Tommy Sheridan: bathing in the colours of nationalism

Following the logic of nationalism

Solidarity is heading for deserved oblivion, writes Peter Manson

Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity group, formed in 2006 as a split from the Scottish Socialist Party, took another big step towards deserved oblivion over the weekend with its vote to support the Scottish National Party in the May 7 general election.

Around 65 comrades, according to Socialist Worker, attended a specially reconvened conference on the afternoon of March 14 to decide Solidarity’s attitude to the election. Sheridan, in the words of Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International, “has been calling for a vote for the ... SNP at the Westminster elections since the days following the independence referendum in September last year”.1 And, since what Tommy says and what Solidarity does are virtually one and the same thing, this was the de facto position of the organisation - much to the discomfort of Solidarity’s two main participating organisations, the CWI’s Socialist Party Scotland and the Socialist Workers Party.

So Saturday’s conference was the two groups’ last chance to reverse that position and win what is left of Solidarity to back the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in May. It says a lot about the strength and influence of the two groups north of the border that in such a small gathering they were unable to win the argument - the conference decided to urge those who had voted ‘yes’ in September 2014 to “consider lending their vote to SNP candidates on the basis of continued support for independence, nuclear disarmament and in opposition to unacceptable and unnecessary austerity cuts to public services and jobs”.

The reaction of SPS was to immediately walk out, since it claimed the decision marked “a significant move away from a principled socialist position and is a step to the right politically”. For its part, the SWP has clearly not yet decided whether or not to follow suit, for the tiny Socialist Worker report merely states that SWP members at the conference “argued against this” and called on Solidarity to campaign for Tusc.2

But neither the SWP nor SPS, it goes without saying, is concerned about the SNP’s nationalism - for them the sole problem is the fact that Sturgeon’s party, in Holyrood and in council chambers across Scotland, in practice implements cuts. As SPS says of the decision to recommend an SNP vote, “This has been done at the same time as the SNP-run Scottish government and local councils have been carrying out brutal Tory austerity.” By contrast, “genuine anti-austerity, trade union and socialist candidates are standing under the banner of the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition”.

Yes, the SNP, like the Greens in Brighton, Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland and Syriza in Greece, have found themselves fronting state bodies responsible for implementing austerity. In every case members of these anti-austerity parties declare that they have no alternative, and in a way that is accurate. Despite the insistence of Tusc, and in particular the Socialist Party in England and Wales, that various financial devices can be employed by local councils to avoid cuts to services, these can be no more than delaying measures. Either those heading state bodies eventually force through cuts or, sooner or later, they will be replaced by those more willing to do so.

And that, as the example of Greece demonstrates, applies to independent states as much as to local authorities. Just as Syriza has been forced, kicking and screaming, to accept it must oversee most of the troika’s austerity measures, so a sovereign Scotland would equally be trapped by the constraints of global capital. No single state can opt out of the world capitalist system - unless it is prepared to ‘do an Albania’ and preside over desperate poverty and even starvation.

The problem, then, is not that the SNP, the Greens or Syriza are not opposed to austerity: the problem is the global order that forces them into line if they agree to take office. Of course, a local authority can make a symbolic stand, as did the Labour council of Clay Cross in the early 1970s, when it refused to increase rents in line with the Housing Finance Act of 1972. But, in the absence of a mass campaign of solidarity, such a stand will remain just that - symbolic. In January 1973, 11 Labour councillors were declared by the district auditor to be “guilty of negligence and misconduct”,3 ordered to pay a personal surcharge to make good some of the money they had ‘squandered’ and banned from holding public office for five years.

The point is that the SNP is not only a bourgeois party, but one that claims that independence would permit Scotland to opt out of the austerity imposed by Westminster. This is a nationalist illusion that acts as a diversion against the common interests of the working class, whose task it is to unitedly resist the attacks of capital and pursue our own, proletarian agenda. Yet SPS and the SWP not only bought into this claim: they actively campaigned for independence - which, of course, would have resulted in an SNP government, however reluctantly, “carrying out brutal Tory austerity” in Scotland: this time when it was presiding over a separate sovereign state.

According to SPS, “The independence referendum saw 1.6 million people vote ‘yes’ in what was a working class revolt against austerity and the political establishment.” As I have explained, that is only half the story. Yes, a good proportion voted for independence because they believed the SNP narrative: an independent Scotland would somehow be immune from the effects of capital’s global ills and be able to end austerity. The job of revolutionary socialists was not to encourage such nonsense, but to stand firm against divisive nationalism - of both the British and Scottish variety. Tactically, under the circumstances, that meant urging a boycott of the referendum - neither the status quo nor the false, illusory alternative on offer.

The left dismally failed the test. It encouraged the nationalist illusion. In this context, at least Tommy Sheridan and the Solidarity majority are acting consistently: if you sincerely believe that an independent Scotland will serve working class interests and strike a blow against capitalism, then logically you should vote for the only party able to deliver that independence - in UK as well as Scottish elections.

The CWI reports that, instead of voting SNP, “Socialist Party Scotland urged Tommy to help launch a new party/movement following the referendum ...” Similarly, Socialist Worker states that SWP members within Solidarity “also called for a stronger, more united left in Scotland to resist austerity”.

If it was not so sad, it would be amusing. Both organisations were demanding “a stronger, more united left” on the basis of nationalism. Both have been marching along this diversionary route for years now. Both groups happily went along with the SSP’s demand for an “independent socialist Scotland”. The CWI even divided its forces in Britain into two separate ‘parties’ - what eventually became SPS in Scotland, and the organisation with the totally apposite acronym south of the border: SPEW.



1. CWI statement, March 16: www.socialistworld.net/doc/7129.

2. Socialist Worker March 17.

3. The Times January 19 1973.