MANY moons ago, Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy told us that the answer to “life, the universe and everything” was 42. But, right now, for the majority of the radical Left in Scotland, the answer is, actually, 30. This is because it wants a Yes vote in the (20)14 referendum and representation in the parliament elected in (20)16. Hence, 14 plus 16 equals 30, and 30 is, thus, its magic number.
A Yes vote in 2014 is not the be-all and end-all for the radical Left because there are several competing versions of what an independent Scotland could look like. Essentially, there are i) the neo-liberal version; ii) the social democratic version; and iii) the socialist version. This means as much emphasis is put on securing independence as is put upon determining what form independence will then take.
That said, the radical Left – best epitomised by the Radical Independence Campaign and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) – wants people to vote Yes on 18 September 2014 with the intention of achieving a radical form of Scottish independence. This radical Left wants to make it patently clear that the corollary to voting Yes with radical intent is to also then vote Left come the May 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.
So all is clear in theory but what of the practice? Having a gameplan – indeed, playing the long game – is all well and good but implementing the plan, much less achieving the ambition, is a different matter.
Of course, if the radical Left in 2013 was as healthy, vibrant and high-profile as it was in 2003, things would be relatively speaking much easier. Cast your minds back to 1 May, 2003. This was when the SSP went from being the one-man band of Tommy Sheridan to the socialist parliamentary collective … or the “joy of six” as the party’s newspaper, the Scottish Socialist Voice, put in a homage to the ground-breaking book on sexual practice.
Turn the clock forward and all that was solid melted into thin air after Tommy Sheridan created a cataclysm by suing the News of the World for libel for stories that were substantially true. It tore the SSP apart and all six of the MSPs lost their seats in 2007. Sheridan was then convicted of perjury and lost his mantle as the tribune of the poor and oppressed.
Out of a split in the Socialist Workers’ Party (one of Sheridan’s backers), the International Socialist Group (ISG) emerged in early 2011. It was the key mover in organising the 800-strong Radical Independence Conference of November 2012. It is holding another such conference on 23 November this year.
The Radical Independence Campaign (as it is now called), along with the continuing SSP and the Greens, has become the mainstay of the organised movement for a socially progressive independent Scotland. While working with the Yes Scotland campaign, the Jimmy Reid Foundation and elements of the SNP, it is critical of Alex Salmond’s neo-liberal version of independence.
What are the prospects for this radical Left making the breakthrough it seeks? The Left voices within Yes Scotland such as Dennis Canavan, Colin Fox and Patrick Harvey feel the time has come to get mouthy about the lack of radicalism. The Common Weal initiative of the Jimmy Reid Foundation is getting a good airing.
But there is still some way to go for the 2014 side of the equation. The unions are more predisposed to independence have yet to start pushing for policy commitments from the SNP and, just as importantly, a majority of citizens still do not yet feel that independence speaks positively to their concerns about their standards of living and life chances. The case for independence does not yet connect with popular grievances and material concerns.
When it comes to the 2016 part of the equation, the challenges are greater still for the radical Left. If independence is won, the SNP is not likely to see a left-wing breakaway any time soon. This is because the attraction of being in power will keep the SNP together for some time even though its central goal has been achieved. Whether the Greens, the SSP and ISG can develop an effective electoral alliance in time for 2016 remains to be seen.
Credibility and recognition are the key issues for the radical Left. After the SSP meltdown and the Greens losing five of their seven MSPs in 2007, the radical Left is neither as well known nor as widely respected as it used to be.
Sheridan remains a divisive figure as the fortunes of the campaign against the bedroom tax in Glasgow testify. He has been excluded from Yes Scotland but will no doubt attempt to put together a coalition of left-wingers to allow him to stand for the parliament in 2016 in the Glasgow list seat.
Critically, the movement against austerity has not taken off. The radical Left is partly responsible for this while at the same time being held back by the absence of such a movement. And, the public sector unions have not made a good fist of their fight against the government on pensions, pay or job cuts. Again, the radical Left is partly responsible for this and held back by it too.
Against this, the prospect of the return of a Tory government at Westminster in 2015 on the back of a growing economy and a reduction in debt (due to increased tax revenues due to growth) may be the saving grace.
Of course, the SNP and a Yes vote will be the biggest winners from this. But another term of office for the Bullingdon Club boys and Tory toffs might just be enough to compel some not just to get angry but also to get even. Getting even might mean getting active for radical ends.
• Gregor Gall is professor of industrial relations at the University of Bradford and a resident of Edinburgh.