4243835b-5bd1-443d-832b-d7de79d7146aForgive me if what has seemed little to you, to me is all – Jose Saramago

You don’t know me. I have no media profile or powerful connections, I’m simply an activist, one of a multitude. My activism has primarily been within the SNP, a party I joined many years ago, partly out of disgust at what the Labour Party had become and partly out of a realisation that any opportunity for transformative change required the dismantling of the British state. The SNP were imperfect, a compromise, but also a vehicle towards carving out that independent space for a different type of politics, a space which already began to emerge during the referendum.

Throughout that campaign the SNP was but a constituent part of the broader Yes movement and it was exposed to critical voices from within, but those voices have long since faded into the ether and recently along with other activists within the party I became concerned that in the absence of any real critique, the SNP vehicle has the potential to develop first and second class carriages, the former reserved for a new political elite and the latter for everyone else. That’s not my politics and not what I believe many of us campaigned for last year and it should provoke serious reflection amongst pro-independence activists, particularly on the left, about the destination of that vehicle.

I believe many activists who will have recently joined the party following the Yes campaign will be surprised at how easily its structures can become shackles and how almost everything in Scottish politics has been disrupted by the Yes campaign except for those shackles. That is not to dismiss the importance of having structures, but structures should be used to facilitate debate not constrain it, or worse still, discipline and punish it. Now, with the emergence of RISE – Scotland’s Left Alliance, many on the left within the SNP will soon reach a crossroads: do they continue to battle the structures of an old party or build from scratch the structures of a new one? Such statements may be condemned as divisive, but along with others I learned both during and after the Yes campaign that my politics are divided from those who are comfortable within NATO, equivocal over TTIP, indifferent to the effects of a council tax freeze, ambivalent on fracking, and averse to letting go of serious decision making from central government to local communities. Some may resort to dismissing such criticism as ‘SNP-bashing’. I don’t blame them; it’s far easier to deflect such criticism than it is to defend those positions either in a public debate or on the doorstep whilst insisting that you are left wing.

A few former colleagues may also accuse people like me of ‘splitting’ the Yes movement. Instead they should recall campaigning last year with fellow activists who were candidly explaining on doorsteps across Scotland that a vote for independence was not a vote for the SNP. That’s because it wasn’t. Instead it was a vote that told the British state: ‘enough’. Enough of your austerity, your inequality, your stigmatisation of the poor, enough of your illegal wars and nuclear weapons. For many of us, an independent Scotland was and remains a space for democracy and equality to become something we’re good at doing, not just something we’re good at talking about. An independent Scotland loses all of its promise of radical change if it begins to look like offering nothing more than Westminster with a human face. That is why a new left alliance is so crucial, it provides activists with an opportunity to again become agents of change by building an electoral challenge based on the glimpse of real democracy experienced during the referendum where open debate and critical thinking were prized and politics belonged to everyone rather than a chosen few.

It has become a cliché to state that the referendum has transformed the political discourse and even our relationship with different forms of media which reproduces those discourses. Now imagine how it can transform Holyrood. Imagine that the opposition to the SNP in that chamber is not a broken, disorientated and decimated Labour Party, but a vibrant, motivated, pro-independence, left alliance who can offer an outlet for many of us in the very communities abandoned by the Labour Party in Scotland.

It has become a cliché to state that the referendum has transformed the political discourse and even our relationship with different forms of media which reproduces those discourses. Now imagine how it can transform Holyrood. Imagine that the opposition to the SNP in that chamber is not a broken, disorientated and decimated Labour Party, but a vibrant, motivated, pro-independence, left alliance who can offer an outlet for many of us in the very communities abandoned by the Labour Party in Scotland.

I respect and sympathise with those who, for good reasons, reject the notion that a parliamentary challenge is evidence of real democracy. However if we inject our ideas into the everyday practices of the Scottish Parliament we deny those who don’t share our vision a monopoly in the so called corridors of power. A parliamentary platform can actually be used to emphasise that parliamentary politics is but one expression of real democracy alongside the direct action of a constellation of movements who align themselves with the common purpose of building an independent Scotland which reflects the future we imagined during the Yes campaign.

Such ideas will naturally draw critical responses and these are welcome, but too often in recent months a tiny but vocal minority have sought to silence any criticism of the SNP and its strategy, by telling many of us to ‘be patient’ and put our faith in leaders who ‘know what they’re doing’. This is a curious development considering that throughout the referendum we were actively encouraging people to think critically about power and leadership. In fact, those who were very active during the Yes campaign will readily tell you that the best strategies were not devised by ‘experts’ in Hope Street but by activists in the housing schemes and high streets across Scotland. I can think of no greater deterrent against independence than the prospect of a country where criticising politicians is frowned upon or worse, regarded as disloyal. On the contrary, the existence of a vibrant, active and critical pro-independence opposition in Holyrood can only help convince those who voted No that an independent Scotland will be a plural, open and transparent democracy where all voices are treated with respect and heard as equals.

Therefore the task of building an independent Scotland and a new electoral alliance could soon become inextricable for many on the left, who will recognise an opportunity to build something from the bottom up, a grassroots organisation for grassroots activists which is capable of being self-critical. We cannot be naïve about the challenges that building such an organisation will bring or underestimate the scale of the task at hand, but to leave it to one party to solely determine the journey towards a future independent Scotland is a strategy pregnant with failure.

It hasn’t been easy but this is the conclusion I’ve now reached and I hope others still inside the SNP do so as well. Our exit need not lead to friction, it can be accomplished without fanfare or commotion, thus depriving the opponents of independence any opportunity to make political capital of this change. Our transition can then be characterised for what it really is: a leftwards tilt of the political kaleidoscope which introduces new shapes and colours to the imagining of another Scotland.

The opportunity has arrived to open up a new front in the struggle to build that independent space for another politics and we must embrace it, because our demand for a Scotland of real democracy will not be delivered by carefully crafted rhetoric or fiscal calculation, it will be realised by the fearless speech, the weary legs and the calloused hands of the activists and it is the activists who can be the driving force of RISE – Scotland’s Left Alliance.

RISE stands for:

  • Respect: We stand for a society where we end racism, sexism, discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and where people of all backgrounds, colours and creeds are treated with respect and dignity.
  • Independence: We stand for Independence for Scotland. But our Independence is based on ending neoliberalism, austerity and the membership of NATO. We are for ending the monarchy and putting people in charge.
  • Socialism: We are for a social alternative to capitalism where people run the affairs of our society democratically and where the vast resources of society are utilised in common, rather than for the super-rich.
  • Environmentalism: We believe that environmentalism must be central to social change. Our world is being destroyed by the ruthless pursuit of profit over everything else. Sustainable ecology – where we maximise our enormous renewable energy potential to power Scotland – at the heart of a radical vision for change.
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