Nationalist squabbles

On Saturday March 3 both the Scottish Socialist Party and Solidarity held one-day policy conferences in Glasgow to finalise their respective manifestoes for the May 3 election to the Scottish parliament. Peter Manson comments

One might have expected that partisans of both organisations would be debating the significance of the decisions taken. But they are still much more concerned with carrying out vitriolic attacks on each other - six months after the split. Their 'discussions' are virtually devoid of real politics, focussing instead on the veracity of Tommy Sheridan, the relative numerical strength of their rival organisations and who is more likely to be wiped out after May 3.

The sad truth is that both of them are. It looks like a stalemate in terms of votes - the SSP is ahead in the polls, but Tommy has a bigger pull (and, of course, his name will appear on every ballot paper alongside that of his new party). Everything is pointing to a vote so split that none of the six MSPs (four from the SSP, two from Solidarity) will be re-elected, not even comrade Sheridan himself. And, despite the introduction of proportional representation for the local elections, prospects do not look good for leftwing councillors in the new, enlarged wards.

It was not so long ago that SSP comrades boasted of having left behind the old divisive and sectarian attitudes. Why can't socialists in England and Wales get their act together like us? Well, at least there are real differences over prospects, policy and strategy separating the various groups south of the border. But in Scotland?

It is true that the split itself has provoked a degree of differentiation over one particular question. In response to the fact that both the Socialist Workers Party and Committee for a Workers' International chose to side with comrade Sheridan, the SSP leadership started to refer to them as "London-based groups". Groups who are obviously less keen on independence than, say, Tommy himself.

Playing the nationalist card for all it is worth, the SSP has dubbed these the "independence elections" and has attempted to outdo the Scottish National Party in portraying itself as the true defenders of Scotland's national interests. While the SNP has pledged to introduce a referendum on independence towards the end of its term of office, the SSP has promised an "independence referendum by the end of 2007" (although this might be difficult without any MSPs). Would Solidarity do the same?

In fact that is unlikely. A motion to commit Solidarity to a Referendum Enabling Bill was remitted on Saturday after a majority, including both the SWP and CWI, expressed opposition. So Alan McCombes et al are right to see this as a point of real differentiation - so long as they keep plugging away on independence.

According to the SSP website, "In an election with three pro-independence parties and three pro-unionist parties in the frame, this is more than just a power struggle between the union jack and the saltire. The choice is not just Scotland versus Britain: it is also about what kind of Scotland we want to create" (my emphasis).

The SSP is fighting the Holyrood election on six promises. Promise number two ends with this commitment: "After three centuries, it's time for Scotland to move on and break free of the obsolete British state and its embarrassing feudal relics such as the monarchy, the honours system and the House of Lords. A vote for the SSP is a vote to get Scotland out of Britain."

It is the same with the other five promises. The SSP will "help build a nationwide resistance against war and nuclear weapons" - "now Washington and London are planning to foist upon Scotland a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons" and a "vote for the SSP is vote for mass civil disobedience to get Scotland out of Iraq and Afghanistan and to get nuclear weapons out of Scotland".

Similarly "a national free public transport system" will "turn Scotland into the clean, green capital of the world"; under SSP proposals for a service tax "80% of Scottish households will be better off"; and "A vote for the SSP is a vote to put nutritious free school meals on the menu of Scotland's schools".

Do you get the picture?

Meanwhile Solidarity's debates centred on the bills its MSPs should put forward in the next parliament - it agreed 20 (although a proposal to abolish the requirement for religious observance in state schools was, like the one for a referendum, remitted after opposition from the SWP).

But don't worry - everyone was happy with the "renationalisation of Scotland's railways, bringing forestry back into public ownership" and the endorsement of John McDonnell's Trade Union Freedom Bill (Solidarity website).

Comrade Sheridan himself gave the keynote speech and tried to raise the hopes of conference with talk of winning seven parliamentary seats - that would happen, according to a new poll, if voters only realised that Solidarity, not the SSP, was the party of Tommy Sheridan and Rosemary Byrne. However, a spokesperson confided to me what the true situation is: "It's all about getting Tommy back in".