United list rejected

Tom Delargy of the Scottish Socialist Party gives his views of the November 29 meeting of its national council

The national council met to discuss, among other things, proposals for a united left slate in the elections to the Scottish parliament embracing the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Labour Party. The SWP’s proposal was dismissed out of hand by all bar Allan Armstrong, Bob Goupillot, Nick Clarke and myself. While Hugh Kerr MEP associated himself with the tone adopted by Allan Armstrong, and is clearly genuine in wanting to bring the SWP on board a broad workers’ party (or else he is a very good actor), he too voted against any compromise over a single united slate.

Phil Stott, Allan Green and Richie Venton all argued that the only possible deal with the SWP is for them to join the SSP. Speaking personally, my recommendation for all revolutionaries in Scotland, who either do not want to join the SWP or who are not allowed to do so, is that they should join the SSP. Then, as members, we should fight within the party for as much unity with revolutionaries and other socialists outside as we can achieve. I am convinced that the editor of Socialist Worker would not have it any other way.

However, if the SWP does not agree to join (because the conditions for joining are considered too onerous, which is at least debatable), the fallback position of the SSP national council is utterly unreasonable, and the SWP leadership will easily be able to demonstrate this come the elections.

It is certainly true that a deal on the first-past-the-post seats is on offer. However, agreeing to stand down in seats where they are stronger than we are could, plausibly, be presented as having less to do with magnanimity on our part than with anxiety that our weakness will be demonstrated if we do not face reality and give them a free run. We know that our only chance of getting anyone elected is via the PR second vote. The same is true for the SWP. They will take a lot of convincing before they capitulate to the SSP on this issue. And, given the relative size and influence of both organisations, lack of flexibility on our part will go down very badly with the mass of workers who genuinely advocate an anti-sectarian electoral alternative to the Blairites and the tartan Blairites.

As this vote demonstrated, the majority of the national council think the SSP are fireproof against accusations of sectarianism because we are openly calling for the SWP to join. This is an offer which, I want to repeat, is not one the SWP should dismiss out of hand. Justification for doing so should at any rate be based on detailed tactical grounds rather than grounds of principle, this being what we have been given so far. Nevertheless, this offer is perhaps not quite what it seems.

While Richie Venton and Allan Green did repeat this call, and I am sure they are genuine in making it, they both expressed certainty that the offer would not be accepted - certainly not in time for next May’s elections. In that case, however serious they are in wanting the SWP on board, there is something less than satisfactory about proposing terms for unity they themselves think unacceptable.

More important still, while Richie, Allan, Phil, Hugh and others advocated the SWP joining the SSP, at least two NC members took a contrary position. Bill Bonnar, not for the first time, stated in effect that they would be allowed to join over his dead body. He never used this precise phrase, but I do not think he would deny that this is the reality of the situation. Bill went further still, suggesting we stop pussyfooting around and declare unconditional warfare on the SWP. He argued that it was a waste of our time to call on the SWP to join the SSP because they do not agree with us on anything significant.

This was certainly not the message put by Alan McCombes, Colin Fox and others at ‘Socialism in Scotland’. And, whatever Bill thinks, the SWP leadership in turn also accept that we do have much in common; otherwise they would not be proposing an electoral agreement.

It is nevertheless true that differences remain. The SWP does not, for instance, agree with Bill Bonnar (or Jack Straw) that socialists ought to peddle a cheap and nasty authoritarian populist approach to the drugs issue, to call for a law and order crackdown, rather than to recognise that this is a health, education and social problem. Neither do they accept that the role of socialists is to fight for a “left government whose aim would not be socialism”. Nor do they celebrate the Stalinist counterrevolution in Spain in the mid-1930s. But on all of these issues it is Bill, not the SWP, which is marginalised from majority opinion inside the SSP.

Another member of the national council was won over by Bill’s sectarianism into expressing the exact same sentiments. Nobody proposed a motion of censure against either of these individuals. Why not? It was suggested to me in the pub afterwards that perhaps Bill is merely being more honest than some others. I could not possibly comment.

I do however recall that during the Paisley South by-election last year, one Scottish Socialist Alliance member told me that many members voted very reluctantly for my motion at the second conference on socialist unity. I was told that a cold calculation had been made giving rise to fears of considerable damage to the SSA’s reputation for anti-sectarianism if it was voted down. These members apparently voted for the motion only because they were certain that doing so was ‘risk-free’, given that the SWP would, in their opinion, never join the SSA in a million years. My confidante never told me that this was her motivation (although I suspect it was) and I have no way of verifying if what she said was true.

But I do have to ask myself whether the doors are being kept open for the SWP only for so long as there is no movement by them in our direction.