Happy Birthday Global Justice Now Scotland

Happy Birthday Global Justice Now Scotland

By: Jane Herbstritt
Date: 17 December 2018

This winter, the Global Justice Now Scottish office celebrates its twentieth birthday. Of course, Global Justice Now (then the World Development Movement) had been campaigning in Scotland for many years before 1998. Our long standing local groups in Scotland preceded the office, helped set it up, and continue to be a critical part of Global Justice Now’s work and campaigning in Scotland – but 1998 was the year that we first had staff in Scotland.

So Happy Birthday to us! We thought that, as with all significant birthdays, it was time to dust down the embarrassing photo album and spend some time reminiscing about the good times, the hard times and the things we’ve achieved over the last 20 years.

collage of local group stunts, street stalls and actions

A Scottish office for Scottish devolution

The Scottish office was set up in November 1998. A year before, Tony Blair’s new Labour government had won a landslide election, ending 17 years of Tory rule. These were optimistic times: a referendum on devolution in Scotland was voted for by a convincing 75% of Scottish voters and the new Scottish parliament would open in 1999. With a whole extra set of politicians to influence, it was time for an office in Scotland, to support our campaigning north of the border.

‘Pull the plug on GATS’

a collage of images of people protesting against GATS

Twenty years ago, our first campaign in Scotland was on the topic we are probably most well-known for: trade justice. As I looked back at the photos and the newsletter articles, it was striking that our arguments then for scrapping GATS – the General Agreement on Tariffs and Services – were so similar to our arguments against TTIP – the recent EU-US mega trade deal that our campaign successfully shelved. As the tagline ‘Pull the plug on GATS’ suggested, we were raising awareness of the threat that this World Trade Organisation treaty presented to public services everywhere, and to public water particularly.

Our campaign work included a petition to the Scottish parliament that led to a Health Committee inquiry into GATS and its impact on public services; and a speaker tour with trade unionist Robert Giuseppi from Trinidad and Tobago, who talked about the successful campaign against water privatisation in his own country.

G8 Alternatives: when the leaders of the world met in secret at Gleneagles

A collage of pictures showing the Make Poverty History march and march outside the G8 meeting in Gleneagles

Looking back, it seems incredible that in 2005 a quarter of a million people descended on Edinburgh to make a human chain around the city centre calling for trade justice, debt cancellations, and more and better aid as the governments of the G8 met in Gleneagles. World Development Movement in Scotland helped to make that happen. As you can see from the pictures, World Development Movement campaigners also protested in Gleneagles, within touching distance of the barbed wire fence separating campaigners from the huge hotel where G8 leaders met in secret. Staff and volunteers also helped organise the ‘G8 Alternatives’ conference attended by 1000 activists from across Europe.

Climate change seriously harms the world’s poor: Scotland’s first climate bill

A collage of photos showing protesters calling for climate action ahead of the first Scottish climate act

From 2007, the World Development Movement in Scotland was campaigning as part of the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland Coalition for an ambitious Scottish climate change bill. Thanks to the determined lobbying of climate campaigners across Scotland we achieved a world leading climate bill with many positive aspects including year on year targets, a 42% cut in emission by 2020 and 80% cut in emissions by 2050. WDM Scotland’s specific ask – that aviation and shipping emissions be included in Scottish government annual greenhouse gas reporting was also in the final Act.

In 2018 we are again pushing for more ambitious targets as a new Scottish climate bill is going through parliament, aiming to reflect the UN climate treaty agreed in Paris that endeavours to keep global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees. Having met our original ‘ambitious’ target of 42% cut in emissons six years early in 2014, we now need a clear pathway to a zero carbon Scotland set into legislation – anything less is political complacency! Lobby your MSP

Cleaning up the banks: The Oil Bank of Scotland

protesters in suits holding oil cans and covered in oil protest outside RBS headquarters in Gogarburn

The banking crash in 2008, brought with it a focus on the role of UK financial institutions in both causing austerity at home and funding climate change internationally. In the following few years  we highlighted the role of the Royal Bank of Scotland, majority-owned by UK taxpayers after it was bailed out by the UK government, in continuing to finance dirty fossil fuels – particularly coal and tar sands oil.

In April 2011, First Nations community representatives came over from Canada to the RBS AGM to protest against tar sands mining financed by RBS, that was destroying their land and their health.  In the same year we welcomed human rights activist Holly Rakotondralambo from Madagascar to speak across Scotland. Oil company Total had an exploratory permit for tar sands mining in Madagascar– a project partially financed by RBS, and Holly was concerned about the impact mining would have on the people and biodiversity of the island. We joined the international campaign calling on Total to pull out of Madagascar and later that year the oil multinational dropped plans for what would have been Africa’s biggest tar sands project. Tar sands mining persists in Canada, despite its serious impact on the local environment and on climate change. However, RBS has recently said it will not finance any future tar sands projects

Two years later we ran walking tours around Edinburgh highlighting the links between the banks and financial companies of Edinburgh and investment in fossil fuels: ‘Scandalous Edinburgh plc.’

Put TTIP in the skip!

a collage of photos showing protesters across Scotland calling for TTIP to be scrapped

In 2014, the campaign to stop the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade deal being negotiated between the EU and the US, became massive across Europe. Here in Scotland, people quickly caught on to this corporate power grab and local ‘Stop TTIP’ groups formed across the country.  We were invited to speak at events and local meetings where hundreds of people turned up to hear about this toxic trade deal. A founding member of Scotland Against TTIP, bringing together local campaign groups, NGOs and trade unions to fight this pro-corporate, anti-democratic deal Together we organised stunts, rallies and information workshops. By the end of the campaign, the coalition had persuaded one third of Scottish local councils to pass motions opposing the trade deal. A mass movement of trade justice campaigners across Europe managed to kick TTIP into the long grass.

Following that campaign success, the coalition changed its name to the Trade Justice Scotland Coalition. Recently the coalition has focussing on trade deals after Brexit: the need for a process of democratic scrutiny and a role for Scotland in future trade negotiations. In 2016 we held an assembly with local activists from across Scotland that drew up a set of principles we believe should underpin a just trade system. In January 2017 these principles were supported by a majority of MSPs during a debate in the Scottish parliament.

In January, Global Justice Now launches a campaign to scrap the corporate courts (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) in UK trade and investment deals. The Trade Justice Scotland Coalition will be campaigning hard in Scotland for political support. Support the campaign here

The next 20 years…

Looking back its amazing to see how much we’ve achieved over these past 20 years. Our movement relies on the tireless energy of our dedicated and inspiring local campaigners who invest so much of their time to these important global issues – they are the bedrock of our membership, and of the wider global justice movement. If you’re not already linked in, we’ve plenty of plans for 2019 that you can get involved with, whether you have very little time to campaign, or are looking for a new challenge. Follow this link to find out how you can campaign with us in solidarity with campaigners around the world

Here’s to the next twenty years!