Alarm bells ringing
Just over 40 people attended the Socialist Forum ’98 meeting in Glasgow on Saturday, April 18 to discuss how to “shape the future of the left” in Scotland, as the flyer advertising the event put it. This leaflet outlined the important areas of discussion the meeting would be looking at:
“Will support for progressive policies increasingly be linked to demands for greater powers for the Scottish parliament? Should socialists call for an independent Scotland? … should a new Scottish Socialist Party be born in time for the May 1999 elections?”
The forum’s low turnout possibly reflects the fact that for many, the ‘debate’ was actually over before it began. Working class politics in Scotland are now thoroughly contaminated by nationalism. Scottish Militant Labour looks set on a course of liquidation into a Scottish Socialist Party, taking at least the majority of the Scottish Socialist Alliance with it. The bulk of discussion on the day therefore revolved around details of the form and timetable.
However such a move is dressed up, it is in fact a collapse into left nationalism. The class struggle in Scotland is not qualitatively in advance of the rest of Britain. The consciousness of the Scots is not - as some platform speakers claimed on the day - somehow genetically programmed towards ‘socialism’. In fact, it should be the task of socialists in Scotland to fight the growth of nationalism and oppose separatism, not accommodate and actually champion it.
Some comrades in Glasgow cited recently published opinion polls that show a small majority in favour of independence. So the left should argue for unity from a minority position. Yet the sickening truth is that if you conducted the same survey on the left, you would also end up with an overwhelming majority for independence. Organisations like SML are now in the vanguard of advocating the break-up of the workers’ movement in Britain along the lines of nationality.
We have made the point repeatedly that nationalism must be fought with the principle of ‘one state, one party’. At the 11th hour, Peter Taaffe of the Socialist Party is trying to beat this growing cancer with nothing more than tactical disagreements. Taaffe does not reckon that getting Tommy Sheridan into the Scottish parliament is a price worth paying for losing his organisation in Scotland - he thinks like a merchant. Even at this level however, some perfectly correct points can be made.
In last week’s paper, we reprinted the reply of the SP executive committee to the proposals coming from Scotland. These comrades make the point about the potential space such an SSP would occupy: “We … have to keep a sense of proportion about the strength of our forces at this stage and those forces which could be attracted to a new party” (Weekly Worker April 16). Similarly, the SP EC ask if there is any “guarantee [of] the inclusion of a significant section of the Scottish Labour Party dissidents in the new party”.
In fact, the space that the projected SSP is attempting to occupy could easily be closed even by a tactical feint by the Scottish National Party. This much larger and well established political formation already has a defined leftwing image, and leaders quite capable of talking ‘socialism’ if it suits their purposes. A member of the SNP at Saturday’s meeting spoke enthusiastically of the development of an SSP. It broadens the nationalist camp and might be a prelude for a leftwing influx into the SNP itself.
The liquidation of SML and the SSA into a Pilsudskiite SSP should set alarm bells ringing throughout the workers’ movement. The historically progressive unity of the working class in Britain is being attacked in, of all things, the name of socialism. We have more than sufficient sufficient examples from history to understand that SML now seems set on a course that takes them into very dangerous waters.