I was looking forward to the Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow yesterday and I was not disappointed. Conference organisers billed the event as ‘a one day conference to discuss Independence and the way forward for Scotland’ and they are to be congratulated on presenting a stimulating event, in comfortable surroundings with modern facilities, conducive to thinking, discussing and learning from others. Moreover with delegate passes priced at just £4 [unwaged] they also succeeded in keeping the event within everyone’s reach.
Inevitably with several important and attractive sessions and 800 people attending throughout the course of the day the conference was tightly timetabled and often too unwieldy to decide very much, some ‘workshops’ had 300 people in them. But rightly the events emphasis was on beginning the process of deliberation over the many important issues in front of the entire Independence movement in Scotland.
The thing that struck me most was that just as the Independence movement which covers a multitude of philosophies we too had a wide range with socialists, greens, trades unionists, social democrats, nationalists, internationalists, feminists and single issue campaigners all content to describe themselves as ‘radicals’. Equally we learned to accept, as more than one person said in the 10 workshops, there are presumably radicals who support the union out there too! The word ‘radical’ in itself means almost nothing if we are honest, its like the phrase ‘the people’.
Nonetheless the 800 people who gathered yesterday will have been greatly encouraged by what we have in common, and no one put this better than my ‘Yes Scotland’ Advisory Board colleague Patrick Harvie who said, inter alia, that ‘people who like the status quo will vote no, what we need to win a majority for Independence is a transformational agenda with more democracy, more redistribution of wealth, more public ownership and more co-operation’. And this unanimity was echoed in the packed workshops. I attended one on the case for a Scottish republic. Here each of the arguments for monarchy were abjectly dismantled and ridiculed. Conference accepted there was nothing democratic, progressive or modern about the principle of a hereditary Head of State. And whilst we were all able to agree that republics are not, in and of themselves radical, there can be no doubt that achieving a modern democratic republic for Scotland would be both a huge blow for the British ruling class and a seismic advance for democracy.
I was able to mention how the burgeoning ‘Yes Scotland’ movement has advanced in recent weeks during the session on strategies for Independence. I tried to infuse it with the sense that we are part of a powerful mass movement which compares with the anti-poll tax campaign of 25years ago. And there was a widespread acceptance that the place for the Radical Independence Campaign is inside the ‘Yes Scotland’ coalition helping to ensure our transformational agenda has maximum impact and influence. This is certainly the role myself, Patrick Harvie, Pat Kane, Elaine C Smith and others advance on its Advisory Board. Clearly the addition of thousands of others would be pivotal in shaping the future strategies of the Independence coalition.
In drawing the day long conference to a close Robin McAlpine of the Jimmy Reid Foundation stressed how powerful and persuasive ideas themselves are in the world today saying ‘we [the RIC] are above all an idea and we need to turn that into a story the Scottish people can understand and support’. How true. For here were echoes of Karl Marx’s wise words. ‘Philosophers’ he reminded us 150 years ago, ‘philosophers have merely interpreted the world, the point however is to change it’. For me the most refreshing aspect of yesterdays conference was that these powerful and persuasive ideas, so powerful and challenging, now have greater semblance to gain traction among the Scottish people in 2014.