Story of RIC Aberdeen

Remarks for RIC Aberdeen post-referendum public meeting, 30 September 2014.

The past two years has seen a whirlwind of stories. Wide, sweeping stories about opportunity and uncertainty, aspiration and risk, hope and fear. Most have been built on facts and analysis, or particular interpretations of history. Some have been total fantasies. Some have been outright lies.

A lot of the time, both sides were telling very similar stories – society is broken, people are suffering, something is wrong. The best way to change things is to vote Yes or vote No.

The media told us the big story was about certain parties and politicians, but that was only one side of it. I think the big story was a lot smaller. One person at a time, it’s been about taking an interest and getting involved, reading about the issues and coming to meetings like this.

So, I’d like to tell you a little bit about our story: how we got started, how we’ve been campaigning and why, what we’ve managed to accomplish, and where we find ourselves now. Later on Sean will talk about how we can keep this story going, and how you can become part of it.

In November 2012, the first Radical Independence Conference was held in Glasgow. There were over 800 people there, talking about how we can create a fairer, greener, more democratic Scotland, with independence as a first step. The buzz was amazing. There had been so much bickering and in-fighting on the left, but now everyone could agree on a common goal. The conference organisers set out their vision in five points, which were enthusiastically agreed by everyone there. We wanted to build a Scotland that was:

  • Green and environmentally sustainable
  • Internationalist and opposed to war and nuclear weapons
  • Socially just, and opposed to austerity and privatisation
  • A modern republic for real democracy
  • Committed to equality and opposing discrimination

Over the next few months, local groups formed across Scotland. There was no top-down structure, no rule book, just a shared dedication to those five principles. A loose format emerged where representatives of local groups meet in National Forums every other month to keep in touch and decide on collective actions, but otherwise all the groups are autonomous.

Here in Aberdeen, Doug organised the first few meetings in a pub and it grew from there. By May 2013 we had a banner in the May Day march and were inviting national speakers to our launch event at the Foyer.

We’re all volunteers, and the way we work has developed organically – which is a fancy way of saying we make it up as we go along. We decide things by consensus, and anyone who wants to get involved has an equal say.

All sorts of people have been involved in RIC Aberdeen – workers, students, pensioners, unemployed. Some have been activists for years; some had never voted before. Our beliefs cover the spectrum of the left, but we’re united in our desire for social and political change.

At the start, there were a lot of long discussions about how we should actually go about campaigning. We didn’t want to wait until independence to start working towards a fairer, more equal society. Eventually we decided to focus on Aberdeen’s most deprived areas because people in these areas are suffering the most under Westminster, and they have the lowest levels of voter registration and engagement. Alongside campaigning for independence, we wanted to ensure that ordinary people are empowered – especially those who have been disenfranchised and excluded from the political system.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve held events in the city centre and at the university, hosting speakers, showing films, participating in debates and info sessions. We did some weekend stalls in town, often alongside the Yes campaign and Women for Indy.

But our main activities, by far, have revolved around canvassing in working class areas. We’ve been out chapping doors in all weather and holding public meetings, having conversations and registering voters in many of Aberdeen’s regeneration areas: Gallowgate, Woodside, Tillydrone, Torry, Seaton, Kincorth, Middlefield, Cummings Park, Northfield, Mastrick.

Two weeks ago, these communities all voted Yes, because people wanted social change. It’s no coincidence that the areas with Aberdeen’s biggest Yes vote – Northfield and Cummings Park – are also the areas with the highest rates of child poverty. In Tillydrone, the last council election saw a 12% turnout – for the referendum it was over 80%.

These are victories, not for RIC but for the people of these communities. It seems obvious – people are willing to engage when there’s a real possibility for change. People get excited when there’s something to get excited about.

We remain committed to independence for Scotland as a long-term goal, but it’s off the agenda for now. That means it’s even more important to harness this energy and keep working for change, because we know that Westminster politicians are not going to prioritise the lives of ordinary people.

The referendum campaign was just the first chapter in this story. Now it’s time to start the next chapter.

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