Yestival and a summer of independence

Christine Bird from Glasgow gives her take on a festival that brought together all parts of the movement for Scottish independence  

This past weekend, 5 and 6 July, 450 people attended Yestival on Glasgow’s Southside, with at least as many again at the Common Weal Festival at The Arches. Both pro-independence events brought together political talks by diverse speakers with comedy, music, visual arts, food and spaces for discussion.

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Nicola Sturgeon SNP minister of the Scottish parliament spoke at Yestival, while Patrick Harvie from the Green party and Richard Walker, editor of The Sunday Herald were at the Common Weal event. Organisations ranged from Friends of the Earth and the Radical Independence Campaign to the Jimmy Reid foundation.

My reflections? At the panel discussion hosted by Friends of the Earth – “Banking for Planet and People in a New Scotland” – I felt like a tiny fish in a big stream. All swimming in the same direction, but not quite all the same. We weren’t all revolutionaries or Marxists, whatever, but it felt great and I learned lots.

Rector Peter McColl reported on the campaign by students and staff at Edinburgh University who are campaigning for their establishment to stop investing in fossil fuels and consequently in climate change. Patrick Harvie emphasised the role of banks as a service, not an industry. He even quoted Adam Smith on their job, “It is not by augmenting the capital of the country, but by rendering a greater part of that capital active and productive… that the most judicious operations of banking can increase the industry of the country.” Gemma Bone of the Finance Innovation Lab painted a picture of sustainable banking, with legal requirements to invest locally and create value for the common good, with inspiring examples of where this is already working.

I might mention in passing that, being in sole possession of a bored 5 year-old, I was unable to attend the rest of the talks and discussions at The Arches. If you are left wondering what the rest of the talks were like, I invite you to share my frustration! This is no particular criticism of this event, more just a reflection on the fact there’s a way to go before “all of us come first” at left-wing events or in society in general.

Perhaps the greatest significance of the weekends’ events is that it represents the hope in a new wave of left reformism revitalising the left. In years gone by, you could imagine such optimistic calls for change coming out of the Labour Party. Now that seems barely imaginable.

We don’t live in Russia in 1917, France May ’68 or Venezuela under Chavez. Today’s demands for reform, here in Scotland, come from Greens, environmental campaigners, charities, community and religious groups and voluntary organisations – as well as trade unionists, Labour Party / SNP lefties, anarchists and revolutionary socialists.

Working class people have been battered in recent years, with zero-hour contracts, low pay and unaffordable housing. Not to mention ATOS, seemingly endless foreign wars and a rise in Ukip-style popular nationalism and racism. If we’re ever to turn the tide back in our direction, it won’t, in my opinion, be done by splitting theoretical hairs about reform versus revolution. We shouldn’t get too hung up, for example, on whether reforming the banks under capitalism can ever go far enough. Instead we should put our weight behind reformist demands where we find them. After so many years of defeat, let’s not underestimate the potential power of a taste of victory.  And it might just begin with a “Yes!”

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