g8: The struggle for socialism in Scotland

The experience of eight years of a pro-capitalist, pro-war New Labour government has graphically illustrated that Blair and Co are a party of big business.

Sinead Daly from International Socialists and a member of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) executive committee looks at the programme and evolution of the SSP

The struggle for socialism in Scotland

From the start Tony Blair’s government has been one of conscious and planned neo-liberal counter reform. They have abolished the last remnants of free education, attacked the public sector, increased the use of privatisation and have presided over a society that has seen the rich and big business accumulate record levels of wealth and profits.

This has sharply posed the need for a new party that is made up of and represents the interests of workers, trade unionists, women, young people and ethnic minorities.

The CWI in Scotland helped set up the Scottish Socialist Party in 1998. From the beginning we have worked to build the party and have welcomed every step forward the SSP has made. The election of six SSP MSP’s and 130,000 votes in Scottish elections in 2003 was an important breakthrough.

The affiliation of the rail workers’ union, RMT, to the SSP – for which they were expelled from New Labour – showed the potential that exists to build a socialist and working class alternative to New Labour in Scotland.

While building the SSP the International Socialists have also opposed the move away by the SSP leadership from a clear and consistent international socialist position. Many of the leaders of the SSP come from a marxist tradition. Indeed, a number of them were formerly members of the CWI who left over the need to continue to defend a marxist programme and organisation, which they rejected.

The majority of the SSP leadership has increasingly moved away from explaining the need to break decisively with capitalism. This has been illustrated by the emphasis the party leadership have given for the need to campaign to "break apart the British state" and achieve an "independent Scottish republic."

We have been critical of this approach because even in an independent Scotland without a monarchy, the economy and wealth would still be concentrated in the hands of a capitalist elite both in Scotland and internationally. Countries which were formed as independent republics currently include the USA, France and Germany.

System in crisis

The CWI has always stood for the right of the Scottish people to decide their relationship with the rest of Britain – up to and including the right to independence. At the same time, we have explained the necessity of ending the rule of capitalism and the fight for a socialist Scotland if the scandals of poverty, low pay and inequality are to be permanently solved.

This would only be possible if the multinationals and corporations that control the economy in Scotland and internationally were brought into public ownership under the democratic control and management of the working class.

By linking up on a socialist basis with countries across Britain, Europe and beyond in a democratic socialist confederation it would be possible to release the wealth, resources and scientific advances, that are currently under the control of the bosses and the billionaires, for humankind as a whole.

Unfortunately, the majority of the SSP leadership have tended to play down the need for such a fundamental challenge to capitalism. For example, the European manifesto of the SSP argued for a "social Europe" rather than a socialist Europe. The terms "social Europe" and "social ownership" are used by some on the left, and even some European governments, to signify a more equal form of capitalism. In essence they are accepting the continuation of a capitalist economy where there is more public ownership and less privatisation and a better welfare state.

But capitalism is a system in crisis controlled by a handful of multinationals in the ruthless pursuit of profit at the expense of the working class. A socialist programme should include bringing into public ownership the big corporations which control the European economy. The SSP manifesto did not.

Link the struggles

The SSP has suffered a serious setback recently. The fall in support for the SSP at the elections in May this year, to 43,000, 1.9% of the Scottish vote, came in the wake of Tommy Sheridan’s resignation as convenor of the SSP.

His resignation was precipitated by the mistaken actions of the SSP leadership, following issues concerning Tommy Sheridan’s personal life.

The CWI has important political differences with Tommy Sheridan but he was the best-known leader of the SSP and an asset for the party. His national prominence has its roots in his role in the mass anti-poll tax movement that engulfed Scotland and Britan in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Tommy was jailed for six months as a direct result of that struggle and was elected from his prison cell to Glasgow City Council.

At that time he was a member of the CWI and along with many other of our members formed the core of the leadership of that movement that led to the defeat of the poll tax and the removal of then prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

The role of the SSP leadership in Tommy Sheridan’s resignation has had a big impact on the public perception of the SSP.

Many workers looked positively at the SSP as a result of Tommy Sheridan’s record as a class fighter with a record of struggle and personal sacrifice. His forced resignation is a reflection of the SSP leadership’s political mistakes on other issues.

The International Socialists will work to rebuild the SSP’s support. We have consistently held to the view that while building our own marxist and revolutionary parties we have and will continue to support all genuine steps towards the building of new left and socialist parties/alliances.

The SSP, like other left parties, can represent an important step forward in challenging the neo-liberal, pro-capitalist consensus of the main establishment partiers. Such formations could allow trade union members, young people and others to organise and discuss together to assist in the battle against the attacks of the bosses and capitalism.

Within these new parties and formations we have and will continue to put forward a clear and consistent socialist and marxist programme.

The International Socialists and the CWI support, and have led and organised, many struggles to defend the working class against the attacks of the bosses and capitalism.

Our members are actively fighting in the workplaces and communities to improve the lives of ordinary people.

At the same time it is necessary to link those struggles to the need to end the system that is causing poverty, low pay, war and environmental destruction i.e. capitalism.

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July 2005