Tonight at 7pm the first Nuit Debout Night Assembly will take place in Glasgow's George Square. Loosely translated as “night on our feet” or “rise up at night”, the concept of Nuit Debout is explained by graffiti by the Seine saying: “We would rather be on our feet at night than on our knees during the day.”

Less a protest than a constructive coming together to explore alternatives to austerity, corporate greed and racism, this “convergence of struggles” began with the first assembly in Paris on March 31 and has since spread to more than 60 nightly events across Europe.In Britain, Nuit

Debout assembly groups have sprung up in London, Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester ahead of an international day of action on May 15.Tonight is the first in Scotland. 


A social movement with no leaders, Nuit Debout began as an outgrowth of recent weeks of protests in France against a highly-contested labour reform bill which waters down the rights of employees and trade unions.

These demonstrations are currently ongoing, with security forces firing tear gas and stun grenades at protesters in Paris's Place de la Republique on Friday.

Chris Fear, a young trade unionist and LGBT+ activist, was inspired by the spontaneous 'night stands' attended by thousands following the demonstrations.

Fear, who lived in Bristol before moving to Glasgow a few years ago, says: “Instead of just melting away after the group of protesters decided to stay in the Place de la République in Paris, and hold an assembly throughout the night where they debated and came up with alternatives to the system they lived under.

People were actually doing something.”“It was direct democracy in action and seemed to have achieved that mythical thing— it had brought together a diverse range of people and groups on the left and actually got them working together.Greek artist, academic and left activist Sophia Lycouris has also followed the movement since its first assembly in Paris. 

She was also present at the first British Nuit Debout in London on April 16.“It was scheduled to happen in Trafalgar Square but this was impossible due to a big demonstration against Cameron and austerity that took place on that day,” she explains. “Some of the demonstrators started to walk towards

Downing Street. And then suddenly some people came out of that group with megaphones and started the London Assembly opposite to Downing Street.”Lycouris, whose films from that day are on her Northern Channel on mobile content site Bambuser, says the London group have continued to hold night assemblies across from the PM's residence since. 


The assemblies, Fear and Lycouris say, are an attempt to forge alternatives to a socio-economic system now veering from disaster to impasse, and a form of resistance to austerity, environmental destruction and the response to the refugee crisis.“A fundamental change in our system of government has never been more necessary,” says Fear.

“For the first time in a nearly a century, millions of people have to rely on charity and food banks to feed their children. We have the environment being threatened by climate change— all because the people who profit from the system we live under are struggling to make an ever-increasing profit. If unrestrained capitalism is the answer to all of society’s problems, then it definitely isn’t working.”

Lycouris, who has lived in Scotland since 2007, believes a “clash of some sort is unavoidable” unless the privileged elite share their wealth and power with the rest of society. She hopes peaceful movements such as Nuit Debout will be the start of making such vital changes.“We can’t stick with old methods if they don’t work, we have to experiment with new approaches and take risks,” she says. “The world changes every minute these days, and we should be able to adjust quickly.” 


To prevent the concentration of power and to foster solidarity and collaboration between disparate groups and individuals, Nuit Debout is a movement without leaders.

Instead, it uses a consensus model where no decision is made without agreement of everyone in the group.“Different ideas must find common ground,” says Fear, who explains that majority votes are made only rarely. “Every person, group and organisation who attends the assembly is treated equally. Whether you’re on your own or in a group, your voice has as much power as that of everyone else and will not be vetoed. Why shouldn’t everybody who’s involved have an equal share in the movement and be considered a leader?”

To critics who say that only hierarchical models are effective in making concrete decisions and guarding against chaos, Nuit Debout would point to the success of the consensus model in the 60-and-counting assemblies which have sprung up around Europe. Such a system, they say, ensures against the formation of cliques and elites, and makes for better decisions and implementation, as all participants have a stake in success.

Both Fear and Lycouris want the largest self-organised democratic organisations in western society – trade unions – to become involved with Nuit Debout.

Fear says: “In my opinion, they are becoming more relevant — not less. They have a constructive role to play in improving society. Nuit Debout presents a great opportunity for unions to adapt to the twenty-first century. People in the Glasgow Assembly may not agree though. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Having no leaders does not mean there are no rules. Each assembly has a facilitator whose role it is to ensure speakers keep to allotted times and that everyone is treated with respect. In addition, there may be working groups focusing on specific issues, and open mic sessions to encourage everyone who wishes to contribute.

“The Nuit Debout wave cannot wait for the Scottish elections to be out of the way,” says Lycouris, who notes that the election presents a challenge to numbers tonight as many who may have otherwise attended will be out canvassing.

Based on direct rather than representative democracy, the movement is not about getting politicians elected to office, despite Lycouris standing for Rise on the Lothians list.

Instead, it's a social movement bringing together different professions, outlooks, organisations and individuals. She says: “The unity or convergence of the left can happen in more than one ways. We can have an electoral alliance for this purpose, but in most cases a social movement works even better.“This is why the role of Radical Independence Campaign was so important in the Scottish referendum. In this sense, we are even keener to keep Nuit Debout Glasgow outside any party frameworks because this will offer a new opportunity for a stronger and deeper convergence of the left.

“We are not an a-political movement. We need the principles of left thinking to help us understand what is happening in the world, but we don’t want to act for the benefit of any political party.” 


Though both activists support Scottish independence - Lycouris worked for citizen livestream group Independence Live – this is not from a nationalist standpoint.

Rather, they believe independence would be detrimental to international capitalism and the opportunity to create a fairer, more responsible and more responsive society.

Both also reject the argument of independence harming solidarity between the working people of the UK's nations.“I actually think it would strengthen it,” says Fear. “It would help to focus the efforts of activists in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

“I have not heard of an instance in which the British state helped different groups of working class people in Scotland and England maintain links,” affirms Lycouris. “This is really an argument that makes no sense at all”.

To those who may feel more comfortable staying in for a flick through Anthony McGann's Logic of Democracy than heading out at night to talk with a group of strangers, Fear and Lycouris reassure that speakers are not judged on their abilities or ideas (Lycouris notes that using a megaphone can help boost confidence) and that all those with a willingness to cooperate are welcome.

“The idea at the heart of Nuit Debout is ‘La Convergence Des Luttes’— the coming together of struggles, “says Fear. “In this spirit, everyone is welcome. Formal and non-formal organisations are welcome to get involved in assemblies as long as they come with an open mind, in a spirit of cooperation and they’re willing to work together.”

The choice of George Square for Nuit Debout's first Scottish assembly is not simply about the ease of access to the main public area in the centre of the country's biggest city. It's also about reclaiming public space in an era of increased privatisation, and a nod to the Square's tradition of grassroots protest, from the Battle of George Square in 1919 to the independence and anti-racism rallies of today.

“It’s a place of celebration and reflection —somewhere where people have talked about the present and the future and debated how to make change,” says Fear, who believes the appetite for “democratic renewal” in Scotland after the 2014 vote is genuine.

“[The idea of] independence has inspired working people by showing them that they have as much right to decide their futures as the MPs who govern us,” Fear says.“It's shown us that wanting change and imagining a fairer future is nothing to be ashamed of. It's shown us that wanting change and imagining a fairer future is nothing to be ashamed of. It's shown us the power communities can have when they come together.“To use one of our slogans, it's shown us that 'there is beauty in the future'.

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