SWP knuckles rapped
Tensions have arisen within the Scottish Socialist Party between the leadership and the former members of the Socialist Workers Party in Scotland, now organised as the Socialist Worker Platform. In line with SWP national priorities, SW Platform members have organised rallies to relaunch the Anti-Nazi League in Scotland - without engaging in meaningful consultations with the SSP national committee. SSP national secretary Allan Green has distributed this damming internal report. While correctly criticising the SW Platform?s failure to consult and act as SSP members first and foremost, he makes too much of alleged differences in the situation north and south of the border - the BNP is no more a real force in England and Wales than it is in Scotland. The insistence that the ANL must be downgraded therefore has as much to do with a separatist agenda and a wish to see the ?tartanisation? of those formally committed to all-Britain unity.
The report was endorsed by a 37-two vote at the August NC. It is noteworthy that all delegates bar two Socialist Worker Platform members supported the report. Despite the SW Platform only having two voting delegates at the meeting, its members were given the opportunity to present and explain their viewpoints during the debate. The SW Platform were offered equal time with the mover of the report at the start of the debate and all SW Platform observers at the meeting were given the opportunity to speak ? around seven SW Platform members contributed to the debate.
In recent weeks there has been discussion in the party about the best tactics for dealing with the increase in racism and racist attacks in Scotland. There has also been some confusion and disquiet in the party regarding the SW Platform being involved in public campaigning for the relaunch of the Anti-Nazi League in Scotland without any prior consultation with the SSP and without making any effort to raise the question of the ANL in the two-month discussion period on party campaigning in the run-up to the August national committee. This report is not a detailed report on the campaigning issues (for this see the Scottish Socialist Voice editorials and other articles). The report will reprint the anti-racist campaigning proposals from the EC then mainly focus on the internal party dynamics surrounding this issue.
Anti-racist campaigning proposals from executive
The unscrupulous exploitation by sections of the media, the Tories and fascists of the race card - including around asylum-seekers - and (at best) New Labour?s appalling treatment of asylum-seekers, alongside their brutal neglect of white working class communities, has made campaigning against racism an important aspect of the SSP?s life.
The government and local councils have failed to take effective action to check racist attacks by a minority of residents in areas such as Sighthill. This has culminated in the tragic murder of Kurdish refugee Firsat Yildiz. The asylum-seekers themselves, with the help of anti-racist campaigners such as Aamer Anwar, have organised demos and vigils, they have placed demands on Glasgow council and the government and they are calling for a national demo in solidarity with the asylum-seekers.
At this stage, organised fascists have been unable to make serious headway in Scotland. Whilst it is vital that we remain vigilant against future activity by the BNP and other organised fascists, the asylum-seekers are absolutely right to prioritise building political pressure on local councils and the government. The SSP should orientate our anti-racist activity in line with the priorities of the asylum-seekers themselves and with those involved in long-term anti-racist activities.
We should formally approach the Scottish Trades Union Congress to call a national demo in the autumn in solidarity with the asylum-seekers. The party as a whole should immediately prioritise building this demo, including by working with other bodies such as the STUC, other political parties, etc, in organising a series of rallies in cities and towns across the country. We will propose that an umbrella network of STUC, other organisations and anti-racist campaigners be created to build for the demo and to organise meetings and other anti-racist/anti-poverty activity.
We should continue to pursue a sensitive campaign that includes a class-based socialist appeal to local communities, including vigorous demands for proper resources from councils and government that would benefit both long-standing residents and asylum-seekers.
This to be done through a tactical combination of the SSP working as part of the broader welcome refugees campaigns, which the SSP should affiliate to, and through open use of the growing authority of the SSP. When and if the fascists appear we should continue to unite with others in countering their propaganda and blocking their path to local communities.
We will also support the plans being considered by the Chokhar Family Campaign and others for a Scottish anti-racist carnival, possibly in November (the anniversary of Surjit Chokhar?s murder).
Background to internal discussions re ANL/SW Platform
The SSP has consciously, in determining party policy on tackling the increase in racist activity, been consulting with prominent anti-racist campaigners inside and outside the party and, of course, with representatives of the asylum-seekers themselves. The clear message from all these campaigners is that, whilst we must be vigilant against fascist activity, the main priority in Scotland is the building of a broad campaigning alliance to combat racism and poverty to pressure the Labour councils, executive and government to take concrete measures to tackle racism and poverty ? eg, scrap vouchers, end dispersal, more resources, etc.
The SSP have a proud record of campaigning against racism and poverty in Townhead, Sighthill and elsewhere. For example, in Townhead in the spring, after attacks on asylum-seekers, the local branch leafleted every home, conducted considerable street activity and organised a public meeting against racism and for better housing. The party has also carried out leafleting and other activity throughout the Sighthill area. For several months the SW Platform had appeared to be at ease with the direction and practice of the SSP?s anti-racist campaigning tactics and practice.
The SSP accepted the SWP proposal for the SWP to join the party prior to the election campaign. This resulted in items that were timetabled for discussion, including campaigning, to be postponed until after the SWP joined. There is a strong tradition in the Scottish Socialist Alliance/SSP of open discussion, genuine dialogue and to attempt, where possible, to seek a principled consensus on campaigning issues.
With election activity, no structured discussions on campaigning were planned in May/June. The June NC then agreed that the EC should prepare a campaigns paper for presentation to the August NC. This information was circulated to all branches in the July members? bulletin.
The anti-nazi priority of the SWP in England is a perfectly understandable priority, given the need for mobilising to counter the rise in BNP support in the north of England. Although we must always be vigilant against the BNP and other fascists trying to organise, it is indisputable that the BNP have not been able to organise and gain support in Scotland to anything like the same extent as they have in parts of England. The situation in Sighthill and elsewhere in Scotland is clearly not the same as Oldham.
Sequence of events
Julie Waterson, ANL British organiser (and SWP negotiator during unity talks between the SWP and SSP), with no prior consultation with the SSP, has organised a series of ANL rallies in four Scottish cities to relaunch the ANL in Scotland. Julie Waterson directly approached ANL supporters/SW Platform members in Scotland to organise public campaigning in support of these rallies.
SW Platform members on the SSP executive had knowledge of the ANL rallies, but did not raise the topic at an SSP executive meeting on July 24. Other SSP executive members only learned of the ANL rallies via a posting on the ANL?s website. Although the SSP EC has over the past two months been preparing a campaigns paper to put to the NC, SW Platform comrades on the EC have not raised the ANL for discussion in the campaigns paper.
On hearing of the ANL rallies in Scotland, AG [Allan Green] met with Keir McKechnie, SW Platform member on the SSP executive, on July 27. AG said he foresaw problems if the ANL rallies were to go ahead without wider consultation within the SSP and with campaigners in the wider anti-racist movement. AG asked, as no leaflets/posters had yet been distributed, for the SW Platform members to use their influence for the ANL rallies to be postponed to allow for discussion in the SSP and elsewhere.
KM said that the ANL was an independent organisation and it was entitled to call meetings in Scotland to rally support for the ANL carnival in England. AG argued that it was SWP members in England and SW Platform members in Scotland that were at the heart of the relaunch of the ANL in Scotland and they had a responsibility to consider the impact of their actions both inside the SSP and anti-racist movement in Scotland. KM had said that it would not be possible to postpone the ANL meetings and it was agreed to meet again to further discuss the issue (meeting subsequently arranged for August 6).
By Sunday/Monday August 5/6 events had taken a tragic twist with the murder of Firsat Yildiz Dag and the asylum-seekers themselves organising demos and rallies and presenting a set of demands to the Labour council. By this time, the government had, outrageously, banned the ANL carnival in England. There were clearly new factors that would be discussed at the August 6 meeting. However, during the day on August 6, at the asylum-seekers rally in Glasgow, ANL leaflets publicising the ANL rally were distributed by SW Platform members for the first time. AG informed KM he was extremely disappointed that these leaflets were distributed just before the meeting to discuss the way forward.
A meeting then went ahead with AG, KM, Richie Venton, Aamer Anwar and a representative from the asylum-seekers. RV raised the desirability of an umbrella Scottish Campaign to challenge racism and poverty. It was argued that this approach was more in tune with the priorities for the anti-racist movement in Scotland. It was greed to explore the possibilities for this type of campaign. In these new circumstances, AG, RV and AA all said to the SW Platform members present that it would be better for the unity of the movement, especially with the situation in Sighthill coming into prominence with the murder of a Kurdish refugee, for the ANL rallies to be broadened out to include the sponsorship of the ANL, SSP, STUC, Committees to Welcome Asylum-Seekers, etc.
The SSP executive met the following evening (August 7) and a motion on anti-racist campaigning, based on the discussions of the previous evening, was unanimously agreed and incorporated into the campaigns paper to go to the August NC (see above). It was argued that, whilst it was vital to remain vigilant against the BNP, the BNP were extremely weak in Scotland and the main problem in Sighthill and elsewhere is not the BNP, but racism in the community, fuelled by the actions of the Labour council. KM and Matt Gordon (SW Platform member on the EC) argued that, whilst a broader anti-racist movement was the priority, this was not contradicted by the ANL rallies. The voting EC members unanimously called on the SW Platform members to use their influence to broaden out the sponsorship of the ANL rallies. However, during the next two days ANL posters advertising the rallies as ANL rallies were appearing in Glasgow and elsewhere, including in Sighthill itself.
I contacted the SW Platform organiser on August 10 asking for the SW Platform to use their influence to broaden out the sponsorship of the ANL rallies and requesting that I get an opportunity to discuss these issues, especially the relationship between the SW Platform and the rest of the party, at a forthcoming SW Platform meeting. The West of Scotland SSP regional council met on August 13 and an emergency motion was overwhelmingly passed asking the comrades involved to broaden out the sponsorship of the ANL rallies.
The ANL rallies are now going ahead as ANL rallies. The non-sectarian approach of the SSP and other anti-racist campaigners has resulted in non-SW Platform speakers (including Aamer Anwar and the SSP) appearing on the ANL platforms despite them believing that it would have been better for the ANL to broaden out the sponsorship of the rallies. This has had the effect of limiting public disunity in the anti-racist movement in Scotland.
The SW Platform have indicated that they will not, at the moment, be inviting me to a platform meeting, but they are seeking talks at leadership level. Exploratory informal talks are making encouraging progress regarding the launch of a broad-based campaign against racism and poverty.
The anti-racist movement in Scotland is poised to take important steps forward in the near future with the likely launch of a broad, campaigning alliance against racism and poverty. The method of the party in this respect has been to ensure consultation with anti-racist campaigners, other organisations and, of course, the asylum-seekers themselves.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the SW Platform and SWP in England, at least at leadership level, have made a conscious decision to exclude the SSP from any discussion prior to the public relaunch of the ANL in Scotland.
Since the SWP joined the party, the campaigning priorities of the SWP in England ? the general election and then Genoa ? were at first completely in tune with the campaigning priorities of the SSP. It appears, however, that on the very first test of how the SW Platform would react to the situation where the SWP in England has a priority campaign that may not be the same as the priority in the SSP (in fact, it had yet to be discussed inside the SSP), the SW Platform has simply followed the campaigning priority of the SWP in England and bypassed the SSP structures.
It is very disappointing that the SW Platform has chosen not to discuss with the rest of the party the differences and similarities with the political situation in Scotland and England before launching public activity. The recent actions of the SW Platform, in launching public activity without any discussion, were bound to antagonise many SSP members. It is a regrettable fact that there has been a noticeable increase in tension and even some bad feeling in some branches.
The party as a whole should unite around the campaigning strategy agreed at the August NC and, in particular, actively support any launch of a new alliance against racism and poverty.
Despite this report being critical of the SW Platform?s method with regard to the relaunch of the ANL in Scotland, we should keep a sense of perspective. We are engaged in a debate over campaigning methods and tactics and how best to conduct political relations within the party. The comrades from the SW Platform have brought many positive qualities and experiences to the party that we should continue to welcome and encourage. We should encourage all members of the party to conduct all discussions on this and any other issues in a patient and comradely manner.
We should ask the SW Platform to seriously reflect on their lack of consultation with the party on relaunching the ANL without attempting to introduce the issue into the party?s discussions on campaigning priorities. The SSP EC should discuss with the SW Platform the relationship between the platform and the party. Whilst respecting the right of the SW Platform meetings to have closed meetings when they consider it appropriate, we should ask the SW Platform, in the interests of open discussion, to allow the national secretary and/or other SSP office-bearers to discuss these issues at SW Platform members? meetings.