After the 2014 Generation debate earlier today Daniel Rueben-Comiskey writes for Pandeia about Tariq Ali, the outspoken supporter of the radical independence for Scotland movement.
Ensconced at the centre of a long row of incredibly uncomfortable seats, I tell myself slowly and forcibly that I absolutely do not need to visit the bathroom. Me and the maybe 300 others sitting in a Glasgow University lecture theatre have just been asked to get “really friendly, really quickly” and share seats with total strangers. I end up perched over the crack between two already unpleasant pews. At least I’m sitting down. The aisles are filling up with people frantically looking for friends. Some give up and take residence on the stairs. The security guards look at them with an unappreciative shake of the head, but it has no effect. They’re not going anywhere. The atrium outside is a swarm of disappointed faces; they know they’ve arrived too late. We’re told a spillover theatre with a live feed is also full, another scene of excited disarray. One thing is certain, there is an audience for RIC’s “Independence Lectures”. These people want to hear what Tariq Ali has to say.
Flyers and posters are being passed from hand to hand, t-shirts, books and canvas tote bags are being sold to help fund some campaign or other. Smash Patriarchy, Anti-Trident and Socialist Republic of Scotland, just a few of the array of movements being represented here. The one cause, however, that has drawn these people here is the campaign for Scottish independence.
Tariq Ali walks on to a sturdy applause from an audience that has packed out the two largest lecture theatres the University has to offer. They are not to be disappointed. RIC’s spokesperson introduces Ali as a friends of Malcolm X, John Lennon and Hugo Chavez. Oh, and the Rolling Stones wrote a song about him.
As if the audience aren’t already on the speaker’s side, he begins with a reference to the Glasgow’s most famous Socialist, John MacLean. A man who had songs written for him by Hamish Henderson and poems about him by Hugh MacDiarmid.
What follows is a systematic decimation of the Better Together campaign and of Westminster politics in general. Some of his sharpest barbs are reserved for the Labour parties of London and Edinburgh, who, rather than asserting a trustworthy left alternative to Conservative rule, have been following the blue line and chasing the median voter since the earliest days of Tony Blair. Ali belittles the No campaign, and reduces it to a highly organised operation driven by fear mongering, false accusations and broken promises. Incentives, Ali claims, will come next. With the momentum seemingly with the Yes campaign, Osborne & Co will offer the electorate of Scotland some sort of inducement, financial or otherwise.
Throughout the lecture, Ali approaches the notion from multiple disciplines, cultural, political, historical and economic. In all of them he provides ample evidence as to why the Britain of today cannot continue. Scottish independence, he feels, may be the rejuvenating factor that the country desires. That the country needs. How, Ali asks, can a left wing Scot trust any Labour party that allows Alastair Darling to link arms with George Osborne in their march to maintain the union?
However, for all his discussion of the problems with the No campaign, Ali speaks little of the Yes campaign. He seems reticent to discuss the plan laid out in the white paper, perhaps for fear of certifying the common opinion that a yes vote is a show of support for the SNP, a party whose neo-liberal economics rile Ali. These policies, he feels, are the real enemy of equality, and should Scotland achieve independence, it would be well advised to follow the Norwegian model. This seems to be the crux of Ali’s lecture, the main point he has come here to make. Scottish independence would give the new state the ability to create a more egalitarian system. One, the crowd feels, is long overdue.
This crowd, however, already supports this view. Most appear to have come to verify their stance, to have it confirmed by a great thinker, not to have it challenged. However, even for these staunch supporters of independence, entrenched in their activism, Ali has a new argument to drive them further into the Yes camp. The rejuvenation of an independent Scotland, finally able to elect governments that it desires, governments with full autonomy over the nation may have an unexpected and significant consequence. This potential new state might offer hope to a devastated English left. The damaged representative democracy in the rest of the UK could find itself cure by a resurgent British left, inspired by a nation finally taking control of it’s own affairs. Independence, Ali asserts, not only gives hope for a better Scotland, but for a better England, a better Wales and a better Northern Ireland.