SWP dithers on Scottish independence

Allan Green, national secretary of the Scottish Socialist Party, attended the October 22 aggregate of the Socialist Workers Party. Here, in his official report, he shows how far the SWP is prepared to compromise its principles for the sake of getting into the SSP

The Socialist Workers Party held a Scotland-wide aggregate in Edinburgh on Sunday afternoon October 22. There were around 120 at the aggregate. Almost all of the SWP speakers from the floor were from Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow, with the overwhelming majority from Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The Scottish Socialist Party had four observers in attendance - Colin Fox, Catriona Grant, Allan Green and Philip Stott. Allan Green passed on greetings from the SSP to the aggregate and, briefly, outlined the SSP's proposals for guidelines to be agreed by the memberships of both parties prior to the SWP joining the SSP.

The first session discussed a verbal report by Julie Waterson from the SWP central committee on general perspectives. Julie Waterson said that the Seattle protests were symptomatic of the massive international rejection of ruling class ideas. She argued that this is an exciting period for revolutionaries, who should be prepared to "think globally and act locally". She said that smaller SWP "campaigning branches" are vital and that the SWP has to be prepared to end old routines and change organisationally in order to march with those who are looking for alternatives to the status quo.

Chris Bambery (SWP CC) said that the SWP should concentrate on big, city-wide meetings in conjunction with local campaigning. He announced that an SWP student organiser had been assigned to Scotland.

Much of the discussion that followed echoed JW's introduction, with around 12 contributors outlining local branch experiences of "campaigning branch" activity, perceived shifts in working class attitudes, paper sales and recruitment. There were three speakers on positive SWSS interventions amongst students, who were increasingly looking to discuss 'big ideas'. Two speakers cautioned that socialists face a long-term battle as the moods in the working class are on the move, but volatile and contradictory. One speaker said that the SWP's early 'united front' approaches to other socialists had been clumsy but, with experience, they have been improving.

The SWP CC tabled the motion below:

"This meeting welcomes the letter from the Scottish Socialist Party of June 26 inviting 'the SWP in Scotland to join the Scottish Socialist Party, as an organised platform. The SSP is a democratic and pluralist party and our constitution allows groups to organise in support of political viewpoints.'

"Accordingly we are in favour of the leadership of the two parties continuing their discussions around this invitation.

"We would welcome a unified socialist organisation in Scotland within which revolutionary Marxists have the freedom to develop and pursue their ideas. An SSP involving all socialists in Scotland would provide a focus for those breaking with New Labour and for those involved in the growing anti-capitalist movement. It could provide the basis from which to organise far more effective campaigns, solidarity activity and so on.

"We believe that the Falkirk West Westminster by-election offers a historic opportunity for socialists in Scotland and that all socialists should throw their full weight behind the SSP's campaign. SWP comrades will do all they can to help in the campaign on the same basis as we have done in the London Socialist Alliance. We will distribute the official SSP campaign material and will not sell our own publications or distribute our own material on the doorstep. We will of course retain the right to sell our publications to those we are campaigning with.

"We welcome the SSP's decision to try to contest every seat at the coming Westminster general election. If the two parties have not reached an agreement on unity by then we wish to assure the SSP that we will participate in their campaign. We will do so in the same way as outlined above, we will help raise the necessary finances and would welcome the possibility of SWP comrades standing as SSP candidates as part of the overall campaign."

An amendment, from Mark Brown (Glasgow), was also read out - to add another point, making SWP membership of the SSP (and participation in any further talks) conditional on the SWP being able to continue with public sales of Socialist Worker.

Chris Bambery moved the CC motion. He said the SWP welcomes the SSP's plans to contest all 72 general election seats and recognises the enormous potential of the SSP as a united socialist party. CB said that recent campaigns have highlighted the genuine mood in the working class for unity. CB said that the SWP were not interested in an entry operation in the SSP nor a smash and grab raid, but said the SWP could further boost the growth of the SSP beyond the sum of the two parts.

CB said that, however, the SWP and SSP were in an unusual position for parties considering coming together as there has not been an extended period of joint activity, but there has been some "bad blood". Therefore, it was important for the SWP to campaign vigorously in the Falkirk by-election: both to achieve a good result and to help develop positive experiences of SWP and SSP comrades working together.

CB reported on the four meetings between representatives of the SWP and SSP as being conducted in a good atmosphere but there are two sticking points that require further discussion.

Firstly, the public sales of Socialist Worker and the weekly activity of SWP members. CB said there was perhaps potential for agreement with the SSP over a weekly Scottish Socialist Voice, with SWP input. Secondly, CB felt there was a contradiction with the SSP attempting to build a broad party, yet seeking centralisation on campaigning priorities. CB said SWP/IS traditions of anti-war, anti-racist and other campaigning should be recognised. Again, however, he said there was a need for further discussion with the SSP.

CB said that, after further discussions with the SSP, the SWP CC would bring any agreement back to a further Scottish SWP meeting, perhaps around February 2001. In the meantime, it was important for the SWP to keep on building, especially in student work, and developing its education programme. CB opposed the amendment as sectarian and said, if passed, it would end discussions with the SSP.

Mark Brown, speaking to his amendment, argued that the SSP's paper would reflect its confused politics - leftwing nationalist and centrist. MB said the SWP cannot be revolutionary without a revolutionary paper and it would be a betrayal of the SWP's revolutionary traditions if the SW paper were not sold publicly.

There were 18 further contributions from the floor: 13 supported the motion and were against the amendment; three supported the amendment; and two speakers reflected uncertainty over their final decision. One speaker also raised the possibility of shadow SWP structures, but did not push the point and received no further support.

The three speakers supporting the amendment expressed their views of the SSP differently. One did not mention the SSP but was worried about the SWP dissolving itself. Another said that, although the SSP would grow, its politics were nationalist and nationalism leads workers to defeat and, as the SSP was riven by contradictions, it would eventually split - therefore, the SWP should continue with the revolutionary SW. The third praised the enthusiasm and practice of SSP members, but believed it would be possible to sell SW publicly and be part of the SSP.

The 13 speakers for the motion/against the amendment were all generally positive about the SSP - several expressly saying that MB's description of the SSP and its members does not tally with their experiences. Most spoke of the need for different structures for different periods and this was consistent with past Marxist practice. Most also expressed variations on the theme that it was important to relate to where the workers are (referring to the earlier session). Several said that the SWP should have confidence in themselves and try to win the SSP to its politics. Some indicated that there would be no problem just selling SW internally in the SSP but more said that, at least, the SSV would need to be weekly.

Several of the speakers expressed the importance of the SWP throwing its weight into the Falkirk by-election campaign. Other than the two speakers for the amendment who perceived the SSP as left nationalist, there was very little discussion on the national question. One speaker said the SWP should not be worried by the "independent socialist Scotland" slogan of the SSP.

Chris Bambery, summing up, said the logic of the SWP's LSA/SA work in England was, in Scotland, to join the SSP and this should be seen in the context of an international realignment process taking place: e.g., the IS in Italy, although small, works in Communist Refoundation. CB said that, providing the SWP is free to propagate revolutionary ideas, the SWP should seek to join the SSP - not as an entry party, but to build the SSP. CB said that more joint activity, information and discussion were all necessary before reaching a final decision.

The amendment was then overwhelmingly defeated - 11 votes for, 70-plus against, and four abstentions.

The motion was then overwhelmingly carried - four votes against.

The SWP CC and the big majority of SWP Scottish members at the aggregate are serious about wanting to join the SSP. They are clearly indicating that they intend to approach the SSP with a spirit of unity and intent to build the SSP. There are a number of unresolved political and organisational issues that still need to be addressed in further discussions.

Outstanding matters for discussion remain: public sales of SSV/SW; guidelines for platforms; and use of resources and finances.

Whilst not unduly delaying the talks process, it would also be important to try to get a clearer understanding of where the SWP as a whole in Scotland stands with regard to our key slogan "for an independent socialist Scotland". During the four discussion meetings between SSP/SWP representatives the SWP have said they are aware of the SSP position and it is not a problem. However, this position did not explicitly express itself (one way or another) at the SWP aggregate.

The SSP executive is, therefore, still not in a position to formulate a conference motion on the SWP joining the SSP. Nevertheless, on balance, the experience of the SWP aggregate suggests that unity may be another step closer.