SSP: Fight for unity

A spectre haunts the Scottish Socialist Party conference this weekend. The spectre of unity. For months now, the SSP leadership has been locked in talks with representatives from the Socialist Workers Party negotiating the terms upon which SWP members in Scotland could join.

At each juncture, the SWP has been prepared to jump through whichever hoop was placed before it. Abandon the raison d'être of many an SWPer's existence, selling Socialist Worker? Nae problem. Agree to support independence for Scotland? Well, it's really only a referendum on Blair anyway, says SWP secretary Chris Bambery. So no problem there either. Principles should not come cheap in the SWP.

Many had expected the Glasgow conference to be taking a firm decision on the burning question. Alas, it is not to be, unless the membership can force it onto the agenda from below. In fact it seems that what we have from the SSP leadership is yet more prevarication. Far from embracing unity with the SWP (it was, after all, the SSP which invited the SWP to join), the preferred motion to conference is to instruct the SSP leadership to continue negotiations with the SWP to further clarify the SWP's position on independence for Scotland.

It may be fair enough to seek clarification on this from the SWP (I wouldn't mind knowing myself). But up to now the basis for joining the SSP has not been agreement with majority positions: rather accepting majority votes and the rules. A world of difference here. Added to this is the move to make the demand for an "independent socialist Scotland" an almost unmoveable pillar of SSP policy. The executive wants to enshrine this so that only a postal ballot of members can remove it. Just as Tony Blair uses 'one person, one vote' to 'empower' the backward mass of atomised Labour members at the expense of the conscious, thinking activists, so the SSP leadership faction hopes to sideline any organised opposition, not least the SWP.

The ultra-nationalist Scottish Republican Socialist Movement is also moving a motion proposing that a two-thirds conference majority be required to overturn the 'principle' of Scottish independence. Coming from a Glasgow branch as a majority motion (branch minorities are at present also allowed a motion), it is clearly winning support from beyond the ranks of the tiny SRSM.

A further sign of the souring of relations between the SSP leadership and the SWP was found at last Friday's Globalise Resistance conference in Glasgow. This all-Britain tour, organised by the SWP, is an attempt to ride the anti-capitalist movement. Speakers included environmental campaigner and journalist George Monbiot, Kevin Danaher, organiser of the Seattle protests, and Lindsay German of the SWP. Around 500-600 people, mainly aged under 30, attended. An impressive turnout.

However, the SSP was noticeable by its absence. A comrade reports: "I spoke with a leading SWP member who said the SSP had been invited to participate in the event but they had declined. He also said there was a real possibility that the fusion of the SWP and the SSP might not go ahead since the SSP leadership seemed to be putting up obstacles and were less than enthusiastic. Certainly it looks as if the SSP conference next week may simply leave the national committee to continue negotiations" (UK Left Network, February 5).

While SSP secretary Allan Green did take part in a workshop the next day, the non-participation of the SSP in the Friday rally can only be seen as a snub. This is a negative development for those who favour unity of all revolutionary socialists and communists in one party.

Part of the package of changes currently being proposed by the SSP leadership is a ban on the public sale of factional journals - up to now this had not been deemed a problem for a leadership faction enjoying such clear control of the organisation. Factions have been free to "produce and distribute" their own publications.

Obviously this change is aimed mainly at the SWP, preventing its comrades selling Socialist Worker other than internally - or perhaps aimed at dissuading them from joining in the first place. The SSP leadership intends to push through a resolution 'clarifying' current policy on factional publication. This is going ahead despite the SWP being left waiting in wings.

The rump of Peter Taaffe's Committee for a Workers' International in Scotland around Phil Stott has its publication, as does the Republican Communist Network. Republican Communist is openly available to non-SSP members.

However, a motion before conference is calling on such freedom to produce and distribute to be limited to within the SSP itself. A worrying attempt to claw back the rights of SSP members. Even the Labour Party allows public distribution of oppositional magazines such as Tribune and Labour Left Briefing.

A democratic socialist organisation should not have less democracy that the Labour Party, surely.

Unity with the Socialist Alliance (England) is the other burning question confronting the SSP. The SA has initiated discussions around producing an all-Britain television broadcast for the general election - in addition to the Scotland-only broadcast to which the SSP will be entitled. With the possibility of the qualification threshold being raised to 100 candidates, the SSP and SA, together with the Welsh Socialist Alliance, must aim for the maximum unity attainable and need to apply to the electoral commission for a joint broadcast.

With 72 seats being contested in Scotland and around 70 in England, together we easily pass the bureaucratic threshold. All that is required is sufficient political will.

If denied a broadcast by the BBC-ITV commission, the SA, WSA and SSP need to make as much noise as possible to demand our democratic rights. There is an excellent precedent. Initially barred from registering 'Scottish Socialist Party' as their electoral name, SSP comrades boldly launched a successful campaign to reverse this outrageous ban. Similar action needs to be prepared so as to ensure that the voice of a socialist alternative is heard throughout Britain, not just in Scotland.

At present, the SSP leadership seems intent on continuing down the separatist road. Allan Green has written to the SA like a nationalist. Apparently we operate in separate countries - as if the kingdom of Scotland was an independent class state, not an integral part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The SSP displays the same nationalist attitude towards the SWP. While it cannot simply come out with a point-blank refusal of SWP membership, it is setting up barrier after barrier to block unity with the largest left group organised on an all-Britain basis.

Comrades Tommy Sheridan, Alan McCombes, etc. should break with Scottish nationalism before real damage is done They have a proud record in the anti-poll tax movement and are to be congratulated in their successful building of the SSP as a party, not a sect.

But, as they well know, our enemy is organised in the UK state, and at a global level as capital. Genuine internationalists and partisans of the working class need to make it clear that the formation of a single party of socialists, organised against that state, is a pressing task. The working class, after all, has no nation - but we have a world to win.

Martin Blum