Marx, Modernity and Makeovers: What Next For the Scottish Left?
Like many others across Scotland, it was the energy of the referendum that enticed me into engaging actively in politics. Throughout the Yes campaign trail and in the months leading up to the 18th September 2014: something special happened. Scotland became an astutely politicised nation – we witnessed a surge in participatory politics within those working class communities most affected by the current UK wide austerity agenda. Up and down the country, people who would once have been sat watching brainwash TV on a Wednesday night were suddenly holding political meetings and passionately engaging in debate with their peers. Formerly disenfranchised sections of society found hope – for a fairer, truly egalitarian system that lends a hand of support to those who are currently under attack from a network of elitism, corruption and inequality.
The referendum changed our political landscape for good – and those who were detached from the enthusiasm and vibrancy of Yes found themselves not only struggling to understand it; but they were quite terrified by it. “Working people aren’t supposed to be politicised! What is going on up there?” The ruling class completely freaked out; Westminster politicians were dispatched en masse to save the union (they suddenly cared, it seemed), an army of vicious mainstream journalists began to tear apart all things Scottish, Cameron and his troupe of banker buddies began shouting about economic crises, mortgage hikes and armageddon. In short; the people of Scotland suddenly woke up and began to collectively mobilise for some serious change, the elites got a fright and used everything they could to crush a momentum. I’m sure if Boris Johnson’s water canon could have reached George Square on the eve of the referendum result – they’d have probably tried to drown us too.
Whilst I could write all day about the role that a conspiring gang of elitist thugs and their sidekicks played in disturbing the democratic process during an important referendum: I won’t, because that’s almost as bad as constantly whining about a relationship that ended years ago. It happened, it’s done – it’s time to look forward.
In that spirit: there’s something else that happened in Scotland over the past couple of years. Left wing arguments suddenly became popular and socialism started its comeback. Whilst they’ve reaped much of the benefit: this initially wasn’t the handiwork of the Scottish National Party (SNP) – they weren’t talking about social justice, food banks or austerity at the beginning of the Yes campaign. It was grassroots groups such as Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) and their mass canvases that really threw Leftist principles and arguments into the mix. In engaging working class communities across the country, teams of activists managed to mobilise the disillusioned. All of a sudden; we were all angry that working families were visiting food banks, we couldn’t believe that we were still putting up with the Lords – and so many people suddenly became aware of their class, their position in society and their collective power.
But there’s a bit of a problem: the Yes campaign was undoubtedly Left natured – but many Yes voters wouldn’t (and still won’t) identify as socialist, for whatever reason. People like my Grandad, for example: total socialist – from values to views – but would never consider himself one: because he “isn’t a commie”. Most of my friends: all suddenly talking about social justice, inequality, class divides – blissfully unaware that they were using socialist rhetoric to argue the case for a Yes vote. By all accounts, and from my understanding of their political opinions – they are socialists, but that self identification didn’t come for them. You’d not see any of these people joining nor voting for a socialist party: but they share our values.
It became clear quite quickly for me that the Left needs to rebrand a little bit. Jump into modernity. Update our language, style, visuals. Think of it as a makeover. Can we move away from the fist? The overused little red stars? The aggressive, shouty speeches that have typified us for way too long? We won’t mobilise or engage the working class in Left wing politics by quoting the Communist Manifesto or insisting that people get angry and vote red.
I’ve been quite fortunate to get involved with a new venture that is attempting a fresh electoral alliance for the 2016 Holyrood elections. The Scottish Left Project (SLP) was born from the referendum, and many of the activists behind it are like minded, progressive, strong people who are serious about tapping into the momentum that Yes created and building a people’s movement from it. Everything about SLP is sleek, professional and trendy: its a breath of fresh air for the Scottish Left, and I’m very enthused by the stimulus here for a new style of politics. Meetings, dubbed “Policy Platforms”, have been held across the country – I’ve been to a few, and they’re exciting. A host of people are coming along with real issues and we’re collectively thinking of policy solutions. We’re offering an outlet with the Left Project for real people to get engaged in Scottish politics – a true people’s movement where we can collectively rise for a better future – and this is why it is so vitally importantthat we don’t start alienating people by shouting about modes of production and how Marx’s use of vampiric metaphors in Das Kapital when describing capitalism is “quite clever: what do you think, comrade?”
Since the now notorious and still problematic drama of 2004-06, the Scottish Left hasn’t really got anywhere in an electoral sense. So let’s try something new. Let’s tap into that postmodern, exuberant, colourful, sleek, professional, trendy, youthful momentum that the referendum created: let’s identify that our political landscape has changed, inject some modernity into our argument and see where it takes us. My friend and partner in political activities, Liam, summed this entire thing up best for me when he said, after a few gins and a late night conversation about our new political era, that what the Scottish Left has to do is “nod to the past, but keep our eyes firmly fixed on the future”.