Scotland: ‘the opportunity for real people power’

In this guest post, CATHERINE MILLIGAN, a socialist and community activist who lives in the Castlemilk housing scheme in Glasgow, explains how she has changed her view of the referendum on Scottish independence

I am voting Yes to Scottish independence, and I haven’t come to that decision easily – because I call myself a socialist, and believe I am a citizen of the world, and felt it was ill advised to break up the working class movement

Standing room only at one of the meetings in Castlemilk, Glasgow, to discuss the referendum

Standing room only at one of the meetings in Castlemilk, Glasgow, to discuss the referendum

in Britain. I also fear the rise of fascism, especially in England where Ukip have free range to expound their ideas via most established media outlets.

However the young people of Scotland have changed my point of view, in that they are very pro-Yes and their arguments for this are very sound in my eyes.

They are clearly saying that it is not about nationalism: it’s about having a voice that can be heard – which they do not have now. They state clearly that they hate the Tory and Lib Dem government that represents millionaires and the elite, and doesn’t care that children are going without food. The increase in foodbanks, in a country that is relatively wealthy, is shameful.

Young people in Scotland put the blame firmly on the unfair distribution of wealth. They state that it’s not about any politician – it’s about us, the people, having our say in shaping our future.

The talk is not about Scotland and Scottish people being superior, but about the opportunity for real people power.

The queues of people lining up outside the City Chambers in Glasgow last Tuesday, the 2nd of September to register to vote – on the last day that they could – speaks volumes.

There are literally thousands turning out every night, and in the afternoons even, to meetings to engage in the debate.

The meetings I have been involved in Castlemilk have been about the ideas of socialism. This is a poor and downtrodden area, and here people have came out in huge numbers. The campaign here registered 389 people to vote: those are voices that usually go unheard.

One of the initial meetings held here, on “Independence: a case for socialism”, was attended by around 200 people, around a third of them young people. This was followed up by a meeting set up by and for young people which they named the Referenjam, because they wanted to have music, poems and self expression as part of the debate. They designed their own leaflet which was not at all about flags – in fact they made sure that there was no flag waving, just their design in the the colours of red and yellow, traditionally socialist colours. The night was successful. About 30 young people discussed and debated their future and their total contempt of established politics and politicians. They also discussed the idea of nationalism as being backward.

The point being that they want the power to make decisions for themselves.

Another significant fact is that whilst the Orange Order try to create divisions among these young people, this is being challenged and undermined. Some are Rangers [football] fans [i.e. traditionally from Protestant families] who are embarassed by the fact they are being associated with such backwardness.

But listening to them talk about unfairness, about the hypocrisy of the Tories and Lib Dems, about the downright betrayal of the Labour Party, and the need to fight for a better, fairer world were wealth is made for and by the people, was and is inspirational.

So in my eyes the movement here for a Yes vote is strong, healthy and progressive … not what the establishment, or even the Scottish Nationalist party, envisaged at all.

The context is everything. The exposure of capitalism and its greed is so clear in the eyes of these young people. The English people are not the enemies – and because of social media, they don’t rely on the established media (BBC, ITV, Sky, etc) for information.

Young people in Castlemilk are in the process of setting up a youth forum with the aim of uniting collectively – no matter what the outcome of the referendum – to stand against benefit sanctions, zero-hours contracts and other attacks on working-class people.

The whole point is that this debate on independence has taken on a life of its own. Initially, as a socialist I was not particularly interested in being involved; I believed it to be a bit of a red herring and a diversion from what

Another meeting in Castlemilk on the referendum. Standing room only again

Another meeting in Castlemilk on the referendum. Standing room only again

was really going on regarding attacks on workers and the rights they have fought for and won, the Bedroom Tax and the general dismantling of welfare provision. But now as a result of this debate, political consiousness has been awakened – which Alex Salmond [the Scottish Nationalist leader] and the like did not expect. There is no going back, no matter the outcome.

I see a Yes vote as progressive. It’s a vote against austerity and neoliberal values, and against the whole capitalist state, where every day there is more evidence of its unfairness, corruptness, greed, and inherently inhumane policies.

Afterword by Gabriel Levy. Thanks to Catherine Milligan for this article, which highlights that the discussion in Scottish working class communities is not only about what country they want to live in, but about what sort of country, and about who will take the decisions. The very fact that people are discussing and organising around these issues has the potential to change things, whatever the result of the referendum.

Among socialists that I talk to, whether in England or Scotland, the fear associated with the referendum is the one that Catherine mentions at the start – of nationalism undermining the unity of the workers’ movement. Nationalism is to be feared, of course, but as far as I know – whether in Ukraine, Russia, Scotland or England – the only way to combat nationalism effectively is by strengthening movements around working-class rights, such as those Catherine mentions.

If those movements come out stronger, whatever the result of the referendum, we are in a better position to combat all the odious nationalisms.

Furthermore, a Yes vote would give workers’ movements everywhere the massive fillip of seeing one of the oldest, most durable capitalist states being knocked out of shape. The supposedly God-given power of the London establishment to rule in the way that it decides – which hasn’t been seriously challenged in these islands for the best part of a century – would be disrupted.

Hopefully, that would act as a reminder to working-class people and society as a whole that that establishment is dependent on us. Not the other way round.

That establishment has been thrown into an absolute panic this week by the poll results. It’s funny to watch them writhing. And it’s more serious to remind ourselves that we have the ability to confront them. GL, 10 September 2014.

■ Read “Something incredible is happening in Scotland”, by Paul Mason

■ Watch a speech by Saffron Dickson, 16, at a conference in Glasgow

■ Other stuff about Scotland on People & Nature:

Safety on the North Sea: back to business as usual, by Neil Rothnie (September 2013)

The struggle to organise workers on the North Sea after Piper Alpha

Accuser of capitalism: John Maclean’s speech from the dock, 9 May 1918.

One Response to Scotland: ‘the opportunity for real people power’

  1. Neil Rothnie says:

    Good article! Good photos too.

    Cathy, you say “Young people in Castlemilk are in the process of setting up a youth forum with the aim of uniting collectively – no matter what the outcome of the referendum – to stand against benefit sanctions, zero-hours contracts and other attacks on working-class people.”

    If this is all that the referendum campaign spawns, then it will have been a success.

    And if working class youth are really going to get organised in Castlemilk and elsewhere, they are going to be doing it under pretty favourable conditions. The dead hand of the Labour Party has remained firmly round the throats of the working class in Scotland as long as I have lived. And this long after Labour had abandonned any principles and any aspiration to lead a fight against exploitation and abandonnment of the class.

    But I doubt if Scottish Labour will survive this debacle. Ed Milliband, Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling, John Prescott, Johann Lamont and Jim Murphy praying for one last chance to serve the empire? Them standing at the feet of Donald Dewar as he stares off down Buchanan Street at god knows what? This is not an inspiration – it’s a funeral.

    So maybe the youth of Castlemilk will be allowed to breath freely as they begin to organise independently.

    As for the SNP, they may have inherited the old Labour Party’s rhetoric, but they haven’t inherited its history. Unlike the Labour Party, the SNP were not built by workers and ingrained in everyday life during working class struggle to survive the industrial revolution. The links are nothing like as strong. The SNP’s demise will be a lot quicker than Labour’s if (when) they follow the same route.

    If the SNP don’t know it already they may well soon find out what it took the Labour Party decades to learn in practice – that the reforms that have funded the bread and circusses, that have kept the working class relatively quiet, have all but run out. I think free prescriptions, free social care for the elderly and free bus travel for the over 60s in Scotland were pretty spectacular last throws of those particular dice from the SNP. And It doesn’t seem to me that even in an independent Scotland there’s going to be a let up in the drive for “austerity”. This is a demand by the multinationals and big international banks. They dictate to governments (big governments, never mind a future Scottish one). It’s not the other way round. If the banks need to rebalance their books and get rid of “ficticious” value there’s only one place they can get “real” value. And that’s from the working class.

    Unless of course the SNP think that they can somehow fund some more reforms by extracting more of the surplus value created by the working classes in China and India and Africa and Latin America and bring it back here to buy us off again. Maybe Alex Salmond thinks our Scottish capitalists can force them all to buy their whisky in much the same way as they forced the Chinese to buy their opium in days gone by. A bit unlikely I’d have thought. We don’t have the gunboats any more. And if we did wouldn’t it be better to use them to encircle the North Sea and properly reclaim our natural oil resources. Maybe that could be our “Plan B”

    Maybe a youth forum in Castlemilk will address the big questions at the same time as it sets about intervening in the immediate day to day struggles of working class people trying to live in today’s Scotland.

    Like you I’m voting Yes! I see my vote a bit like a coffin nail for a long overdue Labour corpse.

    Thanks for the article. I hope my comment doesn’t read as too flippant.

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