Scotland: Scottish Socialist Party conference

THE FIRST debate on Saturday was on the SSP’s draft manifesto for the European elections in June.

MORE THAN 400 delegates and visitors attended the 2004 Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) conference on the weekend of 27 and 28 March in Edinburgh. This was the fifth, and largest, SSP conference and the first since the SSP’s election success of last May when six SSP members were elected to the Scottish parliament. The conference also welcomed the first affiliated trade union delegates, following the decision of seven branches and the Scottish regional council of the railworkers’ union RMT to affiliate to the SSP. The Edinburgh No 2 branch of the Communication Workers’ Union has also agreed to affiliate to the party. The SSP’s membership currently stands at around 3,000. The International Socialists, the cwi in Scotland, is an active and growing section of the SSP. International Socialist member Philip Stott reports below about the conference.

Scottish Socialist Party conference


Alan McCombes, who spoke to the manifesto on behalf of the executive committee said that the election of a socialist into the European parliament would make the SSP Scotland’s fourth party, overtaking the Liberal Democrats. It would be a "monumental advance for socialism." The manifesto, he said, was a "red-blooded socialist programme."

Unfortunately, the draft manifesto marked a significant shift away from a clear socialist policy. There was no call in the draft manifesto for public ownership of big business and the multinational corporations that control the Scottish and European economies. There was no call even to renationalise those industries that were privatised during the 1980s and 1990s. The manifesto said the aim of the SSP was to build a "social Europe" rather than a socialist Europe.

There were amendments to the manifesto, drafted by members of the CWI, from three SSP branches, Dundee East, Motherwell and Glasgow Cathcart East. These amendments would have added into the manifesto a clear call to break with capitalism and bring into public ownership the multinational companies under democratic working class control to lay the basis for a socialist plan of production in Europe. The amendments also sought to change references to a social Europe into a socialist Europe.

Ian Fitzpatrick, a delegate from Motherwell SSP branch and a low paid civil service worker said "Privatisation, low pay and now Gordon Brown’s plans to axe 40,000 civil service jobs show that we have responsibility to explain that socialism is the only answer to the attacks on the working class. I don’t understand why we are calling for a social Europe and not a socialist Europe".

Sinead Daly from Dundee SSP explained that "the term a social Europe is even used by some capitalists in Europe, by the right wing trade union bureaucracy and by governments to justify their policies. We have to be clear that it is another form of capitalism."

Harvey Duke from Dundee East argued that: "There are some good demands in this manifesto including for a continental minimum wage and minimum pension but we need to explain how that will be implemented. That’s why a committment to nationalise the economy to release the wealth to carry out these refoms and make them permanent is so important."

In opposing these amendments to the manifesto Alan McCombes said: "We need a manifesto for the long term and the short term. These amendments are arguing that nothing can be done until we have socialism. We can’t let the rich off the hook in the short term."

In justifying why the SSP should not accept the amendments he said: "We work as part of the anti-capitalist left in Europe. We don’t want to put up any barriers to other left and progressive forces who want to work with us."

The CWI has consistently explained that it is right to struggle for every reform that can be squeezed out of capitalism. But the experience of the working class shows the bosses and the capitalists will attempt to claw back with one hand what they have been forced to concede with the other.

The only way to ensure that poverty, low pay and exploitation is ended is to break decisively with capitalism.

The idea of a "social" Europe i.e. a modified form of capitalism will not be a solution. That’s why it is necessary to explain the need for a socialist plan of production, controlled and managed by the working class, based on the nationalisation of the big corporations that control the economy.

The amendments were defeated with around 50 delegates voting in favour. The Socialist Workers Party platform also voted to reject the amendments.

There was a verbal commitment by the SSP executive to redraft the manifesto with some references to public ownership before the election.

Independence Convention

THIS WAS the first conference since the National Council of the SSP voted in favour of the SSP initiating a Scottish independence convention last August.

The proposed convention would: "help build support and confidence in an independent Scotland" (SSP EC statement on the convention August 2003).

The CWI, while defending the programme of an independent socialist Scotland, opposed this move. A debate took place on this question at the conference.

We had explained that there would be little support among the working class, at this stage, for a campaign to fight for an independent Scotland. If anything, support for independence in Scotland has fallen in the last few years. This point was underlined when it was announced at the conference that it is likely to be another year until the convention is formerly launched.

We also said that the SSP leadership was in danger of arguing that an independent capitalist Scotland would be a route to ending poverty and inequality. Philip Stott from Dundee West SSP pointed out that an amendment to the Scottish parliament in the name of the SSP had said: "the problem of poverty will never be solved until there is a fundamental redistribution of wealth which requires an independent Scotland."

"The SSP has a responsibility to explain that even independence, if it leaves big business in charge, will not be a solution to the problems facing the working class."

The resolution opposing the launching of the convention and defending the programme of an independent socialist Scotland which would voluntarily link up with a socialist England, Wales and Ireland was defeated with 40-50 delegates voting for the Dundee West motion.

Respect debate

CONFERENCE DEBATED whether to support the new Respect coalition which is standing for the European elections in England.

A number of delegates criticised George Galloway’s refusal to take a workers’ wage and the absence of democratic structures and a socialist programme for Respect.

Ian Leech from Pollok SSP branch pointed out that "In England the Socialist Party has five elected councillors. It shows that socialism can be popular". A motion to support the setting up of Respect was passed.

The nursery nurses’ strike, which itself is a symptom of an increased confidence to struggle amongst the working class, shows the potential to build the SSP in the year ahead. At the same time, it is vital that a clear position is taken by the leadership and the SSP as a whole, explaining that capitalism cannot be reformed and that a decisive break with capitalism will be necessary as the only solution to poverty. low pay and inequality. The CWI will continue to fight for those ideas in the SSP in the months ahead.

See report on nursery nurses’ strike.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales.

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April 2004