ONE of the biggest single strategic debates among activists within the independence movement has been whether to campaign for independence as simply the right to national self-determination or, also and additionally, to campaign for a certain type of independence, such as a radical, progressive one.

This was the experience well before the Section 30 order leading to the Edinburgh Agreement was granted for the 2014 referendum.

This is no reason to think this time round will be different. Indeed, the debate has never entirely gone away given that the political domination of the SNP at Holyrood and among Scottish MPs has meant there has always been some kind of mandate for another referendum.

But now this debate has been brought back with some urgency and into much sharper focus since the Scottish Government announced its plan to hold a further referendum on independence for Scotland on October 19, 2023.

The argument to simply focus on the right to national self-determination can be best characterised as one of “let’s just get independence first”. This perspective is based upon the premise of not making any radical, transformative demands for or about independence.

Instead, it is to concentrate almost solely upon the issue of democratic, constitutional sovereignty, and then with that new found freedom of national sovereignty, move politics to the left with independence having been achieved.

By contrast, the radical perspective is to explicitly raise radical demands as an integral part of the campaign to gain support to win independence.

The former is essentially a version of “let’s not scare the horses” which goes like this – “Let’s get independence first and then sort out these issues later on” because of the view that building the widest possible alliance around the political and constitutional democratic demand for independence is the key task.

There is a belief raising that radical demands will scare off some from supporting independence, especially from the middle and professional classes. But it also means criticisms of other, more conservative politics, on the Yes side are kept from being made in public. Consequently, this requires some self-restraint from radicals in the form of self-censorship.

The latter perspective is predicated on the view that in order to build support for independence among the biggest and most populace social class in Scotland – the working-class – radical economic and social demands must be a key part of the independence campaign. It is argued that necessary support can only be created on the basis of the mass of working-class people knowing with some confidence that they will be economically and socially better off after independence.

There are tensions and traits common to each camp, centred around the complex by-dynamic relationship between means and ends and between class and nation.

One of these issues concerns honesty and integrity. So, one pressing question is this: Is it politically honest to keep from the public what one’s true political ambitions are for Scotland after independence has been achieved?

Another is: is it politically honest to consciously not make criticisms of those that one has significant political disagreements with? Both could end up with some forming unjustified political illusions, leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths.

A further important question is: Is it correct to assume like last time that many voters will naturally develop their progressive political consciousness in the course of campaigning for independence so that they will move towards a more radical outlook anyway?

The assumption often made by the “let’s get independence first” view is that a natural alignment will take place so that the radical outcome desired will take place when voters “catch up” with the progressive politicians. While this is a possibility, it is not a probability.

Quite apart from the referendum not being won because the radical arguments for better living standards are not widely made, there is also the distinct possibility that those that form the Scottish Government after independence is won are not put under any pressure to move to the left, because the forces of the left had not been sufficiently built up during the campaign to make that happen.

Possibly even worse is that once independence is achieved, there is in effect a demobilisation of the forces for independence because of the view that it’s now up to the politicians in parliament to decide what form independence should take. This would lead to even less pressure being put on any post-independence government from the left.

Intriguingly, one other stand is that as many people in Scotland are already predisposed to radical ideas, these will naturally assert themselves after independence has been won. Some doubt the evidence for this while others see it as lazy and a complacent position to take.

Running alongside these issues is another big fissure, over “nation” versus “class”. The “let’s just get independence first” perspective is primarily based on nation rather than class while the radical version is the opposite.

“Independence first” subsumes recognition of any internal significant social divisions within Scotland concerning class due to the priority given to uniting the populace as a “nation”. For radicals, mobilisation of the working-class, as suggested before, is seen as the best way to unite means and ends.

The argument that making too radical demands will scare off the middle class and gain support from the working class appears too simplistic. Many of the former are far more radically minded than many in the working class.

Often, they retain their working-class identity when in middle-class occupations. Here, we can contrast support for red-green policies among many professionals with support for the monarchy and social conservatism among many working-class Orange Order members in the west of Scotland.

Though we do not yet know what structural forms the independence campaign will take this time, it looks like there will be no mass-organised left-wing grassroots campaign. Out of the Radical Independence Conference in 2012 emerged the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), an alliance of non-aligned left-wing supporters of independence and those of various parties such as Labour, the SNP, Scottish Greens and Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).

It played a major role in increasing voter registration for the referendum and the vote for independence among the working-class, with its slogan “Another Scotland is possible”.

However, RIC as a national body disbanded in 2021. Nothing has emerged in its place. The main core of RIC now only has an online presence in the form of the Conter website. Part of the reason for the dissolution of RIC was also the SSP and Greens operating more as independent political parties.

There’s also the benefit of hindsight. Former SSP MSP and Yes Scotland advisory board member Colin Fox reflects that the left should have been more assertive of its own agenda on the advisory board.

This would have meant being less compliant with the tone and content set by Blair Jenkins, the chief executive of Yes Scotland, under the guidance of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, and giving more support to Dennis Canavan, the board’s chair, to push a more left-wing course along with fellow board members Pat Kane, Elaine C Smith and Patrick Harvie.

Both the “independence first” and radical perspectives have their roots in historical events. One obvious example is the 1917 Russian revolution in terms of its February (democratic) and October (socialist) expressions. This same tension was later played out in many national liberation struggles in what was then called the “third world” after the Second World War.

The division among Yes supporters then speaks to different views on how various stages in struggle unfold in the pursuit of social, economic and political progress being based on contrasting combinations of class interests and political strategies.

But for Scotland, the tensions explored above also reflect a rather complicated political situation. Referendums ask blunt, simple questions. There are no addendums attached to the ballot paper on the type of options available.

Meantime, it is political parties that produce political manifestos in times of elections. These provide a mandate for action in office for the winning party that does not exist for referendums. The spaces between referendum and elections are the battlegrounds that the different strategies for independence will be fought out on.

Professor Gregor Gall is author of ‘Scotland the brave? Independence and radical social change’ (Scottish Left Review Press, 2013) and editor of the three editions of ‘Is there a Scottish Road to Socialism? (Scottish Left Review Press, 2007, 2013, 2016)