In a recent article David Hayes called Yes Scotland the ‘umbrella of the SNP-dominated pro-independence campaign’. Nothing’s more galling than holding someone else’s umbrella, especially if it takes most of your effort to stop it flapping to pieces. This year we have spent too much of our time shielding SNP leaders from bad media weather as they move from stage to stage of their own set-pieces. If we get rained on that’s too bad; we’re just holding the umbrella.
Another writer, Neal Ascherson, said the many-coloured hopes of the people are like birds following the SNP trawler. It’s true that for too much of the last year we’ve all been diving around in the SNP’s wake. Common Weal, Radical Independence, Green Yes, National Collective, Nordic Horizons, Labour for Independence have been following the SNP’s strategy of appeal to personal economic interests and social advancement. All these interests come together in a great national consensus that puts ‘all of us first’, in the slogan of one of the larger birds snapping up the entrails of social democracy left behind by the SNP.
The SNP offers to make everyone’s life a little better. Optimism of the individual will fuel Yes Scotland and the SNP’s campaign, but takes the left nowhere.
2013 was the year we were meant to leave the mainstream, and capture the people’s imagination in a way the SNP can’t because they’re boring and nationalist. Instead, thrilled by all the attention and impressed by the social democratic rhetoric of the nationalists and its agents, left groups have delighted in influencing the Scottish Government, setting out to achieve popular support but gaining only self-importance.
The left before this long campaign used to be about big forceful marches and struggling to win real gains for working people. Where now are the traditional signs of left excitement: cells, mass placarding or illegal activity? The kind of demands that make the rich shudder and ex-Militant pensioners sit up and listen? The kind of language that recognizes life is a struggle, and the kind of planning that required coordination of thousands? There is none of this – no plan to deliver a million leaflets, or even print a newspaper, just reliance on spontaneity that would have made Lenin laugh with contempt.
The utopian grandstanding looks north to other countries, not at the lives of people here. And outwith town-hall meetings there is hardly a feeling of a movement. This was year an established left became the left establishment of conferences and compromises. Parliamentarism is already haunting those who grasp to revive the SSP’s former glory in the Scottish Parliament. There is no call to build up any party’s membership – partly because the Scottish Parliament seems suitably winnable without all that.
If there had been no Scottish Parliament, and this was a civil society campaign for independence, there would be more sense of the campaign being a movement of the left. But too many people, especially young people, are already thinking about future elections. The left seems too keen to make everything seem easy, whereas it is more convincing when it makes things seem really difficult. In spite of its cynicism, or perhaps because of it, Labour manages to speak to those who know it’s not all that simple – and it reminds people, rightly, that on the SNP’s terms constitutional change isn’t radical change.
What should we be doing instead? The left likes to think we are the ones to create a climate of momentum and promise a bright future, working long days and evenings to build up optimism across the country, and using the crisis to change the conditions of life. But it’s too late for all that.
We can’t direct the wind but we can adjust our sails. Large billowing sheets of red – that’s what we should have by now, with Yes Scotland the many-coloured flagship of an unlikely armada. The SNP don’t need our help. To put it in numbers: the SNP are capable of reaching around 35% of voters who generally support their sentiment and ambitions. But we need to win another 8%, and this group needs to see something different coming, something at once radical and recognizable.
Once we leave the stewardship of Salmond we can show people how the Labour movement will flourish with independence. We can campaign for higher wages for the poor and higher taxes for the rich, a corporation tax rise and a hard line on tax-evasion; for Scotland to be a republic, for Scotland not to enter NATO’s imperial wars or carry its weapons of mass destruction and death.
This is the happy new year we leave the SNP to fly on a rough wind with none of the compromises that bourgeois nationalism demands, and with one end in sight: a Labour government in an independent Scotland.