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Radical action needed for Scottish independence fight

This article is over 4 years, 5 months old
Charlie McKinnon argues that activists should push for a new phase of a resistance to force the break up of the British state
Issue 2689
Huge shows of force will need to form one part of the fight for independence.
Huge shows of force will need to form one part of the fight for independence. (Pic: Andrew McGowan)

The battle for Scottish independence is at a critical juncture.

Faced with the intransigence of Boris Johnson and a Scottish National Party (SNP) focused on parliamentary and legal manoeuvring, activists are debating the way forward.

Pro-independence group All Under One Banner (AUOB) has held mass demonstrations across Scotland since 2016.

These huge shows of force will need to form one part of the fight for independence.

But those wanting a break from the British state need to organise a bigger and bolder spirit of resistance.

There is a danger that “march fatigue” may set in if the protests become too ritualised and passive.

Activists should argue for direct action and civil disobedience—Extinction Rebellion (XR) has shown that such action can be popular.

Some of the more mainstream and pro-capitalist independence supporters might shrink from such measures.

The fight for Scottish independence has to have working class politics at the front and centre of the movement—pushing for strikes, occupations and protests.

The SNP attempts to request permission from Johnson to hold a new independence referendum have predictably failed.


First minister Nicola Sturgeon has already ruled out an unofficial referendum and said she will not sanction any illegal activities in pursuit of independence.

Effectively this means that her only remaining option is a legal challenge to Johnson’s decision—although the prospects for success are remote.

This strategy is likely to be a disaster. The legal system could take years to rule on such a case.

And wrangling in the courts could suck all the energy out of the insurgent independence movement.

Some leading SNP figures are already finding ways to retreat.

Former MP Angus Robertson and former media director Kevin Pringle have called for people to give up hoping for indyref2 this year.

They argue for the movement to concentrate on the Scottish parliamentary elections in 2021.

And cracks are appearing in Scottish Labour—which holds a pro-unionist position.

Prominent politicians such as MSP Monica Lennon, former MP Paul Sweeney and STUC union federation leader Grahame Smith argue that Scottish Labour should now support the demand for a referendum.

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A new pro-independence group, Scottish Labour for Radical Democracy, is backing a strategy of non-cooperation and civil disobedience against the government.

Despite the machinations at the top, the critical mechanism for winning change is through mass and militant action.

Independence activists need to escalate action—not to retreat and rely on the SNP. 

This organised resistance will bring the movement into conflict with the SNP and the elements of big business that support independence. 

Socialists have a role to play in shaping the tactics of this movement.

An AUOB national assembly on 15 February will bring together activists to discuss the way forward.

The SNP are happy to lend implied support to the AUOB marches.

But the tension that underlines this is likely to come to fore if the movement takes on a more urgent and radical edge.

This could include people organising around Scottish independence in their workplace.

Activists should move beyond arguing for more “monster marches”—although they are important—into building a movement that can take on the might of the political establishment.

Militancy and political determination from increasing numbers of ordinary people will be the key to smashing open the independence impasse.

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