Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) veteran Keri McGachy reflects on the vote to end the campaign, and on the need to both respect the past and acknowledge change in political activism.
The decision to dissolve the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), by majority vote, will leave behind a positive legacy that every participant in its history should be proud of. Its winding down was understandably sad for some, possibly infuriating for others, but ultimately, a necessary step in our political development. As the political and social terrain has shifted and transformed since RIC’s conception in 2012, so too must our response, our opposition to the forces which we must remember we have a shared interest in dismantling.
I am fairly sure that those who voted for the motion did so with a heavy heart. It is never easy letting go of something to which we are emotionally attached or invested, even if that is the healthiest trajectory. Comrades are capable, welcomed and invited to put forth their own specific political arguments for the formal dissolution of the RIC, preservation of legacy with honour and respect for all that it achieved. For me, it’s quite simply time.
I remember being at a protest in London 2011 when a comrade approached me with the up-and-coming notion of Scottish independence. Eager to hear my thoughts on it, he requested my immediate reaction to the idea of campaigning for independence. My initial reaction was — “but we’re internationalists, so I’m not sure how that would conflict with an idea rooted in nationalism”.
But the RIC was anything but nationalist, in the sense I’d meant it. Without romanticising, I would like to share some memories of what RIC and its conferences meant to me, with the intention of aiding a discussion about the best elements of what that meant for others, and perhaps finding a starting point for what is to be done next.
RIC was a self-funded campaign and we ran a sponsored 10k around Glasgow, and others cycled around Scottish islands — some fitter than others — to raise funds for the first conference at the Radisson Hotel, Glasgow, 2012. During canvassing I remember knocking on doors and chatting to (often like-minded) souls about the possibilities of another Scotland. We opened up our minds to ideas much bigger than ourselves, our neural pathways transmuting, feeling the connection, clarity and confidence to engage with others at a personal and political level.
I remember stewarding the RIC conferences for years thereafter, persistently in awe at the incredible speakers, activists, academics, socialists and newly interested activists. I have watched the youngest members of the movement developing and contributing to the vision of a just world with precision, eloquence and passion.
Throughout university I tended towards the socialists. Flaws and all, each of them truly believed, based on their experiences and understandings of life, that society should be organised on the basis of social need, rather than elite consumption, destruction and greed. Socialists are interested in creating conditions where all needs are met, removing barriers and actively labouring to reverse (historical) traumas inflicted on the majority: to each according to need, from each according to ability.
The ideas of RIC touched so many; conferences were communicated across borders, we chapped and chatted on doorsteps, we designed, planned, fought for and inspired the ideas of alternative possibilities for ourselves, our communities and beyond. We saw the ‘Yes’ vote win in the poorest constituencies in Scotland. These are things to be proud of. To end RIC is not to close the hopeful ideas of Scottish independence, rather to open the space for a new, more astute political strategy, fit and appropriate for purpose in the new political landscape. Independence was never an end in and of itself. Radical independence was about presenting an internationalist case for constitutional independence from the British state (and everything it represents in global historical terms).
On the 19th September 2014 I wept, a lot. I cried for the work, the time, the hope, the education and the possibilities that the campaign had presented, all those things the vote to remain in the status quo apparently thwarted. Despite being rationally aware of the political limitations of independence, I was still emotionally attached to the new beginnings it could have opened.
The most fundamental learnings from my privileged experiences of being politically and culturally educated abroad are (multiple variations of) Buddhist philosophical understandings of attachment. The respectful and comradely manner in which RIC activists decided to wind down the campaign are noteworthy, and the fear, passion and emotional reaction of some to the loss of a campaign in which they invested sizeable parts of themselves, are also valid. Attachment becomes the source of our suffering, consequently clouding our objective perception and ability to progress beyond our current form. Radical politics, grassroots activism and campaigning will not disappear because any organisation reaches its functional end. The work invested and the victories remain. Of all the political activities with which I have been part of in Scotland, RIC is truly the one I am most proud of. It is my hope in writing this that you too can reflect deeply and objectively with a fondness in learning from the hard work, debates, laughs and lightbulb moments that RIC afforded us. I extend my gratitude to all comrades involved, with particular reference to the ones who were bold enough to start the discussion and wise enough to draw this particular one to a close.
It is our common responsibility now to invest in planting seeds and nurturing powerful new ideas. Talk to each other, think bold, utilise our plethora of skills, experience and creative capacities for transformation. Let’s collectively perceive reality beyond our current state of being. Another everything is possible.