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.