election turnout as low as 19% in the 2017 local election. The way local government works – and how it consults with communities – severely limits the options on the table and the extent to which local people’s voices actually get heard. We need meaningful democratic participation that enables deeper reflection, real collaboration and radical change, and we need economic democracy. We aren’t going to achieve these, on our terms, unless we create them for ourselves.
We can achieve another Glasgow. There are so many alternatives for how our economy could work – from reclaiming the commons to community wealth building. It is essential we not only offer alternative visions but enable people to reclaim the power to make it happen. Glasgow has a wealth of creativity, brilliance and people passionate about their city. Actions owned by the people can unlock our potential and instead of bowing to the ‘inevitability’ of a broken and sterile corporate vision of our future.
People’s Assemblies are forms of direct democracy where people come together to explore issues and, critically, agree to take action together and have transformed cities like Barcelona and Athens in recent years. Issues are explored collectively, proposals are surfaced, and everyone decides on the priority actions to undertake. More than a one-off or series of events, they can be a process to support ongoing collective action with the potential to create an enduring alternative power base for all communities, away from the Council, and in relation to it.
As pressure comes to bear from the end of the furlough scheme, rising fuel prices and cuts to universal credit uplift, we believe a People’s Assembly could make a vital contribution towards identifying and implementing ways we can make the economy work for the people who live here. We fundamentally believe that in reclaiming agency and working together we can enable the needs of people and communities to be met in just, dignified and sustainable ways – the foundation of an economy based on care and solidarity.
An Assembly process offers the potential to bring together interested groups and campaigns, as well as being open to anyone who calls Glasgow their home. Potential outcomes could be new initiatives strengthening existing alternatives and kicking off new ones, more coordinated work across existing groups, as well as development of campaigns/responses including mass action (protest), direct action, divestment, boycott, non-compliance and policy shift campaigns.
RECLAIMING OUR ECONOMY
Following discussions that had emerged from People’s Plan Week in early 2021, we began to draw together plans for an assembly process that would bring together communities and organisations to develop alternative proposals, build interest and capacity, and explore the question of where power sits in the city. We held an open meeting at Govan Free State in December 2021, from which we gathered our group of assembly organisers.
This year we have worked to develop and share our understandings of power and the barriers to it, organising culture and decision making, and different models of people’s assemblies as part of wider alternative democratic practices around the world. We turn now to applying these lessons to an assembly for Glasgow, and building our strategy in closer detail.
As the name suggests, we intended to start with a Glasgow wide assembly focussing on the economy, but we also wanted to be clear that this process will support people’s assemblies with a clear longer term aim towards building counter-power and supporting the self-organising capacity of different communities to organise assemblies. The ongoing cost of living, economic and housing crises began to shape our proposal into focusing on more localised assemblies and building up from there
In light of the current climate and recent public movements, between now and Christmas we will focus on 2 – 3 local geographical areas within Glasgow. We will begin with scoping out opportunities – through means that befit our capacity – with the hope of co-organising a local assembly or assemblies, attuned to local context and broader city-wide issues. We will work with local activists and community resources so that our activities complement local campaigns and concerns. Our approach in localities will centre our principles including diversity, inclusivity, mutuality, solidarity and shared learning, whilst holding to our longer-term intention of dual power and institution building outlined in our strategic approach.
We will keep an eye on city-wide developments and possible opportunities for organising there. We will do this by engaging with some of the campaigns further to detect whether there might be a way to usefully organise in the spaces these open up