Remarks from the 2015 Radical Independence Conference in Dundee.
So we’re talking about why we’re still Yes. I’d like to also talk about why I’m still RIC. And to understand that, I need to say a few words about how I got here, and where I hope we’re headed.
I’ve been an activist all my life. I’ve always looked around and thought, we can do better than this. I don’t believe that humans are somehow programmed to kill each other and kill the planet. We live in a system that rewards destructive behaviour, so it’s no surprise that people and ecosystems are suffering everywhere.
What is a surprise is how well we can still work together, how often we see kindness and empathy and solidarity, even though it’s not recognised or rewarded in neoliberal capitalism. This is what inspires me, and this is where I think we’ll find the real solutions.
I first came to Scotland for a year abroad in 2000. I came back in 2004, because I wanted to live in a country on a human scale.
When the referendum was announced eight years later, supporting a Yes vote was the obvious choice for me. Democracy works best in a small country.
I heard about a Radical Independence Conference that autumn, but I wasn’t sure it would make much difference. My enthusiasm for activism was fizzling out. I was tired of fighting against the tides of power and constantly losing. I was tired of boring political meetings that left me demoralised. I was tired of ego and bickering and endless theorising.
But the conference renewed my enthusiasm. Here was something that could unite the left. It was a clear goal we could all agree on, and it was positive. And best of all, Yes was becoming a broad, inclusive movement.
Of course, despite everyone’s best efforts, we lost. So why am I still Yes?
I’m still Yes for independence, because I still believe it’s our best tool for creating a fairer, greener, more democratic society. Even though that tool is out of reach for now, it’s not one to forget about.
But I’m also Yes for the society we’re trying to create – and I’m Yes for the ways we can work together to get there.
Even when I’m feeling deflated and overwhelmed, I think back to that first conference, and that amazing sense of possibility. It’s important to remember all that we’ve accomplished in the past two years.
Yes, we lost the referendum. But we’ve spent two years of trial and error learning how to work together in new ways, despite disagreements and misunderstandings and not always getting along. We’ve spent two years building a national network of activists who believe another Scotland is possible. And that’s worth something.
We could all fracture off into different projects, but that would as big a loss as the referendum.
I see RIC as a way of keeping the left united in Scotland – or at least talking to each other and supporting each other where we can.
We know that the issues we’re dealing with are interconnected. It means that we need to stay interconnected. None of us can work on everything, but all of us can work on something. And we can all take strength from knowing that we’re part of something bigger.
Today is part of that process. Sharing what we’re doing and how it’s going, finding common aims and common challenges, and thinking about how we can work to overcome those challenges.
If you’ll forgive the shameless plug, and a lot of you already know this, another part of the process has been happening at the RIC National Forums, and in groups around the country.
We’ve been trying to figure out a shape and a structure for RIC as a sustainable, national, truly radical organisation. So now we’ve got a proper constitution – there’s copies around if you haven’t seen it – and there’s going to be an AGM in two weeks’ time in Glasgow.
Whatever happens with RIC in the future, it’s going to be led by people’s passions, identifying the issues they care about, coming up with ways to work on those issues, and finding others to work with, whether locally, nationally or even internationally.
I’ve heard critiques that our campaigns are becoming scattered, but I think the diversity of our passions is a strength. We no longer have a single, obvious goal. But we still have a shared vision.
And it’s clear to me that another Scotland is more necessary than ever. New food banks are opening across the country. New rounds of cuts are on the way. And just yesterday, the National reported a new attempt to disenfranchise voters. Threatening people with Poll Tax arrears didn’t work, so now they’re arbitrarily threatening fines and removal from the register if people don’t confirm their identities.
Now, I know whoever you vote for the government still gets in, but I still want to make sure people can vote.
The elites and the systems that support them are constantly coming up with new ways to maintain their privilege and power, and one of those ways is to keep us divided. We need to constantly resist artificial barriers between issues, between cities, between each other.
In many cases there are already groups working on important issues. In Aberdeen, there’s an anti-TTIP group that has nothing to do with RIC – but we do our best to support them. Same with the anti-fascist group, Palestine Solidarity, CND, Living Rent.
We can support groups that already exist, and we can start campaigning in areas where there are gaps. In Aberdeen that’s been anti-fracking and land reform so far.
But these issues are all connected, and we can work most effectively when we stay connected to each other.
As I said in November, at the end of the day there’s more that unites us than divides us. The strength of RIC comes from uniting activists across the spectrum of the left – whether red, green, black, or rainbow.