Ian MacCorquodale explains why internal democracy is crucial to the success of RISE
This article was written to encourage thought and debate about internal democracy within RISE, while there is nothing ground-breaking within the article and undoubtedly everything said in it has been said before. I strongly believe that the type of points I have made need to be made time and time again by enough of us before they will be implemented. Once these types of issues are agreed on and policy and procedures put in place, it is then our collective responsibility to hold each other to account. I look forward to hearing from others on this topic.
I welcome the launch of RISE and am enthusiastic as at the moment, it feels like it has the potential to become the type of mass Socialist organisation that we need as a class to challenge capitalism, take control over our lives and plan and implement the type of society that we want to live in. I feel that we all need to have a conversation about the type of organisation we think that we need and also about the best ways of building that organisation. Personally I think that it is essential that we build an organisation that goes well beyond an alliance that focuses solely on an electoral agenda.
There are many things which need to be discussed and I look forward to the discussions. At the moment, I feel that our priority should be focusing on internal democracy and ensuring that we have a constituted structure which is fit for a grass roots lead organisation and allows us all to have our say in the way which our organisation is built.
The RISE opening statement states that it will be based on the principle of participatory democracy, it also mentions creating a citizens politics and having the widest possible discussion about how we can work together.
Together we can change Scotland, the document released to announce that the policy primaries were to take place, mentions some of the project’s shared values as being grass roots democracy and collectivism, it goes on to mention that
democracy has become the dominant principle of subversive, anti-capitalist politics.
The fact that these principles and values have been mentioned and that policy primaries have been organised is definitely a positive start, but it is a start that now has to be built upon by all of us who agree that there is a need for democracy. In order to insure that we achieve the goal of a truly democratic organisation, we all must push for decisions to be made democratically every step of the way.
Safe and accessible spaces
There is obviously a huge gulf in what different people mean when they use the term “democratic.” I do not believe that an organisation can be legitimately thought of as democratic if discussion and decision making do not take place in safe and accessible spaces, it is especially important that the people who are the most marginalised, exploited, oppressed and discriminated against in our current society consider these spaces to be safe and accessible.
I think that we need to come together and develop policy which ensures that debate is conducted in a comradely manner, that behaviour towards each other is appropriate and that participation is realistic for those who may have otherwise been excluded. It is also essential that we be prepared for inappropriate, unacceptable and unpleasant situations arising and have robust procedures in place to deal with individuals involved. When topics such as this are discussed, it is sometimes suggested that having such policies and procedures is authoritarian, I would suggest that when the policies and procedures are collectively agreed and designed to maximise safe participation, then having them is highly democratic.
When looking at creating a democratic structure it seems really important that we aim to carry on making as many decisions in direct and participatory manners as possible. This will undoubtedly take longer than all decisions being taken for example by a small central committee, but principled democracy will also strengthen the organisation and keep people engaged. There will be those who disagree and say this will result in endless discussions. I am not suggesting that we have endless discussions, I am suggesting that we have the discussions needed to ensure that our organisation is fit for purpose.
It is clear that it is not practical for us all to have a direct vote on every decision that has to be made. Tasks will have to be mandated to individuals or groups, as long as we have procedures which ensure there is transparency, accountability and features to limit individuals from amassing undue influence within the organisation then this should not be a problem. An effective way of maintaining democracy would be that all positions and tasks are carried out by recallable delegates with very specific and time sensitive mandates.
Once membership is established, it is necessary that we have a constituted democratic structure for reasons which I have mentioned among many others. Precedent has been set by the way in which we are deciding electoral policy at the moment. I do not see any reason why we can’t take what we learn from carrying out policy primaries and use what we learn to carry out a similar process amongst the established membership to construct a grass roots drafted constitution. This process could be seen as a precursor to a policy which many are suggesting is implemented, a people’s constitution for a Scottish Republic.
An issue of credibility
The issue of Democracy is an issue which could make or break RISE. It is an issue of credibility. We can’t be seen as credible or principled if we just go through the motions with regards to the principle of participatory democracy as mentioned in the opening statement, it would be too easy to just do the minimum here and people would see through it.
We can’t credibly campaign for democratic public ownership of industry if we can’t even show ourselves as being capable of building a functioning democratically run organisation. Similarly it would not be credible to campaign for a Republic in which the people are sovereign if we are not able to create an organisation in which the members are sovereign.
Bringing power to the people and ensuring that direct democracy is brought into the heart of how Scotland works are mentioned in the opening statement, It will be difficult to look people in the eye and tell them we are trying to do bring power to the people if the grass roots don’t have power within the organisation, it will be even more difficult to suggest we want to implement direct democracy in relation to the way Scotland is governed if we haven’t managed direct democracy internally.
It is also mentioned in the opening statement that
The days of a professional political class running our lives are numbered. This statement will end up as absolutely meaningless if we end up as an organisation which is run by a wannabe professional political class.
I believe that there is an appetite for democracy among those currently interested in RISE at the moment, with a lot of hard work, we will be able to build the sort of organisation which will attract others. Although it was disheartening to watch the SNP ingest much of the progressive forces within the Yes movement, it is plain to see that many of them are becoming disheartened due to the lack of internal democracy. There are now many people who are leaving the SNP who identify as Socialists. A display of internal democracy is the bridge that is needed to attract these individuals to RISE. Similarly there are a lot of ex Labour members out there and also others on the left who have never joined a party who also may be attracted by what we have on offer. They should all be welcomed providing that they agree with our core socialist and democratic principles.