Scotland: Clear socialist alternative needed

The Scottish Socialist Party conference meets this weekend in the aftermath of Tommy Sheridan’s resignation as SSP convener.

As well as electing a new convener the conference will be debating key issues of policy and programme. Members of the Committee for a Workers’ International will be arguing for a change of direction by the SSP leadership to ensure the party moves forward and strengthens its position in 2005. In this feature Philip Stott looks at the challenges facing the SSP

The Scottish Socialist Party, since its launch, has made important advances. With six MSP’s in the Scottish parliament and the affiliation of the railworkers union the RMT the SSP is potentially well placed to build on that breakthrough

Against the background of New Labour’s attack on jobs, pensions and working conditions there is a big opportunity to significantly strengthen the SSP in the months ahead.

On a global scale the horrors of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, increasing world poverty and the unfolding carnage in Iraq has underlined the fact that the international capitalist system can bring only barbarism for the majority of the worlds population.

Unfortunately, the last few months have seen the SSP struggling to recover from the events surrounding the resignation of Tommy Sheridan (see separate article) as SSP convener.

The fact that there is now a head- to- head contest to replace him between Colin Fox MSP and the SSP’s policy co-ordinator Alan McCombes can only compound the damage that has been done.

Both candidates claim there are no significant political differences between them. It is therefore ridiculous to have a contest on that basis.

We believe that Alan McCombes decision to stand only a few days before nominations closed can only further destabilise the SSP.

It would of course be different if there was a debate over fundamental political questions; including the direction the SSP should take and what programme the SSP should fight on. In the absence of that debate this contest will be seen as personal manouvering for influence that will only cause further damage to the SSP.

The SSP parliamentary group is split with three MSP’s lining up behind Alan McCombes and three backing Colin Fox.

Many SSP members are dismayed at this development which is a diversion from the real tasks facing the party.

Where now?

One of those tasks, which was not addressed by the leadership contest, is a discussion about how the party recovers and moves forward following the events of the last few months.

The CWI, who form an active part of the SSP, has argued this requires linking a day-to -day fighting programme to oppose the attacks on pensions, pay, jobs, the occupation of Iraq etc, while fighting for reforms to benefit the working class like the scrapping of the council tax and increasing the minimum wage.

However, this must be done alongside a clear explanation of the need to build a movement to break decisively with capitalism if the problems facing the working class are going to be resolved. .

Unfortunately this has not been done by a majority of the SSP leadership who have moved away from putting forward a consistent socialist alternative to capitalism.

The CWI has important political differences with both candidates, particularly Alan McCombes who has played a central role in driving the SSP in a left nationalist and reformist direction. Unfortunatly, Colin Fox has not opposed this trend among the leadership of the SSP.

Independence convention

The CWI has led the opposition in the SSP to the turn by the leadership towards left nationalist ideas. This turn has been reflected in the proposals to launch an "independence convention" and in the wording of the "Declaration of Calton Hill". (see issue 23 of the International Socialist)

Contained in these were clear and explicit arguments that stated that an independent Scotland, without breaking from the rule of big business, would offer a route out of poverty, low pay and inequality in Scotland.

Carolyn Leckie MSP intervening in a debate in the Scottish parliament in December last year on the crisis in the NHS said; "Nothing less than full independence is what the people of Scotland need to save our NHS."

These ideas which have been largely inspired by SSP leadership contender Alan McCombes, have been done in an effort to establish a campaign to: "break apart the UK state."

With support for independence in Scotland at its lowest level for a decade this strategy can clash with the outlook of many workers and young people. This is especially the case when there is an increasing turn to united action across Britain as a means to fight Blair and New Labour.

Such a light-minded slogan can also arouse legitimate fears that the working class could also "break apart" if such a campaign was successful.

Nevertheless, a significant minority, which could become a majority in the future, do support the idea of independence for Scotland. The role of the SSP should be to support the democratic rights of the Scottish people, including the right to independence should a majority support that step.

At the same we should explain that an independent Scotland based on capitalism would not be a solution to the problems facing the working class.

Under these conditions only an independent socialist Scotland, linked to a wider , voluntary socialist confederation with England, Wales and Ireland and beyond, could offer a way out.

The current direction of the SSP leadership can only reinforce false illusions in what an independent capitalist Scotland could deliver for the working class.

Consistent socialism

The refusal to consistently put the case for socialism by Alan McCombes and others has not only been seen in relation to Scotland.

The SSP’s European manifesto called for the building of a social Europe – that is a more equitable form of capitalism. It was Alan McCombes who opposed the call led by members of the CWI that the SSP should instead argue for a socialist Europe.

A recent front page article in the SSP’s paper on world poverty rightly demanded the cancellation of third world debt. But it also called for; "fair investment" to allow the worlds poorest nations to; "trade on equal terms with the rest of the world." That investment should come from; "countries like UK, France and Germany."

The idea that the big capitalist powers would come to the aid of the poor and hungry is utopian. As has been underlined by their paltry response to the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

Only the cancellation of debt, the abolition of the World Bank and the IMF and the bringing into public ownership of the worlds dominant multinational banks and corporations could poverty be abolished.

This would be possible on the basis of a democratic socialist plan of the collossal resources that exist internationally.


There is a growing mood to fight among the working class. The TUC have as a result of pressure from below and the initiative of the left leadership of the PCS union, (in which the CWI plays a major role) been forced to call a national day of action, albeit not strike action, against the attacks on pensions.

This is a foretaste of big movements of the working class that can erupt, even in the relatively short term, in response to the attacks of New Labour and the bosses.

The G8 summit, which is due to meet in Scotland in the summer, will bring thousands of young people onto the streets demanding an end to the occupation of Iraq, world poverty and the gross inequalities of wealth that are part and parcel of the capitalist system.

The SSP will be mobilising for these events. But at the same time the party leadership has the responsibility to put forward a clear socialist alternative to global capitalism and win a new generation to socialism.

The general election will also be a test for the SSP following the difficulties of the last few months. The CWI have a number of members standing as SSP candidates in the election and we will be fighting to make this election campaign a success.

In raising these differences with the SSP leadership we are doing so to help strengthen the SSP.

On that basis we believe the SSP can recover and can potentially build a more powerful force for socialism in Scotland.

From International Socialist, paper of International Socialists, cwi in Scotland. (new window).

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February 2005