STATEMENT: We have just 16 months to build a republican movement

The setting of a date – 19th October 2023 – for a new referendum on Scottish independence is an important and welcome development. This is a stronger commitment from a Scottish government to a new poll than at any point since September 2014, and comes as the democratic, economic and ecological crises of the UK state continue to deepen and become more dangerous. There are now two crucial tasks for which the radical left must urgently prepare: fighting to support the referendum going ahead, and bringing radical, democratic and class politics into the ensuing campaign for a Yes vote.

The first task is necessary as a result of the profound weakness of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s purely constitutionalist approach to a new referendum. She will not countenance a process which is not recognised as “lawful” by a state which is all the while sliding deeper into illegal right-populist authoritarianism, whether by criminalising peaceful protest in England and Wales, deporting vulnerable people to Rwanda or violating international treaties it has signed.

Sturgeon’s decision to pre-empt a legal challenge by asking the unaccountable UK Supreme Court to rule on the legality of her proposals has placed the amorphous fabric of the unwritten and arcane British constitution above a far more authoritative source of political legitimacy: the sovereignty of the people of Scotland.

There is reason to be extremely sceptical that the UK Supreme Court will give the green light to next year’s referendum, not least because it exhausted its political capital on the Brexit litigation of some years ago and has since fallen increasingly in line with the Tory government — but that should not stop the Scottish government from finding a way to make it happen.

Nor should it discourage independence supporters, who should instead commit to working now alongside allies in the Welsh and Irish national movements to build a mass movement across these islands in defence of the right to self-determination. This must include a serious discussion about mobilisations and actions in London during any UK Supreme Court hearings on the Scottish referendum, which could take place within months.

Yesterday’s statement was bold in terms of setting a date and confirming an unambiguous question for a second referendum, but was ultimately framed in terms of an entirely legalistic road of travel. The UK state will not easily give up its centuries-long existence, especially when its nuclear arsenal is at threat from Scottish independence and any democratic move by Scotland will also lead to rising sentiment for an alternative to the Union in Wales and Ireland.

Successive UK governments have shown their willingness to use physical force and undemocratic means to suppress such threats. We therefore believe that it is extremely likely that independence can only be achieved by mass action by the Scottish population if the UK government closes or ignores every legal or democratic mechanism.

The second task, of searching for any and all opportunities to bring together and advance the disparate struggles for economic and social justice, is an ever-present one for the left, but bears emphasising in the context of the cost of living crisis now engulfing Scotland and the wider world in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The conservative economic prospectus championed by the SNP in recent years cannot even begin to solve this crisis. It is also clear, for instance from yesterday’s vote on an emergency rent freeze, that the Scottish Greens’ role in government has stripped the party of its previous aspiration as a left opposition force. With the Scottish government also uncritically adopting the economics of austerity at a time when public sector industrial militancy is on the rise, there is a painful absence in the independence debate of a principled and uncompromising movement led by and for the Scottish working class in all its diversity.

Since our founding in September 2020, the Republican Socialist Platform has worked to build this movement in the form of the Radical Independence Campaign. This has attracted support from groups such as the SNP Socialists, many in the Greens and a broad range of individuals, including climate campaigners as a result of RIC’s involvement in the COP26 mobilisations in Glasgow last year and planned participation in Climate Camp Scotland this summer.

The RSP continues to invite all parts of the pro-independence left who agree with RIC’s principles to join this collective effort. However, we also recognise that currently RIC remains relatively small and that there are active parts of the left which are not currently engaging with it, for whatever reasons. We appeal sincerely, and in a comradely spirit, to those parts of the left to reach out and speak with us and others to help us find out why this is the case, and strive to secure opportunities for us to work together in other ways in aid of our common goals.

Ultimately, this moment calls neither for a cynical defeatism about a second referendum which, however tempting, serves primarily to absolve the left of its own ongoing failure to develop a more effective challenge to the UK state, nor for a doomed repeat of the left’s largely conflict-averse optimism in the 2014 campaign. This is the moment for a republican and socialist response. Are you with us?

2 thoughts on “STATEMENT: We have just 16 months to build a republican movement

  1. Sturgeon’s decision to pre-empt a legal challenge by asking the unaccountable UK Supreme Court to rule on the legality of her proposals has placed the amorphous fabric of the unwritten and arcane British constitution above a far more authoritative source of political legitimacy: the sovereignty of the people of Scotland.

    A great paragraph. All Hail the Scottish Republic !

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