RISE was formally launched on 29 August in Glasgow. ‘Scotland’s Left Alliance’ is the result of negotiations between the Scottish Left Project, comprising of many of the Radical Independence Campaign’s leading lights (also known as the International Socialist Group (Scotland), an SWP breakaway) and the Scottish Socialist Party. The name itself stands for Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism. The ‘Respect’, as RISE’s spokespeople were quick to clarify, does not denote any kind of affiliation with George Galloway’s party of the same name.
The launch itself was a continuation of the politics and organisational methods of the Scottish Left Project and RIC before it, albeit on a much smaller scale than RIC. In contrast to the 3,000 strong RIC conference in November 2014, the unveiling of RISE was attended by around 300-400 people; although the organisers claimed, in the best traditions of the Left, at least double that. No resolutions were sought, no votes held, and no leadership elections conducted. Instead, most of the day was given over to top-table speakers. In keeping with the local pre-launch meetings held around Scotland, the intervening discussions were the very definition of a talking-shop, as no votes were held or positions agreed. As one Left Unity comrade pointed out, at least when marketing companies conduct focus groups they have the decency to pay you for taking part. This was excused by the self-appointed leadership on the basis that a fully democratic conference would take place in November (which, writing at the end of October, is still to be announced). But the same leadership had already unveiled seven policy statements, decided the name, and confirmed the organisations commitment to contesting the regional list seats in the 2016 Holyrood elections. If RISE was simply an electoral alliance and the product of discussions between two parties this could perhaps be understood. But the Scottish Left Project has no membership and no elected leadership. So who exactly is RISE an alliance between? For all its faults, the SSP is a democratic membership organisation. The SLP is not. The SLP emerged out of RIC and has sought the backing of various minor left-wing celebrities with the aim of building a new Left, pro-independence force in Scottish politics. The SSP has been drawn in to this project mainly as a result of their failure to capitalise on the ‘democratic awakening’ / ‘revolutionary fervour’ / ‘whatever else you want to project onto the 38% of the electorate who voted for the SNP’s independence white paper that swept Scotland in the run-up and immediate aftermath of the referendum. Unfortunately, that fervour led most pro-independence activists into the SNP. After all, as we have pointed out time and time again, if you spend several years telling people that independence is the only way to win progressive reforms or the first step towards a socialist republic, you really shouldn’t be surprised when the vast majority of those people join the only party capable of delivering independence, the SNP.
It seems unlikely that RISE will survive in its current form beyond the 2016 elections. You can now join the organisation as an individual and local Podemos-esque ‘circles’ are being set up around the country but there remain significant tensions between and within its component organisations. Sections of the SSP’s membership are furious with the manner in which their leadership have led them into RISE. Those with longer memories know that the within the core of the SLP are the same people who, back when they were still in the SWP, backed Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity during the SSP’s mid-2000s meltdown. Younger comrades are simply furious at the nakedly anti-democratic nature of the stitch-up between the two organisations and are deeply sceptical about the motivations of the SLP leadership. For their part, the leadership of the SSP see their role as being the socialist left within RISE – somewhat ironic for an organisation that has moved so far to the right as to call for an electoral alliance between themselves, the SNP and the Greens in this year’s general election. But the relationship between the SSP and RISE is still unclear – only last month the SSP was standing candidates under its own banner in council by-elections. It seems that the SSP sees RISE as an electoral alliance for 2016 while the SLP sees it as the beginnings of a new left-nationalist party.
Until their recent capitulation, SYRIZA were held up as the model for a new left party in Scotland. Indeed, RISE was to be the “Scottish SYRIZA” and many a breathless report was delivered from the Scottish delegation – comprising of leading SLP and SSP members – who travelled to Greece to witness SYRIZA’s first election victory. Fast forward a few months and SYRIZA has been expunged from the Scottish left’s vocabulary. Unfortunately, while the “Scottish SYRIZA” tagline may have been dropped, the politics remain the same; that is, national reformist solutions to a crisis of global capitalism. Podemos has filled the vacuum – hence RISE’s ‘circles’ rather than branches – but, given Podemos’s recent performance, it cannot be long before this too is dropped. The emulation of a blatantly control-freakish organisation that sees itself as being beyond ‘left and right’ is fitting for RISE but not necessarily in keeping with the image they seek to project. This has led to a bizarre launch statement on the RISE website which talks about setting up local groups around Scotland, ‘called ‘circles’ to reflect our grassroots politics.’ If you will forgive the neologism, this amounts to no more than grassroots-centralism.
And then there is Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership contest. The ambition of RISE was to replace the Labour Party as a loyal opposition to majority SNP government in 2016. To this end they are only contesting the regional lists, leaving the constituencies free for the SNP. The resulting pro-independence ‘rainbow parliament’, comprised of the SNP majority with support from RISE and the Greens, could then push on with a second referendum. With independence secured, RISE would then be in pole position to shape the newly independent Scottish state and start ticking off items on their social democratic shopping list. While the recent collapse in oil prices severely dented that ambition, the revival of a Corbyn-led Labour Party has the potential to sink it completely. We should not labour under any illusions here; the contempt for the Labour Party in Scotland cannot be underestimated. But the SNP’s halo is beginning to slip. The recent scandal around Michelle Thompson is exposing the two-faced nature of the SNP’s programme and the Labour Party under Corbyn is well placed to expose the contradictions of the SNP’s populism further. This is not to say that Corbyn’s politics are perfect – far from it, they are inadequate and shifting to the right with each passing day, and the politics of the Scottish leadership are far worse – but the choice facing socialists in Scotland is: build a Britain-wide socialist opposition to austerity alongside the newly energised anti-austerity movement around Corbyn; or continue providing left-cover to the SNP’s nationalist project. RISE has chosen the latter and, as a result, has nothing to offer the working class in Scotland except nationalist illusions. The response of the RISE leadership to Corbyn’s victory has been revealing in that they have attempted to paint it as an English phenomenon. Hence Cat Boyd’s comments in The National that, ‘Corbyn could be the best thing to happen to English democracy in generations.’ She also writes in the same article (which was written prior to SYRIZA’s collapse), ‘Will the English Spring produce a English Syriza-like coalition of the Radical Left?’ So, we are to support the English in any attempt for them to build their own SYRIZA-like coalition of the Radical Left, in other words, their own version of RISE. But God forbid we try and join the two movements and fight austerity together as part of the same movement and organisation.
All in all, it seems unlikely that RISE will make any gains in 2016. Squeezed by the other ‘left’ pro-independence groups like Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity and the Scottish Greens on one side, and Corbyn’s Labour on the other, they will struggle to pick up enough votes to get anyone elected, even with the Scottish Parliament’s PR system. As the SSP sees the project as a springboard to Holyrood, a failure to win seats will likely see it looking to regroup what is left of its forces and strike out alone again. As for the rest of the organisation, with the hopes of parliamentary careers for the SLP luminaries dashed and given the lack of enthusiasm from the ‘grassroots’ from the outset, the opportunists will be left looking for new opportunities. Who knows, perhaps the SNP could be recast as the party of the Scottish working class. Or they may have to make do with careers in the trade union bureaucracy or one of the various nationalist think-tanks and online media outlets until the next referendum is called. Whatever happens, RISE is the death-knell of a Scottish left which has collapsed irreversibly into nationalism. We can only hope that something better emerges in its place. Corbyn’s victory gives us cause for optimism but without a united socialist organisation – within or outside the Labour Party – individual socialists joining Labour are vulnerable to atomisation and disillusionment. The upcoming Left Unity conference and newly formed Momentum organisation are important forums in which we should intervene to make the argument for a mass socialist movement across Britain to fight nationalism – in both its Scottish and British forms – fight austerity, and fight for socialism. RISE can only act as a barrier to such a movement and deserves no support from socialists anywhere.