By Elaine Jones, Dumfries and Galloway SSP
Saturday 2 September saw the launch of Tommy Sheridan’s new organisation Solidarity — Scotland’s Socialist Movement (sic). This new organisation has been set up not because of serious political differences, but because of personal differences over Tommy’s court case, in which he successfully sued the News of the World.
The SWP and the Socialist Party are opportunistically backing Sheridan in the hope of being able to create more space for recruitment and for their own pet projects (Respect and the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party) in Scotland. For now they are happy for Sheridan to set the political programme of the new group — i.e. no different to the SSP — but in the long run the dominance of the SWP will probably become more apparent.
Meanwhile what remains of the SSP held a rally the day before Sheridan’s. It was well attended, with over 400 people coming to hear Colin Fox (SSP national convener), John McAllion (ex-Labour left MSP) and other SSP organisers and MSPs to “celebrate the end of the worst two years in the organisation’s history”.
They asserted that they are the party which fights for socialism and champions the working class. They said it was necessary to rebuild the SSP on the same basis as before. One of the best speakers was Joanne Kelly from Scottish Socialist Youth who said the SSP should learn from them — that they had proper educationals and participation from all members, that they had a women’s group that wasn’t a “gender obsessed discussion group” (Sheridan’s phrase) but said that it was a group of militant, angry young women who wanted to shake the establishment. She said a commitment to women’s organisation should become central to the SSP.
The problem is that the SSP has little understanding of socialist feminism. In the AWL we have supported the organisation of working-class women, learning from experiences like Women Against Pit closures, and the women’s organisation of the early German socialist movement, and from supporting women’s sections in the Labour Party. In the SSP we should try and circulate our material so that the young women who are serious about women’s liberation are given the chance to learn about what sort of a women’s movement we need to build.
On the negative side, the SSP speakers reasserted their commitment to Scottish independence as one of their main aims and attacked the George Galloway and the SWP for being from “London-dominated” organisations. They did mention that Galloway wouldn’t part with his £150,000 a year income but failed to mention that the main problem with the SWP and Galloway is their politics.
In the Voice (the SSP newspaper) and in speeches, the SSP leaders make all the right criticisms of capitalism, give all the persuasive statistics about the extent of poverty and injustice... but then they stop. They are relatively uncritical of Galloway’s support for Saddam Hussein and the SWP’s admiration of political Islam. They don’t mention the SWP’s failure to support Iraqi trade unionists and backing of the Islamist “resistance”. They just don’t draw clear political lines.
The SSP will need to have more political debate on the points of difference. The hope is that in the next few months the SSP will begin to recognise the mistakes it has made and put them right. That they will see that they built up Sheridan in to an untouchable working class hero, just like their Militant forerunners did with Derek Hatton in Liverpool. And see that what they need instead is an educated membership able to hold its leaders to account. That they will run proper education courses and increase accountability.
They also need to properly orientate towards doing work in the unions — and not just in Scotland, but linking up with trade unionists across Britain. That would cut across their nationalism as well as helping build a solid working class base.
Their interest in the Labour party is of course non-existent. Colin Fox said that the victory of the Tories in the next general election wouldn’t be a bad thing because it would make Scottish people more angry and more inclined to support Scottish independence! They fail to recognise that the Labour Party link with the trade unions still exists and we should still argue within the unions for trade union policy to be fought for within the Labour Party and against Blair.
Will the SSP do these things? It’s too early to say. In the first place the organisation needs to kick-start new campaigns and aim unity with the new group. When the dust settles we should also encourage joint work on privatisation, free school meals, the council tax, asylum etc. Some of people have gone to Sheridan because of the good things he has done in the past. They just haven’t thought through the political consequences. (The “Solidarity” rally on 3 September was also well attended, though rumour has it that the SWP bused up three coachloads of members from England to pad out the meeting).
The SSP will survive the split, and the AWL can hopefully help rebuild it and work with those who want to make it into a more effective socialist organisation.