Radical Independence: Roundup and Review

Its now been a week since Radical Independence Conference was held, bringing together voices for independence from all over the country.  Trending on Twitter it was clear that this was a decisive moment. Mid-conference, during an interview with NorthSound Radio Alex Salmond, the SNP First Minister stated that he welcomed the conference – a comment that the SNP media office felt significant enough to put out a press release.  Hailed as a massive success by almost everyone who attended, it demonstrated that the left in Scotland is alive and healthy, if under-organised.  But hopefully the Radical Independence Campaign can give the left the focus and community that can facilitate a radical re-invigoration of the left

Bella Caledonia, probably one of the most influential blogs keeping the idea of radical independence alive through the difficult years following the fall out of the Sheridan affair and its aftermath, ran a series of articles exploring different aspects of independence and critical issues that the left must explore in the run up to the referendum.

First up was Robin McAlpine,  talking about the power of big money, and the need to wrestle Scotland from the London elite which runs Scotland in its interests, followed by Gregor Gall, exploring the risks inherent in allowing the SNP to dominate the independence narrative.  Isobel Lynsey highlighted the opportunities that Scottish independence provides as a means to rid ourselves of nuclear weapons and allegiance to NATO.  Benoit Renaud, drew links between the Scottish and the Quebec struggle for self-determination, particularly highlighting the need for vision for radical change that is demanded by society.   Jean Urquart, who had just resigned from the SNP over its decision to reverse its policy of NATO opposition chose Bella Caledonia to her announcement that she would be attending the Radical Independence Conference.  Robin McAlpine highlighted the need for us to take responsibility for our destiny, to demand that we are presented with the problems and devise our own solutions, rather than being spooned a version, that the Unionists insist that we are fed.  Nathan Sparkling highlighted the need for an independence narrative that promoted a journey towards free decision making, unhindered by pre-given assumptions – be that gender or constitutional, as part of a drive towards equality.  Jonathon Shafi, conference organiser, was next up – demanding that the movement highlighted the “subversive implications” of  independence, demanding that the questions that McAlpine highlighted earlier were posed, and the full range of options explored.  Margaret Woods drew parallels between the emigration of Scots who had left this country, oftimes forced out through economic or security issues, especially through the clearances with the situation of refugees and other migrants coming to Scotland today.  Allan Armstrong drew attention to the importance of the constitutional settlement, particularly with regard to Crown Powers – ensuring that we are afforded true independence of our nation rather than a quasi post-colonial agreement.  Neil Davidson finishes off the series by noting the importance of raising awareness of the links between our international status and the cuts being imposed from Westminster.

The conference was eagerly awaited.  Both within the mainstream press and the radical blogsphere, preconference coverage speculated as to what direction the conference may take us in.

In The Scotsman, Gregor Gall suggested that there were four challenges that the radical independence movement had to face if it were not to just become an annual get-together of disparate campaigners.  Firstly it needed to establish a coherent, inclusive and positive narrative that could be organised around; secondly it needed to create interlocking networks for campaigning; thirdly to tap into oppositional consciousness where ever and whenever it arises and finally to establish a positive working relationship with Yes Scotland, which neither compromises the ideals of the movement, nor proves divisive.   At Bright Green Scotland, Gary Dunnion, gives a teaser for the  Green Economy session, talking of the need to look at environment issues in a fundamental sense rather than just patching things up with solar panels.    Again in The ScotsmanGeorge Kerevan captures the jaded cynicism of someone who has been involved in politics for a very long time, yet despite all the cynicism can see the potential of the movement.  Slightly snide, he takes little potshots at the hopes and dreams of a new generation of radicals, and then hands down from onhigh the wisdom of the older white man, informing us of the precise details of the tax and spending agreements that we should sign up to in order that he might consider us “genuinely radical left-wingers”TM.  Mike Small of Bella Caledonia turns all that on its head:  rather than a prescriptive list detailing the “one true path” strategy that will lead us to the promised land that our strategy should be based around choosing what not to do, and not doing it, enabling everyone from all communities of Scotland to have a voice in shaping our destiny.  Again in the Scotsman, Eddie Barnes notes the SNP lurch to the right, and the potential for RIC to be a counterweight in a scrabble for votes (and money) to support independence.

Post-conference, the atmosphere was buzzing, so many ideas, so many different aspects, so much to think about, so much to do.  And unsurprisingly the keyboards got a battering.

On ThoughtLand, Pat Kane, spoke of the sense that this was a transitional moment in the Scottish left.  Pointing out that the conference had been largely organised by a new generation of radicals, and although weel kent faces were there in droves, they were breathing a sigh of relief that there were people that they could pass the baton on to, who knew how to work hashtags.  The relationship between the “establishment” pro-independence movement of Yes Scotland was explored, together with an appeal for the conference to reach out beyond its confines and out into the communities.  Robin McAlpine at the Reid Foundation noted the smooth organisation of the event itself, the agnosticism of the trade union movement which is a constituency to be won over, the impact of the conference on a variety of groups of people who all took different yet positive things away with them, recognition that although this event had won the attention of the mainstream press, there was a lot still to be done – and like Pat Kane ended noting that the success and failure of this movement rested on its abilities to reach out.  Carol Hainey, writing for Women for Independence noted the traditional format of a plenary and top table structure of the event, and despite what sounds like an excellent session on Women and Independence, the need for women’s voices to be infused thoughout the debate. George Kerevan, continuing his sneering tone on Newsnet Scotland, demonstrated a remarkable lack of awareness of left politics, before going on to name-drop the people he had been mingling with, yet even he could not deny the energy and enthusiasm that tingled in the air.  In complete contrast, Susan Archibald, captured the spirit of RIC in her piece for the Sunday Mail.  Slightly unfocused, rich with personal impressions and direct relations between her personal experiences and the political dimension it embodied the change that you saw taking place in people across the day – consciousness raising, politicisation, solidarity and struggle.  If you only read one of the links from many, many articles that I have linked to on this page – read this one!  The last word should perhaps go to UnDunCut writing for Dundee Anarchists, part of a left tradition that has all been rather “meh” about the whole independence thing. urged anarchists to get involved in shaping the future of the little patch of land that we are the custodians of.

I had a fantastic time at the Radical Independence Conference.  Like so many others, it gave me tonnes to think about and the sheer level of energy was both contageous and electric.  The statement of the conference, written by Robin McAlpine and read by Pat Kane is a fantastic vision of a Scotland that we could achieve, but it needs not only to be a piece of paper, it needs to be something which infuses everything.

But in reviewing the coverage of the event, and I’m sorry if I’ve missed out any other commentary (contact me and I’ll add it in!), but what we have, in the main, are older white men.  Way too many older white men.  Way too many older white men writing about what other older white men have said.  Way too many older white men commenting on what white men have written about what other white men have said.

Way too many older white men.

 Which is really quite a shame.  Because the event itself, for all Carol Hainey above makes valid points, wasn’t like that.  It was diverse, it was accessible, it was invigorating and horizonal, and it was young.  Now, I’m not being discriminatory here, some of my best friends are older white men, but it has to be said, they do take up an awful lot of oxygen.

Women for Independence is one group challenging this male dominance.  Aiming to make space for women’s voices and interests in the campaign.  Writing for Bella Caledonia, Carolyn Leckie sets out the principles of listening, grassroots activism and the need for a broad democratic campaign which spotlights the needs of women throughout the debate. I was also privilaged enough earlier in the year to be invited along to the Asian Scots for Independence Eid Dinner, where it became so clear that there was a real desire within the Scots Asian community to forge a path to a new inclusive nation, and from talking to asylum seekers it is clear that our desire not only to build an inclusive community in Scotland, but also become a peaceful beacon for the world contrasting with the war mongering UK state is deeply appreciated.  Yet, although these are positive developments, we cannot allow diversity to emerge in silos.  Women for independence is too white; Asian Scots for independence is too male.  And its all too middle class.

The day after the Radical Independence Conference there was a march to the BBC continuing the pressure on the BBC to present a less biased picture of the middle east, particularly in the light of recent events in Gaza.  With many of those organising the demonstration also committed to ending our complicity in the atrocities that the BBC fails to report, the usual banner carriers had imbibed rather too much of the intoxicating atmosphere, and were paying the price the next day.  Instead the banners were held high by strong women with a commitment and connection to international issues, providing situational leadership when the traditional flagbearers flagged.  And it was fantastic.

The carnage of Sheridan left room for a new generation of radicals to emerge.  Unhindered by their elders and betters, yet learning the lessons of some of their failings, the youth have seized the mantle of challenge and are recreating things anew.  We cannot let destruction be the only catalyst of change.  We must make space for those who do not traditionally have the ear of the mainstream press to shape independence, lending them our banners and allowing them to redraw them better.

Radical independence will only succeed if we stay true to our vision of inclusion, participation and diversity.




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