By Grant Buttars, RISE West Fife
On 18th February, Fife Council took the decision, to close 16 of our libraries. Affecting many of the poorest communities in the county, this was justified with the usual excuse that they couldn’t do anything else.
To some extent at least, this was the expected outcome but it still came as a severe blow to the communities affected and to the campaigners who have been fighting to save them since the initial announcement to close was made last year. This result will see some libraries close in as little as six weeks. An alternative proposal by the opposition SNP group, defeated by one vote, gave the libraries a 12 month reprieve, while alternatives were investigated.
I have played a supporting role in the Keep Fife’s Libraries Open campaign from the start and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the tireless work done by Markinch resident, Bryce Sutherland, who kicked the campaign into action and has been its principal voice throughout. I also want to pay tribute to the many others across Fife who have been active in their communities, fighting to keep their libraries open.
Following yesterday’s announcement, there has been the usual flurry of online exchanges between SNP and Labour about the reality of the situation and the merits (or not) of one proposal over another. Before I say what I say next, I must first say thanks too to the SNP Councillors and activists that have actively supported the campaign. Had their alternative motion carried yesterday, our communities would at least have had some more much-needed time and resources while alternatives were further explored.
Yet, what would this have actually meant? There is a crisis at the heart of our local government where no governing party can claim to have an exemplary record, despite the commitment of individual party members. Robin McAlpine refers to this as the ‘tweakocracy‘.
For more than a decade of Scottish politics both Labour and the SNP have tried to avoid doing anything much more than managing things better. And I’m afraid that it has meant not much more than patching things up – no economic or social issue has been viewed as so big that it can’t be solved by tweaking what is already there.
There is a fundamental disconnect between the anti-austerity rhetoric that helped propel the SNP to its current level of MPs in Westminster and the timidity of what happens on the ground locally. You only have look north of the Tay to see an SNP-controlled Council in Dundee passing on significant cust in services to its people. However there is no basis for Labour taking any kind of moral high ground on this, particularly on the basis of the 1% tax increase. This is no more than a pre-election stunt and the illusion that the burden will not fall on those already struggling is simply that, an illusion. As Common Weal’s Ben Wray pointed out:
However, two things need to be pointed out here: first, for basic rate taxpayers who do not receive the rebate (£20,001 to £32,000) the vast majority are likely to see a small increase in the tax burden. These people could not be considered wealthy by any means, being around about the average of Scottish incomes, and have seen nearly a decade of stagnating wages while costs rise. Wages still have not returned to their pre-crisis peak.
If we are to sustain our much needed community libraries and all the other local services that our communities depend on, we need to address where power lies in the decision making that affects our lives. To most people, the local Council is a body that does things to us rather tan for us. They decide what we want and how to give it to us. Our input may be invited but it is rarely embraced.
Bryce rightly encouraged people to come out for the demonstration next Thursday outside Fife Council’s budget meeting. Libraries are not the only service at risk and maximising opposition to these cuts is imperative.
As we approach the Scottish elections, we need to maximise the voices in the Scottish Parliament who will fight austerity. RISE is 100% anti-austerity, and will campaign alongside trade unions, workers and communities to resist Tory cuts at every level, demanding that councillors and MSPs refuse to implement a single penny of Westminster’s cuts.