BY SARAH PEART
DUNDEE — "The Scottish Socialist Party promotes a vision that tackles poverty and inequality head on", declared the SSP's sole MP, Tommy Sheridan, in opening the fourth annual SSP conference held in Dundee's Caird Hall over the March 2-3 weekend.
"Of all the parties in Scotland we are the only one who advocates a radical redistribution of wealth", Sheridan told the conference. "The rich enjoy the benefits of a society that they refuse to contribute to. Their number is up when we control society."
Many attending were surprised at the warm reception given to the conference by the Dundee City Council, which hung a huge welcome banner over Caird Hall, as the SSP is more used to being physically removed from council property.
Sheridan opened the event with a speech covering the SSP's achievements over the past three years, including its establishment of 60 branches across Scotland — stretching from the Shetland Islands to the English border.
And after a discussion about what the party's finances would allow, conference decided that the SSP would stand in all 73 constituencies in the 2003 Scottish parliamentary elections as well as the regionally-based lists, in which the SSP is current polling 6-7% in opinion polls and could be expected to have between two to eight MPs elected.
The most controversial motion going to conference was the proposal for a quota system under which at least 50% of candidates on the SSP's regional lists would be women. The SSP women's network proposed the motion which was supported by the SSP executive.
However, the debate polarised the conference. Supporters of the proposal argued that a quota system is simply a way of putting into practice the SSP's policy of equal representation between genders.
Speaking in favour of the motion, SSP executive member Frances Curran pointed out that the only parliaments in the world where more than 30% of the representatives are women have achieved that with some kind of legal device.
The opponents of the motion, who included most of the regional organisers of the SSP, argued that while no socialist would disagree with the need to increase the number of women in the Scottish parliament and that women face considerable disadvantages that the party needs to counteract, the quota system is an unsatisfactory means by which to achieve equal gender representation.
A number of women, including Norma Anderson, a former SSP parliamentary candidate, said that they found the proposal patronising. Others argued it was an organisational solution to a political problem.
After a fierce debate for most of the first day of the conference, the motion was won with a majority of 150 delegates in favour, and 117 against. An amendment was also voted up which ensures that women will be at the top of the list in two of the party's target seats.
A motion on Palestine was passed calling for a democratic, secular Palestinian state. This replaced the party's previous policy, which called for unity between the Palestinian and Israeli working class in the fight for a socialist Middle East.
One motion critical of Cuba was opposed by various speakers, including Tommy Sheridan. The motion fell, with the majority of conference agreeing that while Cuba's political system is not the type that the SSP is fighting for in Scotland, the SSP should temper its criticism of Cuba with the due recognition of all that the Cuban revolutionaries had achieved.
The conference reaffirmed the SSP's opposition to the Trident nuclear submarine base at Fastlane on the Clyde, its support for free school meals, for a publically owned and integrated transport system and oil and gas industry. Delegates voted to hold a special conference to discuss the SSP position on Britain's entry into the euro currency zone.
During the conference the two factions ("platforms") within the SSP held their own meetings. The Socialist Workers Party Platform meeting discussed the "war against terrorism", while the International Socialist Movement Platform meeting discussed the process of international socialist renewal with speakers from the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia, Virginia Troli from Argentina and Scottish Socialist Voice editor Alan McCombes.
"This year is our third birthday and we can be very proud," said Sheridan. "In 1999 at our first conference we had 300 participants, now we have 400 delegates representing a membership of around 3000. The future hasn't been written yet, it is up to us how it unfolds, let's make the future red."
From Green Left Weekly, March 13, 2002.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.