This is the first in a series of blogs that examine the significance of last years inaugural Radical Independence Conference and look forward to the role of this year’s event.
A member of Democratic Left Scotland, he writes here in a personal capacity.
Like a number of you reading this I have probably spent too much of life in meetings and conferences. So when the e-mail came to sign-up for the November 23rd Radical Independence Conference (RIC) it was with a little surprise that I took no time in confirming my attendance. I might even go as far as to say that I am looking forward to it. The two main reasons for this are the experience of last year’s event and the urgency of ensuring that the referendum campaign is of benefit to working class people living in Scotland and to progressive politics everywhere.
The Radison Blu Hotel Glasgow November 2012: not your average place for a conference organised by the Left. I attended the event along with representatives of De Link, the Spanish Communist Party and Syriza. This was not a parochial affair. Happily those of us approaching 50 years and older were easily in the minority as the attendance swelled to over 800. The hard work and non-sectarian approach of the organisers became apparent.
By the time the opening session started the enthusiasm and determination was palpable. Jean Urquhart (Independent MSP) was visibly taken a-back by the warmth with which she was received. Her action in opposition to NATO was central to what RIC was about. Activists Susan Archibald (Disability Campaigner), Peter McColl (Rector Edinburgh University) and Cat Boyd (PCS Union activist) got things off to a great start locating the campaign for a Yes vote within the context of social and environmental justice. Denis Canavan illustrated that the Yes campaign could be seen as a continuation of Labour movement traditions. All the opening speakers talked about a different kind of Scotland in a different kind of world. The SNP or rather the SNP alone could not ‘deliver’ a Yes vote. Winning those that are on the receiving end of austerity to vote Yes was essential. Those that have been alienated from voting for political parties are central to the referendum
This radical message was unsurprisingly warmly received. There was something important about an older generation of activists listening to those that had grown up opposing wars and experiencing the reality of a ‘flexible’ and off-shored economy. All those attending had lived through ‘the crash’ and were looking for ways to move beyond neo-liberalism.
Inevitably there was some political impatience and prescriptive contributions to the discussions but these were at a minimum. There was a real debate about the degree to which RIC should be part of or an addition to the official YES Scotland campaign. The workshop sessions were limited in style because of the numbers attending and an approach that involved more panels of speakers. But the event drew on the experience of activism, involved international speakers and began to draw a picture of the alternative. One off shoot being the impetus it gave to the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s Common Weal project.
Last year’s RIC event was important. The message of support from the First Minister was one indication of this. As was the generally favourable media coverage. The event ended with a call to go out and work for a Yes vote as part of a transformative politics. There was little attempt to set up yet another centralised organisation.
This year’s conference needs to be seen as part of the campaign to maximise the YES vote. Press reports indicate that Alex Salmond has got the message stating the vote is not about him. We should attend on November 23rd and ensure that RIC remains as broad and inclusive and listening as the organisational practicalities allow. The inspiration it can generate is important. It is essential if we are to encourage and convince people of the importance of not just voting Yes but working to become part of something different.