Some time back in the 1980s I joined the Labour Party and the Militant Tendency within it. Thus begun my political life. My activism went through cycles from then until the late 1990s, seeing me through the Anti-Poll Tax campaign, the Timex Strike, the formation of the Scottish Socialist Alliance (later Party). By the later 1990s, following the death of my parents and a decision to get back into education, I dropped into inactivity, though I did resurface from time to time such as marching against the Iraq war. I still considered myself a socialist and declared myself as such. I just wasn’t actively involved.
This inactive period also coincided with the spectacular series of events which engulfed my former party, the SSP. From the outside looking in I saw friends and others whose opinions I respected taking diametrically opposed positions and I could make no sense of it. They couldn’t all be right, nor could they all have hopped on some opportunistic bandwagon, so what was going on. Unfortunately I was unable to resolve this and, even when I felt the urge to become active again, I was faced with an unfathomable clash of loyalties. Not wanting to make that choice, I stayed largely inactive. This period also saw me get married and have children and divert a lot of my energies accordingly.
Then along came indyref. I was committed to the idea of an independent Scotland as a route to a socialist Scotland and therefore to voting Yes, so became very focused on what was happening, particularly on social media. I had been commenting on political stuff on Facebook and Twitter for some time but usually discussing with friends and family and not much beyond. What indyref did for me was to open things up for me, presenting me with a significantly wider group of people to engage with. Available time did not allow me to do much beyond online activity but the breadth of what I was engaging with and the quality and perceptiveness of what I was seeing online gave me an entirely new perspective on what I might do next. Still I wasn’t coming to any conclusions.
The aftermath of referendum day itself posed a new urgency and I felt I had to do something. With a huge number of groups in existence and emerging there were certainly some options beyond trying to simply return to where I’d been before. Common Weal, RIC, National Collective (though my artistic abilities are not great), the new Scottish Left Project, along with ideas of a Yes Alliance which must involve all or some of them.
But what of the SSP and the parties that split off it or were formerly part of it? I still don’t know. At an individual level, the people within these parties in large have a lot to contribute. The struggles that gave rise to the SSP shape the modern political landscape in Scotland and provide lessons in both success and failure. Then there is the figure of Tommy Sheridan, someone who still evokes strong opinions. I do not want to provoke these on either side by saying something specific here – at any rate I still don’t know, or at least am not firmly on one side or the other and in some respects I’m glad.
For me, any issue of personality politics being used as a shortcut has been overtaken by events. Indyref has thrust loads of new people to the fore as part of the grassroots movement and that’s just as it should be. Real or perceived mistakes from the past are lessons to inform us but the dynamic has changed. If socialism in Scotland was ever confused with one individual, it is not now. The mainstream media now has a growing counterbalance in activist-journalism and won’t be able to play these old games. Parties too have to embrace this scale and get stuck in, not preach from some socially-pure high ground. Their perspectives maybe correct but if they sit outside what is actually happening on the ground, they will get left behind.
So, I’m off to dip my toe into as much as possible of what’s happening. I attended Hope over Fear rally in Glasgow one weekend. The next weekend it was the STUC rally, also in Glasgow. I have my tickets to the RIC conference later this month and I’m involved with my local Common Weal group. Closer to home, I’m in contact with folk in the local SSP branch and I’m still having conversations with friends in the Socialist Party in my old hometown of Dundee. I’ve also added my name to the Scottish Left Project and we’ll see how that develops.
The left is redefining itself, and about time too. Socialism is too important to be constantly the victim of competing socialists.