Wed 7 Feb, 2018

Dan Hutchison

Divestment is the action or process of selling off subsidiary business interests or investments. When we talk politically about divesting we are appropriating the word to describe the action of selling off interests or investments for a particular political reason. The idea of divestment started with the End Apartheid campaign in the ‘60s, and there was an attempt to force divestment to be a key issue for the 1964 UK General Election. Moving through to the ‘80s, campaigns across the western capitalist world appeared to force universities to stop their investments funding the atrocities in South Africa. After Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the abolishment of the apartheid legislation the following year, a lot of credit was given to the divestment campaign. It could be argued that this can be used to strengthen the argument for the free market, but whether this is true or not is a different kettle of fish.

There are several divestment campaigns currently running in Scotland, these campaign areas range from abandoning fossil fuel companies to moving investments away from companies which partake in the arms trade or support/fund/ignore human rights abuses. With the news today (05/02/18) from University of Edinburgh that they are divesting, the total is now at 6 universities in Scotland (University of Glasgow, Queen Margaret University, University of the West of Scotland, University of Abertay and Glasgow Caledonian University have all previously made the announcement) and the United Reform Church in Scotland have committed to fully divest from fossil fuels (source: Friends of the Earth Scotland1). Divestment has developed from its roots in educational institutions and now most campaigns in Scotland are focussing on public funds, most notably public-sector pension funds.

Strathclyde pension fund is by far the largest of the pension funds in Scotland. Sitting at £19.59 billion, it is more than 4 times the size of the 2nd largest, Tayside. It is estimated by Friends of the Earth Scotland that Strathclyde Pension Fund has 4.1% of the total fund (roughly £803 million) invested in fossil fuels. These include Cabot Oil and Gas, a company with 494 federal environmental violations linked to fracking in Pennsylvania alone (2009-2013). In a country that has made its mark for banning fracking, how can we, the people of Scotland, justify funding a company which continues fracking despite proving how damaging it is? In joint investments between Strathclyde and Fife Pension funds, there is a further £4.2 million invested with Cabot Oil and Gas.

Another giant that Strathclyde pension fund have investments with is Exxon Mobil Corporation. One of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, it has succeeded in winning US Department of Defence contracts to supply Israel with fuel for its attack helicopters, fighter/bomber jets, and its tanks. These war machines have been used in both the West Bank and Gaza to support Israel’s agenda of killing and displacing the Palestinian people. The multinational Caterpillar Inc is another investment that Strathclyde Pension Fund has participated in. The company is a major supplier of the Israeli army, with their machinery having been used for the demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories, the building of the Separation Wall and many other instances to further Israeli imperialism.

If like us you believe that as a society we should be using our public funds for good then there is plenty that you can do. The best thing to do is to write to your councillors, there are a few campaign groups that make it very easy for you: Time to Divest and Friends of the Earth Scotland both have draft emails that you can automatically send. Councillors are people just like us, so feel free to draft your own email or go to see them at your local surgeries. Together we can succeed.




Dan Hutchison is Glasgow and West of Scotland Young Greens co-convenor and a fervent Green Party activist. You can follow Dan on Twitter @Danhutchison_.

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