It is only four years since the Scottish Socialist Party experienced the exhilaration of 6 MSPs getting elected to the Scottish Parliament.
In that time, the SSP MSPs have played a tremendous role in being at the forefront of working class and democratic campaigns throughout Scotland. From the nursery nurses fight for better pay, the fight to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons, to campaigning against the war in Iraq, against the G8 at Gleneagles and defending the right to stay of asylum seekers, our MSPs have been at protests, picket lines and demonstrations, participating in mass actions, not embedded behind the brushed metal and the distressed pine of the Scottish parliament building.
However, the impact of having six MSPs revealed that the party was, initially not best prepared to deal with the demands placed on them. This criticism is not aimed at our MSPs. Instead the party needs to take responsibility for the accountability and activity of any elected representatives whether they are MSPs, councillors or trade union representatives.
The political situation has changed quite considerably since May 2003. In some ways, conditions have improved for socialists. The Labour Party continues to rule at Westminster, Holyrood and in many local councils. They continue to pursue a mixed agenda of right wing populism and the promotion of corporate interests. These include attacks on civil rights, the criminalisation of large sections of society, the ‘War on terror’, the Iraq war, PFI and privatisation, cash for honours and the cover-up over the BAe corruption enquiry.
In some ways this year’s Holyrood election resembles a replay of the 1997 Westminster election. Then, New Labour was able to win a substantial vote from all those people thoroughly disaffected, after 18 years of Tory rule. Now, the SNP hopes to garner a protest vote from people disillusioned both with Blair’s wretched Westminster government and McConnell’s toadying Scottish Executive. In 1997, New Labour promised us,
Things could only get better in the UK; now the SNP is, in effect, promising us, ‘Things can only get better in Scotland’. However, the SNP’s social democratic credentials are also fading fast as its business-friendly, independence-lite policies attracts some of the great and the good of Corporate Scotland.
Yet, the SNP has been handed an
electoral gift on a plate. In 2003 many people looked to the united SSP to protest against warmongering New Labour. The SNP was weak. Now it is the Left which is divided, and a lot of the protest vote will go to the SNP in 2007.
Therefore, things are far worse for the Left in Scotland than in 2003. The events around the libel trial instigated by Tommy Sheridan in the summer 2006 have had a seriously detrimental effect on the struggle for socialism. His splitting of the SSP with the establishment of ‘Solidarity’ was a serious blow against the principle of socialist unity. (For extensive coverage of these issues see E&L 13 and Frontline Volume 2, Issue 2).
What does this mean for the Scottish parliament and council elections?
The SSP has taken the correct decision to stand candidates in all the Regional Lists. Unfortunately, so has Solidarity. Unless some sort of ‘socialist common sense’ prevails, based on a broader and more mature class perspective, this will ensure that the impact of any socialist vote will be diminished as it will be split between the two organisations. So who does this benefit?
This will serve to reignite the cynicism and defeatism by some sections of
what’s the point in voting for any of you when you can’t get your act together to fight the real enemy.
The split by Solidarity has appeared to give added confidence to the BNP, announcing they intend to stand in all regional lists – something they have never attempted before. Surely this is no coincidence.
However, any socialist unity must be on a principled basis. At this time though, progress to any type of unity is extremely difficult. Electoral agreement is impossible while leading Solidarity members continue with their attempts to destroy the SSP. One concrete example of this is evidenced in a document presented to the National Steering Committee of Solidarity in December by Steve Arnott entitled Strategic objectives, priorities and tasks for May 2007. In it he writes:
A good result in the Scottish Parliament in 2007 would be the re-election of Tommy Sheridan and Rosemary Byrne as Solidarity MSPs, with the winning of any other regional seats and/or council seats a marvellous bonus. If, however, Solidarity can poll 2-3% elsewhere across the country, that would also give us the added benefit of assuring the wipe-out of the SSP at Holyrood.
(emphasis added). Solidarity? More like sectarianism!
Sadly, the elections are likely to heighten the divisions and thereafter there will undoubtedly be recriminations. Despite this, the principled unity of all socialists or communists into a single organisation must still be our goal. Without it, socialism in a real sense is a pipe dream. The SSP is still the vehicle for that unity.
Whatever the outcome of these elections, as socialists we must be clear why we fight in bourgeois elections. Whether it is the Scottish parliament, local councils or Westminster, the principle is the same. Standing in these elections gives us an opportunity to raise the ideas of socialism in a period of heightened political activity. It enables us to win new recruits to the ideas of working class struggle, solidarity and socialism. Parliaments – Scottish, The Scottish parliament will never legislate socialism Westminster or European – could not legislate for socialism. The organised power of the capitalist state would not allow it. Socialism will only come about through the self organised, mass movement of the working class. This is why it is vital that socialist representatives, whether in local councils or at Holyrood, must remember that the cause of socialism is best served by being an organiser in their working class communities and by being a tribune of those communities when in the debating chambers.
(A more detailed analysis of the rise of Scottish nationalism is published on our website at: The SSP, ‘Independence First’ And The Scottish Independence Referendum)