Colin Fox, Democracy, Edinburgh, Holy Corner, Jim Sillars, Labour, Maggie Chapman, Opinion, Politics, Scottish Independence, Scottish National Party, Scottish Nationalism, SNP, Socialism, Socialist Workers' Party
I’m at a Yes event this evening, after a couple of beers to stun my brain and stop me from heckling. The Eric Liddell Centre at Holy Corner threatens to be a church, but it turns out to be a proud community centre which has dressed itself in a discarded nineteenth-century church. “The Socialist Case for Independence,” a meeting organised by the Scottish Socialist Party, is less elegantly tailored, in being stuffed into a room which is several sizes too small for it. Young activists are circulating with chairs and fans and cups of water.
There are three speakers and they are all very good to listen to. Jim Sillars and Colin Fox are both venerable figures from the Scottish Left; Maggie Chapman, who I have never heard speak before, is a Green councillor for Leith Walk. Tonight they are laying out a more appealing, politicised case for independence than the standard one posed by the SNP. This room might be short on oxygen, but we have, metaphorically at least, the sense of being assailed by fresh air.
Of course, the socialism is comfy and nostalgic, rather like an old bedtime story. The people are sovereign and they just need to reassert themselves, and it is as simple as that. Sillars wants a mass housing programme, pursued with some of the traditional socialist “audacity” of Nye Bevan. He thinks that more Scottish oil should be allocated to Scottish motorists, to fuel domestic tourism. The SNP make vague pledges about the financial benefits of independence, with an extra thousand pounds in your hand every year (or whatever it is), but Sillars’ vision seems to be both dreamier and more substantial.
Sillars warns that Scotland will not have the political organisation to make use of its skills if it regains control over North Sea oil, which, like a lot of what he says, is something that had never really occurred to me before. He tells us that the Union is finished because its armed forces are in decline, which sounds like a considerably improved Union to me; but he is elsewhere shrewd when maintaining that the Yes side will only win by reassuring older voters (in my experience, the most passionate Unionists are the oldest). He ends on a silly, misjudged note, asking us to scare our grandparents with the possibility that there will be mass emigration following a No. Imagine your grandchildren phoning from New Zealand on Christmas day! With stuff like this, he is in danger of being crowned the king of Project Fear.
Sillars and Fox between them advance the hope that old Labour politics will outlast the Union, when it has barely survived Thatcherism. The most interesting question from the floor concerned party politics in an independent Scotland. Would the Labour party make a comeback? Somebody in the audience said that Labour coming back would make him shite himself and Fox predicted that Labour would venture rightwards after independence. These socialists have jumped the gun, in claiming independence for themselves, as an opportunity to relaunch the Left, when the same old power struggles will be waiting as usual after a Yes vote. If there is a Yes, there will be no credible political party to hand to promote their socialism.
In the campaign for democracy, the EU is today half the story, but a question from the floor about a post-independence referendum on EU membership remained unanswered. Sillars even suggested that a small country like Scotland could have power in Europe because the former prime minister of Luxembourg is now the front-runner for the Commission Presidency: an example which lets down the democratic side of his argument. Unlike the SNP, however, these speakers were demanding a republic and they know what they are fighting for. Sillars had the best line of the night: for the fifteen hours that the polling stations are open on the 18th September, in less than three months time, you will be sovereign.