SCOTLAND: Five new socialist MPs sworn in

Issue 

BY MATTHEW PRESTON
& SARAH PEART

GLASGOW — "Now we're going to take the street struggle into the parliament", said Frances Curran, newly elected Scottish Socialist Party Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), neatly summing up the significance of the SSP's election breakthrough on May 1.

On May 7, six SSP MSPs — five of them for the first time — were sworn in at Holyrood, the site of the Scottish parliament. Each of them made a defiant protest against the necessary pledge of allegiance to the queen of England. "My oath is to the people" was the statement written on Rosie Kane's hand as she made the pledge.

Re-elected SSP MSP Tommy Sheridan clenched his fist and stated: "I and my party colleagues were elected on a clear and honest commitment to an independent, socialist Scotland — a socialist republic, a Scotland of citizens, not a Scotland of subjects. We will continue to fight for such a Scotland."

As they took their seats, SSP member Nicola Owen captured the victorious mood within the party: "An absolutely fantastic result. I think one of the crucial things is that they can no longer accuse us of being a one-man band. We have some excellent MSPs and some fantastic women going into that parliament.

"People are starting to take us seriously as a political party because they know that we tell the truth and that we stand up for what we believe in. People want to see some principled politics and that's what they are going to get."

The SSP and the Greens were the only parties to make any gains in the May 1 election. Scottish Labour lost five seats and its coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, barely held their ground. Hardest hit in the election was the Scottish National Party (SNP) which slid from 35 to 27 seats.

"This is a political reflection of the international radicalisation against the war and globalisation and it is shown in working-class politics in Scotland", Curran told Green Left Weekly. "We are very pleased for the Greens, again it is a reflection of the movement against the war. The Greens and the SSP were the two unequivocal anti-war parties and that has come through in the election results."

"The party that we undermined the most and exposed the most was the SNP", said Curran. "They are moving towards a free market agenda, they want to reduce business taxes for the multinationals and they want to attract local capital with even lower wages. We have completely exposed them and undercut their support in the working-class communities in the central belt. We have very nearly displaced them as the second party in Glasgow."

When asked to comment on how the SSP will relate to the Greens in parliament, Curran commented: "We will try to work alongside the Greens but we are not interested in working with big business, we want a socialist agenda and believe that you need to be red to be green."

In the May 1 election both the SSP and the Greens crossed the five-member requirement to be recognised as official parties, giving them access to all parliamentary committees and to the bureau that sets the parliament's agenda.

Throughout Scotland, more than 128,000 voters recognised that the SSP was offering something different. This was a huge advance on the last UK election in 2001, in which 70,000 people voted for the SSP.

In the May 1 election, the SSP stood in every seat (except three in which agreements with other progressive candidates were made) and has demonstrated that it is a force to be reckoned with.

The priority for the SSP in the parliament will be to push for its core election pledges — a new system of local taxation, putting more money in the pockets of working-class Scots and forcing the rich to pay more; free school meals for all; a £7.50 minimum hourly wage and 35-hour working week in the public sector; and an end to the sell-off of public services under the guise of public-private partnerships.

The SSP, however, is a party that is clear that capitalism cannot be reformed out of existence. The SSP MSPs have said they will subordinate their work in the parliament to the struggles going on outside it. They will provide a platform and public profile for socialists, trade unionists, community campaigners, for the oppressed and exploited both in Scotland and around the world.

Unlike the vast majority of politicians, the five newly elected socialist MSPs will not become alienated from the majority of working people in Scotland. They join Sheridan in committing to live on the average wage of a skilled worker, £24,000 a year, which is half of an MSP wage. The remainder is donated to the SSP for its political campaigns.

This key SSP principle was highlighted during the election campaign. The idea that a politician is worth twice or three times what a nurse, firefighter or teacher might earn is rejected outright by the SSP.

As a party fighting to rid society of women's oppression, it is significant that four of the six new MSPs are women. Carolyn Leckie, one of those four, commented on this: "I think it is important that it is four women, but I think that it is more important that it is four working-class women who are not on the career ladder and will be in there fighting for working-class women who are struggling to put a power card in their meter this weekend, who are struggling for childcare, their fertility; struggling in the jails. We will be raising all these issues and there will be a voice for working-class women in that parliament.

"We are four strong women — we're not frightened — and we won't be intimidated by some of the attacks that have already been mounted on our appearance or personalities, which only women tend to get. It is bouncing off us because we have come through struggles and we are well prepared for it."

Many eyes have turned toward Scotland, as left and progressive parties around the world join the SSP in celebrating the election result.

Leckie spoke about what the SSP success represents internationally: "While the SSP is not an absolute model, the election results make it so apparent that you need to form a united party. It needs to be a broad party, it needs to be a democratic party and it needs to be an inclusive party.

"People should move away from discussing what their differences are and get on with delivering what they are united about and getting that message out there to people who wouldn't know who Trotsky was from Lulu [a Scottish '60s pop star]."

Keith Baldassara, who replaces Sheridan as an SSP local councillor in Glasgow, said: "This is a historic day for the left internationally and it proves what the left can do when we unite under one banner. That is the success story of the SSP and it is a victory for socialism."

When asked to comment on the current debate over the future of the Australian Socialist Alliance, Curran said: "In politics time is everything. We had this debate [in the Scottish Socialist Alliance] one and a half years before the 1999 parliamentary elections and if we hadn't moved towards a party then, we wouldn't be in this position now. Delaying usually means that you miss opportunities. My advice is, go for it."

From Green Left Weekly, May 14, 2003.
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