Aug 05 2002

A Healthy Constitution?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:49 pm

Duncan Rowan, the SSP’s North East Organiser, raises concerns at the outcome of the SSP’s Special Conference on the party’s constitution

Conferences, special or otherwise, have always struck me as slightly pointless affairs. All that passion, preparation and rhetoric spent upon an audience, 90% of whom arrived that morning knowing exactly how they were going to vote. To me a conference is the last stage of a debate, the formal counting of hands to get a yea or nay, the actual arguments are won or lost in the weeks or months leading up to the actual vote. After checking out who’s turned up on the day, any reasonably informed comrade can tell you with a high degree of accuracy exactly how every conference votes going to go. To be honest most of conference business could be carried out by post, with no noticeable effect upon the result. But every so often, just often enough to make the whole shebang worthwhile, a issue comes along where the balance of forces within the party is close enough that the 10% undecided on the day are pivotal, where debate does effect the outcome, when the result of a vote is anybody’s guess.

At the special conference in June both of these experiences of SSP conferences were on full display, the crushingly predicable and the genuinely exciting and uncertain. Apart from the relief of finally, after almost three years of on/off discussion, deciding that our logo would remain the same – the conference was devoted to two matters, our position in the looming Euro referendum and a revised constitution for the party. Neither issue seemed to grip the party’s wide membership, a fact reflected in the turnout on the day – around 140 delegates. This was less than half who attended the February annual conference in Dundee, and based on a membership of 2,500 just a fifth of a theoretical full delegate conference.

Whilst the timing and location of the conference may partly explain the low attendance, the nature and issues up for debate were never going to be a crowd puller. The Euro debate was widely seen, correctly as was the case, as a done deal – the no vote inevitable.

More worryingly the revised constitution failed to stir any mass debate. It is inevitable that in a party committed to class action that there is a tendency to regard constitutional matters as mildly irrelevant, boring but necessary and best left to the hacks. But this is a tendency, which must be fought; democracy is the oxygen of socialism. Without a healthy and robust internal democracy the SSP will prove to be incapable of tasks we’ve set ourselves, doomed to join the ever-growing list of socialist parties who have degenerated into sects or fallen into opportunism and reformism. What a constitution says and how it is applied are amongst the first indicators of the health of any party. A lack of interest in what may seem like constitutional niceties, whilst not a terminal sign is still cause for concern.

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