on the electoral strategy of the scottish socialist party

Scotland’s Republican Communist Network have produced this document looking at organisational and political aspects of the Scottish Socialist Party’s electoral strategy in the wake of the recent by-election in Glasgow North East.

1. How did the SSP publicly assess the by-election result?

The Republican Communist Network (RCN) welcomes the decision of the SSP Executive Committee (EC) to open up the discussion to members about the lessons we can draw for future electoral work from the Glasgow North East by-election.

All party members recognise that any assessment of this (and other) recent elections must take on board the serious damage done to the SSP as a result of the split caused by Tommy Sheridan, and the sectarian antics of the CWI and SWP. This means that not only does the SSP have far fewer members to get involved in campaigns, but also that a considerable section of the remaining membership still lacks confidence. Sometimes, they do not get involved in the SSP’s prioritised campaigns, or else they confine their activities to other spheres, where SSP leadership political support is slight or non-existent. This meant that, in the Glasgow North East by-election, a huge burden of work fell upon a few members’ shoulders, particularly those of Kevin McVey.

Kevin was a good candidate with considerable political experience. He has the ability to communicate and to deal with the ‘rough and tumble’ of what would almost certainly prove to be a difficult campaign. However, there is probably another quality of Kevin’s, which probably made him an ideal candidate. Given the low expectations that Glasgow SSP held about the final vote in the by-election, Kevin is resilient, can take any hard knocks, and is not easily disillusioned by poor results.

Nevertheless, many members outside Glasgow, who were only minimally involved in the by-election campaign, probably wonder if the very low vote (a drop from 1402 in 2005 to 152 in 2009) will not further deepen some Glasgow comrades’ sense of the SSP’s political marginalisation, leading them to further political retreats (see section 6).

A special issue of Scottish Socialist Voice was produced for the by-election, to be distributed throughout the constituency. Indeed, as far as the Voice went, Glasgow North East became the only national priority, with the suspension and non-distribution of national papers outside of Glasgow. So, SSP members and new contacts in Glasgow North East, as well as members outside Glasgow, would have looked to the post by-election national Voice, issue 350, for an account and analysis of the results and the party’s work in the by-election.

In this issue, we were able to read that, Labour triumph, SNP are rebuffed {and} BNP advance halted – but absolutely nothing about the SSP or the other socialist candidates. This suggests a feeling of embarrassment, instead of providing an honest explanation to our 152 voters, the other 841 ostensibly socialist voters in the constituency, those who came across the SSP in the campaign but are not registered to vote, and our regular readers elsewhere. It was left to Kevin to give his account to the party at the November 28th National Council (NC).

2.A New Labour victory for the politics of despair, and the marginalisation of the politics of misplaced hope in the SNP

If we look at the overall political picture of the Glasgow North East by-election, the results represent the triumph of despair over hope (see Appendix 1). Labour showed no concern over the historic low turnout (33.2%). The vast majority of those who abstained come from those people whose needs can not even be minimally met when capitalism is in deep crisis. The mainstream parties know this. They are quite happy for such people to remain voiceless and to quietly ‘disappear’ in elections.

Therefore, for Labour, battling only for the electoral support of those who do vote, in a constituency they had long held, the over-riding task was to uphold the status-quo. This was done through a campaign of utter negativity and fear-mongering, and saying that ‘things can only get worse’ if any other party won, but especially their greatest immediate threat in Scotland, the SNP.

In the 2007 Holyrood General Election, the SNP was successfully able to counter New Labour’s incessant ‘doom and gloom’-mongering by offering voters some prospect of hope. In effect, the SNP said to the electorate that they would implement some of the social democratic policies which people once expected from Labour, but which New Labour has now abandoned. Independence would be put on a back burner, until an SNP government had shown its competence in office. Then provision would be made for the people to make their choice for Scotland’s future constitutional arrangements in a referendum.

However, the SNP leaders also ensured that, despite their declared support for more radical constitutional reform than the British mainstream parties, this would not be linked to any very radical economic or social changes. Overtures to prominent Scottish and US business figures showed that the SNP accept the constraints of the existing economic order. Promises of low corporate taxes highlight the SNP’s subordination to big business.

The underlying flaw in the SNP’s economic strategy is that the money for their social democratic-type reforms was supposed to come from a Scottish economy buoyed by the successes of its financial sector. The Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland were meant to offer “neo-liberalism with a heart”. There is hope and there is misplaced hope!

The SNP’s response to US and British opposition to its proposed ‘independence’ referendum is to further accommodate to these forces, whilst lowering workers’ immediate economic and social expectations. Perhaps the most spectacular indication of this has been the suggestion by former Left, Jim Sillars, that SNP current opposition to NATO bases and nuclear weapons should be dropped. Sillars may be a fairly marginal figure within the SNP today, but his words will give some encouragement to more influential Right wing figures in the party, such as Michael Russell and Angus Robertson who want to make the SNP into the main representative of Scottish business interests within the existing global economic order, following in the footsteps of the Parti Quebecois (and its offshoot Action Democratique), Catalan Convergence and the PNV in Euskadi.

The SNP hints at some cosmetic changes that could be made to the current global imperial order, with a greater political role given to the UN. Yet the totally undemocratic UN remains a plaything of the major imperial powers, and only provides cover for decisions they have already agreed upon. The SNP’s opposition to NATO remains only a paper policy, with leading figures contemplating a new Scottish deal for British/English and US armed forces, possibly in return for Scotland being removed from NATO’s nuclear frontline to a secondary supporting role in NATO’s Orwellian-named, ‘Partnership for Peace’. This means making military bases in Scotland available for imperial use, when called upon, like the Irish government has done at Shannon Airport. Furthermore, the SNP has been quite prepared to support the use of Scottish regiments in imperial (and unionist) conflicts from Crossmaglen in the recent past, to Helmand Province today. Therefore, the SNP wants to the ‘rebrand’ imperialism, not join any anti-imperialist opposition.

The SNP has taken a similar accommodationist role with regard to the continuation of the UK state. This has been highlighted by the SNP’s new found open support for the British monarchy. They accept the Union of the Crowns and ask people to vote in 2010 for a constitutional ‘return’ to the years between 1603 and 1707! In effect, the SNP wants to renegotiate the Union not to overthrow it. Any possible future ‘independence’ referendum campaign will be conducted under ‘Westminster rules’. However, the UK state only plays by these rules when it suits them. The Crown Powers, which the SNP has no desire to challenge, provide the British ruling class with a whole host of additional anti-democratic powers to be utilised when they feel there is any threat to their continued rule.

In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the implementation of thoroughgoing Civil Rights within Northern Ireland (yet still within the UK and under the Crown) was seen to be too great a concession, not only by the local Ulster Unionists (no surprise there) but also by the leaders of the UK state. Today’s British ruling class, fixated with maintaining its imperial role in the world, and its control of NATO military bases and North Sea oil resources in Scotland, is not going to confine its opposition to the SNP’s constitutional reforms to ‘gentlemanly’ democratic procedures.

The SNP has also ended up tail-ending the other mainstream parties at Westminster in its support for banking bailouts at our expense. Then, following from this, they are imposing the devolved financial cuts through Holyrood. Meanwhile, SNP-run (or jointly-run) councils press on with school closures, massive attacks on workers’ conditions (Edinburgh street cleaners and home helps), because they meekly accept Holyrood’s transmitted expenditure cuts.

Furthermore, the SNP government has been kowtowing to overtly reactionary social pressure, such as the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to gay rights and abortion. And, just for good measure, the SNP government is contemplating the clearance of some Aberdeenshire residents to make way for US tycoon, Donald Trump’s golf course complex.

However, for the wider electorate, it has been the ‘Credit Crunch’ that has really blown the SNP strategy apart, first in Glenrothes and now in Glasgow North East. So, instead of maintaining their early confidence in office, the SNP government is now stumbling from one ‘cock-up’ after another (e.g. over school class sizes).

In other words, the SNP behave in office much like New Labour. The SNP’s poor vote in Glasgow North East (especially given the political background to Michael Martin’s resignation) represented a further abandonment of hope – only in this case the hope had been misplaced to begin with, given the SNP’s subordination to financial and corporate capital, or ‘neo-liberalism with a swag bag’.

With the prime battle in Glasgow North East being fought out between New Labour and the SNP, even the other mainstream parties – the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems – were marginalised. Why change to untried Tory or Lib-Dem cuts, when the more familiar Labour Party promised its cuts would hurt less?

Voters’ feelings of despair have been greatly increased by inability of the massive Anti-War Movement to stop the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Blair got away with acting as Bush’s tame poodle. Today, we have Brown taking on the same subordinate role with regard to Obama in Afghanistan. Only now he is buttressed by the support of the Right wing SNP Defence Spokesperson, Angus Robertson.

Some thought that the ‘Credit Crunch’ might push New Labour to the Left and force them to introduce some neo-Keynesian economic regulation, supplemented by social democratic policies to increase workers’ incomes. Instead, New Labour at Westminster government has intervened to restore the fortunes and profits of the City, with the costs being offloaded on to workers’ shoulders. This has been highlighted by the return of obscene bankers’ bonuses, and the judicial upholding of banks’ right to set arbitrary and punitive fines upon those who have fallen behind with their payments. And the SNP has meekly accepted this too.

Furthermore, when politicians were exposed at Westminster with ‘their fingers in the till’, some SNP MPs were found to be amongst their number. Meanwhile, Labour-supporting trade union leaders, locked in social partnership, have declared the ‘willingness’ of their members to shoulder ‘their’ share of the burden. They just beg the corporate bosses to do the same! No wonder the politics of despair dominated this by-election, highlighted by the massive abstention rate.

3. Despair and the retreat to populism

Now, of course, in the not so distant past, a united SSP could enter elections in Glasgow expecting to be to the forefront of the second tier of contestants (after the top tier of New Labour and the SNP). In Glasgow, this next tier also included the Conservatives, Lib-Dems and Greens. The Holyrood election of 2003 was the highpoint (15.2% for the SSP in the additional member vote), coinciding not only with the massive anti-war movement but the widest socialist unity achieved by any European socialist party at the time.

However, the Left’s failure in the UK to stop the Iraq war, led to the denting of all non-mainstream party support (e.g. for the SSP and the Greens in the 2007 Holyrood elections in Scotland). Nevertheless, the ‘Credit Crunch’ should have provided socialists with new opportunities. The unfolding economic crisis demonstrated the failures of the neo-liberal economics long pushed by all the mainstream parties. A worried ruling class began to adopt some neo-Keynesian measures to save capitalism from itself. This opened up splits in their ranks.

A short-sighted and opportunist ‘opposition’ could act as cheerleaders for that section of the ruling class won over to neo-Keynesian state intervention. A genuinely socialist opposition, however, would take advantage of such ruling class divisions to demonstrate the need and viability of a socialist alternative, and build its own independent support for such a vision amongst those workers and others prepared to fight back against austerity cuts, attacks on ethnic minorities, curtailment of civil rights and never ending war.

The possibilities this offered can be seen on the continent with the formation and growth of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France, and the successes of the Left Bloc in Portugal, both our fellow partners in the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance. The recent impressive vote for Die Linke in Germany is also an indicator of greater public support for the Left. (However, the fact that a powerful section of their leadership would willingly enter a coalition with the Social Democrats means that Die Linke’s current electoral successes could be transformed into an Italian Rifondazioni Comunista-like meltdown, if they ever pursued this particular course of action nationally.)

Back in 2005, in Glasgow North East, socialist candidates received 5438 votes (19.1%) in Glasgow North East, in the Westminster General Election. Now, certainly a lot of the votes going to the SLP in 2005 were confused with the Labour Party (in the absence of an official Labour candidate, and with Michael Martin standing only as the Speaker). This made the full extent of genuine support for socialism more difficult to determine. However, by the 2009 by-election, the ostensibly socialist vote fell back to 993 votes (4.8%).

What makes this even worse is that any specifically socialist message virtually disappeared. Those parties competing to be in the political mainstream (New Labour, Conservative, Lib-Dem and the SNP) all want to promote their neo-neo-liberal credentials. The extra ‘neo’ prefix is because the ruling class now accept limited state regulation. However, this takes the form of banking bailouts and the imposition of the ‘necessary’ cuts to restore the old neo-liberal status quo. In contrast the parties outside this mainstream consensus, whether on the Right or the Left, want to project themselves as populist, and hide their underlying politics – fascism on the Right, socialism on the Left.

Populism is a form of politics, which stretches from the Right to the Left. It tries to appeal to the broadest swathe of people, by denying or downplaying the central contradictions of capitalism – the conflict between labour and capital – and looking instead for scapegoats, e.g. ethnic minorities (particularly by the Right), or by targeting the (replaceable) agents of our current woes (e.g. greedy bankers), rather than questioning the capitalist system itself, and highlighting the need for workers to take their own independent action. This latter approach is the only option, if there is to be any longer term hope for the working class living in a crisis-ridden capitalism, or even for humanity itself, given the additional threats from ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and the possibility of growing environmental catastrophe, as the capitalist crisis widens and deepens.

4. The BNP and Right populism

The one party that feels at home wallowing in the politics of despair is, of course, the BNP. They offer scapegoats to divert people from the real source of their woes –capitalism. There is very little ruling class or public support for their underlying fascist aims. This is why Nick Griffin has pushed through a change of image for the BNP – “from boots to suits”. This means adopting, not swastika-waving, German Nazi, anti-Semitic colours, but Right populist, Union Jack-waving, Islamophobic, British nationalism. Churchill (and not without reason) rather than Hitler is their new idol. Glasgow, with a still quite extensive loyalist sub-culture, is obviously a good place to try and establish a foothold for militant British nationalism in a Scotland where British identity is otherwise on the decline.

However, there is no immediate prospect of a fascist march to take power, either on Edinburgh, or on London. The Left is too weak at present to make the ruling class seriously support such a course of action. Yet the BNP is pushing at an open door when it comes to influencing the mainstream parties’ policies and the state’s actions directed against migrants and particular ethnic or religious minorities. These parties are also looking for scapegoats, and are quite prepared to ‘mainstream’ anti-migrant or anti-Islamic policies, whilst publicly distancing themselves from some of their more unsavoury sources.

Furthermore, whilst still unable to offer any serious physical challenge to organised labour, or even to well-established immigrant communities, BNP electoral advances can provide cover for those fascists wanting to ‘keep their hand in’ by picking on more vulnerable targets, e.g. asylum seekers, individual migrant workers and Roma/Travellers. In order to maintain a ‘respectable image’, this may necessitate a certain division of labour, e.g. between the suit wearing BNP and the boot boys of the EDL/SDL.

The BNP, as well as attacking their expected scapegoats in the by-election – ‘feather-bedded asylum seekers’, and ‘Islamic terrorists’- also targeted the bankers, hedge fund traders, Tory and Labour “morons” (see Appendix 2). This shows populism in action, because it appears to address some of the same targets as the Left.

The reason for this should be quite clear when reading the following statement from the BNP’s Scottish Secretary about their objectives in the Glasgow North East by-election. Our first aim {is} to beat all the extreme left-wing parties …the combined vote of Solidarity, SSP and Socialist Labour, added together. (http://scotland.bnp.org.uk/category/scottish-secretary/)

In the face of this challenge, the RCN believes that far more serious attention should have been paid by the SSP to putting up a united socialist unity candidate. Whilst the sectarianism of the SLP is hard-wired, failure to get their support would hardly have been crucial (as highlighted by the spectacular collapse of their vote from 4036 in 2005 to 47 in 2009). The possibilities, however, from sections of a splintering Solidarity should have been followed up assiduously. These growing divisions can be utilised to win over sections of Solidarity increasingly annoyed with the dead-end politics of ‘celebrity socialism’ and the Trotskyist sects, whilst seriously looking for new ways to re-establish socialist unity (see section 5).

So, in the absence of any effective united challenge, and with some in Glasgow SSP and in Solidarity (Tommy and the CWI in particular) seemingly more concerned about presiding over ‘a grudge match’ than seriously addressing the wider political issues – the Afghanistan occupation and the danger of the growth in fascist support – how did the BNP assess their result in light of opportunity provided to them by the Left? “Our first aim, to beat all the extreme left-wing parties was achieved, in spades”. Scottish Secretary, BNP (http://scotland.bnp.org.uk/category/scottish-secretary/). If that was the whole story, the Left should be hanging its head in shame.

Fortunately, though, there were SSP comrades in Glasgow, especially those involved in SSY, who played a major part in preventing fascists capitalising on the BNP’s electoral advance when they hoped to take over the streets on the Saturday, 14th November, following the by-election two days before. They helped to organise effective opposition to the SDL. This also meant providing a political challenge to the SWP’s accommodationist party front, ‘United Against Fascism’, initially more concerned with chasing after Labour/STUC’s ‘Scotland United’ and Annabel Goldie, than chasing the fascists. In the event, the SDL was seen off and humiliated. However, until the BNP and other fascists are marginalised at all levels by socialists, including the electoral, there is still no room for complacency.

5. Solidarity, the Left populism of ‘celebrity socialism’, and the widening divisions in its ranks

Solidarity’s adoption of celebrity politics in the person of Tommy Sheridan is an obvious manifestation of populism. ‘Celebrity socialism’ was never effectively challenged in the old SSP. This much everybody in the SSP now accepts. However, the politics of ‘celebrity socialism’ are far from being unique to the old SSP. In the 1980’s, Militant succumbed to the ‘charms’ of Derek Hatton in Liverpool. (The CWI still don’t seem to have learned any lessons from this in Scotland.) Since then, we have seen both Arthur Scargill’s SLP, now reduced to one man’s vanity party (and after their Glasgow North East by-election result, hopefully an early retirement), and George Galloway’s Respect, as divided by the antics of a ‘celebrity socialist’ and the SWP, as the SSP has ever been.

In the by-election, Tommy threw himself into the battle of the celebrities, against John Smeaton and Mikey Hughes. In this battle, he won hands down (794 to 258 and 54). However, celebrity populist politics may be able to create a fan base, but it leaves no effective campaigning organisation behind it. Despite Tommy’s ‘triumph’ in Glasgow, his campaign has not left a stronger Solidarity on the ground. Their recent all-members’ conference was much smaller than their earlier ones. Furthermore, dependence on a celebrity usually works against building up an organisation of independent-thinkers, since it is the chosen ‘saviour’ who is meant to ‘deliver’ the people from their woes.

The fact that Tommy Sheridan, the celebrity politician, easily beat the SSP in Glasgow North East has fuelled the sectarian antics of the CWI in particular. They claim a big ‘Solidarity’ victory and they wallow in the lowest vote an SSP candidate has achieved in a parliamentary by-election. This posturing is just a repeat of their empty triumphalism after Tommy/Solidarity beat the SSP in the 2007 Holyrood elections by a large margin.

In 2007, Solidarity’s celebration of Tommy’s ‘victory’ over the SSP was so much bravado to disguise the fact that he failed to retain his Holyrood seat; and the fact there was a wipe-out of socialist representation (a fall from 6 to 0 MSPs). Since then, Solidarity has been unable to build a united party – with the sectarian attitudes of the SWP and CWI massively contributing to this failure. Solidarity has lost its only councillor (defected to Labour) and several prominent members. In subsequent by-elections, where celebrity Tommy wasn’t standing, Solidarity has been unable to overtake the SSP (although, there is no room for any SSP triumphalism here, for, as Colin Fox has said, to any outsider, the electoral contest between the SSP and Solidarity looks like two bald men fighting over a comb). Tommy and his immediate acolytes, along with the CWI and the SWP, put strict limits on any honest appraisals of Solidarity’s work, or any real accountancy for their actions.

After the Glasgow North East by-election result was declared on October 12th, the CWI once more hailed Tommy’s ‘success’. Again, mired in their purely sectarian concerns, they completely failed to learn the real lessons for the Left. The 794 votes in 2009 for a well-known celebrity candidate today must be compared with the 1402 votes the SSP received in Glasgow North East in 2005, when we put forward a much less well-known black socialist candidate. Also, Sheridan’s 794 votes today do not compare well with the non-celebrity BNP candidate’s 1075 votes.

Back in 2005, a united SSP, with 1402 votes, was easily able to see off, not only the BNP’s 904 votes, but also the (Orange) Scottish Unionist Party’s 1206 votes. And, of course, the possibilities for a united Left should have been even greater today, in view of the ongoing capitalist crisis, as continental socialists’ experience shows.

If the CWI continues to be in denial about what is actually happening, the SWP, the other main Trotskyist sect in Solidarity, has experienced a number of setbacks recently, which may encourage some more critical thought amongst its members. The SWP has been badly burned after its attempts in Respect (England and Wales) to tail-end another celebrity socialist, George Galloway. This must be making many SWP members in Scotland doubt the value of building up a new socialist organisation around Sheridan. With the ‘Stop the War’ coalition strategy of endless demonstrations attracting decreasing numbers (despite growing opposition to the Afghanistan occupation) another central plank of the SWP’s own populist politics is being undermined, and recent internal party divisions may lead to a downgrading of such work. The SWP has been focussing on ‘Unite Against Fascism’ (UAF), another party front, which it hopes will bring in new party recruits.

In this context, it is interesting that leading SWP member, Neil Davidson, has recently come out in support of a ‘Yes’ vote in any future Scottish independence referendum. Since the 1990’s, the Left in Scotland has seen the SWP as the most prominent advocate of left unionism. Those former members of the CWI still in the SSP should recognise the significance of this. In the 1980’s, most socialists outside CWI/Militant ranks saw it as being the most British unionist organisation on the Left. However, their ‘Scottish Turn’ opened up a period of internal questioning that led Scottish Militant Labour to initiate the Scottish Socialist Alliance. Other political organisations were encouraged to participate.

Thus began the break with the CWI’s own sectarian methods. True, not all in the CWI/SML, nor later the ISM, accepted the ‘new enlightenment’, but such doubts are inevitable when members are forced to face up to their ‘old certainties’. They would also be a feature of any moves by SWP members towards an acceptance of fuller democracy on the Left.

Given the SWP’s own long tradition of sectarianism (particularly its addiction to party-front organisations), they undoubtedly still have a long way to go. However, those of us now in the RCN, coming from the Anti-Poll Tax campaign, had also been subjected to CWI/Militant sectarian methods in the past. Nevertheless, we recognised the importance of Militant’s ‘Scottish Turn’ and encouraged others to join the SSA. From our point of view, we still had to argue against some deep-seated ideas and methods still unconsciously retained by former CWI members. Yet, we very much welcomed SML’s, and then ISM’s key role in promoting wider socialist unity. We also learned new lessons from these comrades in the process of the unfolding discussions and debates.

So today, in relation to the latest developments within the SWP, we think that the SSP needs to be bold and take the opportunity to engage with those with whom we may have very much disagreed with in the past, but who are now questioning important aspects of their long held politics.

There are also independents in Solidarity, who have not been taken in by their leadership’s empty posturing. John Dennis, who has been challenging Solidarity’s sectarian trajectory for some time, published his resignation letter after the election. However, he has been unable to see any serious attempt to re-establish socialist unity by the SSP, so he has formed a local organisation in Dumfries and Galloway, called Socialist Resistance (see Appendix 3), not to be confused with the British USFI Trotskyist section of the same name. Socialist Resistance in Dumfries and Galloway involves both former Solidarity and other past and current SSP members. In some ways the model taken up is that of the Barrow People’s Alliance, with an emphasis on local unity in the face of the fascist challenge. John and other socialists have been working closely with socialists over the border in combating the rise of the BNP in the area.

We have to accept that the SSP is no longer ‘the party of socialist unity’, though this is overwhelmingly the responsibility of those now in Solidarity. The 2006 split in the SSP, and the consequent dismissive response of the working class demonstrated in subsequent elections, including Glasgow North East, means that the SSP can not just cling nostalgically to a vision of past triumphs, or hope that ‘things can only get better’ in the future. Things will not automatically improve once the current court case is over. The state hasn’t involved itself in the affairs of the SSP to clear our name, but to leave a political legacy, which will divide socialists for the foreseeable future.

The last thing we can afford to do, is sit and wait for the outcome of the ever-delayed trial. We need to be seen very publicly and actively promoting the socialist unity, which the state and the sectarians are doing their utmost to prevent. Therefore, the SSP must still be ‘the party for socialist unity’. This means publicly upholding the SSP policy agreed at the post-split Conference of 20th October, 2006 in Glasgow (see Appendix 3).

6. The SSP election campaign and the Left populism of ‘Make Greed History’

Left populism doesn’t just take the shape of ‘celebrity socialism’. It can also take the form of socialists dropping specifically socialist arguments and retreating behind populist slogans – such as ‘Make Greed History’. A slogan, which may be quite appropriate for a particular newspaper headline, is not at all suitable as the banner beneath which we subordinate nearly all our politics.

Before the politics of despair, caused by the split, began to affect own our members, the SSP was quite clear about the need to uphold socialism against populism. Whilst the (short-lived) Socialist Alliances in England and Wales campaigned behind the populist, ‘People before Profit’ (i.e. for a ‘nicer’, ‘friendlier’ capitalism), the SSP argued for the socialist, ‘People not Profit’.

However, today’s ‘Make Greed History’ SSP slogan quite clearly draws upon the same populist politics as the pious ‘Make Poverty History’. This was promoted by the liberal alliance of NGOs and churches for the G8 Summit in Gleneagles in 2005. Like Father Gapon’s people’s march and its forelock-tugging appeal to the Tsar in 1905; the ‘Make Poverty History’ coalition pleaded, on its huge July 2005 Edinburgh demo, asking Gordon Brown to champion their cause. This fawning approach has also been adopted by those similar organisations, which hoped that Brown would seriously take up their concerns about climate change at the Copenhagen summit in December.

Back in 2005, though, the SSP countered the populist, ‘Make Poverty History’ with our own ‘Make Capitalism History – Make Socialism the Future’- an excellent slogan and rallying call. In the context of today’s ever-deepening economic crisis, this approach is even more important.

In contrast, there are many practical problems with ‘Make Greed History’. First, it in no way differentiates us, even from the mainstream parties. Initially, when panicked by the ‘Credit Crunch’, these parties also wanted to blame it all upon the greed of the bankers, and divert attention from the underlying crisis of capitalism itself.

Following this, when exposed as having their own noses in the trough, politicians initially claimed they would sort out their previous greedy behaviour and turn over a new leaf! Once again, instead of calls for a root and branch reform, with the abolition of the grossly expensive Crown, the pampered House of Lords, the overpayment of MPs and their funding by big business, the problem was all reduced to personal greed.

We can get a hint of these politicians’ ‘solution’ to such greed by looking at the way they dealt with the misdemeanour’s of the previous Glasgow North East incumbent MP, Michael Martin. He has been given a half salary pension (MP’s + Speaker’s) for life, supplemented by all the perks of a Lordship. This is a good indication of the type of ‘punishment’ politicians will accept for their earlier greed!

The populist nature of ‘Make Greed History’ is further highlighted by a comparison with the BNP’s own slogan used in the Glasgow by-election – ‘Punish the Pigs, Smash the Bankers’. Such a slogan is indistinguishable from one used by some on the populist Left. Once again it focuses on replacing capitalism’s nastier agents not the system.

Furthermore, all those trade union leaders, locked into ‘social partnerships’, have also used the notion of ‘greed’ to tell workers we shouldn’t behave like the ‘greedy bankers’, but should show our responsibility through accepting ‘our’ share of the cuts, and by showing restraint or making sacrifices, when advancing pay claims.

The one attempt by Glasgow SSP to conjure up a local campaign under the ‘Make Greed History’ slogan was the ‘Jobs for Youth’ campaign, launched to coincide with the by-election. If this was organised on a united front basis and supported by such bodies as the Glasgow Trades Council, local trade union branches and community organisations, then the following criticisms may be misplaced.

SSP members outside Glasgow were only made aware of the Springburn ‘Jobs for Youth’ march being held on November 7th by means of a late e-mail. This called for members to turn up on a march on the same day that East Coast SSP members had decided to go to a protest against the G20 Finance Ministers at St. Andrews. This latter event has been covered in the latest Voice. However, the same Voice makes no mention of the ‘Jobs for Youth’ march, or any follow-up work and activity. This suggests it was more an SSP election stunt and didn’t take root in the local community or the trade unions.

In the wake of the emerging superpower and corporate consensus over climate change we can also expect a lot more calls for an end to ordinary people’s ‘greed’, both at home and especially from all those ‘greedy’ Third World people, wanting to increase their living standards.

There are undoubted dangers posed by climate change. Corporate capital, responsible for promoting resource-wasteful and environmentally destructive methods of production, and for the arms companies that profit from murderous wars which bring their own environmental devastation, can make no positive contribution in the unfolding environmental crisis. ‘Make Capitalism History, Make Socialism’ helps to show where the real responsibility for this lies – and it is not a question of individuals’ greed, but of the failings of a capitalist system fuelled by a thirst for profit.

We need to ‘make socialism’ so that everybody’s basic needs – clean water, nutritious food, decent shelter, education and health care – can be met in an environmentally sustainable socialist society. After addressing these particular needs, we can look once more to the old communist maxim, “from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs”. However, today this means placing a much greater emphasis on meeting people’s non-material needs. These can offer us a more environmentally sustainable human future than a society built upon capitalism’s ‘shop-until-you-drop’ philosophy (remembering, of course, that many in the world today ‘drop’ before they ever get to ‘shop’).

In the face of the current capitalist crisis, we do need to go beyond the propaganda for socialism that the slogan, ‘Make Capitalism History, Make Socialism the Future’, represents, and show how, through agitation, we can work together to protect and advance workers’ immediate interests. When the 2009 Conference voted for the SSP to become part of the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance, the RCN thought that the SSP leadership would take up the New Anti-Capitalist Party’s (NPA) excellent slogan, ‘Make the Bosses Pay for Their Crisis’.

In contrast to ‘Make Greed History’, the NPA’s slogan (which could have been modified to ‘Make the Bosses and their paid Politicians pay’, when the ‘Expenses Scandal’ broke out in the UK) points to a class solution to the current crisis. This also offers workers a vista, showing the way we can struggle with other exploited and oppressed people for socialism.

7.Alternative options for SSP participation in elections.

When examining some of the reasons why the SSP stands in elections, it might be useful to consider the following analogy. A comparison could be made between governments and their associated methods of election with a block of flats.

Thus, the mainstream parties live at the top of the block, with the penthouse occupied by the winning party. The other mainstream parties are usually found in the apartments immediately below. The penthouse provides its occupants with undoubted privileges, not least the opportunity to use patronage to fill strategic posts and the use of official facilities to ensure the current resident’s continued occupancy. Sometimes, long-term occupation of the penthouse suite can lead its residents to believe that they alone have the right to live there. They then use all their accumulated powers to deny others any access. However, other penthouse residents appreciate that occupancy is only meant to be on a limited lease. In electoral terms this means accepting the possibility of replacement by other mainstream parties, and ‘fair play’ in the arrangements to allow for new occupants.

Continuing with this analogy, the penthouse occupants are currently the New Labour MPs at Westminster (including its Glasgow North East seat), whilst the other residents of the upper floor consist of MPs from those mainstream parties who have a chance of moving into the penthouse. They have formed the ruling group in the past at Westminster, have been parts of coalitions at Holyrood, or at various council levels – the SNP, Tories and Lib-Dems. They can depend on certain rights of occupancy at this level, as well as some publicity stemming from their more elevated position.

Below this are the middle levels in the block of flats. These are occupied by down-at-heel mainstream parties, and by up-and-coming parties. The normal function of occupancy in this level is to console the down-at-heel and to tame any new aspiring upstarts. The established rules of residence are designed to ensure this.

Occasionally, however, an occupant appears who is not prepared to play by these rules. They don’t believe that the block of flats should be an exclusive residence, with privileged levels, but should form part of a wider democratic community. They believe many of the privileges enjoyed by some of the current occupants should be terminated, or become equitably distributed (i.e. democratised). Such thinking, though, usually brings the upstarts into major conflict with the other residents living on the same level, as well as those above. They might resort to special measures to try to evict the upstarts (e.g. SSP councillor, Jim Bollan’s suspension in West Dunbartonshire)

Below the middle level lie the block’s lower levels. Here live those hopeful that their fortunes may change. They are divided between those who have devised a viable strategy to get up to the next level, and those who repeat their continuous old pleading to be moved up, but without success (usually coupled with gratuitous mudslinging at others perceived to be blocking their advance). However, the lower levels also have a basement with cold baths. The occupants thrown down to this level either drown largely unnoticed; or are brought to their senses by their sudden immersion in freezing cold water.

In section 3 it was argued that the SSP in Glasgow had attained the second tier (or the middle level of the block of flats) between 2003 and the split in 2006. This position they shared with the locally down-at-heel Tories and Lib-Dems, and another aspiring, recent newcomer, the Greens.

However, by 2009, as a result of the split, Glasgow SSP members, in considering their approach to the Glasgow North East election, accurately judged that the party had fallen to the lower level. Whilst this fact was recognised in the low voting expectations, the RCN would argue that those responsible for the campaign in Glasgow did not come up with an electoral strategy appropriate to the level the party now found itself at.

Unless a socialist unity candidate could be found, there was never any possibility of re-entering the second level in this by-election. The choice therefore lay between two options. One, which in the circumstances might seriously have been considered, was not to stand at all. A section of the Glasgow membership has been arguing for such a course in elections for some time.

Sometimes, this suggested abandonment of the electoral terrain is coupled to other notions of retreat. The idea has been aired of the SSP downgrading itself to a network of activists involved in various campaigns, or joining the campaigns of others (e.g. those SNP activists still campaigning for independence in ‘Independence First’, or the ‘Scottish Independence Convention’ – although active campaigning is not a marked feature of the latter!) Nicky McKerral has argued for another version of tactical retreat. He has suggested that the SSP withdraws from election contests, for a period of reflection, theoretical development and an updating of our programme.

The RCN would see both these courses of action as over-reactions to some bad practices and experiences on the Left, which SSP members have undoubtedly had to endure. Certainly, given our small size at present, the SSP should not be trying to act as if we are the only Left party around, dreaming up front organisations to give this impression. We should be taking part in wider campaigns, insisting they are organised on a genuine united front basis; but where we can also put forward our own distinctive politics (through our members’ contributions, the Voice and leaflets). For example, in relation to the simmering question of the ‘independence referendum’, this would mean reviving the ‘Calton Hill Declaration’ on a united front basis.

We would agree with Nicky’s upholding of the necessity for theoretical and programmatic reflection. However, we would see this being integrated with continued wider public work, including involvement in selected electoral contests. But this would indeed necessitate another way of organising SSP electoral work, to match our requirements in the current situation (see section 8).

Given the fact that the SSP had occupied the second floor in the recent past, the RCN thinks Glasgow SSP comrades were right in taking the decision to stand in the by-election. However, that meant facing up to the fact that we are now indeed on the lower level, a position shared with some still hostile and other more rueful neighbours.

We could choose the “tired old pleading” through puffing ourselves up in populist campaigns under the rubric of ‘Make Greed History’, to disguise our weakness. Or, being honest, and fully acknowledging our lower level position, we could have adopted another course of action, designed not so much to attract the votes to get back to the middle level, but to try and gain new active members, so that together we could break through the lower level ceiling (we should never confine ourselves to purely official ‘stairway’!) the next time round.

8. Campaigning for socialism by educating and organising new socialists

Therefore, instead of chasing passive voters, we should have been trying to make new socialists. Adopting a ‘making socialists’ approach would have meant organising in a different way in the by-election. Stalls, leafleting, fly posting and other activities would have been mainly undertaken to make contacts and to get them to Glasgow North East branch meetings, say twice a month. Branch meetings could have had both outside and local speakers on such key issues as, ‘The Occupation of Afghanistan’, ‘The New Fascist Challenge’, and ‘Capitalism and Climate Change’. In each of these cases the possibility of follow-up action suggests itself.

If enough people had attended a meeting on Afghanistan, then an anti-recruitment picket could have been organised later at an army recruiting office, involving new contacts, with an attempt to gain media attention. The Glasgow ‘Stop the War’ campaign could have been invited to participate. Now most SSP members hold a pretty jaundiced view of the SWP’s role in the ‘Stop the War’ campaign, but even some of their members have begun to realise that a change of direction is needed. The tired old calls for the next demonstration are no longer being answered.

The follow up activities for a meeting on ‘The New Fascist Challenge’ would certainly have involved organising to counter the SDL provocation on November 14th. Furthermore, the struggle against fascism can not be divorced from the struggle against racism, including the attacks made by fascists upon isolated individuals and those state-organised raids upon asylum seekers and economic migrants. An attempt could have been made to meet up with residents of the Red Road Flats, and with those local organisations, which have been campaigning to support migrants. This would have followed from 2007 SSP Conference support for the ‘No One Is Illegal’ campaign.

In the case of any ‘Capitalism and the Climate Change’ meeting, the follow-up activity could have been preparing a specifically socialist contingent on the ‘Climate Change’ demo on December 5th (such as the SSP did on the Edinburgh G8 demo in Edinburgh on July 2nd, 2005).

Furthermore, SSP educational material could have been prepared on these three topics for use on the stalls and at the branch meetings. Socialist education is very much a weak spot in the SSP’s current work. We don’t have the resources at present to produce the attractive glossy pamphlet, Two Worlds Collide, which Alan McCombes wrote for the Gleneagles G8 summit. However, newer technology allows us to produce short runs of pamphlets (repeated as required) like that Raphie de Santos produced, Coming to a Neighbourhood Near You, about the ‘Credit Crunch’.

There may well be some differences held by new and current members over such issues, but then that is in the nature of the SSP. One of our party’s attractive features should be its ability to incorporate a variety of views, and to have mechanisms where proper debates can take place around these. For example, RCN members sold Alan’s G8 pamphlet, encouraging others to read it, as well as writing a fraternal critique in Emancipation & Liberation no. 11.

There were also other public meeting opportunities for the SSP during the by-election. There were over ten weeks available for campaigning, after Kevin’s adoption as candidate on August 31st. One opportunity was provided by the possibility of a national post office workers’ strike. Our Industrial Organiser, Richie Venton, produced some excellent material for this, and it is certainly no fault of Richie’s that a Labour-supporting, Broad Left, CWU leadership backed down. Quite clearly, Lord Mandelson wanted to do to the CWU (prior to plans for Post Office privatisation) what Thatcher did to the NUM.

For those who think that Labour will turn Left (other than in empty rhetoric) after an almost certain forthcoming drubbing in the Westminster General Election, the role of Mandelson, Johnston and others on the Labour Right is most instructive. They know Brown is ‘going down’, but they still are fighting ‘tooth and nail’ to remind the bosses that New Labour can be depended on, when the Tories trip up in office. Compared with what passes for the Left ‘fightback’ inside the Labour Party, the Right fights on even when their backs are against the wall. The very much shrunken Left seems to believe that after the General Election, “Things can only get better”! Now, where have we heard that before?

As well as arguing for wider support actions for the post office workers, an SSP public meeting could have drawn out the full political implications of New Labour’s actions, the failures of the Labour Left, and the dangers posed by trade union leaderships which continue to subordinate their actions (or lack of them) to the needs of the Labour Party.

The SNP’s proposed ‘independence’ referendum was another issue around which a branch/public meeting could have been organised, possibly under the title ‘Can the SNP bring Independence?’ This might also have drawn back some SNP members/supporters, who were once attracted to the SSP, but who had drifted away after the split. They can now see, though, that the SNP is not offering any sort of alternative to neo-liberalism or the Afghan occupation, and has no strategy to link up its campaign for an ‘independence’ referendum with popular economic and social reforms. Furthermore, the SNP is so wedded to Westminster constitutionalism, that the UK state may not even need to resort to its reserve anti-democratic Crown Powers to see it off any referendum challenge.

The RCN considers the Left nationalist course advocated by John McAllion, in the Voice, for the ‘independence’ referendum campaign, to be the wrong approach. Instead, the SNP’s recent wholesale retreat would allow the SSP to revive the republican approach first organised around the Calton Hill Declaration in October 2004. This could now be linked to the wider anti-imperialist, ‘break-up of the UK’, ‘internationalism from below’ strategy developed in the SSP-initiated Republican Socialist Convention held on November 29th 2008. Perhaps the political passivity underlying the Left nationalist approach of ‘waiting for the SNP’ explains why there was no clear SSP message presented to the electorate on the SNP’s ‘independence’ referendum during the by-election.

Does this mean that local issues should have been ignored in the by-election? No, but the RCN isn’t in a position to suggest the best local issues that could have been the subject of other meetings in Glasgow. However, a meeting involving local participants in the ‘Save Our Schools’ campaign, linked with a teacher trade union speaker on the campaign to reduce class sizes (a long-standing campaign taken by Scottish Federation of Socialist Teacher members to successive EIS AGMs) would appear to have been a possibility.

Lastly, the RCN questions the postponement of events like ‘Socialism 2009’ to make time for street campaigning. ‘Socialism 2009’ could have provided an SSP showcase for those contacts already attracted to branch/public meetings around these suggested and other topics. New contacts could have been introduced to our national work and met members from Scotland, as well as our international contacts. Now, ‘Socialism 2009’ might have had to be postponed for other reasons, but making time for street campaigning, in a probably forlorn attempt to get more passive votes, is not the best one.

These criticisms and alternative suggestions are not being put forward as the ‘correct’ course of action, which should have been taken. Whilst, the RCN is suggesting a different orientation could have been taken – making socialists rather than winning votes – quite clearly, any campaign, informed by a wide range of SSP members’ contributions, would also take up their ideas and suggestions. Nevertheless, the RCN believes it has some valid points to make.

9. The need to uphold a confident a democratically unified SSP

Perhaps, the most worrying aspect of the by-election for the SSP nationally was the fact that it became a local Glasgow issue, which nevertheless commanded national resources to the detriment of our work elsewhere. The RCN would argue, that if the ‘make socialists’ approach had been adopted, with leaflets and fly posters targeted at getting people to branch meetings and follow-up activities, then there was no need for a Voice election special. The national Voice could have done the job, as well as provided other regions with a paper for their ongoing work.

The issues that we have suggested that the SSP could have campaigned on – ‘The Occupation of Afghanistan’, ‘The New Fascist Challenge’, ‘Capitalism and Climate Change’ and ‘Can the SNP deliver Independence’ were all national issues, that the whole party should have been united in campaigning for. However, a section of any national Voice could have been devoted specifically to the Glasgow North East by-election campaign and local issues, such as the suggested follow-up to the ‘Save Our Schools’ campaign.

Furthermore, there undoubtedly would have had to be some tactical flexibility (this luckily emerged in practice) when a clash of events occurred, beyond the SSP’s ability to influence – the ‘Stop the Fascist SDL’ demo in Glasgow and the ‘Stop the War’ demo in Edinburgh, both held on November 14th. However, if there had been effective overall SSP national political guidance, a bigger presence on the G20 Demo in St. Andrews on November 7th could have been organised; whilst there should have been a major SSP national presence on ‘Climate Change’ demo in Glasgow on December 5th, backed by a stall with a specially produced SSP pamphlet.

What, we seem to have now, though, is almost a confederal SSP, where different areas and different sections are allowed to get on with their own thing, either competing for national resources, or paying for their own. Thus we had the official Glasgow SSP campaign in the Glasgow North East by-election, which managed to corner the Voice. The SSP on the East Coast has been campaigning around the Afghan occupation, with several public meetings, attracting new members and re-establishing a branch in Aberdeen. Meanwhile, other SSP members have been involved in their own work, e.g. the SSY’s work around confronting the SDL, and some, mainly Glasgow, comrades’ organising around the issue of climate change.

All of these issues should have been fully discussed by the EC (and by those NCs which met during the by-election period). EC members should be given particular responsibilities, for which they are accountable at the next EC/NC meeting. We have no effective way of monitoring and assessing the overall work of the SSP. Of the working committees, only the International Committee seems to meet regularly and provide minutes of its activities. There are no regular written reports at the ECs nor the NCs of SSP branch meetings, the political issues discussed there, and the numbers in attendance. Without such reports our local strengths and weaknesses can not be properly measured.

The SSP largely depends for political guidance upon the training of members who received their schooling long ago in other organisations. We have no proper education system in place. The Regions should provide regular monthly education sessions, perhaps, on the same day, straight after Regional Committee meetings, so as not to overstretch the leading comrades. These education sessions could be followed by social activity – food, drink and music.

There are members, who for various reasons (distance being one) can not attend twice monthly SSP branch meetings, but who could be actively encouraged to become involved at such monthly Regional educational/social events. The SSP’s annual ‘Socialism’ should be seen both as the culmination of this educational work, and another event to which we can attract non-members to showcase our politics and activities.

10. Conclusion

The Glasgow North East by-election has highlighted the need to re-establish socialist unity, but this time on a completely principled basis. We need a thoroughly democratic organisation, which has not only jettisoned ‘celebrity socialism’, but is able to meet all the challenges the state and the sectarian splitters throw up, with both confidence and tactical acumen.

Now that we are living in the worst economic crisis in living memory, probably with even worse to follow, the SSP needs to be much more assertive about the need to put forward a convincing socialist alternative. Populist politics wants ‘a nicer capitalism’, which has made ‘poverty’, ‘greed’, or ‘climate change’ history. This is a utopian delusion whilst living under the rule of corporate imperialism in crisis, with its threats of massive falls in living standards, continued environmental degradation, and continuing wars that could bring the major imperialist powers into direct conflict.

Whilst the useful agitational slogan, ‘Make the Bosses Pay for Their Crisis’, directs workers’ anger both at those directly responsible and their capitalist system itself, we do need to go further still and develop a viable socialist alternative, and show the active steps needed to achieve this.

This means that the SSP will have to debate exactly what we mean by socialism/communism. We can not depend on stale old left social democratic, or orthodox and dissident communist ideas, which see Keynesian state intervention within, or Party-control over, the economy as the vehicles for socialist transformation. Neither does the semi-anarchist/semi-small scale capitalist notion of loosely networked local self-sufficient communities offer global humanity a viable future. The RCN does not claim to provide definitive answers on the vital issue of what constitutes socialism. We are only beginning to debate what is meant by socialism and communism ourselves. We would be more than happy to involve others in our discussions, whilst also being prepared to take part in initiatives organised by others.

Given the SSP’s current quite small size and support, the over-riding job we face today is creating active socialists, not winning passive votes. This RCN contribution has mainly shown how this could be done in the context of those elections the SSP may choose to stand in. This approach depends on the SSP having a fully functioning branch structure with political topics at every meeting, an organised system of more developed education probably provided at Regional level, culminating in ‘Socialism’ as an annual showcase of our national and international work. It also means producing regular (initially short-run) pamphlets on the key issues we face.

The SSP must be more than an alliance of single-issue campaigners, whether locally, nationally, or even internationally. We must avoid collapsing into a loose federal organisation, where different branches or regions are largely left to do their own thing, whilst competing for national SSP resources. This can only build up local resentments. The EC should take responsibility for the key national political priorities and initiatives between NCs and Conferences. This means upholding the SSP as a democratically unified organisation. It means having a much more task oriented EC, which monitors and reports to NCs and Conference on the progress of branches, regional committees, and national working committees, as well as any specific campaigns we are involved in.

Furthermore, we must continue to develop the SSP as a component of the international Left, including the Republican Socialist Convention and the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance. Our participation in the latter was perhaps the highlight of the SSP’s work in 2009. We opposed the Brit Left chauvinism (and its Left Scottish nationalist Solidarity bolt on) of ‘No2EU’, when we stood in the Euro-elections alongside socialists throughout Europe. We were able to take the same pride in the gains made by others (particularly the Portuguese Left Bloc, but also the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France), which they took from the SSP’s great advances in 2003.

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