Roch Winds: A Treacherous Guide to the State of Scotland by Cailean Gallagher, Amy Westwell and Rory Scothorne
(Luath Press, £8.99)
DESPITE many pundits’ predictions during the referendum on Scottish independence, the Yes campaign came surprisingly close to a victory.
The issue remains on the agenda following the collapse of the traditional Labour vote and a corresponding upsurge in support for the SNP, often long derided as being nothing more than Tartan Tories.
Although there have been a few honorable exceptions, the left in general has been slow — or perhaps unable — to provide an adequately detailed, timely and popular response to these monumental events.
Collectively culled from the ideas, involvement and aspirations of three unashamedly young left-wing activists, Roch Winds goes some way towards redressing the balance.
There’s a wealth of detail in their book and, unlike a lot of narratives, it’s funny, engaging and by no means given to simplification.
It’s committed to pro-independence perspectives from what appears to be an understanding that the Yes campaign gave an opportunity for a justifiably confrontational, participatory and pro-working class movement above and beyond narrowly nationalist arguments.
And it provides an even-handed and inclusive critique of the shortcoming of all the major protagonists.
The Labour Party and pro-unionist movements are roundly criticised, as is a narrowly social-democratic perspective that all too often has failed to come to terms with the whole agenda of permanent war, cuts and austerity.
The fact that a failure to defend working-class interests might lead to electoral support for independence politics on the basis that such a vote is seen as anti-establishment certainly came as a shock to many who often took constituency loyalty for granted.
Likewise the nationalists’ position is consistently demolished, not least because of its empty populism which promises all things to all people, irrespective of how contradictory and unwinnable these pledges would be in the context of an independent Scotland.
There are, though, some surprising omissions by the authors. The Radical Independence Campaign gets very little attention and there’s only a passing reference to the key and relevant contributions of comparatively recent writers such as Tom Nairn and Perry Anderson. Republican socialists might also be more than surprised that the work of, among others, John MacLean and James Connolly warrants no attention whatsoever.
Much of the text is given over to a general discussion of the entire communist project, warts and all. If this has no particular relevance to the Scottish national question, then there does seem to be an issue as to why it has been included in a text with a very specific mandate.
Even so, Roch Winds is lively, disarming and energetic and Luath Press are to be congratulated for again bringing new and hidden voices to the fore. Let the debate continue — it is one to ignore at our peril, north and south of the border.