ALL THE political commentators are busy speculating in Scotland on just how the massive anti-war mood, reflected in the 80,000-strong demonstration in Glasgow on 15 February, will translate into votes at the Scottish parliament election on 1 May 2003.
Many column inches are being spent analysing the prospects for the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), which is currently standing on around 7% in voting intentions for the second, party list, vote for these elections.
This key vote for the SSP is based on a regional form of PR which is likely, at this stage, to be the only way the SSP could get MSPs elected. On that basis 7% across Scotland would deliver between four and six MSPs.
The SSP, formed in 1998, is a broad socialist party made up of different left trends and organisations as well as individuals. Some former members of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) in Scotland who left us because they were no longer prepared to fight for the CWI’s programme or to build a Marxist organisation within the SSP play a leading role in the party.
Since 1998 the SSP has grown, especially electorally. There is a big vacuum in Scottish politics. The pro-war and big business New Labour government has alienated its former working class base. The SNP leadership has taken the party to the right.
There has been a big increase in abstentionism, but the SSP has filled some of the political vacuum that exists for a mass workers’ and socialist party in Scotland.
Politically speaking, the SSP is not a Marxist party. Its programme increasingly emphasises increased taxation of the rich and big business, with public ownership and socialism a long-term goal.
The SSP’s election manifesto speaks about "our long-term goal of an independent socialist Scotland" and uses the examples of Norway and Denmark in the manifesto to back-up the case for tax increases on the rich.
Denmark has "some of the most impressive public services in the world" according to the manifesto. These are essentially reformist ideas, that through taxation, you can reduce inequality and poverty on a significant long-term basis under capitalism.
The CWI in Scotland moved amendments that explained that while fighting for tax increases on big business we had to stand for the breaking of capitalism and for public ownership, under working-class control, off the major sectors of the economy. Only in this way would it be possible to invest the resources needed to eradicate poverty and inequality permanently.
The SSP manifesto speaks about rejecting the ’scaremongering’ that claims "Scotland is too small, too weak, too poor to go it alone and defy the new world order of the global billionaires". Yet for a socialist Scotland to survive it would have to link up with the working class throughout Britain and internationally to prevent the hostile forces of international capitalism from undermining it.
DESPITE THESE weaknesses the SSP is likely to grow. The SSP has produced six "fast track policy pledges" for 1 May including scrapping the council tax and replacing it with a redistributive income-based Scottish service tax.
The others are free school meals for all children. A 35-hour week for all public service workers. A £7.32 an hour minimum wage for all public sector employees. Cancellation of all PFI/PPP projects. Opposition to war.
These demands will get significant support in an election dominated by the pro-market political establishment. The SSP can also play an important role in encouraging trade unionists and other campaigners onto the electoral arena.
Firefighters in Scotland have announced they intend to stand up to 30 "firefighters against public service cuts" candidates for the 1 May council elections. The SSP is discussing with them and should back this step. The SSP will also not stand against independent MSP Dennis Canavan in Falkirk and a hospital campaigner in Glasgow.
Pensioners groups fighting pensioner poverty and fishermen protesting against the decimation of their industry have also announced they will stand, probably on the regional lists. There could be a big anti-establishment vote in these elections.
With a growing revolt against war, low pay and privatisation, the conditions are emerging for the emergence of thousands of activists who would be prepared to join a socialist alternative.
The SSP leadership have a responsibility to adopt an open and inclusive approach to those moving into action. While campaigning for a big SSP vote on 1 May the CWI in Scotland will still argue for a clear socialist and internationalist programme for the SSP and the workers’ movement in general.