Jonathon Shafi offers a ten point reflection on RIC:
The Radical Independence Conference will go down as a huge, huge success. According to no less an authority than Tariq Ali, it will be noted as a pivotal moment in the development of radical ideas in Scotland. He may well be right. This really was not simply a one off event which people enjoyed and are going to forget about. It was something special, and for those who attended, it felt like something of a new benchmark in what should be expected of the left at a time like this.
There are many angles to examine it from, but here are ten key points about the day that are worth considering.
1) Scale and organisation
The size of the event was quite staggering. You could have been sitting in a Mass Forum with over a thousand people, while at the same time six packed workshops were happening involving hundreds. This was a step up in scale from the last conference in 2013, which also provided real organisational challenges. Organising 3000 people into pre-booked workshops across three huge venues is no mean feat. Indeed mainstream political parties with paid staff would struggle with such a task. The day went without a hitch. So, our organisational capacities at the level of logistics are improving thanks to the hard work of so many volunteers, who having run three conferences now are some of the best conference organisers in the country. No one can say the movement of the Scottish left is not organised; indeed, it now looks more organised than the Labour party.
2) Political representation
The array of representation from organisations, campaigns and civil society meant that the discussion was a genuinely educated one. From trade union leaders, to voluntary organisations, writers, academics and campaign organisers, this meant that despite the No vote, the RIC conference has not lost its appeal to wide layers of people. Why is this important? Because a real movement must have real roots and relationships in society as a whole if it is to survive and thrive.
3) A high level of political discussion
This was not a gathering where people were looking for rhetoric and soundbites. They wanted ideas, debate and engagement. On social media, throughout the day and in the pubs after the buzz of political discussion was palpable. There was a real sense of the conference attendees seeking radical and left-wing alternatives to what’s currently on offer. The most radical ideas were also the most popular. There was reports of in-depth discussion on quite complex issues like the role of currency in the economic system, the way unequal land ownership affects wider inequalities and how TTIP won’t really create more jobs. This is hugely important going forward, as it serves as a platform that can ensure that the independence movement remains a place where discussion and argument over the big issues thrives, with the left shaping the agenda.
The international session was composed of Syriza, Podemos, Quebec Solidaire, the CUP, Ritzy Cinema Workers and Focus E15 Mothers. But in truth Scotland was put in its international context throughout the day, with discussions about NATO and TTIP as well as analysis about the global economic situation. This is key to keeping independence outward looking and in developing partnerships with progressive forces globally.
5) Recognising challenges
While the atmosphere at the conference was positive and upbeat, there was a helpful recognition about the challenges we face. There has not been enough of this. In-fact there has been a dangerous lack of it. Feeling part of an ongoing movement might feel satisfying, but without an open discussion about the hurdles we are going to face, the momentum will fade. RIC is undoubtedly now going to play a key role in ensuring that there is a critical discourse about where we are going as a movement. The radical left, as RIC has always argued, is not just an add on, it is vital to winning independence and social justice where we can now.
6) An organising centre not a rally
With the SNP rally taking place just next door to RIC, many people have remarked on how good it was that 15000 independence supporters were packing out the Clyde Village. At one level that’s very true. But at another we need to recognise the differences in the two events, and not just because they were organised by different groups. The SNP event was a recruitment rally for a political party. It was not an organising centre, it was not a place to debate ideas and it did not reflect civil society in the way that RIC did. This is not to say there is no place for political rallies, but let’s understand the difference in the events. Why? Because diversity is key to defeating Westminster. The fire next time should be broader, deeper, more diverse, more experienced, and ready to win.
7) A genuine debate
The day was full of serious debate. Debate about everything from currency and media strategies through to the ideas about how the left can organise, the role of the SNP and big international issues. The debates were refreshing and people genuinely felt that they had learned something, and had left with more focus about what we should be doing. Vigorous debate is essential to politics. It doesn’t exist in Westminster, as they have all followed the same neoliberal hand book for decades. So to is it essential within movements. Without it, you can’t chart a course forward. At the conference there was a real feeling of respect amongst everyone, while at the same time having disagreements and debates.
8) A space for reflection
We have not had much time to reflect with others on the meaning of the No vote. It was important that we gained the views and insights of people who had been watching the debate from afar, and had developed an analysis which could help us map a course forward. Quebec Solidaire, for example, drew out some of the parallels that exist, Tariq Ali provided a general assessment as well as a whole host of others as well as the conference delegates who had, many of us for the first time, a place to go to contemplate and consider what we have been through and put it into some kind of context. One reflection continually made by those from the rest of UK and further afield is that those of us who have been through the cauldron of the referendum campaign probably aren’t aware of how much we have achieved, and how much of an impact it is having on those on the left elsewhere.
9) The Radical Left is now part of the mainstream
It is safe to say that we have a long way to go. But at the same time it is now the case that the radical left in Scotland really are part of the debate, and are not going away. This offers a huge opportunity to ensure that we press home on the raft of issues which we know we can work on. From land reform to fracking, to TTIP and a plan to oppose austerity, there are lots that we can argue for, not just as a fringe element, but as an important player in Scottish political life.
10) Unity outside the referendum process
The referendum offered us a uniting objective. But what would happen to this post-referendum and especially after a No vote? The conference highlighted that while the uniting objective was September 18th, the uniting political ideas were about social, economic and political issues related to poverty, corporate power, war and democracy. Those issue can provide a radical platform around which the various individuals and organisations involved with RIC can remain united. Those are the issues that must define Scottish politics from an ever right-ward moving Westminster consensus. Myshele Heywood from Aberdeen RIC put it right: “Whatever details may divide us, we need to focus on the fundamental principles that unite us all.”