The insatiable appetite for politics in Scotland was on show in Glasgow last weekend as over 15,000 people attended pro-independence political rallies.
If this is what it looks like to lose, it’s difficult to imagine what it would be like if a Yes vote had won the referendum.
Some 12,000 people packed out one of Glasgow’s biggest concert venues as new Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon’s national tour rolled into town, large foam hands and all.
It was rock star reformism designed to manage the expectations of the new members inspired by radical independence arguments that the SNP won’t deliver on.
Many public sector workers, including post workers and firefighters in uniform, were in the crowd.
The seemingly unstoppable SNP bandwagon was there to stamp its authority on the day. Sturgeon urged the many non-members attending her rally to “be part of the biggest grassroots movement for change our country has ever seen”.
Donna Marie Smith was there. She’s thinking of joining one of the Yes parties and thinks there’s a huge shift in Scottish politics.
She told Socialist Worker, “It feels like people aren’t sheep anymore. Before, we just took whatever we got and were grateful.
“It’s like we are on the brink of something new, like a revolution or that we are on the uprise.” It’s not the first mass rally Donna has been at since the referendum. She attended the socialist Hope Over Fear rally for independence last month.
“I heard Tommy Sheridan speak at that rally,” she said. “A lot of people think of it as an idealist outlook. It sounds like an ideal world—and why shouldn’t it be? This society is crooked.”
But unfortunately the political home Donna is seeking is not easy to find. The left in Scotland is divided and is offering no unified alternative to the SNP and Labour.
SNP membership has now surged to over 92,000—that’s one in 50 of the adult population. The party looks set to give Labour a hiding in next year’s general election.
They set out their stall clearly—join us, or lend us your vote to win a socially just country. The working class audience was enthusiastic.
The momentum is in their favour as many people want to punish Labour for going into alliance with the Tories. Others believe they can deliver the progressive change SNP rhetoric promises and accept the idea this won’t be possible until after independence.
Socialist activist Angela McCormick told Socialist Worker, “The danger is that without a left wing alternative being formed now to challenge all the pro-austerity parties our movement’s enthusiasm and energy will be funnelled purely into electing an SNP government.
“That would be a tragedy for the left and a huge missed opportunity.”
The Radical Independence Campaign provided crucial arena for left debate
Just a few hundred yards from the SNP rally over 3,000 joined the Radical Independence Campaign’s (Ric) first post-referendum national gathering.
People travelled from all over Scotland to be there. It was a phenomenal turnout—triple the size of last year’s conference.
Many were looking for what they can do now to continue the movement for a radical Yes vote.
There were discussions on the environment, land reform, trade unions and the role of political parties, for example, in workshops.
Larger plenaries looked at the decline of the British state, linking international anti-austerity struggles and working “towards a radical Scotland”.
Members of different pro-independence or left organisations and many from none were there.
“People are still excited and discussing how to move forward,” Myshele Haywood told Socialist Worker. “Independence was always only a stopping point on the way to achieving social justice.”
Myshele has been very involved with the Ric group in Aberdeen. She said it has made links with other campaigns and community groups to remain active since the referendum.
The Ric event was a crucial arena for the left to discuss how to fight austerity. The sharpest debates were around this question and tactics at the general election.
Myshele agreed we have to hold politicians to account. But she said she has worked with many SNP councillors against cuts by the Labour and Tory-controlled council. “We also need to realise who our allies are and not fight against them right now,” she said.
In a workshop debating the role of the SNP this argument was brought out.
PCS union rep and Scrap Trident activist Craig Lundie told Socialist Worker, “It was a cracking meeting.
“But it was divided down the middle. Some argued let’s get independence first. They say ‘don’t bring up class’.
“Others were saying we need to learn the lessons of history and have a party that fights for the interests of the working class.”
A Peoples’ Vow was launched in opposition to the vow for more devolved powers for Scotland from the Westminster parties arguing for a No vote.
It pledged to “prepare a people’s budget to save Scottish public services” and take up issues of land reform, fracking, equality and getting rid of nuclear weapons. Yet the call to join the demonstration at Faslane nuclear base this Sunday was not linked to it.
Ric remains a significant grouping, but the lack of concrete action proposed leaves it in danger of just holding big conferences.
Some had waited two months for the event. For all the talk of alternatives there was no official call for a new organisation coming from Ric as many had hoped.
Sadly the prospect of a unified left seems as distant as it was directly after the referendum.