Penny Cole of ‘A World to Win’ reports on the Radical Independence Campaign conference held in Glasgow on November 22nd. This is followed by the talk given by Angharad Tomos of Cymdeithas yr Iaith/Welsh Language Society to the session on Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland.
The appetite for political change demonstrated by the Scotland independence referendum continues undiminished as shown by two massive events on Glasgow’s riverside on Saturday.
A Scottish National Party rally packed 12,000 into the Hydro, a strange building that in daytime looks like the Michelin Man and at night glows in shifting colours like an arriving space ship.
The new first minister Nicola Sturgeon was cheered to the rooftops by a cross-generational audience of mostly working class families. A tiny figure on the vast stage, with the SNP membership number flashing up behind her (92,000 and counting) she promised social justice, free childcare, a protected NHS and an SNP presence at Westminster that would hold the balance of power in favour of Scottish interests.
Across the way in a building known as the Armadillo, speakers at the Radical Independence Conference also saw their images projected onto a huge screen.
The challenge facing the 3,000 delegates was how to sustain a movement that has seen some amazing sights. For example, Liam McLaughlin from the Scottish Socialist Party reported, hundreds of people in Easterhouse, many who had not been on the electoral roll since the poll tax, queued round the block to register to vote.
Sukhi Sangha of the STUC said that the Yes campaign shook the establishment to its core, and did it by “smashing the idea that politics is restricted to parties”. She told the gathering:
“Politics and economics is no longer restricted to experts – the campaign put ordinary people at the heart of the discussion.”
As she saw it, the urgent challenge was to establish a radical socialist alternative that would oppose any party that “punishes the poor with austerity”.
Mishelle Heywood, from Aberdeen RIC, said the strength of her local Yes movement was that it gave people an opportunity to think about “who we are and what kind of future we want”. “These movements went beyond the referendum question and took on a life of their own. It was a brand new politics taking place in front of our eyes,” she reported.
Jonathon Shafi, one of the founders of the RIC had a narrower view of the future, saying the RIC should focus on the issues and “changing what we can in the here and now”. Patrick Harvie of the Green Party characterised the role of the movement as to “hold the Scottish government to account, as they enter a period of one-party domination the Labour Party could only dream of”.
The question of power back on the agenda
At a session on joint work across the British Isles, Adam Ramsay from Open Democracy, Angharad Tomos from the Welsh Language Society and Steve Freeman from the Republican Socialist Alliance spoke about how the movement had inspired socialists in England and Wales. Ramsay said it had put the role of the British State front and centre, and the question of power back on the agenda.
The former MP and civil rights legend Bernadette McAliskey said the Yes campaign has “driven a horse and cart through the concept of British democracy”, and it was worth looking closely at the methodology of how that was done: a diverse solidarity movement; open organising; gatherings for discussion and debate; broadening the limits of what is possible.
She said that the movement should continue grass roots organising and stick to its principles. RIC has given people a sense that while nationalism divides, self-determination should always be on the socialist agenda. Self-determination was fundamentally a democratic issue at the heart of everything, including the demand that workers should own the means of production and have their share of the wealth.
The attention of RIC leaders has, however, drifted away from that kind of organising. Robin McAlpine of The Common Weal announced that the Scotland Independence Convention is to reconstitute itself to develop a new constitution. Shafi, Cat Boyd, with others, are launching the Scottish Left Project, hoping to create a leftist parliamentary party along the lines of Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece.
The question of where the Yes movement goes from here was left hanging in the air. The fact is that people did not turn out at the RIC in such great numbers just to decide how to cast their votes in May but to work out how to bring about fundamental change.
The conference ended with a reading of the People’s Vow, as a focus for campaigning.
It says groups should work with unions and others to develop a People’s Budget. But they will also need to discuss who is going to implement it, because it will not be the SNP whose commitment is to business, capitalism and growth.
Planning to halt fracking in its tracks, as the vow states, is impossible without addressing who it is that is pushing for fracking. On Friday, Unite the union signed a fresh deal at Grangemouth that allows them to recruit new INEOS employees, but leaves unchallenged the no-strike deal imposed last year with the full support of the Scottish government. What does that tell us about the position the SNP government and Unite will take as INEOS pushes ahead to create Europe’s fracking hub in Scotland?
The Smith Commission is set to publish its plans for further devolution this week and is expected to recommend handing full control of income tax and welfare to the Scottish Parliament. This will deepen the crisis of the Labour Party, which is not only falling apart in Scotland but in England too. At Rochester and Stroud, UKIP won by taking more votes from Labour than from the Tories.
To be left critics of the SNP is not enough
But the Labour Party’s crisis is not a free-floating event. Behind it and driving it is the crisis of the system of class rule that it represents. Labour and the Tories have shared the role of custodians of the capitalist state in Britain for a century. But if the political space created by their collapse is filled by different brands of nationalism, left and right, we cannot move forward on social justice or any other question. To be left critics of the SNP in Scotland is not enough.
Who rules us?
The complex, dynamic and diverse social movement of the Yes vote is implicitly asking the question “who rules us?”. The answer they are being given is “Westminster”, but that is a very partial truth. Because we are also ruled by the Scottish government, on behalf of INEOS, the Weir Group and the oil corporations, and by the European Union, the IMF and the WTO on behalf of global corporations.
On the day of the two rallies, research showed that 50,000 people in Scotland are relying on food banks. It is not good enough and not true for the SNP to say they can’t do anything about it because of Westminster rule. That’s just passing the buck.
There was a powerfully symbolic moment the day after the referendum when hundreds of people went to George Square and left bags of food to be collected by food banks. Who organised this? Somebody had the idea and others joined in. At the time I struggled to understand what it meant but I see it now as a kind of declaration of independence from the process that had just failed to deliver and a recognition that we are on our own.
The challenge is not just to develop alternative policies and approaches, but to build an independent movement for democracy to put these into practice. And to build alternative systems of civic and local power where we can feed and care for each other. The momentum for that already exists as a result of the referendum campaign. All that it requires is a focus on independent action and working for a transition to a different, non-capitalist Scotland.
Scottish independence under a bourgeois government is not a prerequisite for such an initiative. In fact, it can’t wait for that. Self-determination, as Bernadette McAliskey so rightly said, is a democratic question and requires an organisational model that is fighting for the rights and livelihoods of the majority, not for electoral advantage.
Participation in elections is, of course, important as a way of mobilising support. But elections in themselves cannot provide the solutions to the pressing problems of inequality, bad housing, low wages, loss of trade union rights, nuclear weapons, state surveillance, bureaucratic state rule, climate change and fracking and the real possibility of a further financial collapse. For answers to these and other questions, a transition to a real democracy based on the power of ordinary people is the road we have to build.
25 November 2014
Also see –
Despite a ’No’ vote, Scottish referendum advances the struggle for democracy by Paul Feldman (World to Win) at:-
Just a word to say how glad I am to be here. Soon after September 18th, I put the date in my diary – the date of the RIC Conference. I’m the sort of person who believes – If you put it in your diary, it will happen.There it was – November 22nd, Radical Indy conference, Glasgow. I was on my way. But as the weeks went by, I realised that the seats had all been taken, and that there was no room. I was disappointed to say the least. A week ago, I had a message – could someone from Wales come and speak? So there you are – if you put it in your diary, it will come true. I was on my way to Glasgow.
Diolch yn fawr felly am gael y gwahoddiad hwn i ddod i’r Alban ac i rannu syniadau. Mae’n fraint a dwi’n gobeithio y byddwn yn llwyddo i gychwyn perthynas weithredol rhwng yr Alban a Chymru.
Why did I want to come here? At the start of this year, I had not heard of Radical Independence. But I had a sticker on my car – Yes for Scotland. It was the year of the Referendum, but trying to get any information about the campaign in Scotland was difficult. In the end, eight of us got together and caught the train to Edinburgh, and had a two day visit in June, crammed with meetings – with Greens for Yes, Women for Independence, National Collective, Labour for Yes – and Radical Independence. We returned to Wales, fired up. I wrote to every publication I knew, offering articles and photos, I contacted BBC Wales , and said “Something is happening in Scotland” . Nobody wanted to know. Of course, by September 10th, everyone wanted to know, but they’d left it late. Now everybody is talking about Scotland.
Let’s see where Wales and Scotland are alike.
Cymdeithas yr Iaith, the Welsh Language Society, whom I represent here today, is as active as ever, 50 years after being formed. It is a direct action group, non violent, and continues to challenge the status quo. As well as pushing the language agenda, it is socialist in its outlook, and radical in its ways. Its strapline is ‘For the Welsh language to live, everything must change.’
What other grass movements are there?
The campaign against fracking has moved up a gear and is rapidly gaining support from various communities.
Support for Palestine has seen a surge, especially after the attacks during the summer. There are active groups supporting Cuba, Nicaragua and Chile, the Basques and the Cataluynans – there is a lively interest in international issues, and Scotland is now among them.
With a proposed new nuclear power plant in North Wales, the campaign against Wylfa is gathering momentum, some supporters travelled to Japan last month to see the effect of what happened in Fukishima. There is an active campaign against the testing of drones in West Wales.
Regarding the Labour Party in Wales, it is true to say that the Welsh Labour Party is not in such a dire state as Labour in Scotland. Labour has governed Wales since the establishment of the Welsh Assembly in 1999. First in coalition with the Lib Dems, then alone, then in coalition with Plaid Cymru, then on its own again. It is to the left to the British Labour Party.
But there is a rift between Labour Members in Westminster and Labour Welsh Assembly Members. Plaid Cymru as a party is not so strong as the SNP. It is sad to say that UKIP is stronger in Wales than it is in Scotland.
Regarding local councils and the agenda of cutting public spending, there is not a single council in Wales that is fighting the cuts. They are just trying to adjust to the austerity measures. Merthyr Council, for example, (where Keir Hardie was an MP) , is now getting rid of jobs and re-employing people on lower scales.
Historically, the Establishment has been known to drive a wedge between the radical langauge movement and other movements. The language is often used as a divisive issue, but that seems to be less true now. Last week, a poll showed that 63% of the people of Wales were in favour that every child in Wales should be able to communicate effectively in Welsh.
I would say that Cymdeithas yr Iaith, The Welsh Language Society, is the movement in Wales most similar to Radical Independence.
From single issues in the Sixties to promote the language, it has developed as a direct action movement to campaign to secure the future of communities in Wales. We were part of the community coalition that supported the Miner’s Strike. We made links between the Welsh language and the struggle against Apartheid. We have worked with other organisations, campaigning for peace, and against nuclear power.
It is through Cymdeithas that I have visited Ireland, Catalunya, the Basque country and Nicaragua. When we meet people in these countries, there is a common understanding. We know what imperialism is, and we are struggling against a common enemy.
People sometimes ask us – what has a langauge group got to do with this? and the answer is in the slogan – for the Welsh language to survive, everything must change.
There is no economic worth to the Welsh language. There is no future for it in a capitalist society. The first thing a consumer culture does is to declare one language dominant.
Monocultures hates diversity, and brands are confused by more than one language. It is troublesome, difficult, diverse. As I have been told countless times, Welsh is expensive, it takes room, it alienates people, and we CANNOT allow it!
I have been campaigning for forty years by now, and what I have learnt is that in the end they do give in. They punish you, they fine you, they send you to prison, they jeer at you, ignore you, but in the end, they yield. After many years, Welsh was seen on roadsigns in Wales. After ten years, a Welsh television channel was set up. By now, children do receive their education in Welsh and a Welsh medium university has been established. In 2011, Welsh was finally recognised as an offical language, with equal standing to English, for the first time since Henry VIII’s laws in 1536. Several language acts have been passed.
All I want is to see it happening faster, to speed it up.
I’m not sure what I expected to see in Scotland when I came up to Edinburgh in June. But from the very first meeting, I was impressed. ‘Britain is for the rich, Scotland can be ours’ this leaflet said, and I thought, “We’re on the same wavelength.”
You have been such an inspiration. We do get information now – Bella Caledonia has proved better than any newspaper, twitters, blogs, we now have access to them, and occasionally we can meet face to face. We do live in times of great inequality, but what has happened in Scotland in 2014 has been totally overwhelming. It is easy in Wales for us to feel alone, to feel small, to feel poor, to feel like the ignored next door neighbour. Other countries have done it, but not Wales.
But seeing the campaign in Scotland has given us a tremendous inspiration. Let all the socialists in the countries of these isles come together and campaign in a radical way for justice all round. Everything IS changing.
A democratic, independent Scotland and Wales, – put it in your diary,- it will come true!