Sandra Webster, co-convenor of the Scottish Socialist Party, looks at the launch of the campaign for Scottish Independence and asks how socialists can make a difference.
With the launch of the YES campaign in May 2012, the clock has now started ticking towards an Independence vote in June 2014. In these early days it is crucial that as voices from the left in Scottish Politics we have a duty to clearly explain to the Scottish people the benefits an independent Scotland will have for them over the current union with with England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Westminster politics.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
Some politicians are keen to emphasise that the morning after the referendum nothing will change. We will wake up having decided to vote for independence with nothing having changed. We will still be subjects of good Queen Bess but she will now be Queen Of Scots. All that will be different is we will have autonomy over our political and economic affairs, (well up to a degree anyhow). This position is an example of how politicians think ordinary people cannot understand or desire a different society. If they want an Independent Scotland that is just the same why not stick with the status quo? Politicians can only persuade the voters if they offer a new vision of Scotland which will improve all our citizen’s lives.
Democracy in a peoples’ republic would not be a vote every five years, but a continuous process of engagement and accountability punctuated by electing members of parliament and local government.
The position of being an active citizen in a people’s republic is much more of an active role than that of a passive citizen. Citizens participate in the vision of how their country looks. It is a bottom up movement, not just dictates from a few who currently hold power. It is a challenge to all and means a proper dialogue and a way of ensuring more voices are heard not just those with the ability to shout loudest but the groups who are currently marginalised and with more barriers challenging them to be more fairly represented.
THE CHALLENGE TO THE LEFT
As a member of the SSP and along with my socialist comrades, we all strive for that vision of Scotland. We want a kinder, fairer society where an accident of birth no longer determines your status in society. We want a society where we don’t need people to look up to and defer to and where our worth is not determined by our economic worth but the contribution we make to society; whether that be a highly paid hospital consultant, a cleaner who keeps our wards hygienic, or a parent who stays at home to support their children or looks after a relative with a chronic illness. Our challenge then is to sell our vision, get into communities and let them know that Independence is about them and for a purpose.
TARGETING NON VOTERS
We are used to being among groups of people who are passionate about their politics and have probably made up their minds whether to vote Yes or even No. However we must remember the low turnouts in elections in Scotland and the rest of the UK. The simple truth is how do we persuade the over fifty percent of the registered electorate to even vote let alone vote Yes? As people of the left in touch with communities we need to take the arguments to people where they live and work not just assume that because of the high profile the Vote Yes campaign will have they feel they have the enfranchisement to do so.
Historically our message and support has been to working class communities. We supported the miner’s strike, we campaigned against the poll tax. We are involved in campaigns such as school and hospital closures and fuel poverty and the Welfare Reform Act. We can with our ordinary work, spread the word that although Independence is not a panacea, it is the start of a debate about how we can create a different kind of society.
Dare To Be Different
From conversations I am having with people not normally involved in politics, I know the message that something better change is not enough for them. They are asking difficult questions about the economy, spending on the most vulnerable, the monarchy, the left. People don’t want just the vision of a Scotland on a shortbread tin. The SNP may say they are the only party to represent Scotland, but as voices of the left we have to ensure that people know that the Scotland some of them promote can be radically different – a people’s republic.
A Positive Message
The No Brigade have already begun to spread their message. It is evident that they are going to use scaremongering techniques playing on people’s concerns. Propaganda will represent an Independent Scotland as a weaker divided nation like a rowing boat on a sea of recession, facing insurmountable challenges. Their message is of “Rule Britannia”, us all cosily tucked up in a double bed of red, white and blue union jacks. Labour, the Liberal democrats and the Tories all in this together? Strange bedfellows indeed. We have to challenge their criticisms with our intelligent rhetoric and be positive. Let people realise the real reasons they are so concerned with the dissolution of the Act Of Union. It is not about their concerns for us, but for the greater good of those already in positions of power.
The Left and Campaigns
The YES campaign has been launched. It is all shiny and new and very optimistic. I was at its launch and was worried about the narrow spectrum of society represented. It has the huge political apparatus of the SNP party political machine behind it. However it’s message is one that it does not belong to any any political party. I also attended the first organizing campaign of the Radical Independence movement. I was enthused by the large turn out and the energy and optimism of everyone presented. At my workshop about equalities there was a genuine desire to include as many people as possible. We should be behind both of these groups. I look forward to the Radical Independence as a time for people coming together with visions of a new Scotland opposed to that of the negativity of the Unionist parties. We should also be involved in the YES campaign and use it to highlight the message and the reality of an Independent, Socialist Scotland.
We need to talk about Scotland
As comrades we have common values, I’m biased of course, but think we are the kindest people in the world. I know I always have my comrades at my back to support me. Of course we have our differences and these can’t be forgotten but we have a shared vision of an Independent Scotland. As a member of the SSP I will be working with my party up to 2014 never forgetting who we are and what we believe in. Lets ensure that our message is heard and not diluted. We have been campaigning for Independence from the very beginnings of our party. Let’s not allow the Unionists to throw mud in our direction which they will be doing at every opportunity as the greens found to their cost last weekend. We need to be positive about our message about our nation.
A Shared Vision
So let’s not pretend to the people of our nation that we’ll get independence first and work out the finer details later. Let’s lay out our strategy and vision of Scotland. It’s a beautiful one and one with much to offer ordinary people. Let’s make it a people’s republic where all are equal. Let’s dare to make a radical change. Let’s remind people that Salmond promised a Nuclear Free Scotland and hold him accountable. Most of all lets hold ourselves accountable.
The Road Ahead
The next few years with the lead up are going to be challenging ones for us all. Cuts to services are going to have an impact on all our lives. The Unionists will blame the Scottish government for cuts to budgets saying imagine how bad it will be under Independence. On the other hand the SNP will lay the blame at Westminster. They have no duty of care to those most affected. Let’s remember who we represent and always be on the side of those who need us most.
I describe myself as a Feminist, Socialist and Republican. These are ways I have labelled myself and I am proud of them. Although we all describe ourselves in different ways. I hope we can remember the commonality we have and move towards the referendum with a positivity and an knowledge that independence is the best choice for our nation. We on the left carry our red banners with pride let’s carry an optimism about an independent Scotland in our hearts too and a message that will ensure more voices have the confidence to vote YES in the 2014 referendum.