Sheridan to back SNP

Both the Scottish Socialist Party and Solidarity are in self-destruct mode, says Peter Manson

For the best part of a year the Scottish Socialist Party has been calling the May 3 poll for the Scottish parliament the "independence elections". While the SSP's "long-term goal" is a "Scottish socialist republic", according to its manifesto, "In the short term, we can take a mighty leap forward towards that goal by breaking free of the suffocating stranglehold of the British state."

However, although the manifesto helpfully mentions other parties that are pro-independence - the Scottish National Party, of course, and the Scottish Green Party (Tommy Sheridan's breakaway Solidarity is mysteriously missing) - it stops short of advising its supporters how to vote where the SSP is not standing, or where the electorate has more than one vote.

If these really are the "independence elections", then it would make sense to vote for the main independence party. In fact it would make even more sense if the SSP stood down everywhere in order to leave the way clear for the SNP. After all, in the regional contests, despite the form of proportional representation employed, it could well take enough votes from the Nats to let in a good number of candidates from the "unionist parties".

The least the SSP could do is recommend a vote for the SNP in the first-past-the-post constituencies, none of which it is contesting itself. But it makes no such official recommendation, presumably believing that the implication in the manifesto and other election material, combined with the occasional statement of voting intention from individual members, will be enough.

The SSP, like Solidarity, is putting up a full slate of candidates in every region and last week it was cock-a-hoop when its standing went up considerably to 5% in one ICM poll. Convenor Colin Fox said the party was within "touching distance" of getting an MSP elected in every region.

In reality, though, even if we make the unlikely assumption that the ICM findings were not a freak result (it also put the SSP at 5% in the constituencies, where it has no candidates), this is evidently super-optimistic. The likelihood is that the party will lose all four of its MSPs - not least because of the presence of Solidarity.

It is as though the two rival left nationalist groups, standing on virtually identical policies, have entered into a suicide pact, where each will deprive the other of sufficient votes to rule out any chance of election. While most polls have recorded the SSP at around 3%, Solidarity has been languishing at 1%-2% and sometimes not registering at all.

At least the battle for council seats (local elections are also being held on May 3) will not be so destructive - since for the first time these will be conducted on the single transferable vote system. It will be possible to vote for candidates of both parties according to your own order of preference - the SSP is contesting every seat on eight councils, including Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, standing about 150 candidates in all, while Solidarity has around 100 and will also contest every seat in Glasgow and Dundee. In Glasgow Pollok you have a choice between sitting councillor Keith Baldassara and Tommy's mum, Alice, as your first preference. In other localities the two parties have struck local deals not to stand against each other in the same ward.

However, the Sheridan name has not yet done anywhere near enough to put the new party on the map. Solidarity comrades are at least consistent in claiming that this is just about to change - although many voters still associate comrade Sheridan with the SSP, soon manifestos will be landing on people's doorsteps, there will be an election broadcast in two weeks and on voting day itself Tommy's name will appear on every ballot paper after the word 'Solidarity'.

Solidarity spokesperson Hugh Kerr told me that, while Tommy is Scotland's best known politician, Solidarity is the "newest kid on the block". No doubt, despite all the publicity over last year's defamation case against the News of the World and the hullabaloo surrounding the subsequent split, there are a good number of people who are still not linking up the party and the man. Or, there again, it could be that Scottish voters are a little more sophisticated than the left gives them credit for. Perhaps workers will base their decision on which party to vote for on a little more than the personality of its leader.

However, whatever the reason for Solidarity's poor showing in the polls, all but the most partisan of Solidarity activists will, at least privately, admit that May 3 will not produce a string of victories for the new party. It is even questionable whether comrade Sheridan himself will be re-elected as head of the Solidarity slate in Glasgow.

Like the SSP leaders comrade Sheridan is an enthusiastic proponent of an "independent socialist Scotland" (although the SSP has recently adopted the more radical-sounding "Scottish socialist republic"), and like them he views independence per se as a "mighty leap forward towards that goal".

However, comrade Sheridan would have a problem - or rather two problems - in dubbing May 3 the "independence elections", and they are known as the Socialist Workers Party and the Committee for a Workers' International, who together make up a substantial minority of Solidarity's membership.

While the SWP at least would certainly be prepared to vote 'yes' in a pro-independence election, it would at present draw the line at voting for the SNP. The CWI too is happy to go along with the "independent socialist Scotland" position, but only so long as the word 'socialist' is retained in the phrase.

It is, then, more difficult for comrade Sheridan to refer to the "independence elections", so those around him have come up with an alternative slogan which serves the same purpose: May 3 will apparently be a "referendum on Trident". And which party (apart from Solidarity and the SSP) is most adamant in its opposition to Trident? Yes, the SNP.

In fact last week the Daily Record reported that comrade Sheridan himself had declared his intention nearer polling day to announce the party he thought should be supported in the constituencies. It is not difficult to work out which party, obviously. According to comrade Kerr, we can "confidently speculate" as to which it might be.

As with the SSP, comrade Sheridan's tactic seems to be to stress support for the SNP's main policy planks, while at the same time claiming it is going soft on them. Sheridan now says that the SNP is "beginning to slide" on independence (Daily Record April 5).

"I believe the time is right now to stand on our own two feet," says the comrade, but the SNP will not call a referendum until 2010. "Independence is for the people of Scotland and not for the SNP. It's a bit much that the SNP are making assumptions that people will decide on this issue based on whether the SNP perform in government or not "¦ Solidarity will support bills for a referendum on independence from any party, but we feel that this doesn't act quickly enough. Solidarity will try to speed up the process by introducing our own bill as soon as possible after the election."

The Record claimed there would be something in it for Solidarity if Tommy did deliver the SNP votes: although the SNP said it "would not strike a behind-the-scenes deal with Sheridan", it was "likely a decisive intervention from Sheridan would be rewarded".

But, in the words of comrade Kerr, Tommy will be making only a "personal recommendation" - Solidarity does not "believe in democratic centralism - people can make their own mind up". Perhaps Solidarity members should be allowed to "make their own mind up" on every policy question rather than conference or the leadership taking up a position that might tie them down.

The reality is, although neither Solidarity nor the SSP is saying so openly, they are both acting as SNP agents. This is a pathetic position for so-called 'socialists' to adopt - it is class collaborationism pure and simple. A separatist Scotland would in no way be progressive. Sure, a Scottish breakaway would weaken the UK state, but, unless we base ourselves on the spontaneist theory of revolution, this is not good news for the working class movement. The weakening of the UK state can also mean the weakening of the working class movement. More to the point, socialism can only be the act of the organised and conscious working class majority. Socialism does not come about simply because the bourgeois state has been weakened or wrecked.

In England independence for Scotland would most definitely benefit the Tories, while north of the border the backward-looking, bourgeois SNP would dominate. More importantly, the working class movement would be cleaved in two. In Scotland what passes for the left has made itself into the tail of petty nationalism. The pressure is bound to build around the demand for Scottish, patriotic, unions for Scottish workers.

The SSP experience has proved to be a disaster for the workers' movement in Britain. As the events of last year demonstrated beyond any doubt, as a 'unity project' it was only skin-deep. Lasting unity can only be built on the basis of Marxist principle, not some lowest-common-denominator appeal to whatever seems to be popular at any given time, whether that be bans on knives and airguns or appeals to patriotism.