Can the Scottish Socialist Party recover?

Submitted by cathy n on 7 October, 2007 - 1:34 Author: Dale Street

Just nineteen motions have been submitted for the 2007 annual conference of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), being held in Dundee on 21 October. Four of the motions have been submitted by the party’s Executive Committee. The Republican Communist Network (RCN) platform in the SSP and the SSP Assistant Secretary (website) have each submitted one motion.

The other thirteen motions have been submitted by eleven different SSP branches. That about sums up the sorry state that the SSP is in.

And just over a third of the motions – seven of them – deal with the SSP’s internal organisation, covering issues such as party staffing (at the moment the SSP employs only part-time staff), party finances (not in a healthy state), filling vacant office-bearers’ positions (in the event of an office-bearer standing down), and re-organisation of the SSP’s regional structures (which currently function with varying degrees of effectiveness).

Another motion curiously included under the heading of “Internal Affairs” contains a number of proposals for improving the SSP’s trade union work, ranging from organising networks of SSP members in different unions to increasing SSP input into local Trades Councils and existing ‘Broad Lefts’, as well as providing greater input from SSP trade unionists into the SSP’s newspaper.

One of the two motions on environmental issues advocates a planned economy and a lower aggregate level of consumption as the solution to the environmental crisis, and proposes “building bridges with all those sharing the aims of sustainability, equity and democracy to create a movement for radical change.”

The other motion on the environment proposes “regionally based day-schools” in order to promote education and activist training, and to bring ‘red and green’ closer together. In the absence of the SSP having a publication of its own, the motion recommends that SSP members read the Socialist Resistance publication “Eco-Socialism or Barbarism?”

A motion on religion and education (an issue of some degree of controversy within the SSP) proposes that all teachers should have the right to teach in all schools (i.e. no power of veto by the Catholic Church), religious or denominational schools should be “phased out”, and the practice of collective worship in school assemblies should be scrapped.

Motions submitted under the “Campaigns” heading variously advocate: campaigning in solidarity with migrant workers and in support of the “No-One Is Illegal” campaign; campaigning around Scotland’s housing crisis; and campaigning in defence of free weekly bin collections, in order to force council to “give firm guarantees that they will not move to fortnightly bin collections.”

Another campaigning motion makes a series of essentially organisational proposals regarding how the SSP should prepare to intervene in the next General Election, which “may be called as early as spring 2008”, bearing in mind the organisation’s depleted resources.

A lengthy Executive Committee motion on campaigning argues that while internal reforms of the SSP are needed (to be proposed by a Commission set up at an earlier conference, and currently consulting members on party reforms), the SSP “needs to need to go back to what we do best – campaigning in communities and in trade unions on the issues that matter to people.”

These include “national issues such as independence, anti war, scrapping the council tax and free school meals,” and also, on a more local level, “fighting for 'People not Profit' against privatisation, public spending cuts and environmental destruction.”

Finally, there are three motions on the conference agenda dealing with international issues. One calls for support for the “Hands Off the People of Iran” campaign. A second calls for the SSP “to work with the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign in its struggle for boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions against the Israeli regime until it recognises the right of the Palestinians.”

The third motion on international issues, submitted by the RCN and the longest one on the agenda, argues that the British ruling class’s strategy of “devolution all round” in order “to maintain its political domination and control over these islands” has been partially undermined by the election of “a DUP/Sinn Fein coalition, an SNP/Green minority coalition, and a Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition.”

Against a background of “the current UK government having been awarded US imperialism’s political ‘franchise’, as junior partner, in the North East Atlantic,” the motion proposes that the SSP “organise a conference, in early 2008, which invites socialists from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England to discuss a republican socialist strategy to counter current US and British plans to maintain imperial control over these islands on behalf of the global corporations.”

As an organisation, the SSP has not recovered from the Sheridan trial, the subsequent split, and the loss of all its MSPs in the Holyrood elections. With only patchy exceptions, branch life and street activities are at a low ebb. And there is a heavy emphasis on reform of internal SSP structures, through implementation of the conclusions of the Commission, as being central to turning around the fortunes of the SSP.

But the Sheridan trial and split took place over a year ago. The Holyrood elections took place nearly six months ago. Although the Executive Committee motion on campaigning is right to say that rebuilding the SSP “will take time” – assuming that the SSP can be rebuilt – there is as yet still little or no sign of the SSP moving on from the trauma of the period between Sheridan’s trial and the Holyrood elections.

Moreover, the morbid and obsessive fixation on Sheridan and his breakaway from the SSP also obscures the fact that the SSP had already begun to encounter substantial difficulties well before his departure.

Putting everything ‘on hold’ until the Commission comes up with its findings next February or March would only make matters worse. (In fact, more likely than not, one of the reasons for the paucity of motions submitted to the SSP conference is that the staging of the conference is seen as playing second fiddle to the eventual findings of the Commission.)

In any organism, paralysis, after a certain amount of time, can end up having fatal consequences. And the SSP is no exception to that. The SSP needs to draw a line under the past and start from where it is now, not reminisce about how things used to be ‘in the good old days’ and then lament about how ‘we wuz robbed’.

There is certainly no magic solution to the current malaise in the SSP (and no-one is pretending there is). And it’s a lot easier to say what the SSP cannot do (produce a weekly newspaper, employ full-time staff, use its MSPs to gain publicity for the SSP, etc.) than to say what it should be doing.

But even allowing for all such qualifications, the SSP will turn itself around only if it confronts some basic political questions.

First and foremost: is it an organisation which seeks to root itself in the trade union movement on the basis of class-struggle politics, or is it a kind of left-wing counterpart to the SNP (or, in its most extreme form, an organisation of left fellow-travellers of the SNP)?

Secondly, does the SSP still have a serious commitment to left unity, including with socialist organisations in the rest of Britain, even if such unity takes place for the time being only in specific joint campaigns (especially in the trade unions) as opposed to closer organisational ties with other groups?

Thirdly, how can the SSP integrate campaigning around specific issues – whether it be housing, migrant workers, free school meals, anti-militarism, or whatever – into the broader political perspective of why the SSP exists as an organisation, rather than such campaigning ending up as disparate ‘single-issue’ activism?

Fourthly, is the SSP going to remain stuck in the rut of a caricature of socialist internationalism (boycott Israel, support Cuba, cheer on Chavez, and idolise Che) or is it going to approach international political issues within a perspective of class struggle politics?

But whether the SSP’s forthcoming conference in Dundee begins to answer any of these questions is a question in itself.

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