Go-it-alone manifesto

Sarah McDonald looks forward to the February 22-23 annual conference of the Scottish Socialist Party

One of the main items on the agenda for next weekend's SSP conference will be the draft manifesto for the May 1 Scottish parliamentary elections. The document, 200 steps to a new Scotland, can be amended by conference and each SSP branch was able to submit one amendment. The preamble is somewhat more contentious than anything that follows it. Part 1 explains a little about the SSP and its successes in the four years it has existed and outlines the basic tenets of the party, including the aim of an "independent [Scottish] socialist republic that can become an international symbol of fairness and justice". Naturally it does not mention that such a beacon of working class rule (assuming, of course, it ever came about) would be instantly attacked by the might of global capital. Part 2 begins by dealing with the lack of power held by the Scottish parliament and lists some of the issues over which Holyrood has no say: the war, refugees, drugs, anti-trade union laws, oil reserves - all reasons why Scotland needs to "shake off Westminster rule". It is absolutely true that all these questions are decided by London and, more to the point, Scotland has no constitutional right to self-determination. But the solution for genuine internationalists is not to advocate separation, but to demand a parliament with full powers within a federal republic of Scotland, England and Wales. Besides, neither New Labour in Westminster nor the SNP in Holyrood will ever deliver what the working class needs. Only the fight for consistent democracy across Britain led by a united working class can bring about change in our interest. The manifesto drops all pretence of internationalism in the next section: "We reject the scare-mongering of those who claim that Scotland is too small, too weak or too poor to go it alone and defy the new world order of the global billionaires." While it is admitted that neither are socialist states, Denmark and Norway are given as examples to disprove such an argument. Yet neither Norway nor Denmark are "an international symbol of fairness and justice" and clearly pose no threat to the global capitalist system. The manifesto goes on to say that the long-term goal - some time after independence under capitalism - is "establishing an independent socialist republic that will stand up to the economic powers of the transnationals and the political power of Washington, Brussels and London". It would be interesting to know exactly how this is to come about. Why would the working class in Scotland reach the position of taking power before anywhere else? Why would such a state be allowed to survive despite the overpowering military and economic strength of global capital? What advantage do the authors imagine would accrue to workers in Scotland, faced by the UK state, by acting independently of their brothers and sisters in England and Wales? And surely the system of capital must be overthrown internationally. Yet the section ends: "Our goal is a truly independent socialist Scotland, liberated from the suffocating stranglehold of London, Brussels and Washington DC." The pledges in 200 steps to a new Scotland are generally non-contentious and would improve the quality of life for many working class people in Scotland. They deal with a broad range of issues, such as taxation, health, education, transport, the firefighters' strike, the impending war on Iraq, the environment, crime, rural affairs, animal rights, sport, culture and entertainment. Cultural issues are too often ignored by the left and this section is very welcome within the manifesto. However, the actual demands put forward are all within the remit of the Scottish parliament, and are dealt with from a purely Scottish perspective. In section 5 the manifesto states that we will be contesting all but two of the first-past-the-post seats. The SSP has decided not to stand against either left independent Dennis Canavan or Jean Turner, a local GP who has campaigned to save Stobhill Hospital. The absence of any strategy towards the Labour Party is evident. There is no thought of challenging Labour candidates, especially those of the left, with a raft of pro-working class demands - accept these points and we will not oppose you. That would really put the cat among the Blairite pigeons, appealing directly to Labour's working class base and helping workers to see who really stands for their interests. Instead the SSP backs an ex-Labour maverick and a single-issue campaigner. Meanwhile, Glasgow Kelvin MP George Galloway is openly talking about the possibility of creating an all-Britain alternative to Labour, based on the anti-war movement and the working class, if Blair goes ahead with his war against Iraq. The new formation would seek to include the trade union 'awkward squad' and the existing left and would hope to attract large sections of the working class and youth. The war could tear the Labour Party apart and clearly the potential is there for significant change on the left - the Socialist Alliance has already begun to discuss the possibilities. It is early days, but if such an organisation were to become a reality, what relationship would the SSP have to it? Of course Galloway may well have his own reasons for wanting a new home (when the number of Scottish MPs are reduced he is likely to be one of the first for the chop) and he is not best known for his socialist principles. However, a split that really cleaves Labour would not be about any one individual, but working class representation and the space that opens up for communists and revolutionary socialists. If such a development - with its potential to rock the entire British political establishment - occurred, would the SSP continue to "go it alone"? Conference motions There have been pages and pages of motions and amendments submitted to the SSP conference - a sign that we have anything but a passive membership. The motions are wide-ranging and cover important issues such as the war, Palestine, abortion rights, the trade union political fund, the national question and much more. Composite G on the war, proposed by the executive committee and the Committee for a Workers' International, calls on the SSP to continue to make opposition to an attack on Iraq a top priority both in Scottish Socialist Voice and in all our work, but to do so from what is in fact an abstract socialist perspective. Motion K from the executive calls on conference to reaffirm the 'Make the break from Blair's new Tories' statement on the trade union political funds, agreed at the 2002 conference. As with the manifesto, the strategic question of breaking workers as a class from Labourism is ignored. There is no call for the unions to put conditions on their support for Labour in a way that might expose the Blairites and help prepare for a genuinely mass break. The motion states that a revival of the socialist left within the Labour Party is now impossible. Last weekend's huge demonstrations in London and Glasgow should tell us that nothing is impossible - and certainly not a revival of the Labour left. Motion L, proposed by the left nationalist Republican Communist Network and Midlothian SSP, calls for cooperation with the Socialist Alliance, including the aim of a common SA-SSP platform in the next Westminster and Euro elections, and for the Voice to report on SA activities. But, instead of holding out the prospect of an all-Britain socialist party, it calls for the left in England, Wales and Ireland to follow the lead of the SSP in creating their own separate parties. Motion M is the obligatory extreme nationalist offering, courtesy of the Tay Coast branch, calling on conference not only to reaffirm the SSP's objective of independence, but to make it the centre of all campaigning work. Apparently it is our international duty to support independence in order to weaken British imperialism. The motion suggests that Scottish independence was not only the lifelong aim of John Maclean but was actually embraced by Lenin too. Motion W on Palestine from Dundee West originates with the CWI. It is quite a good motion, condemning the brutal occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by the Israeli state. It attacks both Sharon and the US government. It notes the increase in suicide bomb attacks and recognises them as resulting from the oppression of the Palestinian people. However, the motion also states that these attacks are by a small group of militias rather than the action of the Palestinian people as a whole and comes out in opposition to acts of individual terror. It also deals with the growing support for the Palestinians by the Israeli people. The motion concludes with an abstract call for a two socialist states. The fight for a democratic solution in the here and now is forgotten - thus cutting off the actual road to socialism. As well as motions there are also amendments both to the manifesto and to the constitution - the latter having fallen off the agenda of the special conference last summer. One from Dundee West and Midlothian calls for the reintroduction of the right of each SSP branch to put forward one minority motion and one minority amendment, allowing a diversity of opinion to be expressed at conference and giving comrades who are not members of any platform the possibility of putting forward their views. Constitutional amendment H2 from Dundee West demands the right to sell platform literature publicly - a debate which has been raised at the last three conferences - and amendment 12 from Dundee East wants platforms to be able to make public their position on any aspect of party policy. These amendments would benefit all platforms within the SSP, not least the Socialist Worker platform who continually break the guidelines on such questions while claiming to support them. Another interesting amendment - this time to the manifesto - comes from the CWI. This completely rewrites Part 2, the most nationalistic part of the document, and tones it down completely. However, it still calls for independence.