WeeklyWorker

25.06.1998
Tommy Sheridan SMP?

SSA plunges into nationalism

The third annual conference of the Scottish Socialist Alliance on June 20 was a far smaller affair than in previous years, and, because of the lack of any substantial opposition, quite a tame event. Tommy Sheridan, from the chair, was full of enthusiasm about the gains which the Alliance has made. But looking around at the 50 or so members present - 40 down on last year - this was far from convincing.

The only movement has been to the right. Nationalism has taken a grip on Scottish Militant Labour and the SSA. Rumours abound that SML has lost members to the Scottish National Party - possibly one reason for the low attendance. Reflecting fear of being left high and dry, the leadership emphasised the urgent need to change the main slogan of the SSA to a call for an “independent socialist Scotland”. Furthermore, while positive predictions for next year’s elections to the Scottish parliament still exist, they are now tempered with the warning that even comrade Sheridan might not get elected if separatism remains the exclusive property of the SNP. The leadership was confident about getting its way at the conference, but far less upbeat about the immediate prospects.

The first half of the conference was spent discussing and voting on the strategic direction of the SSA. The National Council’s motion calling for the SSA to adopt a position in favour of an ‘independent socialist Scotland’ was moved by Alan McCombes - editor of Scottish Socialist Voice. He was at great pains to stress his internationalism. Nevertheless, it was clear that the real issue was independence. As to socialism, for comrade McCombes it meant “control of the economy in so far as it is possible … closing down Trident, ... challenging big business,” etc. He was not really talking about anything qualitatively different from many SNP policies. McCombes and co hope that they can fill the space being created by the current ‘Blairisation’ of the SNP. Alec Salmond has relinquished “radical policies” such as his 1992 call for a £90-a-week pension. It is policies like this that the SML leader wants to defend. Perhaps they think the SSA should take up the mantle of the ‘old SNP’ - just like Militant once claimed to represent the heart of ‘old’ Labour.

The next motion put forward was by the Red Republicans - an Edinburgh-based group around Alan Armstrong, which Socialist Outlook in Scotland has now apparently joined. They argued for a “Scottish socialist republic”. Given that both these motions were for a separate Scotland, the Red Republicans merely tailed the leadership agenda.

Comrade Armstrong began by expressing his pleasure at being able to “agree with 80% of what Alan McCombes said”. His only real difference was that the word ‘independent’ immediately brought the SNP to mind. The SSA should make it clear from the beginning that it was for a republic.

But SML argued that the word ‘republican’ was too closely associated with Ireland in view of the latent sectarianism in Scottish society (outside the hall the triumphalist sounds of an Orange Order march could be heard booming). As good Scottish nationalists SML stand for self-determination for Scotland. But not for Ireland. An SML amendment to the Red Republican’s motion called for a campaign for an “independent socialist Scotland” with the “aim” of establishing a republic - but without saying so in public. This amendment was carried, alongside the national council motion supporting the call for an “independent socialist Scotland”.

Mary Ward and Nick Clarke spoke on behalf of the Dundee-based Campaign for a Federal Republic. They argued their case reasonably well, but to little effect. Having rid themselves of Peter Taaffe’s Socialist Party in England and Wales, SML is in no mood to listen to those who stand for working class unity against the state. SML leaders are determined not to be thwarted in their rush towards nationalism.

Having won the morning debate easily, Allan Green could confidently propose the logical organisational next step. A separate Scotland naturally required a separate Scottish party. His motion from the national council called for the SSA to transform itself into a Scottish Socialist Party (SML will dissolve itself into the new formation). The ‘opposition’ from Edinburgh SML/SSA and the Red Republicans was merely one of timing. They feel that the September deadline is too early (perhaps these comrades were also reflecting Taaffe’s objections to the “hybrid” form of the new grouping). They were no problem. Allan Green and the SML leadership embraced the Edinburgh proposals. It was a bear hug. There will be no delay. SML leaders are determined to liquidate their organisation by the “early autumn”.

The Campaign for a Federal Republic put forward a motion calling for an all-Britain debate with selected organisations and an all-Britain organisation. They were a tiny minority.

Our CPGB fringe meeting at lunchtime was a success. Twenty-five people attended and there was a full and open debate. The Weekly Worker sold well and a surprising number of people expressed interest in receiving more information on the Party. Our intervention was from the outside, but effective.

The conference may have been small, but it represented a significant political retreat and a setback for the working class. SML and the SSA leadership are determined to divide our forces on nationalist lines. Despite that there is still a battle to be had to win those instinctively opposed to nationalism and the many who are uneasy with it, to the principled call for a federal republic and the reforged Communist Party needed to achieve it in a revolutionary manner.

The SSA leadership hopes to crown its success with a vote to form a Scottish Socialist Party at the September conference. We support a principled split and opening up discussions with the CPGB’s Provisional Central Committee.

Anne Murphy