Rae Bridges is an SSP member who is not a member of any platform. Here he casts a perceptive eye over recent events.

As Tommy Sheridan emerged from the Court of Session in Edinburgh on August 4, he compared his victory over the gutter press, right wing, union bashing News of the World to Gretna beating Real Madrid.

Remarkable though the victory was (in strictly legal terms) if I were to use a football analogy, it would instead be to compare the current situation for socialism in Scotland with the Munich air crash, when another team in red, the brightest hope of its generation (albeit in football, not politics) perished in the ice and fire of a dark German runway.

Compare the two protagonists in the court case, which one do you think is in most turmoil, the cause of socialist unity in Scotland or Rupert Murdoch’s News International? Rupert must be laughing his head off, he’s destroyed the most united far left party in Scotland for generations, and the cost to him has been what would pass as loose change from his grossly overstuffed pockets.

Theatre of the Absurd

Even by the exacting standards of the Theatre of the Absurd, socialism in Scotland has proved that when it comes to grand farce no one does it better. The only thing missing so far has been the ghost of Brian Rix running into a meeting somewhere and dropping his trousers.

And the play is not over, only the first act. But, so far, it has had audiences spellbound and Sold Out notices there have been aplenty. Depending on whose truth you believe:

  • Socialist ‘Sold Out’ fellow socialist.
  • Tommy ‘Sold Out’ to the Daily Record.
  • And the News of the World and the Sun? Well, they just sold out at the newsagents.

Round about the time of the trial the Sun overtook the Daily Record as the best-selling daily paper in Scotland, quite probably on the back of its reporting of the trial. Bear that in mind if anyone ever tries to tell you that socialists don’t do irony.

A change of tune

Following the trial, Tommy and his supporters swore to win back the SSP, but again depending on whose truth you believe, the tune has changed and Tommy is off to set up another party, Solidarity.

So, now we are to have two socialist parties in Scotland. As a long-time admirer of satire and aficionado of the absurd (there’s that word again) I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Consider this scenario.

Some time in the not-too-distant future the firefighters/nursery nurses/civil servants/whoever are on strike. On the cold, wet midwinter picket lines (why don’t they ever strike in the summer?) they are approached in the early morning gloom by two individuals, who each introduce themselves to the shivering pickets thus.

I come as a representative of the SSP/Solidarity (delete as applicable), urging you to stand together. I warn you that the bosses will try to divide you. But, remember this, the workers, united, will never be defeated.

Shop Steward:

Hmm, didn’t you lot used to all be in the same party?

SSP/Solidarity member (together):

Yeah, we did, but we split.

Shop Steward:

Well, in that case, clear off and don’t come around here preaching unity and solidarity. Go and get your own house in order!’

Surreal? Bizarre? Ludicrous?

(Again, delete as applicable, but if you want to use all three, do feel free.)

But, anyway, back from the future to the time of the trial.

What were we doing while Lebanon burned?
What were we doing while Lebanon burned?

At this time, when Lebanon and Gaza were in flames and pundits pronounced the ‘start of world war three’; at this time, while the attack on pensions was still bubbling away in the background, with the prospect of future generations having to work longer for having the sheer audacity to live longer; at this time, as the country we lived in became a place where going to the wrong place of worship or having the wrong colour of skin, or wearing the wrong clothes could get you harassed, attacked in the street, or even killed; at this time, what was the priority of many socialists in Scotland?

Look outward

On both sides of the divide they were busy indulging in an orgy of effigy burning, mud slinging, name calling and generally behaving in a most decidedly uncomradely fashion towards each other. If ever there was a time when unity on the left and looking outward was needed, this was it.

Someone should have phoned Nero to see if he was finished with the fiddle. Though what to play on it might have proved a trifle problematic.

While The Internationale may indeed unite the human race, finding a song to unite the warring socialists of Scotland was proving a tad more difficult as the SSP descended into civil war. However, that for those who were not involved with either of the factions It’s My Party (And I’ll Cry If I Want To) was probably as good as you could have hoped to find. But, with the split, farce darkens into tragedy.

Autumn is now with us and a familiar noise fills the skies. Looking up we see skeins of geese flying in familiar V formation, heading for their winter feeding grounds.

They never fly in a perfect V, there’s a certain raggedness about it, one leg of the V is usually longer than the other, and there’s sometimes a straggler or two slightly detached from the rest.

Which is actually a pretty good description of what the SSP was like before the split, with all its platforms, factions, networks, individuals flying in some kind of formation.

It never was a perfect V, but it had direction, a kind of unity and a destination.

But now the skein that was the SSP has hit some turbulence, and where before there was one skein, now there are two, still heading in the same direction, still with a final destination, and, by the sound of it, making the same noises, but with unity shattered.

Which side are you on?

In my years in the SSP I took a conscious decision to remain independent of all platforms, factions, networks, etc. Now that the split has finally happened I’m reminded of a few lines from the old Bob Dylan song, Desolation Row.

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune,
The Titanic sails at dawn,
Everybody is shouting,
Which side are you on?

Which side, indeed! And there’s the tragedy, for, surely, when you cut away all the debates, all the arguments and all the differences, aye, even all the bitterness, what you should find at the heart of anyone who wishes to call themselves a socialist is a dream — the dream of a better world, a world where the socialist ideals of harmony, justice, peace and fairness for all have replaced the system of exploitation, enslavement, division and waste which we call capitalism. This dream remains a fundamental truth which links all socialists, wherever they may be, whoever they may be.

A few paragraphs back, I quoted from Bob Dylan, and now I’m going to end with another quote.

We cannot think of uniting with others until we have first learned to unite amongst ourselves. We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.

—Malcolm X.

I remain comradely yours, till the end, In the sure and certain knowledge of the revolution,

Rae Bridges