Friday, May 04, 2007

Don't mourn, organise


Last night I was watching the election coverage on BBC Scotland, and the omens were all there. A helicopter crashed bringing ballot boxes from the Western Isles. A ship ran aground in the Clyde bringing a ballot box from Arran, and a man went berserk in an Edinburgh polling booth, smashing open three ballot boxes with a golf club and ripping up scores of ballot papers. With a golf club? It was after all Edinburgh.

I had visions for a moment that this might be an alternative strategy for the left, and was fearing that the police would issue a statement that they were looking for a tall man in his late forties, with a hedgehog of dark bushy hair and an ear-ring, but I am sure Colin doesn’t own a golf club.

Switching channels briefly to BBC England I was lucky to catch Jon Cruddas MP who I am increasingly impressed with. He did a very good interview where he managed to stay within the Labour party envelope, but also make some very telling points that if Labour doesn’t start delivering on issues that benefit its core supporters, particularly housing then it will be in trouble. Opinion polls suggest that Cruddas’s campaign for the deputy leadership is not finding a resonance with individual party members, which is a very revealing indicator of how profound the weakness of the Labour left really is.

The election coverage in Wales was dreadful, they managed to interview Trish Law AM without asking her why she was standing against Labour, or any political questions at all. And there was a very excitable and young BBC reporter from Newport who was uncritically relating that Newport’s Tories were really excited because they had had a fantastic campaign and were expecting an upset. Whereas in truth, the chances of the Tories ever winning Newport are slightly less than George Galloway becoming leader of the AWL. John Marek lost Wrexham by the way, and Ron Davis came third in Caerphilly, but with an impressive 22% of the vote. Meanwhile the BNP came just 2580 votes short of winning a seat in the Welsh assembly, polling around 5% across Wales.

(By the way, a whiel ago i conducted a very intersting interview with Ron Davies.:

So what about Scotland?

I am writing this before the full results are in, but unless Colin Fox achieves a significant personal vote in Lothians (count delayed due to golf club man), it looks like the SSP will have no MSPs. What is more their vote has suffered badly, and in some cases they have polled less than Arthur Scargill’s SLP. Four years ago the SSP secured almost ten times as many votes as the SLP.

Obviously there will be a degree of demoralisation, and there needs to be some reflection. The loss of the MSPs will also have a serious financial impact on the party.

These are some provisional comments of mine, based upon discussions I have had with comrades in Scotland. I offer them in the spirit of fraternal and constructive commentary, with all the humility appropriate to an Englishman living hundreds of miles away!

Elections are fought on a terrain largely outwith the control of the minor parties, both the SSP and Solidarity have probably suffered by some progressive voters switching to the SNP given that independence became the major issue.

Despite the well founded contempt that socialist activists have for Tommy Sheridan, he is a very accomplished and professional politician with an appeal to the wider electorate. Without Sheridan the electoral appeal of the SSP was diminished – this even without the negative impact of the court case and press coverage of the split.

The last four years have seen a relative loss of momentum for many SSP activists. The result of having six MSPs was to demobilise the membership to a degree, as the SSP didn’t really manage to carry through a debate involving the whole membership about the need to remain a campaigning party. That is not to say that SSP activists were not involved in several campaigns, but I understand this involved fewer of the membership. The burden for a small party of providing the infrastructure and support for the MSPs was also a factor, in pulling the party’s few resources towards Hollyrood, and away from the communities. There was no easy answer to these problems, as they were the necessary consequences of growth and success.

To a certain degree the difficulties of the SSP over the last four years were exacerbated by the SWP and CWI factions fighting a guerrilla war within the party, which further excluded the bulk of members who were not animated by the same concerns as the opposition platforms.

At the same time, there was a neglect of developing the education of party members, and promoting their inclusion in party activities, especially outside the central belt. And these less integrated members were cynically manipulated by Sheridan and the opposition platforms in the build up of the court case.

As a consequence, of all these factors the recent election campaign was fought enthusiastically and brilliantly, but with only a relatively small proportion of the SSP’s membership actively involved.

Sheridan’s shameful defection to Solidarity, and his attacks on other socialists using the mainstream press, have damaged the SSP’s electoral support.

Despite the somewhat better electoral performance of Solidarity, the model of that party is not one that can provide a long term attractive home for militant activists. Some will think I am sectarian for saying this, but the worst possible result was Sheridan being elected without the SSP winning a seat, as this would have bolstered the Solidarity organisation, which is an obstacle to the task ff building an inclusive left party. This worst possible outcome has been avoided.

The SSP remains an inclusive, activist party, and despite these electoral set backs it still provides the foundations for future growth.

Finally, thanks to Colin Fox, Carolyn Leckie, Frances Curran and of course the marvellous and inspiring Rosie Kane for their brilliant work over the last four years. They have been outstanding representatives for the socialist left, and an example to us all.


Ken said...

One correction - the helicopter didn't crash. It couldn't take off because of fog.

The other big story of the election is the shambles of the vote-counting, with thousands of unintentionally spoiled ballots.

Anonymous said...

The dead end of left nationalism...

Lynsey said...

Why is it that out of touch ultra lefts feel it is necessary to put their own prejudices on to the real reasons for a slump in the socialist vote?

Have fun sitting on the sidelines, guys!

Anonymous said...

Well call me simple minded, but it seems to me

(1) The SSP and Sheridan both did badly after the split - so they should both have worked harder to avoid the split

(2) Sheridan did less badly than the whole of the SSP - so the SSP were wrong not to try and hang on to Sheridan

AN said...

I don't now whether you are refering to me as an ultra left on the sidelines Lynsey,

but my observations were offered in the spirit of constructive commentary, becasue the drop in the SSP vote will have an impact on those if us in Englkand who are serious about left regroupment and renewal.

AN said...

Ken - thanks for the factual correction about the helicopter, I will leave my post inaccurate for comic effect!

Mark p said...

Some will think I am sectarian for saying this, but the worst possible result was Sheridan being elected without the SSP winning a seat, as this would have bolstered the Solidarity organisation, which is an obstacle to the task f building an inclusive left party.

You are a sectarian for saying this.

More generally, I think that both left formations in Scotland face an uncertain future.

The SSP, already demoralised and much reduced, has just been absolutely butchered at the polls. I don't just mean that they lost their seats. I mean that they generally finished 12th or 13th, behind the various Christian parties and the BNP. The SLP managed a higher vote by not actually existing in Scotland, which is a fairly damning verdict. In the areas declared so far, they have been trounced by Solidarity, who themselves have done poorly. They also seem to have lost their Glasgow council seat.

This will, inevitably, have drastic consequences. It will further demoralise the ranks and lead to even more people dropping out. It will allow the media to portray them as irrelevant, which will do more damage. And, not to forget the financial implications of all this on a party which was already deep in the red. The parliamentary money is gone, which will mean an end to most of the fulltime staff.

I don't think that the SSP is going to entirely disappear, but I do think that it is an open question if anything of much significance will remain in a year. How many actual activists did they have left after the split, discounting the huge number of paper members? How many will they have left once all of this sinks in?

At the same time, Solidarity: SSSM also faces an uncertain future, for slightly different reasons. It too will have taken a morale hit - polling a multiple of the SSP tally isn't much use if you lose out too. But there are other issues to consider, namely Sheridan and the SWP. Sheridan is currently talking about continuing to build Solidarity, but who knows what will happen, particularly with the various ongoing legal stuff.

The SWP are an open question. They seemed to expect to be the dominant force in Solidarity and when that did not happen, there are rumours that they rather scaled back their involvement. Without Sheridan in parliament what exactly is holding these groups together?

Louisefeminista said...

Mark P: Why is that statement sectarian?

I think you need a sharp political analysis of the political situation in Scotland and Solidarity (whether the intention or not) was built on the cult of the personality that is Sheridan and in bad faith as well.

And Mark emphasises this with the comment, "without Sheridan in parliament what exactly holding these groups together"?

Solidarity could indeed collapse but the SSP has greater potentiality to rebuild itself. It doesn't revolve around the "cult of the personality" and engages in real class struggle.

All I would say to demoralised SSPers is don't give up the fight.

I am a LP member but I still have much admiration for the SSP for the work they do (if I lived in Scotland I would join SSP).

Mark P said...

I think it's sectarian because it puts the advantage of the group Andy happens to support ahead of the needs of the working class - in this case the need to have a socialist voice representing the working class in parliament.

As for the rest of your post Louise, I agree with part of what you are saying, in that I do think that Solidarity are more likely to collapse altogether than the rump SSP. On the other hand I think that Solidarity also have much more potential to build something significant. It's a more unstable formation with both greater possibilities and bigger dangers.

By contrast, while I think it is almost certain to survive in some form, the SSP is extremely unlikely in my view to do anything other than continue a demoralised and embittered decline.