Radical Independence conference: Brexit is a symptom of the decline of the British state

RIC conference sees passionate debate over the independence movement’s response to Brexit and left-wing views on the EU.

THE EDINBURGH CONFERENCE of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) saw wide-ranging and ambitious discussion of Brexit and its impact on future strategies for Scottish independence.

Brought together in the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, the RIC has seen pro-independence political parties – including the Scottish National Party, Scottish Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party and RISE – join with trade unionists and non-aligned activists to plan and articulate the future of the Scottish Left.

Assembling in the City of Edinburgh Methodist Church on 10 March, the RIC’s spring conference saw much of its panel-led discussions dominated by debate over what view the Scottish independence movement should take on the European Union and the UK Government’s pursuit of Brexit.

Despite major divisions within the Scottish Left regarding Brexit and its implications for the future of Scotland, the debates were regarded by most as constructive and respectful. Panel speaker David Jamieson – co-founder of the RIC and former correspondent for CommonSpace – noted that discussion of Brexit was unusually open-minded, given the issue’s emotive and highly-charged nature.

Opening the conference, Scottish Green co-convener Maggie Chapman, speaking in a panel discussion on the implications of Brexit for Scottish independence, broadly reflected the Scottish Greens’ pro-EU position, but nevertheless argued that the case for independence should not be fundamentally tied to Brexit, despite it being what she described as a “terrifying prospect”.

Independence should be supported, Chapman argued, because it is “the right thing to do”, regardless of Scotland’s position within or outside of the EU.

“If there is a protest at parliament, will Labour be too embarrassed to come out? They’re supposed to be the party of devolution.” Journalist and activist Lesley Riddoch

Neil Davidson, a political commentator and lecturer in sociology at the University of Glasgow, offered a more vehement left-wing critique of the EU as a neoliberal institution, arguing that it was not a reliable vehicle for protecting workers’ rights, and made the case for a second referendum on EU membership following the advent of Scottish independence.

A subsequent panel discussion on future strategies for the independence movement, featuring David Jamieson and the journalist and activist Lesley Riddoch, saw further debate on the issue.

Jamieson, building on a recent essay written by him and fellow RIC co-founder Jonathon Shafi in the National newspaper’s Bella Caledonia supplement, argued that Brexit, along with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the continuing influence of the pro-independence movement, were all symptoms of the decline of the British state.

Because of this decline, the British state will “become more vicious,” Jamieson argued. “It’s going to become more authoritarian.”

Lesley Riddoch, by contrast, argued that Brexit, as an animating force for the independence movement, “could still be the one that works”, given that Scotland voted against leaving the EU by 62 per cent.

Despite EU membership not being intrinsic to the case for Scottish independence, Riddoch pointed to the history of Norway, arguing that the issue which finally delivered Norwegian independence was one of consular representation. Brexit, Riddoch argued, could be a similar case.

READ MORE: No retreat from radicalism as radical independence movement prepares for Edinburgh conference

Riddoch also expressed scepticism of Labour’s current position on Brexit, saying: “The Labour Party has crept forward to thinking it might want to be part of a customs union.” Riddoch then rolled her eyes. “Right.”

Regarding the Scottish Government’s Continuity Bill, its controversial alternative legislation to the UK Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill, Riddoch said that the question confronting Scotland over the coming weeks “is whether our parliament, our government, backs down.”

Meanwhile, Riddoch argued, it will become difficult for the Tory government when both a Labour administration in Wales and an SNP administration in Scotland declare they will not pass legislation on EU withdrawal. This added to the sense of crisis on the British state articulated by Jamieson.

Highlighting the Hands Off Our Parliament (HOOP) demonstration planned for 23 March, which intends to assemble a human chain around the Scottish Parliament in protest against the UK Government’s “power grab” of returning EU powers which the many in the independence movement believe should be devolved to Scotland, Riddoch said: “This is where Scottish Labour needs to put its money where its mouth is. If there is a protest at parliament, will Labour be too embarrassed to come out? They’re supposed to be the party of devolution.”

Picture courtesy of freestocks.org

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