The Radical Independence Campaign is in crisis. According to some people, it no longer even exists. This has come as a surprise development for RIC’s autonomous local groups, none of which had been made aware of a proposal to wind up the organisation until two weeks ago, and some of which had only barely been re-established in the past year-and-a-half since a high-profile conference in Glasgow was billed as an opportunity to rebuild the organisation. Indeed, the proposal had not come through any of these local groups.
It is not yet entirely clear how this crisis will be resolved. However, the thousands who have played some role in RIC over the past six-and-a-half years have a right to know what took place at its disputed AGM. This report aims to make that clear. It draws on the notes I took in my capacity as the meeting’s minute-taker, though this report should not be taken as minutes.
RIC’s 2021 AGM was originally intended to take place on Sunday 17 January 2021. However, after it collapsed into an acrimonious row over proposals to change RIC’s constitution, which I detailed in my previous report, the meeting was adjourned for two weeks. Jonathon Shafi, one of RIC’s founding members, had taken the meeting on the 17th by surprise by announcing that he had now formed the view that RIC should be brought “to a conclusion”. He had already privately conveyed this view to others, meaning some, but not all, participants knew of this in advance.
Shafi did not press for a debate or vote on the question of dissolution on the 17th. However, following the adjournment of the meeting, he drafted a written proposal in favour of dissolution and privately secured agreement from the chair, Stuart Fairweather, for it to be debated on the 31st. The text of that proposal read in full:
RIC made a significant contribution to the debate on Scottish independence in the lead up to 2014. And, it has been one of the few organisations on the Scottish left that has made a wider national impact in the last decade. It is important that the legacy of RIC is remembered in this context.
Naturally, political circumstances change, leading to significant differences over purpose, internal organisation and overall political strategy.
The original purpose of RIC is no longer fulfilled due to these real strategic and organisational differences, fragmentation of the original coalition and loss of connection with working class communities across Scotland.
It is, therefore, proposed that RIC(S) as a national organisation and any remaining infrastructure supporting its function is dissolved.
In addition, there is recognition that it is an organisation to which – over the years – many have devoted time, money and energy into building. This collective legacy should be properly archived and turned into a resource, brought together by a working group.
There are important debates that should happen among like-minded people, many of whom are not present at this AGM, as we move into a new phase around Scottish independence. Such discussions are desirable and require substantial space and time so that trust and good working relationships can be reestablished and developed.
For the reasons outlined above, and as a result of recent experience, RIC no longer serves the purpose it was established to fulfil.
Just under 70 people had taken part in the first part of the AGM on the 17th. Many more people attended the second part of the AGM on the 31st – so many, in fact, that the 100-participant limit on the host’s Zoom account was reached and the meeting had to migrate to another account to allow more to join (like a virtual equivalent of moving to a bigger room because the jannie’s anxious about fire safety). At its peak, around 120 people participated in the meeting.
It quickly became clear that those calling for RIC’s dissolution had contacted dozens of people in their own political networks – who were overwhelmingly based in Glasgow and have had little to no involvement in RIC for several years, and had not attended either of the two Glasgow meetings held in the run-up to the AGM – and urged them to attend the meeting for the sole purpose of voting to dissolve an organisation which others had worked hard to keep alive after the 2014 referendum or had latterly been working to rebuild. This is best described as one of the most blatantly unprincipled, sectarian and destructive acts on the Scottish left in years.
The case for dissolution
Introducing his proposal, Shafi argued that while RIC had been “a really good organisation for the left” during the 2014 referendum campaign, the political situation had now changed and RIC in its present form could not “relate to this period”. He suggested that the meeting on the 17th had revealed “respectfully held positions that are very much opposed” and claimed that “being able to ascribe to RIC one of the various opposing views that are now contained within the organisation would fundamentally alter it from the spirit and way in which it was set up”, as if this is not a natural feature of democratic organisations which change and adapt over time. Anticipating questions about what would take RIC’s place, he denied that there is a “blueprint” for a new organisation, instead making a vague appeal for “space and time to develop that”, time which he said had been afforded by the fact no referendum would take place in 2021.
Myshele Haywood, a RIC member in Aberdeen, was subsequently invited by the chair to share a different perspective. She had not raised her hand and was brought in ahead of those who had, so it would have been fair to assume that she had been selected to present the argument against the proposal. Instead, she explained that she agreed with Shafi “but from a fundamentally different perspective”, namely that there was no viable “compromise position” between the different wings of the organisation. She argued that RIC had been a “broad church” in the past, but that “we can’t have a broad church if people become evangelical”. She also rejected identification as a socialist and expressed concern that RIC was becoming “a rainbow coalition painted red”. She concluded that the labour and energy required to maintain RIC was “greater than is available” and was now “best spent elsewhere”.
The remainder of the six or seven contributions in favour of dissolving the organisation relied on broadly similar arguments to these opening contributions. The possible exceptions to this are George Kerevan, who argued for winding up RIC in favour of greater left engagement with the new national membership organisation previously known as ‘YesAlba’, which he co-chairs and believes will attract “tens of thousands of members within a month or two”, and Frances Curran, who gave no clear opinion on RIC but set out her vision for a new organisation called ‘Socialists for Independence’, which would have vague politics beyond an orientation towards SNP members and no remit beyond campaigning for a Yes vote in working class areas. There were also a number of contributions which talked about the need to engage with movements like Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, which RIC supposedly could not do.
A common thread in a number of contributions in favour of dissolution was indirect and sometimes direct attacks on the Republican Socialist Platform, which was founded in September 2020 by RIC members who had come together on the basis of common criticisms of the RIC conference in Glasgow in October 2019. It has since grown to around 70 members. Some people have oddly blamed the RSP for creating division over the question of RIC’s constitution, even though that formal discussion dates back to December 2019, nearly a full year before the RSP’s founding. Cat Boyd claimed that RIC had never been “a factionally split organisation” before now. This is a remarkable claim from someone who, like Shafi, was a member of the now-defunct International Socialist Group (ISG), which split from the notorious Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in 2012 and then went on to initiate the process of founding RIC.
There is nothing inherently wrong with people coming together to form organisations on the basis of political agreement, or for those organisations to seek to contribute to wider coalitions. However, the way in which ISG members and former members have operated within RIC has long been under critical scrutiny. Allan Armstrong, now an RSP member, wrote critically in 2015 about its “behind-the-scenes method of operating”. Although the ISG itself has since dissolved, many of its former members continue to operate like an amorphous bloc, an outstanding example of the kind of ‘informal structures’ that have long plagued progressive movements. This is evidenced in the disgraceful packing of the RIC AGM with former ISG members and their friends. The RSP, in stark contrast, is open for anyone to join; we openly publish our political perspectives in our own name; our members clearly identify themselves as such; and we’ve never packed a meeting to demolish others’ work. This is how ‘factions’ or political platforms should conduct themselves.
The case for continuing
Allan Armstrong, an Edinburgh-based member of the RSP and the Republican Communist Network, making the first contribution against the proposal, said “tensions” like those described by the first two contributors had always existed in RIC. He referred back to the RIC National Forum in May 2014, which had agreed that, in the event of a Yes vote in the referendum, RIC would seek to mobilise the wider independence movement to demand the establishment of a Constituent Assembly, which would pave the way for “a different form of constitution based on the sovereignty of the people”. RIC had a long-established purpose beyond canvassing and international solidarity actions, as important as they were. Agreeing that the political situation had changed, he argued that we are now “in a much longer war and it’s going to involve fighting on a lot more fronts than waiting for a referendum and cheering that on if it happens”. He argued that RIC had to “broaden out”, “learn the lessons from the best of what it did” and “challenge what the SNP government is doing”. He pointed to the numbers attending the AGM and the revival of local RIC groups as evidence that “RIC is a forum for doing that”.
Other contributors argued that dissolving RIC was a premature response to the change in political circumstances. Grant Buttars, a Fife-based member of the RSP and the Marxist organisation RS21, said he was “not opposed in principle to RIC winding up” but thought there “needs to be a much wider and far-reaching debate among RIC activists” about the political landscape and the type of organisation needed. He urged people to vote against the motion “not because RIC needs to exist in perpetuity, but to allow us the time to get to grips with the challenges that are going to face us”. Mike Picken, a Paisley-based member of the RSP and Socialist Resistance, said he had “no particular attachment or history with RIC” but that the political situation had not changed that much since the RIC conference in Glasgow in October 2019. He said the attendance there “indicated to me there was considerable interest”, though regretted that the conference was “top-down and people have struggled to form local groups”. Ray Burnett, an unaffiliated RIC member in Benbecula, said those on the pro-independence left in the Highlands and Islands would be isolated without a “wider forum and support structure” and called for RIC’s national structures to be “allowed to develop and continue”.
Paul Inglis, a Glasgow-based member of the RSP and Socialist Resistance, argued persuasively against dissolving an organisation “just because of disagreement”, pointing out that “all organisations go through ‘rough and tumble’” and posing the question: “When faced with a difficult internal debate should we just crumble into smaller bits without even working through the debate?” Iain Robertson, an Aberdeen-based RSP and RCN member, made a similar point about the “strangeness of going on to say we need to end RIC but we need to have important debates … what’s the point of ending RIC and then all of us getting back together again with the same differences?” These, and all of the other contributions arguing against dissolution, indicated a willingness to have open political debate and proposed a concrete forum in which that debate could take place, while those arguing for dissolution repeatedly paid lip service to the idea of debate while offering no answers for where, how and when it would happen.
I made the ninth contribution in the debate. I was in the minority of contributors who were currently active in a functioning local group, and the even smaller minority of contributors involved in a group re-established around the time of the 2019 conference. I spoke about Dundee RIC’s activity in 2020 and our efforts to reach out beyond our comfort zone, for instance by organising an open, non-confrontational discussion about independence early in 2021 which was attended by a number of Scottish Labour candidates and activists, and our upcoming event with Scotland’s leading drug safety campaigner. I pointed out, in response to others, that many of us had played a role in organising or supporting Black Lives Matter demonstrations or Extinction Rebellion actions but had little opportunity to bring people into RIC through these because there were so few local groups and it was not always clear how to join them – all the more reason to sort RIC’s constitution and update its website. I was the first contributor in the meeting to raise the increasing foothold of reactionary ideas in the grassroots independence movement, particularly transphobia, and the need for this to be clearly challenged by the left, something which many former ISG members in particular have been reluctant to do. I argued that RIC was perfectly capable of grappling with all of this and dissolving it would instead sow distrust, move political debate from the open into backrooms, and likely prepare the ground for a new organisation to emerge through an undemocratic process. I also suggested organising a virtual RIC conference to allow this political debate to continue – a genuinely participatory one led by working class activists rather than a top-down conference led by celebrity speakers.
After 14 contributions, there was a short five-minute break. This late break was accompanied with an inappropriate quip from the chair, who suggested that it had solved any accessibility concerns (such as those set out by three disabled RSP members after the 17th, who sent their reflections to the chair well in advance of the 31st and received barely an acknowledgement in return). Afterwards, there were two more contributions and then an excruciatingly long and ultimately unsuccessful attempt at holding a binary vote for or against Shafi’s proposal via Zoom’s polling function. The meeting then attempted to hold a vote by asking participants to use the ‘raise hands’ function in Zoom and counting them manually. This was done in spite of the fact that many participants complained they were unable to access this function on their device or were otherwise struggling to use it. It was not helped by the fact that Shafi and Pete Ramand, the two ‘hosts’ in charge of the meeting, had such a poor grasp of the technology that they couldn’t find the ‘lower all hands’ button to speed things up. I was harshly rebuked by the chair when I intervened to help (to the extent that non-RSP members contacted me after the meeting in amazement that the chair, who has known me for several years and has worked alongside me in Dundee RIC for many of them, had been so openly hostile to me).
The outcome of this farcical vote was 56 in favour of dissolution and 38 against, while around 25 people didn’t or couldn’t vote. This was taken by the chair to show a “clear majority” in favour of dissolving this organisation. Even some of those supporting dissolution, like Kerevan, were unhappy with the conduct of the vote. I left the Zoom meeting while Shafi gave his victory speech. It has since been contested by RIC members and local groups on a number of grounds. For example, there was no reference to the division that had emerged on the 17th over the use of simple majority voting; some of those who had insisted that decisions could only be made by a two-thirds majority of local and affiliated group delegates had opportunistically dropped this demand to support Shafi’s proposal, while those opposed to dissolution who had raised the same demand, such as Angus & Mearns RIC, were simply ignored. There was also no call for abstentions, no vote on alternative proposals raised in the discussion, nor any attempt to allow those who could not use the ‘raise hands’ function to vote by another means. The number of people who didn’t or couldn’t take part in the vote was greater than the margin of difference, making this latter point an issue of crucial importance.
A number of local RIC groups will be meeting in the coming weeks to figure out where they stand in light of the AGM and the dubious vote to dissolve. Edinburgh RIC had already decided, in a meeting held between the 17th and the 31st, to carry on at a local level regardless of what took place at the AGM. Angus & Mearns RIC has gone further than this and has already indicated it refuses to accept the legitimacy of the AGM altogether. My local group, in Dundee, has not met since Shafi’s proposal was circulated, nor has the even newer group in Glasgow. We will find out soon whether any of these local groups accept the packed AGM’s patronising demand to leave radical politics to the ‘big boys’ or whether they will reassert their rightful leading role in developing a genuinely democratic grassroots pro-independence left.
Note: This article was updated shortly after publication to remove a reference to an article by a former ISG member.
This glossary is based broadly on Wikipedia definitions and is included for the benefit of readers with less experience of the left.
‘Broad church’ is a latitudinarian churchmanship in the Church of England in particular and Anglicanism in general. The term is often used for secular political organisations, meaning that they encompass a broad range of opinion.
YesAlba was the provisional name of a new membership organisation created by the organisers of the group All Under One Banner. A report of the founding assembly can be found here.
Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a decentralised political and social movement protesting against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against black people. While there are specific organizations such as the Black Lives Matter Global Network that label themselves simply as “Black Lives Matter”, the Black Lives Matter movement comprises a broad array of people and organisations. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” itself remains untrademarked by any group. The broader movement and its related organisations typically advocate against police violence towards black people as well as for various other policy changes considered to be related to black liberation.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a global environmental movement with the stated aim of using nonviolent civil disobedience to compel government action to avoid tipping points in the climate system, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is a socialist organisation in the UK. Founded as the Socialist Review Group by supporters of Tony Cliff in 1950, it became the International Socialists in 1962 and the SWP in 1977. The party considers itself to be Trotskyist. Cliff and his followers criticised the Soviet Union and its satellites, calling them state capitalist rather than socialist countries.The SWP has founded several united fronts through which they have sought to coordinate and influence leftist action, such as the Anti-Nazi League in the late 1970s and the Stop the War Coalition in 2001. It also formed an alliance with George Galloway and Respect, the dissolution of which in 2007 caused an internal crisis in the SWP. A more serious internal crisis emerged at the beginning of 2013 over allegations of rape and sexual assault made against a leading member of the party. The SWP’s handling of these accusations against the individual known as Comrade Delta led to a significant decline in the party’s membership. (Content warning for rape in link.)
The Republican Communist Network is a communist organisation in Scotland. It was a founding component of the Scottish Socialist Party in 1998, though formally disaffiliated from the party in 2012. It is an active participant in the Radical Independence Campaign and is affiliated to the Republican Socialist Platform.
A Constituent Assembly or constitutional assembly is a body or assembly of popularly elected representatives which is assembled for the purpose of drafting or adopting a constitution or similar document. The constituent assembly is entirely elected by popular vote; that is, all constituent assemblies are constitutional conventions, but a constitutional convention is not necessarily a constituent assembly.
Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century (rs21) is a socialist organisation originally formed as a split from the SWP in 2014. It believes in revolutionary socialism, working class and socially progressive politics, and internationalism (source).
Socialist Resistance (SR) is an ecosocialist, feminist and revolutionary organisation in Britain. It is the British section of the Fourth International.
Simple majority voting is when a vote only requires more than half of the votes cast (disregarding abstentions) to pass.