Socialist Workers Party courts Scottish rivals

On Saturday June 24 the Dundee Campaign Against Racism organised a day of action around the issue of asylum-seekers.

The DCAR is composed of various groups and individuals, including Labour and Scottish National Party councillors, but is dominated by the Scottish Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party.

The day's events began with a picket of the Scottish Tory Party conference held this year in Dundee. The turnout at the picket was around 100 - not much smaller than the number of delegates. There was little confrontation, with William Hague sneaking in via the back entrance.

Although the event was relatively successful, it did not have the significance local SWPers were predicting beforehand. While useful in terms of publicity and involving people, a picket of the Tories, especially in Scotland, could hardly have the same impact that a picket of the Labour Party would.

Afterwards there was a public meeting attended by about 60 people. It was chaired by Mary Ward of the SSP and Republican Communist Network, and featured speakers from the Justice for the McGowan Family Campaign and the Cameroonian Asylum-Seekers Defence Campaign. The gathering was also addressed by Mohammed Afzad, a Transport and General Workers Union racial equality officer, and a Chilean refugee, Mario Uribe, who spoke both of his time in one of Pinochet's concentration camps and his treatment since fleeing to Britain.

Although each of the speakers had a very moving tale to tell, the nature of the meeting meant that the political discussion that ensued was not of the highest quality. The most interesting feature of the day was that it was organised predominantly through the cooperation of the SWP and SSP.

This is particularly significant in view of the rumour currently circulating that the SWP is preparing to come into the SSP. This is of course denied by individual SWPers, but is looking increasingly likely, as the SWP is abandoning branch meetings in favour of concentrating all efforts into local campaigns.

In Dundee the SWP has proposed a joint meeting with the SSP and is now talking about opening it up to other left groups (small, few and far between) who are not part of the SSP. This could well be the first in a series of moves aimed at paving the way for organisational unity - especially in terms of convincing its own membership.

It is understandable that rank and file SWP members are sceptical about the truth of these rumours, going as they do against the grain of their organisation's practice over many years. The idea of joining and helping to form socialist alliances in England and Wales is more acceptable because the SWP has the numbers to dominate them. However, in the SSP it would be a minority - albeit a large, comparatively well organised and very influential one. This influence would be greatly enhanced by the current disorganisation of the Committee for a Workers International in Scotland.

Although Alan McCombes, Tommy Sheridan et al may publicly welcome the move, they will also undoubtedly see it as a serious threat, jeopardising their own leadership and control over the SSP's future direction. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that they could try to prevent the SWP from joining by stressing its non-acceptance of the separatist aim of an "independent socialist Scotland". This is not viewed as just one aim among many, but a key policy position, so, if indeed the SSP leadership is intent on keeping out the SWP, this would appear to be the most likely option it would employ.

But such a development would have serious implications for current SSP members who also oppose the notion of an "independent socialist Scotland". For example, the Campaign for a Federal Republic was accepted as a part of the organisation when the Scottish Socialist Alliance transformed itself into the SSP despite its known opposition to this - the CFR was considered so small as to be of no great significance, whether in or out of the SSP. However, the CFR and other anti-nationalists, particularly those in and around the RCN, could find themselves a casualty of any such move directed against the SWP.

If the SWP does end up inside the SSP, this could potentially change the whole direction of the organisation, acting as a counterbalance to separatism. It could also bring other benefits, in that it would help open up the SWP through exposing its members to the diversity of politics inside the SSP. This in turn would provide the RCN and the left with the opportunity to increase its influence. Needless to say, there would also be negative effects, in the shape of a greater tendency to bureaucratism.

Of course at present all this is speculation. But if the SWP does come on board, then this, in parallel with the development of the socialist alliances in England and Wales and general moves towards an all-UK united challenge to Blair at the next general election, could prove to be a turning point for the left in Britain.

Sarah McDonald