Below we have two reports of the recent RIC-backed Scottish Solidarity Speaking Tour (SSPT) in England. The first is from Alan Story of Northampton LUP, who organised a panel in that city to interview Cat Boyd of RIC. He has sent on this report to Kate Hudson, the LUP National Secretary. The second is by Steve Freeman of the Republican Socialist Alliance, who spoke at the Radical Independence Conference last November. He attended the northern meetings of the SSST organised by branches of the Left Unity Party, where Mick Napier and Sandy McBurney spoke.
These tours have has given a considerable boost to the republican, pro-‘Yes’ supporters in the LUP. They have now gone on to form the Scottish Republic Yes Tendency (see Founding Statement below). They are preparing to organise more activities.
REPORT no. 1- Alan Story
To the Left Unity National Council
From: Alan Story (LU Nottinghamshire), Co-ordinator of the Scots Solidarity Speaking Tour (SSST)
Re: SSST Wrap-up report.
Date: 3 June 2014
This is a brief report on the Scots Solidarity Speaking Tour (SSST) that occurred in the Midlands, the Yorkshire and Manchester between 29 May and 1 June.
a) The idea/purpose:
In mid-March, we held discussions in our LU Nottinghamshire branch and concluded that: 1) the 18 Sept. Scottish referendum on independence was one of the most important, if not the most important, political issues in the entire UK in 2014. 2) To increase our own understanding, to break out of the Salmond/Cameron binary on independence, and as a gesture of class and international solidarity with the people of Scotland — no matter the referendum result – we would encourage debate and discussion over Scottish referendum issues in our part of England. 3) The best way to accomplish this was to raise the SSST ‘flag’ before other LU branches here and to see which ones ‘saluted’; in the end, nine LU branches agreed to jointly work together in this branch-to-branch LU initiative.
Meanwhile, we contacted the Radical Independence Campaign and inquired if they would provide speakers for the SSST. At an RIC national forum, they readily agreed to do so. The speakers selected by the RIC were Cat Boyd, a Glasgow trade unionist and one of the RIC’s leading speakers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jlh_2GH4eo8) and Mick Napier, a veteran Scottish activist, a RIC campaigner and a member of LU Glasgow.
We are also got endorsements for the SSST tour from Ken Loach, Will Duckworth (deputy leader of the Green Party of England & Wales), actor Brian Cox, Tariq Ali, one University left society, and other notables.
The importance of the SSST was further increased on 29 March when the question of Scottish independence became the ‘hottest’ issue on the floor at the LU Manchester conference. (A motion to support the ‘Yes’ side was defeated by a margin of 68-70 with 20 abstentions.)
b) The result:
1) A total of five tour events were held between 29 May and 2 June in Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Shipley (West Yorkshire) and Nottingham. (Two other booked SSST events in the Birmingham area had to be cancelled due to last-minute personal commitments of one speaker.) At the first three events, Mick debated Scottish independence with another member of LU Glasgow. At the Shipley event, Mick debated with the head of the Bradford Trades Council. In Nottingham, Cat was questioned by a panel including a LGBT activist, the chair of the Notts Trades Council, and a politics lecturer.
2) The overall feedback we received was positive. Both the Yes and No sides received a full airing. At one meeting, more No than Yes supporters spoke from the floor. At least three of the events held an indicative vote at the end of the session; the Yes side was victorious at all of them, except one, sometimes overwhelmingly and sometimes more narrowly.
3) The attendance at the five sessions was disappointing and averaged about 20 people per event with the largest number at the Leeds meeting. Some people in attendance became LU members on the spot and others expressed appreciation at the manner in which LU was openly and respectfully debating a key — and sometime emotional — British political issue.
c) The conclusions:
1) The SSST did succeed well in one of its main aims: broadening and deepening the debate within LU over the question of Scotland that had begun on 29 March. At the next LU policy conference, we should return to the question of Scotland and decide what will be the point of view of LU. In particular, more people learned about the role and objectives of the RIC and appreciated that the overwhelming majority of socialists, environmentalists, anti–austerity activists and the like in Scotland support the Yes side. But other views got a full airing. People also appreciated that we were engaged in a POLITICAL debate. Our Scottish LU colleague Mick Napier said he was extremely glad to have met English LU colleagues and I am sure he will take back favourable impressions to his mates in LU Glasgow (and other LU branches in Scotland that remain in formation.)
2) The SSST was less successful in achieving a second aim: taking the issues of Scottish independence to a wider audience. No coverage of the speakers or the events appeared in the local mainstream media. Our own publicity for the SSST was somewhat spotty or non-existent. And the attendance beyond ‘the already existing left’ could have been improved.
3) Yet, three of the LU branches (in Sheffield, Bradford and Nottinghamshire) were holding their VERY FIRST public meetings. Most LU branches have no experience whatsoever in working together on a joint issue/campaign, neither regional nor national. Nor in reaching out to ‘the broad masses.’ Overall organisational direction was necessarily weak as this was a bottom-up, branch-to-branch initiative, essentially among strangers in most cases. Finances were meagre (and some comrades on pension were personally of pocket more than £50.00 as a result). And organising this tour took a phenomenal amount of hands-on attention to detail. [As an aside, whenever Left Unity as a party decides to launch a national campaign, its first one, it is recommended that at least 5-7 experienced activists/LU members from across the UK be specially tasked to direct it and that they be freed from other LU tasks in the interim; in my own case, for example, I am also a member of the extremely time-consuming Disputes Committee (which has a very full plate) and interim secretary of my this branch.]
4) On an unofficial basis (at least on the Left Unity side!), we have built good relationships (and comradely respect) with the RIC and its top leadership. These can be — and should be —- nurtured as the RIC is currently the largest activist movement, certainly on a per capita basis, in the UK. (It has attracted more than 1,000 people to some of its events…which is roughly equivalent to attracting 10,000 people to a meeting in England.) The SSST and Left Unity featured on the RIC’s website: http://radicalindependence.org/2014/05/13/ric-speaking-tour-in-england/. The fact that Left Unity, a predominantly English-based party, was organising such a solidarity tour received wide recognition and praise on more six Facebook and other social media sites in Scotland; for a few weeks, LU was flavour of the month. The prospects for Scotland are positive.
5) We have had some initial feelers from other LU branches about organising a second SSST in England.
If you have further questions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
cc: The nine LU branches that endorsed tour with the help of Allan Armstrong of the Radical Independence Campaign
REPORT no. 2 – from Steve Freeman
Left Unity branches in Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester and Shipley (Bradford) held public meetings to debate the issue of the Scottish referendum. The format was debate between Sandy McBurney (No) and Mick Napier (Yes) both LU members for Glasgow. In addition there was a meeting held in Nottingham LU with Cat Boyd, which I was not present at.
There were about 20 present at Sheffield, 35 in Leeds, 20 Manchester and 10 in Shipley. We had lively debates and I think the best aspect was that there was engagement with whole issue. In Leeds one comrade remarked that it was the best most political meeting they had had because it raised many fundamental questions. There were votes in Sheffield and Shipley, which supported Yes. Leeds did not vote and Manchester was 8 to 7 for No with 4 abstentions although one Yes supporter had to leave early.
The problem was that we had two comrades telling us about what was going on in Scotland and some were not sure which story line to believe. Sandy focused on the crimes of the SNP, as if this was the sole participant, and about Scottish nationalism as if it was the only kind of nationalism in play. He talked about the disunity of the working class and divisiveness and the dangers of anti-English chauvinism. It was a left version of Project Fear.
Mick concentrated on the progressive benefits of breaking up the British state and the fact that the Scottish radical left was 95% or more for Yes. The main enemy was the British state. He spoke about the wider international aspects of British-US imperialism. It was fear versus hope.
We used the debate to launch a new Tendency in LU under the slogan ‘Scottish Republic Yes’ (see founding statement below) to support Yes critically from a democratic perspective. We tried to get over the idea that this is an English question about the future of the left in England. We wanted to get over the idea of building links between Scotland and England.
A couple of positives came out of this as the beginning of a perspective. First we discussed the idea of local campaigns such as “Bradford Says Yes” or “Manchester says Yes”. We thought it would be interesting with Galloway in Scotland saying No and people in his constituency saying Yes. Second Scottish comrades are going to invite English comrades to go to Scotland for some canvassing in August-September. These ideas have to be developed.
FOUNDING STATEMENT OF THE SCOTTISH REPUBLIC YES TENDENCY
From: Scottish Republic Yes Tendency
To: Kate Hudson, National Secretary ,Left Unity
6 June 2014
At the last LU conference the Republican Socialist Tendency sponsored a resolution calling for a pro-democracy and republican Yes vote in the Scottish referendum in solidarity with the Radical Independence Campaign is Scotland. The resolution was narrowly defeated by 68 to 70 with 20 abstentions.
The RST has decided to continue the struggle to win Left Unity to a progressive democratic republican and socialist position on the Scottish referendum. We are forming a new temporary Tendency with other Left Unity comrades who want to fight for solidarity but are not part of the RST.
We have begun setting up the Scottish Republic Yes Tendency. We are informing you as national secretary so that this can be announced at this National Council on June 7th2014. We currently have 35 supporters and aim for 100. We intend to develop a perspective for local campaigning activity between now and the referendum which we hope Left Unity can or will support.
The Tendency statement states the following aims:
a) Winning a majority of Left Unity members to support a Yes vote.
b) Campaigning to support for a Yes vote in the socialist and labour movements in England, Wales and Ireland and counter the case made by the Unionist parties (Tory, Labour, Liberal Democratic and UKIP).
c) Inviting where appropriate speakers from the Radical Independence Campaign.
d) To make a case that the referendum offers the Scottish people the right and opportunity to extend democracy and create a Scottish republic. This would serve the wider democratic interest of people in the rest of the UK.
e) To reject the‘abstract internationalism’ of the Unionist campaign (Better Together) and substitute active practical solidarity and support by working people in England, Wales and Ireland for the democratic and socialist movement in Scotland.
Steve Freeman (LU Southwark), Mick Napier (LU Glasgow and Scottish Committee), Acting Joint Convenors, Scottish Republic Yes Tendency
“The overall feedback we received was positive. Both the Yes and No sides received a full airing. At one meeting, more No than Yes supporters spoke from the floor. At least three of the events held an indicative vote at the end of the session; the Yes side was victorious at all of them, except one, sometimes overwhelmingly and sometimes more narrowly.”
This is inaccurate. In particular at the Sheffield meeting the vote was four for No, 6 for Yes and 5 for an active abstention in the referendum vote. The main force for active abstention were ex members of the SWP- now in the ISN group. So a clear majority of the meeting did not support a Yes vote. And as Steve states- at the meeting in Manchester Yes did not win- the vote there was 8 for No and 7 for Yes and the rest for abstention. At the Leeds meeting no vote for taken- unfortunately. So at the 3 meetings at which I was present the Yes side did not win any. Anyway thanks to the comrades who organized the tour and the debates. The struggle against the nationalist break up of the working class movement in Britain continues! Forward to a mass strike against austerity on the 10 of July. Unity is strength.
Yes was a majority in Sheffield, no vote was taken in Leeds and No had a majority in Manchester although one comrade who supported Yes had to leave early. But in reality LU is divided as at the national conference. These votes at local level reflect the national position. There was nothing “active” about the abstainers who mainly have not made up their minds. In LU the Don’t Noes have it. The CPGB have tried to make a theory out of this fence sitting.
Before we get too exited about the meaning of these votes they tend to reflect the influence of Workers Power and CPGB in Sheffield and Leeds. The significance of these events was a) getting a discussion and raising awareness b) launching an active Republican Yes position.
The meetings show the grip that British nationalism has on the left in England and that the way to begin challenging this in building the links between the left in Scotland and the left in England on the ground around Yes campaign not in defending the anti-democratic 1707 Act of Union in the name of ‘proletarian internationalism’ which means no more than supporting the Labour and TU bureaucracy.