Challenges and opportunities

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Photo: Craig Maclean

by Jonathon Shafi, Radical Independence Campaign After a two-year independence campaign it is important that we all take a moment to reflect. For the Scottish left, we can look back with a great deal to be proud of. Not only did we impact the politics of the debate, but we delivered on the ground. We collectively managed to revitalise radical politics, and make it connect with people all over the country. We stayed true to our internationalist principles and ensured that class politics took centre stage.

In my honest opinion, I believe had it not been for the intervention of the politics and organisation of the broad sweep of the radical left, we may not have won Glasgow or delivered in Labour-voting communities up and down the country in the same way.
There’s nothing self-aggrandising about us registering that, it is to say that genuinely, we walked the walk.

But now we face massive challenges to keep the momentum of the left going. That means a few things. First, that we continue to develop the Radical Independence Campaign, which has become known internationally for its success. We need to explore together how we do that, and have a broad ranging discussion about its priorities and focus. The conference in November, set to see around 3000 people gather to engage with such a discussion can be a staging post for the next phase of extending radical ideas into the present context.

In addition, we have to talk about the SNP. The SNP is a hugely popular party amongst working class heartlands, and is managing to buck the trend of the crumbling mainstream parties by recruiting to the extent that they are now a mass party. On the one hand, we need to engage with their mass membership who have joined post referendum. The SNP has done a very good job at relating to big progressive issues such as Trident and welfare ‘reform’. We also know that the SNP are at the core a neoliberal party.

They are effective managers of the economy for middle Scotland. We should encourage the SNP when they are moving left, and work with those thousands of new SNP members who like us are looking for real change, while also developing an explicitly anti-neoliberal poll of attraction. That is one view, but there is clearly a debate amongst the radical left about the SNP, especially as many on the left have joined the organisation, and it is an important one that we should have.

Then we have the question of the Labour party who are going through a profound internal—and external—crisis. We are all well read on the reasons for this, and it is unclear about how they might get out of it, if they can at all. One thing we do know is that we must present a challenge to them from the left. Here, it is also interesting to think about the unions. We could be thinking about how we can connect the democratic revival in society as a whole into the workplace. If we could recruit into the unions the thousands of left-wing Yes-voting workers who are now politically engaged like never before, we could transform them.

And that is where we face another challenge. How can we build the best possible organisations to resist austerity. The waves of cuts and attacks on our rights that are coming and must be met with mass resistance. It will not be good enough to simply advocate independence as the solution—though that must be an important part of our argument. At the same time we will need action in the here and now: demonstrations, occupations, strikes and so on.

Again, this raises questions about the SNP. They will implement the cuts, but how will the movement react to this? Will the focus be on Westminster forcing the Scottish Government’s hand? Do we raise the idea of running a deficit budget? Lots of questions, and lots of things we need to debate and discuss. We have learned thanks to the independence process that when the left comes together we can do great things. And here is the other big challenge that the socialist movement faces now.

Can we continue to use our collective strength in a post-referendum Scotland? I am very confident that we can. Of course there will be disagreements about the way forward, but it is a real step in the right direction that we can have such debates together, while ensuring the left is a major part of the Scottish political scene. Many reading this will have experienced those tiny public meetings in pubs, put on just to keep radical ideas afloat. Now we are filling out the Clyde Auditorium. Change is never easy, but it is always easier when the forces advocating for it are united in their purpose.

• The Radical Independence Campaign’s 2014 conference takes place at the Clyde Auditorium on Saturday 22 November. See the RIC website for details

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