flying the flag for socialism in scotland

Ewan Robertson, Scottish Socialist Party candidate in Aberdeen North, contributes to our ongoing debate on participation in elections

I am a postgraduate student at Aberdeen University (MLitt Latin American Studies), and I am a member of the Scottish Socialist Party and Republican Communist Network, and an active supporter of the Tripping up Trump campaign.

In this short piece I’d like to explain firstly, what the approach of the SSP is to the 2010 General Election and how we have a fundamentally different approach to the election than the other parties, and secondly, why in my view it is useful to stand in elections in general.

The SSP’s approach to this election is fundamentally different from the other parties on a number of counts. These issues also highlight why the General Election is the most important we have seen in many years. For me the SSP’s most important argument is that the planned cuts in public spending and the attack on the remaining vestiges of the welfare state in order to pay for the budget deficit is not a necessity, but rather represents an attempt to make ordinary workers, students and pensioners pay for an economic crisis created by capitalism, particularly the bosses and the banking sector. In this process this highlights the class nature of the cuts.

Instead, the SSP is advocating that the bosses and bankers should be made to pay for their own economic crisis though high corporation tax and overall by ‘taxing the rich’. The only cuts the SSP advocates are scrapping Trident and reducing defence spending, and all of this money would be used to prevent ordinary people paying for the crisis.

This links to the second difference between the SSP and the other parties, which is to argue, as we have done since 2001, for an end to the occupation of Afghanistan and to bring the troops home. In the process to pointing to the illegal, destructive, immoral and detrimental aspects of the occupation for both Afghans and ordinary Britons, the SSP also highlights the imperialistic nature of the war and the class interests which support it.

Finally, the SSP has as a policy, as happened with its MSP’s between 1999-2007, that its representatives will be workers’ representatives on workers’ wage. Any elected SSP representative only takes the salary of a skilled worker, and the rest is donated back to the party and to other socialist causes.

This is in stark contrast to the other parties whose ranks are filled with career politicians, many of whom are in the political game for what they can get out of it, as was highlighted by the expenses fiasco. Taken together, these issues show the difference between the four main capitalist parties in Scotland, and the socialist, pluralist and democratic nature of the SSP.

The other issue to deal with is on why the SSP should stand for election in general, something which the SSP has debated internally. Personally, my reasons are as follows. First, an election is a time of heightened political awareness in which through standing and campaigning it is possible to get a socialist message out to a wider audience than normally is possible.

However, this should be about putting forward arguments for socialism and building our party, or as my father Iain Robertson (also an RCN member) has said ‘the votes should chase the politics, rather than the politics chasing the votes’, i.e. we should avoid populism for the sake of a few more votes over drawing in new, principled activists.

Secondly, if anyone is elected, it should be very clear that the SSP is a socialist movement rather than an electoralist party seeking eventual acceptance within existing state structures. SSP representatives should introduce legislation which will lift people out of the daily grind of poverty, linking this to a wider socialist agenda, and can argue for and support what the wider party is doing outside of parliament.

Representatives do also bring media attention and money which, although many caveats exist, can be essential to building a broad, mass movement. However, the power of the party should remain firmly within its activists and democratic structures, not with parliamentary representatives. This is partly why keeping representatives on a workers wage is so important, keeping their feet firmly grounded within the movement. As James Connolly said, the point of a socialist movement ‘is to rise with your class, not out of it.’

Therefore in these elections my personal aim is to attract new socialists to the SSP in Aberdeen, helping to build the party into a durable force for socialism in coming years, and to gain a wider audience for socialist arguments and ideas, particularly on the class nature of the cuts, rather than seeking to get as many votes as possible through populist slogans and personality politics.

This article was written by Ewan Robertson, RCN member and SSP candidate in Aberdeen North. It is endorsed by Angela Gorrie, RCN member and SSP candidate in Dundee East.

4 thoughts on “flying the flag for socialism in scotland

  1. The SSP TV political broad cast was streets ahead of the idea of TUSC and No2EU we have had down here, at least the SSP name capitalism as the problem and are using the election as a platform to call on workers to resist as they did to the Poll Tax not rely on people to get elected to sort things out for them.

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  2. Thanks for posting this. I really enjoy the non-sectarian platform The Commune provides and the open discussion this allows for socialists of different stripes.

    Unfortunately, comrade, I don’t agree with you on this. I witnessed the rise of the SSP to relative electoral success for a small party -they were undoubtedly the parliamentarian left’s greatest hope and example – and I would argue that electioneering did very much dominate its interests. This is not to ignore the contributions of many of its activists – who I work with regularly – to community campaigns and workers’ solidarity. (Although even here I’ve experienced a tendency to push its own reputation and recruitment at the expense of the issue concerned).

    I don’t think the worker’s wage for socialist politicians grounds the latter in the working class – in short, the notion of representing the working class is, in my opinion, from the start flawed and an impossibility. Likewise, however much SSP members wish to avoid personality politics, and I’m sure you do, the pattern of socialist parties putting forth seemingly charismatic leaders is no coincidence, and bound to replicate itself if you’re going to get back into (any) parliament. As you say, this only leads to a gross undermining of the politics themselves, and a privileging of individuals.

    Participating in Westminster elections, of course, is a propaganda exercise. But we must ask propaganda for what kind of socialism? Ultimately, this always leads back to future elections, future representation – most especially in the Scottish Parliament. Can it, therefore, help build a movement from below as well as maintaining this parliamentary objective? I would argue that the intentions end up cancelling one another out – that the SSP as an organisation cannot contribute to the former because its own defined politics are contradictory to what’s perhaps pretentiously called the self-activity of the working class, or basically, the working class using their own means and resources to fight against cuts to our services and wages etc. Our aim as socialists should be to build an autonomous, non-hierarchical mass movement outside and against the state, and co-opting institutions. By making small movements in that direction, we’ll put forward the message of socialism.

    As a fellow Scottish socialist I often find myself in close agreement with the spirit and principles of many members of the SSP. When it comes to how this is translated into political practice, I must part company.

    Comradely,
    Neil

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  3. I agree that the SSP ad is much better than the TUSC one, and moreover much better than the SSP ones last year (i.e. ‘Make Greed History’) in that it is overtly anti-capitalist. The great advantage of the SSP over e.g. TUSC is the fact that it is a real organisation with democratic structures and roots in struggle, which TUSC certainly does not, although I imagine the manifesto will be quite similar and have some of the same shortcomings.

    I agree with much of the spirit of Neil’s comment, insofar as the Tommy Sheridan celebrity thing was in part caused by his privileged status as an MSP, and ultimately splits at the ‘top’ around his ego went on to greatly reduce size and effectiveness of the wider party outside parliament.

    However I am not certain that that question could not be resolved to some extent with greater democratic accountability of officials, full-timers, etc. Ultimately we will never get anywhere if organisations can be felled by rogue individuals, so I suppose the question is whether the mere fact of being in Parliament creates an untenable division of labour/authority in the group by dint of it having ‘public figures’. I am not sold on that.

    While I would utterly reject a parliamentary route to socialism, or even demands which rely on the idea that the agency of the state is as such progressive (e.g. nationalise stuff, regulate more) there is nothing to stop people standing in an election on an overtly communist programme. One which isn’t “how we will govern” but simply “why we don’t want them to govern, why you shouldn’t too”.

    As I have argued in previous articles I think participation in governments of the capitalist state is straightforwardly wrong, and indeed if the SSP ad were more of an appeal to workers to act for themselves instead (as Chris mentions) that would be a good thing.

    Quite right that “Our aim as socialists should be to build an autonomous, non-hierarchical mass movement outside and against the state” but I don’t understand the reference to “co-opting institutions.”

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  4. Whilst no doubt the status of an elected state official is something that somewhat enhances the danger of celebrity power, the very case of Tommy Sheridan is excellent evidence that this is not something unique to such situations. Sheridan obtained his celebrity status as a participant in the grassroots, non electoral anti-poll tax movement; and proved able to use ths celebrity status to good effect in decrying the Trafalgar Square rioters, and no doubt other sectarian nonsense besides.

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