I share the general agreement among most people who attended the Radical Independence Conference (RIC) that it was a very impressive event, both in terms of size and in the range and quality of the discussion. What was perhaps most exciting was the sense of an emerging new left which – on the evidence of contributions from the floor – is in many respects more radical than many speakers on the panels. It is always possible to point out areas of weakness, particularly in the relative lack of trade union input (on which more below); but these can be rectified and it would be the worst kind of sectarianism to focus on these aspects rather than the achievement represented by the conference.
RIC demonstrated the possibility for socialist support for independence. There is nothing to be gained, however, from pretending that this position is currently anything but a minority one within the Scottish working class. If RIC is to be more than a one-off event then it will have to develop into a movement, mobilising existing support and seeking to extend and deepen it within Scottish society. Working-class people are currently faced with a savage UK austerity programme, in which the SNP government has in practice been complicit. To persuade people under this level of attack to treat independence as anything other than a diversion from their daily struggle for survival will require something other than lofty but abstract declarations about the self-determination or the virtues of republican government. (Especially since we note that one republic, close by, allows women to die for want of an abortion, while another, more distant, shoots down striking mineworkers; and both Ireland and South Africa had considerably more radical national movements than Scotland.)
There is nothing to be gained from pretending that support for independence is currently anything but a minority position within the Scottish working class
Part of the difficulty here is that there are no guarantees that independence would necessarily improve the conditions of the 99 per cent. The only thing which would inevitably occur is a crisis for the Rest of the UK in relation to its position within the imperialist state system, which is obviously something that socialists should welcome. Other than that – as I said on the democracy panel at RIC – independence represents a space of possibility, but one which could be filled with a continuation either of the neoliberal project or the beginning of a break to the left. (Although even here we have to stress ‘beginning’ – socialism in one country is no more plausible in Scotland than it was in Russia.)
Working alongside Yes Scotland and existing pro-independence groups where possible is obviously necessary. But one distinct way forward for RIC might therefore be to draw up objectives which Yes Scotland will not touch – removal of Trident, repeal of the anti-trade union laws, abolition of student fees for non-Scots; the list will suggest itself – which we want to see achieved by independence but, crucially, which we fight for now as part of the campaign. Participation in the Scrap Trident Weekend of action (13-15 April) is an opportunity to do so. Fighting for the kind of independence we want has two advantages. First, within the unions it would undercut the currently influential arguments of a trade union bureaucracy which is fixated on further devolution as a means of preserving their UK-wide structures (and those of the Labour Party). Second, it would mean that there was an agreed set of issues which local groups aligning themselves to RIC could sign up to. The key is to treat the struggle for independence not as an alternative to the struggle against neoliberal austerity and Western imperialism, but as part of it.
Neil Davidson teaches sociology at the University of Strathclyde and is on the Socialist Workers Party’s Scottish Steering Committee. His most recent book is How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions?
The majority of Westminster Tory cuts are still to be truly felt. But from this year onwards it’ll all become a lot more real and immediate as people start to be unable to pay their rent, are forced to sign on while they’re working to receive Universal Credit, and we see the poor being made internal refugees within the UK as they are forced to migrate from the south of England to cheaper areas of the country.
There’s nothing automatic that says a situation where people are being hammered economically means they will turn to resistance. It’s just as possible folk will want to keep their head down and try and survive. For anything good to come out of it requires a collective response.
That’s why over the next two years the independence debate must hear the voices of Scots on low and middle incomes being devastated by the cuts to benefits. And independence activists must be prominent now in addressing these issues – telling people threatened with workfare how to avoid it, or spreading the word on Black Triangle’s campaign to get exemption from work capability assessments for example.
That means being present in communities, speaking to people in their own terms and addressing the issues that are current in their life now. It means that independence can be won through organising our communities, and that it’s only if people see a link with what’s happening right now that they will vote for it. Local groups should be about doing politics where you live, making small gains that make you and your neighbours feel like collective action gets results. If independence is won through organising our communities, the majority of Scots will then be well placed to win concessions that lead to better, longer happier lives from the new state.
The debate about welfare and unemployment conducted at Westminster treats paid employment as the greatest virtue in life to be pursued against anything else, and the unemployed as people with a moral defect. Organising against that means we challenge the idea that employment for a wage is the only valid way of making a contribution to society.
RIC can explore real alternatives to austerity and failing attempts to capture economic growth through socially harmful and useless activities. How instead can we get people free to do work they would want to do that would help the community? And if there are ways to make that possible, like making use of common good resources, locally producing food or energy or people occupying and taking control of resources themselves, what’s to stop us doing that now as a prefigurative example of how we would push an independent Scotland in a truly radical direction?
To do this we must radically democratise Scottish society through and beyond independence. One thing that can distinctively mark us out from the SNP’s agenda is that they have been Scottish centralists. In contrast, at RIC we heard about the potential of participatory budgets and direct democracy. We should argue that independence should mean real democracy, with communities holding real power over their own destiny. Scotland for too long has been a place blighted by hierarchical patronage and autocratic decision making. If we’re going to stand a chance of living well through climate change and capitalism entering its senile phase, a lot depends on the next two years!
Jack Ferguson is the former organiser of Scottish Socialist Youth, and currently works as a community organiser with Unite the Union. He is writing in a personal capacity.
When Scots speak of Scotland, she is defined as feminine and her land is shown respect. From Burns’ muse Coila to the iconic familiarity of her proud description as ‘Bonnie’, Scotland is described and embodied by her landscapes whilst escaping the imperial and patriarchal pitfalls of being called ‘motherland’ or ‘fatherland.’
The RIC brought together the warp and weft of the independence movement, in a loosely woven form, to find common threads for a future Scotland which can unfankle the abuse of unionism (e.g. Trident) and weave a civic society and a nation state in which we are actors within an evolving new constitutional script and no longer subjects in an imperial, dying fantasy. No wonder Scotland has produced the analyst of psychological knots, R. D. Laing and the schizoid characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of Robert Louis Stevenson when the message of unionism is that you will be punished if you do not collude in your own inferiority and dependence. This game is up.
Rigid defences lead both to nuclear bombs and ideological ‘shouty shouty’ folk infantilised by powerlessness who then oppress others.
The extent to which the radical independence movement fully involves and listens to women will determine its future success. Women have experience of leaving abusive relationships; their expertise on violence, war and all matters domestic and economic is vital to the future wellbeing of Scotland. The common causes of self-determination, poverty, social justice, land reform and nuclear disarmament held folk together in a new narrative of possibilities, acknowledging differences and alternatives and outlining areas for new thinking and learning.
When your country has no power to look after itself the way it wishes, then the rage at this external locus of control, anger at the inferiorist discourse projected onto Scotland, the lack of control we have over her batterings from nuclear armed bullies (depleted uranium fired at her shores, nuclear weapons convoys) could too easily result in the reproduction of patriarchal forms of discourse and dogmatic political structures. Rigid defences lead both to nuclear bombs and ideological ‘shouty shouty’ folk infantilised by powerlessness who then oppress others. The independence movement is organic and has already moved beyond this in its diversity and strategies for engagement.
Scotland’s women, the Women for Independence group and the peace movement in Scotland can play a significant part and contribution to a mature, nonviolent approach to direct action, democratic enquiry and peaceful nation building for a future independent Scotland.
The energy in unionism is inherently toxic and inert. In psychology, Gregory Bateson’s term of ‘the double bind’ is useful to understand this impossible contradiction (you are strong in a union/you are too wee and poor in the union to survive). Unionist discourse and fear tactics will inevitably develop more punishing threats and reveal more absurd cognitive dissonances between Scotland and Westminster that an implosion on the faultline between Lanarkshire and London seems inevitable.
The psychological energy of the independence movement is healthy, transformative, unfolding and diverse, affirms self-confidence and nurtures imaginative hope. The convergence of the wisdom and civic experience of the peace movement from Scottish CND to Trident Ploughshares, the continuing contribution of women in the independence conversation which will broaden and deepen connections with place, and the creative development of many groups and offshoots of the Yes campaign already, will ensure that the independence movement is healthy, robust, sustainable, renewing and enduring. The moment is now and we are here.
Lorna J. Waite is a writer and researcher, Gaelic learner, peace activist and member of the Women for Independence group
In ‘The Meaning of Sarkozy’, the French philosopher Alain Badiou argues that Sarkozy’s victory represented the rise of fear at the ballot box: fear of immigrants, fear of trade-unionists, fear of the Burka, fear of the youths in the Paris banlieues, fear of anything that wasn’t the ‘French Way’ represented by the establishment and its elite. In practise, appeals to Frenchness were implicitly Anglo-American; Sarkozy lavished praise on the free-market credentials of the UK as a stick to beat those ‘out-dated’ French commitments such as a pension at sixty and rights for young people at work.
What of the official opposition to Sarkozy? Badiou described Ségolène Royale and the Socialist Party as no more than ‘fear of fear’: the worst vestiges of the Right’s attack on the welfare state should be opposed, whilst the overall neoliberal architecture should be defended. Royale offered a softer free-market capitalism, one with the rough edges taken off. But in a choice between fear and the fear of fear, voters plunged for the real deal: Sarkozy at least appeared committed to right-wing values, whereas Royale looked ambiguous and opportunist.
With this in mind, the meaning of the 2014 independence referendum is currently shaping up in a remarkably similar way: fear versus the fear of fear. The No camp’s attitude is that a scare story a day keeps independence away. Frighten people into the belief that meltdown will ensue if Scotland becomes independent and they will be convinced to stick with what they’ve got, which is very little indeed (this I will return to).
The SNP is countering by saying that the No camp are lying, very little will change, in fact the only thing that will change is that we will make sure the things you really like, like the NHS, will not be taking away by the right like it is at Westminster. Systemic breaks with the status quo have been eliminated, such is the reasoning for the SNP’s controversial switch to support for NATO. The idea is to show that Scotland would be part of the overall global furniture, just a nice ‘positive’ part of it. The ‘fear of fear’ indeed.
But the meaning of 2014 is not yet written in stone. The Radical Independence Conference in November has created the potential for a third meaning which could overcome the narrative of fear versus the fear of fear: the idea that ‘Another Scotland is possible’. This takes its spirit from the anti-capitalist movement and necessarily contains within it the idea of systemic rupture with the status quo through a change in statehood. The narrative is easy to see and it gives the left a chance to catch up the ground it’s lost around the economic crisis.
What is this viable Left narrative that we can stand on a soapbox in Buchanan Street and appeal to the Scottish people with? To begin with it sounds much like a typical left critique of the Tories, something like this: ‘The bankers caused the crisis yet the answer of our politicians in Westminster was to prop them up with taxpayers money to the tune of billions of pounds. Those same politicians then had the nerve to ask us to pay back this money by cutting our jobs, slashing our wages and taking away our schools and hospitals. They told us that by making this sacrifice we would be rewarded by a boom in the economy, that corporations would start investing again and the’ trickle down’ effect would bring us all back to prosperity. In reality all it has done is made the crisis worse, made the majority of us poorer whilst making the rich richer. It’s Thatcher 2.0: class war by the rich against the rest of us.’
The left’s role until October 2014 should be to invoke a sense of hope; the last thing the consciousness of Scottish people needs is a thorough-going critique of the limits of independence and the enduring power of capitalist ideology
But what motivates the critique, what gives it energy, is that independence can appear as a credible avenue for the alternative: ‘Scottish independence is a chance to break with Westminster, break with the bankers in the City of London, break with Thatcher’s party of the rich. The No campaign tell you that we’re Better Together: are we really better together with David Cameron as our Prime Minister? Are we really Better Together when energy companies make billions of pounds of profit whilst pensioners freeze to death because they can’t afford the heating bills? Are we really Better Together when our economy Is based entirely around the City of London and the banking sector whilst we are still suffering from Thatcher’s deindustrialisation in Scotland? Another Scotland is possible, one that empowers us to fight for a people’s Scotland. Independence isn’t a magic wand that will solve all our problems overnight, but it gives us a fighting chance to solve them. Westminster has been failing us for decades, why would we keep putting our hopes in a political system that has done so little address the concerns of ordinary people in Scotland and so much to address every need and desire of their financial backers in the City? Vote Yes because it gives us a chance for real social change, not just tinkering around the edges, a change in the system that we are governed by so that we have a Scotland the represents the values we believe in: equality, respect, welfare, justice, real democracy and rights at work.’
This is the sort of message that the RIC has to get out to every town and City in Scotland. Some will no doubt be muttering to themselves that I am completely naïve to believe that those sorts of systemic changes can be achieved through independence. To be honest they are formally correct, it is a naïve narrative, but naivety is needed to challenge the narrative of ‘fear versus the fear of fear’. The left’s role until October 2014 should be to invoke a sense of hope; the last thing the consciousness of Scottish people needs is a thorough-going critique of the limits of independence and the enduring power of capitalist ideology and the capitalist state. There will be plenty of time for sobriety post-independence. For now, that will motivate no one. It won’t change the meaning of 2014 one iota.
RIC can make 2014 mean a rupture with the status quo if we get to work: we have to do it through every avenue we can: through media stunts, through community meetings, through YouTube videos, through the three days of action against Trident in April, through debates on university campuses, through open top buses with banners and megaphones, through voter registration drives in deprived communities – anywhere where we can get people to listen to a radical pro-Yes message. The conference brought together the sort of coalition that can make this happen; now we have to prove we are worth our salt.
Ben Wray is a member of the Internatioanl Socialist Group – www.internationalsocialist.org.uk