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Meet the Pro-Independence Scots Who Want to Turn Their Country into a Socialist Utopia

The Radical Independence Campaign think that just splitting from the Union isn't enough.
20.9.13

A year from today, a computer in a Holyrood office cubicle will have just finished tallying the votes for and against Scottish independence. On the one hand, Scotland could remain a part of the UK, keeping the Queen, the pound and its key to the Nato clubhouse. On the other, it could wave goodbye to its compatriot of 300 years and leap off into independence, with the same Queen, the same pound and potentially the same set of keys to the Nato clubhouse.

Hardly anything noticeable – on a day-to-day basis, at least – is set to change, bar the union flag possibly losing its blue and everyone north of the border eventually ending up with slightly different passports. The independence campaign stands accused of being nothing more than Alex Salmond's thinly veiled vanity project – a quest to be remembered as his generation's lavishly-browed William Wallace. However, some Scots are begining to demand far more from the independence debate.

Annoncering

In the last week of August, all of Salmond's Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) councillors endorsed an economic manifesto called Common Weal. It's an old Scots term meaning "shared wealth", and it aims to "abolish poverty" in Scotland through higher pay, higher taxes and a beefed-up welfare state.

Salmond, the SNP leader and the man who actually has the power to decide whether or not the manifesto becomes the party’s policy, made no comment on the matter. But he did use the following First Minister’s questions to praise "our neighbours and friends in Scandinavia, who have managed to build more prosperous and more equal societies", using a system similar, in principle, to the Common Weal.

Were the SNP to adopt the manifesto post-independence, that would obviously have a marked effect on daily life in Scotland. But even that change might not be enough to silence the qualms of a growing number of pro-independence campaigners and activists who are disillusioned with what they call "independence-lite". They want an independent Scotland to be tangibly different to the one that they currently inhabit, and they don't feel that the SNP's current post-independence proposals will provide the upheaval they want.

Enter the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), a loose coalition of Scottish lefties, eco-warriors, socialists, militant trade unionists, republicans, veterans of the anti-nuclear movement and both members of The Proclaimers. The RIC are essentially a coalition of Scots who get the most pissed off out of everyone that, thanks to the voters of rural England, they're destined to live approximately half of their lives under a Tory government. I got in touch with a couple of the campaign's key players to get a better idea of what they want to achieve.

Jonathon Shafi is a co-founder of RIC and its organisational powerhouse. "We have to posit something that is radically different to what we have with Westminster," he told me. "This isn't just about waving Scottish flags, it’s about a modern democracy that doesn't have a queen or king as head of state. We demand a social alternative to austerity – a break with neoliberalism."

Last year, Shafi et al's campaign began in earnest with an 800-strong conference in Glasgow, a city recently awarded the enviable title of being the unemployment capital of the UK. And that move was no mistake, as it's people like Glasgow's unemployed who the RIC believes should benefit from independence.

Annoncering

Kat Boyd, a trade unionist, is aiming to get the radical independence message into disadvantaged communities and workplaces. Well known for her firebrand politics, Boyd says she was wrongly accused of organising the ambush of UKIP's Nigel Farage in Edinburgh last spring. However, while she rejects the "rent-a-mob-Kat" tag she's been given since, she says she supported the action because it showed the independence movement had "nothing to do with" nationalism as UKIP knows it.

"Scottish nationalism is different," she told me. "It's actually about internationalism." The next RIC conference, on the 23rd of November, aims to convince Scotland's immigrant population that belonging to a renewed civic Scottish identity would be far better than living under the shadow of a Tory government – a government that demonises the immigrant community with overly aggressive tweets and billboard campaigns.

The RIC are ultimately relying on the belief that Scotland is more left-wing than England, and they may be right in their assumption. In 2010, the Scots voted in just one Tory MP; since then, Holyrood has been flexing its muscles, using its devolved powers to slow the tide of austerity and privatisation programmes implemented by a coalition they didn't vote for.

However, putting that presumption into a wider perspective, Gerry Hassan – co-editor of the book Radical Scotland: Arguments for Self-Determination – told me, "Yes, Scotland is more left-wing than England. But that doesn't make Scotland a culture where a socialist agenda can win a large part of the public."

Gerry sees the Radical Independence Campaign as in danger of advancing an "unreflective socialist nostalgia", but nevertheless applauds them for challenging the Scotland of tribal politics and deference to the establishment. He has identified what he calls "Third Scotland", which exists outside the stand-off between old Labour and the "bright, shiny SNP establishment". He predicts this new force will grow in the coming race towards the referendum, representing a "generational and gender shift", engaging the young and previously apolitical.

Annoncering

There’s still everything to play for in the next year. On September the 2nd, a Panelbase poll put a preference for independence in the lead, but only by one point. Another survey, however, found that 59 percent of Scots want to remain a part of the United Kingdom. But as the wheels of the official independence campaign – and its pro-Union counterpart, Better Together – whirr into action, we're bound to see people taking definitive sides soon enough, deciding what it is that they want for the future of their country.

And whatever the results of the referendum, extended campaigns promoting Scottish nationalism – regardless of how radical their approach might be – are guaranteed to get a chunk of Scotland's population more engaged with politics than they ever have been before. As Hassan alluded to, rallying against a common enemy is always an effective way of bringing people together, and Salmond, the RIC and others like them are united against one huge common enemy: not the English people, but the British state.

Follow Niki on Twitter @NikiSethSmith

More on Scottish independence:

Why Independence will be Heaven for Scotland

Why Independence will Hell for Scotland