Independence Minded?: the Radical Independence Campaign mass canvas
Groups around Scotland joined together on Sunday June 22, 2014, in an effort to register new voters and perhaps persuade them to vote Yes in the Scottish independence referendum. We followed Radical Independence Campaign members in Edinburgh and Inverness as events got underway, and talked to leading activist Cat Boyd to find out what the realtively new and increasingly high-profile movement is all about — and what it hopes to achieve.
“This is the way that the referendum is going to be won. It’s people going out, it’s feet on the ground. It’s knocking on doors and taking the message out to people.”
I talked to Cat Boyd a few weeks after the Radical Independence Campaign’s mass canvas had taken place, but the message was clear, and shared by those that I had followed taking part in the country-wide effort made up of more than 40 individual events.
The protest against the Iraq war back in 2003 may not have achieved its primary aim, but there were many significances resulting from the day, not least in galvanising efforts on the Scottish left that eventually resulted in the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC).
“We decided that we needed a campaign vehicle to go out and convince as many people as possible that an independence Scotland wasn’t about the nation state, it wasn’t about a Saltire, it wasn’t about the SNP, but it was an argument that we wanted to make about social justice and possibilities for change,” explained Cat.
“Those of us who started it, I don’t think we could have imagined what’s happened. It’s grown massively. There’s groups springing up all over the country, from the Highlands to the borders, from the East Coast to the West Coast, even on the islands we’ve got people campaigning on the idea that an independent Scotland opens up an opportunity to radically transform the way that we run society, run our economy and do politics.”
On the main day of the mass canvas, Sunday June 22, I was at Pilton in Edinburgh. Events around the country were targeting deprived communities as they have lower voter registration; by going directly door to door campaigners could talk to people about the referendum, and also to some about their fear that if they are registered on the electoral roll it will help debt collection agencies track them down.
Activist Pat Smith, who was arranging this particular canvas, was keen to stress the involvement of locals. “The people here are already organised and fighting back, so they’re already an organised community,” she explained.
“I never want to do missionary work, to go into an area to tell people what they should do or how they can organise themselves. But we can support people.”
‘We need to talk about real radical distribution of wealth’
There was a healthy crowd around to take part, more than I would have expected given some slightly dreich weather, Pat giving a rundown of the plan before those present split off into groups of two or three to cover the sizeable area as effectively as possible.
Those with canvassing experience were ready to guide any newcomers in the right direction, both literally and otherwise. An angry man with an equally angry dog who questioned the presence of my camera — the man that is, not the dog — both reminded me of the need to take out insurance on said camera, and was an indicator that not everyone will be receptive to RIC’s efforts, however well intentioned they may be. Volunteers aren’t likely to find everyone with smiles on their faces, amidst biting poverty and scepticism over how anything can change. But he seemed to be an aberration, the activists that I came across all remaining in good spirits as they brought out the message to the people of Pilton. All I talked to had observed a shift in opinion from No to Yes, and felt that there is still everything to play for in the run-up to the Scottish independence vote on September 18.
The story was much the same the next day in the Merkinch area of Inverness, better known to locals as The Ferry. A group gathered outside the local community centre, trading some humour at the expense of Better Together, sharing materials and knowledge, then getting to work. This is the second canvas of the extended weekend taking place around the Highland capital, hence it being on a Monday. Again, there was a healthy number of people. Again, the weather could have been better. Again, no-one appeared to care.
Both here and in Edinburgh there appeared to be a real sense of momentum, something more easily achieved with a newer political group which has less baggage and can therefore look forward more easily. It seems likely that RIC will continue on in some form in the event of a Yes or No, but there is no doubt about the dangers they feel will face Scotland under continued rule from Westminster.
“My hopes are that we have a more representative and participatory democracy, one that isn’t held account to an unelected upper chamber,” explained Cat. “Another one of my main hopes is that we get rid of Trident. That’s a major one for me, and for many people in the Radical Independence Campaign.
“In addition, I hope that we start to talk about different ways of running the economy. We start to talk about nationalisation of our natural resources, that we’re looking towards things like green energy. And also that we talk about real radical redistribution of wealth from rich to poor, and moving towards that more egalitarian society.”
Next main item on the agenda for RIC is a second nationwide mass canvas on Wednesday August 6, sensibly scheduled for once Commonwealth fever is out of the way. Not that that event or anything else is unlikely to stop the group in its tracks though, as they seem perfectly aware that there isn’t a moment to lose, or an opportunity to be missed, with their attempts to get their message out there:
“It could be a beacon for other places, if Scotland was independent and at the same time grappled with the question of how we make it a fairer society — end poverty, no to austerity, anti-racism, anti-nuclear, and no scapegoating of immigrants, because this is an immigrant country. I’ve got Italian and Irish blood; I don’t know about the statistics, but most folk that live in Scotland have ancestors that came from Ireland, or Italy, or somewhere else.”
Andy Gentle, at Radical Independence Campaign mass canvas in Edinburgh
“I’m from Catalonia, from the middle of the region. In my country we are in the same kind of process, but different, because we don’t have an agreement from the Spanish government to hold the referendum. But I hope we’ll do the same. Scotland first, then Catalonia.”
Queralt Badia, at Radical Independence Campaign mass canvas in Edinburgh
I think we’re starting to win the argument. I think we have absolutely won the argument about an independent Scotland opening up opportunities for social justice, to actually have a more egalitarian society. That change isn’t going to happen at Westminster. My fear about the No vote is what happens, because all the polls right now are showing it pretty likely that the Conservatives will win in 2015, and that terrifies me. What is going to happen to ordinary people in Scotland and beyond? This is the one chance we have to break beyond that type of politics.
Cat Boyd, Activist, Radical Independence Campaign