"3000 people. Over 80 speakers. 23 sessions. This has been a historic day for the radical left."
Image: Radical Independence.

I’m writing this on the train home, knackered and inspired, from #RIC2014.  It’s been a day full of wonderful speakers, challenging truths and irrepressible optimism.

A lot of people use the phrase ‘talking shop’ as a bad thing, and today I’ve been reminded of Robin McAlpine’s defence of them at the Radical Book Fair in Edinburgh a few weeks ago: sometimes we need to talk to ourselves. How else can we learn, how else do we plan?

While I would deny that this was entirely a talking shop (a good attempt by the organisers to make new voices heard and workshops participatory, and we finally got some coverage of the movement by the BBC) this conference was a chance for Radical Independence to regroup, to celebrate our successes, and be inspired to continue the fight. It was exactly what we needed.

Here are my highlights of the day:

1. Seeing friends; old and new. Greens, people from street stalls, comrades from the rest of the UK, people I know from all walks of life who came together in Glasgow. And the others who couldn’t get tickets following us on Twitter and Facebook from around the world.

2. Feeling part of a vibrant movement. There’s nothing quite like rising en masse to applaud an inspirational speaker, breaking out into spontaneous cheers, or sharing knowing chuckles with thousands of others. RIC’s strength is its diversity and openness, and I was so relieved to see it still existed today. Sure, there were a few folk who pushed this party or that (and so much labour-bashing that I really hope there weren’t too many Labour for Indy folk there!), but the spirit of the conference was summed up by Saffron Dickson: “I don’t care where you put an x on the ballot in May but if you’re working for a better Scotland, you’re a friend of mine.”

3. Challenging myself, and others. We lost the referendum. The time for mourning is over, as is the time for rhetoric. We must fight for change – now. Not wait for next time, not wait for the Smith Commission, or the General Election. I attended a workshop on gender equality asking how we balance the chicken and egg situation of needing legislative change to create fair pay and free time needed to empower women, while at the same time needing a grassroots movement of empowered women to create that change. It was refreshing to have the space (maybe not the time!) to think about these questions and begin to consider some answers.

4. International solidarity was inspiring and chastening. It’s always amazing to hear from those not in Scotland. To learn from great figures such as Bernadette McAlisky and Tariq Ali of the pride they have in our movement, and from international campaigners in Greece and Catalonia about how Scottish actions are inspiring their own. It was also important to see successes from around the world to put our own in perspective. Over 80% for yes in Catalonia’s referendum, Spain’s Podemos gaining 8% of the vote in the European Elections just 5 months (!) after being created, Syrezia on track for an outright majority in Greece – we need to learn from these campaigns and recognise that, yes we made huge gains, but no we didn’t win, and there is still much to do.

The highlight for me of the whole day has to be the visit from the inspirational Focus E15 mothers: young women fighting austerity in every way they can, and winning. There were a fair few tears in the audience as they brought their message of solidarity to us, and a definite determination to do more, now.

5. Hope over Fear: not just a slogan. There was a sense of fearlessness today, a loss of inhibition. We lost, what now was the worst that could happen? The room was filled with talk of our own personal triumphs: the takeaway owner who gave discounted food to a yes campaigner; the conversations with friends and family which were undreamed of two years before; the converts we saw now in the same hall as us.

Yes, there were hopes of another referendum, which we would win. But there were wider hopes than that: of an organised and united left, of challenging austerity with arguments and with action, of uniting the battles for gender, class and race equality, of a movement for hope over fear.

Tariq Ali summed up the mood well: “Project Fear can win once once, it cannot win twice”.

As I looked around the 3,000 folk leaving the hall with smiles on their faces, springs in their steps and each with about three different political conversations going on at once, it struck me that maybe, just maybe, losing this referendum was the best thing that could have happened to us.