This statement was issued in the wake of the founding of the UL platform
Shared values and concerns
The RCN welcomes the formation of the new SSP–UL platform. The SSP United Left Statement (June 11th, 2006) makes a number of important points with which we are in agreement. The SSP, since its inception, has been a beacon of hope to the workers’ movement in Scotland and internationally. We also very much agree that uniting the left into a working, fighting political party has been a major achievement of the SSP.
The RCN also shares the SSP United Left’s concerns that the party’s community activism, socialist education and internal unity have failed to match our electoral success and that representatives may not be sufficiently accountable and note that in recent month, internal debate has been conducted via the mainstream media rather than through the democratic structures of the party.
The SSP United Left’s specific proposals on Building the SSP, Accountability and Participation, Self-organisation and Education share much of our own thinking on these matters. We particularly value the methods of working outlined in Our Network, and would want to work together to ensure these are entrenched in the practice of the whole SSP. This need is particularly evident after the marked departure from such methods displayed at the May 28th 2006 Emergency National Council meeting.
Why platforms are important
Some SSP members have attacked the declaration of the SSP United Left platform. We think that, even where SSP members oppose (some of) its principles, they should support the right to form particular platforms. Of course, it is incumbent on all platforms to conduct themselves in a principled, democratic and comradely manner towards others who do not necessarily share all their views. There clearly are political reasons for the formation of the SSP United Left. However, this decision was not taken lightly, partly due to many of the new platform members being former members of the former ISM platform, which had ceased to be viable due to growing political differences amongst its members.
It is quite clear that the unanimous agreement, originally shared by all members attending the SSP Emergency EC of November 9th 2004, over the handling of Tommy Sheridan’s standing down as SSP Convenor, has long broken down. When the EC maintained a bureaucratic united front against the membership, at the November 27th 2004, NC, the RCN opposed this. It would have been far better for both sides, in this particular dispute, to have brought their grievances to that NC meeting, so they could have been resolved then. Instead these differences have been allowed to fester. As a result some relatively small political differences have become considerably greater, whilst growing personal animosities have not been fully disentangled from political differences.
When Tommy Sheridan launched his Open Letter at the May 28th 2006 National Council meeting, it could be construed as a platform declaration, around which Tommy has asked SSP members to rally. The SW Platform, and quite a number of other SSP members, have answered his call. Therefore, like it or not, the major division in the party at present is over the issue of Tommy’s resignation. The formation of the SSP United Left, like Tommy’s Open Letter, represents a particular political response to this situation. The formation of particular platforms is the correct response to major differences in politically mature organisations.
Current SSP leadership weaknesses over our party’s relationship to the state and media
The RCN also believes that the current crisis has highlighted a particular political weakness, shared by all sections our current leadership. We believe that the EC was correct on November 9th to advise Tommy not to resort to the state’s courts to seek redress from the scabby News of the World. The RCN is opposed, in principle, to any resort to the state’s courts, when attempting to seek redress and judgement over our internal party matters (and those of other working class organisations), including the conduct of any office bearer.
We should only seek the opinion and judgement of the working class. Alternative working class methods of seeking justice include:- the use of our own press and website, open letters to the offending media, followed by direct appeals to the trade union members working in these bodies and, if necessary, boycott actions. The state’s courts are not our natural arena. We should never initiate actions which seek the state’s judgement over the conduct of our own affairs. We might, of course, be forced to attend courts to defend ourselves, as best we can, against the attacks of others. However, we do not do this in the belief that they will deliver real justice. Furthermore, resort to the bourgeois courts for justice is a rich man’s game.
Therefore, the compromise public agreement, whereby the November 9th Emergency EC did not give its backing to Tommy’s misguided course of action, but supported Tommy’s individual right to pursue court action, caused problems for the party. The state eagerly seized the opportunity provided by Tommy’s court case to intervene in the internal affairs of our party. We have now witnessed the jailing of Alan McCombes, raids on our premises and members’ houses, a major surveillance operation upon our party, followed by punitive fines. Minutes, or no minutes, the state has been given an opening to find legal excuses to attack our party. Tommy’s case could never have been confined to a personal issue. As far as the News of the World is concerned, Tommy’s celebrity status is linked to his political position. Therefore, we welcome those who recently advised Tommy to reconsider and withdraw from his court action, when the damage it was inflicting upon our party became strikingly evident.
Just as our party has to learn lessons over its relationship with the institutions of the state, the RCN is also concerned that lessons are learned about the off-the-record leaks to the press (including the alleged affidavit given to The Herald) made by various parties in the current dispute.
The SSP currently has no principles set down for dealing with the courts or the press, when dealing with internal matters. Given this weakness, the RCN favours the drawing up of a set of party principles, which would form the basis of our representatives’ and members’ future conduct over these matters.
The way forward
Our Annual Conference needs to be brought forward, the position regarding Minutes needs to be clarified, and a wider discussion opened up about the new political situation.
The SSP United Left has taken no position on the issue of dealing with the state’s courts and the bourgeois media. The RCN do not think that this debate can, or should be, avoided. We support the idea of moving the SSP’s Annual Conference forward to this Autumn. Furthermore, there are no longer any excuses for not providing SSP members with the Minutes of the November 9th, 14th and 24th ECs, now that they are in the hands of both the state and the News of the World. We need to stop both those who wish to rewrite history (something with a very bad record on the Left!) and those who have speculated on the content of these minutes with malicious intent.
A Conference, however, which concentrated purely on internal affairs, would represent too obvious a target for the media; and would possibly also discourage many SSP members. The wider political context has also changed considerably since our Conference earlier this year. There is growing evidence that our 2007 electoral campaign for the Scottish Parliament and Local Councils, will take place in a situation where New Labour face the prospect of losing their dominant position. Our Conference needs to address this situation.
Addressing the issue of Women’s Oppression
We also recognise the leading role many SSP United Left members have taken in advancing the party’s understanding of women’s oppression. Gender Equality forms a significant part of the Statement. Much emphasis is placed upon the hard-won, ground-breaking 50:50 policy. However, the current political divisions in the SSP, over the handling of Tommy’s court case, do not reflect the original political divisions in the SSP over the 50:50 decision – the SW Platform then being prominently in favour.
Despite reservations, we accept that the 50:50 rule is now in place. But we also recognise that much more needs to be done to ensure that women play a full and active role in the party at all levels. Furthermore, we would wish to deepen our own understanding of women’s oppression, feminism and the different political approaches and experiences over this matter. The RCN invites SSP United Left members to give a lead at one of our meetings. We would also welcome an invitation to any SSP United Left or wider party educational on this matter.
The RCN will continue its longstanding policy of working with any platform, or individual SSP member/s, where we can find common agreement. We also accept majority decisions taken by our party (compatible with the wider interests of the working class in Scotland and internationally). We hope for a fruitful working relationship with the SSP United Left.
Republican Communist Network
20 June 2006