I attended the Radical Independence Campaign meeting in Edinburgh’s Augustine Reformed Church last night. It was my first time at one of their meetings and with eight speakers given 10 minutes each over a two hour time slot, it was more akin to political speed dating than an in depth exploration of ideas. The discussion was supposed to be on Independence, Corbyn and the Future, and on two of those it hit the mark. Former SNP MP George Kerevan appeared to be on fast forward for his 10 minutes trying to pack so much in to so little time; so much so that it became difficult to follow. In broad brush strokes he felt that the SNP had retracted from the Yes movement and had focussed too much on its parliamentary profile, to the detriment of both Yes and the SNP. He said that he accepted that the SNP had suffered a setback in the election with the loss of so many seats, with the loss of votes being attributed to people moving to Corbyn Labour. He finished off by stating we needed to mobilise and radicalise, but unfortunately this wasn’t explored, which is a great pity, because this was an area where I know the SNP was (at least in Airdrie and Coatbridge) light on bodies.
Rory Scothorne of Roch Winds was of the opinion that that Kezia Dugdale’s main aim in the election was to return Ian Murray as an MP and anything else was a bonus, and that the additional seats gained by Labour were gained by Corbyn’s policies. That’s an over simplification; to use the Coatbridge seat for example, Hugh Gaffney increased Labours vote by 2000 votes, while Phil Boswell, representing a split SNP who have been suspended by the party dropped 11,000 votes. Had there been no such split, with an effective campaign the SNP could have retained that, and Labours vaunted magnificent seven would have been a less impressive six. Rory seemed to be of the opinion that the radical left should shift to backing Corbyn, to put the short term aim of getting the Tories out over independence. I did make a contribution which related to this in the discussion; that grabbing the short term achievable aim of putting Corbyn in power only gave us a potential stay of five years on being gifted another Tory government.
Pete Connell of RISE observed that the debates which took place in England around housing, immigration and austerity didn’t take place to the same extent in Scotland, overshadowed by the unionist parties combined focus on constitutional matters. He also said that without extra parliamentary groups keeping the pressure on parliament there would be no progress in many areas and where aims coincided, RISE would work with Momentum (which we really should acknowledge as a Labour party internal pressure group), and that’s laudable, so long as we bear in mind that what Momentum is doing is to advance the Labour Party and by extension, British Nationalism. Pete in fact mentioned that he was surprised to see that there was little acknowledgment of the concept of British Nationalism in UK discussion, nationalism of course being a quirky Scottish thing. He should know by now that Britons are of course patriots, not nationalists…
Hilary Horrocks of the Edinburgh TUC spoke for time about the Grenfell Tower fire and how the TUC was putting members of the community in touch with help from the Trade Unions to help with a number of housing and community issues: she pointed out that in Edinburgh alone there are 4000 high rise homes with no sprinklers fitted. Lynn McCabe, a local anti-evictions activist also spoke of housing problems, in Edinburgh social housing accounts for only 13% of the total stock, well below the 24% national average. She made the point that Tory ideology is that social housing is a short term solution, not a long term one, demonstrated by the selling off of council housing stock and not replacing it with similar levels of new housing.
Peter McCall of the Greens spoke about how across many parties there was an acceptance of capitalism but also a broad agreement that certain areas should be excluded from free market exploitation and influence: social housing and health being notable examples.
I found Jonathon Shafi to be one of the most relevant speakers as regards the debate title, pointing out the similarities between the Yes campaign in 2014 and Corbyn’s campaign in 2017, the role played by the media in both cases against Independence and Corbyn and how both appeared to grow organically from the ground up. His observation that Jeremy Corbyn and Angus Robertson were better at understanding such movements than Nicola Sturgeon rang true, and his view that Sturgeon’s response to such a movement was to ask how she could control it was spot on. Had there been time I would have added a further point, that there was an element who neither understood it or wanted to control it but actively deterred it. I also agreed with him that both Yes (as it loosely exists) and the SNP are not radical enough.
The resulting Q&A session was as scattergun as the debate itself, and a combination of a shortage of time and a few blawhards who clearly weren’t allowed to talk at home meant no exploration of anything in detail. One questioner asked how we could have a more democratic system of government, Peter McCall of the Greens summed it up perfectly: democratise the political parties, with the over centralised SNP a prime example. The evening concluded with Holly Rigby of London Momentum speaking about how her inspiration for campaigning came from the RIC during the 2014 independence campaign, and that with the media against them they relied on the enthusiasm and effort of activists to beat the media and the opposition, a lesson sadly lost on the SNP at present.