The last time I found myself at the Marriot in Glasgow it was a time of political awakening for many. During the heated crucible of the independence referendum, I crammed into a hall with a thousand others who had made up their mind that an independent Scotland was desirous not only as a goal in itself, but of that to a more radical and just society. There was an implication then that not only the campaign for Independence was healthy and varied, but it hide the feeling of many that the SNP could not forever harbour the titles of radical standard bearer and credible government. Fast forward two years from that conference it is almost a year to the day when the verdict of No was handed down by a slim majority of the Scottish electorate. Once more the crowds are in Glasgow to see a new head of this movement spring up. RISE standing for Respect, Independence, Solidarity and Environment is a new left alliance of groups and activists. It aims to fill the void left by the Labour Party as not only the opposition to the SNP but one dedicated to promoting a radical left programme.
The first question that has been asked is whether another party of the left is needed when it seems that voters in Scotland are spoilt for choice. This question would be pertinent enough within an English context where we now have Left Unity and TUSC to add to the panoply of parties where lefties can place their hopes and dreams. However such concerns are less warranted in Scotland where the Holyrood electoral system allows for the confident entry of many challengers from across the political spectrum. There would be still many observers arguing that four pro-independence parties competing for the same tranche of voters would be a godsend to the Labour Party, especially given the convoluted list electoral system.
The very formation of the party may point to the fact that the Greens though making huge strides in Scotland are not seen as the natural home of radical socialist politics. We note the informative workshop ‘Our Green Future’ as a teasing demonstration of the difference in strategy. RISE presenting itself as socialist environmentalists to the Green’s environmental socialists. Also noticed was the absence of any explicit Green Party spokesperson despite a workshop appearance by a speaker from Labour for Independence listed as a facilitator. Does this cast doubts on the ability for a partnership to arise, that maybe too early to say. Thus further tensions down the road could be anticipated with not the official parties but rather between the two that seek to hold the title of bold outsider.
There are several reasons why the formation of such a party is most welcome in the Scottish arena. It arguably further confirms that the ‘Overton window’ in Scotland is set firmly to the left. RISE can also plead the case of advancing a pluralism that is most needed in a political landscape transformed by the independence referendum. It poses an additional challenge not only to the Labour Party but SNP by asserting that there is wide gap between the rhetoric of anti-austerity and the Scottish government’s record. Additionally in Cat Boyd’s words it is important to have a party that can challenge the notion that a party is more significant than a movement. Parties and movements must be interchangeable and be in a constant exchange of personnel and ideas. The argument from this left is that UK wide progressives have found themselves heavily reliant on political parties that can be at best unresponsive and at worst vacillating. At their costs they have left behind community groups, national, international, trade and social movements hungry for a politics rooted in a failed compromise.
It would be a mistake to simply write off RISE as a talking shop with no prospect of making an impact. There are problems for the new found organisation but that logic is founded in the same that thought it impossible for Labour to be wiped out across Scotland. Without question what this signifies is a consolidation of the Scottish left as separate from any progressive project bourgeoning on a UK level.
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