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.