This week, the Leftist Campaign for Independence (heir to Leftists for YesYes) reactivated itself. I consider this a significant event. For some time I´ve had the impression that, in the national debate, either we advance clearly towards sovereignty or we end up worse than we are now on all levels, including socially. For many people the national debate is irrelevant (and even annoying) because they think that it distracts from "real problems", and from a certain view from the left, they consider that even entering into the national debate means playing the right´s game.
A few days ago I read quite an interesting interview on socialistworker.org: Lessons from Scotland. The interviewee was Neil Davidson, Professor of Sociology in Glasgow, member of Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century (rs21), promoter of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) and author of books including How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions. He also analyzed the results of the Scottish referendum in the New Left Review.
The context of the interview had, logically, much to do with the Scottish case, but many of the things that Davidson said apply perfectly to the Catalan case, at least from the perspective of someone who, like me, believes that the aspirations for independence are not in any way contradictory with the ideas and battles traditionally associated with the left.
The starting point for the reflection is very clear: in the Scottish referendum, voters rejected the declaration of independence, but only by a slim margin (55 vs 45 percent). Davidson extracted several lessons from this. A highlight was the fact that "Yes" was very close to winning, which no one had counted on months before: "We came from behind"--he said-- "and in the last six months we made up a lot of ground. At the beginning there was about 30 percent that clearly supported the "Yes" option, 50 percent were for "No", and 20 percent were undecided. In the end we found that the majority of the people who voted "No" had already decided their position two years before, and they never wavered". The key then, was convincing the 20 percent of undecided voters.
According to Davidson, the SNP mounted a highly conventional bourgeois campaign, putting the accent on media-friendly events with celebrities, and less emphasis on content. It was the appearance of the Radical Independence Campaign, he said, that brought together most of the Scottish extreme left, and radically changed the dynamics of the campaign. The RIC, he said, managed to bring the debate on independence to the left, something that the SNP, with its more social-democratic profile, was not able to do. How? By talking with people about how, for example, independence would allow for a better National Health Service (which Britain is cutting back and privatizing), or demanding the withdrawal of the Trident nuclear missiles. It was these types of arguments that resonated with the working class, and helped, at least in part, to move some of those voters from "undecided" to "Yes".
For Davidson, if they had talked about the Scottish nation, the people wouldn´t have been very interested. What motivated them to support independence was, in essence, an opposition to neo-liberalism, even though this term wasn´t necessarily used explicitly. Thanks to the effort to bring social content to the campaign for "yes", concluded Davidson, many people were driven to recover the ability to mobilize that 10 years earlier had generated massive protests against the war.
Many people in Catalonia still doubt whether the cry for independence should be a part of the leftist party platforms that appeal to social justice and equality. The Scottish case, via the experience of the RIC, shows that it is possible for the two issues (social and national) to go hand in hand. The key is to ask ourselves: "Independence: what for?"
The Scottish lesson is clear: in spite of losing, the Scottish sovereignty movement won, and it did so in large part thanks to the fact that the left jumped into the game, fearlessly and without hesitation. True, they fell short, but in spite of this they forced those opposing independence (led by Cameron) to lower their tone and make attractive offers in order to convince some of the undecided voters, enough to tip the balance once more towards "No". The lesson, then, is clear: to win, you must convince. Now is the time for arguments, and therefore, the "what for".