Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
‘Went out canvassing today in Pollock and met these two amazing young girls who were already sitting on their doorstep cutting up homemade Yes badges out of lined paper and felt-tip pens to give out on their street. After asking us for some RIC flyers, they then whizzed off on their bikes and had done all the shops, the ice cream van and their neighbours by the time we’d done five more houses. Their mum was a single mother and a staunch Yes voter, having had a stroke and suffered the humiliation of the Atos disability tribunals. People here truly understand how badly Westminster is failing working-class people. So glad I went to Glasgow this weekend to meet just a fraction of the people who have made this radical, grassroots campaign what it is.’
This was a Facebook status of an activist who came up from London to help in the last few days of the Scottish referendum campaign. It sums up the political atmosphere at the time. There was a real sense of rebellion, not just against this or that unpopular politician, but against something far more systemic. The referendum was much more than a constitutional question. It was about class, power, democracy and a deep-set disgust with the way Britain has gone in recent decades. It became the fulcrum of the alienation working-class people feel from formal political institutions. Scotland was at the epicentre of a mass, democratic and peaceful revolt against neoliberalism.
Scottish independence had, and has, such radical potential not just because of the mass movement it evoked, but because we would also have the potential to sever British imperialism in favour of nuclear disarmament and opposition to war. The past two years in Scotland have changed it as a country. People who previously switched off when politics was discussed turned into activists. Hundreds of thousands have investigated what it means to be a member of Nato, the science behind fracking and the finer points of developing a world-class social security system. The awakening has been epic.
The context of austerity and a hated Tory government was always going to provide a cutting edge to the left. But the diversity and range of radical ideas that were a permanent fixture of the debate would not have reached their full potential had it not been for the myriad of groups and organisations that set up independently of traditional left organisations.
Women for Independence, National Collective, Commonweal and the host of non-party activist groups meant the independence campaign flourished into a movement of movements. The Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) was part of this, and has been credited not only for bringing together the broad sweep of the Scottish left to provide a radical policy platform but also in a direct organisational sense on the ground. The impact RIC made ideologically on the overall Yes campaign should not be underestimated. Our insistence that class was central to the debate became mainstream, and our focus on mass canvassing meant that the left had risen above the talking shop.
The RIC argument for independence is well known now. But what I get asked about most, particularly by the left in England, is the organisational structure and internal culture. So here are some of the most important features of the campaign, which may provide scope for further debate.
When the left goes through a crisis, it is tempting to start with organisational procedure rather than political objectives. Unfortunately this can lead to campaigns and organisations never really getting off the ground. Discussing the precise detail of how a perfect organisation should work was not our starting point. For RIC the key was to recognise the opportunity the referendum provided for the left and set out a broad platform that could develop genuine unity over campaigning for a Yes vote. This process did not start with trying to force the existing far left together. Instead: let’s get broad forces, let’s encourage new activists, let’s try to build something inspirational, with something concrete to do. Let’s talk about things that matter to people in a language that they can relate to. Above all, let’s be ambitious.
The first conference was vitally important and hugely nerve‑racking. If it went well, there would be a real chance to build something. Eight hundred people turned up. Young and old, diverse in their backgrounds and ready to take action, their enthusiasm was palpable. We needed a slogan to sum it all up, and since we wanted to create a movement in the spirit of both the alter-globalisation and the anti-war movement, ‘Another Scotland is Possible’ seemed to fit perfectly. Perhaps people left that conference feeling that maybe it was just possible that the left could play an important role, but the key now was to avoid that trap where the conference is great but nothing happens afterwards.
There was a real determination to develop something that local activists could embrace. Instead of forming an executive committee, the idea was to ensure that local RIC groups would have full autonomy. They could decide what to campaign on, who would speak at their public meetings – as long as the gender balance was at least 50/50 – and what their leaflets should say. This would allow members of communities to have a real say in the direction of local activity.
A member of Aberdeen RIC put it best when he said that you don’t ‘have to ask for permission’ to take action and plan initiatives. But local roots without a national strategy would undermine the impact of the campaign as a whole. So a national forum was set up to compose such a strategy, made up of delegates from local groups. Other measures included ensuring that the constituent parts of RIC were always well represented in public events, and that we had activity going on every day, whether it was a social media infographic, a meeting or a canvass. Somewhere in Scotland RIC was active throughout every week of the whole campaign.
RIC became known for its mass-canvass events where we would mobilise lots of people to go to an area and engage with the community. The activity would be organised by a core group of activists already in the area, then others could join. We tried this out first in Easterhouse, Glasgow. It went well, and because we put everything on social media it went across the movement. Other RIC groups joined in.
Then we thought about joining up together and doing a national mass canvass, covering up to 50 communities in one day with over 1,000 activists. So you can see how good ideas percolated through the organisation. I cannot emphasise enough the ‘think big’ aspect when approaching political organisation. We did takeovers of the city centre with hundreds of activists at once, gave out thousands of posters at football grounds, set up community events and developed a media strategy. RIC was never out of the press in the last few months of the referendum.
Thinking big not only helps us outwardly; it also aids our internal culture. It creates excitement, allows people to get to know each other and build confidence – and it is fun, which is important.
Our last conference at the end of 2013 had 1,200 people at it. It solidified local groups and launched us into a year none of us will forget. The day after the No vote we advertised RIC 2014. Thousands of people said they were going to attend on Facebook. Many of us thought this was just an initial rush of post-referendum defiance. But 3,000 people parted with their cash and bought tickets to attend.
So it seems the momentum is continuing. Scotland will never be the same again. But as a campaign we face huge challenges. We need to find focus and strategy, and we need to work out how we go forward collectively.
In the heat of the referendum, when we were all working hard in an exciting context, our organisational methods held up relatively well. Now the campaign needs more structure to allow it to develop. A team of people is taking in suggestions and presenting options. There is a mood for office-holders and more accountability. There is a debate about formal membership too.
At the same time people want to retain autonomy and local initiative. We will strike a balance, and if it doesn’t work we’ll change it where there are problems. We have disagreements, although great effort is put into reaching consensus. Consensus is not for everyone, and we recognise decisions have to be made. But the left could do with a bit of compromise – another kind of left is possible, as well as another Scotland.
We work ourselves into the ground for little economic benefit. It's high time to for a change, writes Aidan Harper.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright