Up to seven hundred people attended the launch conference of RISE in Glasgow on Saturday 29 August. Supporters of International Socialism Scotland have been involved in the building for the launch of “Scotland’s Left Alliance”. IS Scotland comrades, including some who chaired conference sessions or spoke during the day, have compiled this report.
The run up to the referendum in September 2104 saw a flowering of democratic participation and activism in Scotland that engaged tens of thousands around the country. Many of these, including significant numbers from the left and active trade unionists joined the SNP. Smaller, but still unprecedented numbers joined the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). But it also opened up a space in which the unity and mutual trust developed between activists in and around the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) could bring people together in a new socialist organisation. RISE is that organisation.
RISE’s acronym puts support for Independence as one of its four pillars along with Respect, Socialism and Environmentalism. It has been launched as an explicitly anti-capitalist formation.
RISE is being built with both trade unionism and fighting all forms of social oppression at its heart. It’s also an internationalist party. The launch had Die Linke and Québec Solidaire MPs and representatives from Syriza Youth, Poland’s new left formation Rybak Partia Razem and the Black Lives Matter movement in the US on the platform. RISE is categorically opposed to the EU’s neoliberal diktat on Greece.
The new organisation is to be built from the bottom-up in “circles” (not branches!), which will aim to operate more democratically and inclusively. The launch was uneven and didn’t always live up to these aspirations. At its best it was inspirational, but some of the workshop sessions were in effect mini-rallies. In these, the voices from the floor tended to be the usual suspects making the kind of set piece contributions that many of us are familiar with. The workshop on democratic participation was one exception to this. Organised to ensure maximum participation, and to ensure that everyone had a voice, those attending got the chance to discuss what a socialist organisation that was deeply democratic, involved with and learning from working class struggle should be. The people in the discussion groups were from very mixed backgrounds. It was clear in the discussion that many of those from the new generation of 2014 activists had been radicalised across a whole range of issues.
There was discussion on how to relate to Jeremy Corbyn. Some thought it was possible for Scottish Labour to be reinvigorated by a Corbyn victory; most thought it would continue to decline under new leader Kezia Dugdale. Dugdale has fired Corbyn supporter Neil Findlay from her Holyrood Shadow Cabinet, which retains the same right wing faces (Baillie, Gray and Mackintosh) that have lost Scottish Labour three consecutive elections.
There was also discussion on how RISE can relate to the vast majority of socialists in Scotland coming out of the Yes and RIC movements who joined the SNP. There were noticeably few SNP members present and those who were, were not impressed by SSP spokesperson Colin Fox’s verbal criticism of the SNP at the opening plenary and in the days running up to the launch. Green socialists also attended the RISE launch as observers. Some want their party to affiliate to RISE as the SSP has done, or to ensure future cooperation between the Greens and RISE in the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May 2016 through an electoral pact.
The session on Our Equal Scotland saw a varied platform of speakers from the refugee community, Women for Independence, the LGBTQ movement and the disability rights movement. Pinar Aksu spoke of her experiences in Dungavel detention centre with her family for 2 months. She asked to distinguish between the so-called migrant crisis in Europe as actually a refugee crisis and that RISE would fight attempts to dehumanise or delegitimise people fleeing persecution. She hoped that in an independent Scotland Dungavel and all the UK detention centres would close.
Ex-MSP for the SSP Frances Curran, representing Women For Independence, spoke of how women were massively engaged by the issues raised within the Yes movement against austerity in which women were the hardest hit. There was an impassioned contribution from Jordan Daly on his experiences coming out in school in Glasgow as a teenager.
Veteran disability rights campaigner Susan Archibald described how rights of access for disabled people affected those currently fighting against draconian new benefits laws, which cut the money available for living an independent life. The fact that RISE’s platform does not mention disability was a shortcoming noticed by Archibald and from the floor by a woman activist on mental health. The audience discussion raised important points about the struggles for decent mental health services. Such important missing elements of the RISE programme need to be addressed and corrected at the November assembly.
Questions from the floor to the speakers also included how socialists in RISE will deal with religion and how it should support the Sheku Bayoh campaign. One well-received point raised from the floor concerned atheist sectarianism towards believers, especially in BAME communities of faith (such as Asian and African Muslims, or African Christians in Scotland); that you don’t have to be an atheist to make a revolution and that RISE will need to orient to BAME communities in the way Stop the War coalition has done. Curran agreed that issues like the banning of the hijab in France were clearly ones where RISE should make a stand defending the right of women to wear whatever they wanted but expressed her doubts about campaigning for the right of women to wear the hijab. In response Pinar Aksu called for volunteers for a special working group to discuss this further and make proposals.
Overall the session showed that RISE from day one is taking an intersectional approach to special and specific oppressions under capitalism seriously as a core element of how this movement will go forward.
RISE has launched with far more members than either the Scottish Socialist Alliance or the Scottish Socialist Party had when they launched in the 1990s. Its new Facebook page achieved more than a 1000 likes in less than 24 hours. Perhaps more importantly it launches with a sense of momentum and links of trust and solidarity between many of its new members that were built in the Radical Independence Campaign. The SSP is the biggest socialist organisation to affiliate to RISE, which brings certain potential issues. The SSP official position is that RISE is an electoral alliance. This is not the view of many of the new members of RISE and by all appearances even of many rank and file SSP members, who are enthusiastic about building something that transcends what the left has been able to achieve before. These are real tensions and they will need to be worked through in practice. Interestingly, in the international session, Grzegorz Jaroslaw Rybak from the Poland’s new left formation Partia Razem announced that its branches in Scotland would also affiliate to RISE.
At the final rally, Jonathan Shafi announced that the new alliance would be standing on every regional list in the 2016 Holyrood elections. But he made it clear that the aim is to build much more than an electoral alliance. He argued that RISE is about engagement with campaigns, movements and working class struggles – its slogan is one foot in the parliament, one thousand feet on the streets. The task for the new organisation is to establish successful circles that can make a real difference in the building of a mass anti-austerity movement across Scotland and beyond.
More information about RISE is also available on their website.