Hugh Cullen: The movement needs clarity to reverse the indy retreat

SSP executive committee member Hugh Cullen says the indy movement must recognise the threat of Corbyn and re-establish its offer

OPINION POLLS taken since the 2014 referendum paint a picture of support slowly trickling away from independence. Polls don’t tell the whole story but they correlate with what we are seeing on the ground. Formerly active and vibrant Yes groups have either folded, become social gatherings or are dominated by nationalists detached from reality.
 
Comparing the SNP of 2014/15, buoyed by 100,000 new members and electoral domination, to today seems like day and night. The nationalists have paid a huge price for not making the case for independence at any election since the referendum - and allowing themselves to be chased away from the issue by the unionists.
 
The Yes campaign we got behind in 2014 found strength in its diversity. A majority of Yes supporters weren’t tribally SNP and the Yes coalition helped reach out - particularly to old Labour supporters.

The Yes campaign found strength in its diversity. A majority of Yes supporters weren’t tribally SNP and the Yes coalition helped reach out - particularly to old Labour supporters.

Today, the movement is too closely tied to the SNP. Its electoral failures are seen to represent a setback for independence. In reality there are many independence supporters who find it difficult to vote for the SNP when it ducks the issue and there are more leftwing manifestos on offer. 

It took the 2017 General Election, where the SNP held on to a majority in Scotland by the skin of its teeth, to sound alarm bells. I was an independence activist before I joined the SSP and I’m infuriated to see the movement that we built from 2012 so dominated by a single party. It makes us weaker.  
 
We’re now facing a new 'threat' in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He appears to many to offer a different route to the same social democratic goals independence offered. His popularity in some quarters is based on backing Keynesian policies that may make working people’s lives better. 

That’s a natural attraction to people on poverty wages, waiting for a house or living at the sharp end of austerity. His honesty and integrity has cut through the spin of modern politics and inspired many to imagine an alternative to neoliberalism. But he can’t achieve much within a party machine fundamentally opposed to his vision. 

We’re now facing a new 'threat' in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He appears to many to offer a different route to the same social democratic goals independence offered.

On the other hand, he has outmanoeuvred a fiscally conservative SNP which, acting as the independence flag-bearer, has defended the status quo. And none more so than by latching onto the idea the EU is some progressive organisation to be supported at all costs. 

This prevents us from making independence about transformative change. That’s going to be necessary to win over Scotland’s working class majority - many of whom voted Leave in 2016 in the hope of any sort of change.
 
By seeking clarity on key social and economic issues and by being ambitious, we can align independence with struggles like that of the McDonald’s workers currently on strike. 

The thousands of hospitality and retail workers in Scotland, who currently only dream of a £10/h Living Wage and secure employment and through guaranteed hours contract, can be persuaded that the only way to achieve these demands is through independence. But we have to agree that’s what we want.

We can thank Corbyn for popularising ideas that we agree on, then disagree on his vision of a British route to socialism and his misplaced faith in the Labour party as its apparent vehicle. 

We can thank Corbyn for popularising ideas that we agree on, then disagree on his vision of a British route to socialism and his misplaced faith in the Labour party as its apparent vehicle. 

This means the independence movement must above all make a coherent and persuasive case and answer, "what do we want independence for?" and "what went wrong last time?".  

Only then can we work out how we are going to get there.

This article will also appear in the Scottish Left Review

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Comments

MauriceBishop

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 16:05

The Yes campaign you got behind in 2014 found strength in the fictions that everything would be paid for by oil, and by forcing the UK into a currency union against its will.

Your problem isn't the SNP, or Jeremy Corbyn.

It is economics.

Alan Bissett

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 17:13

This article is badly timed, given the largely social-democratic Programme For Government recently launched by Sturgeon, but okay....

"Polls taken since the 2014 referendum paint a picture of support slowly trickling away from independence."

No they don't. Support for independence has averaged around the mid-forties pretty much since 2014, the most recent ones placing us at 46%

"I’m infuriated to see the movement that we built from 2012 so dominated by a single party."

Perhaps rather than being 'infuriated' recognise that since 2014 there have been FIVE elections (Holyrood, EU, council, two General Elections) and no live referendum campaign. Of course the Yes energy has gone into party machinery, the SNP being the most obvious conduit if we want to maintain any kind of electoral strength and momentum.

"He has outmanoeuvred a fiscally conservative SNP."

Has he? The Labour vote went up by 1% in Scotland at GE2017 (70% of those extra votes came in a single seat, Edinburgh South, which they already held). Labour came THIRD in an election in Scotland which the SNP won. There's no denying the drop in the SNP vote share - largely attributable to a lacklustre campaign, in which you correctly identify independence as an absent theme - but you talk as though Labour actually routed them in Scotland while simultaneously accusing nationalists of 'denying reality'?

"His popularity is based on backing Keynesian policies that may make working people’s lives better."

It's easy for Corbyn to talk about how to transform the economy given he'll be inheriting all the levers which will allow him to do so. That's simply not the case with any Scottish government, so you're not comparing like with like.

"And none more so than by latching onto the idea the EU is some progressive organisation to be supported at all costs."

If you're a Leave voter you've got a few questions of your own to answer.

"That’s going to be necessary to win over Scotland’s working class majority - many of whom voted Leave in 2016 in the hope of any sort of change."

The majority of Scottish working-class people did not vote Leave, so we'd be losing more than we gained if we start triangulating away from Remainers. Besides, one of the main priority for Leave voters appears to be immigration, and I for one do want the independence movement to start talking that kind of talk.

"We can thank Corbyn for popularising ideas that we agree on."

What, like throwing EU residents under the bus so we can nationalise railways?

Which of Corbyn's other policies were not popular with independence supporters, or Scottish people in general, already? Corbyn's caught up to where we've been for some time, not the other way round.

Alan Bissett

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 19:40

Apologies, that line in the fourth-last paragraph was supposed to read "and I for one do NOT want the independence movement to start talking that kind of talk."

There are many, very worried EU nationals in Scotland looking for the independence movement to fight their corner. And we should, if we want Scotland to be an internationalist, outward-looking, modern, European nation.

gbuttars

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 20:44

The SNP's PfG is welcome but has been a long time coming. We've seen too much caution since 2014 and with it has come a reduction in the quality and reach of much of the debate. I don't agree with all Hugh has written but I think it does underline a substantive point that the scale of change since 2014 is vast and the forces at work are very different. We need a better understanding of these and of how they are influencing people's political choices.

Alan, I take your points about some of the incomplete arguments around the EU but I think it's perfectly possible to be critical of the EU while supporting the rights of EU nationals. The problem is that we keep getting trapped the binary of the EU referendum. I think it's about time we stopped letting others set the terms of this debate and start talking about the type of Europe we want to be part of.

Alan Bissett

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 21:16

Of course it's possible to be critical of the EU while supporting the rights of EU nationals, but when it comes down to the wire one of these things is going to have to take priority, isn't it? The UK govt - and the Labour party, for that matter - have made their choice. We need to make ours.

gbuttars

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 06:51

I don't disagree with that. Of course we need to prioritise. All I'm saying is that, alongside that, we need to improve the debate and stop it simply being reactive to the latest round of Brexit ping-pong. To me, this is where Corbyn in particular is coming unstuck in trying to out-manoeuvre the Tories on the territory of immigration. The best way to avoid being dragged into that quagmire is to be able to articulate a clear alternative. This also allows us to win back working class leave voters without pandering to their fears.

ian gould

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 16:49

there is only one thing we hate more than the romans its the popular front

Feuderali

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 20:20

Hi I agree with all the points you made, I don't really understand this article. Polling shows the opposite that the author claims and I can't see how anyone would expect the Yes movement to be as energised as it was in 2014.
One point I would like to draw attention to though is your criticism of the SNP for their "lacklustre" campaign. I agree that it wasn't an inspiring campaign, however to be fair, people need to remember that this was a snap election that only the Tories were geared up for. The SNP can never match the UK parties in terms of funding and it's clear they had expended a lot of resources on the recent council elections.
All the SNP have is their ground game and the donations of members to fund it, the mainstream press are entirely hostile to them. I suspect a lack of money probably effected them more than is recognised in that election.

Redjar's picture

Redjar

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 19:59

More navel gazing. As for Corbyn he is a confirmed Unionist and a lukewarm at its best Federalist. His position on Trident is an example of the confusion he may not press the button but is content to leave it parked next to Scotland's largest centre of population. We need to promote the benefits of Independence and bin the defensive mindset

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