Thursday, November 29, 2012

Campaign launched for a radical vision of Scottish independence

I am indebted to Links, international journal of socialist renewal, for drawing attention to this important Radical Independence Conference which met in Glasgow on November 24. Below are two reports on the conference and the text of a Declaration for radical independence issued at the conference, all reproduced by Links. I have added a contribution by Benoit Renaud of Québec solidaire’s co-ordinating committee, who was scheduled to speak at the Glasgow conference.

– Richard Fidler

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Scotland: Radical Independence Conference unites left

November 25, 2012 -- Counterfire -- More than 800 delegates gathered in central Glasgow, Scotland on November 24 to attend the Radical Independence Conference and launched a campaign for a radical vision of Scottish independence. Speakers from a broad range of campaigns and struggles provided strategies for winning voters to independence whilet calling for a progressive social, economic and environmental transformation of the country in the interests of ordinary people.

A rejection of neoliberalism in a post-independence Scotland was a recurring theme throughout the event, which skilfully mixed packed rallies with wide-ranging breakaway workshops on topics such as “women and independence”, “wealth of the commons: a Green economy for a progressive Scotland” and “organising the 99%”.

A mass movement

In the opening plenary Peter McColl, rector of Edinburgh University, called for a mass movement against neoliberalism, saying that independence was part of a better future for Scotland. Trade union activist Cat Boyd told how she became radicalised by taking part in the anti-war movement which exposed “the true nature” of the “war obsessed machine” that is the British state.

In a tacit recognition of the significance of conference, in what was by all accounts the biggest leftwing political meeting in the country in recent years, Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond welcomed the campaign in a radio statement.

“We welcome voices to the left of the SNP’s social democratic position speaking up in favour of independence”, he told Northsound radio. The “radical indy” campaign has a strong anti-Trident [nuclear submarine] and anti-NATO focus while also rejecting the monarchy and neoliberal economics. Nonetheless Salmond’s statement was welcomed by the conference which aims to build a united independence movement without losing sight of the wider social and political issues affecting the Scottish people.

Ethical foreign policy

The ethical foreign policy workshop had a strong focus on the campaign against trident and the recent attack on Gaza. Speakers from campaigns including Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Stop the War and the Faslane Peace Camp opened the session in which a wide range of approaches and attitudes towards key issues and strategy became apparent. There was a strong sense that different left organisations and non-aligned activists were making initial steps towards coordinated action for perhaps the first time. The workshop called for a national demonstration against Trident in the spring, a call which was met with passionate applause in the closing plenary.

In the afternoon an international rally saw a diverse range of speakers share their experiences of building a variety of movements, from the Quebec and Catalonia independence struggles to the fight against the devastating austerity measures besetting Greece and southern Europe.

Leading French Front De Gauche activist Danielle Obono said “from Greece to Palestine, it is very important that internationalism is stronger than ever”. SYRIZA member Stelios Pappas told the conference that Greek activists were building a coalition that would change Greece and transform Europe. It was clear from the diverse discussions during the day that Scottish independence could be a springboard for a more radical future for the country.

Delegates took to Twitter to praise the conference: @martinDiPaola tweeted, “goosebumps when Stelios Pappas raised a clenched fist and so many responded”. “Lots of shades of red and green with plenty of fiery rhetoric”, commented @PeterKGeohegan. “Enjoyed speaking at #ric2012 today, and was inspired by passion, vision and commitment of attendees”, said @JeanUrquhartMSP.

Independence through unity

The Radical Independence Campaign can provide a much needed forum in which unity can be forged as the left takes it’s arguments for another kind of Scotland out into the streets, workplaces and communities.

Much like the wider movements against austerity and war, broad, organised and politically focused campaigning will be essential if a progressive vision of independence is to capture the hearts and minds if those far beyond the ranks of the left. The RIC conference was a major first step towards that goal.

For a full list of the declarations made by the conference and for videos of speeches, visit the Radical Independence Campaign website.

Colin Fox: Radical independence -- an idea whose time has come

By Colin Fox, Scottish Socialist Party spokesperson

November 25, 2012 -- I was looking forward to the Radical Independence Campaign conference in Glasgow yesterday and I was not disappointed. Conference organisers billed the event as “a one day conference to discuss Independence and the way forward for Scotland” and they are to be congratulated on presenting a stimulating event, in comfortable surroundings with modern facilities, conducive to thinking, discussing and learning from others. Moreover with delegate passes priced at just £4 [unwaged] they also succeeded in keeping the event within everyone’s reach.

Inevitably with several important and attractive sessions and 800 people attending throughout the course of the day the conference was tightly timetabled and often too unwieldy to decide very much, some “workshops” had 300 people in them. But rightly the event’s emphasis was on beginning the process of deliberation over the many important issues in front of the entire Independence movement in Scotland.

The thing that struck me most was that, just as the independence movement which covers a multitude of philosophies, we too had a wide range with socialists, greens, trades unionists, social democrats, nationalists, internationalists, feminists and single-issue campaigners all content to describe themselves as “radicals”. Equally we learned to accept, as more than one person said in the 10 workshops, there are presumably radicals who support the union [between Scotland and England] out there too! The word “radical’”in itself means almost nothing if we are honest, it’s like the phrase “the people”.

Nonetheless the 800 people who gathered yesterday will have been greatly encouraged by what we have in common, and no one put this better than my Yes Scotland coalition advisory board colleague Patrick Harvie, who said that “people who like the status quo will vote no, what we need to win a majority for Independence is a transformational agenda with more democracy, more redistribution of wealth, more public ownership and more co-operation”. And this unanimity was echoed in the packed workshops. I attended one on the case for a Scottish republic. Here each of the arguments for monarchy were abjectly dismantled and ridiculed. Conference accepted there was nothing democratic, progressive or modern about the principle of a hereditary head of state. And while we were all able to agree that republics are not, in and of themselves radical, there can be no doubt that achieving a modern democratic republic for Scotland would be both a huge blow for the British ruling class and a seismic advance for democracy.

I was able to mention how the burgeoning Yes Scotland movement has advanced in recent weeks during the session on strategies for independence. I tried to infuse it with the sense that we are part of a powerful mass movement which compares with the anti-poll tax campaign of 25 years ago. And there was a widespread acceptance that the place for the Radical Independence Campaign is inside the Yes Scotland coalition helping to ensure our transformational agenda has maximum impact and influence. This is certainly the role myself, Patrick Harvie, Pat Kane, Elaine C Smith and others advance on its advisory board. Clearly the addition of thousands of others would be pivotal in shaping the future strategies of the Independence coalition.

In drawing the day-long conference to a close, Robin McAlpine of the Jimmy Reid Foundation stressed how powerful and persuasive ideas themselves are in the world today saying, “We [the RIC] are above all an idea and we need to turn that into a story the Scottish people can understand and support.”

How true. For here were echoes of Karl Marx’s wise words. “Philosophers”, he reminded us 150 years ago, “have merely interpreted the world, the point however is to change it”. For me the most refreshing aspect of yesterday’s conference was that these powerful and persuasive ideas, so powerful and challenging, now have greater semblance to gain traction among the Scottish people in 2014.

Declaration for radical independence

November 26, 2012 -- The following text was drafted by Robin McAlpine and was read out at the Radical Independence Conference 2012 by Pat Kane.

We call for independence for the Scottish people.

No responsibility more defines a generation than its responsibility to leave a legacy of hope and possibility. Our generation has a historical opportunity to leave such a legacy. It is for us to choose not a government but a future.

We are offered two. One warns us not to risk the attempt to be a better society, one asks us to hope we can be.

Britain is the fourth most unequal country in the developed world. It has become two nations, one for the rich and one for the rest. The campaign against independence does not invite us into its Britain of wealth and privilege. It expects us to endure our Britain of austerity and exploitation.

They want us to vote No to independence because they want us to vote Yes to inequality, Yes to poverty, Yes to corporate greed. They want us to know our place, not to get ideas above our station. They do not even offer to try to be better.

They are satisfied with this Divided Kingdom. We are not. They believe their first duty is to protect wealth. We disagree. A country that believes there are things more important than the fate of its people has failed.

We believe the success of a country comes from the hard work and commitment of all. We believe that a good country is one in which all share fairly the success of good times and all share fairly the burdens of bad times. We believe that the people who run a country should reflect and represent the people of that country. We believe Scotland belongs to us all and that neither this land nor its people should be exploited only for the profit of a few.

This is what the people of Scotland believe too. At election after election Scots have used the ballot box as a loudhailer to ask for a better country. But at every turn the path from here to that better country has been blocked by the alliance of wealthy people who run Britain for their own benefit. The more Scots have voted for justice the less just Britain has become. Instead we have corrupt wars, a corrupt media, corrupt bankers, corrupt corporations, corrupt politicians.

But a path to a better Scotland is open once more, one that does not require us to ask the permission of those who do not want us to reach our destination. In an independent Scotland the only thing holding us back will be ourselves.

This is not a campaign for independence but a campaign for a better Scotland which we believe can only begin with independence. We are tired of complaining about Britain. It is time to talk about what Scotland can be.

Scotland can be a participative democracy. Where no-one’s view is worth more because they have money. Where financial interests don’t drown out the voices of the people. Where decision-making belongs to the many and not just an elite. Where communities are not told what they will be given but decide what they need. Where our institutions are reformed to include the people in their governance. Where the media is balanced, education creates active citizens and information is free to all.

Scotland can be a society of equality. Where poverty is not accepted. Where pay gaps are small and poverty wages are ended. Where tax redistributes wealth. Where no human attribute is a justification for discrimination and prejudice. Where human rights are universal.

Scotland can be a just economy. Where profit never justifies damaging people and the environment. Where essential industries are owned by all and not exploited by the few. Where workers have the right to fair treatment and to defend themselves. Where industrial democracy makes better businesses. Where investment is for development, not for speculation.

Scotland can be a great welfare state. Where the social contract is not between the state and the people but between the people themselves. Where from cradle to grave society cares for all regardless. Where delivering more and better social services is the national priority, not austerity. Where the government of the people is never used to create private wealth.

Scotland can be a good neighbour. Where we seek to work with nations around the world to resolve global inequality, climate change and conflict. Where we never join international alliances for exploitation and war. Where we work to reform and democratise multinational institutions. Where we see our deeds, our national culture and our values as a message of hope.

Scotland can be a moral nation. Where mutuality, cooperation and fellowship define our relationships. Where we are good stewards of our country and hand it on to the next generation in a better state than we inherit it. Where our values are not dominated by greed, selfishness and disregard for others but by patience, generosity, creativity, peacefulness and a determination to be better.

This is a Scotland which British politics has robbed from the Scottish people. We want it back.

Our future is unknown. Good. Only in uncertainty can hope and possibility prosper. We choose the chance to fight for a better Scotland; we reject the offer to endure more of the same indefinitely.

We are socialists, feminists, trade unionists, greens. We are from the peace movement, from anti-poverty campaigns, from anti-racists groups. We are community activists, civil liberty campaigners, the equalities movement and more.

[We are also creatives, artists, entrepreneurs and innovators who put our enterprise at the service of society, and use markets, audiences and our skills pragmatically to that end! - PK]

We are the Radical Independence Campaign, the start of a movement to win back Scotland for its people, to offer them the country they deserve.

A previous generation, in 1979, had a chance to offer a legacy of hope and possibility to the next generation. They failed, Thatcher took power, Scotland suffered.

We cannot afford to fail this time. Scotland cannot afford us to fail.

It is time for our generation to reject fear and choose hope. Our hope begins with independence. For the sake of the Scottish people.

The Left and the fight for Independence: the case of Québec

Published October 8, 2012

by Benoit Renaud, member of Québec solidaire‘s co-ordinating committee.


The people of Québec, the only Canadian province where the majority of the population has French as their first language, have been struggling for decades with the issue of whether they want to remain a part of Canada or become an independent country. Two referendums were held on that issue in 1980 and 1995. In the first one, the “yes” vote to sovereignty was at 40%, in the second, it went up to 49.5%. Both these referendums were initiated by provincial governments of the Parti Québécois (a close equivalent to the SNP).

Since 1995, the PQ has been struggling with what to do next on independence, some arguing for a third referendum, others against. While in government (until 2003), it alienated many people in the social movements and part of its own base with neo-liberal policies, including support for free trade deals and attacks on health and education. This has led to a convergence of forces on its left and the founding of Québec solidaire, a party uniting the left and also supporting independence.

On September 4, the Québec provincial election brought back to power the Parti Québécois. But this was a very narrow victory, with only 54 out of 125 seats going to the PQ, and 50 to the Liberal party (PLQ), which was in government for the preceding 9 years and is dedicated to Canadian unity. The remaining seats went to The Coalition for Québec’s future (CAQ, 19 seats), a fiscally conservative party led by a former PQ cabinet minister, which calls itself nationalist while rejecting independence; and Québec solidaire (2 seats and 6% of the popular vote).

This election was called after six months of an unprecedented student strike against a planned tuition increase of 75%, which sparked a much broader social mobilisation on social justice, environmental and democratic issues. With 200,000 students on strike for several weeks and daily actions of various types and sizes – several of them leading to confrontations with the police – this movement had its highlights in a series of mass demonstrations counting in the hundreds of thousands in downtown Montréal, on the 22nd of each month starting in March. Some people have referred to that movement as the Maple Spring (a pun in French on the Arab Spring, “érable” rhyming with “arabe”).

It can be argued that this student strike not only was victorious, but that it effectively brought down the government. On the first day of the campaign, each party put forward their positions in relation to the student movement. And on its first day in power, the new government cancelled the planned tuition increase as well as the repressive law that was passed in May with the goal of ending the strike, unsuccessfully.

During the election campaign, the national question was also a significant factor, but in a strangely negative way. The Liberals and CAQ were constantly attacking the PQ for considering the possibility of a third referendum on sovereignty. But the fact is that current PQ leader Pauline Marois founded her leadership on the rejection of any firm commitment to hold such a referendum. Her party had suffered its worse electoral setback in 2007, coming in third place, after including the promise of a referendum in its platform. Even many supporters of independence didn’t vote for them because they didn’t believe they could win a third referendum after having lost the first two, with the same leadership and the same strategy.

In fact, a new party formed out of a split from the PQ just a year before the election. Option nationale (ON) is dedicated to achieving independence by all means, including creating facts out of an election victory (which, as we have just seen, can be achieved with only 32% popular support), before holding a referendum. This comes from the idea that the federal government stole the 1995 referendum by not respecting the rules. That party got 1.9% of the vote and came close to electing its leader, Jean-Martin Aussant, who was a rising star of the PQ caucus before his resignation in May 2011.

This never ending debate, both within the nationalist movement and in the broader political scene over referendums, their merits and how and when one could be won by pro-independence forces, is symptomatic of a general acceptance of top down politics as practiced in the province since the first Parliament was elected, back in 1792, on the British model. In short, what new Prime Minister Pauline Marois was asking the electorate, was to trust her with all the decisions: when a referendum should take place, what the question should be, how the transition to a new political status for Québec would be managed, etc.

For Québec solidaire, independence is not only a means of preserving the culture of the French speaking majority and righting the wrongs of history, it is also a path to achieving social, environmental and democratic goals. Our party’s starting point is not nationalism but principles associated with the Left, like feminism, labour rights, anti-racism, international solidarity, etc. We have reached a broad consensus in favour of independence in part because fighting against national oppression is one of those progressive principles, and the Canadian state has proven many times that it is not willing to fully recognise Québec as a nation. But also, we see the struggle for independence as a way to bring people together, through the democratic process of a constituent assembly, and decide collectively what kind of society we want. In short, we want to give its full meaning to the idea of self-determination. Our view of the national struggle is from the bottom up.

Also, our party and its relative successes – considering it is the only such creature in North America – was made possible because it came from a series of mass struggles from below against neo-liberal and imperialist attacks. From the March of Women of 1995 and 2000 to the student strikes of 1996 and 2005, including a mobilisation of 100,000 in Québec city in April 2001 against the Free Trade Area of the Americas and an almost unanimous rejection of the Iraq war, Québec has been at the centre of the fight back against corporate power and for a better world.

The very close results of this election, with the formation of a minority PQ government, mean that there is likely to be another battle for votes very soon. Also, the new government, after signalling left in the lead up to the election and implementing some of their more progressive commitments early on, will be inexorably pushed to the right by the corporate lobbies, the parliamentary majority of the other two centre-right parties and their own belief in neo-liberal principles. Inevitably, other struggles from below will be needed in the near future. Our hope is that out of all that turmoil, our vision of Québec’s place in the world as an independent country showing that a more just and green society in the heart of North America is possible, will become more and more relevant and eventually rally the support of a majority.

Québec solidaire are supporting the Radical Independence Conference.

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