Another Scotland, another world: a declaration of radical intent
More than a thousand people packed into a hotel in Glasgow on Saturday 23 November 2013 to declare that "another Scotland is possible" - and, indeed, necessarily, another world. I was one of them.
This was the second Radical Independence Conference, organised by a network of volunteers gathered under the banner of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) which brings together not just SNP supporters (who probably weren't a majority), but Greens, independent socialists, dissenting Labourites, social liberals, people of no party, community activists, women, radical Christians, Muslims, and many, many more… people of all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, abilities and kinds, united by a vision of turning back the tide of greed, neoliberalism, war, ecological destruction, racism, sexism, ableism, and unaccountable, undemocratic power.
Speakers in plenaries and workshops at RIC ranged from economists to artists, trade unionists to writers, politicians to community activists, lawyers to students, young to old.
The common commitment was to say 'Yes Scotland', in order to support and initiate self-government and self-determination for the northerly-most nation of the British and Irish isles.
But this was most definitely no "little Scotlander" event. The dream was about solidarity, not separation; broad internationalism not narrow nationalism.
If the official campaign for a 'Yes' vote in the September 2014 referendum risks being too cautious – saying, in effect, "vote for change, but don't worry. it won't make too much difference" – then RIC is offering something completely refreshing: a glimpse of an alternative future.
It would be easy to be critical, of course. An event on this scale (far larger than the organisers originally envisaged) was always going to be more of a rally for change than a detailed laboratory of change-making, but it was no less valuable and energising for that. The art of genuine rhetoric has been lost in a world of spin.
Being English-born and having spent almost 51 of my 55 years living in England, before moving to Leith in 2010, I have been struck by the sheer civic and popular vibrancy of the radical wing of the 'Yes' campaign. I have experienced nothing of this dynamism south of the border since the mid-1980s -- and that was a push-back against the ravages of Thatcherism. By contrast, the Radical Independence Campaign is for something. It is bringing people together to build as well as protest. I wish more of my friends in other parts of the these islands could experience this first hand. 'Yes' needs to be for all of us.
It's not that proponents of constitutional change and a challenge to the current broken British state think that self-government for Scotland will be a panacea, however. They recognise it as embarking on a journey, as defining a fresh point of departure rather than securing a moment of arrival.
The struggle for a socially just, sustainable and welcoming society, they recognise, involves contending with global forces of concentrated privilege, wealth and power. A small nation cannot do everything, will not be able to defy gravity alone, but it can most definitely help to chart a different course, and it can develop the maturity to face up to its own deepest problems – inequality, major maldistribution of land and resources, huge health problems in urban areas, tribalism, and more.
But none of that, they (we, I) argue, will be achieved or confronted by simply saying 'No'. Or disguising that 'No' with hollow "all in this together" rhetoric. Yes, we are "better together" -- but the issue is who is in what kinds of 'together', and how we can be together to genuinely better effect.
A 'union' that reinforces the power of corporations, elites and major political parties subsumed into neoliberal ideology is no way forward. England, Wales and both jurisdictions of Ireland, as well as Scotland, need reconfiguring radically – that is, with regard to healthy roots ( radix) that strengthen us to embark on fresh routes.
Empowerment for people and communities also means renewing democracy. "We have never really had a 'democratic moment' in Scotland," observed commentator Gerry Hassan, as part of a range of contributors challenging the financialisation of culture, the de-mutualisation of society, the economisation of politics, and corporatisation of economics.
The impulse for genuine change must be ground-up, not top-down, said many RIC speakers and participants in Glasgow. At present the 'No' campaign has a nine per cent lead in opinion polls. But 15 per cent are undecided and just under a five per cent swing is needed for 'Yes' to become a reality.
The upholders of the UK status quo in the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour hierarchies (and institutions like the BBC, whose correspondent James Landau painted a gloomy picture of the rUK [remaining UK] in his News package on 26 November) are worried. This shows, among other things, that the next ten months constitute a moment of genuine opportunity -- a "democratic moment" -- on a scale which does not occur that often. I'm hesitant to use the 'once in a lifetime' cliche, because that is too all-or-nothing. But make no mistake. This, potentially, is big. Very big.
So can those of us who live and work (or search for work) in Scotland, whatever our background and nationality, seize the chance to redirect our destiny? Can churches and faith communities rediscover their locus and dynamic in civic action rather than the coat-tails of respectability and establishment? Can Scotland link to and learn from northern Europe (as Lesley Riddoch urges in part of her sobering yet visionary new book, Blossom)? Can we develop a better, more equal relationship with the other regions and nations of these islands? Can a con-federation of self-governing peoples discern a new polity? Can the 'Common Weal' programme inspire similar efforts to remake society in England and Wales? Can the dominance of the London city-state be challenged and reformed…?
This referendum kairos moment poses vital questions for all of us - and not just the one assigned to the voting paper in September 2014. That, as the debate over the Scottish government's White Paper will illustrate, is the first among many questions. It is first because it is asking "who decides?" The great majority of people directly impacted by decisions about money, resources, welfare security, environment and more? Or a small number tucked away in elite political and financial institutions many miles away, sharing little of the feeling or priorities of Scotland, and reinforced by the outcome of a series of democratic deficits? There is a chance at least to shift the balance here. To recover the capacity to say 'Yes' to welfare not warfare, and much more.
The harder we reflect on such questions, the deeper we yearn for change, and the more we rail against injustice, the more evident it becomes that what we need is not just a referendum, but a movement and an uprising: one that embraces the hearts of more and more people in Scotland, but also one that reaches out to friends and comrades in England, Wales, the Irelands, Europe and well beyond.
That was the sense of collective inspiration that many of us fed on at the Radical Independence Conference - a renewal of faith, hope and commitment to societal transformation. Hearteningly, the political was also recognised as personal, too. For society to change, people need to change as well. We need metanoia. (Those of us invested in 'virtue ethics', building 'communities of character' and the like, from Christian and allied perspectives, may have more to offer on this point).
In summary, a swathe of the inspiration of RIC was summed up and reflected back in the 'Declaration of Radical Independence' that was declaimed by Scottish Actor and campaigner David Hayman at the convention, inspired by Robin McAlpine of the Jimmy Reid Foundation / Common Weal and others.
It is reproduced below, as it was read. In the spirit of creative change-making, I have added two new stanzas of my own, which I believe reflected the feeling at RIC, and which are marked out from the received text by italics.
DECLARATION OF RADICAL INDEPENDENCE
A community, a society and a nation. An economy, an environment and a home.
These are not objects that exist because they are measured and weighed and counted.
They are not commodities, they are not someone’s gift.
They are the footprints each of us leave. They are the sum total of our actions and of our will.
Scotland wills itself to be a better nation, one we rebuild with our own hands. Who then will tell us our will is not big enough? Who then will tell us our hands are not strong enough?
Must the hope of the Scots for a better Scotland be the hope of the beaten for a less painful defeat? Must the will of the Scots once again come second to greed and privilege?
This despair has a name. It’s name is NO.
It is a despair that believes poverty inevitable and the decline of public service necessary. It is the cry of people who believe that wealth should belong to whomever has the sharpest claws.
Our poverty, our decline, their wealth, their NO.
For 30 years we have waited for Britain’s rulers to live up to our hopes. They either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
But now they notice. Now they see the chance for working men and working women to take back a nation. Now they tremble at the thought that we might really do it.
Because what drives NO forward is the fear of those who stand to lose their privilege. They fear their kingdom of greed faces its demise. They fear real democracy. They fear that in a land beyond Westminster we will rediscover hope.
That hope has a name. It’s name is YES.
It is a hope fashioned from knowledge. We know a better economy is possible because we have seen it in other nations. We know greater equality among citizens is possible because we have seen that in other nations. We know that ending poverty, reviving democracy and respecting our environment are possible because we have seen these things too.
And we know how to bring these things to Scotland. We must abandon 30 years of the politics of exploitation, the damning, corrosive exploitation that makes a few rich from what the many lose. We must replace it with the politics of sharing, where we all gain from the riches of our land and the fruits of our labour.
It is a fine Scottish tradition; to find what works, to find out how it works and to make it work better. For centuries Scotland’s ingenuity has been a gift to the world. Now let it be a gift also to ourselves.
Let us gift ourselves an economy where we make and create. Let our creativity make working people prosperous. Let prosperous people sustain a great welfare state. Let that state end the fear that comes with insecurity. Let us gift ourselves that Scotland.
As we do this, let us refuse to build our own security on the ceaseless declaration of war and weapons of mass destruction. Instead, we can seize the chance invest in creating viable Peace Forces.
Let us not close our borders, our homes and our hearts to strangers and refugees, but instead commit to building a society strong, resourceful and confident enough to be welcoming.
Look at the forces that stand behind NO. Look at the forces that stand behind YES. Choose your side.
Together we can raise up our heads and work for a Scotland yet to come but visible already. A Scotland of the Common Weal, of shared wealth and shared wellbeing.
Our Scotland. All of us first.
With thanks to Bella Caledonia: http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/
* Radical Independence Campaign: http://radicalindependence.org
* Lesley Riddoch / Nordic Horizons: http://www.nordichorizons.org
* Gerry Hassan: http://www.gerryhassan.com
* Common Weal programme: http://reidfoundation.org/common-weal/
* More about Scotland's Future, the Scottish Government's independence White Paper, and to download the whole document - *.PDF or e-book: http://www.scotreferendum.com
* More on the Scottish independence referendum from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/scottishindependence
© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. He lives in Leith, north Edinburgh, follows a football team in the west of Scotland, is a member of the Iona Community, worships at St James' Episcopal Church, and has deep roots in the ecumenical movement, the labour and trade union movement, the Peace Church movement, and various parts of southern Britain.
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