Scotland’s Socialist Council Is Fighting for Re-Election

From municipally-owned energy to public housing projects, North Ayrshire council is putting socialist policies into action – and onto the ballot in next week’s local elections.

Looking along Harbour Street in Irvine, North Ayrshire. (jimmcdowall / Getty Images)

Whether it be the cost of living, housing, or climate change, socialist policies are the only answer to the multiple crises that we face today. But we need to be honest with ourselves: there is little prospect of a socialist government anytime soon at either Westminster or Holyrood.

Coupled with the continued marginalisation of the Left within the Labour Party, it’s understandable that socialists have entered 2022 feeling demoralised. But rather than retreat, now is the time for the Left to reroute its efforts into delivering our policies on the ground, demonstrating the practical benefits that socialism can bring to working-class communities.

The transformative programme offered in the 2017 and 2019 manifestos may no longer be on offer nationally, but in many local and regional authorities a similar programme is. Call it ‘place-based socialism’, and in 2021 — a year of bruising electoral defeats for Labour — it was shown to be popular.

In Salford and Preston, the local Labour Party bucked the national trend by offering bold left-wing answers to the urgent questions posed by decades of decline. These examples inspired our movement and offered hope of a real economic alternative.

A similar socialist programme that tackles the housing crisis, fights the squeeze in workers’ living standards, and shows leadership on climate change is on the ballot paper in North Ayrshire in a few weeks’ time — but we need the help of the broader Left if we are to win.

Scotland’s Red Council

In our small part of Scotland’s West Coast, against a context of year-on-year cuts to council funding from central government, our Labour administration is implementing one of the most radical and innovative political programmes in the country.

We have one of the most ambitious council house building programmes in the country, with 1,625 new energy-efficient council homes being built across every ward in the local authority area. That’s more than double the Scottish National Party government’s target for new public housing.

While others talk about the potential benefits of retrofitting, we’re getting on with delivering it. We are retrofitting solar panels on over 6,000 of our existing council houses — cutting C02 emissions by over 6,500 tonnes per year and reducing tenants’ annual energy bills by an average of £117.

Scottish ministers in Edinburgh may have sold Scotland’s offshore wind to foreign capital, but in North Ayrshire, our Labour council is investing in renewable energy and locking in the benefits for our communities through municipal ownership.

By transforming our two former landfill sites into council-owned solar farms we are going to generate almost two-thirds of the council’s energy needs, reducing C02 emissions by 850 tonnes per year and, unlike the Scottish government’s sell-off, the financial returns will be retained by the council, to be reinvested in our communities.

That means £25 million in additional investment for North Ayrshire and its people — 15 per cent of which will be available directly through our community benefit policy.

We were the first local authority to provide free sanitary products in 2017, the first in Scotland to put a dedicated mental health counsellor in every secondary school, to exempt care experienced young people from council tax, and to offer a free reusable nappy scheme, saving parents an average of £1,300.

The movement for a Right to Food continues to gather pace but in North Ayrshire, we have been tackling holiday hunger for years with our holiday meal programme. Since the onset of the pandemic we have launched a ‘Fairer Food Network’ of food larders and pantries across our communities, offering access to low-cost food to citizens.

Community Wealth Building

Our economic programme is based on the principles of Community Wealth Building: a local economy built on democratic ownership, one that locks wealth into our region and distributes it fairly across our communities through the economic opportunities.

We believe in an economy of good, well-paid jobs; one based on trade union membership and workers as well as their communities having a stake in how the society around them is run and operated.

We are seeking to establish new cooperative businesses, transition existing businesses to worker ownership, divest our local pension fund, start a mutual bank, and halt the sell-off of public land in order that it can be put to use for the benefit of local people.

We are proud of our record in North Ayrshire and we believe that what we have done shows how socialist policies, with the right level of political will and imagination, are not only possible but can win.

For socialists across the country, we are trying to build a beacon of hope in a dark time — one that can give encouragement to all of those fighting the ravages of neoliberalism in their own localities, so that they can continue to believe that something better is possible.

But we face enormous challenges from vested interests among the wealthy and the political establishment, challenges which emanate from both Westminster and Holyrood. We need your help to get re-elected.

North Ayrshire’s story is one of municipal socialism, of policy successes with tangible benefits for our citizens. We only have a few weeks to turn the story into one of electoral success as well. What we have achieved thus far has been with a minority administration increasingly under a political siege. We need to defeat these odds again.

We are ready to welcome comrades to come and support our fight. Anything that Tribune readers and fellow socialists can do to help us — from donating money to giving up your time to campaign — would be hugely appreciated.

Each time socialists try to build a better world we learn a lesson: solidarity isn’t just the watchword of our movement, it’s the lifeblood.