Just back from Manchester, I could only go for the first day of the Convention, due to child care commitments.
The Stop the War demonstration had about 2500 people on it, maybe a few hundred more. It was lively enough, and should be regarded as a successful regional mobilisation, largely from the North West. However there is a law of diminishing returns operating, of the same usual suspects marching through empty streets around the Labour Conference venue.
Then on to the convention of the left, there were a several hundred people there, I wasn‘t able to count. Also, as the organiser of the second session, I was unable to get to the opening rally because I was meeting and greeting the speakers.
My comrade Pete, who came up with me from Swindon tells me that there was a good and fraternal atmosphere, in the opening session, with a willingness to explore differences in a fraternal way.
The session on the break up of the UK sadly started late due to the earlier session overrunning, so we only had an hour, which was a shame as some people had travelled a long way for it. There were about seventy people at this session
A special thanks to all the panel speakers, Chris Harvie MSP from the Scottish National Party, sociologist Rupa Huq, Gregor Gall from Scottish Left review, and Leanne Wood AM from Plaid Cymru. The important thing for me was that the Scottish and Welsh speakers were able to explain what was happening in their nations, for an audience largely of the English left. It was also useful that Rupa was able to express the reservations that some people feel that demands for an English parliament feels to her to smell of the exclusionary politics of Enoch Powell.
It was clear from the meeting that there are some big culture gaps to overcome. Firstly, that people in England have little feeling for how advanced the process of disengagement with the union is in Scotland and Wales; and many people in Britain are only just starting to think about the issue of what woul happen if scotland voted for independence. What sort of country would England be?
There was interesting input from the floor with worries about English national identity being identified with the far right, and also the confusion we all have about the relationship between Britishness and Englishness.
But as second culture gap, is the inability for some on the left to basically engage in real world political debate, we had a few contributions along the lines of “Speaking as a Leninist….” Or “speaking as a revolutionary Socialist I believe… “, followed by a three minute extract sounding like a bad English translation of a ninety year old speech from a debate about the national question in an obscure part of the Czar’s empire.
Some of the contributions seemed barely coded, in the sense that they stressed the support for the right for the Scots to secede, but spent most emphasis on stressing the downside of such a separation.
But the English left need to wake up and smell the coffee. The independence referendum is probably in November 2010, and the options will be Yes or No – and no messing with mr in-between
Thanks again to all the speakers, and it was so nice to meet you. Sorry that i had to rush off so soon, and I hope we have an opportunity to catch up for longer at a future event.