This article first appeared in the latest edition of The Irish Voice and can be downloaded here.
By Jim Slaven
Last month the James Connolly Society hosted one of the most significant political events for Scotland’s Irish community in decades. People from throughout Scotland attended the Connolly Conference 2013 to listen to speakers from Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland discuss issues of importance to our community. The event also included an exhibition from the Let Us Rise! social history project. This exhibition looks at Connolly’s legacy in Scotland and the struggle to commemorate his life in Edinburgh.
The opening session on Scotland’s constitutional future the conference was addressed by Liam O’Hare from the Radical Independence Campaign who argued that Scotland could benefit from independence and the ability to choose a radical future separate from the UK state. Also during this session David Hewitt from the JCS outlined his personal journey from SNP organiser to Irish republican activist and set out the JCS case that a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum was a strategic priority for Irish republicans in Scotland.
There followed a talk by Dr Mark Hayes of Southampton University on the politics of anti-Fascism. Setting the SDL and BNP in a historical and political context. Stephen Lees of Tal Fanzine then gave some examples of Anti Fascist Action’s battles with the BNP in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The session ended with a discussion on the role of anti Irish racism and the need to republicans to organise politically in Scotland to combat the far right.
During the day long event the JCS also launched two key initiatives. Firstly the republished James Connolly Songbook and CD with songs by Scots Irish folk singer Stephen Dodds. Then there was the launch of the JCS Welfare Department’s Christmas appeal. This annual appeal send specially printed Christmas cards to political prisoners throughout the world. The Welfare Department, which was established by the JCS in 1992, last year sent over 1000 card to political prisoners in more than twelve countries on four continents.
The main section of the conference was entitled Finished Ireland’s Revolution and the keynote address was delivered by National Chairperson of the 1916 Societies Barry Montieth. An independent republican councillor in Dungannon he set out the case for an all Ireland referendum. Arguing that the proposed British border poll cannot deliver the reunification of Ireland and that what was required was a constitutional referendum which, as in Scotland, would allow all the people of the nation to vote and determine their own constitutional future. Councillor Monteith also set out the 1916 Societies strategy for Scotland, key to which is building a republican alternative based on politics.
The Connolly Conference 2013 was a huge success. Bringing together not just members of the JCS from throughout Scotland but people from other republican groups, trade unions, political organisations and the Green Brigade. The whole day was about creating space for people to come together to debate, discuss and strategise. Each section was followed by a question and answer session facilitated by Edinburgh’s active citizenship group. This allowed people to contribute to the conference and created a fantastic atmosphere of solidarity and comradeship. The day ended with a special conference concert by Scots Irish folk group Mise Eire and with people already planning Connolly Conference 2014.
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