Radical Indy Conference 08: Let’s plan for a Scottish Spring

Glass half full or half drunk?

by Jonathon Shafi, Conference Organiser

In just a few weeks, two contrasting visions of a Scottish future have taken shape.  In Lamont’s new order, Scotland will observe a diplomatic silence on nuclear weapons, human rights, and wars.  The social rights we took for granted in happier times will have to go, although means-tested vouchers will keep starvation at bay.  We will mock the monarchy and the old corruption in private.  But we won’t protest the old British regime.  Like naughty schoolboys at assembly, we will roll our eyes when nobody is watching.

On the bright side, we can modernise.  Scotland will hire expert consultants to revamp departments, and think tanks will produce glossy reports on how to adapt to global competition.  We will compete as a regional economy of the UK.  In short, under Lamont, we will have business as usual: more of more of the same.  We can call this neo-Blairism.

The Scottish government finds itself to the left of Lamont on every issue.  This was not by choice; it was Labour who moved right.  The Westminster establishment is using all its force to push Holyrood back into line.  They desire, most of all, to crush the case for independence.

Sadly, some of this pressure is paying off.  The SNP’s vote on NATO, under heavy duress, is a signal of this.  Britain wants to normalise the terms of independence.  They want to ensure that, in reality, there is no choice about the society we want to live in.  So they are intensifying pressure on the SNP, to make sure that the distance between the status quo and a Scottish future narrows to trivial contrasts of branding and consumer identities.

I do not think this is what the debate should be about.  I am not a nationalist, so my support for independence is not just a reflex.  I have taken all the factors into consideration.  But I can find no way in which the status quo in Britain is defensible.  I don’t want to glorify other European countries.  But in every league table of social justice, Britain is in the relegation zone.  All the values we cherish are threatened by the British state – and this applies across the globe.

Of course, I worry about dividing the British working class.  I am fully aware that the only rights worth having are those you can defend.  And trade unions are our last line of defence.  But I also think pro-Labour figures are misleading us here.  The British working class is already, by law, divided in the British state.  Thatcher’s anti-union laws made solidarity illegal.  Workers in Britain can only withdraw their labour to defend their own self-interest, narrowly defined.  This is a travesty of human rights.  And lavishing money on Labour governments did not change it one bit.

There is no way around this.  We need to confront the British state and its international alliances if we want to make things better for the majority in society.  However, breaking up the British state does not mean breaking the British unions.  That is a completely separate debate.  Cross-border unions are a great idea.  They already work between Britain and Ireland, and between America and Canada.  We need to weaken the militarist British state that stands for the interests of the elite.  And strengthen cross-border ties with English workers.  We can do both.

I am happy that the 2014 debate is full of subversive implications.  Our task is to act as a catalyst for all the awkward questions that the establishment wants to keep out of the debate.  What would it feel like to live in a country that supported Palestinian rights rather than subsidising Israeli apartheid?  How would it feel to be the first nation in the northern hemisphere to unilaterally scrap nuclear bombs?  Can we use our resources for social need, not private profit, and act as a beacon to progressives in England, Wales, and beyond?  With the right organisation, we can ensure this is all in the mix.  If we fail, the agenda for independence will be set by think tanks, “security experts”, and lazy pundits.

This is why I have got involved in calling the Radical Independence Conference.  It is about keeping the space for a different Scotland alive.  I want to ensure that we can challenge consensus politics in words and in action.  That means bringing the radical energy of the protest movements into the discourse of 2014.

I am not pessimistic about the polls.  Yes, things have gone against us in the last twelve months.  But things can change.  52 percent of Scots will vote for independence if they believe the next Westminster government will be Tory or Con-Dem.  Clearly, there are still illusions in Labour.  And yet Scottish Labour, in its neo-Blairite phase, is still getting hammered, even in mid-term.  There is a lot of space to convince people.  If Lamont’s vision is the status quo, then things can only get better: really.

But this all means we’ve got work to do.  I don’t want to tell you how to run the campaign for independence.  But I think there is a consensus that we need to keep the spirit of autonomy alive.  I hope we can agree that this referendum should mark the beginning of a new democratic politics in Scotland.  It might seem like autumn right now.  But I hope this conference is the start of a Scottish spring.

* * *

Times and details for all the Radical Indy Conference sessions, including Jonathon’s, can be found here.

Tickets can be bought here.



Categories: New Scotland

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7 replies

  1. Here’s a scenario that might reassure the ‘Labour’ Party about their unspoken terror that if they support independence, they will never get into power in England again…
    An independent Scotland becomes the society we want it to be – thriving, supportive, green, energetic, anti-nuclear, non-aligned, socially-integrated (and so on). Down south, people see what we have and they say “yes, please; us too, please”. They may then (in the absence of anything better) turn to the labour party to help them achieve it…
    In other words, independence is not abandoning them to their fates. Providing a good example for the people of England is the best way of empowering them to rise out of the mire they have allowed themselves to be dragged into.
    The very act of discussing what the state is ‘for’ allows other versions of society to become available; versions other than the non-choice between the UK parties discussing how much pain they are willing to inflict on the population. That’s good for every people, every country.

  2. Afraid my eyes began to glaze over when I read the comments about British Trade Unions. My personal experience of Trade Unions are they are corrupt and self serving businesses who merely pay lip service to the rights of workers. Take for example, Britain’s largest Trade Union, Unite. They have a legal advice helpline for all personal legal problems, except for Employment Law, which happens to be their main reason for being “the protection of workers Rights”. So, any problem at all you can get advice about, except for problems with your employer. Oh and I could go on and on about British Trade Unions and I would be hard pressed to report a positive aspect at all.

    Personally I believe that the very concept of Trade Unionism in the UK is in dire need of complete reform. That cannot, or will not, occur under the present Westminster rule, but there is hope that reform may happen under Independent Scottish rule. I can but hope, but when I read comments of United UK Trade Unions? I despair!

  3. No name for Shetland the mind boggles!

  4. There is nothing the left in Scotland likes more than crying; ‘betrayal.’
    This article does it vis a vis Johann Lamont. There is no suggestion that there might be merit in her proposals; that the policy of universal benefits and a council tax freeze for J K Rowling and Fred Goodwin might not be the best use of limited resources. Johann Lamont says that giving more money to millionaires – even millionaires who are Labour Party donors – is not a sensible idea. Of course, she may be wrong. Perhaps what the voters want is somebody who will ‘confront the British state.’ My money is on Johann.

  5. florian albert,

    Assuming that J K Rowling and Fred Godwin pay their taxes, then it seems that setting up an entire bureaucracy to stop them from reclaiming what would be a fleabite of the taxes that each of them has paid is a very expensive sledgehammer to crack an unprofitable nut.

    Joanne Lamont, and by extension you, cut at the very idea of universality, which, I suspect is something that most Scots hold rather dear.

    Best of luck with your bet, I think it may become confetti in autumn 2014.

  6. I know the Radical Independence Conference isn’t a party, and it doesn’t have party policies, but there is one area where I think something definite should come out of the RIC, and that area is with regard to Trident and nuclear weapons generally.

    We should say that an independent Scotland ought to state publicly, to the entire world, that it is opposed to all nuclear weapons, everywhere, and considers that the process of getting rid of them, without any pre-conditions or negotiations, ought to start everywhere. We should say that an independent Scotland ought to announce publicly, to the entire world, that it regards the presence of Trident and other nuclear weapons on our soil and in our waters as a breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We should say that we require these weapons to be either removed or rendered inoperable within three months; and that, even if rendered inoperable within that time, we still require their removal.

    In practice, removal within 3 months might be a tall order. The Trident submarines are enormous, lumbering boats which are only designed to be in very deep water – and they HAVE been known to get stuck on a sandbank before now, and had to wait, high and dry, until they could be re-floated on a higher tide. Quite frankly, if they were moved, there would be a gigantic problem about where to put them. In practice, as it is unlikely the rump UK could find a suitable place in England or Wales, their next trip might be to the breakers’ yard. But even that could take longer than 3 months to arrange.

    HOWEVER, rendering the weapons of mass destruction in-operable could be done within days, and would be only be the first step; removal of the leviathans which have no other purpose than to launch the weapons of mass destruction would still be required, and preparations for moving them should still be going ahead.

    Rendering nuclear weapons inoperable is a very simple procedure, one which the technicians concerned carry out on a regular basis anyway, when they are servicing the weapons. It really could be done within days, so 3 months is loads of time.

    Scotland would get the enthusiastic support of people in every country of the world for such a principled stand, so much so that it would be very difficult for the Westminster government to refuse. A simple statement to the entire world that they had in fact “de-fused” the warheads would do AS A FIRST STEP.

    Render the weapons of mass destruction un-usable. Tell the entire world that you have rendered them un-usable. In telling the entire world that you have rendered them un-usable, you remove the threat of their use. At present, not even “first use” of nuclear weapons is ruled out, but it certainly would be if you render them unusable and tell the whole world you’ve done so.

    It might be objected that a statement from the MOD saying the warheads had been “defused”, would be meaningless. But it wouldn’t be.

    For one thing, merely making such a statement undermines the whole idea of “nuclear deterrence”. For a nuclear “deterrent” to be believable, folk have to think you’ve got one, a working one, AND that you’re mad enough to use it, possibly even in a “first strike”. If you yourself cast grave doubt on your possession of such a use-able weapon of mass destruction, then the theory of “nuclear deterrence” is undermined.

    For another thing, although the statement would have to come initially from the MOD in London, it would have to be verified. There are ways and means of verifying such statements. When Saddam Hussein claimed Iraq didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction, and the United Nations wanted to verify this, they were able to get together a group of “experts” to do so. As we all know the Iraq War went ahead anyway, based on false claims made by Blair and Bush, but that’s another story; the point is, it is possible to assemble a group of “experts” to verify whether what has been claimed is true.

    Even Scotland alone, never mind the entire international community, has enough folk who know about such things to verify the weapons of mass destruction are inoperable. But it would probably be good to have some international confirmation nevertheless.

    Although this process would require a proclamation by the government of an independent Scotland, there would be a role for direct action by the public. For example, through demonstrations demanding the rUK comply with the order for removal or defusing; and through blocking the narrow roads around Faslane to ensure no re-supplying of the Trident fleet can take place – only removal.

    I will be at the Radical Independence Conference. I will be taking part in the workshop on Nuclear weapons, NATO, and foreign policy. The above is what I am going to put forward.

  7. It may be romantic but I would like to hear a P-I discourse at the conference What would a post independence Scottish Labour Party put into its manifesto/ What new post-party formations will be created?
    What kind of genuine engagement will take place with the new post-16 voters? How do we cope with ‘seperate nationalist impulses’ and international solidarities ‘ across the silences of the other’ (Stuart Hall)?

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