Whose Socialism Is It Anyway?

I’m writing this in response to a number of remarks I’ve seen or heard that seem more at home in the old days of sectarian purity than in this forward-looking, inclusive left. It’s not that I’m surprised that we haven’t fully shaken off these weights from around our necks, more that we need to be vigilant and not simply fall back into old practices.

One thing I’m also clear of – I am not immune from making unhelpful utterances.  When I do, please give me a friendly nudge and don’t just dismiss me. Hopefully I’ll just have framed something badly or need to take a second thought.

To me, this is the essence of the project.  If difference is to be our strength, knowing that none of us has a monopoly of knowledge of anything we are trying to do, we need to get better at both taking and receiving criticism.

marx

Take no heroes, only inspiration

When I say that nobody has a monopoly on knowledge that includes Marx.  This is not divine wisdom but a scientific process. But let’s look more closely at some of what’s happening on the ground.

Let’s start with the big one, the SNP.  You can’t be a real socialist if you’re in the SNP, can you?  To me this falls into the trap of seeing the world as you want it to be, not as it actually is.  This criticism tends to come from two distinct places: the residue of the left within the Labour Party and from those in proper socialist organisations.

The line goes that the SNP are a pro-capitalist party and, by implication, everyone in it must support capitalism.  From Labour there is an obvious element of hypocrisy there, especially when those voicing this criticism consider themselves to be socialist. From those outside Labour and the SNP, it is a misunderstanding of where we are, a misunderstanding not just of the political awakening around the issue of Scottish Independence but also of the longer term decline of the Labour Party as an a vehicle for meaningful social change.

Over the last few decades, the SNP has successfully moved into a political space vacated by Labour, using both left rhetoric and delivering on more socially inclusive policies, such as tuition fees and prescription charges. Yet this left-leaning stance has distinct limits – critics will quickly point to SNP local councils cutting services, passing on Tory cuts, and the less-than-clear position on fracking and related technologies.

calton

Yes rally, Calton Hill, 2013

Despite these criticisms, the SNP have hoovered up both votes and members that would have gone to Labour and are seen by many as the most progressive overall of the mainstream political offerings.  The huge influx of new members after the Referendum however was driven not simply by the pull of the SNP but of the push of political engagement and the need to find a vehicle that would maintain the momentum of the Yes Campaign.

But, and it’s an important but, the Yes Campaign was not all about the SNP.  The SNP now has amongst its ranks, members who were inspired by what was happening in that space outside the SNP, the space that dragged the entire campaign to the left to talk about jobs, poverty, Trident etc. These people can either transform the SNP to reflect their interests in the face of the party machine or, more likely, become frustrated and leave.

This is my opinion as is the fact that will be a process that endless heckling from the left will not help. By all means let’s call the SNP to account where they fail but tribal SNP bad-ism is part of the style of politics that we’re meant to have moved beyond. So, let’s continue work with SNP activists on the ground where appropriate and be critical friends.

If this is going to be an inclusive socialism, we have to deal with the question of the left in Labour and other organisations that didn’t support Yes. In the terms of the former, it’s no good just writing these folk off. I was recently challenged on this one by someone who suggested that, “Lots of RISE members will have lots more in common with Scottish Labour politicians like Alex Rowley” than certain members of the SNP.

He is quite correct but similarly Alex Rowley is likely to have more in common with people in the SNP than many in his own party, even with the Corbyn victory.  I countered:

London_Anti_Iraq_War_march,_15Feb_2003

Anti-war demo, 2003

All my adult life I’ve experienced betrayal by the Labour Party. The lack of support for the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike, the failure to oppose the Poll Tax, the Iraq war (they even de-selected my MP for opposing the war), tuition fees and standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in spreading fear and lies about Scottish independence (I could list a lot more). I used to be a member but left the party in the late 1980s. Still I cheered when Jeremy Corbyn got elected and hope he is successful. That said, I think Labour in Scotland is a spent force. 

The reawakening of grass roots politics in Scotland as a result of the referendum campaign was in opposition to Labour. Some of that has at least temporarily benefited the SNP but it is bigger than the SNP. I have no illusions in the SNP but I understand why some people do and will continue to work with them towards a common goal.

It is not that Labour opposes Scottish independence but this sense of utter betrayal that undermines any Labour revival in Scotland, even if there are some good folk still members. That is not a sectarian position. We will still work with these people, in our communities, trades unions and elsewhere.

As a member of RISE, I’m sure we will face many challenges in our bid to reconfigure left politics in Scotland. Some people are not ready to come with us yet, some may never. There is a legacy of success and failure behind us and we need to determine what to take inspiration from, what to build on and what should be left quietly on a shelf – not destroyed, but there as a quiet reminder of what we don’t want to repeat.

 

We

We the marginalised, we who dream

We the forgotten, we who hope

We who are not seen, we who see

Let this flight from wonder be resisted

We who are downtrodden, though we can see the stars

We who are of no value, though our humanity is rich

We the constantly knocked down, who get back to our feet

May the flame never be extinguished

We who are ignored, but we who are awake

We take strength from each other to see the struggle through

We may sometimes falter but it’s we who will persist

We who have but a world to win

Diversity and Critical Friends: Why Disagreement is Healthy

“I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.”  Ani di Franco

calton

“Don’t criticise the SNP”, come the cries. “Wait for Independence” and “Don’t split the movement”.

Hold on a minute – the broad Yes Campaign was always internally critical.  It was the different views of what Independence was and what it could lead to that turned a dry constitutional question into one about jobs, public services, communities, equality and the kind of Scotland we want.  Wrestling politics free of the stale, top-down model, we found our voice, more precisely our voices, and we’re not going to shut up now.

Of course, the SNP were the biggest beneficiary from this in terms of members and in terms of their success in the General Election but therein lies the challenge.  Can the actions of the party match the rhetoric and match the expectations of those who have joined and/or voted for them? We are still, to some degree in a honeymoon period, yet cracks are beginning to show.

The other main reason for the success of the SNP has been its ability to offer itself as an alternative to the corruption and elitism of Westminster that oozed out of the Better Together campaign, as an option for people who wanted to do politics in a different way. Yet, essentially, they are a party in the traditional mould, with decisions made on-high and passed down for rubber-stamping only when required.

Let’s be clear here, criticism of certain aspects of SNP policy, or the actions of certain individuals, is not the same as wholesale criticism of the SNP.  The SNP deserve credit for a whole range of things but that does not place them on a pedestal, immune from scrutiny.

Reflecting on the Michelle Thomson and T in the Park affairs, Gerry Hassan wrote, “What we need to ask after last week is whether, for some in the SNP, ­independence is only about power.” It would be exceedingly naive to deny that such individuals will exist within the SNP, as they will in all parties. The question, therefore, is not whether they exist but how they can be counteracted.

The SNP before and after the Referendum are two completely different beasts in some respect.  The ‘core’ party from before have had to reconcile itself to the large number of new members who may have very different priorities and, in some areas, views. The emergence of SMAUG (SNP Members Against Unconventional Gas) is a good sign that the party membership want a greater say on major issues. I would love to see more of this and a shift of power from the top of the party downwards.

As we move forward and specifically as we approach the 2016 elections, I offer this as a critical friend to many in the SNP with whom I know I agree with on much. We have chosen different parties but our hopes and dreams are bigger than can be contained by any one party. The future will not be decided within our respective boxes but in the areas of overlap between us.

We need to embrace criticism, respond to it properly, defend positions worth defending but also admit when we’ve got it wrong. Any dominant party should constantly be challenged and should expect to be – it’s called accountability. Don’t fear it, embrace it. Let’s broaden the political debate and distinguish productive criticism from petty, tit-for-tat point scoring.  Let’s also remember what we do agree on and not throw the baby out with the bath water.

As Cat Boyd said recently, “Political variety and respect for difference keeps us strong; the alternative – one big party with an irreproachable leader – never endures.”

One Year On

As the reality of the result wrenched our guts apart,
Disappointment gave way to cool heads,
And here we are,
One year on.

With conspiracy theories cast aside,
We took stock and continued the fight,
And here we are,
One year on.

We remembered the goal, not simply the route,
Celebrated our achievements, recognised our mistakes,
And here we are,
One year on.

The movement, the movement, that is the key,
No return to what we did before,
And here we are,
One year on.

So take stock, reconfigure, forge ahead,
So much has changed already,
Let us Rise, we are already,
One Year On.

Corbyn and Independence

CorbynSo, Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t support Scottish Independence, specifically he doesn’t support the idea of another referendum any time soon.  He made these remarks in Dundee on Thursday night, though he has said previously that the issue is a matter to be decided by the Scottish people.

The phenomenon that is Corbynmania has two faces.  One is what is actually happening on the ground with meetings of hundreds and thousands the length and breadth of the British Isles and a wave of grass roots activism that has been absent in this scale for some time.

The second is the attempt by the media to reduce it to the sort of slogans and soundbites politics they are comfortable with. Thus Corbyn is either hero or villain, everything or nothing, presented in a binary form to love or hate.  This is old-style party politics where you sign up for everything or not at all.

If you view Scottish Independence solely through the prism of SNP dominance then you’re missing the point of the Yes movement.  It was its diversity encompassing people of many parties and none that got us as far as we did. It was the idea that independence was the vehicle, not the destination that allowed the sense of common purpose to unite people, and, most importantly, show that politics itself could be different.

It is against this that any measure of Corbyn has to be judged. So, let’s get back to the main question here. Is Corbyn’s opposition / indifference / misunderstanding of Scottish Independence a reason not to welcome the movement that is growing around him? To equate a movement with one individual and one individual’s views on one subject is flawed. At the heart of this, and Corbyn has said this himself, is to get away from a situation where policies are handed down from on high and merely rubber stamped by the party at large.

The potential here is therefore not about a rebuilt Labour Party as we currently know it but something fundamentally different. Where do Corbyn’s personal views on Scottish independence sit within this movement? I would argue that in a culture that is bottom up, active opposition to independence is an unlikely priority.

But what of Scottish Labour? As Cailean Gallagher said in an article on Common Space recently, “The remnants of Scottish Labour are more New Labourite than ever”. Any hopes of Scottish Labour rediscovering itself are misplaced. That boat sailed some time ago and was ultimately sunk by the Referendum and its aftermath.

The Left in Scotland are currently scattered.  Some are in the SNP, others in the Greens, SSP and other left parties.  Many are simply not members of anything, though they may be active in non-party politics. That latter category includes me.

As for what happen following the Labour leadership result, there are a number of scenarios. A strong possibility has to be a split. The genie is out of the bottle as to what might be.

As we move forward with the Scottish Left Project, not seeing the potential for allies within a reinvigorated Labour movement south of the border would be folly. That is not to say that it will be easy but it will be a debate worth having.

To those about to be elected, some advice and a warning, should it be required

Common Weal Fife

For they still prefer sheep to thinking men
Ah, but men who think like sheep are even better
(Brian McNeill)

You are about to take part in an election like no other in recent memory. You should be aware that many of the old rules don’t apply. You should be aware that we are watching you, watching you because we are awake, watching you because the power you may gain will be on loan from us, and you had better take heed.

We are on a journey, one that didn’t end on the day of 45%. We did not go back to our homes, our mind-numbing TV or our breakfast cereal and forget. We did not resign ourselves to second best and give up. In our homes, our organisations and communities the dream and the reason for it drives us even stronger.  As the morning after dawns and the numbers…

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My Journey Back to Activism

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.

Friends of Dunfermline

Community Led Regeneration

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Turning a Local Liability into a Community Asset

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Everything written on here are my own personal opinions. They are not in anyway to be confused with the opinions and ideology of any of the organisations I am a member of, whether it is my union, party or any other group or organisations.

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