Scotland: can RISE rise?

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August saw the launch in Scotland of RISE (Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism), a new left alliance initiated by activists from the Radical Independence Campaign, the Scottish Socialist Party, and socialists and activists.

Around 600 people attended the launch event in Glasgow.

RISE aims to bring the Scottish left together under one umbrella which can pose an electoral alternative to the Labour Party and the nationalist SNP, with the first test being the Scottish parliament elections next May.

Given the scale of the current Tory onslaught on the welfare state and the failure of the SNP to offer more than token resistance to it, any attempt to unite the left and to give a political voice to the movement for independence and against austerity is welcome.

If RISE is to play a role in that process it will need to address a number of challenges.

It appears that Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity party will not be receiving an invitation to the party, despite the fact that the Hope over Fear campaign which Sheridan initiated has attracted tens of thousands of people in working-class communities, most recently at a large rally in George Square on 19 September.

Sheridan has made a series of political blunders recently, including calling for support for the SNP in the first ballot in 2016, but he retains considerable support. If left unity in Scotland is to mean anything, it needs to involve all sections of the Scottish left.

Then there is the issue of timing. A year ago the SWP in Scotland argued that the immediate challenge for the left was to put aside its differences and offer a united alternative to voters both at the general election in 2015 and in the Holyrood parliamentary election in 2016.

The fact that the launch of this new formation has been delayed means that many who might otherwise have been attracted to RISE have gone elsewhere, including the 80,000 who have since joined the SNP.

The victory of Jeremy Corbyn as the Labour leader is likely to squeeze the space for RISE even further. There is still a space for a new left alliance but it is smaller than it was.

The launch conference was not a policy-making event so concrete policies will not be decided until a membership conference in November.

Nevertheless the question of what kind of party RISE will be, or indeed whether it will be a party at all, cannot be postponed indefinitely.

More importantly, as well as the kind of policies that are adopted, there is the question of overall political strategy.

Will RISE be primarily an electoral formation or will its main focus be on mobilising support for community and workplace struggles, like the recent homeless workers strike in Glasgow? Time will tell.

A slogan drawn from the Spanish Podemos and repeated by leading members at the conference was that RISE will have “one foot in the parliament, a hundred feet in the streets”.

If RISE genuinely sees its priority as sustaining and building the movement that came close to winning Scottish independence in September 2014, and in the process developing an inclusive electoral left alternative in Scotland, then it may yet play a valuable role in the struggle for another Scotland.