Friday, 26 September 2008

Branch meeting - in Holland...

Thomas Swann on his recent move of branches from Campsie... to Nijmegen in Holland.

As the film began, I was reminded of the cold and wet Saturday mornings spent in Kirkintilloch leisure centre with other members of Campsie Branch probably watching a John Pilger documentary or something else as part of our educational activities. The five minutes into the film it stopped and someone had to monkey around with the laptop before it would start up. Again, I was reminded of the regular Campsie Branch film mornings. This was my first real experience of the Dutch Socialist Party.

The film was 'Turtles Can Fly', the first film to come out of Iraq since the US/UK invasion. I'd been meaning to get in touch with the local branch of the Socialist Party before I moved to the Netherlands and was encouraged by the warm welcome I received from the local organiser and the other members who were present at the screening. The Socialist Party began as a small left-wing grouping but through a process of community engagement and activism has grown from having one member of parliament in the early 90s to twenty-five today, plus a large number of elected local government officials. It's been held up as the success story of the Left in Europe, and it is largely thanks to its work in communities, on the ground, as it were, that this level of support has been achieved.

Focusing on a few areas, including Nijmegen, where I am now living (you might recognise the name from 'A Bridge to Far'), the party organised projects as ambitious as offering free medical care to members of the community, and now claims a number of 'strongholds' where it has a base of local support. In a number of areas, again including Nijmegen, the Socialist Party participates in the local government along with other Left parties such as the Green-Left.

In this blog, which will appear most likely irregularly on the website, I will attempt to relate my experience of Left-wing politics and activism in the Netherlands, and specifically in Nijmegen, to similar situations in Scotland, as well as comparing the general social, political and economic contexts in which these are taking place. But my research and reporting will not be confined to the Socialist Party, though as an organised political party which stands in national and local elections this will obviously have a large relevance to a member of the SSP as I am. Nijmegen is also one of the centres of Anarchist activism in the Netherlands and has a number of collectively owned bars and cafés which have developed from squated buildings to legitimate enterprises supported through low rent conditions by the Left-wing council of the town.

So, hopefully my next entry in this blog will have something more concrete than a simple introduction and will perhaps provide information which will prove useful to Socialist and Anarchist activists in Scotland, and particularly in the Campsie/East Dunbartonshire area.

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