Scottish Socialist Party: focus on independence

On Sunday June 1 the Scottish Socialist Party's national council met for the first time since the Scottish parliamentary elections. Sarah McDonald reports

Although various issues were discussed, the first major debate was around three documents written by Allan Green, Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan, collectively entitled ‘After the May Day uprising’, which offer an analysis of the election campaign and results and the way forward following the election.

Allan Green’s document concentrated on the results themselves: the breakdown of the votes regionally, the effect of the second vote, and the intervention of independents and other fringe candidates, including the Socialist Labour Party.

Alan McCombes’s document dealt more with the way forward. He mentions the failures and splits, as well as the successes of other leftwing parties across Europe. The most interesting section of the document calls for “deepening our ideology” and better policy research - made necessary by the greater level of media scrutiny resulting from the SSP’s May 1 success.

He states: “The socialist left has to conduct serious academic research into the workings of modern capitalism and the development of an alternative socialist system. We need to carry out the same rigorous research to develop our alternative to capitalism as we have done at a more basic level to develop our alternative to the council tax.” This is a fair point: the SSP seriously does need to theorise its politics in a much more sophisticated manner, although it has to be said that ‘policy research’ based on the latest opinion poll has already led to the rather unsophisticated embrace of nationalism.

Tommy Sheridan’s document deals mainly with plans for linking the campaigns of the party with the SSP’s parliamentary bills. These will include the replacement of the council tax, the relaunching of a free school meals bill, a higher minimum wage, linked to a shorter working week - all of which were central to the election campaign. Other areas for parliamentary intervention in the short term include free eye tests and dental treatment, smaller class sizes, fairer voting based on PR, publicly owned public transport, a bill based on the SSP’s drugs policy and another on women’s equality.

Comrade McCombes, in moving all three papers, focused on the need for education that anticipated an independent socialist Scotland “without the Achilles heel of the British state”. Ian Ferguson of the Socialist Worker platform argued that, contrary to Alan McCombes’s opinion, the SSP’s position on independence was not a key reason why people voted for us: they did so because they wanted to vote socialist. In that case why did the SW platform vote at the SSP conference in February to make independence a key element in all the party’s campaigning work? However, comrade Ferguson found an unlikely ally in Jim McFarline of the Committee for a Workers’ International.

When my turn came, I stated that it is the duty of socialists to counter growing support amongst sections of the working class and youth for Scottish independence. In response to comrade McCombes’s assertion that 40% of the electorate voted to the left of the Lib-Lab coalition, I made the point that we have to be careful how we define ‘leftwing’. Comrade McCombes’s figure included the Greens and the Scottish National Party, both of whom have a decidedly pro-capitalist right wing and only a small minority of members who even define themselves as socialist.

Alan McCombes responded to the points raised about the national question by saying that the issue has been debated extensively and that comrades should put it behind them and focus their political thinking on achieving the established SSP aim of independence. For example, “What about the flight of capital?” However, turning your attention to such questions merely reinforces the absurdity of an “independent socialist Scotland” in the first place.

There were two branch motions before the NC. The first, from Anniesland, called for SSP members to consult their branches when organising “political activity”. This resulted from the actions of SW platform comrades in directing Fire Brigades Union speakers to a firefighters’ support group meeting instead of an SSP-organised event, depriving a large SSP public meeting of any FBU representative. Throughout the debate the SW was never actually named, but referred to as “a certain platform”.

The second motion, proposed by Dundee East and supported by many other branches, dealt with comments regarding support for a mixed economy made by Tommy Sheridan, when he got carried away in interviews during the election campaign. It called for clarification of the party’s position on the issue and stated that the “SSP should stand for the public ownership under democratic working class control of the multinationals that dominate the Scottish economy”. Comrades, including comrade Sheridan himself, tried to justify his statements by saying that the term ‘mixed economy’ referred to small businesses, not transnationals. However, comrade Philip Stott pointed out that in, for example, comrade Sheridan’s interview published in The Herald there was no mention of small business. Both the Anniesland and Dundee East motions were carried.

Several motions remitted to the NC by the conference were also taken. These included a call for greater cooperation with the Greens, a motion calling for the party to take a decision on pay bargaining and another on campaigning against the euro. Lastly Morag Balfour, Nicky McKerrell, Les Robertson, Philip Stott and Alison Kane were elected to the parliamentary committee.