RIC Spring Conference

The Radical Independence Campaign held its Spring Conference in Edinburgh on Saturday, 10th March. The conference was designed as one where the Left could take a strategic overview of the situation the Scottish Independence Movement is in. Over a hundred and twenty attended and the level of discussion was very good.

When IndyRef1 was launched in 2012 Yes campaigners were in the driving seat. The initiative had come from the Scottish government, and the UK government was constantly put on the back foot in the run-up to September 18th, 2014. Starting with 28%, support for independence rose to 45%. RIC was particularly pleased with the contribution we made to voter registration in the housing schemes long abandoned by the mainstream parties. The 85% voter participation was truly historic. The massive engagement of people throughout Scotland amounted to a ‘democratic revolution’. In some ways the defeat felt more like a victory for Yes campaigners, and more like a defeat for Cameron’s government. The SNP’s landslide victory in the 2015 general election seemed to underscore this.

Cameron’s next attempt to shore up the existing UK set-up was to concede another referendum, this time over continued EU membership. The outcome has made things far more uncertain. After losing to the Brexiteers, the UK government has lost all coherence. Their options for UK survival in an increasingly crisis-ridden world include a ‘cake and eat it’ deal with the EU, a free trade agreement with Trump and the former the White colonies (as advocated by CANZUK), and becoming an offshore finance and tax haven – a North Atlantic Singapore. These options range from the unlikely, through the highly damaging, to pure fantasy based on a nostalgic vision of Empire 2.

Compared with 2012-14, it is this situation of uncertainty that marks the situation the Scottish Independence Movement finds itself in. Although the Scottish Independence Convention’s Bridges to Indy event, held last November, was an impressive event and there is continued local campaigning going on, the Yes Movement no longer holds the initiative. We are having to react to a world dominated by events beyond out immediate control. Furthermore, the Tories, they are not in control of the wider situation their actions have contributed to. These include the rise of the unpredictable Trump and the populist and far right in Europe. Neither do they hold a strong hand in the negotiations with the EU. And beyond these, there is the prospect of growing confrontation with Putin’s Russia, whilst Trump wants to step up the pressure on China.

Two of the Conference sessions approached this situation from different perspectives. The first one directly dealt with Brexit. Maggie Chapman, co-convenor of the Scottish Greens, whilst criticising aspects of the EU, placed her emphasis on the move to the Right brought about by Brexit. This had led to mounting attacks on migrants, and the Tory government’s wish to remove what EU protections exist in order to open the UK up to free trade with the USA and China. In contrast, Neil Davidson of RS21 attacked the EU as a neo-liberal entity less democratic than the UK. He said that the EU set-up represented a realisation of von Hayek’s desire to have a democratically unaccountable body in overall control of the economy in order to eliminate political debate. He also feared that if Brexit was denied this would fuel the Far Right.

The second session examined the current state of the Scottish Independence Movement. We were pleased that David Jamieson of Commonspace was able to stand in at the last moment for Jonathon Shafi of RIC, who was unable to attend. David put a lot of emphasis on the wider political constraints we confront. A lot of Yes campaigners want IndyRef2 as soon as possible, but it is highly unlikely, even if the Scottish Parliament voted for one, that the current British government would concede one now.

The second speaker in this session, Lesley Riddoch, journalist and indefatigable campaigner, agreed that things were unpredictable, but this meant that a surprise opening for Scottish independence could arise at any time. She also went through the historical example of the Norwegian independence campaign, emphasising how important grassroots organising was. She pointed to the future meetings that were being organised at a local level.

RIC was aware of the controversial nature of the third session, which addressed the impact of the rise of Corbyn upon Scottish politics. Rory Scothorne, who was part of the Roch Winds Collective during IndyRef1, is now a member of the Labour Party, the Young Socialists and Momentum. Rory was not uncritical of the Labour Party, but said that it is no longer the party of Tony Blair, or that which signed up to Better Together. Many young people have joined and are active over issues on the ground, such as the Fair Rents and Living Wage campaigns. These also involve RIC members. He thought that these were areas where we could work together.

Tommy Sheppard, SNP MP for East Edinburgh, said that he welcomed the rise of Corbyn in England. He was also quite happy to work with Labour on specific issues. However, he criticised Richard Leonard’s tribalism and his attacks on the SNP government for not delivering reforms, which they did not have the powers to do, and which Labour had voted against. A debate needed to take place about the nature of the UK, and whether this provided an adequate framework for the sort of reforms we needed.

Cat Boyd, speaking for RIC, said that in many ways the rise of Corbyn in England was the political equivalent of the Yes movement in Scotland. It drew in similar people. However, the fact that so many had already been drawn into the Yes movement in Scotland limited the impact of Corbyn here. Although we shared many economic and social aims, Cat said that the strength of the Yes movement is that it provides a critique of the UK state, which Corbyn does not.

The last session looked to the international situation we face. George Kerevan SNP gave an account of the situation in Catalunya. He particularly emphasised the grassroots nature of the campaign. He also said that there had been some divergence between the social movements and the campaign to conduct the Catalan independence referendum, which tended to undermine their potential. Only the Popular Unity Candidacy emphasised the importance of this link. George also thought that the Catalan leaders should have been more prepared for the outcome, and not retreated to Brussels, in the naive belief they would get official EU support. He also pointed to the links and lessons to be drawn for Scotland. As in Spain, the current British government is very unlikely to concede an independence referendum.

We were pleased that Gerry Carroll, the People before Profit MLA at the currently suspended Stormont, was able to step in when Bernadette McAliskey was unable to attend. She sent her warm greetings. Gerry took us through the situation both North and South. PBP also has TDs in Dublin. Ireland has become a very changed place. Few people would have thought that Ireland (except for the North of course!) would have been the first place in these islands to vote for gay marriage. The campaign to abolish Clause 8 of the Irish constitution, which illegalises abortion, is now to the forefront of campaigning. Ireland is still suffering from the impact of the austerity measures imposed by the EU. Austerity is also a major issue in the North, which PBP has emphasised. The Irish language issue has proved to be a major issue leading to the suspension of Stormont. This underscored the narrow thinking behind the Unionist vision of who belonged.

The speakers and the RIC chairs, James Foley from Dumfries, Myshelle Haywood from Aberdeen, Stewart Fairweather from Dundee and Frances Curran from Glasgow, contributed to the open and friendly nature of the day. All those speaking from the floor entered into the spirit of the meeting.

There were practical outcomes too. RIC will be asking people to support the Hands Off Our Parliament – Hands Around Holyrood demonstration at the Scottish Parliament on Friday, March 23rd from 10am. This is being organised to protest at the UK government’s attempted seizure of already devolved powers following Brexit.

The Campaign for a European Republican Socialist Party had a stall, which called for the Scottish Parliament to hold a ratification referendum over the terms of the Tory Brexit, and not leave it in the hands of Theresa May or Westminster.

The Democratic Left had a stall promoting Neal Ascherson’s new pamphlet, Tom Nairn – ‘Painting Nationalism Red?’ Nairn has been a pivotal figure on the Left, both in relation to Scottish independence and the EU.

There were other stalls from the SSP, Pensioners for Independence and the Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition, whilst cards were given out to send to the Catalan political prisoners.

The conference was recorded by Independence Live and their full coverage can be seen at:-

http://independencelive.net/event/1211

RIC will be providing its own edited version and there will be a link posted here.

For RIC thorough discussions and debate are vital to the activities of the movements for Scottish self-determination and social justice. Our members and supporters will be seen in all these campaigns. We don’t wait for a line handed down by leaders, but encourage all to take part, because that is the sort of Scotland we want to create. We remain Scottish internationalists arguing that Another Scotland Is Possible, Another Europe Is Possible, and Another World Is Possible.

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  1. Steve Freeman says:

    To add, the campaign for a European republican socialist party ran a mock referendum. They raised the demand that one of the key means of getting Scotland’s democratic movement back on track was the demand that the Scottish people should have the right to ratify or reject the Tory Brexit deal being imposed on Scotland. The ballot had 58 people voting and 53 rejected the Tory deal (even though we don’t yet know the fine print) and 3 supported it and 1 abstention and 1 spoiled paper. If this was a sample of the whole nation the Tories would be in trouble in Scotland. The question is whether the national movement will fight to ensure the Scottish people have this right to vote.

  2. Frank says:

    I came away from RIC disappointed and of the view that the yes ‘movement’ no longer exists in any meaningful sense. The conference was dominated by the old left many of whom are lifelong Eurosceptics with nothing positive to say about Europe. I also sensed a lack of strategy about the way forward which led to a lazy politics of blaming everything on the SNP leadership and Nicola Sturgeon. Unlike the author of the article, I didn’t feel the level of discussion was particularly good and all too often the time allocated to speakers from the floor was significantly less than those speaking on the platform some of whom were invited to make second or third contributions which went on for about 10 minutes – this seems to be an endemic problem in left wing meetings.
    The only saving grace was Tommy Shepherd, who spoke well, and was of the few speakers (and also Lesley Riddoch) who provided a critique of the limitations of Corbynism and who actually made a case for independence in 2018.

    1. Willie says:

      During the referendum campaign the RIC were inspirational in their support for the Yes campaign.

      The left however, and this is not an attack on the left, have an unerring habit of creating division.

      A bit like the Presbyterian churches of old they disagree on points where agreement could, and should have been accommodated.

      We will have another referendum. The RIC are part of it as every other one of us is.

      Let’s make it a success and then we can get down to the detailed complexities of the democracy that so absolutely eludes us a present.

      Yes we can – and this interface is very much part of it to Editor!

      1. Hi Willie – I know the ‘Left create division’ is something people like to say a lot, but what was (and is) remarkable about much of the actual contemporary left in Scotland is that this isn’t true. The RIC event described here is a good example of a united group sharing different perspectives.

        What’s the problem?

        As for the idea that you can have a content-free campaign where you say nothing about the future you are trying to build, I see that repeated again and again but I find it an almost extraordinarily stupid suggestion and I wonder if the people who say it actually believe it themselves?

        1. John Burrows says:

          Much as I agree that we should all engage in a free wheeling discussion on the shape of a future Independent Scotland, we should not be naïve. The UK state continues to bring to bare all of the tools available to it to oppose the proposition. We must be careful not to give that state the means to create division within the Yes movement. They will exploit it ruthlessly – pardon the pun.

          Even today, we see evidence of our fractious nature. Factional infighting between our warring tribes has erupted again. This time over the decision by Common Space to lend their site as a platform for bitter opponents of independence.

          Much as I admire the intent of pro-independence online platforms to be fair to our opponents, there is no indication that they are inclined to reciprocate. This was a tactical error that is likely to diminish the reach of Common Space. A tragedy given the dearth of media platforms available to the Yes movement as a whole. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It would be a catastrophic error not to recognize this.

          Like all nations, the Scots are tribal in nature – in our case clannish might be the more appropriate term. It behooves us all to be temperate in our discussions, to avoid being played by our opponents. They will be only too glad to fan the flames of division within the greater Yes movement, to the detriment of our cause. Discipline should be our watchword. We are fighting for our self determination – it should not be reduced to a philosophical discussion. Or a football match.

          For the Yes movement, independence is the goal. What we do with it is for all Scots to decide. But it must be attained first. If we accept the premise that the UK is the arbiter of our self determination, we don’t deserve it in the first place. We do not need to explain it to them. Only ourselves.

          Before the 2014 referendum, the publishing of the White Paper on an independent Scotland was a noble effort, but in the end misguided. It was not given a fair hearing. It was trashed by the UK Government/media and used by them to discredit the whole concept of independence. We must avoid treading this path again. It will only end the same way.

          There is sufficient ammunition available to discredit the premise of our continued membership of this United Kingdom. It is on this ground we should fight our battles. We should not be lured into discussing, or justifying, our theoretical future state by the media organs of a state which is determined to oppose it in the first place.

          If we allow the forces of Union to fight the battle on their terms, we’ll just end up shooting ourselves in the foot. Again.

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