(photos in this article are from THIS photo essay I did in September 2013)
I was pro-Irish independence when I lived in County Down for 27 years. I never supported any paramilitary group- I believe strongly, that the paramilitaries set politics and community relations in Ireland back generations- hearts are still hardened by the loss of family members by those who took up arms on both sides since the 80s (and believe me, I understand the subtleties of who was "worse" than the other- I knew people who carried out horrendous acts for their "cause." Acts I hope are seared into their eyelids and haunt them at all times) - that stance changed for a while when I read Militant Tendency's view-but I think that was more to do with me trying to justify my family/community I grew up with. My Northern Irish community- largely unionist/Protestant, means a lot to me- the people I grew up with were working class, strong people, a lot of whom said cringeworthy, self defeating things (and I am sure I said cringeworthy things in the past- though I always seemed at odds with sectarianism- I always had catholic friends). I learned a huge amount about my community's place in the world through my nationalist/republican/catholic friends. I admire what has been achieved in Northern Ireland through talking and listening and through forums that bring opposing programmes together. And I fully believe somewhere in the future the people across Ireland will steer their own future in a settlement that benefits the poor and working class on the whole island.
My pro- independence stance has always been about fairness. About ensuring democracy was real, informed and not gerrymandered. And about people taking charge of how their resources are shared; how their labour makes their lives better; how informed democracy devolved to the smallest unit ensures people can protect themselves from exploitation and manipulation.
When I first came to Scotland- 1993, I had a friend who lived in Sighthill, Glasgow. I stayed there often over a period of two years. The neglect of that community at that time shocked me. Walking through Glasgow shocked me.
I understand that Glasgow had moved a long way from the poverty of just twenty years before- but comparatively speaking- the poverty left by Thatcher - the joblessness, the hopelessness around Glasgow, to me, was tangible. It was different than anywhere I had spent time in around the UK. The hopelessness was etched in faces; scored into paint and stone; growing out of the cracks in the abandoned industrial heartlands. In my time here, I saw wonderfully intelligent, witty, interesting people reduced to shadows through drink and drugs. I couldn't understand why the Scottish independence movement was not stronger at the time- the poverty and homelessness in Glasgow was like nothing I'd seen elsewhere in the uk, perhaps with the exception of mid-late eighties London, when I used to go there a lot. And journeys across Scotland taught me that it was a wealthy country- oil/industry and huge swathes of unused land. Comparatively, homelessness in Belfast had been more or less eradicated (though, of course, poverty had not), and Northern Irish politics had created a hopeful, positive attitude within the anti imperialist working class communities. Culture was vibrant and an outward global identity, proud. Scottish culture was not that. It was about decay, defeat, poverty, the kale yard, the crumbling industrial heartlands, drugs, violence. Many worked hard to change this identity problem- and we are on an upward curve nowadays, thanks to the new pride in history, culture and shared purpose of the past few years.
|Allan Grogan of Labour For Independence|
During the 2000's I became involved with pro-independence left groups. Within the left, these groups were almost ridiculed as fringe. The Scottish Socialist Party was pro- independence, but the debate within the party was continually about how important (or how unimportant) that stance was. The forces that eventually created RIC, and the left indyref movement (The SSP, The Greens stance, Solidarity, the SWP, the ISG, the CWI/SP etc) were mostly made up of the same people who only a few years before were saying "independence is not important/ independence splits the working class."
When the SNP announced the referendum, some of these organisations continued to debate. Some of us immediately, wholeheartedly began to build the working class argument. (My first article for the Huffington Post was on independence and is here-
Our want for independence was not a selfish, flag waving nationalism. It was not steeped in "Scotland for the Scottish" rhetoric. It was not a tartanry or blood and soil, swear allegiance to the St. Andrew's Cross belief. In fact, when we began to work with the SNP on the streets, doorsteps and at public meetings, we clashed over our "no borders, rise with your class" message. I remember standing, late at night, debating outside a local town hall, with an SNP right winger over the internationalist message Green organiser, Ross Greer had given to the audience. The right wing of the SNP just did not get the fact our pro-independence stance was not about creating borders and changing ownership of our wealth from London based billionaires to Edinburgh based billionaires.
|Colin Fox and Allan McCombes (who first designed the pro-independence vehicle that became the SSP)|
Eventually, the left bloc within the independence movement was joined by other voices, who in varying degrees had been persuaded the breaking up of the imperialist Westminster run UK would be beneficial for the world. The degrees of involvement ran from "this is a great recruiting tool" through to people who had genuinely changed their analysis.
Of course, we lost the referendum. Though in my opinion, we won the first main stage. We won 45% of people- a huge swathe of them working class, fair minded folk, to the cause of a fairer democracy and a fairer redistribution of wealth.
Perhaps we didn't persuade all SNP members; we didn't persuade all socialists- but a massive population were persuaded by our left, internationalist view.
Of course, as I say, this is stage one. We have a huge platform from which to build for stage two, launch it and win.
|The Triad parties of Yes Scotland...|
I have one problem with how representatives of the left have conducted themselves since the referendum.
#Indyref2 is a cornerstone to Rise/SSP's May election manifesto. A reasonable demand. One few disagree with. My problem with it is the collective loss of memory. The left during indyref1 did not just call for "Yes." We called for A Better Scotland, taking its place to help create a Better World. And all of our memes, leaflets, statements to the press etc reflected that. Our slogans were not an empty "vote for the Saltire," they were about why voting for a better democracy would benefit us all.
In the aftermath of the independence referendum, the left, made up of people who once opposed independence are now seemingly, trying to out "indyref" the nationalists. The calls for a new referendum as soon as possible, are not grounded in real analysis, or policy beyond getting list votes in the Scottish Election in May. This has hugely let the left down. It has actually created an adversarial atmosphere within the independence movement rather than the original stance of the left of "independence is a great idea- this is why," that persuaded so many in the lead up to September 2014.
|Lining up for the wonderful Margo...|
"Taking the fight to the SNP," as Colin Fox, leader of the Scottish Socialist Party said at the first Rise conference, has been the most damaging policy the one time Radical Independence Campaign spokespeople/ leadership have created. Of course the SNP should be challenged- but post indyref, when many socialist and left minded folk joined them because of OUR message- attacking those who in time could be persuaded into a mass left party is really unwise. We can of course say, "we aren't attacking socialists," but as I have said in a previous post, attacking organisations is now actually attacking the identity of many newly politicised people.
So what should the left do in this very strange new political landscape?
I believe rather than closing doors and pointing fingers, we should be creating real space (and time) for dialogue. Cobbling together organisations to attack former allies has been a disaster (though that analysis will, of course, be denied until post May). The SSP should have continued to fight as the SSP -a cornerstone in the triad that made up Yes Scotland- for at least this election, while the other groups who came to independence later, should have continued dialogue with the SSP, to develop RIC- which when indyref2 does come around, will be a much more influential vehicle than it was first time around.
That's what should have happened. Instead, the players decided to build Rise- a vehicle that has been full of rancour because of how it was built. A vehicle that when floated in late 2014, some warned of how divisive it would be. That has proved correct. And post May, the SSP and Rise may divide into two separate entities.
|Eddie Reader leading a vibrant cultural movement within Scotland and Yes!|
There are many people who were involved in indyref on the left, post May, who will have no where to go. Rise nor the SSP will be attractive. Labour, even with Corbyn in the driving seat is unattractive in Scotland, given the fact that the Scottish Labour leadership are the very people who would knife their Westminster leader in the back. The corrupt Sheridan vehicle, Solidarity, at last is dead. The left sects are dead- the SWP is a shadow of its former disrupting self, as is the tiny CWI in Scotland.
The SSP is unattractive because of its predominantly male and undemocratic nature. Rise has created too many enemies online with the extraordinary nature of the conversations it smashes into on Facebook, Twitter and in forums (and because of its "taking the fight to the SNP message).
Calling for indyref 2 as an attack on the SNP, is not a vote winner, nor a mature political stance. "We need independence from tax evaders and people who have indebted councils in PFI schemes," etc is. All on the left in the SNP, Greens, the now disbanded Labour for Independence would agree.
Taking the fight to the many many working class socialists who joined the SNP has got to be the biggest suicide note since Ratner called his jewellery "crap."
Independence from the Billionaire elite who impose Trident; who create tax free cash mountains abroad; who make our children pay for capitalist greed; who send our young poor people out to other countries to kill other young poor people; who crush the very souls of the vulnerable and disabled and abandoned...
The Radical Independence Coalition/Campaign- an open forum now active in communities across Scotland, but largely abandoned by the "faces" of the left, can build the confidence of the crucial working class bloc towards their own Emancipation. Some of the (well meaning at times) Rise slogans are creating division, platforms for ambitions and are far from uniting the left. This was not the intention- but it is how it has played out. Many of those involved in its development did not get involved in the Yes coalition- and the dislike from some of those influencing its public statements of the SNP, is one as insidious -and misinformed- as that from Labour.
|The Radical Independence Movement - the future of the left in Scotland...|
Uniting the left will not be done by a political party this side of a second independence referendum. So the left need to have vehicles in which to influence the nature of the future campaign and the nature of the independence the people of Scotland and the world, needs. Socialists have chosen to do that enmasse within the SNP -and small numbers of them have decided to do that in the Greens, the SSP or as the tiny Rise.
None of these organisations will unite the left. So all of the left need a neutral ground. Those who built that wonderful neutral ground abandoned it for political ambition. It's time to climb down and help unite the left independence movement, not smash it apart again.
After election fever, the left needs to reboot its effort on building RIC as a place in which we can all work together.