At the end of 2012 the Jimmy Reid Foundation published it’s fourth major report. There are three things about the launch of that report which seem to me to be important and to demonstrate just what the Foundation has added to Scottish politics.
The first thing the launch of the report showed was the extent to which the Foundation has established itself in the political consciousness. In its coverage of the report the Herald headline it simply explained that the Foundation was fighting back in the universalism debate. What was so interesting about this was that only about nine months since we launched our first report, a national newspaper assumed that enough people know who we are not to have to explain. In straightforward PR and marketing terms, it is quite an achievement to gain that level of recognition in that timescale with the Foundation’s meagre resources.
This matters. One of the factors which has made life that much easier for those pushing a neoliberal agenda in Scotland is the lack of enough recognisable organisations to challenge them. Plenty of people were doing work but far too few were seen on our TV screens or in our newspapers. The way the Foundation operates we are able to put forward people for the media and rapidly to create pieces of work relevant to current agendas.
The second thing we seem to have achieved is a bank of credibility. At the first meeting of our Board one of the Board Members said simply “we’re a left-wing think tank so we need to be twice as careful, twice as sure of our numbers, twice as certain we’ve got it right than a right-wing think tank”. This is simply because the right-of-centre media has a track record of protecting the credibility of organisations which by rights should have none (the Taxpayers Alliance) while tearing away at the credibility of others (the SSP has routinely been dismissed as ‘far left’ since its inception).
So far, while we have had plenty of commentary disagreeing with our arguments, no-one has sought to imply that we lack credibility or serious content to our work. No wonder – the universalism report has 50 individual references in a 16 page report.
This really matters. Left politics has been harmed deeply by more than a decade of claims that we were all about opposition and had no ideas. If we are to have a chance of transforming Scotland we need to have the authority to put forward ideas that are taken seriously. The Foundation is helping to achieve this.
Finally, the universalism report shows another important role the Foundation fulfils; it provides a focus where there might not have been one before. It is hardly an overstatement to point out that the mainstream political parties have largely signed up to the neoliberal (or at least small-c conservative) vision of Scotland. There are exceptions, particularly the extent to which privatisation has been resisted. But these parties are not providing a focal point for opposition to rampant business interests.
Other organisations have contributed to the fight but almost all of them have a limited scope for political action, either because of their constitutional position, funding or areas of interest. This has left the smaller political parties to cover an enormous brief with few resources.
Of course, this does not mean that Scotland has not fought back against these agendas, but the impact has been variable. So, for example, the anti-war and anti-nuclear movements have been strong and effective. But around which other organisation could a rapid fight-back against the anti-universalism campaign been coordinated?
Giving people a focal point for pushing ideas into the mainstream debate was one of the main purposes of the Foundation; with that we are certainly having some luck.
Visibility, credibility and focus; three of the aim of the Foundation when it was launched and three outcomes where we have made real progress. But despite what many people think, year one is easy – novelty, enthusiasm and the scope of a blank canvas make up for the efforts needed to establish yourself. It is now essential that we maintain this momentum.
What does that require? It will take two things. The first – an enthusiastic range of partners who want to work with and for us to produce really good material and make the most of it – we have no problem with. In fact, calls on the Foundation to do pieces of work and people who’d like to be involved are so encouraging that if we were three times as big we still couldn’t meet them all.
It is, of course, the second thing that matters; money. The Foundation manages with one person working full time and the good will of many others. Managing to keep one person full time, even on very low wage, is a struggle. The Foundation has never had more than three months of financial security since it launched its fundraising campaign in August 2011. This is hardly surprising – our largest donation to date has been £2,000, which is barely enough to fund us for a month.
We always wanted to be a self-sufficient organisation, not reliant on large donations from big organisations and therefore not facing conflicts of interest. That goal is more urgent than ever. We recently launched our ‘Sustaining Member’ programme. The Foundation has over 1,000 Members, with those giving a small, regular donation of £5 or more being Sustaining Members. To be sustainable we need to reach at least 500 people giving £5 a month.
It would be great if we could concentrate only on policy and campaigning; no-one likes pestering for donations any more than you like being pestered. But without the funding we will not be able to maintain our visibility, our credibility or the focus we believe we are offering.
Please consider becoming a Sustaining Member. You can do this on our website either by credit card, through a PayPal account or by Standing Order. Just go to www.reidfoundation.org and click ‘Join’. We know you’ve probably been asked; we know you may well mean to get round to it. Now would be a great time to do it…