Scotland: Solidarity conference agrees to build a socialist party

Urgent campaigning needed in working class communities

7 November 2006


Solidarity conference agrees to build a socialist party

Last Saturday, 250 members of ‘Solidarity – Scotland’s Socialist Movement’, attended the first national conference of the new party.

Solidarity – SSM was launched at the beginning of September, by MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament), Tommy Sheridan, Rosemary Byrne, and by hundreds of socialists who broke with the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), in disgust at the actions of the SSP leadership who sided with the (News of the World – NoW) against Tommy Sheridan during his defamation court case, last summer. The International Socialists (the Scottish section of the CWI) were founding members of Solidarity – SSM. 

During October, more than 1,000 people attended 10 Solidarity public meetings across Scotland, the largest in Dundee, where 250 came to hear Tommy Sheridan speak. This enthusiastic response to the idea of building a principled socialist movement showed the potential to build Solidarity in the months ahead, in the run-up to the Scottish parliament elections, next May.

Saturday’s conference was called to primarily agree a constitution and finalise the name of the new party. However, it was clear in the run-up to conference there was going to be a very important debate on the character and type of organisation that Solidarity should be.

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) used the conference to strongly argue against Solidarity being a socialist party. Instead, they advocated that Solidarity should be a "movement of the movements", a home for those fighting Islamophobia, for the anti-war movement and for those opposing climate change. During the debate on the name of the party, one SWP member said, "Socialism should not be in the name; if we remove it people will join us". The SWP voted for the name to be ‘Solidarity’, dropping the reference to ‘Scotland’s Socialist Movement’.

One SWP speaker, after another, emphasised that if Solidarity was socialist it would put off people joining. They argued that Islamophobia was the "main political issue" in society, today, and that Solidarity has to prioritise winning more Muslims into its ranks. It is correct to oppose racism and division and to appeal to Muslims to join Solidarity – SSM, but this can be done most effectively by explaining the link between the attacks on Muslims by the political establishment, to New Labour’s anti-working class and pro-capitalist polices. The SWP falsely argued that a socialist party would inevitably be narrow and isolated, whereas a movement that was "broad" and which concentrated on Islamophobia and the Iraq war would be far more appealing.  They essentially called for an electoral coalition rather than a campaigning socialist party. 

SWP arguments not supported

The SWP’s arguments found no support outside their ranks. Speaker after speaker at Saturday’s conference opposed the SWP’s ideas and defended the importance of building a socialist party. Members of the International Socialists (CWI) spoke in the debate. Ronnie Stevenson, who is a Unison convenor for 4,000 workers in Glasgow City Council, explained that he knew local government workers who would only join Solidarity if it was a socialist party. It is precisely by explaining ideas in the language of the working class, reflecting their concerns, and linking that to the need for socialism as a solution, that a thriving party can be built.

The contradictions in the SWP’s position were highlighted during the conference debate. Many SWP members commented, "I’m a socialist but…." As an International Socialist (CWI) speaker pointed out, if it is good enough for the SWP members to have drawn socialist conclusions, why should the working class not have the same opportunity?   

The SWP’s prescription for how Solidarity should develop would inevitably leave it as an isolated and largely irrelevant force, as far as the majority of the working class is concerned. But if Solidarity – SSM turns to the working class, as a whole, taking up issues of immediate concern, like the NHS, low pay, housing, unemployment, and workers rights, as well as campaigning against the war and against racism, Solidarity can be built into a significant force.

It is this strategy, of fighting on the day-to-day issues facing the working class, and linking that to the need for socialism, which the International Socialists support. It was clear from last weekend’s conference the majority of the Solidarity membership also wants to build a socialist party.

The conference voted for the name Solidarity – Scotland’s Socialist Movement and agreed to adopt an interim constitution, with a national policy conference in February 2007.   

Tommy Sheridan MSP made a very effective speech to open the conference, which made clear his view that Solidarity was the "Scottish wing of the international socialist movement." International Socialists members, Brian Smith (Glasgow Unison secretary for social work) and Alan Manley (nurse and Unison steward), spoke from the platform in the opening session on the trade unions and the NHS.

The urgent tasks facing Solidarity – SSM is to rapidly establish campaigning socialist branches in every area and to build its forces in preparation for the elections next year. During last weekend’s conference, 50 copies of the ‘International Socialist’, the paper of the CWI in Scotland, were sold and many Solidarity members expressed thanks to International Socialists members for their contributions during the afternoon debate.

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November 2006