Can Radical Scotland find its Voice? And if so could it be RISE?

Gerry Hassan

Sunday Mail, August 30th 2015

This weekend a new force in the Scottish political scene emerged – RISE – standing for Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism.

What do we need a new political force for, you may ask? We already have a crowded political landscape. And why do we need another pro-independence one? At last count there were already four: SNP, Scottish Greens, Scottish Socialists and Solidarity.

RISE, in case anyone thinks otherwise, has no connection to George Galloway (he is another kind of Respect) and certainly has none with former MSP Tommy Sheridan, who now has his own one-man show with Solidarity.

RISE emerged from the impetus of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) that had a significant impact in the independence referendum – and is an alliance of the Scottish Left Project with the non-Sheridan remains of the Scottish Socialist Party.

RIC have galvinised a whole new generation of younger activists – impatient at the conservatism of Labour and SNP, and fed up with the fissures, fall-outs and shibboleths of the left.

RIC contributed energy to the referendum. They undertook mass canvasses of council estates in Glasgow and Dundee neglected by Labour for generations, and ignored by the SNP. And the response they found there became a factor in the referendum.

They were impatient with the narrowness of the independence debate and highlighted the increasing rightward trajectory of British politics. These were themes the SNP were uncomfortable with until relatively late on in the campaign.

RISE know that they face an uphill struggle in the here and now. The crowded electoral landscape will make it difficult for them to gather resources and have a public profile in the run-up to the 2016 Scottish elections. Then there is the unknown impact of a Jeremy Corbyn-led British Labour Party on the Scottish scene.

There is the thorny issue of Tommy Sheridan. No matter how diminished he is in the eyes of most of his former supporters, he has declared he is standing in Glasgow on the regional list – and will win some support. Probably not enough to make a Lazarus-like comeback, but possibly enough to skew the new party in what would be their best prospect to win a seat.

Finally there is the question of how receptive Scotland is to left wing ideas and politics beyond the romantic version often put forward? Scotland has always been a strange sort of social democratic country – which incessantly talks about being centre-left as if trying to convince itself – while not practicing or advancing the kind of politics that would move towards this.

RISE have to try to go with the grain of how Scotland likes to see itself, while challenging the complacencies and comforting stories. That is a difficult balancing act, and even more for a new party which has at the moment no elected representatives.

They have in their favour a record of left populism as they showed in the referendum. They can reach out to parts of Scotland that other parties cannot. And they can summarise complex subjects in campaign-friendly ways that convey clear messages about the nature of Britain and social injustice in Scotland.

They will be able to have a distinct message from the other parties. But there are pitfalls. Populism only takes you so far. Depth is needed in ideas, although that can come with time.

The thorny question of a second independence referendum illustrates these tensions. RISE look likely to stand, unlike the SNP, for a second vote as soon as possible post-2016, but that isn’t going to happen, and is merely a campaigning and mobilising position. Too much of that kind of politics undermines the basis of your whole project.

The core areas RISE should address are closer to home. The missing and forgotten Scotland where they have already established roots. And for all the problems of Britain and capitalism many of Scotland’s problems are magnified by decisions made here in our name.

As many say ‘Not in my name’ to British Governments over past and future illegal wars, perhaps we could say the same to the Scottish Government and public bodies about things closer to home.

What about a RISE-led ‘Not in my name’ campaign in Scotland? Not about Iraq or Syria, but about the state of our education and health services, the exclusion of working class children from college places due to public spending cuts, and the absence of community voices and decisions across so many areas of public life from policing to local government, aided by Scottish-led centralisation?

Making an explicit start on approaches like these could help RISE become a truly radical political voice.