2020 marked the first full year since the re-establishment of the Radical Independence Campaign in Dundee in September 2019. Although our optimistic plans for the year were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, we still organised some excellent events and consolidated our group, placing us on a solid footing to grow and become more active in 2021.
Our meetings in January and February, both held in Conroy’s Basement, a DIY punk music venue which was kindly made available to us by our friends and comrades who manage it, brought around a couple dozen people together for enthusiastic and serious discussion about the state of the independence movement, the need to develop and articulate radical alternatives to the SNP’s economic programme, and taking a more organised approach to mass mobilisations such as the All Under One Banner (AUOB) demonstrations.
In March, as well as taking part in a joint street stall in Dundee with our friends in Radical Independence Angus & Mearns, we joined other RIC groups in organising a screening at Abertay University of Catalonia Is Anti-Fascist, an excellent documentary film about the struggle for Catalan self-determination after the high-profile 2017 referendum and against the background of the political trials. This event coincided with our discussions about the situation developing in Lochee, where an important food solidarity project run largely by working class women volunteers was being threatened by the abrupt end of a crucial food supply contract with a national charity.
Lochee Community Larder, which supports hundreds of people in one of Dundee’s most deprived areas on a solidarity basis (as opposed to a referral-based food bank system), was nearly forced to close because of the decision by FareShare. In response to this, we made a call for donations at our Catalonia film screening, which resulted in £110.60 in cash and three full bags of food being handed over to the Larder. The next week, we moved our regular monthly meeting to Lochee Community Hub, where volunteers from the Larder took part in a discussion with us about the impact of austerity on working class communities like Lochee. We decided to widen this discussion to the state of the global economy, and agreed to invite former SNP MP and economist George Kerevan to Dundee to speak to us about this subject.
Then, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and swiftly discarded all of our plans! As it became clearer that meeting in person would be impossible for some time, we followed other organisations in bringing together political discussions over Zoom. We invited Kerevan to speak at the first of these, in July, but on the subject of his then-recent article SNP at the Crossroads rather than on the economy. In August, we hosted Debora Kayembe on the topic of anti-racism in the campaign for Scottish independence. Later that month, we hosted Maggie Chapman in a discussion about NATO and Trident. During the summer, RIC members also participated in local demonstrations where these took place, for instance the large Black Lives Matter mobilisation in Magdalen Green which raised over £900 for the Justice for Sheku Bayoh campaign. A handful of RIC members also decorated the Robert Burns statue in Dundee city centre with placards and an LGBT flag in a small solidarity action with arrested LGBT+ activists in Poland.
In September, we decided to separate our decision-making meetings from our political discussions, as we were finding that members had little energy for discussing business after long discussions with guest speakers. We met on this basis in October and discussed how we could involve more people in our group and prepare ourselves to become more active over the coming months. We discussed ideas for future discussions, how to raise our online profile and setting up a bank account to start collecting funds, as well as developments within RIC at a national level and how we could support RIC’s re-establishment across the country.
In November, we decided to organise a public online event in response to press reports that Dundee City Council was looking fondly on proposals to establish a freeport in Dundee. Our guest speakers – economic commentator Miriam Brett, trade expert Katie Gallogly-Swan and local trade unionist Stuart Fairweather – led an excellent event which utterly dismantled the arguments in favour of a freeport, as well as connecting the issue to wider questions about sovereignty, industrial strategy and the climate emergency. When council leaders doubled down on their support for freeports after the SNP conference voted against them, we decided to continue pressing the argument against a Dundee freeport online and in the local press. Video clips from our event have been watched online thousands of times and more information about the issue is set to appear on our new website very soon. This campaign against a Dundee freeport and the neoliberal economics underpinning it will remain our focus into the new year.
Overall, we end the year with a small but increasingly cohesive group, which has organised useful political discussions, has made tentative steps towards direct involvement in working class communities, and aims to ramp up its local political influence over the course of 2021, while continuing to support the re-establishment of RIC groups across the country. We now have 80 people on our email list, 100 followers on our new Twitter account, a growing library of YouTube videos, and hope to boost our online profile with our new website. If mass vaccination is rolled out as planned and the pandemic ends in 2021, we should soon also be able to return to the streets and continue building a powerful vehicle for the pro-independence left.