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Neil Davidson

After RIC

(January 2013)

From Scottish Left Review, January 2013.
Copied with thanks from the Scottish Left Review Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

>I share the general agreement among most people who attended the Radical Independence Conference (RIC) that it was a very impressive event, both in terms of size and in the range and quality of the discussion. What was perhaps most exciting was the sense of an emerging new left which – on the evidence of contributions from the floor – is in many respects more radical than many speakers on the panels. It is always possible to point out areas of weakness, particularly in the relative lack of trade union input (on which more below); but these can be rectified and it would be the worst kind of sectarianism to focus on these aspects rather than the achievement represented by the conference.

RIC demonstrated the possibility for socialist support for independence. There is nothing to be gained, however, from pretending that this position is currently anything but a minority one within the Scottish working class. If RIC is to be more than a one-off event then it will have to develop into a movement, mobilising existing support and seeking to extend and deepen it within Scottish society. Working-class people are currently faced with a savage UK austerity programme, in which the SNP government has in practice been complicit. To persuade people under this level of attack to treat independence as anything other than a diversion from their daily struggle for survival will require something other than lofty but abstract declarations about the self-determination or the virtues of republican government. (Especially since we note that one republic, close by, allows women to die for want of an abortion, while another, more distant, shoots down striking mineworkers; and both Ireland and South Africa had considerably more radical national movements than Scotland.)

There is nothing to be gained from pretending that support for independence is currently anything but a minority position within the Scottish working class

Part of the difficulty here is that there are no guarantees that independence would necessarily improve the conditions of the 99 per cent. The only thing which would inevitably occur is a crisis for the Rest of the UK in relation to its position within the imperialist state system, which is obviously something that socialists should welcome. Other than that – as I said on the democracy panel at RIC – independence represents a space of possibility, but one which could be filled with a continuation either of the neoliberal project or the beginning of a break to the left. (Although even here we have to stress ‘beginning’ – socialism in one country is no more plausible in Scotland than it was in Russia.)

Working alongside Yes Scotland and existing pro-independence groups where possible is obviously necessary. But one distinct way forward for RIC might therefore be to draw up objectives which Yes Scotland will not touch – removal of Trident, repeal of the anti-trade union laws, abolition of student fees for non-Scots; the list will suggest itself – which we want to see achieved by independence but, crucially, which we fight for now as part of the campaign. Participation in the Scrap Trident Weekend of action (13–15 April) is an opportunity to do so. Fighting for the kind of independence we want has two advantages. First, within the unions it would undercut the currently influential arguments of a trade union bureaucracy which is fixated on further devolution as a means of preserving their UK-wide structures (and those of the Labour Party). Second, it would mean that there was an agreed set of issues which local groups aligning themselves to RIC could sign up to. The key is to treat the struggle for independence not as an alternative to the struggle against neoliberal austerity and Western imperialism, but as part of it.

Neil Davidson teaches sociology at the University of Strathclyde and is on the Socialist Workers Party’s Scottish Steering Committee. His most recent book is How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions?.

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