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By Jason Michael

WHENEVER THIS WORD ‘radical’ is introduced to the discussion of independence people become suspicious, and rightly so. Back in 2014 the Socialist Review published a review of James Foley and Pete Ramand’s book, Yes: The Radical case for Scottish Independence, in which the “radical case” was said to cover a “wide range of topics including the rise of neoliberalism in Scotland, mainstream parties, British nationalism, and Yes Scotland’s and Better Together’s respective referendum strategies.” By the end of the piece the reader is informed that the demand for radical independence is based on the success of exotic campaigns, with the examples of Syriza in Greece, Die Linke in Germany and Front de Gauche in France given – all examples of European “left reformist parties.” Radical then, to the proponents of a “radical independence,” is, and by definition, a revolutionary leftist vision for Scotland’s future.

People’s natural suspicion is that such rhetoric echoes that of the peripheral pavement politics of those handing out leftist newspapers on busy city streets; parties like the Scottish Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Scottish Communist Party. These suspicions are, of course, well-founded, as this is precisely the politics of what was/is(?) the Radical Independence Campaign. While it is not the intention of this article to criticise the efforts or indeed the politics of this campaign, one must at least acknowledge and explain the suspicion of the wider movement.

Many in the movement, certainly going by the emphasis on social justice of the 2012-14 Yes Scotland campaign, sympathise with the left-of-centre vision of those people and campaigns within the movement describing themselves as “radical.” It is clear to many that the goal of independence only for Scotland to reproduce in miniature the political system of Westminster would be a failed revolution. The purpose of independence is and has always been a project directed towards building a “better Scotland,” but radical politics – insofar as it is set out by the radicals – is not exactly mainstream in Scotland, not even in the independence movement. It is viewed as the hobby politics of Mike Small of Bella Caledonia, trade unionist Cat Boyd, and unemployable hack Angela Haggerty – fair weather friends of the movement who are as likely to support a Momentum-Corbynist Labour one-nation Great Britain socialist utopia as they are to support Scottish independence while the Tories are in power in London.

Radical is perceived as the politics of wishful thinking, ideological blunderbuss. In order to gain publicity, and therefore increase their social and political influence, these so-called radicals bandwagon or hijack every popular social justice and quasi-social justice cause within reach in the public forum. In Ireland this behaviour has gained the Socialist Workers Party the unfortunate designation, “the Borg.” Their political manifestos always cover a “wide range of topics,” effectively making them politically ineffective. Anyone devoted to every popular political cause is in fact committed to no political cause, and this may go some way to explaining the suspicion the word ‘radical’ arouses in the Scottish independence campaign. Dedicated independence campaigners see the radicals as activists who view the constitutional question as yet another popular cause, and one that can be ditched when something better comes along.

Effective social and political campaigns, then, must be, by necessity, single-issue campaigns – or as near to single-issue campaigns as they can practicably be. This does not mean, as someone once suggested, that other important political causes are to be “sent to the back of the bus.” No one is saying other issues – like gender equality and the campaign to save the bees – are not important. Naturally, they are important – some crucially so. But the fact remains, that a campaign fighting every campaign is limited by finances, resources, and manpower (or people-power). The more fronts it opens up the more vulnerable and ineffective it becomes. Ultimately, such radical campaigns – despite their members’ best efforts – become part of the problem.

Nothing of this, however, means that the campaign for Scottish independence cannot be radical. In fact, what we are doing should be and must be radical. And this apparent contradiction boils down to the failure on the part of the radicals to understand the meaning of radical. We inherit this term from the Latin radix, meaning root. In its truest sense, becoming radical implies a digging deep into our shared and common social, cultural, and historical roots – drinking from our own wells, so to speak – that we might bring the deepest well-springs of our identity to the struggles of the present. This is exactly what is meant when pro-independence activists talk about becoming Scottish in order to throw off the shackles of Great Britain. We cannot defeat the British state by becoming British. Our freedom and the victory of our cause is written in the root network of who we are as a nation, as an open and inclusive society, and as a warm and hospitable culture. Becoming British in this struggle is the first step to a failed revolution, an independent Scotland made in the image and likeness of its former colonial master. This is no independence at all.

Quite different to the wide-spreading radicalism of the so-called radicals – a kind of political opportunism that cannot but be useless, the true Scottish radical is the self-becoming Scot – the woman or man who finds Scotland and Scottishness as an end in itself, and without reference to the politics of any other country. This true radical asserts her or his identity and autonomy because at its roots this identity cannot be anything other than free and assertive. It is what it is. Only when this new Scot, established firmly on the cognitive and emotional bedrock of all that is Scotland, brings to bear on the present what is ancient and hidden will the movement as a whole be truly radicalised, and it is only this radical new Scotland that can win the successful revolution that is independence.

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I Have a Dream speech by Martin Luther King Jr.


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2 thoughts on “Radical Independence?

  1. Jason,

    Given the current stooshie, I think there is need for a piece on how people buy into the fear/ aspersions cast on organised civil disobedience.

    They have swallowed Westminster’s fear mongering of the term “militant”. Too many have forgotten the “Militant Trade Unionism” meaning and have bought the Westminster line that any organised civil disobedience or non-acceptance of Westminster authority is on the road to “terrorism” — Yet they will extol the virtues of its great exponents. You got to love Mary Maloney…and Keir Hardie didn’t need to bother forming a labour party…I am sure those nice mine owners would have given better conditions to miners if they had just learned to ask more politely.

    The politeness of Scottish gains so far has created a cognitive blind spot to many YES. The current situation is revealing how those gains are illusory and can be snatched away at will. History has shown that to prise away rights from power when it is determined to keep it requires organised action.

    We are entering a NEW DARK AGES where evidence and definition is trumped by: belief, logical fallacies and dogma.

    Liked by 1 person

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