The 2005 Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) conference was held last weekend, following Tommy Sheridan’s resignation as party leader in November 2004.
The mood of the conference was different from previous SSP events. It was a much more sombre and questioning conference. The authority of some members of the party leadership has been diminished as a consequence of their role over Tommy Sheridan’s effective removal as party convenor. In turn, this also reflects a political questioning of the programme and methods the SSP should fight on.
There was no discussion at the conference on Tommy Sheridan’s resignation. There was a strong mood to try and put the last three months in the past and move on to rebuild the support that the SSP has lost.
But if the SSP leadership thought that they would receive a vote of confidence from the conference they were proved wrong. This was reflected in the result of the election for convenor. Colin Fox, MSP for the Lothians region, defeated Alan McCombes, the SSP’s policy coordinator, by a much larger margin than anticipated (252 votes, 62%, to 154, 38%) .
Tommy Sheridan backed Colin Fox, who attempted to distance himself from the actions of the SSP executive committee (EC), although he voted for them at the time. MSPs Frances Curran, Carolyn Leckie and Rosie Kane supported Alan McCombes. Despite our political differences with him, the CWI voted for Colin Fox as the best option for the SSP, given the choice that was on offer.
The result of the national Chairpersons election saw Rosemary Byrne, one of the SSP´s MSP´s top the poll. She has openly come out and said that the EC’s action in calling on Tommy Sheridan to stand down was wrong. She easily out-polled Carolyn Leckie MSP, one of the current national co-chairs who was elected second. Tommy Sheridan topped the poll for the male list for the EC.
The conference debated many important issues, from Iraq to the economic programme of the SSP, the attacks on public-sector workers, pensions, the general election challenge, as well as the SSP’s attitude to events in Latin America (more reports next week). The Committee for a Workers’ International platform of the SSP played a leading and at times a decisive role in these debates.
The SSP conference began with a debate on Iraq. A motion to the conference, inspired by the Socialist Worker platform, called for uncritical support to the "Iraqi popular resistance." The only amendment to challenge this came from Dundee West SSP and was put forward by CWI members.
Our amendment called for the removal of all occupying troops and for support for mass resistance to the occupation, through the building of workers’ and farmers’ militias that seek to unite all the different ethnic and religions groups in Iraq.
It also called on the SSP to refuse to give support to the reactionary and anti-working class forces that make up part of the resistance in Iraq. Sinead Daly from Dundee West argued that: "We cannot as socialists give our support to those forces in Iraq whose ideas and methods are anti-working class, anti-women and who, in some cases, are intent on trying to provoke a civil and sectarian war in Iraq. We should support a movement to unite the working class and the poor based on a struggle for a living wage, healthcare, education, and basic services, as well as opposition to the imperialist occupation of their country."
This amendment was opposed by a long succession of Socialist Workers Party (SWP) members, who claimed that the "working class are not able to struggle just now" and that the "trade unions are too weak and strikes in the public sector are banned."
To illustrate the way in which the SWP have moved away from basing themselves on the working class and socialist ideas, they also attempted to delete a reference in another motion on Iraq that called on the SSP to "support the organised working-class and trade union movement as the most important part of the resistance." The Dundee West amendment was passed overwhelmingly.
The press and media ran a number of items prior to the conference highlighting the fact that the SSP was going to debate a motion that would "support beheadings in Iraq and the killing of British troops." The main item on the BBC Scottish news on Saturday night was that a motion giving uncritical support to all of the resistance in Iraq had been defeated.
Without doubt the CWI’s amendment went a long way to saving the SSP from a storm of media and political attacks had the SWP motion been passed unamended. None of the leaders of the SSP intervened in this debate, despite the fact that the consequences for the SSP could have been severe.
This underlines the principled approach that the CWI has always taken to the SSP, arguing for ideas that would strengthen the SSP and opposing ideas that would weaken or damage it.
A social or a socialist economy?
One motion stating that "a considerable development of the social economy will be necessary as an interim alternative to the private sector before socialism can be achieved" was rejected.
Ronnie Stevenson and Brian Smith, CWI members and UNISON shop stewards from Glasgow Cathcart, moved a motion rejecting the idea that there was any model based on capitalism, including Norway, Denmark or Ireland, that could improve the position of the working class.
This debate is important because in a recent debate in the Scottish parliament, SSP MSP Frances Curran argued in favour of the social – democratic model of Norway as a way forward for Scotland saying: "I ask the SNP what the model is to be – neo-liberalism or social democracy."
The CWI-supported motion called for the nationalisation, under democratic working-class control and management, of the multinationals that dominate the economy. This was passed overwhelmingly, as was an amendment that explained that supporting the idea of a "social economy" was arguing for another form of capitalism.
Conference passed a motion calling for a one-day public sector strike in defence of jobs and pensions. Jim McFarlane, chair of Dundee City UNISON branch, and Gary Clark, CWU branch delegate, both CWI members, spoke about the attacks on public-sector workers and the threat of privatisation of the Post Office.
An amendment supporting Roger Bannister’s campaign for UNISON general secretary was challenged by the SWP who tried to get the conference to back the so-called ’United Left’ candidate Jon Rogers. This was rejected, and the conference voted to back Roger Bannister. This followed the decision of the national SSP UNISON members’ meeting, which included nursery nurses, who voted to back Roger Bannister based on his fighting record and the fact that he stands for UNISON to make a clear break from New Labour.
The 2005 SSP conference saw the ideas of the CWI find a bigger audience than has been the case in the past. CWI member Sinead Daly was elected on to the executive committee. Philip Stott came eighth on the male list out of 23 candidates, with the top seven being elected. 40 copies of International Socialist were sold as well as 10 copies of the socialist and 10 of the new pensions pamphlet.