Ahead of the RISE conference, Jonathon Shafi welcomes the prospect of ‘a parliament shaped by the voices of the independence movement at its best’. The upcoming Holyrood election will be strikingly different from others before it. Why? Because it comes just twenty months after the biggest mass movement in Scottish history, the Yes campaign, and it provides that movement with a major test. Has grassroots energy shaken the greyness from Scottish politics forever? Or are we retreating into SNP vs Labour tribalism?
The General Election was an early sign that things really had shifted: the SNP demolished Labour and left the Better Together parties with just one MP each. And recent polls for 2016 confirmed again that a new order is crystallising: there will be another SNP majority, with a feeble Labour opposition, flanked by the Tories and a handful of Greens.
Of course superficially, that’s simply a repeat of the result last time in 2011. But there is one major difference. The SNP’s electoral supremacy is so complete that all recent polls show a consistent pattern: the party can almost certainly win the Scottish election on the constituency seats alone.
Once we embrace this fact, the Scottish elections could suddenly become very interesting. For independence supporters, voting SNP twice becomes counter-productive to maximising independence MSPs. If this realisation dawns quickly enough, it opens real space for challengers from beyond the traditional SNP v Labour divide. A pluralistic Yes parliament becomes a genuine possibility: a Yes parliament that truly reflects the movement of movements in 2014. Such diversity would liven up Scottish politics in general, and bolster the movement for independence in particular.
It could mean a parliament shaped by the voices of the independence movement at its best. It would have MSPs rooted in the social movements, on a workers’ wage, promoting credible socialist policies that could be implemented right now. Those MSPs would link Holyrood with the international anti-austerity and anti-war movement and generate a new approach to politics that connects elected representatives with extra parliamentary popular movements.
That’s the appeal that RISE: Scotland’s Left Alliance will be making. RISE has brought together socialists, anti-poverty campaigners, trade unionists, environmentalists, academics and cultural figures to stand for Holyrood on the second vote.
People often complain that the radicalism of the independence movement isn’t reflected in a grey-suited, complacent parliament. If that’s your view, 2016 is your opportunity. RISE is making a concrete offer: redistribution of wealth from rich to poor, democratic public ownership, putting communities and workplaces in charge of their lives through participatory democracy, 100 percent opposition to war and for an independent Scottish republic.
But it’s more than this. RISE also offers a new approach to policy-making, rooted in grassroots community engagement. We’ve learned important lessons from the referendum’s DIY spirit, and from leftist parties abroad. Now we’re putting it into practice.
The alternative to The pro-independence left would be a disproportionate Scottish Labour success on the regional lists. 50 percent of voters plan to use their second vote for SNP; as things stand, that will yield 6 MSPs. Labour, as things stand, will take 33 MSPs from 25 percent of the vote.
Wise voters will consider that statistic carefully. If the only party holding SNP to account is Labour, the policy and intellectual debate in Scottish politics will stagnate. We need a broader parliament, with fresh ideas about how Scotland can meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.
RISE exists to provide a countervailing pressure. We back the SNP’s goal of independence: indeed, we’re for a fuller independence than they’re willing to contemplate. But a strong RISE will also give the SNP’s new radicals the energy and the ideas they need to ensure their party stands up to frackers, landlords, NATO and so on.
Indeed as fracking and land reform prove, the SNP is still attempting to skirt the divide between protest and power. Some within the leadership prefer a decades-long, glacial-paced movement to independence, where the party stays permanently in power by blaming everything on Tory Westminster. And if the main opposition is Labour, the temptation to sit permanently in government and to form a new micro-establishment could become irresistible.
That’s why a second vote for RISE is a vote for heart and for head. It’s a vote for pluralism and it’s a vote for a new consensus where radicalism sets the agenda. We want to show that Scotland’s public opinion has matured, and that tribalism has given way to serious critique. As Scotland misses climate change targets, the global situation deteriorates and as the rich get richer, radical politics is sensible politics. Investment over waste, sharing over greed, the needs of the poor over the needs of big business; these are the values of 21st Century socialism under which we’ll stand in 2016.
This Saturday will see the first ever democratic conference (previewed here) where RISE will formally debate and pass policy, agree structures. Since the launch on August 29th this year the focus has been on developing infrastructure, a solid activist base and a coalition of supporters. Soon the candidates and the policies will be in place. Local Circles across the country are ready to go – and we will be utilising technology to maximise organisational capacities to deliver daily activism. As soon as 2016 hits all energies will be on campaigning – in communities, workplaces and campuses – as the gears shift to what will be an intensive and exciting election campaign.