A Year of Conter

This week marks a year since Conter launched. Editor Jonathan Rimmer looks back on the site’s achievements and contributions before outlining what comes next…

Conter launched on October 16 after months of preparation, consultation, editorial meetings and design hiccups. We reached out to other media and invited folk from across the Scottish left to take part and “debate key issues, share experiences or promote campaigns”. Admittedly, despite being as honest as we could from the outset in articles and videos, it took a wee while for many people to come to grips with what the site was trying to accomplish.

Excellent UK-wide platforms such as New Socialist had just launched, outlets like CommonSpace and Bella Caledonia already existed and provided a voice to sections of the pro-independence left, and Corbyn’s project in the Labour Party wasn’t short of new media outriders. Conter was being funded by RISE, a seasoned and committed collective of socialist activists, but how could the site remain truly editorially independent and reach out to all sections of the Scottish left? What did “non-sectarian” really mean?

A year on, though, I have never been so convinced that a space like Conter is absolutely necessary. ‘Space’ maybe sounds like a bit of a pretentious word due to its connotations, but it sums up what many on the Scottish left have being calling for. A non-judgmental space to vent, read and reflect. I genuinely hope the following isn’t interpreted as navel gazing but an honest reflection of what we’ve achieved, what we’ve tried to achieve, and what we’d like to do more of.

In an overt sense, we’ve sought to reach out to anti-capitalists on both sides of the independence divide, members of long-standing radical groups and parties and members of new ones. We’ve published articles and videos by members of the SNP, Labour, Scottish Greens, Scottish Socialist Party, RISE, the IMT and others, as well as plenty of writers and activists affiliated with none of the above. We’ve taken the editorial stance not to publish writers or groups with racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynistic, transphobic or sectarian views, but we’ve stayed well away from ultra-left infighting or disputes based on “tendency” or quibbles around Marxist theory.

That’s not because we don’t wish to encourage debate between different groups - as I’ll go onto outline, that’s exactly what we’ve tried to do - but there are countless sites and publications putting over their very specific vision about what a post-capitalist society ‘must’ look like. Rather, we’re keen to see a socialist political culture develop and flourish in Scotland, and that’s only possible when we engage with different ideas and learn from each other. As I expressed in the recent journal for Scottish Left Review, I believe there’s an arrogance to the tone of many leading Scottish political blogs and platforms and a sense that editors or columnists are attempting to impose a world view on you. In our ‘Thought’ section, we’re more interested in political education, both for us as editors and for you as contributors and readers. It’s all a learning curve.

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Many of the long-form essays we published on the site have divided opinion but not in a needlessly provocative sense. If anything, dialogue between activists on the Labour left and the pro-independence left have established common ground and developed key analysis on how we can come together to defeat our common enemy. This was articulated most clearly in our first ever podcast debate last month. But we’ve also been particularly keen to identify our movement’s weaknesses: we’ve invited people to speak out on the left’s failures on violence against women, as well as giving voice to young activists, women activists facing hostility and victims of racism among other things. Facing up to these issues is essential if we’re to develop a coherent, radical and intersectional movement against capitalism in this country. We’ve tried to make Conter as accessible as possible in that sense and give the microphone to members of marginalised groups, but we can still always do better.

Conter is not connected to a think tank and doesn’t necessarily advocate specific policies, but we recognise the importance of improving discourse, putting forth new arguments and influencing our own representatives. Editorial team member Eve Livingston, an award winning Glasgow-based journalist, has put together her ‘Conter Manifesto’ over the past few months, sharing Utopian policy ideas on housing, working week, universal basic services, maximum wages and free public transport. We’ve also recognised the importance of engaging with the big political questions that tend to split the radical left, namely Brexit, which we devoted an entire week of discussion to it in February.

On the other side, the ‘Action’ section of the site has attempted to build our political culture by promoting campaigns, providing snapshots from grassroots events, offering young trade unionists a platform to express what they’ve learned, and running articles/guides by activists on the frontline calling comrades to arms or undertaking direct action. Granted, as a site we don’t always have the resources to cover these events in real time in the same way many news sites do, but we always strive to get the perspective of those directly involved. This was true for the UCU lecturers’ strike, Winter occupation at Trongate, student occupations, the Glasgow arms fair protest and other battlefronts.

We’ve tried not to be passive or place too much pressure on the shoulders of activists when it comes to mobilising activists or imparting key messages. As an editorial team, we’ve been particularly proud of the series of FAQ-style guides put together in association with unions and campaign groups. Over the past year, we’ve put together handy Activist Guides on zero hour contracts, fighting sanctions, rented housing, homelessness in Glasgow, fracking and working conditions at the Edinburgh Fringe. We’ve also put together Radical Arts Guides on music and film, while publishing further discussion on class and the visual arts. These guides are simple, clear and easily structured for activists to use and share among anyone facing these issues. In the long run, we intend the Action section not only to be a place to advocate causes or share experiences but also a platform socialists can learn from and use for their own everyday activism.

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Since launching in October last year, our articles, videos and social media posts have been shared by thousands of you and clicked on by tens of thousands more. We’re incredibly grateful to those who have contributed to that because it’s allowed us to punch well above our weight. In truth, the site remains extremely limited in its scope, reach and resources. I’m the only paid member of staff and only on a part-time basis. This week, RISE meet to discuss its own next steps as a political organisation and activist group, but whatever the site’s funding arrangement or support we intend to keep pushing forward regardless.

There have been discussions about the best way to sustain the site in the long run so it can continue to be a platform for anti-capitalist commentary and activism. In the long run, we want to be able to pay contributors and fund other projects, and so are discussing setting up a donation button once our situation becomes clearer. In the short term, we intend to continue being pro-active, developing our podcast series into a bi-monthly segment and continuing to reach out to potential new contributors.

There’s plenty we can improve on: we want to be able to publish on a more regular basis and reach a more diverse array of voices. We want to move into areas of discussion where the Scottish left is traditionally weak or not vocal enough: climate justice and environmentalism more broadly. We’d also like to encourage more people to pitch social media vlogs and video ideas for the site; it’s a medium which continues to be under-explored and under-represented on the site, especially as we seek to connect with people casually reading and scrolling online.

Importantly, we want to continue to hear your feedback, ideas and pitches. You can email me at editor@conter.co.uk and sign up to our monthly reading list here (the hyperlink should now be fixed after the GDPR frenzy!). Thanks to all supporting the site - here’s to another year.

@rimmerjourno