The most important characteristic of the 2014 Indy movement in Scotland was its class nature, its roots in the housing estates and ‘schemes’, amongst youth, women, and workers who saw, often for the first time, a grass roots reason to get out on the streets.
The horizon of social change seemed within reach of a populace, often willing to take action, but had long since learned that mainstream politics was of little interest to them, hardly worth a vote. Labour taught them that, and British politics got a bloody nose as a consequence.
Elections are rarely ‘won’. They are lost when the current party of the establishment’s apparent picadilloes start to be revealed for what they are – their outrageous class nature, their corruption, the insatiable hunger for the accumulation of money, or just for business and profit, their contempt for lesser beings – the working class, their disregard, nay total ignorance of the living conditions of ordinary people.
Power, government, is not earned by programme or substantial alternatives (unless we are very lucky – and the alternatives of Corbyn clearly didn’t end well), power ‘falls into the lap’ of the opposition as Frankie Boyle put it1.
And so it was with the SNP after the 2014 referendum.
The defeat of the referendum resulted in a flood of membership into the SNP, up ‘til then a quite modest affair but now assuming a role as the umbrella of the movement. Was it ever? It was the largely nationalist expression of a movement that developed new roots in radical working class alternatives. Those alternatives were expressed, amongst other places, in the organisation and programme of the Radical Independence Campaign, a hugely programmatic internationalist current that brought virtually the whole of the left and a large chunk of radicalising support, under the (socialist) Indy banner. Their conferences were truly inspiring for their unity and level of debate. (The comparison with Corbynism is irresistible, albeit not so determined on organisation and debate.)
Not to linger on RIC here, the interest is in their founding momentum and trajectory. Their subsequent decline and the emergence of disparate groupings (mostly all still relevant) merit thorough analysis, not something I have seen emerging from any of the residual currents. In short, the momentum of defeated indy found solace in the SNP, which has slowly (rather quickly!) turned into what the Scottish Labour Party was (other than on indy and, even there, don’t forget, it was Labour that brought devolution to Wales and Scotland). In disappointment, after that heady period of 8 years ago, the radical Scottish working class movement is retreating from the SNP, seeing them for what they are, as they did with Labour. The challenge for the left is to help find them a home and rejuvenate the enthusiasm for social transformation.
As was wisely raised via RIC (was it George Kerevan, Shafi?) the victory of independence should herald the voluntary closing down of the SNP, having achieved its goal, and the establishment of an inclusive constituent assembly to map out the democratic future of Scotland. There is no sign of that. There is, indeed, no sign of a campaign for a yes vote next November, if the Supreme Court permits. Worse, failing that, Sturgeon talks of making the general election a single issue ‘mandate’ for independence – a dangerous tack, not least without a coherent independence campaign, and the beginnings of a serious ‘what shall we do with Indy’ dialogue. There is no sign of that.
Jobs for the girls and boys depend on retaining their Holyrood, establishment existence, primarily geared to Westminster and Europe, to NATO, to sterling, even to neo-liberalist economics, if the deals with Scottish business, the Oil Industry and Trident are anything to go by. Even their new-found allies in the Greens have reneged on their own principles in favour of empty power. (What a valid play on words!).
They all have to be dispatched.
Independence is not nationalism, taking power for self determination reasons, like the SNP purports to do, yet ceding all the substantive policies. Indy only has meaning (to us) as a means to transform society. In the cases of us here in the ‘United Kingdom’, independence and the ‘national question’ have a distinctive meaning, in that we Welsh, Scots and, to some extent, Irish, were beneficiaries of colonialism, we were the bloodhounds (and lapdogs) of the imperialist global rampage.
We are not an ‘oppressed nation’ in the classical sense. We, in Wales, Scotland and Ireland, benefited from imperialism and the industrial revolution – in steel, coal, copper, shipbuilding, wars and much more. These gains were laced with total subservience to Westminster, economic prejudice and distortions of our languages and culture – the militarisation of the kilt, the ‘Welsh not’ etc.. Our national identities were oppressed by imperialist culture, by British nationalism and, of course, by capitalism itself.
Independence is to be built on a foundation of ‘Sovereignty’, an ability to directly influence policy and decisions in our interests and in our own patch. Extinction Rebellion and Peoples’ Assembly are currently grappling with such concepts – popular assemblies, citizens assemblies. We used to talk of ‘ workers’ councils’. Independence has an interest in such debates.
The ‘why and how’ of sovereignty point to the task of the left. As Brit bourgeois politics implodes, a programme of demands shouts out to us. We should revisit RIC and the other offsprings, including, dare I say, Corbyn’s (social democratic) manifesto, so hated by the ruling class, and Wales’ emergent pact (Cooperation Agreement) between (Welsh) Labour and Plaid. Amongst these will be found the programmatic basis for a new movement.
What have we got? NATO, war, currency (economics), cost of living, unions and strikes, energy, climate, equality, self-organisation, internationalism (and Europe!) and more. There are currents organising and active on all these themes. The task is to bring them together organisationally and programmatically. The start might be a round of mass meetings, with existing campaigns, on these various themes, all with a view to building a unified movement, movements in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. (Cornwall, Brittany are relevant if not in my reach for now.)
This, for me, is the nub of the issue we must address. If there is a weakness in the material that I greatly benefit from in the Scottish debates, it is the lack of any development of ‘what is to be done?’. And I haven’t even got to my title for these notes. But you can see where I am going…
Notes and brief bibliography