“People can’t afford to heat their houses. Retired and elderly citizens are covering themselves in blankets because their homes are too cold. This situation is appalling.”
This is how Alasdair MacPherson, one of Stirling’s independent councillors, describes the difficult situation his community is facing in Scotland because of the rise of energy bills. And that’s the reason why MacPherson and other activists have joined the national campaign Don’t Pay UK, creating the local movement in Stirling.
The campaign consists of asking residents to halt their payments to energy suppliers from October 1 and the grassroot movement is aiming to reach 1 million pledges: at that point they will strike by cancelling their direct debits.
“We want the price cap to go back to its pre-April 2021 level, because the current situation is unbearable for many Scottish people, especially the poorest,” says MacPherson.
Alasdair MacPherson is an independent councillor for Stirling’s ward Bannockburn in Scotland. In the 2022 elections, he became Stirling’s first elected independent councillor since 1996.
However, cancelling direct debit payments could lead to serious problems for residents, because they could see their power supply cut off. So, Alasdair MacPherson has asked Stirling Council to provide for ‘warm banks’ – heated public buildings in the city open to people in need. The council has recently agreed to the scheme.
All over the country people are struggling to keep up with the rise in the cost of living. The Don’t Pay UK movement says that people in the country will pay 96% more this winter than last year, so almost 7 million households are expected to fall into fuel poverty.
Not just an economic crisis
People’ mental health at risk too.
“It’s not just an economic crisis. The level of anxiety in Scotland has increased and we are seeing more and more grassroot movements originating from this,” explains Stirling University professor, Margaret Malloch.
Her research into the concept of justice and collective actions has shown that, since the 2014 referendum for Scottish independence, opposition to social problems is rising not only from political parties but also from the grassroots, with communities coming together and supporting each other.
“The current volatile economic and social situation is changing the way people feel about citizenship, and the Scottish nation is becoming more aware of its own power. People know that they have the potential to turn to resistance and are developing more imaginative ways of organising demonstrations. They are imagining a new national identity.”
In Stirling, this has taken the shape of the Don’t Pay campaign that involves a dozen or so activists handing out leaflets and organising protests.
“We are aware that it will take some time before we see some results, but 200,000 people have joined the national campaign so far. Now we have to wait and see what the government response will be,” says Alasdair MacPherson, who believes that nationalisation is the only solution.
“I think nationalising the energy sector would be the only way for the government to really help the people who are seriously struggling.”
However, the relationship between the UK central government and Scottish people is more complicated than ever, as many in Stirling believe that they are facing the consequences of the decisions of a government they have not voted for.
“There is no democracy in this, this is not our government, because the Conservatives don’t know what’s happening to the working class and don’t care about the people. Saying that we’ve lost the trust in the government is an understatement,” explains the councillor.
Margaret Malloch is Professor of Criminology in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Stirling. Her work includes research, writing and activism that aims to challenge processes of criminalisation and punitive responses. It questions and explores concepts of ‘justice’, what this means in practice, and how it is defined by and through collective action.
This is not just his opinion. According to Professor Malloch, after the Brexit referendum, where 62% of Scottish voted to remain in the European Union, the population has felt more and more detached from the government in London.
“There is a real problem of broken promises and now the level of trust is declining because people are becoming aware of the democratic deficit they’re experiencing, not having voted for the Conservative government.”
People now growing more confident
With people in Scotland becoming more and more disillusioned with central politics, they believe they will not get any help from English authorities and sympathies for the cause of independence are gaining more and more momentum.
“I can see how the cost-of-living crisis is impacting the independence movement, because even people who voted to remain in the UK in 2014 are now changing their mind and are starting to think that being independent is the only solution. We want an independence referendum now,” says Alasdair.
I think these grassroots movements have great potential because they can influence the decisions impacting their lives.
Professor Malloch’s research seems to support this point, as she says that people are relying on their own strengths and communities to push for change, rather than the central government or politics.
People are growing more and more confident and aware of their power in opposing such decisions, but the problem is that often they do not really know how to start.
“This is why educators can play a fundamental role in making sure people get the facts straight and understand the economic decisions that have been made for them. We’ve seen how Scottish people are less certain of whom to trust and they are questioning more the information they receive, but they are feeling a growing willingness and need to educate themselves,” explains the professor.
Ultimately, what will give people the power to change the situation is the strength of their community ties and the ability of educators to provide for clear and unbiased information on what is happening.
The aim? A more just and democratic society where everyone’s voice is heard.
“I think these grassroots movements have great potential because they can influence the decisions impacting their lives. Nevertheless, we need to be careful and avoid having certain voices and interests dominate the conversation. This is a real danger, and that’s why local communities are essential to ensuring that the voices of those in need are heard,” concludes Professor Malloch.