People's assembly bids to unite both sides of referendum debate to tackle austerity
A newly established people's assembly is vying to bring both sides of the referendum debate together to reverse Westminster’s austerity agenda.
The People’s Assembly Scotland held its AGM in Glasgow on Saturday amidst calls from charities, trade unions, and anti-poverty activists that the war against the poor has gone too far.
Launched in Scotland in January, the assembly is a UK-wide campaign initially called for by the late Tony Benn and others including trade unionists, politicians, community activists, journalists, artists and entertainers.
Campaigners believe they can influence the austerity agenda and are now actively pushing the recently-announced Smith Commission for a devolved welfare system.
We are stripping the last vestiges of dignity from people who have nothing else left - John Dickie
Dave Moxham, Scottish Trades Union Council (STUC) depute general secretary, said the referendum had been a "fantastic democratic outpouring" driven by hundreds of thousands, pushed by an anti-austerity agenda by people frustrated by the mainstream parties offering no alternative.
"The assembly is a vital organ in the post referendum period to focus on issues like grasping the nettle of fair and redistributive taxation, creating employment and defending public services,” he said.
“The ability to shape these issues should underpin what powers we seek,” he told delegates.
Phil McGarry, chair of the assembly, said it had a “formidable task” ahead to unite both referendum groups but it was vitally important to combat austerity to make a real difference for people on issues like fair taxation, employment, trade union rights, public services and health and safety.
He added: “We will be taking these issues forward to Lord Smith and the Scotland Devolution Commission."
The call comes as the Conservative Party unveiled its latest wave of policies targeting vulnerable families at its party conference in Birmingham last week.
These include a planned two-year benefits freeze.
John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group Scotland, said: "This policy will inevitably force thousands of Scottish families into poverty. It is extraordinary that, yet again, the poorest will carry the greatest burden for austerity.
"All in it together? We are stripping the last vestiges of dignity from people who have nothing else left, but these are political choices, not pragmatic ones. The current administration has effectively reversed the progress made to eradicate poverty over the preceding 10 years."
There are also plans to ban 18-21 year-olds from housing benefit and moves to introduce a pre-paid card for benefits that would allow claimants to buy only approved items, excluding alcohol.