Independence First


By Jason Michael

Independence has to come first. The rights of marginalised people and groups are vastly important, but we can never forget that none of our rights will be safe while we remain under the control of Westminster.


Let me begin by saying I haven’t the foggiest notion what people mean when they tell me they are members of the “radical left.” The last time I had a discussion about this radical left was with an enthusiastic young PhD student who introduced himself as being “on the hard left,” and he did this while tucking into a bowl of marinated garlic and chilli stuffed black olives on a bed of kale and quinoa. He lived in a rented room in an up-and-coming gentrified area of town where landlords were busy evicting lower-income tenants on the pretext of “extensive repairs,” allowing them to double the rent. His local, which served only craft beer from its basement micro-brewery, was “established in 1901” while somehow only having been in operation for six months.

This guy, who looked confused every time I corrected him with “people” when he referred to “units of labour,” had adopted an entire set of acceptable positions on the rights of marginalised social identities. “Struggle was all about challenging the hegemony of the cis-gendered misogynistic and transphobic ruling class,” he told me before asking if I had ever heard of baklava. Revolution was about achieving the maximum amount of freedom for all, he’d say, then complain about the “lumpen” kids from the flats who called him gay for drinking beer from a wine glass on a sun lounger at the front door of his house. This was his hard left. “Is that right, aye?” I asked.

On Saturday night I was chatting online with Jordan Daly, the Huffington Post and Common Space contributor who wrote the piece on sending Wings packing, about the importance of keeping the independence movement together. What I said to him was that, for the Yes movement, independence must take priority “above all other social and political concerns.” He took issue with this: “Ok,” he replied, “I’m for Indy but not ‘above all other social concerns,’ esp[ecially] as a gay man.”

We were right back at those acceptable positions on the rights of marginalised identities – what has come to be known on the “new left” as identity politics. These positions have become so important to the radical/hard/new left that it now makes perfect sense for pro-independence identitarians, in the broader context of the independence campaign, to side with unionist politicians when they deploy this politics of identity as a weapon against other pro-independence activists. This, it almost goes without saying, is the very epitome of counterproductive.

Of course the rights of marginalised people and groups are important. The defence and the furtherance of those rights is not the exclusive preserve of Scotland’s unionists. Everyone has an obligation to defend the rights and protect the dignity and worth of his or her neighbour. That much is a given – or, at least, it should be. But my problem with the ideological package – those acceptable positions – of the new left is that it is replete with internal contradictions.

My PhD student friend will soapbox until the cows come home on the need for social and worker solidarity, but he’ll happily fuel the mechanisms that aggravate the structural causes of poverty by supporting the class war project of gentrification in the neighbourhood in which he has become a “coloniser.” Likewise, no doubt well intentioned people like Jordan Daly go to a default identitarian setting when it becomes relevant – even when that relevance is little more than political capital being used cynically against comrades in the Yes movement. It has become an ideological package that trumps even the principle objective of “the struggle” – be that the fight against the systems of capitalism and state neoliberalism or the campaign for Scottish independence.

Such thinking lacks the reflection of classical socialism. It becomes incapable of revolutionary praxis. Battling on the platform of identity rights to the harm of the wider independence movement, following the schemes of unionist strategists, is ultimately destructive because Britain will never safeguard anyone’s rights. Our struggle is against a Westminster establishment that is still up to its neck in political assassinations, foreign interventions for the purposes of bringing about regime changes useful to itself, and wholesale murder and human rights violations.

Britain is about money and power over the needs and rights of ordinary people. It has implemented an austerity regime explicitly designed to impoverish and kill the most marginalised and vulnerable people in these nations. How will becoming an unwitting instrument of Great Britain against the independence cause benefit Jordan Daly, “as a gay man?” It won’t.

When we say that independence has to come before all other social and political concerns, it is not being suggested that we simply ignore these other concerns. That too would be stupid. Neither is this a matter of “nation over individual.” That too is both stupid and dangerous. What we are saying in this – and this is important – is that no one’s rights will be safe, protected, or furthered so long as we remain in the United Kingdom. Hands up if you’ve heard of Brexit and the replacement of the European Convention on Human Rights. It’s all on the way.

All our noble leftist and identitarian ideas of rights are dead without independence. Separation from Britain therefore is the prerequisite for a fairer, more just and equitable society that we ourselves will shape. As I see it, as old-school socialism argues, there is a hierarchy of rights. At the top of ours is independence. All other social and political concerns – while never ignored – are secondary and auxiliary to this end. If we are weakening the struggle for independence by our squabbles over rights and ideas that can never be safe under London rule we are simply rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.

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The Religion of Identity Politics


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