SCOTLAND: Socialists set sights on seven new MPs

Issue 

BY PETER BOYLE

GLASGOW — The Scottish Socialist Party may win up to eight candidates in the May 1 elections for the Scottish parliament. At the very least, sole SSP parliamentarian Tommy Sheridan told the annual SSP conference on February 22-23, the SSP will have a “100% improvement in our electoral presence”.

Among the likely new MSPs are several women leaders of the party — international relations coordinator Frances Curran and national co-chairpersons Carolyn Leckie and Catriona Grant. Under the SSP constitution 50% of candidates must be women.

The 400 delegates — representing 80 branches — did a tremendous amount of work over the course of the two-day conference. They adopted a stirring election manifesto and further refined their policy on everything from the environment to Palestine. Most of the delegates were militant trade unionists or community campaigners.

The SSP will go to the May 1 election with six key policies — opposition to the US “war for oil”, progressive tax reform, the provision of free school meals, a doubling of the minimum wage in the Scottish public sector (this would flow on to other workers), the introduction of the 35-hour week and opposition to the privatisation of public services.

In the May 1999 election, at which Sheridan was elected, the SSP received 2% of the vote across Scotland. For the last 18 months the SSP has been registering 7% in the polls. Among young people its support rises to 12%.

But with the rapid rise of the anti-war movement, the SSP's poll ratings may rise further. One poll indicated that 45% of people who voted Labour in the last Scottish election won't vote Labour on May 1 if the Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair supports an invasion of Iraq without UN endorsement.

Sheridan is seen as the major anti-war spokesperson in Scotland. He addressed the 100,000-strong anti-war rally in Glasgow on February 15 and received a mighty ovation.

On the first day of the SSP conference, Sheridan had to rush off to participate in a televised debate on the Iraq war. He debated Labour MP Eric Joyce who argued in support of Blair's all-the-way-with-the-USA line, Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish National Party campaign organiser, and Willie McNair, a retired military intelligence officer. Predictably he won the audience while the Labour MP was met with hostility.

The next day the Sunday Herald (which had sponsored the debate) ran a full page report of the debate. Every Wednesday, the Scottish Daily Mirror gives Sheridan a page to put his socialist politics, which he does in a popular style.

The Mirror (like its parent paper produced in England) is campaigning against the war. This means massive free publicity for the SSP. In the last two weeks about 200 new members have joined the SSP and Curran expects the party to double its membership over the course of the coming election campaign.

Some of the small far left platforms (almost all the socialist groups in Scotland have joined the SSP) staged a few interventions in the conference debates to try to prove that they were more radical than the SSP leadership but these interventions failed. The members of these platforms won little respect from most delegates.

Allan Green, the national secretary of the SSP, says the party has come a long way since its founding conference in February 1999. Its membership extends way beyond that of the combined membership of the socialist groups that originally united in the Scottish Socialist Alliance, the precursor to the SSP.

Green says that the success of the SSP has showed that “our vision of a united left building a mass socialist party wasn't pie in the sky”.

From Green Left Weekly, March 5, 2003.
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