Friday, September 29, 2006

Scottish Socialist Party alive and well

MSP Frances Curran's bill for a free nutritous meal for every Scottish school child is just starting its journey through parliament in Edinburgh. This exemplifies what the SSP is all about - a campaigning party that is looking not only to socialism some time in the future, but also campiagning for practical socialist measures now that will bring improvements to the lives and health of working class people here and now. If passed this bill will transform the health of Scottish children within one generation. To learn more about the details of the Bill, the consultation document produced in the run up is a good source of information. (PDF)

I will write more about the bill later, but it is worth looking at the state of the SSP after its recent difficulties . KEN FERGUSON - Convenor of Tay Coast SSP - wrote the following article in yesterday's Morning Star.

SINCE its formation as a unified socialist party, the SSP has inspired thousands not just in Scotland but in the movement across the world. Growing from several roots, the SSP was formed out of the Scottish Socialist Alliance and was a serious attempt to bring a range of different socialist traditions together in a left-wing version of "big tent" politics.

It attempted to combine parliamentary and extraparliamentary politics together in what was not either an electoralist or a vanguard party but what was described as a "combat party."
The SSP can be found opposing closures, supporting strikes, opposing motorways, backing communities against NHS and council cuts and fighting elections.

The process was given a major boost by the fact that, throughout the Thatcher years, Scotland resisted her agenda and, although this happened elsewhere, in Scotland, there was the added dimension of the national question. The savage attacks, from pit closures to the poll tax, which was trialled first in Scotland, had both a social aspect and, increasingly, a national dimension.
Put simply, parts of the left asked the question, if Britain wants Thatcher and we don't, why not back an independent Scotland?

Readers should understand that the call for a parliament dealing with Scottish affairs goes back to the pioneers of Keir Hardie's time and that the modern campaign was led by the STUC.
The victory of Tommy Sheridan in the first Scottish Parliament, followed four years later by that of six SSP members, was a direct consequence of the more democratic electoral system used in Edinburgh. This is similar to the list system used in Germany, which gives parties seats if they gain a certain percentage of votes across a region.

The events of this summer, with lurid sex headlines culminating not just in Sheridan's court victory but in an organised attempt to wreck the SSP, have put much of this at risk.
However, the initial evidence suggests that, despite highly opportunist backing from both the SWP and the CWI, the misnamed Solidarity looks likely to fail.

The vast majority of members stayed with the SSP, with organisation in the key central belt solid. The party is turning outwards and is about to table a key Scottish Parliament Bill for the provision of free school meals which has won widespread support from medical, educational and campaigning groups.

The latest post-split opinion poll put the SSP on 6 per cent, just one point below its winning level of 2003. The party is also showing signs of opening up education and policy making and this more open approach is likely to win support at the SSP conference in early October.

There is also the question of what direction the non-Labour radical forces will take, particularly in the current context of rising support for independence, with recent polls now showing a majority of Scots voters supporting it. The right-wing offensive inside the SNP has seen a considerable softening of its previous left positions, with the adoption of a heavily pro-business posture while retaining opposition to Trident and the Iraq war.

In an uncanny echo of the birth of new Labour, the "new" SNP has been vying with the new Labour/Liberal executive to prove who can manage the status quo most effectively.
The SNP leadership will also put independence on the back burner, with demands for an independence referendum now coming at the end of a SNP government's first term. The thinking seems to be that, if the voters see it running the devolved services first, they will trust it with an independent state.

With the Scottish Greens actively courting a place in any post-2007 election coalition with either the Scottish National Party or new Labour, left greens have much to ponder. They have to square working with a government which, on the one hand, proclaims its "green" credentials in support for renewable energy while, on the other, building motorways and bankrolling air travel growth.

The reality is, as the SSP argues, that you need to be red to be green. In other words, only a challenge to planet-trashing corporate power can lay the basis for green collective solutions on issues such as energy supply, public transport, health and housing.

Free school meals are a shining example of this approach.
A recent report showed that 10 years of healthy eating helplines, food tsars, advertising and advice on food content have had virtually no impact on Scotland's bad health record.
Yet, where a policy of providing free, nutritious school meals was adopted in Hull, the take-up rate went from 36 per cent to 64 per cent.

SSP MSP Frances Curran is piloting a Bill in the Holyrood parliament to introduce free school meals and it will be interesting to see how much support is forthcoming from the parties who daily lecture us about children's eating habits.

The politics of the period between now and 2007 - the 300th anniversary of the union treaty setting up the UK Parliament - will be highly fluid and unpredictable. Which way will the Lib Dems, the India rubber men of Scottish politics, jump? Can new Labour halt its current downward spiral with Blair at the helm?

For pro-independence socialists and radicals, 2007 can be the moment when we break the blood-stained imperialist British state, meeting the democratic needs of Scots and punching a hole in the current pro-war forces led by Bush and Blair.

However, to win this, they will have to put aside illusions about alliances or deals based on pro-market ideas, work patiently for an agreed way forward and for policies which challenge the pro-business, pro-war agenda of the current Scottish Executive.


David Broder said...

Interesting that Solidarity have almost nothing on their website and haven't produced any publications...

Even Permanent Revolution were quicker to get going after their split from Workers' Power

AN said...

In fairness - there was more evidence of Solidarity than the SSP on last weekends demo in manchester - but I overheard some of the people carrying Solidarity placcards and I am sure they were English SP members.

It will be interesting for example whether Solidarity produce any placards and lefakets for the "Independe First - Democracy March" on 30th Spetember in Edinburgh.

BUt don't hold your breath for the Solidarity publications, as part of the fall out of the splpit is that gthe SWP and CWI will be selling their own publications instead of the much better SSV.

Paulie Shore said...

The main article smacks of a faintly desperate attempt to reassure SSP members rather than a serious assessment of the difficulties now facing the organisation. Any honest SSP sympathiser (and I include myself in that group) has to be aware that the examples given of the SSP's continued success are deliberately misleading.

The "majority of the membership" claim is true in the technical sense... ie a large majority of the membership were always entirely passive paper members and those people mostly remain on the books. The actual activist split is three way, with some staying, some going with Sheridan and some just dropping out. The biggest single group may be those who stay, but its too early to tell.

The 6% opinion poll part is blatantly dishonest. The poll was taken before the split and with no reference to the Tommy party. All but the most self-deluding of us know that it represents mostly a bounce for Tommy after his court win. Once that fades I don't think either the SSP or Solidarity will be anywhere near 6% in the polls. There is little or no chance that any of the SSP MSPs will keep their seats.

By the way AN, the SWP and CWI always sold their own publications when they were in the SSP.

AN said...


Didn't the deall whereby the SWP and CWI joined the SSP prevent them doing street sales of their papers?

I thought they were only able to sell them at meetings, to private contacts, or at workplaces.

Is that incorrect - it is certainly what i remeber being tols as an SWP member when they joined.

badmatthew said...

Selling their papers? Yep, I thought what Andy said was the deal, but weren't there always tensions and accusations.... But I can't agree that SSV was or is a better paper than Socialist Worker.
Meanwhile I think Paulie is right about that 6% figure and the comrades are just spinning or hyping for political advantage, but do't we all? And I think you write off Solidarity too quickly - their launch rally was a success and the SWP will put some welly into building Solidarity.

Also: news from the Sept 30th rally you mention would be good.

PS I did see someone with SSV in Manchester: do I win a prize?

dafad ddu said...

It ain't all over with the News of the Screws... what chance Solidarity's main asset going to prison for perjury?

Liam Mac Uaid said...

The deal was that there would be no public sales but that there would continue to be a range of publications which could be sold internally. It's true that the SSP contingent last weak was disappointing.
For those who are interested Socialist Resistance is hosting a meeting with Frances Curran in London at the end of the month.
As some of us predicted the Sheridan affair is going to be the undoing of Solidarity. That's what happens when you lie to the class and are working with people who refuse to.

Jen said...

HMMM that was a very interesting issue of the News of the World.

I am really curious to see what the SWP do now.

AN said...

No prize I'm afraid matthew, unless they were deffo scots - I saw some English ISG coomrades selling SSV.

AN said...

What is the date of that meeting Liam?

paulie shore said...

Just to clear up the part about the "deal": There was no deal with the CWI when they joined the SSP because they were in it from the beginning. There was a deal with the SWP, which did involve them agreeing to stop selling Socialist Worker publically and which also involved Scottish Socialist Voice being made more regular.

Seperately from the deal with the SWP, the party as a whole introduced "guidelines" which indicated that SSV rather than platform publications should be sold in public. The fact that these were guidelines rather than rules mean that they were never enforced.

In practice the CWI always sold their paper openly and said that they had no intention of following the guidelines. The SWP formally supported the guidelines and voted in favour of them at conference, but in practice ignored them. They had a different style to the CWI though, pulling stunts like walking around demonstrations with one copy of SSV wrapped around a number of Socialist Workers.

To be fair to the CWI, if someone had a go at them they would always point out that their members sold more SSVs than most members of the party and that their own paper sales were additional to rather than instead of selling SSV.