No Routes Left: Striking for Revival in Rural Scotland

Enas Magzoub finds that local authority decisions in transport and education have increased the burden on underpaid workers.

More than half a million workers across the country have taken part in industrial action so far this year. Many are striking while facing the particular difficulties affecting rural Scotland. For instance, privately-owned and unregulated bus providers, subsidised by local governments, are demanding that Scottish workers pay higher fares for poor services. Now, in Inverclyde and Renfrewshire, funding allocation for bus routes has been cut by 13%. The ‘lack of commercial and financial viability’ of bus routes in rural areas is being touted as the reason for the cuts, which will result in further fare hikes. In areas underserved by the rail network, the cuts mean that now the infrastructure simply does not exist to allow people to get to work reliably. Where routes are cut, workers on the lowest incomes will have no options at all.

It is not just in transport that rural populations are being deprived. Highland Council has just approved a new budget which will affect the funding allocation given to schools to support children with additional support needs for learning. The local authority is re-assessing the formula it uses to distribute grants. One axis of this formula takes into account the rurality of the schools. Additional support is typically more expensive in rural areas. Thus, the council proposes a shift towards the controversial practice of ‘mainstreaming’, wherein pupils with additional support needs are heavily pushed towards education in mainstream schools where possible, as opposed to being educated in separate classrooms. It seems that mainstreaming ‘guidance’ is intended to be used as a cost-cutting measure, at the expense of vulnerable children, and burdening already underpaid teachers with a higher workload.

Councils may try to shift the blame for reduced and unsatisfactory amenities onto workers, but Scotland’s rural populations are neglected even during normal times. It is local governments that are failing to ensure adequate services and pay workers what they deserve. The lack of infrastructure in rural society is not the fault of striking workers. In truth, successful strikes would do much to revive the future facing Scotland’s rural communities.

Enas Magzoub has written for the Morning Star and the New Internationalist.