Roundtable – “What impact can ‘RISE – Scotland’s Left Alliance’ have on Scotland’s political future?”

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With the launch of RISE yesterday, we thought we’d be topical and put their potential for influencing the next election and Scotland’s political future to our contributors. Here is what they said and as usual we’d welcome your contributions, so please join the debate!

Chris Napier

I’ve got mixed feelings about RISE. On the one hand another progressive voice in a more diverse parliament would be more than welcome and I’ve been very impressed with the likes of Cat Boyd over the last few years.

On the other hand, I’m concerned that RISE might further split the vote going to the left/progressive/Yes parties contesting the regional list, potentially leading to less representation in parliament in favour of more unified votes for the Westminster parties and leaving less of a bloc to the SNP’s left. It’s telling that all of the articles promoting RISE’s launch neglected to mention that there is already an established party to the left of the SNP in the shape of the Scottish Greens and it would be a shame if RISE got in the way of their success, especially if RISE didn’t get over the line in terms of representation themselves. Of course, I’d not complain if they took votes away from Solidarity and I’ll take Cat Boyd over Tommy Sheridan in Holyrood every time.

Perhaps in future a broader progressive coalition might be a good idea… but that said, there is also a concern that far from being a true ‘Left Alliance’, RISE is in fact more of a (much needed) SSP rebrand with the media savvy and profile of the RIC/Left project types added in and are unlikely to unite the disparate elements of the left no matter how they present themselves.

On balance… I’ll have to wait and see, especially considering that RISE haven’t even decided on structure or how they’ll select their candidates yet, much less had enough time to develop policy or much aside from a promising idea and snappy name.

I’d like to see them become a genuine left wing option for Scottish voters and in time a key part of a diverse and vibrant parliament (and at other levels of government) but in the immediate future, nine months is not much time to put together a concerted campaign for a parliamentary election and it seems likely that their immediate effect can only be to damage and dilute the progressive vote.

Siobhan Tolland

I am somewhat torn on this question. RISE is a cooperation of various political groups with the sole intention of putting forward candidates for the Scottish Elections in May. The rise and solid support that the SNP has, and had received, during the UK General Elections was the appropriate course of action given recent political circumstances.

Within the Scottish election context, however, the SNP cannot and should not have a largely unopposed parliament. A parliament without an opposition is not healthy for democracy. The SNP needs a robust opposition to develop a vibrant Scottish democracy in the new independent era that will come.

My favourite scenario for the Scottish Parliament is that the SNP holds the majority but with a robust, overwhelmingly pro-independence and progressive opposition. Effectively a parliament that has a solid mandate for independence, where the two Unionist parties have a minimal role. For me, this will lay the ground for a post-independence political structure.

RISE can contribute to this in a healthy way. It can provide a strong progressive agenda articulated through a political desire for self-determination. It could hold the SNP accountable to a more left political slant and transform the political scene, making it more politically removed from the UK’s current right wing pro-austerity agenda.

In our current situation, we have a very clear parallel of our political structures. We have a Westminster structure and we have a Scottish one. These obviously interact and overlap, but what works in a Westminster political context does not necessarily work in the Scottish context.

Labour is a good case in point. A personal perspective would be that the possibility of working with the Scottish branch of the Labour Party is neither possible nor desirable in the current circumstances. However, on a Westminster level, the possibility of the SNP working with a Corbyn-led Labour party is to be supported wholeheartedly.

What creates this distinction is the notion of self-determination. In a Westminster context, we can work with other political priorities. Within a Scottish political context, however, the notion of self-determination is a political dividing line.

I think this parallel political process is something we all, especially RISE, need to be aware of. Whilst we need a healthy and diverse political structure in Scotland, what we need most of all is a coordinated and consensual approach to gaining self-determination from the UK. Treading that line is difficult. We need to keep the consensual politics of the referendum whilst negotiating difference of policies and ideas within the Scottish parliament.

My concern about RISE is the history of the Left and its insatiable drive to split, divide and in-fight. It is a history of Monty Python Judean People’s Front procedure that is so damaging to a progressive movement. We have a tendency to build up then rip down with in-fighting with ideas of ‘political purity’.

I want a vibrant political opposition in the Scottish parliament. However, I don’t want it at the expense of a broken mass movement that has developed. RISE is anti-austerity, yes, but so is the Greens. So is SNP. Is the anti-austerity agenda served by yet another party?

Whether political parties like it or not, the SNP spearheads the new popular movement. We need to work with the SNP. We need to recognise their important role. I don’t say this as an SNP member. I see my membership as a loaned membership until we get independence. I say this because they are, by far, the largest political party in this movement.

My brother said something that I am very mindful of. Colin Fox talked of the aim of RISE being to challenge the SNP. If the aims of RISE is to fight for self-determination and fight austerity, then why would its aim be to challenge the SNP? RISE absolutely cannot become a party that focuses on a critique of the SNP. And it needs to not become distracted by vying for leadership of the new mass movement.

RISE has to become a party that produces dialogue and disagreement with the SNP and other progressive forces, of course it does. But it also needs to create a consistent common ground in the struggle against austerity, neo liberalism and against the UK state intent on retaining the status quo. We need to forgo the ego in our politics and compromise. At this point in time, this has never been so important.

We need to be mindful that we are dealing with a UK political system that is so right wing it makes Thatcher look like a pussy cat. We are bordering on fascistic persecution of the poor and vulnerable. A government so heartless that it doesn’t care how many die as a result of benefit sanctions and whose solution to the crisis at Calais is to send more dogs. That is the sheer level of inhumanity we are dealing with. And this government will not give up on preserving the UK at any cost.

RISE need to be mindful of what we are actually fighting then and not transform the SNP into the political enemy. When the next referendum comes (and it will), we need to put aside our political differences and face the struggle with focus, determination and commitment. And we need to do this together: not as a divided force who has spent 5-10 years creating enemies of each other. Our worst case scenario would be a derelict and broken movement fighting the next referendum.

I wish RISE success, but I only wish them success if they become clear and consistent about our commonalities as a movement. I hope they don’t become the People’s movement for an Independent Scotland when everyone else is the Independent Scotland people’s movement. Because it will jeopardise a successful struggle for an independent Scotland, and the grip of the right wing Union will remain forever strong.

Alan Stares

First impressions are that it seems like a good idea that’s run by fannies! I could be wrong it may be the best thing ever but for now it’s a case of sit back and watch.

Louise Wilson

The left have long had to combat the very real problem of several different factions competing for the same achievable seats. The addition of RISE to the ballot paper may only further split this fractured vote. However, I’m not sure how much of an impact RISE will actually have by next May – with only a few months to go and so much uncertainty around what policy they will actually support (other than vague leftism), it would seem that the party will be relying on its core SSP/RIC vote base. This is probably not enough to gain any real traction.

One can hope that they could have an impact by adding to the number of voices to the left of the SNP. Whilst the SNP has gotten behind left politics, I am still not totally convinced that there ideology is necessarily leftist. I believe they are a populist party, and while left-wing politics in Scotland remains popular there is not problem. The danger is when right-wing policies in Scotland come back in fashion. Therefore, having more options to the left of the SNP could hold the debate to the left.

That said, I return to the original question of whether the party will have much of an impact. The party would have to appeal to more left votes – many of which already go to the SNP or Greens. Therefore, the left vote simply gets transferred between a few parties rather than dragging them from elsewhere. It is highly unlikely to party will attract enough ex-Labour or ex-Conservative supporters to make a difference. There is of course the chance to gather votes from non-voters, given the high levels of engagement in Scotland right now. However, there is a question as to how many voters will back RISE, or whether they are more likely to back more established parties.

In sum, I remain unconvinced that RISE will have any real impact because it’s appeal is to a base that already votes left.

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