Fence Sitting, Preparing to Jump

eu-logoAt the moment, I’m hovering about in a largely undecided state over the upcoming EU Referendum.  While I’m making my mind up, I’ve decided to gather links to the progressive cases for staying in or leaving.  This page will grow as I add new links, so do check back.

This is not an exhaustive list.

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Spare Us The Cutter: Save Our Libraries

By Grant Buttars, RISE West Fife

12746594_10153906613528048_1586675461_nOn 18th February, Fife Council took the decision, to close 16 of our libraries.  Affecting many of the poorest communities in the county, this was justified with the usual excuse that they couldn’t do anything else.

To some extent at least, this was the expected outcome but it still came as a severe blow to the communities affected and to the campaigners who have been fighting to save them since the initial announcement to close was made last year. This result will see some libraries close in as little as six weeks. An alternative proposal by the opposition SNP group, defeated by one vote, gave the libraries a 12 month reprieve, while alternatives were investigated.

I have played a supporting role in the Keep Fife’s Libraries Open campaign from the start and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the tireless work…

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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.

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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:

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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

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“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.