Notes from the Armadillo
I’m still feeling inspired and raw with emotion after the RIC conference.
Inspired if a bit hazy on detail.
Before Saturday I thought Podemos was a toilet disinfectant and Syriza was a Ottolenghi baking ingredient. But that’s okay – I get the sense of direction and a unity of purpose. In fact the overwhelming difference in the new Scottish left is that, despite the reputation of endless splitting the new movement seems to be able to cope with and even embrace real difference and diversity.
That’s a genuine new development and possibly the result of the fact that this movement is a unity between the post-ideological youth and the tired-of-ideology Old Guard. Mutual respect makes that a potent combination.
Of the bits I got to, here’s what was memorable.
In the Mass Forum Robin McAlpine was a hugely inspirational figure, alongside the colossus that is Lesley Riddoch. The man beside me said “she’s fully earthed”. He wasn’t being New Agey – he was commenting on the fact that this movement is grounded, rooted in actual campaign and community experience. Yes it has theory it can draw on but in a way that is allied to and connected with something called ‘the real world’.
In this vein James Meadway and the Living Rent Campaign were great. Paul Holleran from the NUJ brought some detail and insight to the media debates which are too often distorted as if they are about ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. Hillary Wainwright brought twenty years of print publishing experience from England, while Angela Haggerty looks like a safe bet to make the Common Space a bright place. From Wales Angharad Tomos was deeply moving with the notion that “in order for the Welsh language to survive everything must change” and a lucid picture of how capitalism can’t cope with cultural diversity instead pushing relentlessly for a commodified monoculture. Mike Small’s notion of a ‘Fifth Estate’ of wired journalists seemed to have a lot more clout to it than the other media models I’ve heard recently, and his idea of the choice between ‘active Scottish citizens rather than passive British subjects’ has stuck with me. Adam Ramsay brought the Green message to life and the opportunity for pan-UK ‘creative political disruption’ suddenly seems like a true prospect in a way it never did before.
The standout for me though was Bernadette McAliskey who gave a stark warning against sending anyone to Westminster who didn’t have a true sense of the potential corrupting influences of ‘British democracy’ in them.
Her heartfelt appeal against the possibilities for co-optation by the Westminster Club was alongside a salute to the Yes movement for ‘reclaiming the notion of self-determination’ and said it was a movement which had scared Sinn Fein out of its wits with its model of transparency, openness and pluralism.
She said “A nation without a language is a nation without a soul. You’ve salvaged your soul but you need to remember you have a language too”.
Wise words in a sea of experience-based, hard-won political wisdom.
If the likes of McAliskey and Tariq Ali were political ballast, there was enough airy idealism to float the auditorium, and that’s no bad thing. If Cat Boyd and Alan Bissett are in danger of becoming the Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark of the new Clydesiders, there are enough cynics, sceptics and dark realists about to offset any overdose of naiveté.
The event was a tremendous muddle of slick organisation and quasi Situationist dreaming. It was breathtaking, brilliant and a springboard to relaunch the whole Yes movement. There’s no doubt that the energy generated could re-ignite the movement. The problem, and it does remain a problem, is how it relates to the Boyzone event next door.
Three questions remain (too) hazy for me:
What is the SNP’s plan for re-entering Westminster? What strategy do they have beyond ‘holding feet to the fire’ (which, in this weather sounds quite appealing).
What is the Scottish Green Party (the only political force capable of remotely splitting any vote) going to do at the General Election?
What prospects are there for the Scottish Left Project about which so much of the weekend was based on, but we heard so little from?
I could only see and hear glimpses on Saturday but these were the questions I left with.