The Blog

Glasgow Against the 'Bedrooom Tax' - Into the obscuring smoke: The Next Step

Just over a week on from the triumphant foray on George Square, Glasgow's anti-'bedroom tax' armada finds itself in uncharted waters and surrounded by an impenetrable fog through which lies the possibility of evictions, legal and physical challenges to the law and drastic socio-industrial action in the community.

Just over a week on from the triumphant foray on George Square, Glasgow's anti-'bedroom tax' armada finds itself in uncharted waters and surrounded by an impenetrable fog through which lies the possibility of evictions, legal and physical challenges to the law and drastic socio-industrial action in the community.

The first step has been to spread the word of the recourse those affected by the cuts will have when they begin to incur rent arrears.

Leading the charge once more is Govan Law Centre which is furnishing people with the weaponry to challenge the decision to class their property as 'under-occupied'. These consist of a step-by-step guide to filling in a 'Dispute Form' and a range of legal arguments which could possibly form the basis of the challenge.

GLC has called for a "mass appeal"against under-occupancy charges in order to illustrate their lack of a legal and popular mandate and generally put a spoke in the wheels of those tasked with putting the benefit reforms in motion.

The citizen protest has spidered out from George Square to the point where it now covers almost the whole of the west of Scotland. While the central organisers are still heavily involved in public meetings, social media organisation and advice on organising a local campaign much of the day-to-day maintenance of the resistance has been delegated to local groups with a more specialised knowledge of their local population and council.

This has left the umbrella organisations against the 'Bedroom Tax' to focus on the bigger picture, starting tomorrow (Wednesday) with a National Day of Action involving protests, picketing and lobbying of councils and housing associations.

This will continue next Tuesday when campaign groups across Scotland will unite to lobby the Scottish Parliament in support of the Govan Law Centre petition to change Section 16 of the Housing (Scotland) Act to protect tenants from eviction.

While a concerted effort has been made to bring this petition to the special attention of the Scottish Government, the chances of it being implemented as requested are slim, as a letter from Nicola Sturgeon's parliamentary secretary to campaign organiser Alan Wyllie makes clear. While making it clear that the Scottish government are opposed to the tax and "keen to take forward any reasonable suggestion which would mitigate the impact the impacts of the under occupancy restrictions" they go on to suggest that the Westminster government's impending 'Universal Credit' scheme may make such a change impracticable:

" this stage, I have some reservations about the effectiveness of such an approach. On a purely practical level it is not always clear what the reasons for arrears are, and it may be difficult to distinguish arrears due to the bedroom tax from other reasons."

Later on the 16th, Unite in Glasgow are hosting a Defend our Public Services meeting at their West Regent Street Branch Office to discuss what the Union can do to aid the campaign. The meeting will feature speakers including Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey, comedian Mark Steel and there was a rumour that the country's most prominent left-wing commentator Owen Jones would also be squeezing in an appearance between shouting at Paul Staines and Toby Young on the television.

Finally (for now) Saturday April 27th will see an 'all-Scotland conference' of 'bedroom tax' opposition although details of time and place have still to be decided.

While the campaign still remains active and positive overall, a couple of bubbles of tension have risen to the surface.

To preempt any aspersive speculation, the following should in no way be interpreted as an attempt to undermine the campaign or any individual involved, merely a dispassionate recounting of events as I understand them.

The first divisive issue to spring up over the last week or so is that of Scottish independence. Both 'Yes' and 'Better Together' proponents have been accused of attempting to weave their agenda into the 'bedroom tax' protest despite organiser insistence that neither is a solution to the immediate problem of the welfare cuts. This has caused a distracting sideshow featuring verbal fisticuffs between Mike Dailly of Govan Law Centre and SNP MSP Joan McAlpine - both high profile critics of welfare cuts - to take place in the Daily Record over the past week.

The second is between certain minor left wing groups in Glasgow. This division stems back years, but in this instance to the march last weekend when one of the speakers, Dave Sherry - ostensibly present on behalf of Scottish Federation of Housing Associations but better known for his perceived role in the SWP rape scandal - was subject to heckling from half a dozen crowd members allegedly affiliated with the International Socialist Group (ISG) and Glasgow Anarchists.

The incident was laughed off at the time but resurfaced during a Facebook debate over the timing of the two events on the 16th.

Concerns were raised about the fact that the Glasgow event was organised by Coalition of Resistance which has ties with the aforementioned ISG. To make matters worse the host branch of Unite voted against joining the West of Scotland Federation, a combination of circumstances which led to accusations to the effect that this event an active attempt to "stifle a campaign because working class people organising themselves frightens them."

After an unsuccessful offer for the Federation to send their own speaker to the event, the conversation veered bizarrely into accusations that a member of the protest group had signalled willingness to work with the BNP if they opposed the 'bedroom tax' - which was vehemently denied but not before it had squirmed its way into a debate which started off about inconvenient event timing...

The stushie caused a couple of people on each side to renounce one another but other than that was essentially a minor political (and in some cases, given the size of these organisations, personal) spat which could easily have been avoided had the participants stuck to the issue in hand.

The next step then? Put irrelevant political differences to one side and continue onwards, along a path of wisdom, with a hearty tread.