Not everyone is happy about the Olympics

Protesters march against the corporate takeover of the Games.

It's a bright, sunny July afternoon and the descendants of victims of a 19th-century genocide march while performing their traditional “sreedom joug” dance to the beat of a protesting drummer. Glowing banners dance to a cacophony of horns, whistles and furious chants.

 
The Olympics are in town, and not everyone is happy. From Occupy London to the Green Party, over 35 organisations and 400 people marched across East London on Saturday against a range of issues linked to the games – from the militarisation of London to the corporatisation of the games and the building of future Olympic sites on the graves of genocide victims.
 
The diversity of the crowd's demands mirror the crowd itself: Refugee networks, environmentalists, charity workers and anti-war campaigners were among those fighting to be heard. Emily Coats, 24, a campaigner with environmentalist group UK Tar Sands Network, opposes the corporate sponsorship of the games by what she claims are unethical companies such as BP. “BP really has no right to be called a sustainability partner yet the Olympics gives it a great opportunity to try and convince the public that it's a really green, sustainable, good company.”
 
The government's austerity programme figures in protesters' objections, too. Mary Stuart, 54, an English tutor, said: “People are killing themselves every week because their benefits are being cut. I'm furious about it, and that's why I'm here.”
 
Civil liberties are also a concern, with more than 18,000 troops deployed for the games. Andreas Speck, 48, a campaigner for War Resistance International, takes issue with the restrictions on civil liberties during the Olympics. “I am here today to protest against the Olympics and the restrictions on our civil liberties which we have seen.” While Haci Ozdemir, 36, a campaigner with the Refugee Workers Cultural Association, marches against what he claims is corporate profiteering at the expense of local Londoners. “The local people will not benefit from them [the Olympics] when huge businesses are making money.”
 
Later in the afternoon, the protesters are herded together by police. They stop the protest on Vincent Road in Bow, to ensure that protesters do not spread too far apart when marching at different speeds. The marchers are peaceful, and cooperate with the them. Yet the marchers maintain solidarity when one of their comrades is stopped and searched by the police. Four officers, surrounded by around 40 protesters, form a cordon around the man while he is searched next to a wall. The marchers towards the rear of the crowd stop and wait for the man to be released.
 
“Let him go!” roars the crowd repeatedly. After a few minutes, a police officer announces to the crowd, “This man will be returned very shortly.” A protester shouts “the march will wait for him!” And wait it does. The man, who calls himself "Danny", says of the search:  “It was fine. I didn't really mind too much to tell the truth.”
 
Counter Olympics Network spokesman David Renton thinks the peaceful nature of the protest explains why it received “vast” coverage from international media but scant attention from the British press. “This demonstration has been entirely peaceful. Because there hasn't been a fight it stands against the way our media culture reacts to demonstrators: if there is a fight, there is a story, if there is no fight then no story." The international media presence is humbling – journalists from different organisations clashes while trying to interview the same people. The world hears the marchers.
 
But not all protesters marched solely against London 2012. NoSochi2014 is an organisation of Circassians opposed to the 2014 Winter Olympic stadium being built in Sochi, the city in their ancestral homeland which they occupied before the 19th-century Russian genocide against them. NoSochi2012 claim the site will be built on the grave sites of their murdered ancestors.
 
Lisa Jakarsi, an activist with NoSochi2014, says the group is at the protest to raise awareness about the 2014 games. “We're here to raise awareness about our plight. Basically they are building the [2014 Winter] Olympic stadiums on the graves of the Circassian genocide.”
 
Campaigning Labour MP John McDonnell for Hayes and Harlington marches alongside the activists. “I am in favour of the Olympics. I support sport. I enjoy sport. I enjoy the Olympics. What I am against is the corporate exploitation of the Olympics." McDonnell says he wanted the march to raise awareness. “I want people to start understanding the issue and debating the issue – about what the Olympics are all about.”
Protesters in east London marching against the Olympics on 28 July (Photo: Getty Images)
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It's time the SNP's terrible record in government was exposed

Do not expect the SNP to apologise for these failings anytime soon. They do not really need to, so successful have they have been in creating a new paradigm in Scottish politics.

The only suspense in Scotland’s elections lies in who comes second. So complete is the Scottish National Party’s dominance that the Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto is called ‘A Programme for Opposition’, summing up a campaign in which the Tories and Labour scrap for second while the SNP waltz to victory.

Nicola Sturgeon says it is a matter of when, not if, there is another referendum on Scottish independence; should the UK vote to leave the EU in June, the SNP is likely to push for another independence vote. But all the debates over constitutional questions miss a bigger point: Scotland already has one of the most powerful devolved administrations in the entire world. The SNP has ruled in Holyrood for nine years, and had a majority for the last five. Yet the SNP’s record, particularly for the most disadvantaged in society whom it claims to speak for, is dire.

Let’s begin with higher education. This, after all, is the area in which the SNP are proudest. Five years ago, Alex Salmond declared: “The rocks will melt with the sun before I allow tuition fees to be imposed on Scotland’s students.” He was so enamoured with the SNP’s policy of maintaining free tuition north of the River Tweed that he unveiled them on a commemorative stone at Heriot-Watt University on his last day as First Minister in 2014.

Scotland is by far the worst country in the UK to be a disadvantaged student. The richest Scottish students are 3.53 times more likely to enter university at age 18 via UCAS than the poorest ones, compared with 2.58 in Northern Ireland, 2.56 in Wales and 2.52 in England. Fewer than one in ten young people from the most disadvantaged areas begin to study towards a degree by the age of 20. And the problems are actually getting worse: just 8.4 per cent of entrants to Scotland’s elite universities came from the poorest communities in 2014/15, down from 8.8 per cent the previous year.

Rather than being beneficiaries of free university tuition, poor Scots have actually been victims of it. Protecting Scottish students from university tuition fees has resulted in a £20 million transfer from disadvantaged students to middle-class ones, according to the policy analyst Lucy Hunter Blackburn. Free tuition has been funded by cutting student grants. And, for all Sturgeon’s disingenuous rhetoric that she would not have been able to afford university with the tuition fees south of the border, protecting Scottish students from tuition fees has been funded by loading debts onto the poorest Scottish students. There is an iron law in Scottish universities: poorest kids graduate with the most debt. Students from households earning less than £34,000 typically graduate with between £4,000 to £5,000 more debt than those from families earning more.

The situation in primary and secondary schools is little better. The Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy shows standards of reading, writing and numeracy for 13-14-year-olds all declining since 2011. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the biggest decrease in both writing and numeracy attainment aged 13-14 has been among disadvantaged students.

Educational inequality cripples Scotland from an early age. At the age of five, the vocabulary of the poorest quintile of students is 13 months behind the richest quintile in Scotland. Poor children aged five perform worse than those in England; the gap in cognitive development between children from less well-off backgrounds and others is also bigger in Scotland. Disadvantaged children are the real victims of the SNP’s failure to make good on its pledge, in 2007, to reduce average class sizes in primary schools to 18; they are now 23.3. And this, in turn, can be traced back to the political choice to prioritise spending on free tuition fees over other areas that would help disadvantaged children far more. Between 2010 and 2013, school spending in Scotland fell by five per cent in real terms from 2010 to 2013 while, in England, it rose by three per cent in real terms between 2010 and 2015. Perhaps that explains why, after Easter, 17 schools in Edinburgh  remained closed because of safety concerns, leaving pupils to be taught in other schools and temporary classrooms instead.

The SNP is not only failing Scots in schools and universities. The number of working age adults living in absolute poverty (after housing costs) rose by 80,000 between 2010/11 and 2013/14; the number of children living in absolute poverty also rose by 30,000, and the number of pensioners by 20,000. Pockets of crippling intergenerational deprivation remain too frequent in Scotland: life expectancy in Glasgow is a year lower than in any other part of the UK. Indeed, life expectancy across Scotland is almost two years younger than the rest of the UK, even though Scotland has the highest health expenditure per head of any UK country.

It is a microcosm of wider problems with NHS Scotland. The SNP’s targets for waiting times for hospital admission have been repeatedly missed, including its “guarantee” of a 12-week maximum wait for planned treatment for inpatients. Patients are more likely to have to wait over 31 days for cancer treatment in Scotland than England, and the percentage waiting so long in Scotland has been rising since 2014. There are also grave health inequalities: those in most deprived areas are 2.4 times more likely to have a heart attack than those in the most affluent areas.

Yet perhaps the most shameful part of Scotland’s health record lies in mental health. Patients are 8 per cent more likely to have to wait over 18 weeks for psychological therapy based treatment than in England. Since July 2014, NHS Scotland has also repeatedly missed its targets on children’s mental health.

Do not expect the SNP to apologise for these failings anytime soon. And they do not really need to, so successful have they have been in creating a new paradigm in Scottish politics, in which the independence debate is the only game in town. But none of this should obscure the truth that the SNP have been in government, and with huge power, for nine years. They have floundered - and underprivileged Scots have been the biggest victims of all.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.