Alan Bissett is an author and playwright from Falkirk. A pro-independence socialist, Alan has agreed to write occasional columns for the Voice
In May 2011, a group of Scottish playwrights – including myself, David Greig and Rona Munro, among others – were asked by the Traverse Theatre to compose a play entitled Hotel Caledonia, to be performed on the night of the Scottish elections.
In all honesty, we wracked our brains for something to say. With the SSP’s six elected members losing their seats in 2007, and a minority SNP government looking likely to be returned, the colour seemed to have gone out of the Scottish Parliament.
Of course, we appealed for a fairer nation and attacked the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, but without any real belief that the election result would make a difference.
The play was full of hope and, in places, anger but its main theme was frustration at the terminal dullness and deadlock of Scottish politics, exemplified by non-entities like Ian Gray.
The result of the election took us and everyone else off guard, as the SNP were returned with an overwhelming majority and a mandate to hold an independence referendum.
The frustration, anger and hope that we felt, it transpired, was being shared by the nation at large. Overnight, Scottish politics became more exciting than it has ever been, showing up the zombie parliament of Westminster.
What does this mean for socialists? Well, everything.
Those of us on the left, for the last 30 years, have become used to the bitter tang of defeat from perennial right-wing governments in Westminster.
The independence movement, on the other hand, is one full of radical potential, a blossoming of possibility with no precedent in British politics.
Colin Fox was correct recently to describe this as ‘the Scottish Spring’.
We must credit the SNP for having the drive, determination and patience to bring us to this historic stage, but they are far from being the whole story.
Rather, it is a Unionist tactic to turn the independence issue into one about the SNP – and Alex Salmond in particular – as a static target is easier to defeat than a fluid one.
But it is the very presence of Socialists and Greens in the Yes campaign that will ensure its survival and victory, and which, ultimately, will transform the country afterwards.
What has become clear as the Yes campaign gathers pace (after the summer’s relentless Jubilee/Olympics Unionist blitz) is that the broader independence movement beyond the SNP leadership is most definitely progressive.
The good-natured rally in Princes Street Gardens in September featured a broad coalition of Socialists, Greens, independents such as Margo McDonald and Dennis Canavan, Labour For Independence, LGBT speakers and left-leaning SNP activists.
Not one open capitalist (apart from Alex Salmond) was given voice from the stage. And while the Unionist media, predictably, scoffed at the turnout, none of them cared to speculate about how many numbers a Unionist rally or, for that matter, ‘Capitalists For Independence’, would be likely to attract.
We know the answer: almost none. While it is no doubt true that not everyone in Princes Street Gardens would have called themselves a socialist, it is obvious – from the crowd’s response to key issues such as free healthcare, education, full employment, the welfare state, nuclear disarmament and a functioning democracy – that the Scottish people are after a radical programme for their country, one which solves our ongoing problems of poverty and mass disempowerment.
The louder the socialist voice is in the Yes campaign, the more likely independence will become and the greater the thirst will be for a truly progressive, democratic nation state afterwards.
We have work to do, yes, but the Olympics is over. With two years to go, the Unionists have had their moment in the sun.
Their empty ‘Better Together’ slogan will only grow weaker as the capitalist economy, and its cheerleaders in the No campaign, batter the livelihoods of ordinary people.
The substance, breadth, depth and creative potential of the Yes campaign will only become more visible to the Scottish people, not less.
The independence movement is our manifestation of the global fightback against the brutalities of elite rule, from the Arab uprisings to the Occupy movement and the Spanish indignados – local in flavour but universal in appeal.
The Spring of Scottish socialism is upon us. And this time we will win.