A renewed Radical Independence Campaign is necessary

In the years since the 2014 referendum, the political landscape has transformed. We’ve seen Brexit, the savage defenestration of Jeremy Corbyn, the mass mobilisations of the climate movement, the global rise of the far-right, a pair of full-fat Tory majorities and COVID’s many casualties. They illustrate how urgently we continue to need radical change and express the limitations of the political party, however cohesive and disciplined, as a unit of resistance.

The challenge we face has not changed. Britain is still absolutely fucked. Scotland is not any more radical, it is not independent, and the case for independence, in many ways, has taken steps backwards. The case for Britain has fallen further. We remain at a constitutional deadlock; half the nation supports independence, half continuing union.

In that time, the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) had slowly diminished. Structurally, its pieces and people folded into various electoral siloes and other challenges. From 2015, the RIC campaign’s largely unaccountable leadership was notable by disinterest, folding into roles in the RISE electoral project and finding other avenues when it failed to win seats. Local RIC meetings barely survived on tiny attendance figures.

Regressives in Yes

If the Alba Party has taught us anything, it’s that there is an audience within the independence movement for regressive politics. They conjure apolitical “supermajority” nonsense, “sex pest” hero-worship, shock-jockey media tactics, hatred of minorities and drape it in nationalist sentiment.

We need a distinct opposing pole, rooted in class politics, to demonstrate why independence is necessary and a clear lightning rod for community resistance and needs.

There’s an unfilled need for organised mass left-wing pro-independence politics in Scotland. To secure a referendum, win real community-led democracy, and remake a nation so that its riches benefit everyone equally. Winning these challenges and the strategy therein remain unsolved questions. The answers exist within all of us – not spoon-fed from party lines, pre-agreed doctrine needing a rubber-stamp or febrile electoral mandates.

Rude health

Therefore, I’m genuinely glad that Radical Independence is making a comeback. After a meeting in January shut down the existing national organisation, local groups have endured, and chosen to work towards rebuilding it from the ground up.

Even under COVID, the local Radical Independence groups have been a flurry of activity. Regular meetings, public events on drugs deaths, queer liberation, open discussions on Scottish independence (including Scottish Labour guests), mutual education and an entire republican sister wing has grown tremendously.

Compared to the post-2014 interregnum, local RIC is now in rude health. And it’s time to step it up.

Which communities have the most to benefit, the most to gain and the most to win and keep power in an independent Scotland? Those needs should be the roots of a renewed RIC, watered and nourished with solidarity. For hundreds of thousands of deprived Scots, independence is not just desired. Not just wanted. But it is needed.

Democracy’s home – from the original meaning of the word, people power – is in the street, the occupied building and the picket line. We’ve had a year of Zoom lock-ins and then bumped straight into an election. Working-class Scots badly need a grassroots coming together to connect and figure out the next steps together. In networking – the connections of people, places, causes, means, methods and tactics, and how those connections activate into action – any political conference proves its worth.

Remembering RIC

In 2012, the inaugural Radical Independence Conference in the Radisson Blu was my introduction to mass politics in Scotland. It was my first day of school, trying to figure out my place. Who was as new and apprehensive as me? Who were the old lags who’ve seen it all and willing to nurture and welcome newcomers? You’d see former and current MSPs working the crowd. And others you knew from Twitter. Others you could bum a smoke off, find an excuse to hear their stories, make friends and get to know one another.

The 2013 conference was even more prominent, filling the sweltering conference halls of the Marriot Hotel. And the 2014 post-referendum conference in the SECC, 100 metres from the SNP’s evangelical Nicola-as-First-Minister tour, was a defeated but defiant roar from the Clyde.

As actual political rallies, to energise the assembled, these conferences were hard to fault. The Radical Independence Conference organisers from the time should have our thanks for that, without reservation. Most new people from the time have formative memories, stories and speeches from them.

But it was the mass canvasses, the public meetings, the community organising that moved the needle towards independence. It was local groups that pulled that weight. At this level, the local groups have recognised the need for a renewed RIC conference in the face of a hard and sharp rightward, populist turn in Scottish politics.

Rebooting RIC

But the 2021 conference can’t be like the prior efforts. Under COVID restrictions, it’s hard to reproduce the mixture of defiance, excitement, apprehension, greeting old friends, commiserating, post-conference pub crawls. And regularly bumping into or stopping to chat with the varied people you’ll come to call friends and comrades in the broad and deep fight against the British state.

There will be none of the stalls or well-drilled cadres, flogging all manner of left-wing booklets, pamphlets, leaflets, tat, papers, stickers and enough badges to dangle anyone from a car crusher electromagnet.

I have a vision of what a renewed nationwide RIC can be – bootstrapped with a straightforward, stripped-down practical conference, with a mass of breakout rooms to feed into its national character, key battles and priorities.

It would be largely empty of top-table pep talks, bequeathed shopworn hackery and over-masticated analysis writ large. Ideally, it’s not going to be a place where political parties or sects can effectively cajole or recruit.

Skills training for all who want it should be there. Everyone can be an effective activist or leader in the community. Accountability is essential – regular checks and balances. We need welcoming environments, detailed minutes, simple balloting, de-escalation tactics and addressing uncomradely or derailing behaviour.

I want a RIC accountable to everyone who calls themselves comrades. It should not run by a secretive, unaccountable group who lose interest, allowing Scotland’s national space for pro-independence left activism to wither over the better part of five years.

How You Can Help

To make it run smoothly, even stripped down, that’s a lot of work. A reconvened RIC probably won’t have the sheer numbers or press panache from previous conferences after a year of doing politics via webcam. But that’s okay. Rather than pity the chair, or team who has to pull it all off, I’m going to help them where I can.

There has been a public appeal for input and volunteers. That door will be kept open.

If you want an independent socialist Scotland based on principles of equality, ecology, solidarity, generosity and class justice – you should have a home at the Radical Independence table. It belongs to all of us.

No matter your level of experience or skills, no matter the barriers you face, no matter your political traditions. If you come from a place of cooperation, we can meet that challenge together.

God only knows how a renewed RIC is going to pull it off. But I’m reminded of concise, poetic wisdom from a speculative fiction titan, Ursula K. Le Guin. “You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”

We might not be able to buy or make the revolution. Still, maybe we can create the space that lets others bring their revolutions, their fullest selves, and together we can all grow from it. And in so doing, seize the prize of a new nation.

With hard work, connected to a family of friends and comrades, we can win a better world. See you soon.

Staying in touch

There will be a conference website launched soon at https://ric.scot/

Interested in helping out? Drop [email protected] a line.

Or follow the social media: Twitter – @RIC_Scotland, Facebook: @RIC.Scotland


Comments (37)

Comments are closed.

  1. David McGill says:

    Good article Scott, and good news. Well done.

  2. Isobel Hunter says:

    It’s heartening to actually see a mention of the working class. It is a group that does not seem to warrant a mention by any other political entity. All call for more involvement of ‘minorities’ Like women ( really – a minority?) and numerous other groups which I won’t try to name as I can not keep up with the politically correct designations. I will watch your process with great interest and hope for your success.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Aye, ‘the working class’… How quaint!

      1. J Galt says:

        There is no “Working Class” and the Labour party died along with it.

        Yes, you have a lumpen proletariat – good luck “energising” that!

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          It continues to thrive as a subjective identity. According to the British Social Attitudes survey from the National Centre for Social Research, 57% of the UK population identifies as ‘working class’.

          But materially it has declined since the postmodern revolution. Less than 31% of the same population now occupy the same socio-economic classification that objectively defined ‘the working class’ in pre-revolutionary times. According to this classification, the working class was that class of people who are wholly dependent on their own labour for their means of subsistence. This excluded both those who derive benefit from capital and those who are dependent for their means of subsistence on private charity or the welfare state, both of which classes were viewed as ‘parasitical’ on the productivity of the working class.

        2. Papko says:

          “Lumpen” sums them up.

      2. Wul says:

        Colin Robinson,

        You appeared as “Pub Bore” disappeared. Did you pass each other in the lobby?

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          The latest denomination was suggested by Tom Ultuous. I thought I’d run with it for a while. I believe it’s the name of some character in a TV show.

        2. Tom Ultuous says:

          Colin drained the life out of Pub Bore.

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            If Scotland votes NO and Ireland votes YES disgruntled loyalists will be offered generous packages to relocate to the British colony of Scotland thus ensuring a unionist majority there until 1691. THE HORDES ARE COMING.

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            Jings! This reminds me of the anti-Irish agitation of bygone times, when the scare-narrative was that hordes of Irish migrants would swamp Scotland and undermine its constitutive values.

            Are you sure you want to go down that road, Tom?

          3. Tom Ultuous says:

            Colin, the Tories have dug themselves into a hole so deep there’s only two ways they can get out of it. Re-join the single market (political suicide) or rearrange the geography of the “UK”. If they agree to a Scottish independence referendum they’ll attempt to put some legal time limit (30-40 years?) on any future referendum. If there’s a NO vote and an Irish border poll takes place the state media propaganda machine will go into overdrive on the benefits of a united Ireland (which will totally contrast their Scottish independence coverage). Arlene Foster is already on record as saying she would move to England if reunification were to happen. Many more will feel exactly as she does. Do you really think they want them migrating to England’s green and pleasant land? Rich Hong-Kongers is one thing, slaves they’ve no further use for is quite another.

            They want shot of Ireland. They desperately want to hang on to Scotland.

          4. SleepingDog says:

            The end of Publius Borealis, Man of the Northern People?

          5. Time, the Deer says:

            I’m more inclined to think Pub Bore drained the life out of Colin Robinson, and is now using his body as a host organism to continue in his mission to eventually drain the will to live from us all.

          6. Colin Robinson says:

            You have grounds for thinking that the UK government is coming around to the idea of a united Ireland and the repatriation of the Ulster Scots, Tom? Or is this fantasy politics?

          7. Tom Ultuous says:

            The second Cumming has it on tape Colin.

  3. Hamish Scottie Dog says:

    Hatred of minorities? Which ones? I didn’t vote for Alba but never saw anything that suggests a hatred of minorities. In what way?

    1. Daniel Raphael says:

      Start with trans people, and the homophobes will follow right along. And that, for starters.

    2. PW says:

      The formation of the party itself was based on transphobia. Why has a group of ‘gender critical’ (transphobic) former SNP politicians defected to ALBA, when the party is led by a sex pest who is obviously not a feminist? Who, even if acquitted, has shown he does not respect even cis women’s feelings? Who is willing to work and ally with other macho bigots, such as Alex Arthur? Because the transphobia and the ‘no-nonsense’ right wing social attitudes are actually more front-and-centre, and more ideologically important for the party, than indeed independence or a so-called ‘supermajority’.

      If you can’t see the ALBA Party literally dripping in toxic bigoted right wing values, you aren’t looking hard enough, or are being deliberately obtuse. Take your pick.

      1. Hamish Scottie Dog says:

        Gosh. What a disrespectful response. Insult the questioner. Way to go. Boxer guy and your dismissal of a fellow human poster on this site apart I’d dispute your trans argument. Saying there are some specific areas where women need their sex based rights left uncompromised does not make one an anti trans bigot. Sadly such peoples’ views have been silenced and even those of us most tolerant and measured have been written off as bigots for daring to question this point. That’s a shame. And really not helpful. Thought police and 1984 spring to mind.

        1. PW says:

          Lol. Another socially conservative person misusing George Orwell yet again. 1984 was a critique of Stalinism and authoritarianism by the way, from a left perspective – Orwell would not have agreed with gender essentialism. He would have seen it for the bigoted and conservative metnality it is. Gender is fluid, and separate from sex (which is also fluid). ‘Sex-based rights’ is very literally a transphobic dogwhistle. Trans people present no threat whatsoever to womens’ spaces. Trans women ARE women, and trans men ARE men. I’m not arguing any further. It’s done and dusted. You can keep concern trolling if you want, but it won’t make your, again, socially conservative and essentialist ideas any more valid.

  4. Read the actual Alba Manifesto says:

    Re., Alba and its “hatred of minorities”(sic). If this refers to transgender people, for a wee bit of context, the Alba position is that the issue of the claims of women’s sex-based rights vis a vis, should be looked at through a Citizen’s Assembly. (I seem to remember Citizen’s Assemblies were a groovy-funky-trendy concept on the Scottish left around, and shortly after, 2014. ) The general idea being to facilitate a respectful and civilized dialogue productive of legitimacy, as opposed to ex officio pronouncements from Scotland’s own technocratic micro-elites centered around Bute House. This is very much in the spirit of Andy Wightman’s lament about the state of debate on the issue, I think.

    But oh well, he too was a bigot, and richly deserved his forced self-defenestration from the Greens. Of course.

    1. PW says:

      ‘Sex-based rights’, in and of itself, is a transphobic dogwhistle.

      1. Scott Macdonald says:

        Exactly. As does any language which predicates that predatory men will exploit self-declaration to access women-only spaces or gain advantage elsewhere.

        The language, by association, makes trans women the focus of blame for predatory men.

      2. Hamish Scottie Dog says:

        Really? What term would you use to describe this concept?

        1. PW says:

          I mean, gender is socially constructed and fluid. It’s separate from sex, and sex is also fluid. ‘Sex-based rights’ is an attempt to hammer home an essentialist premise of what a woman is. It’s a rigid and conservative understanding of both sex and gender, and is not feminist in the slightest. Trans women are women and trans men are men. The idea that trans women present a threat to cis women’s rights is bogus, and based on a false, hateful and bigoted premise that trans women are secretly just men in feminine clothes. Cis men will invade women’s spaces, as they have done in the past, regardless of whether trans women are allowed into cis women’s spaces. It’s literally a moral panic, based on hateful and right wing, conservative premises. Feminism is supposed to be left wing, inclusive, and ultimately based on abolishing gender and freeing the whole human races from its shackles.

          ‘Gender critical’ concerns are literally nothing to do with anything close to ‘liberation’ or ‘abolishing gender’ – they’re very much about continuing to reinforce rigid gender roles and gatekeep what it means to be a woman. They’re not valid concerns at all. They’re literally just bigoted and hateful ideas, and categorically NOT about ‘women’s rights’.

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            Spot on, PW. We used to call it in philosophy the ‘bifurcation fallacy’, a subcategory of the fallacies of presumption.

            Even the facts of biology must be viewed in light of the ontological, economic, social, and physiological context in which they occur. Nothing is exactly black and white. While male and female may be ‘given’ in nature, it’s we who make them ‘male’ and ‘female’.

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @PW, and yet that seems a very binary, well-defined and black-and-white view. If manhood and womanhood is entirely a matter of what goes on in somebody’s mind, how do we know what goes on their mind? And if it a minded disposition, surely it is as potentially changeable as, say, one’s identification with a political party? Brought up Conservative, dabbled with the Liberal Democrats, tactically voted Labour, coming round to SNP, but voting Green on lists… The trans stories I have heard tend to be about long process of uncertainty, self-discovery, sometimes multiple mind-changes, confusion (often lots of confusion), none of which fluidity matches this TW=W/TM=M ideological straightjacket. And if man/woman is all in the mind, where did these (presumably shared) concepts come from? An objective reality, perhaps?

          3. Colin Robinson says:

            But it’s not entirely a matter of what goes on in the mind, SD. (BTW the Cartesian ‘mind’/’matter’ dichotomy is another example of the bifurcation fallacy.) ‘Male’ and ‘female’ (and ‘trans’ and ‘cis’, for that matter) are constructed in a manifold linguistic context which includes ontological, economic, social, and physiological dimensions; they are produced historically, in other words, in and through our ongoing public discourse.

            This a big part of what we mean when we say that such discriminations are ‘non-essential’ or ‘existential’ and that the quiddities they discriminate (e.g. ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness’) are ‘non-absolute’ or ‘contingent’.

          4. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Robinson, if you talking historically, then look at the Tree of Life. It does not ascribe male/female to every human that lived, or to every species of life. But it does provide an objective male+female lineage to every human alive today:
            irrelevant of what was (or was not) going on in ‘public discourse’. We are what/who we are because male/female is not dependent on ideology.

          5. Colin Robinson says:

            ‘The tree of life’ is a metaphor and, as such, a product of our public discourse, which (among other things) structures the power relations that obtain between all those who participate in that discourse. (For the thinking behind this, see – for example – Don Cupitt, The Long Legged Fly: a Theology of Language and Desire.)

    2. Scott Macdonald says:

      I’ve written about the state of the discourse before.


      As well as the various statements its candidates have said, I did try reading the Alba manifesto. Less than 60 pages, 400 megabytes, and it made my computer freeze.

    3. Hamish Scottie Dog says:

      Agree. There seems to be a conflation, in the noisy beligerent thought police polarised side of the argument, of true right wing anti trans hatred and a sensible fair minded debate about how to give maximum rights and protection to trans women (Yes there’s a reason it’s so rarely about trans men) while at the same time not undermining (biological) womens’ rights (call them sex based if you dare….).

  5. florian albert says:

    Attempting to (re)launch a political party during an election which you are unable to participate in does not strike me as politically astute.
    Suggesting that a rival party, which includes among its best known members Jim Sillars, Kenny MacAskill and George Kerevan, is indulging in ‘hatred of minorities’ is bizarre.
    A party such as is being proposed by Scott Macdonald will be attractive only to political partisans of such fervour as to make the DUP look decadent.

    1. I dont think Scott is talking about a party

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