Ewan Gurr: real power needed for food bank crisis

Picture: JP
Picture: JP
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IN February of this year, I was sitting in the public gallery at the Scottish Parliament as First Minister’s Questions drew to a close. After the expected exodus from the main chamber, a foodbank debate got underway. There was representation from the Scottish National Party, Scottish Labour Party and one Scottish Conservative MSP.

West of Scotland MSP Stuart McMillan made his opening remarks reflecting upon the rising number of individuals and families experiencing the horror of hidden hunger throughout Scotland, celebrating the effort of communities pulling together in lean times while expressing deep concern about the need that demands their existence. He laid the blame, in part, upon UK Government-implemented welfare reforms. At this point Alex Johnstone, the only present Conservative MSP and sole representative of the UK coalition, stood up and walked out.

I felt a sense of déjà vu last week as I watched another foodbank debate taking place, this time, in the House of Commons. Again, not one elected Scottish representative from either of the coalition parties was in attendance. Even in my hometown of Dundee, a local newspaper this week exposed my local MP who was notably absent from a crucial vote on the spare room subsidy, otherwise known as the bedroom tax, despite issuing a press release about the approaching vote.

An unequivocal truth emerged in the aftermath of the independence referendum which took place in September. Scotland is on a unique political trajectory as ordinary people become more engaged regarding the ways in which systemic choices affect their daily lives. Regardless of the outcome, we cannot ignore the fact that four of the five most deprived local authorities in Scotland exercised their democratic muscle in a clear call for change.

People are rediscovering the fact that real potential lies within communities and not within the perceived corridors of power. The thirst for a rebirth of the socially just politics of Beveridge, Bevan and Benn is emerging. As the number of people forced to Scottish foodbanks surges towards 90,000, I am consoled somewhat that concern about food poverty was raised twice this month during First Ministers Questions. The reduction of food poverty must be a priority for policy makers in the run up to and beyond the General Election. Those that fail to consider ways in which we can work together to address this issue will simply be left behind.

• Ewan Gurr is the Scotland Network Manager for The Trussell Trust and is responsible for overseeing 48 foodbanks based in 27 local authorities in Scotland. He is the former Project Manager of Dundee foodbank, which has been operating for nine years and is currently Scotland’s busiest operation, reaching over 6,000 people per year