Wow! And that was just the start!
On a sunny day two years and four months ago in a multiplex in Fountainbridge (the sort of sunny day Spring day where you’d think “this is no day to be cooped up in a cinema”) Alex Salmond, Sean Connery and celebs and politicians launched the Yes Scotland campaign. It was slick, carefully scripted, comfortable, reassuringly respectable. It was everything the campaign turned out not to be. We were not inspired.
Enter the Radical Independence Campaign. A ball of young socialist energy, RIC got organised in 2012 holding two incredible conferences in Glasgow, building support around proper, radical political ideas, registering working class voters by the thousands and galvanising a support base of confident, internationalist fighters. RIC always said that independence could just be the start. Well it’s been an amazing infancy – taking part in its blossoming promises to be something incredible. We’re seeing the rise of an organised left in Scotland. It’s been a while.
So many wonderful ideas have come to print over this campaign. Blogs have positively buzzed with brilliant radical discussion from all political hues. Writers and journalists have given us much to cherish, mentioning Lesley Riddoch, Gerry Hassan, and Iain Macwhirter to name but a few.
The Jimmy Reid Foundation, now at the brink of a split (or more accurately, a productive explosion) over the referendum, has provided much needed clarity of purpose. Their Common Weal project is the closest thing we have to a manifesto for a better politics, and is an essential contribution to Scottish political discussion no matter what happens in the vote. We are now equipped to talk seriously about land value tax, breaking up the banks, nationalising transport, a renewal of Scottish industry, and many other crucial ideas.
And there’s the dreamers: the artists! Wow! Have you ever seen such a creative outpouring? The artists got organised in National Collective, and what a force it’s been. The Yestival tour solidified independence as a creative movement for change as well as a solidly political one. I have been amazed by the poetry, the music, the public art, the wonderful posters, badges, and murals. There has been brilliant comedy too. Art has an ability to get to the heart of an issue in a way cold text always falls short. That goes for comedy too, as the wonderful Jonny and the Baptists proved.
The Green Yes campaign has shown much needed alternative from within the elected parties. The Greens, who risked much taking on the fight despite their traditional light-green base, are now full of fresh momentum. Without the Scottish Greens there would be no voice espousing a wealthy, equitable, green powered Scotland as an alternative to the black black oil bonanza of the SNP (and most other UK parties). A party official told me yesterday they’d had 50 people join in one day. Brilliant.
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing speakers from Women for Independence, Farmers for Yes, Third Sector Yes, So Say Scotland, Christians for Yes, English Scots for Yes, and many, many other national groups and local branches of the same over the last two years. Even my devout anarchist friends joined the campaign – and voted.
This is a genuine mass movement, of the likes we’ve not seen for a long, long time. Walking by the National Gallery yesterday I was surrounded by strangers having deep conversations about political change. In the context of history, the significance this nation-wide discussion should be fully understood to be on a par with the Putney Debates.
Today in Scotland the left is better organised, more energetic and clearer minded than it ever has been. Why?
Someone recently asked me why the AV referendum didn’t spark such excitement. I have also heard folk say “why should we need a referendum to have all of this excitement about politics”. The reason is not opaque: we were being offered meaningful change. Being given the opportunity for something different, no matter how risky or challenging it might be to bring about, was was the starting gun for this spectacular constitutional carnival.
The clarity of purpose of friends joining the campaign from elsewhere has buoyed us no end. Joe Greenwood, who campaigned with us last weekend, told us why this could change England too. To put it simply: “we have a chance to quake the British state and establishment to its core – how could we pass it up?” Along with the contributions of other rUK groups such as Red Pepper and Open Democracy, momentum is building around the idea that this could be the starting gun of England’s own renewal movement. To answer Josie Long’s call for “England to have its own referendum”, Scottish independence could yet provide the space for political imagination, so sorely needed south of the border.
So as Ken Ferguson points out in the excellent Red Pepper magazine, either way we have won. The referendum has unleashed colourful and powerful political forces which will not be contained.
We are better organised and ready to make a difference. Today turnout will be the highest in Scottish history. These new voters will not be voting for business as usual when we are next asked to elect a parliament.
We have built a movement for change that will no longer be satisfied with slick, carefully scripted, comfortable, and reassuringly respectable politics of two years ago. We are anarchic, creative, radical, powerful and utterly earth shattering and, no matter what happens tonight, we are now ready to change these islands for better.