Scotland after GE2015: Referendum or Revolution?

The weekend after the referendum in September, a public meeting was held at Dundee’s Bonar Hall asking: what next for the Yes movement? Before an audience of several hundred, one local activist suggested that this could be the “early days of the Scottish Revolution.” As a statement it seemed both too excessive and yet simultaneously appropriate, satisfying the desire of the audience to ignore the recent defeat and, at the same time, satisfying the need to recognise the sheer radical nature of the forces which had been unleashed by the referendum. Whilst I didn’t immediately become a proselytiser for the Scottish Revolution, the comment stuck in my head and occasionally came to mind during the election, as I watched crowds of passionate independence supporters swarm round Nicola Sturgeon (as Channel 4’s Alex Thomson observed, these were simply unprecedented scenes in a modern British political context).

Then, the election result. After the initial rush of joy at the sweep of seats falling to the SNP and the subsequent bitter aftertaste of realising the Tories had won a majority, hashtags such as #IndyRefBy2018 starting appearing in my Twitter timeline. It seems obvious now that there will be a strong expectation among activists and the wider public that the SNP should include a commitment to hold another independence referendum in its 2016 Holyrood manifesto. Equally, it seems obvious that there will be many inside the SNP (and especially those close to its leadership), along with some influential voices from the wider Yes movement, who will argue that we don’t want to lose another referendum and that it is better to postpone the option until at least 2020, if not some time after.

There are some people who have been demanding an immediate second referendum ever since 19th September 2014. I intend no offence when I start by noting how these people are often looked down upon by others as being politically less-experienced individuals who have little to no hesitation in putting the Saltire at the centre of their politics, who think the result of the first referendum was a fix and who therefore demand a re-run. In the weeks after the referendum, when some people were posting videos online purporting to show meddling with ballot papers and the like, there was some embarrassment felt by those who think of themselves as more experienced and “serious” campaigners. For some activists I know of, they felt these conspiracy theories made the Scottish independence movement look politically immature and full of people whose internal drive for independence as an absolute end-in-itself has clouded their judgement to point that they are totally unable – to the point of childish stupidity – to even conceive of failure.

'Free Scotland' painted on cottage wallWhatever the merits of the conspiracy theories, I believe that the type of “inexperienced” (and I’ll shortly be addressing the question of what exactly is “political experience”) independence campaigner I have so far described has a virtue to bring to our movement that is now – especially after the election – going to be absolutely critical: impatience. To demand a second independence referendum – without waiting for “the guarantee” of a few opinion polls showing more than 50% pro-indy support – is to be stubbornly impatient. Yes, impatience may appear childish and immature – but this is because, if we think about it, childhood is the period of our lives when we are taught the supposed virtue of forms of deferral which uphold and maintain authoritarian, bureaucratic and patriarchal structures of power. “Eat your greens and you’ll get pudding later.” “If you do your chores instead of watching TV, you’ll get an extra couple of quid in your pocket money.” “Study hard at school and you won’t end up in a dead-end job like your mother and father” (thus ignoring how the failure to provide high quality standards of living is a result of the exercise of class power and political decision-making, rather than the failure of individuals to “study hard”).

With an SNP landslide amidst a Conservative overall majority at Westminster, many are now calling for the rise of a direct action social movement to challenge the legitimacy of austerity in Scotland. A substantial part of anti-austerity politics is all about challenging those very same authoritarian, bureaucratic and patriarchal structures of deferral, the blueprints for which are laid down during childhood. To become impatient for change, to become oblivious to the supposedly objective barriers in the way, to refuse to wait even upon the supposed good guidance of comradely others, is a return to the early proto-revolutionary resistances of childhood.

It is the idea of being willing to receive the supposed good guidance of comradely others which now brings me to the question of “political experience”. Jonathon Shafi is correct when he writes in the aftermath of the election: “a resistance dominated solely by a hyper-centralised SNP will run up against the need for Sturgeon to win moderate sections of Scotland over to secure another majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2016, something still difficult to achieve for the nationalists in the PR system.” One of the possible ways in which Sturgeon and the SNP might try and win over those moderate sections of Scotland in 2016 will be to keep a second referendum out of the SNP manifesto. Thus, the SNP (and some of their high-profile and influential supporters like Pat Kane, who argues for holding back on another referendum until at least 2020) will try to moderate the impatience of the grassroots by asserting their “political experience”, which is quite simply about their need to win over those moderate sections of Scotland that Shafi mentions.

Who are these “moderate sections” of Scotland? Essentially, they are the affluent middle classes who profit, either directly or indirectly, from the giant economic structure of deferral that we call “financial capitalism”. The “deferral” here is a question of the creation of debtors i.e. those who, like naughty children, have consumed first without paying up-front and must now agree to work as hard as slaves in order to pay back the deferred costs. Upon this unsteady base of debtor-creation sits an entire empire of asset-wealth, most of which exists only on paper and in the algorithms of property websites which offer reassurance to the affluent middle classes about how much their homes are worth. Beware activists who claim to be “politically experienced” enough to know that there is no point in calling a second referendum too soon – they are either personally invested themselves in the structure of deferral at the heart of financial capitalism, or they are hoping not to alienate the “moderate sections” who are invested in such deferral, believing that bringing those classes onboard is essential to winning independence. This would be “independence-lite” i.e. independence with the same model of economic injustice (of which deferral is a critical part) at its heart. I don’t believe that’s what most people in our movement are fighting for.

My final word to those who are – like me – impatient for independence is that, thus far, we have made a second referendum the object of our impatience. But let us as a movement reflect on how radical our impatience, regardless of its object, truly is. Impatience is key to a successful anti-austerity politics. Impatience is revolutionary by encouraging us to resist the structure of deferral which says we must work ourselves to the death in order to enjoy. If, as part of our anti-austerity politics, we test our impatience to its limit we might discover that we gain our independence without even needing another referendum. We might even end up with a sequence of events that others will later decide to call the Scottish Revolution.

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1 Comment

  1. I think there is a win-win situation for both sides of the arguement.

    Another referendum in the SNP 2016 manifesto, but not for Indy.

    Devo Max is the answer. We know the majority of Scots want it. So we have a snap Referendum on it and put the Tories in the position of having to deliver it. ie Manifesto commitment by the SNP to hold the referendum during 2016 and a timeline they want delivery by (2018).

    If they (the Tories) fail to deliver it by say start of 2018, we can go UDI, due to the sizeable number of SNP politicians in Westminster or hold an Indy Ref in 2020. If they do deliver, it’s a tiny step from there to Indy.

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