Tag Archives: indyref

Party-Pooping and the Hangover Fear do not Help Us Get to Work | Nicky Patterson

24 Sep

The big Yes campaign party is now over. In the end we got a big turn out but didn’t get the present we asked for, and then some uninvited guests turned up to cause a rammy and the polis ended up wading in and making arrests. By now we’re all up the road, we’ve had a sleep, a cup of tea, a good scran, and a swatch through the social media chatter about who done what, and who done who… and we’re already planning our next night out.

Yes, there was an element of ‘blow-out’ to the referendum weekend. For some it was like an extended wake, where oblivion was much more comfort than abject reality. For others it was like an extra Twelfth of July, a chance to scream “No Surrender!” and “Nationalist Scum!” whilst draped in the old crown rag. For others still it was either a depressing or an affirming weekend (depending how you voted). For me, it was depressing – I voted Yes and like many others had invested a great deal of time, energy and spirit into the campaign, only to be bitterly disappointed by the result that I watched through one blearily drunken eye whenever I could get proper focus on the telly.

Walking about the southside a few hours later on Friday afternoon, it was as if everybody had heard that everybody else’s granny had died, and nobody knew what to say. There was a palpable mixture of deflation, confusion, and apprehension.

By some point over that fateful weekend, some springs of hope began to emerge… it is to these that I shall now turn, since my intention is to have them blocked up and barricaded. My belief is that the precious mineral water they bring forth is not healthy but toxic.

The first spring to appear (arguably… it was a hazy weekend as I say), was the Cavalier rallying of “The 45”, which seemed to be a sporadically emerging reactionary campaign to the referendum loss – “the 45” being the 45% of voters who opted for “Yes”.  Facebook groups, twitter hashtags, and profile badges began seeping to the surface. One such group describes itself (at time of writing) as:

We are the 45% who said Yes to independence on the 18th of September 2014. We will not disband, we will stay together, from left wing to right and all through the political spectrum, we will do so to keep the flame of political freedom burning bright in Scotland. To the ruling classes in London we say this: “So tremble Westminster in the midst of yer glee, ye’ve not seen the last of my people and me”

Now I wrote up a response to “The 45” on Saturday afternoon on my Facebook profile and received a fair number of rebukes. I’ve since seen a number of respected comrades post criticisms similar to mine, including Sarah Beattie-Smith from the Greens and James Toner from the Castlemilk community campaigns. I’m fairly confident my criticisms are appropriate and not misguided, so I am happy to reiterate them here, because “The 45” is for me the manifestation of the Hangover Fear.

Firstly, the campaign (and I maintain that it is a campaign despite some arguments to the contrary) has distinct nationalist overtones, and these are neither inclusive nor relevant to the current struggle against the corporate and political classes . The “45” reference is a clear association with the Jacobite campaigns of the 1700s, but these were distinctly different in character and aims to what we are trying to achieve. Therefore it simply isn’t clear how, under such a banner, non-indigenous or non-nationalist Scots (etc) are supposed to be included in this solidarity movement.

Secondly, there are also clear allusions to the style and rhetoric of the 99%. But this is ill-advised, is divisive and I would argue dangerous: for example, are we to declare the Roundheaded 55% as our mortal enemy? The 45ers against the 55ers? How are we to ever reconcile this fairly concretising figuration of our population? Such language and framing is absolutely not progressive and will only serve to pointlessly isolate the No voting population (the 55%), many of whom are in need of our solidarity and networking.

Thirdly, how exactly is a movement based on representation of 45% of the population supposed to grow (ie to 53%) without becoming a self-professing absurdity. It took an enormous referendum to determine the number in the first place, how do we keep tabs on growth and confidently assert that the 45% can win a majority?  It would be ridiculed by our powerful media owning opposition – the very forces which won the No campaign, and who are so expert in derailing opposition campaigns.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly; how exactly are the people across the rest of the British Isles supposed to participate and collaborate in this? After all we share a common enemy, we always have and always will until that almost mystical revolution comes round. Can our friends in England, Ireland, and Wales be as comfortable participating in this as they were in the Yes campaign? I don’t think so. I think this is too parochial and insular a concept for that, and it is therefore backwards and unhelpful.

Scrap it. We need something very different to this. We need what the broader Yes campaign was, but instead of aiming for independence we should be building and enacting the revolution across these islands. This itself needs to be done both as interest groups within a broader campaign (a la Women for Indy, National Collective etc) as well as local neighbourhood community forums and action groups all over the UK and the Republic.

As for the increase in party membership, something the 45ers are actively promoting, I say this: Party politics embodies everything that is wrong with our current system. We must reject it. These institutions are the Party-Poopers because they sap all the useful energy and of movements and campaigns to turn it into a televised parlour game for suit-wearing career-driven bureaucrats.

Consider for example, our possible options in Scotland for the forthcoming General Election: clearly the viable protest vote is with the SNP; but at the same time we cannot build the SNP (a capitalist party) for the sake of protest against the political system at Westminster – this is nonsensical. It is illogical because we will be building our future enemy in the same way that the US arms insurgents that it later faces in war.

So too is joining the Labour party, hoping to change it from the inside… This has never worked and Labour has never been a socialist party. Labour are the Party-Pooper extraordinaire, utilising the energy of socialists (or social-democrats if they have any energy?) and trade unionists to form big pin-striped concrete blocks of fuck-all.

Joining the Greens or the SSP (both parties I have been a member of at times in the past 15 years) is certainly astute and potentially useful; but neither have or will ever be able to effect real change in Holyrood (never mind Westminster where they are non existent), and therefore cannot effect real and lasting change in society. I do not discount the participation of Green and SSP members in campaigns that have been successful, but these forms of direct action have always included coalitions of parties as well as non-party groups and individuals. Thus the (radical) party per se hasn’t been the effective mechanism for change.

Instead we should unanimously seek to form local assemblies and in doing so begin to completely reject the traditional political system – this is the equivalent of supporting the local producer against the international conglomerate, the equivalent of playing to our strengths in games whose rules we govern and referee, rather than games they designed and control. You wouldn’t try and race Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone at Formula 1 with yer clapped oot 1992 4 gear Austin Metro – so why are we still doing that in a political sense?

Einstein thought that doing the same thing over and over in the hope of achieving different results was madness. We think Einstein was wise and we tend to quote people like him. We quote them… But we never actually pay heed.

In the “45%” (the statistic not the movement) in Scotland we can already identify the grounds for the rejection of the current political elite. And indeed the same sentiment exists all over these Islands. It’s up to us to grow that and build it and enact it – not to harp on about how we that voted Yes will “not disband”… of course we won’t but by Christ are we not wanting our friends from all over these islands to join us again as many did in ‪#‎indyref‬, anti-war, ant-cuts, and other broader campaigns?

Instead: we must organise neighbourhood-based community forums of activists which are autonomous and free from local party and council interference (some of the Yes groups and RIC groups were good bases for these).  In these we want to hold discussions and debates and demonstrations around global as well as local issues; network with neighbouring communities and communities abroad; deal with our (and our neighbour’s) bad landlords, bad employers, bad councils through pickets, strikes, and harassment; look after our neighbourhood, our neighbours, and especially the vulnerable; attack all forms of bigotry and oppression in our communities; build alternative centres for adult education – skill share, knowledge share, run workshops and raise consciousness; occupy land and buildings to meet needs as we see them, not as distant political office clerks see them; grow food, share food, steal food from supermarkets – resist and counter the growing cost of living against stagnant and declining wages; occupy the NHS; occupy our transport systems; occupy our local services and facilities; occupy everything we care about  they want (or would want) to take away; and so on. Force them, the corporate and political classes, into direct dialogue with us, instead of through the distancing, polarising, dehumanising, and alienating mechanisms they use just now (parliament, elections, Question Time on the BBC etc).

We knew either way (Yes or No) that we needed to start the new struggle, the new movement: the result doesn’t change that; it only changes the scale of the task: we need to organise and support from Wick to Portsmouth and from Cork to Newcastle, and beyond.

I’m starting a Community Forum in my local neighbourhood for these ends; there is also the Glasgow Solidarity Network and the Glasgow Madness Solidarity Network to offer these kind of things right now in our city. We know we need revolution, but that doesn’t just happen, we need to start building it today.

Let’s scrap the 45 idea and the Party and begin the real work. We can do it.

An Organiser’s View: Just How Radical is Scotland’s Radical Independence Campaign? | Nicky Patterson

23 Jun

This article serves as an open insight into the workings of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) in Scotland over the past year.  The RIC has been an excellent movement which has energised and politicised a new generation of activists, and re-energised and re-politicised previous generations of activism. Central to the campaign is of course securing a Yes vote this September, however it is universally assumed that the RIC will continue beyond this as a vehicle of politicisation and articulation of radical working class politics.  As with all major political movements there have been negative manifestations, and it is to some of these that I turn in the hope of providing a useful moment of reflection and assessment upon which we can collectively work to ensure that this opportunity for politicisation, and subsequent development of resilience to the manifestations of capitalism in Scotland, is protected, maintained, and enhanced.

I have been an organiser with the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) since March 2013, working initially in East Kilbride outside Glasgow, and latterly from October 2013 in the southside of Glasgow.  Initially the campaign was quite an exciting and energetic left-wing movement which focused closely on participation, collectivity, autonomy, and solidarity for – and with – the disparate groups and individuals from across the left spectrum which initially comprised the RIC’s elementary formation.  I remember the buzz and excitement of meetings where socialists, communists, anarchists, Greens, trade unionists, and non-aligned radicals of various hues and stripes were designing their own campaign within their own communites, holding to a centrality of purpose which was undoubtedly a collective antithesis to the general malaise of alienation that Westminster, and all of its associated apparatus, has been able to foster and develop in recent decades.

This was most certainly true in the Summer of 2013, and was still probably so in the weeks following the second Radical Independence Conference in November 2013, held at the Glasgow Marriot Hotel and which was attended by around 1100 delegates from around Scotland.  Since then however, the latent central strategy of the RIC has been diffused and somewhat compromised by several potent social elements. This is undoubtedly a by-product of the RIC’s phenomenal early successes, but nonetheless has engendered a loss of left-wing spirit, and has certainly purged the movement of anything inherent and explicit which might be called radical.

The comprehensive strategy which was devised collectively by members of the Glasgow Southside RIC from November 2013-April 2014 focused on the establishment and facilitation of community based groups who could then govern their own campaign within their own community networks according to their own resources and capacity. The Glasgow Southside RIC initially covered every district within the conurbation south of the River Clyde: from Renfrew in the west through to Cambuslang in the east; from Gorbals and Govan in the north down to Castlemilk and Barrhead in the south. The sheer geographical size and complexity of this area could therefore only lend to such a strategy, but of course the group was also required to adopt the “central” or “national” RIC strategy, and the first symptoms of a shift away from what initially constituted “radical” practice within the RIC is derived from the interactions between this enigmatic core body, and the outlying RIC groups.

The RIC was designed and founded by the very talented and extremely energetic members of the International Socialist Group Scotland (ISG) – a small revolutionary socialist organisation which itself was founded in 2011 by a factional split of young members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in Scotland – and it is no small testament to members of this organisation how popular the campaign, latterly a movement, has become.  As a member of the ISG until very recently, I was a witness to and sometimes a participant in the management and steerage of the RIC through assorted ISG-based group meetings.  Indeed most if not all of the organisers of Scotland wide branches of the RIC were until recently members, or ex-members, or close affiliates of the ISG, including myself.  The conflict then comes from the bipolar tensions between the determinations of this ‘hidden-committee’, which essentially boils down to no more than half-a-dozen key ISG operators, and the explicitly articulated, yet implicitly false “autonomy” of the local branches. Unfortunately as the campaign/movement has become increasingly popular, and even successful, so too have these two entities become largely compromised by mainstream currents and influences.  Firstly I will explain how this has happened and what it has meant so far for practical operations, and then I will return to how this has manifested in tense and often contradictory relations between the hidden-committee and the local branch of the RIC.

From the beginning there have been underlying tensions between the RIC and the Scottish Government initiated Yes Campaign (Yes). From the beginning too, Yes has undoubtedly been the very official, and often corporatised, vehicle of pro-independence campaigning, whilst the RIC has been the very unofficial and alternative-brand  vehicle – this is of course alongside other grassroots groups such as National Collective, Labour for Independence, and so on.  Indeed in some Yes branches there have even been resultant splits and factions between SNP officials or supporters, and ordinary or non-SNP members; and furthermore, (certainly in my experience as organiser) much of the early energy and drive from RIC recruits in the Summer and Autumn 2013 came from disaffected Yes campaigners seeking the space and agency to campaign beyond the strict remit of bland electoral-campaign praxis, and the confines of pre-White-Paper Yes rhetoric.  Since the RIC began to receive more press coverage however, and especially since the implementation of the excellent, and now ubiquitous, RIC Mass Canvass, we have seen a convergence of principles and interests between these two, initially very distinct campaigns.

There are two very clear explanations for this which will deliver for us a picture of the RIC’s shift away from its “Radical” roots. Firstly, there is recognition for the campaign’s success and popularity within the RIC’s hidden-committee, and this has in turn stimulated awareness of responsibility, and along with that, an awareness of risk. Partnered with the awareness of risk and responsibility naturally comes anxiety, an element of reactionary protectiveness, and subsequently a latent withdrawal of support for explicitly radical messages and activities.  The emergent “care-complex” harboured by the hidden-committee then signifies a paradoxical gain in confidence in the mainstream of the campaign, and a simultaneous loss of confidence in the radical spirit which produced the campaign itself.  Secondly, there is recognition of the RIC’s success and popularity within Yes too, who having hitherto failed to inspire the exponential grassroots growth rate of the RIC, have sought increasingly to collaborate with, infuse, and ultimately co-opt the RIC wherever feasible.  This has been achievable primarily through the vehicle of the Mass Canvass, where the RIC establish, organise, and publicise the actions, but rely upon Yes groups for the crucial elements of activity co-ordination, material supply, and data collation.  This practical co-operation, together with the seemingly magnetic convergence of both groups – the one which was radical becoming more mainstream, and the one which is mainstream becoming more radical – has undoubtedly resulted in the diffusion, and indeed confusion, of the RIC’s central radical strategy.

At the same time, and largely for the same reasons, this has also resulted in the diffusion, and ultimate confusion, of local radical strategy for the RIC.  As more Yes campaigners, as well as more “ordinary” or previously unengaged campaigners, joined with their local RIC groups, the potency of the original radical strategy – particularly that of local, and localised autonomy – became diluted by a more common tendency for deference to hierarchical notions of superiority or authority. New energies and talents have been joining the RIC all along and have been most welcome; what their contributions have not been matched with is a mode of emersion in and internalisation of the original principles of the RIC.  This role would naturally have previously fallen to the guidance and discipline of the hidden-committee, or at least its proxy quasi-democratic decision-making device known as the RIC National Forum – a monthly gathering of delegates from around Scotland to discuss those elements of national-campaign concern, such as pass the sanction of the hidden-committee.  Of course, no group is perfect, and I believe that had the ISG understood how successful and popular their RIC movement would become, there would have been sufficient forethought and urgency such as to realise better models of collective decision making than those which currently exist.  At any rate it is a singularly fundamental failing of the RIC to have mis-handled the influx of naivety and reaction that came with its rise in success and popularity.  So in a very real manner we have seen the mainstream-isation of the RIC at both its local and central levels.

In Glasgow’s Southside RIC group for example, this has resulted in Yes agencies agitating for and eventually securing power within the main organising group. This influence has not come from the local Yes Cathcart office, which has in fact been a fantastic supporting organisation without seeking to appropriate or co-opt control, but rather from a clique within the Yes Govan office which, on the establishment of a RIC Govan group enquired as to the authority which sanctioned the group, and subsequently sought to sanction the RIC Govan groups activities on a week-to-week basis [I will intimate here that from here on all references to Yes Govan are made to directly represent the clique involved in this case, and not to represent the Yes Govan office in its entirety, which I understand does an incredible amount of good and hard streetwork for the Yes campaign].  As the organiser who facilitated the establishment of the RIC Govan group – an important strategic location where the potential to campaign away from the influence of local SNP officials had to be secured – this required my very deliberate creation of space for RIC Govan members through the very deliberate creation of a (temporary) barrier to the Yes Govan antagonists.  Such a situation naturally led to conflict which has sadly been ongoing for most of 2014 without appropriate intervention by either campaign group.  One might naturally presume that the RIC hidden-committee would support the right and the agency of Govan based members to establish their own campaign group; however, whether by appeasement of Yes Govan induced by the emergent care-complex in the hidden-committee, or whether by a clash of personal interests (both parties in the dispute being linked in some way to the ISG), this support failed to materialise.  This hampered the RIC Govan group’s abilities severely, and the lack of intervention eventually led to the moves by Yes Govan to seek greater control within the RIC Glasgow Southside organising group.

The practical strategy realised for the southside – being among the most important urban campaign areas in Scotland, was basically to begin at the River Clyde and identify three community areas to begin work in, and once working branches were established and functioning, to move south into neighbouring communities, and so on: each preceding area being understood to harbour forthcoming links in areas leading away from the city centre. These initial areas were Govan, Gorbals, and Rutherglen/Cambuslang.  The work would involve identification of key community operators; their conversion into agents for the campaign; establishment of basic streetwork activities; a mass canvass; a public meeting; and finally the establishment of a community-based working group to continue the campaign accordingly; and then we move on – leaving a well-networked and high-functioning activist-community.  Throughout this however there have been implicit caveats exerted by the RIC hidden-committee as to who can be allowed to join the groups, and these descriptors – rather than aiming to avoid reactionary elements as one might expect – were designed to avoid members of particular other left-wing organisations.  Indeed this sectarian preoccupation over group-control and membership vetting has not only hampered the progress of the campaign – especially in light of the more radical expressions, but has also distracted the RIC hidden-committee from whom and what is entering the movement by different means, and with different aims.

This strategy however is specifically designed to precipitate power and control for the community-based groups i.e. RIC Govan, and not for the facilitation-based groups which operate in more general geographical areas, i.e. the RIC Glasgow Southside.  In the Glasgow Southside group, the Yes Govan agent who had opposed such a strategy, eventually recruited two members of the RIC who were both new, but who had demonstrated excellent energy and initiative, to oppose the strategy.  These recruits were also in a social position whereby they were able to influence and distort the feedback signal coming from the RIC Glasgow Southside group back to the hidden-committee.  The result of such complex relations has meant that new branches established in Rutherglen/Cambuslang, Castlemilk, and Drumchapel, have received little, or indeed in the case of the latter two, no support from the RIC at official level – and this is despite the efforts of this organiser and my supporting comrades in various groups.  In fact the situation has become so farcical that this Yes-Govanite faction has since grown – along with the usual soap-opera  dramatics – and has succeeded in its persistent attempts to remove me as an organiser, as well as to alienate me from the group (and groups) as far as possible, along with those other members whom they identify as being sympathetic to the original strategy – including of course the organisers of the new groups.  Moreover, as recently as last week, even newer groups that have been established in the southside of Glasgow – e.g. Carnwadric, Pollokshields, Castlemilk, Govanhill, Pollokshaws, and others – were contacted by the Yes-Govanite faction of RIC Glasgow Southside with notice that their groups were not sanctioned nor recognised by the RIC (effectively this means not recognised by the faction and the hidden-committee).  Notably the group which operates in the Gorbals, does not call itself a branch, and is ran by two members of the Yes-Govanite faction, thus leaving the group dynamic itself open to co-option and coercion by deference to the aforementioned superior “authorities”.  How radical, how participatory, how progressive do these developments seem? Not at all I claim, in fact these are the backward reactions of power-seeking interests which should not be accommodated in the once excellent (and can-be-again) Radical Independence Campaign!

Now I am making my official public protest to these developments in this article, and I will undoubtedly receive redoubled attacks for doing so – but my doing so must make the movement stronger and not weaker: the Radical Independence Campaign is already a success, it will be a success, but it must also be a success in respect of addressing its failings.  I fully accept that some colleagues and comrades will view this as a personal attack on the RIC, but instead this does not motivate me – what does is my fear that the opportunity to invest power in communities, and to lift the voice of the working class into the referendum conversation, will not be fulfilled in what little time we have left before polling day.  Nevertheless I appreciate that such an act may require my full withdrawal from RIC activity.  If this article gives cause for unionist delight however, then it is misunderstood, and such delight can only be rendered as misplaced schadenfreude: the unionist campaign is the campaign (and not a movement) of perpetual agony and anxiety – there is no case for a No vote. Any attempt to rejoice in what is essentially the teething troubles of a new generation’s social movement, can only serve to demonstrate the retarded and perverse philosophy of our political class, and their acolytes. No, this article must be interpreted as open, honest, and constructive criticism, to which we must all allow ourselves to turn in such an age of austere and prosthetic politicking.

What I have witnessed, most especially since the emergence of the original Mass Canvass action at Easterhouse, is the co-option of the RIC hidden-commmittee by the mainstream, which has simultaneously curbed the movement’s radical potentiality, and opened up the movement at street-level to subversion by careerist, by bourgeois, and thus by reactionary interests.  I have of course been extremely troubled by these events – as a sufferer of chronic depression and anxiety, the witnessing of a campaign which literally brought me back from the brink of suicide being undermined and subverted, along with my agency in it, has brought some intensely bleak periods of illness recently.  But this is about much more than just me.  Therefore do not read this as the miserable complaint of a dejected and sore campaigner, but rather as the insight of an organiser who has worked tirelessly to foster community-empowerment and resilience to future versions of exploitation, for and by the communities themselves, and thus not via the paternalistic modes of current bourgeois praxis. This is a plea for restoration, for articulation, and for consideration.  If the current hidden-committee is conducive to the most efficient modes of operation, then I can accept its agency – what cannot be accepted however is its lack of accountability, nor its selective currents of communication which seem to be open to some, yet closed to others.  This may be a call for more explicit structure, but at the very least is a call for a conversation about supposed autonomy, and the apparent favourable relationships which circumvent, and thus undermine such a principle.

In the southside of Glasgow we have over 400 members, most of whom were recruited whilst I was organising there; at organising meetings however we are struggling to make over twenty members – and some of those within the power-seeking Yes-Govanite faction have stated that the other 380+ members do not matter, as they do not attend the meetings.  I say that this attitude is fundamentally wrong, and that efforts must be made to facilitate the agency, participation and empowerment of these other members.  I say that the new apparent strategy of divesting power from those members who have established their own community based RIC groups is fundamentally wrong, and plays into the hands of those who seek power rather than those that need power.  I say that the original strategy must be re-established, that these local groups are re-affirmed, and that the RIC leadership restore to the radical roots of the campaign, which explicitly challenge reaction and bourgeois power-play, and which champion the voice and the power of working class communities throughout Scotland!

 

Why I am scared to vote YES | John Paul Tonner

22 Jan

John Paul Tonner 21/01/14

Yesterday I had to give a talk to a very large group of student teachers in the Barony Hall at Strathclyde University. Now teachers, as witnessed first-hand at many in-service events, make the worst of audiences. Maybe it’s something about having to deal with unruly kids that turns them into a disengaged, apathetic congregation in a concerted effort to inflict poetic justice upon anyone who attempts to impart knowledge. I know; I’m a teacher; I act the same way. When attending these events the same strange puerile demon possess my body inevitably making me late and penless. Without conscious effort, I blankly stare at the speaker laying down the challenge with my disinterest: it’s your turn to teach me! Teachers are the worst audience.

So, with this in mind, I slowly ascended the platform in the Barony Hall in front of some 350 postgrads, heart sinking, pulse quickening and palms sweating. I fumbled over my notes so I didn’t have to appreciate the vast scale of the building and the endless emotionless faces whose blank gazes I would meet. I was scared. Fear had led me to accept the invite to speak here, fear had me awake until 3am the night before, fear had brought me here.

And yet, I enjoyed it. I knew I would. Certainly, I stumbled over some of my points and forgot plenty of my arguments. I lost focus a few times and became side-tracked by my own doubts. I saw a few people shaking their head in disgust at what I was saying and I’m sure, for a moment, I had the self-aware cringe of my own microphone enhanced voice booming through the speakers. Public speaking is frightening. And yet, despite the nerves and the sweats and the cringe, I enjoyed it. I think I came down from the platform a little more….’something’. It’s hard to describe. Not necessarily ‘confident’ or ‘happier’, but maybe something like more ‘experienced’; I finally know what it is like to stand up and talk to that many people about Children, Childhood and Constitutional Change. Would I be scared about doing it again? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes. Does the fear put me off? Obviously not.

Then it struck me. If I think about the times I was most scared, it was generally because something significant was about to happen in my life: exams, interviews, moving abroad. I remember the fear before I proposed to wife rendering me paralysed to the extent I could barely mumble the words, gesturing to the ring in a muted panic. Classy.

Life events, the big important things, do make you scared. It’s as if your body is preparing itself for a major change and it wants you to mark the moment. More than that. It motivates, pushing you through to the other side to a place of relief and, sometimes, elation. When I listen to some Celtic fans bemoaning the predictability of the league, I don’t think it’s Rangers they miss, it’s the fear of Rangers. For some, fear is a thrill, or at least the trigger which allows you to experience the excitement, relief and tranquillity at the other side.

Turning to the question of Scotland’s future, fear seems to be used as a justification for doing nothing, or rather, keeping things the way they are. That’s interesting because it don’t think this marries up with many peoples’ experience of it. I’m glad people are scared of voting Yes, so they should: all big events of this magnitude should frighten us. This is the one big life changing event that can create a new history. It is natural and reassuring that many people feel frightened. I would be more worried if people felt nothing: articulating that the referendum held little interest to the public. I think it’s healthier to have people in fear rather than a passive, zombified state of apathy. A state of no feeling can be ignored; fear has to be confronted.

So what is it people fear, what is it that people have to confront? Talking to a few don’t-knowers after the event, it was the same key issue that kept the flame of fear alive: the uncertainty of a financially viable independent Scotland. Could we continue to afford free Higher Education for all? What about free prescriptions and our pensions, surely they can’t last- the oil will run out! The economic uncertainty certainly wasn’t assuaged by the opposing speaker’s slide (the one about Scotland spending £63 billion whilst only raising £56billion). If anything, it reinforced a simple message the No campaign use in the arsenal of fear: that Scotland spends £7,600,000,000 more than it generates in wealth. Of course, that fear can be countered when someone from the Yes campaign can tell you that the UK spends £121,000,000,000 more than it generates; this is more as a percentage of revenue than Scotland (7.9% compared to 5%) and that most countries run a fiscal deficit (usually about 2-3%).

But that rarely matters; numbers on this scale are meaningless except in their ability to bamboozle those of us who are not au fait with economic norms; none of these numbers can tell you if you’ll be better off on the planet or how your life will unfold. So why are we told that it is one thing, a variation on a number no one knows (i.e. how ‘better/worse off’ we will be), that will decide the collective action of our nation? Is it really the case that £500 could make or break the Union? The price of a new TV to kill off independence; a new bike to break Britannia? The happy truth is, no one knows. Nor should they. They future is free to be written. The false certainty (in false hypothetical scenarios) stops people confronting the unknown; to live lives comfy, stunted and unexplored.

Uncertainty and fear are such natural things, steady companions on life’s journey. They will accompany us when we learn to cycle as children, leave home as young adults and confront our mortality as elders. Fear is motivator, it helps us change, to grow and gain confidence. On the prospect of Scottish Independence, of course many of us are scared; mainly because we aren’t there yet. But we are getting there and fear will help us embrace our destiny.

I’m glad I’m scared to vote Yes. Like marriage, starting a family, moving abroad or public speaking in front of 350 people, the feeling is a sign: we are preparing for an amazing experience in our lives. Let’s confront it together.

Come along to the Labour case for a YES vote. Thursday 23rd Jan, 7.30pm, at the STUC, Woodlands Road.

[1] http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Economy/Q/pno/3

[1] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2222.html

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-25833692

FAITH, HOPE, FUTURE! | John Paul Tonner

2 Aug

With the countdown to September 2014, the stories we tell will have an enormous influence in the political action we express. Britain, and how it is understood, our loyalties and feelings about it are under close inspection.

Within the same week as the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 years olds for the Scottish referendum, the top YouTube video doing the rounds is one entitled ‘we didn’t own an ipad’. This version of Billy Joel’s anthemic apology for the baby boomer generation compares playstations and board games (amongst other things) to strike a contrast between growing up now and growing up in the late 70s and 80s. It’s well worth a chuckle; however, with regard to the Referendum debate, this division is misleading. The contrast is not between equally E-savvy 30 year olds and 16 year olds who broadly consume the same reality; the real generational line in the sand is somewhere nearer 1979. The ideas, visions and collective story of Britain on offer to each either side of the line are strikingly different. 

The 18-35 year olds voting in 1979 would have been the first crop of baby boomers, born in the shadow of the post-War consensus. Their parent’s had lived through war, depression and European fascism. This was the New Jerusalem:  the Britain of collective taxation, comprehensive Welfare and Universal provision of health. They worked in a Scottish economy that was often the closest to the British mean in terms of employment and infrastructure.[1] This was a Scotland that shared the same political vision of the UK electorate as a whole, sending MPs to London to play pivotal roles in directing the course of the economy and reshaping Britain’s image as it attempted to shed its leopard skin of Empire. With the exception of the minor irregularities in the 1959 and 1970 General Elections, the majority of Scotland’s MPs were of the same political party as the majority of the UK’s. [2] The future is always fraught with risk; until 1979 the baby boomer generation in Scotland found security in the New Britain. The Spirit of ’45 was still strong.

Cue the 18th September 2014.

The 16-35 year olds voting in next year’s referendum have experienced not just a different Britain, but a different world. Change is the one certainty. Since 1945 the number of nation-states has quadrupled in a global community that has grown dramatically more affluent.[3] The post-79 generation are painfully self-conscious of Britain’s image: at best a cringe-worthy Dad awkwardly trying to fit in, at worst a bully-boy in the world’s 21st century playground. Through their eyes, the credibility of Britain’s imperial might as a force for good has disappeared. They’ve witnessed Britain’s military involvement since 1979 with more cynicism and scrutiny.  Korea, Suez and Borneo have a different feel to The Falklands, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. With the world’s fourth largest defence budget and the fifth largest global exporter of arms, is difficult to feel proud of the UK’s recent military record. Watching that pride being expressed with fervour in the Last Night of the Proms or Royal pageantry events is, for this generation, increasingly like watching a London orientated Disney parade: removed and remote to any meaning in their lives. Particularly true in a Scotland where many don’t feel they are stakeholders in the British establishment of privilege and corruption. Nothing is British sacred; the instruments of state have shown themselves to be fallible and defunct, unravelling the consensus through MPs expenses, illegal wars and class warfare. Project Britain is over, giving way to elitist politics and democratic failure for many: 23 out of 36 years in Scotland from 1979 until the next general election in 2015. This isn’t just a statistical anomaly, a blip in voting differences between Scotland the rest of the UK; this is a fundamental divergence in our values and the types of society we want to live in. Westminster democracy from 1979 until 2015 has resulted in a 64 % failure rate for Scotland, hardly an endorsement for a common vision or shared story. Politicians can no longer rely on the Dunkirk spirit to appeal to a generation that don’t even know where Dunkirk is. The proclaimed ‘Miracle of 1940’ is starting to join the Charge of the Light Brigade or the Battle of Rorke’s Drift– remote events, historically distant and increasingly irrelevant to our identity in the 21st century. The UK cannot rely on the shared experience of war as a social gel- the ‘Iraq Spirit’ only reflects a divided society, people cynically aware of their politicians and distrustful of their political system.

So what is the story we adhere to now, what grand narratives are going to influence young voters in the referendum next year? Commentator Gerry Hassan highlights the need for Scottish society to extend itself beyond the limitations of the British legacy:

‘ a new language and philosophy is required for 21st century Scotland, one which addresses our own unique experience and which also contributes to the wider global debate about the challenges we face. This has to draw from past futures we have created, their limitations and possibilities….and always open to being made and remade’.[4]

Scottish independence is an opportunity for this generation, the post-79 generation, to build their own hopes, dreams and visions of the future. Of course, the dour realism of our climate may hamper some of these utopia ideals, some may gang aft a-gley. However, there is a growing realisation that we have to aspire. It is every generation’s responsibility to offer new hope, clearer direction and fresh belief. This constitutional debate isn’t just another issue amongst a plethora of others; it is a debate about how we do the basics of decision making in our future reality. Voting for independence gives us that option- to create a new narrative that isn’t based on the managed decline of Empire. We can build a story of our own; a young nation ready to face the globally challenges of the 21st century steeped in the labour tradition but not strangle by it. This generation have little to lose from independence, either culturally or to their sense of identity. The status quo, stagnant stuffy Britain ready to extinguish our progressive values, isn’t a viable option.

Yet there are some who claim we need to sacrifice our appetite for self-determination for the perceived safety of London’s womb, that security trumps liberty. Perhaps our story can be inspired words of courage uttered by a nation that faced the same dilemma nearly 250 years ago and has yet to look back. Benjamin Franklin, the leading intellect in the infant American nation remarked –They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.[5] Truly the way we can face the future is by believing in ourselves, our own actions and responsibilities. Everyone has to grow up. It seems the younger generation are more willing to grow up and create their own destiny: a Scotland proud of its British heritage, but not defined or constrained by it.  In the creation of a new story, our actions next September will leave a legacy of faith, hope and self-belief as together we take the exciting initial step into independence. It is this generation that have the voice to determine and shape the Spirit of 2014.


[1] David McCrone, We’re A’ Jock Tamson’s Bairns: Social Class in Twentieth-Century Scotland, in Devine and Findly (eds), Scotland in the Twentieth Century, pg. 108

[3] G Hassan, The Shape of Things to come, pg. 179

[4] G Hassan, The Shape of Things to Come, ImagiNation pg. 187

Expanding the Scottish Independence Debate into the Common | Nicky Patterson

10 Apr

First off, I am an ardent supporter of an independent Scotland BUT please hear me out: for I am interested only in a fully informed public vote which can only be realised through balanced public debate.

My idea is of a progressive society formed on the pillars of:

  • a participatory and fully accountable democratic republic;
  • egalitarian citizenship based on collective efforts, risks, and rewards that are formed from the community level upwards;
  • a constitution that recognises the universal tendencies of human conditions and behaviours;
  • reversal of private ownership, and a new paradigm of communal stewardship of land, environment, and resources;
  • communal universal welfare provisions with a radical departure away from reliance of what Paul Krugman has called “sado-monetarism”.

With this in mind I have tried to identify political theories or movements with which I can associate mutual prerogatives: the Socialist-Anarchism and Communalism of Murray Bookchin seem to be the closest I have come across yet, and so I am a member of the Scottish Greens – but have become increasingly frustrated by a distinct sleepiness at branch level.  The alienating sectarianism of the Left is too messy and many look with increasing interest to the Left Unity movement. I myself will look to immediately become active within the Radical Independence Campaign.

In recognition of this then, I have struggled often to find common points of reference with my fellow citizens on which to frame a debate about Scottish independence.  For me, winning a Yes vote in September 2014 is just the first step toward realising a fairer and more equal society: the first step on a programme of power and wealth decentralisation that must develop even further than that: delivering true democratic ability out to the community level.

But the common citizen is not yet interested in such ideals or endeavours: for the contemporary Scottish citizen, the majority of political and philosophical debate is utterly superfluous to their familiar points of reference.  What I come across most are issues surrounding interest rates; currency; Bank of England; military security; road conditions; industrial dependency, and other such concerns.  Paramount among these is perhaps suspicion of the apparent SNP stewardship of the Yes Campaign and also their post-independence rhetoric which frames them as the de facto Scottish government (witness the dissemination of their in-house decisions and debates regarding Trident, Nato, the EU and so on) .

As is universally recognised throughout modern society, when a politician is addressed with an issue of really existing popular concern, their answer is invariably obscure, evasive, and fundamentally non-committal.  This is evidenced week-in-week-out in public broadcast forum discussions as well as, I’m sorry to say, Yes campaign launches.

Furthermore closed ‘debates’ are not efficiently helpful: true progress only arises from conflict and this means that townhall debates need to represent as full a spectrum of opinion as possible.

So here we have a triple issue of effectively obfuscating technical language from theorists (the forward looking visionaries) on one hand; and blatantly obfuscating new-speak and non-input from politicians (the retrospective apologists) on the other; and the final hand shuts out opposing (and therefore progressive) voices.  The public debate in my view needs to initially be between lay citizens who can argue and advocate without prosthetic or aesthetic vernacular.  This ‘public’ as in common debate needs to happen now and it needs to be consistently representative of all THREE camps: the Yes, No, and Undecided.  It needs its own place and its own space – free from the nonsense of jargon and bullshit.  It should be given as much broadcast and press coverage as we can collectively muster.

Once this form of public debate between the Yes, No, and Undecided camps has settled into the common conscience, then we can upgrade it with our suggestions of model futures.

Twitter: @nickypatterson

On What Matters: The Indigestion of Modern Information | Nicky Patterson

19 Jan

This enormous tide of multi-platform journalism, blogging, and social comment is considerably overwhelming.

It is now 2013 and the dawn of open information, debate and democracy is in fact choking true social, political and economic progress.  The internet has no doubt, as Castells identified in 1996, enabled the “Networked Society”, as much to the benefit of Internationalist sensibilities, as to the detriment of both individual and collective endeavour.  What I mean by this is that we, in the Minority World at least – though surely beyond to a greater extent – , are enduring a gluttony of information that is over-burdening our digestive system: this over-indulgence is both intoxicating and seriously damaging to our societal physiology.

I imagine today’s common and collective organic on-line discourse to be like collecting one million clever souls in one enormous church hall, and then obliging them all at once to begin their enfetished soap-box rhetoric, either meant as inspiration, response, or reaction, well-meaning or no, but all none-the-less delivered at such a calamitous din (with all the echoes and reverberations expected of a church with an enormous capacity), and yet all recorded by but a single microphone: the end user, who is at once marvelled, encouraged, inspired, enraged, and subdued.

More tragically this often leads to the neutering of the end-user’s emotional and intentional engagement, which benefits none but the classes of power.

This is self-afflicted confusion, division and alienation: we are becoming a society of outspoken hermits.

There seems to me to be a conundrum represented by perpetual discourse that presents us, as contestants, with clues as to what might be important; what absolutely is important; what is evidence of what might be, or absolutely be, important; as well as the trivial, the gossip, and the humorous.  We, the contestants, endlessly play the game endeavouring to sort the might-bes from the absolutes and then make some distinct resolutions toward action, which are then themselves trumped by some new issue of urgency; itself awaiting usurpation.  In other words, despite the evident collaboration of intent achieved through social-media as seen in the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement (and we should accept the former as being successful to an extent, while the latter was impressive yet – though ongoing – has not achieved a definitive fundamental change), nothing of any great significance is happening.  Of course a great many localised projects have been launched and a great many social ills have been discussed, with perhaps some decrease in false consciousness and subsequent increase in awareness, but even with this leviathan of discourse, truth, and connectivity under the control of the people, we still wake each morning to the triumphalist marching songs of neo-liberalism, ecological suicide, sham-democracy, and genocidal cultural hegemony.

And even if we enjoy a lie-in, they are still marching in the afternoon… and in the evening.  In fact the sun never sets on the empire of inequality.

So let us be far more discerning in what we read, write and listen to.  We know that our political systems have hitherto mocked our collective functional impotency, so let us desist from indulging these pseudo-elected clowns with our attentions: they collectively represent a system: it is the system that is corrupt: let us address the system: ignore the menial daily inadequacies – they waste our eyes, our ears, our mouths, fingers, hearts and minds.

We want for collective direction and action: together we can surely devise a strategy to convene, plan, and revolutionise our societies?

The priority for you may be some noble pursuit: English revolution; American revolution; Equality for All…

For me, as a citizen of Glasgow, my main priority is securing a Yes vote in the 2014 Independence Referendum: separation from the dysfunctional machinations and hegemony of Westminster.  In this I see us in Scotland being able to break a workable rock from the quarry of the Minority World, and demonstrate (along with our Nordic cousins) how human beings can live, and give, and love, without exploitation of this planet or our sisters and brothers who inhabit it.

Twitter: @NickyPatterson

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