We will not disappear

The Yes campaign is broad and diverse. It involves a wide range of people from lots of different political parties, campaigns and ideological discipline. Undoubtedly, the majority of key activists driving the Yes campaign stem from social democratic, left wing and progressive backgrounds. From organisations like The Jimmy Reid Foundation – which recently published The Common Weal paper advocating an economy that takes its principles from the success of the ‘Nordic model’ – to the International Socialist Group, which has pushed the anti-war, anti-imperialist “Britain-must-Break” argument during the referendum debate and were a key force in the establishment of the Radical Independence Campaign. Most groups work closely together, as a stream of socially progressive groups heading towards a similar goal; independence in 2014. Of course, many of these activists within the Yes movement are also looking beyond 2014; towards 2016 and the election that will be held that year.

The left-of-centre activists driving the Yes movement, whether they be SSP or SNP, are all committed to social change. If a Yes vote is won, it will be because of the positive vision projected by these campaigners making up the bulk of the Yes groups. But translating the principles behind the Yes movement into the principles behind a new Scottish state will not be straightforward. What can be stated quite categorically is that these people will not simply ‘disappear’ or retreat back into party lines, or community groups. Activity and action changes people; the act of winning the most important vote in decades will motivate, inspire and energise people even further. There is a consensus across these main actors in the pro-independence left about social justice and equality; that these things must be at the forefront of our campaign before the vote and after the vote. A ‘post-Yes’ Scotland must be able to fulfil its promise.

What can be stated quite categorically is that the large, broad coalition of pro-independence left activists will not simply ‘disappear’ or retreat back into party lines, or community groups after a Yes vote. Activity and action changes people; the act of winning the most important vote in decades will motivate, inspire and energise people even further.

The two areas that are key to a ‘New Scotland’ are the worlds of work and welfare. With recent headlines showing Glasgow as the ‘jobless capital of the UK’, unrelenting stories about rates of child poverty, and the welfare state under a historic attack, challenging the status quo has never been more important. We need to be able to deliver and design an alternative economic model; one which is fit for purpose in the 21st century.

In the world of work, the London-orthodoxy has led to huge wage inequalities across sectors. The impact of this inequality cannot be underestimated. As well as causing massive economic problems, income and wealth inequality damages social cohesion, and as the current system shows, areas of the population become trapped in a downward spiral of despair, with welfare keeping people in poverty. A living wage for all must be a central demand throughout the referendum campaign, and moreover, this must be a living wage in socially useful jobs. A majority of vacancies are now in precarious, low paid and ‘zero-hour contract’ posts.

We must create an alternative economic model which targets economic development towards sustainable, secure and rewarding job creation. This can be developed further, too. Rather than only making a demand for a ‘Living Wage’, the core of the argument is that everyone deserves a decent standard of living, regardless of whether they are able to work.

This is why work and welfare are two of the central aspects that need to be re-shaped post-Yes. With Scottish Labour’s attack on universalism, the SNP’s welfare policy is representative of what some would call ‘old Labour’ values. We need a welfare system in which everyone has a stake, and that is fit to provide for all, from cradle-to-grave and one which can rid us of the scourge of child poverty and deprivation that still scar our communities.

The growing gap between the lowest and highest paid worker is damaging to the wider social economy and serves to reinforce social hierarchies. For example, in Barclays, top pay is around seventy-five times the wage of an average worker. There is no doubt that this injustice needs to be addressed. The Thatcherite idea that you can build an economy that only works for those at the top, while the living standards of ordinary workers, who are the real “wealth creators”, are increasingly precarious, living from day to day, must be put to an end. This is symptomatic of an economic model that creates inequality and injustice, fuelling poverty and stunting growth. An independent Scotland must lead, not just on a living wage, but on wage equality and the implementation of a maximum wage and wage ratios so that bosses can only earn ten times as much as the lowest paid worker, rather than 300 or 400 times as much.

A basic measurement of the healthiness of society is to look at people’s experience in work and out of work. On both measures, people in Britain are increasingly miserable, scared to lose their job and, if they do lose their job, ridiculed and stigmatised for living in poverty. The economic debate at the moment seems obsessed with currency and low corporation tax –  if we want a Scotland that is healthy, socially just and values people, then we need to be able to transform our economy into one that benefits the many, and does not simply line the pockets of the few.

How do we get from where we are just now to this New Scotland?

This is not so much a question of chronology, but strategy. Of course, after a Yes vote there will be various interest groups that will try to shape an independent Scotland, some with greater reach than others. At the level of ‘high politics’, we need people of the left, like trade-union negotiators, to be part of shaping the post-Yes settlement. However, ultimately this vision of a Scotland for its people, and not for corporate profits, must be held as a shared vision across a grassroots and broad-based movement, like the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC). Where does ‘real change’ come from? It cannot be the purview of only ‘experts’ or specialists. Policies must be shaped by ordinary people. Ordinary people must feel engaged with the changes that they wish to make. These ideas must be on the agenda before people go to the ballot box. We will require the expertise of negotiators and experts – be they from Sweden on welfare models, or Norway on oil. However, this level of politics has been far removed from citizens for so long, and as a balance to the constant triangulation to the right that happens over time to many political parties means we need a grassroots movement to hold those at the top of the political process to account.

A post-Yes independent Scotland should already have the seeds of a strong and renewed working class sewn in its soil. We need to build ‘people power’ into every aspect of a New Scotland. At government level, rather than arguing just for cosmetic reforms that work around the Thatcherite economic model, we’re arguing for wage equality, workers rights and the creation of more socially useful work and industry as this will help reconstruct the power of ordinary people, and begin to reorientate power in Scottish society into the hands of the people. The reconstruction of working class power is the key to economic democracy. At present, the impulse of poor people to defend their rights by extra-parliamentary force is illegal, while the right of rich people to defend their property by all measures of force is enshrined in law. This is another injustice, upheld by Britain and its institutions, that must be addressed: abolish all anti-trade union laws, decriminalising solidarity and giving all workers the right to strike on political grounds. A vision of workplace democracy is built upon that foundation. A Post-Yes Scotland could put in place laws that give workers the legal right to veto management decisions by a simple majority vote and the ability for workers to assume control over companies as cooperatives.

Of course its not simple to move from our current reality, through a Yes vote, to where we wish to be – but it is not impossible, and only through trying to make to make that transition will we find out exactly how we want society to work. An independent Scotland must be shaped by the people, for the people. That is the message the Radical Independence Campaign is trying to express. That ultimately it is up to us to shape a new Scotland. Just voting Yes will not give us jobs that we don’t hate, it will not bring workplace democracy or a decent welfare system – but it opens up a favourable terrain to fight for these things.

A ‘people’s power’ cannot just be based on the discredited and out-of-touch political party system, either. We need a duel approach, creating a movement outside parliament to make socially just demands, and to hold those in parliament to account. The concept of a ‘movement’ as only a ‘protest’ is somewhat limited. Post-Yes Scotland creates room for real community democracy, where participatory forms of governance like what has been seen in Brazilian cities like Porto Allegre and Sao Paolo. For example, the running of public services should directly involve those who use them.  Post-yes ‘people’s power’ must be in parliament, on the streets, in communities, and in our workplaces – only if we try to link each into a new form of democratic governance can we build real change.

Ultimately, we can’t promise a utopia in 2014, but moving away from the reactionary pillars of the British state is the starting point for a long and deep process of economic and social transformation.

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