Vote SSP - critically

Alan Fox looks at the Scottish Socialist Party's general election challenge and urges support, even though it espouses nationalism and a reformist socialism

Despite our strong opposition to the Scottish Socialist Party's disastrous nationalist line, the CPGB is calling for a vote for SSP candidates in the general election. As explained in several articles, we are basing our support for candidates on two criteria: firstly, they must be broadly part of the working class movement - that is, they are standing on behalf of parties or organisations that represent or claim to represent the working class or are individuals who come from and remain in that tradition; secondly, they opposed the invasion of Iraq and are for an immediate withdrawal of UK occupying forces. The second element is evidently a key defining issue in British politics. Clearly these two criteria do not identify the candidate as being a partisan of working class socialism - far from it. Indeed we know of no candidate standing anywhere in Britain upholding the full programme of communism - the only genuine way to serve the long-term interests of our class. Nevertheless, at a time of unprincipled retreat and compromise, epitomised by the Socialist Workers Party and Respect, it is essential that some basic demarcating lines are drawn. Three of the newly elected SSP MSPs in 2003 Can the SSP be said to represent working class independence, when a central plank of its policy is the striving for a cross-class alliance with the petty bourgeois Scottish National Party in order to achieve an independent capitalist Scotland? No. Nevertheless, Colin Fox, Alan McCombes, Tommy Sheridan et al, despite their dismal accommodation with separatist opportunism, remain subjective working class leaders who believe, or claim to believe, they are furthering working class interests. As with the SWP and other working class politicians such as George Galloway, the election of a member of the SSP would have two sides: on the one hand, it might serve to strengthen illusions in their current opportunist path; on the other, it would undoubtedly boost workers' morale and open up the possibility of a reawakening of working class identity and belief in mass action. As for the second of our criteria, the SSP has adopted a relatively principled position on Iraq - in some ways more principled than that of the SWP, for example - and every candidate is pledged to uphold SSP policy for an immediate, unconditional withdrawal. The party is contesting in all but one of Scotland's 59 constituencies, the exception being East Kilbride, where last week the SSP agreed to withdraw its candidate, Cathy Pedersen, in favour of Rose Gentle, the mother of a British soldier killed in Iraq who has, since his death, been campaigning for UK forces to be pulled out. She has shared many a leftwing platform - most notably those arranged by the SWP and SSP itself. In fact she is now extremely close to the SSP and I would also recommend a vote for her. Another exception in Scotland might have been Ian Davidson, a sitting MP who is contesting Glasgow South West this time. He is recommended by Labour Against the War as having voted against the Iraq war in parliament, but in the end he sided with Blair. Neither is he on record as demanding the immediate withdrawal of British troops. Therefore there is a good case for the SSP's Keith Baldassara, a Pollok councillor and Tommy Sheridan's former right-hand man. The SSP openly admits that it has no chance of winning a Westminster seat, but has decided to contest everywhere (apart from East Kilbride obviously) in order to put forward its version of working class politics and prepare the ground for the next Holyrood elections, where of course it does stand a chance of retaining its seats, thanks to proportional representation, despite the redrawing of boundaries. This has meant that in a good proportion of constituencies - particularly those outside the inner cities and urban centres - it will be standing what amounts to paper candidates, where there will be very little, campaigning. The SSP constitution states that election candidates must be selected by the local membership and this was done via meetings of members in the constituency concerned, often through aggregating two or more branches. In the past the leadership has on rare occasions attempted to interfere with the process - at the last general election a candidate selected by three people was eventually deselected (and replaced by one chosen by four!) after a regional organiser cried foul. But, by and large, the leadership tries to ensure the selection of preferred candidates through mobilising its supporters - mostly using members of the largest platform, the International Socialist Movement. I do not know the background of all SSP candidates, but I would estimate that a good half are ISM members or close supporters. The next biggest group consists of local activists encouraged to stand by the leadership. However, at least three supporters of the Committee for a Workers' International have been selected: Ronnie Stevenson in Glasgow South, Phil Stott in Perth and North Perthshire, and Harvey Duke in Dundee East. It is also interesting to note that the Socialist Worker platform has managed to achieve a candidate (without trying too hard) in the shape of Pat Smith in Edinburgh South West. Revealingly she is described on the SSP website as "an active member of the Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition [as opposed to the SSP's favoured Scottish Coalition for Justice Not War] and the Edinburgh CND, and has been involved in building the Make Poverty History demo in Edinburgh in opposition to this year's G8". The SW platform has hardly been throwing itself into SSP work and did not bother to nominate a candidate in many constituencies where it has support. As with comrade Smith, many SWP supporters in Scotland have been prioritising G8 and anti-war work and a good number are semi-detached SSP members. Edinburgh South West is the least promising of all the seats in the capital with the lowest SSP support and fewest members. But for the leadership, in such seats, I suspect it is a question of getting anyone they can to stand - even if they happen to be a member of the SW platform. Perhaps they might have drawn the line at a Workers Unity comrade, but, then again, no WU supporter was nominated - anywhere. Neither are any of the 58 candidates supporters of one of the two ultra-nationalist platforms, the Republican Communist Network, and, as far as I know, the extreme nationalists of the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement are also unrepresented.