I know I wasn’t alone over the past two years, watching the campaign for Scottish Independence and feeling anxious, frustrated and yes, jealous. I didn’t want the UK to break up – for all the reasons I wrote about here – but I wanted some of what they had for the rest of us. Not only the massive turnout – 98% registered, 86% voted – but the inclusion, the risk taking, the whole bubbling cauldron of a new politics in the making.
Maybe I’m talking less here about the SNP of that moment – led then by an Alex Salmond who pulled no punches as he faced up to Westminster – but the broader YES campaign that fanned out across the West of Scotland, taking under its umbrella hundreds of new small grass roots initiatives alongside so many of the old, well established left groups who had been waiting patiently for a moment like this all their lives. This was not just a question of entrenchment and turning out, but a moment of self expression and articulating vision: less the old familiar solidarity, more new, exponential connectivity, reaching people for the first time with the news that politics could be different.
Unlike the Obama Yes We Can campaign on which it was modeled, this was not a simple rejection of the past led by a charismatic leader, but the beginnings of a substantiated new progressive politics that incorporated ways of being political along with policy initiatives, captured partly by the SNP but just as much by Common Weal,Lesley Riddoch and the Women for Independence – a crowd sourced vision, shared by the many. Which explains why, even after their defeat, the movement has not stopped but carried on growing, putting its full weight now behind Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP in the UK wide election, apparently taking many of the No’s with them.
Without a similar cause, how can the rest of the UK’s broad left transcend its differences and make a break from politics as usual? Interestingly that moment and that opportunity is now upon us. When Nicola Sturgeon appeared on the UK GE leadership debate, one of three women alongside four men – what a change since 2010! – she was an instant hit for her warmth, humane positioning and forward thinking and the polls immediately after confirmed it. Since then she has made a point of ‘holding out the hand of friendship’ to the British left, promising to help Ed Miliband into Downing Street as part of a broad left group of politicians – whether that eventually takes the shape of a coalition or another format not yet identified.
One might think that after two years of battling to hold the country together, it might be incumbent upon Miliband to accept gracefully: after all if Scotland does not play its full part in British democratic institutions, what were we holding onto them for? And yet there is no sign of open collaboration, only more of the party-first politics of yesteryear, echoed and amplified by a General Election bandwagon that is only interested in the zero sum game between Labour and Tory.
As we watch the moment of opportunity slowly open up, knowing it will be bright but brief, what can be done outside of the Westminster bubble to signal the desire for meaningful change? In the midst of this Compass – once a Labour think tank, now an Open Tribe for the broad left – has been looking for the gateway issues: those ideas and policies that once enacted, result in a different playing field for politics and the people who want to be involved again.
Decommissioning Trident fits the bill perfectly: not only because is it a dangerous relic of the Cold War and the elite institutions that upheld that, but because it captures our unwillingess to move on from old to new thinking so well.
CND, Acronym, ICAN have been making a strong economic and environmental argument for some time, resulting in some remarkable polls such as 75% of Labour PPCs now in favour of decommissioning. Compass’ campaign Trident: Time to Move ON hopes to take it a step further, turning its attention to those who agree nuclear weapons must go at some point, but hang onto them for the time being as an effective deterrent, keeping the world at bay.
It’s a large, amorphous constituency: at one end, the poppy wearers who might prefer more investment in conflict prevention and cyber security to face the world of today. At the other, those who want Britain to maintain its status in the world and might warm to the idea of being the first permanent member of the UN Security Council to give up its nuclear weapons, transforming the nuclear club from within. It’s a campaign which is attracting the likes of Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers whoportray themselves as world citizens and 2014 Nobel Prize winning Peter Higgs – of Higgs Boson fame – who are keen to re-purpose scientific advance for common good.
Launching Trident: Time to Move ON now, in the crowded days before the vote, has two goals. Firstly to engage the non-voters who are disillusioned with party politics in a cause that nevertheless speaks to austerity, the environment, global citizenship and security.
But secondly, to create the biggest possible call for a policy that all three of the SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru are united behind. In doing so, not only can Compass create a space for the broad left to gather – irrespective of party – but send a clear signal to Ed Milband that there is nothing but advantage in accepting Sturgeon’s hand of friendship: it leads to Downing Street.