The left is dead. Long live the left.

I’ve been Yes since before the question was Yes or No. I’ve been pro-independence for so long that it all feels unreal sometimes. How can the astounding level of political engagement Scotland is seeing be happening, when this was always just a pipe dream? Two weeks til squeaky bum time and my bum is all squeaked out.

It’s hard not to be optimistic about independence. It’s infectious. Somewhere deep within me the teenager who dreamt that maybe, one day within my lifetime (I could never have imagined it could be within a decade!) the toxic UK could be broken, is quietly optimistic that the unprecedented levels of new voter registrations can work in our favour. Maybe, come 7am-ish on September 19th, we really will be dropping our third ecky rather than weeping into our cornflakes.

Canny eat my cereal today, it’s full of salty unionist tears

Of course like every other realist leftie I know this is an opportunity and not a given, that everything there is to gain will have to be fought for against reactionary elements in our society and our political system. The quiet optimism that it’s actually possible to fight and win against the reactionary side of Scottish society will continue from me on that front. But there is one thing that even now in the eye of the storm of relentless POSITIVITY around me, scares me a bit, because past experience warns me against complacency.

I’m scared that whatever new organised left emerges in an independent Scotland will fuck it all up.

I’ve written before about the painful, scarring experiences I and others have had on the Scottish left, our parting gift as we’re papped oot the door for standing up to the replication of really harmful societal power imbalances within our organisations. We’ve been abused, violated, smeared and discarded for putting our heads above water and naming abusive behaviours and people in our midst. We’ve gone into it before here at ATF so there’s no need to repeat ourselves, but I want to use what limited voice and energy I have left to give to promote something different, something better for all the people who were failed by the left, whether they went kicking and screaming like me or quietly and disappointedly like so many others. And for all those people who never got involved in the first place because the culture, while claiming to represent and speak for them, was so alienated from their lives and experiences.

Consensus in some quarters states that post-independence, a new united left vehicle is likely to emerge within a few years, building on the foundations laid in the Yes campaign and the Radical Independence Campaign where old enemies and formerly fractured left groups have been working together towards the common goal. An emergence of strong support for left ideas of social and economic justice and resistance to the destruction of wars and manmade climate change, doesn’t frighten me at all, it emboldens me. But a re-emergence of left ways of organising in Scotland truly does. I fear that nothing has been learned from the political legacy of Sheridan, Galloway, Assange and every other abusive fucker that we should be training activists to spot by now. Left organisations in Scotland can’t even knock together a basic safer spaces policy without a huge fucking rammy, let alone exclude predatory activists or protect and defend women who speak out against them (yes I’m looking at you RIC).

But fear is not the spirit of the times, so I choose now to take a positive spin. The organised left is broken? Good, we don’t need the organised left. Why should the replication of old busted ways of working, just with a bigger base of activists to work with, be our goal? We all deserve more than that. Why do we have to forever buy the lie that the route to a fairer and freer society is through investing small concentrations of power in the hands of a few self proclaimed revolutionaries and working out from there? It’s a mess of a system and it only leads to power abuses in supposedly safe spaces. Attempts to create less hierarchical ways of organising in the Scottish left have led to unstated, behind the scenes hierarchies and an absence of accountability when abusers inevitably abuse. Why should we tell young lassies to join the organised left where they can be patronised, perved on and wheeled out as show pups when the (official or unofficial) leadership need to deflect the heat from the social hierarchies that are inherent to the way the left currently works?

Why instead can’t we promote a society where to be ‘political’ is not to be a worn down hack who meekly serves the interests of the professional book writers and social climbers in our midst, but where we encourage aforementioned young lassies to write their own books, to start their own community projects, to place trust their own ability and right to talk about economic justice and expanding the welfare state and mental health service provision and renewable energy opportunities and Beyonce’s feminism and a four day working week (and all these things that should not and cannot be the preserve of any elite, even an activist one) with their equally ‘engaged’ family and friends and colleagues? While leaving plenty of room, of course, to just be a regular person with individual interests and space for self care, which can so often be derided as uncommitted politics by the activist elite that demands just as much of your time and energy as our societal system of overworking everyone til they die does. I don’t want politics that consumes people and spits them out, I want politics that’s embedded through our daily lives and connects rather than alienates.

What’s happening in our country right now proves that this is more than wishful thinking. Why don’t we set our sights on sustaining the current level of political and constitutional engagement, where we’re asking who and where we are, and why we want to be there, instead of prioritising siphoning a few more recruits off for our latest time-bomb political project? What’s wrong with committing our main political work for the timebeing to keeping those conversations going in our schools, workplaces and friendship groups, rather than forming insular talking shop organisations? Why can’t we throw our weight behind supporting fellow Scots to develop their skills and interests and create new ways of community organising – be they local communities or international, based in shared identity, experience or interest – instead of searching for the next vehicle for our own self importance as activists?

No doesn’t know who its leader is and it craves leadership. Yes doesn’t know who its leader is and it loves it.
Scottish Independence: Five Reasons Yes Is Winning

Instead of shouting about how we’re fighting ‘for’ the ordinary people why don’t we try being the ordinary people, no rhetoric and no AGMs but real community projects and discussions that actually connect us with each other? Maybe then we might start to see the value of all the people the left has systematically ignored and excluded for not fitting a tired and bigoted old mould. And I suspect that were we to really throw ourselves into the guts and bones of building a new country and healing a culture soured by oppression and silencing of the vast majority of the electorate, eventually more stable formal political vehicles will emerge, that might stand a chance in hell against the power-hungry who will seek to claim it for their own. Any future left political organisation in Scotland should come out of a genuine will from what we are all hoping will be a large post-yes constituency for it, not a hastily formed continuation of the old ways and groups because those activists don’t know how to exist without a party to be loyal to. We’re teaching ourselves how to exist without Britain, why not take the chance to teach ourselves how to exist without The Party too? Commit to the process of learning –  new ways to be a country, and new ways to form our own political representation – instead of rocking up demanding the role of teacher from the get go.

I don’t want to bung a bunch of people in a meeting room, see which of the loudest emerge unscathed and proclaim them the new brand of left politician. I just want a better fucking country for all of us.

Artwork credit: suzy_ex


Further Reading:

Equality is Gay: A Homophobic History of the Left

No Scrubs: My Year of Rejecting Feminism

The Left Has Failed Me


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3 responses to “The left is dead. Long live the left.

  1. Great read and much to ponder. Personally,I’ve been more than a little hacked off with the ways in which some lefty men appear to have been giving as much energy into positioning themselves for leadership roles post yes than concentrating on actually winning a yes! Thank god for women for independence: as well as actually Doing more than many organisations to win undecided and No women over to a Yes vote, it’s also a supportive and enriching ‘space’ for women tired of discussing and debating issues relating to women and feminism we thought we’d ‘won’ 30 years ago….. For some of us, one of the dispiriting aspects of what has been a hugely positive campaign, has been watching younger women facing the same insidious sexism and misogyny within the ‘left’ that was there in the 80s. Post yes, I’m as interested In a re-energised women’s movement as I am in any kind of unreconstructed left unity alliance.

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