A crippling aversion to power

The last straw was when, speaking during the final plenary session, Lesley Riddoch started pontificating about the ‘Britishness’ at the heart of the SNP. It was at this point that I walked out of the hall and away from the Radical Independence Campaign’s 2016 conference. I did so with mixed feelings. The despairing anger prompted by Ms Riddoch’s offensively silly remarks was tempered somewhat by the realisation that, being a consummate professional and well able to read the room, she was merely pandering to her audience. And by the fact that, for the most part, my experience of the conference had been considerably more positive than I had anticipated.

Going to #RIC206 was an impulsive decision. I could ill-afford to take a full day out of the other activities that are making a mockery of my determination to wholeheartedly embrace retirement. But, given my politics, how might I resist an event which gloried in the title AFTER THE BRITISH STATE. So I booked my place and, at daft o’clock on the distinctly autumnal morning of Saturday 1 October, set off for the Marriott Hotel in Glasgow.

I didn’t expect to fit in. As an SNP member and someone who has been part of the campaign to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status since long before it was adopted by righteous radicals, I anticipated that I might not be entirely in harmony with the prevailing sentiment. Or that the company would be entirely comfortable with my presence. Not that there was any possibility of antagonism. There was just a niggling feeling that I might be a little out of place. A concern which turned out to be almost entirely unfounded.

Credit where it’s due, RIC know how to stage a conference. And the Marriott is a superb venue, easily able to accommodate what I understand to have been around 1,000 attendees and with the flexibility needed to allow the conference to break down into separate working sessions in between the plenaries. The facilities in the hotel were also excellent. I was particularly impressed by the Wi-Fi and the Drygate IPA on draught in the bar.

There were other positives. The opening session, chaired by the always impressive Alan Bissett, produced some fine speeches. Cat Boyd was as effective as ever and even, for the most part, managed to eschew her customary pointless sniping at the SNP – choosing to direct her intimidating ire instead at more deserving targets such as bankers and British Labour. It was a passionate but measured address in which the claim that Scottish politics had not changed since the first independence referendum stood out as being a bit odd.

For me, however, the stand-out performance of the day came from Stella Rooney. Her impassioned plea on behalf of young people and angry condemnation of the culture of precariousness to which whole generations are being subjected seemed to get to the aspirational core of what Scotland’s civic nationalist movement is about.

Patrick Harvie was there too. Predictably failing to recognise that respect and cooperation between the SNP and Scottish Greens has to be a two-way process. But otherwise doing a good job of highlighting the distinctiveness of Scotland’s political culture and making a solid case for another referendum.

By this time, I was starting to realise that my concerns about feeling out of place might have been totally unwarranted. The sniping at the SNP had been surprisingly muted. I’ve heard worse at party meetings. And there was never going to be much disagreement on the politics, even if there might be a parting of company when it came to the matter of tactics. So I went into the first workshop session feeling very much more at ease.

The workshop addressed the issue of ‘The Axis of Corruption: Westminster, The City and the Media Establishment’. Plenty there for the packed room to get their collective teeth into – ably encouraged by Adam Ramsay (Open Democracy), Hilary Wainwright (Red Pepper), Mike Small (Bella Caledonia) and Angela Haggarty (Common Space), who chaired the session.

I don’t intend to go into a lengthy account of the discussion. That would be tedious as well as redundant, given that most people reading this will already be fully aware of the issues even if they didn’t watch the Livestream coverage. Suffice it to say that, much like the rest of us, RIC has absolutely identified the problem that we have with the sheer power of the British establishment, and particularly the mainstream media. But I came away from the session without any fresh insights into how the independence movement might address this problem. That’s a subject that will be revisited constantly over the coming weeks and months.

Time to cut to the chase and the real point of this piece. Lesley Riddoch’s ill-thought jibe about the ‘Britishness’ of the SNP may have been the last straw, but I was shaking my head in despair well before she came out with this nonsense. It was, in fact, the estimable Jonathon Shafi (RIC) who forced me to conclude that, despite all the positives of the day, my misgivings about RIC were not at all misplaced.

Addressing the closing plenary session, Jonathon spoke eloquently of the qualities that are common across the independence movement and of the attributes that will be required for the movement to succeed in the coming independence referendum. He rightly pointed out that the movement’s strengths lie in its diversity and its vision and that it is by drawing on these strengths that our goal will be achieved. But I was struck by what was missing. Crucial as diversity and vision may be, they are of little consequence without effective political power. And this is the gaping hole at the heart of the RIC’s programme.

Jonathon Shafi was far from the first speaker that day to sing the praises of Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, it fell to voices from the floor to sound a note of caution on putting any faith at all in British Labour simply on the basis of the dubious triumph of the ‘Corbynistas’ in the recent leadership contest. A victory which, it must be remembered, did nothing more than restore the precariously unstable status quo ante. But, while congratulating Corbyn and his supporters, Jonathon failed to note a vital difference between them and the radical left in Scotland as represented by RIC. The ‘Corbynistas’ recognise the need for effective political power and the fact that, within the British political system, this is only accessible through the agency of a political party. Which is precisely why they are seeking to establish control of British Labour.

There has long been a distinct impression that RIC, and other elements of the radical left, are in denial about the need for the kind of political effectiveness that can only be achieved by a political party. At best, there is no more than a profoundly grudging and ephemerally fleeting acknowledgement that the SNP is actually a component of the independence movement. At worst, there is a vehement aversion to party politics and to power itself.

The left is doomed to failure. It can never succeed because it cannot bring itself to risk sullying the purity of its righteous radicalism with the, sometimes crude, tools of real-world politics. There is, within the left, an insidious preference for honourable failure over even marginally compromised success. It is important for the independence movement as a whole to recognise that, as well as all the positives in terms of ideas and inspiration that RIC brings to the Yes campaign, they also bring this tendency to reject the very means by which the campaign might succeed.

This is why I felt I might be out of place at #RIC2016. There is a fundamental tension (let’s not say conflict) between acceptance of the SNP as our best weapon against the established power of the British state, and the fanciful notion that there is a measure of popular democratic dissent that represents a tipping point at which the British establishment simply gives up.

In the wake of the Conservative Party Conference and the genuinely frightening shift in British politics that was intimated by the flagrantly British nationalist rhetoric there, it is to be hoped that the left in Scotland will overcome its distaste for ‘traditional’ party politics and set aside its misgivings about the SNP at least long enough to give Yes a chance. Otherwise, they risk presenting the British state with the crack in the independence movement into which will be driven the wedge of fatal division which has historically proved among the most effective weapons in its imperialist arsenal.

The mood in Scotland is right for all the elements of the Yes movement to come together in the final push to independence.

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8 thoughts on “A crippling aversion to power

  1. annemart1415

    It gives me great hope to read your insightful articles Peter. The strengths must be worked on as you say, and by the political processes. The machinations of the powerful MSM and their “pedigree chum” liaisons cannot be understated. Propaganda is an oft used word, and when you realise you’ve been a victim for decades, it makes it even more obvious. Without social media and the united grassroots movement of indyref one, how would we know? The young I hope are more informed and curious. Your article about the Tory conference and blatant unionist non-democratic drip feeding, and angles continue. Reality doesn’t dawn so quickly for many, who have this drip fed to them. Divide and rule always a tactic. Interesting article. Thank you.

  2. i.mac

    I didn’t attend the RIC conference, however the unwillingness to accept the need for political backing, is something I have come up against, many times, from some of said members. Lots of ideas, no recognition that political backing, is needed to get there. Frustrating, to say the least, arguing against some highly “intellegent” people, who look at a “gift horse” like the Snp, and pick holes in every policy ,to the extent, that they often sound like the Unionist newspapers. Odd that, I can only put it down to one of two things; Either some of them at the top are from GCHQ, or they crave control, at any cost, they certainly have not got Scottish Independence, as a top priority.

  3. Iain Barker

    “The mood in Scotland is right for all the elements of the Yes movement to come together in the final push to independence.”

    That might be so but is that the mood in the “Pseudo Political” organisations?

    It grates on me to hear anybody that is in theory pro Scottish Indy speak positively about Corbyn who is just another British Nationalist in my eyes. I have no faith in the British Labour Party left and anybody that does will just have heading for the exit door as well.

    The Greens leaping into bed with the Brit Nat Tories at Holyrood at every chance they get it seems grates even more on me and I was glad that I didn’t give them my second vote at the Holyrood Elections. The Greens have now missed several opportunities to be “constructive” in opposition at Holyrood in my view.

    Next week we will have Gerry Hassan addressing the Fringe Conference? and I just think GTF. I groaned when I read that in todays National. He is an example of somebody who has nothing positive to contribute to the cause of Scots Indy in my eyes. He is one of the reasons I gave up on Newsnet.

    Lesley Riddoch for me is just another journo? in that snipe mode. I have read some of her articles and I thought she had something to say but sure enough the next day she would be back in snipe mode and leave me thinking can I trust anything she writes?

    As much as some might not like it but the SNP won an election with a rather timid programme but that is democracy for you.

    I am not a fan of everything the SNP does but there is an onus on others to be constructive in relation to the SNP SG and the formulation of any SG Policy. The only beneficiaries from the constant negative sniping are the Brit Nat Right and at the risk of uttering Godwin’s Law – the only winners are the Goose stepping Jack booting Butchers Apron wearing Yoons.

    The Left? in Scotland needs to waken up to what is happening in England where all future elections will be fought by Parties pandering to an increasingly Xenophobic electorate. Equating the SNP with such “Britishness!” isn’t going to get her an audience or even a serious listening to.

  4. Dan Huil

    The only way Labour in Scotland can survive and thrive is in an independent Scotland. I believe more and more traditional supporters of Labour are coming to accept this, even if the leadership, in public, does not.

  5. Andy McKirdy

    The only political party able to bring about our goal of Independence is the SNP, fact!!!!!
    Anyone who can’t see that is a fool. The British establishment love it when supposed Yes supporters and groups criticise, to any degree, the SNP because the MSM jump on it and the dunderheads in our country sit open mouthed believing anything they’re told.
    If your goal is Indy then support must go to the SNP and then after Indy we can all vote for who we like, but only the SNP will deliver that.
    Personally I wouldn’t trust Harvie as far as I could throw him, he would swap Indepence for a green agenda any day of the week!!!!!
    Corbyn is no friend of Scotland and like every other person still in Labour land, it will always be Party first everyone else second, especially the jocks. If he was such a true socialist why has he sat in parliament for all of those New Labour/ RedTory years, picking up his check and moaning occasionally from the side lines. Why didn’t he set up a new party and follow the courage of his convictions.
    Wake up Scotland, they all hold us in utter contempt and laugh up their sleeves at our stupidity.
    If Scotland votes No again then every no voter deserves exactly what’s coming to them.

  6. DerekM

    I really liked what RIC did during the indyref1 as an activist party and i applaud them for it but like all activist parties or political activists when there is no campaign we can be like a cat on a hot tin roof.

    What they need to understand is that they are just like the SNP were 40 years ago growing a political party is one thing growing it so it can take on a monster like westminster is another.

    The SNP learned a hard lesson in 79 and as and old Labour activist i watched the shift from being a fringe party kicking lumps out the system and getting nowhere to understanding if you want to beat the system you have to do it from inside system.

    But i do so hope they grow into a parliamentary party but right now Scotland needs them to be activists for independence all the politics stuff lets leave that until later yessers get indy first before the mad tories wreck society completely.

    A great insight Peter thank you.

  7. Heidstaethefire

    This article would have benefited from an exposition of what Riddoch actually meant, even if the writer of said article doesn’t agree with the proposition.

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