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Greta Garbo's Feet & Other Stories

Meaghan Delahunt


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Christopher Silver


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Scottish Independence & Letting a Thousand Flowers Bloom by Gregor Gall

Scottish Independence & Letting a Thousand Flowers Bloom by Gregor Gall

25th November 2012

The Radical Independence Conference (RIC) held in Glasgow on Saturday 24 November surpassed all expectations in terms of turnout. Anything between 600 and 900 attended throughout the day. Its central themes were that economic and social justice, democracy, environmentalism and peace and why these could be attainable through independence. Where the conference came up short was on the critical 'how' question.

Not how in terms of the argument that, for example, social justice could more easily be attained under independence than under continued union with the rest of Britain. Rather, how in terms of establishing campaigns and operating within others to convince the current 'don't knows' and 'undecideds' that this is possible in order to create a majority not just for independence come the referendum but a majority for a radical form of independence. Presently, the yes vote languishes at a third to 30%.

This is the key challenge for RIC. It has several components.

First, it has to find a middle way between pronouncing the singular radical campaign for independence and letting a thousand flowers bloom. The former would see a steering committee elected or selected from Saturday but which was either not representative of those in attendance or the broader pro-independence milieu. The latter would see encouraging people just to 'do their own thing' no matter when, where and how that might be.

Doing the former would stunt the possibility of involving new forces that were not present on Saturday and overly formalising any campaign by putting structures before processes. The latter would see no coordination and not making of the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

What seemed to emerge from Saturday was more of the latter. Time will tell whether the January RIC meeting of invited individuals and groups will be able to pull together enough of the key forces to ensure that disorganisation and demobilisation are not the central outcome of the founding conference.

Second, the RIC needs to develop a coherent, inclusive and positive narrative for all to work around and towards. This means bringing together disparate groups and individuals to find a shared vision and perspective of what the 'other Scotland' could be like. Saturday's conference was too much of allowing people to state their positions and views and very little of having a dialogue and discussion out of which could come the action points which help shape and form the shared vision. Perhaps inevitable at the first gathering - but not a situation that can go on forever.

Third, there was almost no discussion about how to engage the radical independence case with citizens' immediate material concerns over pressing economic and social questions. Way too much grandstanding and specifically way too little of addressing how purchase and traction for policies and ideas can be gained beyond the routine organising of petitions, leafleting, marches and lobbies and public meetings. Doing these things will only get us so far and certainly not far enough to become a majority of opinion.

Attention must be turned to how to help create such popular revolts and social movements so that the radical case for independence can swim within them in order to be able to address the constituencies of oppositional grievances. It should go without saying that to reach the mass of citizens in this way means concentrating upon social and economic questions to gain traction. The issues of republicanism, nuclear weapons and NATO are not capable of mass purchase. Without gaining such popular traction, the SNP will dominate the 'yes' campaign because it can easily outgun the RIC when it comes to media coverage, knocking doors and telephone cold calling.

Fourth, is to relate to the official 'Yes Scotland' campaign. As it is a broad church, radicals should try to work within it - certainly until the point where this is not possible or productive because it has attracted significant involvement like the 200-odd that attended the local Edinburgh launch. Inside, the radicals can try to drag the centre of gravity leftwards in order that the message and materials of the 'Yes Scotland' campaign speak to the goals of 'another Scotland is possible'.

In sum, the RIC must concentrate on addressing strategic and tactical issues as well as those of ideological if it is to make good on the early promise it showed on Saturday 24 November 2012.

(c) Gregor Gall is professor of industrial relations at the University of Hertfordshire but lives in Edinburgh (g.gall@herts.ac.uk).