Hope is essential for change

Make Poverty History march, Edinburgh, 2005

Make Poverty History march, Edinburgh, 2005

Ann McKechin on the need for political leadership that gives real grounds for hope.

What was the largest political demonstration in Scotland? I’ve put this question to a number of people over the last couple of years and 9 out of 10 get it wrong. It wasn’t as most people believe, the anti-Iraq war demonstration in 2003 (although the combined protests across the UK were the largest) or from further back in history, the protest which my maternal grandfather joined in George Square in Glasgow during the National Strike of 1926.

This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of the landmark Make Poverty History demonstration in Edinburgh when over 225,000 people called on the international community to do more to eradicate absolute poverty from our globe. It is by far the largest public political gathering in Scotland’s history but strangely has almost disappeared from public consciousness. Did it achieve anything? – well a cheery email from Oxfam this week reminded me that over the last decade, the number of people in our globe living in absolute poverty has halved, more children attend school and fewer people die from infectious diseases. Of course, not all of this is due to increases in aid – although the campaign undoubtedly cemented the 0.7% aid target for the UK – but there is no doubt that this incredible alliance made up of charity volunteers, church groups, political parties, trade unionists and ethnic diaspora both here and across many other nations made sure that the issue received much greater political attention. People came together with a shared hope for a world without grinding poverty and premature death and made a difference.

Hope of a better future is something which is painfully absent in Greece this weekend with a nation divided about which poisoned pill to take. We still await the prolonged final fallout but we can be sure its impact will not be contained within Greece’s boundaries – the political consequences of economic distress are likely to extend into the Balkan states where the long wait for EU membership in return for political and economic reform may increasingly be viewed as a lost cause. This month also marks the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre and having visited Bosnia last year, it was all to clear that the ethnic tensions have not been resolved and the existing political systems are throttling any chance of progress.

Frankly, in retrospect, the refusal by both the EU and IMF to provide any realistic hope of even a long term recovery destroyed the previous Greek political administration which was probably far more likely to have sustained the necessary transition in Greece’s economy rather than the current Syriza administration which is painfully out of its depths in trying to re-negotiate. Instead of a UK Prime Minister or Chancellor, as in 2005, arguing strenuously within Europe for debt cancellation and additional grants to assist countries on their knees, we have instead a PM who spends most of his time with EU leaders asking for his country’s employers to be relieved of the obligations under the Working Time Directive. It is no wonder that even the US administration is becoming increasingly nervous at the political failure within Europe to look at the larger consequences.

Hope may be impossible to quantify but you can easily grasp when it is absent. Political leadership without a realistic basis for hope will only result in failure for those issues that really matter.

The Make Poverty History march image is courtesy of Third Force News.