Can RISE push progressive politics forward without becoming sectarian?

The Scots Perspective interviews Democratic Left Scotland Convener and Dundee Trades Council Chair, Stuart Fairweather about the role of RISE in progressive politics and the push for independence.

Stuart Yes campaign

As the RISE party launch occurs at the weekend, we speak to Stuart Fairweather, a veteran political activist, convener of the Democratic Left Scotland, chair of the Dundee Trades Council and member of the Dundee Radical Independence campaign. He was active in the Trade Unions for YES organisation and has been a politically active for over three decades.

Stuart spoke at the launch of RISE and was invited, as an observer, onto the steering committee integral in developing the RISE party. Classing himself as ‘not quite a convert’ we ask Stuart about how he views the role of RISE within Scottish politics and the nature of progressive politics generally in Scotland.
RISE is a relatively new phenomenon for Scottish Politics, explains Stuart, and it is not a political party in the traditional sense. There has been an ambivelançe to elections by the far-left in the past, he points out, but RISE comes from a different perspective. The YES campaign initiated an enthusiasm and engagement in canvassing and campaigning and RISE develops that enthusiasm and position it with a wider more pluralist anti-austerity alliance.

The Independence referendum has changed everything in Scotland. The parameters of political action and ideas has been increasingly articulated through the struggle for self-determination. The collapse of the Labour Party, the surge of the SNP, the coalition gathering around RISE, as well as the Scottish Greens’ commitment to independence means that any progressive politics is coalescing around independence. One of the four tenets of RISE’s policy is independence, showing its central position in left-wing politics.

Stuart agrees to a certain extent. What ‘independence actually means in the context of globalisation is debatable’, he suggests. But the ‘relationship between the momentum for a further referendum and anti-austerity politics provides a potential for challenging neo liberalism.’ For those reasons ‘instrumental independence is central to a progressive political struggle in Scotland.’

There is movement within England that shows a developing struggle of anti-austerity politics that is taking hold. Corbyn’s surprise popularity and his potential to transform the Labour Party into an oppositional force creates a new politics for England. Does this change the political situation in Scotland?

Stuart thinks this is unlikely. Regardless of the leadership election he is suspicious of the Labour Party’s ability to become progressive. ‘For too long Labour has been very comfortable with being her Majesty’s loyal opposition rather than being the spearhead for an alternative in parliament as well as wider society,’ he suggests.

Will a Corbyn victory revive the Labour Party in Scotland?
“Whilst there may be some positive association with any Corbyn victory, it is unlikely to be enough to seriously challenge the SNP. The Labour Party’s failure to back a Yes vote will long damage its position in Scotland. Any attempt to establish a credible argument for greater powers should be welcomed but in itself will not address the issue of trust. Labour put the British establishment before the people.”

Along with that sense of Labour party betrayal, Scotland is also now coming to terms with the decision it made. In opting to remain part of the UK, we are now subject to a government that is unprecedentedly right wing. The destruction of the welfare state, the persecution of the poor and vulnerable and the erosion of our civil liberties create a Union that is somewhat disconnected to Scottish politics. “The prospect of an independent Scotland is something entirely different from Britain’s apparent enthusiasm for austerity” and “creates an ongoing contradiction,” explains Stuart.

With these issues in mind then, what next for Scotland? Stuart explains that in the short term, the May 2016 elections are pivotal in that they will “act as a proxy for the next referendum.” There is a lot of certainty that there will be another referendum but when that will be is subject to much speculation. Stuart considers that conditions are more important than time frames. Ensuring the next referendum ‘can be convincingly won’ is key, but creating ‘conditions for that is the hard bit’.

Stuart notes that the central point is whether SNP will include a clear timetable for a second referendum in their Hollywood manifesto. Naming any date is dangerous but ‘finding a form of words that keeps the prospect alive and connected to anti-austerity politics is what is important’.

And RISE’s role in all this? RISE can play a role in developing the anti-austerity / independence agenda set out on Scotland. But only if they can ‘develop this space without being sectarian’. In Stuart’s opinion, RISE should push the SNP on austerity but not on the referendum. And Stuart will be urging them to support the Green’s Maggie Chapman in the North East as part of a broader progressive alliance.

Stuart understands the difficulties involved in RISE’s new position. It needs to be critical of the SNP and Greens without being sectarian, he says, and this might be difficult for some. Last September was fundamentally ‘a democratic uprising’ he explains, and that’s what people need to be reconnected with. Organisations need to reflect the democratic tendencies in their organisational structure as well as policies, he continues. If sectarianism increases, then it will repel people and damage the anti-austerity movement. After the conference, however, Stuart is hopeful that RISE can avoid the pitfalls and play a positive role in Scotland’s new progressive politics.


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

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.


If you like what you read please check out some of our other articles.  If you don’t like what you read please give your own perspective and contribute! As a new venture we are always looking for talented writers with something to say about Scots politics and culture. Aand if you have never written before, give it a try. Please contact or message our Facebook page.

New Left Alliance Reveals Its Name Ahead Of Launch Event

Chris Napier

We’ve known for a few months now that a new left wing party, centred around the Scottish Left Project / Radical Independence Campaign and the Scottish Socialist Party would contest next May’s Holyrood elections, but a week before the new organisation’s launch event, their name has been revealed as ‘Rise – Scotland’s Left Alliance.’

The name, with its inspirational and revolutionary overtones has been chosen as an acronym reflecting the group’s political and organizational ethos.

Respect: We stand for a society where we end racism, sexism, discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and where people of all backgrounds, colours and creeds are treated with respect and dignity.

Independence: We stand for Independence for Scotland. But our Independence is based on ending neoliberalism, austerity and the membership of NATO. We are for ending the monarchy and putting people in charge.

Socialism: We are for a social alternative to capitalism where people run the affairs of our society democratically and where the vast resources of society are utilised in common, rather than for the super-rich.

Environmentalism: We believe that environmentalism must be central to social change. Our world is being destroyed by the ruthless pursuit of profit over everything else. Sustainable ecology – where we maximise our enormous renewable energy potential to power Scotland – at the heart of a radical vision for change.

A result of the wave of popular political engagement which characterised the referendum campaign, Rise seeks to unite a diverse coalition of progressives such as ‘anti-austerity campaigns, anti-racist activists, left organisations including the SSP, trade unionists, cultural figures and academics’ under one banner with the aim of gaining representation and making a left wing voice heard in parliament.

With the new movement’s exact policies and organisational structure yet to be decided, much of what Rise stands for and how it is to be achieved is yet to be nailed down, but the first step on that road is at the launch event on August 29th and if you’re interested in being a part of that then a full timetable and tickets can be found here.