On the March

The maneuverings for a route to independence have in recent times seemed dark and twisted, with too many obstacles in the way. Many activists report burnout and disillusionment: with the movement, with their party (various) or with politics in general. But there’s room for some optimism as Britain staggers to No Deal.

I’ve been a friendly critic of the AUOB marches, but you can’t fail to be impressed by getting 200,000 people on the streets of Edinburgh last weekend. This was a significant moment. I remember through the late 80s and 90s marches of 20 or 30 thousand would be thought of as significant political events. I can only really think of the Make Poverty History March in 2005 (estimated at 225,000) and the huge Iraq war march in Glasgow in 2003 as anything comparable. The scale of these marches may well be an indication of, as Jonathan Shafi has put it: “a new phase of the independence movement”.

There are still real problems with the marches: I’m not convinced they are the mechanism or forum that really engages with many new people; and the speakers list seems tired, predictable and off-putting to a section of people (sorry that’s just true). But what was once deemed a negative may actually be a positive.

For a while now there’s been calls for Nicola Sturgeon to address one of the big rallies. But this distance from the SNP might actually be a positive thing. These marches are organic, self-organised and independent. They are an expression of the grassroots movement that at its best is a rejection of the values and policies being foisted on us through Westminster and through the toxic Leave campaign. They need (in my view) to be more innovative, more deliberately open and more expressly political. But the hysterical reaction of the Unionist commentators, that these marches don’t really exist, or they’re insignificant, or they’re a ‘twitter day out’ (insert your own conspiracy theory here) suggest that they are rattled.

At the same time – a crucial lesson from 2014 was don’t be fooled by the phenomenon. In other words don’t be fooled that you’re experience of being in an intense personal experience – be it a rally or a march or a concert – is reflective of other peoples experience.

It’s into this space that RIC re-emerges with a major conference planned for next month: ‘A Failed State in a Failed System: Time for Radical Independence’ RIC National Conference 2019 [Saturday 26/10/19 – Glasgow, Radisson Blu Hotel – Tickets available here].

As the blurb goes: “As the crisis of the British State continues to grow, it is vital that the independence movement debates the best way forward. How can we meet both the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead? Covering issues including strategy and tactics for the independence movement, the Growth Commission, Brexit and the EU, the democratic crisis, austerity, racism and the climate emergency – RIC 2019 will be an chance to discuss how we can rise to the challenges of the 21st Century. The full timetable will be announced soon.”

Speakers include grassroots campaigners, authors, broadcasters, academics, international guests and activists.

Provisional speaker list:

Clara Pontasi, Catalan economist and the National’s person of the year
Tariq Ali, legendary author and activist
Lesley Riddoch, broadcaster, columnist, author of Blossom
Robin McAlpine, CommonWeal
Aamer Anwar, human rights lawyer
Cat Boyd, RIC Co-founder
Chris Stephens MP, SNP
Ross Greer MSP, Scottish Greens
Emil Carr, Youth Climate Strike
Holly Rigby, Abolish Eton Campaign
Debora Kayembe, human rights lawyer
Suki Sangha, Trade union activist and anti-racist campaigner
George KerevanNational columnist and ex-SNP MP
Jonathon Shafi, RIC co-founder
Cathy Milligan, Women Against Capitalism
Adam Ramsay, Co-editor, OpenDemocracy
Sean Baillie, Living Rent Organiser (PC)
Natália Urban, Resist Brasil
Henry Bell, Author, John MacLean biography

What is notable about this event, as with previous RIC happenings, is it is international and cross-cutting across political movements, attempting to draw lessons and energy from the climate strike, from the feminist movement, from the anti-racist movement, from the housing campaigns and from sister movements for democracy such as in Catalonia.

It’s important not to be dragged under by the convulsions of the Brexit shambles, and instead be able to cohere a case for independence based on a vision of what kind of society we want to live in and what kind of Scotland we want to create. ‘A Failed State in a Failed System‘ offers an opportunity for expressing solidarity in times of alienation, (re) creating and re-booting a movement in need of a re-charge and sharing ideas for strategies to win.

Comments (13)

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  1. William Thomson says:

    Agree with you Mike. The big Edinburgh march is proving to be a useful tool in countering the idea that “no one wants” independence. Maybe this number of voters doesn’t scare unionists, but certainly this number of activists does!

    These events continue to get better but they still lack a few crucial elements to make them really useful in helping us achieve independence. It is a shame the organisers are not really open to other views or support. It will continue to be a case of good but not great. A case of what could have been.

    1. Wul says:

      William: “These events continue to get better but they still lack a few crucial elements to make them really useful in helping us achieve independence.”

      What are these elements? What is missing in your view?

    2. W T Low says:

      Ruth Davidson and others have been beating the drum on the independence issue by saying that Scotland does not want another referendum on independence -True!!
      What we want is not another referendum, but independence itself. It would be perfectly valid for a majority government that had campaigned on the issue to resile from the treaty of union and declare our independence. There is plenty of precedent for this from other colonies. We could also refer to the Treaty of Arbroath and declare a republic, headed by someone of our choosing.
      The march in Edinburgh, and the marches in other locations demonstrate that at the grass roots, there is something stirring.
      We need the SNP and others to address some of the key unanswered questions from the last time,(currency, national bank etc.) and begin to campaign vociferously for independence.

      Bill

  2. Lena says:

    You have certainly been a critic of AUOB whether friendly or not is a judgement for the organisers. Of course you are entitled to your view these marches are not the way to win independence – para 2 – there is no one way (other than referendum.)

    The folk behind AUOB have played a blinder. Popularity of marches has grown. Smaller city/town marches will never reach the number achieved at Edinburgh but they are a highly visible symbol of the peoples’ voice. And they look stunning. They impress. They challenge people in the towns they visit to think about independence. The are a true cross-section of Scottish society, that is very clear to any of us who have participated in the marches. The feeling of belonging to something as meaningful and enjoyable as an AUOB is thrilling. Everyone is smiling and happy. The whole experience is one of optimism and sharing. Marchers are being active rather than your preferred involvement of supporters passively listening to selected speakers. That’s all very well but people taking to the streets will reach more folk than a few enthusiasts attending meetings. Marches also help keep indy supporters hopeful where any actual progress towards independence day still appears a helluva long way away.

    It is the people of Scotland who are pushing for indy not the handful of speakers you imply are the preferred way forward. They are a tiny group compared with the rest of us. This is our indy as well. Elitism and old political lefty tactics are not progressive and will not take the movement forward. Neighbours seeing neighbours out on the streets having a great time will influence more than any conference in a tiny corner of Scotland.

    1. I’m struggling to see where I argued for “your preferred involvement of supporters passively listening to selected speakers.”

      Can you point to where I did this? I said no such thing, so please withdraw that comment.

      “This is our indy as well.” What does that even mean?

    2. grafter says:

      Lena, with you 100% on your comments. Being visible and out in the streets is the best way forward to promote a drive for Scotland’s independence.

  3. James Robertson says:

    Clara Ponsatí, please!

  4. George Gunn says:

    I think what Lena was meaning is that it is the people of Scotland talking to each other, actively encouraging each other on, “Neighbours seeing neighbours” as she put it, that will deliver independence. The march on Saturday was a magnificent achievement of the people. The more marches, events, conferences we have the better. They want to shut us up. They will never shut us up.

    1. Maybe – I was making the point that the marches were very important, that’s why i said: “you can’t fail to be impressed by getting 200,000 people on the streets of Edinburgh last weekend. This was a significant moment.”

      and

      “The scale of these marches may well be an indication of, as Jonathan Shafi has put it: “a new phase of the independence movement”.

      1. Lena says:

        I’m back. George Gunn is right in his interpretation of what I wrote.

        You did praise the marchers but it seemed to me was done grudgingly – where you wrote “I’m not convinced they are the mechanism or forum that really engages with many new people; and the speakers list seems tired, predictable and off-putting to a section of people (sorry that’s just true).” Then you went on to raise the RIC conference which includes, presumably, a better bunch of speakers – that was my ref to elites.

        Speakers and movement leaders have their place but real change cannot take place without the rest of us. The rest of us turn out to marches – or some do. Being out on the streets will touch many in ways the committed turning up at a conference will not.

        1. The point I was trying (and failing) to make is that both approaches (and more) are needed, not that one was better than another. I can be both supportive and positive of the marches and critical to want them to be better?
          That is possible isn’t it?

  5. florian albert says:

    Mike Small wants the AUOB marchers to be more expressly political.
    I think that a big part of the attraction of AUOB is that it is – in some respects – not political. Seeing many of the demonstrators arriving at Waverley Station, it struck me how much they looked like fans heading for the rugby at Murrayfield.
    However, what is a strength today will probably be a weakness if Indyref2 comes along. Clear cut positions will have to be taken on the economy and on currency.
    The SNP – meaning Nicola Sturgeon – has ducked these problems for five years. No serious attempt has been made to widen the pro-independence coalition beyond what was insufficient in 2014. It is possible that everyone will fall into line but it is more likely that, when decisions are finally made, divisions will emerge just when they can be most damaging. The iron discipline which has been the hall mark of the SNP in recent times may well collapse just when it is most needed.
    Ultimately, AUOB may prove as ephemeral as Make Poverty History.

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