'We can actually win'

Rozanne Foyer - assistant secretary of the Scottish TUC and a member of the Campaign for Socialism - inspired the LATW meeting with her account of the rebellion against Blairite control-freakery at the March conference of the Scottish Labour Party. Later in the week Rozanne spoke in a personal capacity to the Weekly Worker

Remind our readers of what actually happened at Scottish Labour Party conference. Basically, in the week leading up to conference, delegates were constantly being told via the media that on no account would they be allowed to discuss motions on the war. It started to become clear that the conference arrangements committee itself hadn't been fully consulted in this. So a number of unions and Constituency Labour Parties began to grow very concerned because there was actually nothing in the rules that seemed to suggest there was any reason why motions on the war couldn't be discussed. Eventually, a coalition of CLPs and trade unions, led by the TGWU, challenged the CAC report at the very beginning of conference, threw out the agenda and demanded that conference discuss the war before anything else. Conference had to be suspended at that point - highly embarrassing for the leadership, of course. In the card vote, something like 84% of the CLPs and over 90% of the unions voted to turn over the CAC report. Party workers still insisted that it is no longer constitutional to discuss issues that aren't devolved to Scotland. As a compromise, they therefore agreed to hold what was akin to a policy forum in the conference hall for the whole afternoon session on the Friday. We agreed to that. If we hadn't, I suspect they would have just shut the whole conference down. They were that worried. Senior members of the leadership obviously knew that they were going to be absolutely done over if it came to a show of hands - policy forums don't take votes, of course. So they had to allow a debate, but there was no vote. It was a very big step forward because we had won a full debate, although not an open one. Policy forums are closed to the media: they take place in closed session. But that backfired because it just produced even more intense interest from the media about who said what. If the leadership had been sensible and allowed a proper debate, the thing probably wouldn't have got as big as it did. But when you push people down and suppress their right to debate for so long, it comes to a point where they won't take it any more. I really think this marks a sea change in the nature of the Scottish Labour Party conference. The leadership went one step too far. Of course, it was around the specific issue of the war, but what it brought out more generally was that people have had enough of the arrogance of our leadership in trying to stifle debate, to rob conference delegates of their rights. We had a Campaign for Socialism fringe meeting that evening. (CFS is a left of centre grouping for Labour Party members in Scotland, like the Socialist Campaign Group down south). The fringe was very well attended and we realised that this year we had won through our unity. In previous years, the CLPs might raise some issues but with no support from the unions; other times the unions might have decided to take action in the party, but without support from the CLPs. If we prepare together in advance and speak with one voice, we can actually win at conference. Now, we do want to look at the rules of conference and what we are allowed to do constitutionally. Two solid proposals have come forward. First, to change the rules to make it explicit that we can discuss non-devolved issues: we are not limited to issues specific to the Scottish parliament. We feel very strongly that we are the Scottish Labour Party - we are in constituencies that are represented by MPs at Westminster and they must be accountable to the Scottish party. If we want to discuss issues that pertain to Westminster and national government, we should have every right to do so. Historically, the party in Scotland has had different policies on peace and defence, for example. It seems crazy that we are no longer allowed the right to retain the right to separate policies on UK issues if we so wish. The second proposal we are putting forward is that we should be allowed to table amendments to the policy documents that come out of policy forums. This is so you are not faced with the choice of either voting against the whole policy booklet or accepting it as it is. You should be able to discuss specific issues. No entire policy document has ever been overturned - effectively this means that the sovereignty of conference is seriously undermined by the policy forums. I'm very confident that these can be won at the next conference if we work hard. It is quite difficult to find Labour members that are actually happy with our party's democracy. You cannot underestimate the change in the atmosphere and the confidence for the grassroots members of the party and the unions that the massive defeat of the leadership over the agenda of conference has brought. You say it's a sea change. What other developments since conference support this? There hasn't been another opportunity to test that. We are now informally getting into election mode for the Scottish parliament. But of course, the war is going to impact massively on that. The Scottish Socialist Party launched their manifesto on April 1 and they are explicitly telling people to make this election a referendum on the war. Is that a big danger for you? Yes. Even our first minister admitted on national television that it is quite likely that the election results could be seriously affected by the fact that the country is at war. We have had very high turnouts on demos and, of course, on February 15 we had the largest demo in Scottish history in Glasgow. So public opinion is still running high. The coalition against the war in Scotland did a survey of candidates and CLPs and over half the CLPs in Scotland had passed some sort of anti-war motion. That's how we knew we had a base for a strong challenge at the conference. Also, over 300 candidates for the Scottish parliament and local government elections intended making some sort of statement of opposition to the war. You spoke in the LATW conference of young people you encounter regarding the Labour Party as the enemy. Given the high degree of involvement of youth in anti-war mobilisations, this is quite a problem. It is. It was very hard when we were going into the Labour Party conference. There were young people from schools and colleges shouting "Shame!" at the delegates, as they made their way into the hall. It was very hard to explain that the Labour Party and the government are two separate things and that it wasn't necessarily the position of the majority of the party that we should be at war. These young people had a point of course, even if they were thinking about it in simple way. Essentially, they were asking us, 'Why are you putting up with this?' How long have you been in the Labour Party? I joined in 1996 because I was a public service worker in the benefits agency and the Tory government was trying to privatise the service. I naively believed that a Labour government would stop privatisation. Which I've learned to my cost is not the case! But that has only made me more determined not to let this so-called Labour leadership get away with it. The Labour Party was set up by the trade unions to take forward the interests of working people. It politics are meant to be about protecting working people. I'm determined not to leave and let them hijack the party. The party has to be brought back to its original agenda. The key thing people have to remember is that tearing up your party card is exactly what the leadership wants leftwingers to do. They were good at keeping people very quiet because the Tories had been in power for nearly 20 years. At first, I also bought the argument that you have to be disciplined, you have to keep your mouth shut. I even thought that perhaps Blair was being a bit shy about his socialist credentials - as I said, perhaps I was a bit naive. You mention that half of CLPs passed resolutions of one sort or another against the war and also that there are large numbers of Labour candidates intending to take some sort of stand on the war. Do you think it is short-sighted of the SSP to therefore say it will stand against all Labour candidates, regardless of their stance of these important questions? There have been joint campaigns in the period of the last parliament in which elements of the Labour Party and the SSP have worked very well together. There are areas where we agree and can work - and have worked - very well together. Certainly, we have been working very well together in the anti-war movement in Scotland, the Coalition for Justice not War. But when it comes to an election that breaks down. The SSP comrades just seem to spend most their time trying to persuade those of us on the left in the party to come and join them. They would like to see us just walk out. The Scottish National Party also put on a very left face. But the central problem is nationalism. As someone who comes from a very industrial, urban area, I feel just as much solidarity with people from Newcastle or Liverpool as I do with working people in my own country - we share the same problems, the same history and culture. Going it alone is not an option.