On Wednesday last (28 Jan), I went to a meeting in Edinburgh organised by Common Space on the recent election in Greece, which led to a Syriza-led government. T
Both Cat Boyd, co-founder of the Radical Independence Movement in Scotland, and Gordon Maloney, President of the National Union of Students in Scotland, had been in Athens for the election campaign. They recounted how there had been huge enthusiasm in the Greek capital in prospect of a Syriza victory, supported by the presence of youth and left movements from around the world (notably Podemos from Spain).
Dr Myrto Tsakatika, lecturer at Glasgow University and a Greek herself, explained that Syriza was not related to the traditional Left or Communist parties of the Cold War and after, but a loose grouping of grassroots, anti-globalisation and Green movements formed about the year 2000. Syriza’s decision to go into coalition with the right-wing, Independent Greeks party (rather like the Front National in France, populist and anti-immigration) was the only real choice. Syriza at 149 seats is 2 short of an absolute majority; the Independent Greeks have 15 seats; the Communist Party made unacceptable demands for a partnership; the New Democracy Party had imposed the unpopular austerity measures demanded by Greece’s creditors; PASOK, the old Labour Party, was decimated and seen as compromised by its collaboration with New Democracy. The Independent Greeks had been consistent in their opposition to the austerity demanded by the Troika (the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank) which had reduced the Greek economy by a quarter and led to mass unemployment. Syriza’s priority is to rebuild the Greek economy by rescheduling, repaying, or being reprieved from, the national debt, standing at 175% of GNP. So far, Syriza plans to build a national system of primary health care; raise the national minimum wage; stop the privatisation of ports in Piraeus and Thessaloniki; and abolish homelessness in Greece.
Professor Michael Keating spoke against the neo-liberal economic orthodoxy prevailing in the West since the late Cold War, which he saw as lying behind the problems of the Euro and the crisis in Greece. He argued for a Keynesian reflation of European economies, which he said had been the original constructive aim of the European project after the Second World War, and which even the Obama administration in the USA had adopted with some success. Economic austerity, in other words, is neither necessary nor desirable in advanced industrial countries, as the current UK Conservative government holds.
All the speakers agreed that the election of Syriza was a generally hopeful development for all of us on the left and in grassroots, pro-independence movements in Scotland.
There followed a question-and-answer session, unfortunately very poorly moderated and consisting largely of statements by members of the audience, including hard-Left rants against the Labour Party, the SNP and Common Weal itself. Incidentally, there is a direct critique of the Common Weal programme by Philip Stott (‘Can capitalism really put “All of us first”?’) in the current edition, no. 85, of Scottish Left Review, available at:
Peter Lomas, Common Weal Fife