Scottish Socialist Party: SW platform rift

The Socialist Workers Party is under attack in Scotland ... and the bourgeois press have a ringside seat. Sarah McDonald reports

All is not well for the Scottish Socialist Party. A series of allegations have been made both by and against comrades in the Socialist Workers platform surrounding the election campaign in Fife. Complaints were made to the executive, which were then leaked to the capitalist press.

The problem centres on Linda Graham - a member of the SW platform - who was the SSP’s list candidate for the May 1 Scottish parliament elections in Mid-Scotland and Fife. Comrade Graham missed being elected by just 126 votes. She effectively blames lack of communication, stating: “The interface between the party and the campaign here was troubled and confused” (complaint to SSP executive). She goes on to make reference to “reactionaries within the party”, who “would rather not have a socialist representative than have me”.

A few weeks before the election there was a demand for a vote of no confidence to remove her as candidate. The vote was taken and lost, and comrade Graham remained the candidate. She referred to this incident as “careerism and backstabbing”, claiming that if the forces responsible were not “driven out”, the party would “fester and pollute” (ibid). Yet she sees Tommy Sheridan as being amongst those who sought to have her removed. The News of the World quoted her as saying: “His role in the vote of no confidence in a candidate a few weeks before the election needs to be examined. Personally, I did not need the convenor to play judge, jury and executioner in deciding I was not capable of representing you when the region had already made up its mind” (June 15).

Comrade Sheridan told The Scotsman: “The SSP now has over 3,000 members and it’s inevitable that, the bigger we become, the more diverse our membership, and everyone doesn’t always see eye to eye. I regret the comments made by Linda, but she was probably disappointed at failing to be elected by a mere 126 votes.

“The SSP increased its vote by over 200%, but we narrowly missed out in both Mid-Scotland and Fife and Highlands and Islands. However, I suppose the fact that an internal row now makes the news is a tribute to the development of the SSP as a political force in Scotland.

“The party and the executive are well aware of the situation and inquiries are underway” (June 16).

The problems in Fife are apparently deep-rooted and have been continuing over a long period. Comrades in the region seem unable to work together. Money is not being collected centrally, which has led to the regional organiser, Jock Penman, not being paid. Comrade Penman was one of the comrades who have apparently been on the receiving end of the attacks made by SW platform comrades. He told the News of the World: “I’ve let many negative remarks, attacks and tantrums from Linda Graham slip by unchallenged, but she has crossed the line this time. I therefore, sadly, must ask the EC to consider disciplinary action against her” (June 15).

Several complaints were made by other comrades in Fife regarding the SW platform, including from Benarty branch chair Lorna Bett, who wrote that the infighting had left her “physically sick”: “Never in my life have I seen such a vociferous, poisoned bunch of people. I never understood why people were so up in arms about the SWP joining our party. Now I know why” (complaint to executive).

These were some of the quotes that the capitalist press chose to pick up on to highlight the factional infighting. The majority of papers that covered the story used the same quotes, but the News of the World had more information and billed the story as an exclusive, which has led to speculation that someone within the party sold the story. While SSP members have the right to know the full facts of what went on in Fife, we should be able to get them from within the party, not have to rely on garbled versions in the capitalist press.

An SSP executive subcommittee has been set up to look into all the issues, but has had to be suspended, as apparently the appeals committee is now involved - on exactly what basis remains a mystery.

The situation in Fife could be part of what seems to be a more general rethinking of strategy towards the SSP on the part of the Socialist Workers Party. At last it appears to be revolting on the ground against the SSP’s position for Scottish independence. This was briefly mentioned in one of the complaints made to the EC by comrade Jack Ferguson, who said that SW comrades had been campaigning publicly against independence during the election. According to comrade Ferguson, they were doing so in a manner that gave the impression that their position - whatever it was - had the status of official party policy.

It would, of course, be a big step forward if the SW platform actually came out in a principled manner against Scottish independence, instead of keeping quiet and going along with an “independent socialist Scotland”. An open and democratic debate could potentially lead to a change for the better in the whole political direction of the SSP. However, it is not principled to back a motion at conference calling for independence to be the central campaigning issue and then, if comrade Ferguson’s claim is true, go out and do the opposite.

The SSP’s ultra-nationalists are undoubtedly out to get the SW platform. The real debate, of course, is not over who leaked internal executive documents to the capitalist press. No one is likely to own up anyway.

Allan Green, SSP national secretary, has speculated about the possibility of a split. The SW platform could walk out - and perhaps a section of the leadership in London would welcome this. Equally there could be a series of expulsions which would certainly have the ultra-nationalist wing whooping with joy.

coverPerhaps the SW platform’s sudden discovery of “reactionaries” in the SSP and “backstabbing” is not simply down to Neil Davidson’s pioneering latest book, Discovering the Scottish Revolution, or his savaging of the Communist Party of Britain’s hapless John Foster in the learned pages of Historical Materialism for his opportunist pandering to an entirely bogus Scottish history.

The SWP in England and Wales might have been rudely rebuffed in its negotiations with the Morning Star’s CPB. However, there still remains the Birmingham imams and the chance of ‘peace and justice’ popular front candidates. George Galloway is also still spoken of as a potential partner. He rejects the SSP’s pro-independence politics as a matter of principle and could easily find himself deselected as an MP.

The SWP believes that it alone is the “revolutionary party”. In reality it is a sect which toys with left unity when it suits its narrow interests. No matter. The best way to overcome such backward ideas is through unity in action and facilitating the widest, most open debate on all programmatic questions, not least Scottish independence. Our aim is clarity and breaking down the artificial mental barriers that sectarianism relies on for coherence and continued existence.