[Marxism] The Pro-Independence Scots Who Want to Turn Their Country into a Socialist Utopia
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Fri Sep 20 22:38:26 MDT 2013
The Pro-Independence Scots Who Want to Turn Their Country into a Socialist Utopia
By Niki Seth-Smith
A year from today, a computer in a office cubicle somewhere will have
just finished tallying the votes for and against Scottish independence.
One possibility is that England's northern neighbor will remain a part
of the UK, keeping the Queen, the pound, and its key to the NATO
clubhouse. Another is that it will wave goodbye to its companion and
ruler of 300 years and leap off into independence—possibly with the same Queen, the same pound, and the same set of keys to the NATO clubhouse.
Hardly anything noticeable—on a day-to-day basis, at least—is set to
change even if Scots vote for independence. (The Union Jack might lose its blue; everyone north of the border might end up with slightly different
passports.) But there are signs that the independence movement is
getting a little more serious and a little less like the vanity project
of Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond, who is on a
quest to be remembered as his generation's lavishly-browed William
Wallace, only presumably wihtout the beheading part.
In August, the SNP's councilors—low-level elected politicians—endorsed an economic manifesto called Common Weal. It's an old Scots term meaning "shared wealth," and it aim is to "abolish poverty" in Scotland through higher pay, higher
taxes, and a beefed-up welfare state based on the policies of
Salmond, the man who actually has the power to decide whether the
manifesto becomes the party’s policy, made no comment on the matter. But he did recently praise "our neighbors and friends in Scandinavia, who
have managed to build more prosperous and more equal societies,"
indicating that he's at least not hostile to the Common Weal.
Were the SNP to adopt the manifesto post-independence, that would
obviously have a marked effect on daily life in Scotland. But even that
might not be enough to quiet the qualms of a growing number of
pro-independence campaigners and activists who are disillusioned with "independence-lite." They want an independent Scotland to be tangibly different to the one
they currently inhabit, and they don't feel that the SNP's current
post-independence policy proposals will provide the upheaval they want.
Enter the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), a loose coalition of Scottish lefties, eco-warriors, socialists, militant trade unionists, republicans, veterans of the anti-nuclear
movement and those dudes from the Proclaimers. The RIC is essentially a coalition of Scots who are furious that thanks to the conservative-leaning voters of rural England, they're destined
to live approximately half of their lives under a Tory government.
"We have to posit something that is radically different to what we have with Westminster," Jonathon Shafi, the co-founder and organizational
workhorse of the RIC, told me. "This isn't just about waving Scottish
flags, it’s about a modern democracy that doesn't have a queen or king
as head of state. We demand a social alternative to austerity—a break
Last year, Shafi's party's campaign began in earnest with an 800-strong conference in Glasgow, a city recently awarded the unenviable title of being the unemployment capital of the UK. Locating their first major gathering there was no accident on the RIC's part—it's people like Glasgow's unemployed who the RIC believe should
benefit the most from independence.
Kat Boyd, a trade unionist, is aiming to get the radical independence
message into disadvantaged communities and workplaces. Well known for
her firebrand politics, Boyd says she was wrongly accused of organizing the ambush of Nigel Farage, the leader of the anti–European Union UK Independence Party (UKIP) in
Edinburgh last spring. But while she rejects the "rent-a-mob Kat" tag
she's been given since, she says she supported the action because it
showed the independence movement had "nothing to do with" nationalism as the libertarian-leaning UKIP knows it.
"Scottish nationalism is different," she told me. "It's actually about internationalism." The next RIC conference, scheduled for November 23, aims to convince Scotland's immigrant
population that belonging to a renewed civic Scottish identity would be
far better than living under the shadow of a Tory government—which has
been accused of demonizing the immigrant community with aggressive tweets and billboard campaigns.
The RIC are essentially relying on the belief that Scotland is more
left-wing than England, and they may be right in their assumption. In
2010, the Scots voted in just one Tory member of Parliament; since then, local councils controlled by the SNP have been flexing their muscles, using what powers they has to slow the tide of austerity and
privatization programs implemented by a coalition they didn't vote for.
But though the population is anti-Tory, that doesn't necessarily mean
they'll be receptive to the RIC's fiery leftist message. Gerry Hassan,
co-editor of the book Radical Scotland: Arguments for Self-Determination, told me, "Yes, Scotland is more left-wing than England. But that doesn't
make Scotland a culture where a socialist agenda can win a large part of the public."
Gerry sees the RIC as in danger of advancing an "unreflective socialist nostalgia," but nevertheless applauds them for challenging Scotland's
usual routine of tribal politics and deference to the establishment. He
has identified what he calls "Third Scotland," which exists outside the
standoff between old Labour and the "bright, shiny SNP establishment."
He predicts this new force will grow and engage the young and previously apolitical as the independence referendum approaches and that it will
represent a "generational and gender shift."
On September 2, a Panelbase poll found that Scots favored independence by a percentage point, while another survey found that the campaign to stay with the UK was ahead by 30 points. But the referendem isn't for another year, and a lot can happen in 365 days as the respective campaigns whirr into action.
Whatever the results of the referendum, the efforts of the RIC and the
SNP to promote Scottish nationalism will likely get a chunk of
Scotland's population more engaged with politics than they have ever
been before. As Hassan alluded, rallying against a common enemy is
always an effective way of bringing people together and Salmond, the
dudes from the Proclaimers, and the others involved in the broad,
sometimes divided movement toward independence are united against one
big common enemy: not the English people, but the British state.
Follow Niki on Twitter @NikiSethSmith
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