As the SSP’s 2008 conference approaches, our party is still feeling the effects of the long running perjury investigations and charges linked to the libel trial brought by Tommy Sheridan against the News of the World.

The reality is whatever the outcome of any future court case, the fight for socialism has not been made any easier. However, whatever those conditions, it is imperative for socialists to stay organised and to continue to raise the red banner and to champion working class causes in Scotland, across these islands and internationally.

Stick to the task

The SSP has stuck to this task despite those unfavourable conditions. In recent months we have been on picket lines with striking civil servants, campaigned against Post Office closures, commemorated the 5th anniversary since the invasion of Iraq, stood in council by-elections and continued to discuss and debate the key political issues of the day.

Another vital task is to learn the organisational lessons of the previous two years. In the wake of the split by Sheridan and his supporters, the SSP set up a commission to precisely address these issues. The commission has conducted an exhaustive and extensive consultation with the SSP membership.

The main business of the March conference will be for the democratic structures of the party to decide what changes should be made to the Party’s constitution to ensure history does not repeat itself. This process, whilst time consuming and laborious, is necessary for us to lay the foundations, to re-build our party into a mass socialist party of the working class in Scotland.

However, we will be trying to do this in a situation where the SSP can no longer claim to be the party of socialist unity, uniting all the major forces of the socialist Left in Scotland; but is now having to campaign for socialist unity. This means we have to behave in a manner, which recognises that we are not, at present, the only force on the Left, and have to consider, how we can remain open to others, whilst maintaining our democratic structures and socialist principles.

Therefore, a key debate at conference will be whether the SSP upholds the principle of trade union affiliations. At heart this is a debate over whether the SSP builds as a labourist or a socialist party. Trade union affiliations allow many passive, indeed sometimes unknowing, workers to be seen as party members. In reality, trade union bureaucrats usually use these members’ passive support to wield ‘sledge hammer’ block votes at conferences to get their way.

Instead, we want the SSP to be a socialist party which is active within the trade unions, either by supporting Left (usually) opposition groupings, or when the political climate permits, branches of active party members within workplaces. This, of course, does not prevent any trade union supporting particular SSP campaigns. Indeed, we should be encouraging trade union members’ active participation in the use of their unions’ political funds, as an alternative to automatic support for Labour.

The main focus of this conference and the purpose of any changes to the constitution of the party must be to enhance party democracy from the bottom upwards and to extend accountability, building, in the process, a mass democratic party of action. If conference is to have a theme or a slogan then it must be politics over personality. This is reflected in the various proposals around the post of Convenor.

Accountability and democracy

Accountability and democracy must be central to the debates around the role of the Executive, party committees and the elected leadership. A crucial part to achieving this is through a network of healthy, active branches which should be the foundations on which the party is built. Among other things, there has to be assurances that any motion passed at conference is not quietly kicked into the long grass, but is instead acted upon. There needs to be a tightening up of how party committees operate: timetabled meetings, available minutes and bound by conference decisions.

Finally, the issue of platforms. There has been a call for the abolition of platforms. This right of members to organise in open platforms has been in the party constitution from day one. That, in and of itself, does not make it correct. However, without this right it is unlikely that the SSP would have been created in the first place. As a pluralist socialist party, we should recognise that a range of political viewpoints is a source of healthy debate and new ideas. Banning platforms would also further isolate us from the wider European Left. All the major organisations, such as the Portuguese Left Bloc and the French LCR have this provision, and consider it an essential component of socialist unity. Platforms or tendencies should be welcomed by the party as a way of promoting political discussion.

We do recognise that a couple of the platforms that have recently left the SSP did have a negative side to their involvement in our party. Often, they put their narrow, sectarian interests above the interests of the SSP and the working class as a whole. In our view, platforms should not just have rights but also have responsibilities. They must put the interests of the party first and not try to promote their own front organisations over the democratic decisions of the party as a whole. Below we re-print an extract from our editorial in Emancipation & Liberation No. 8 (Autumn 2004) explaining in more detail why we fight for the right ‘to platform’ in our party.