Matt Preston & Sarah Peart, Glasgow
More than 400 delegates braved the Scottish winter to attend the annual conference of the Scottish Socialist Party, taking place in Perth on February 12-13. The conference was marked by diverse and wide-ranging debate, with motions presented on topics as far-reaching as parental rights, dentistry and an alternative socialist economic strategy.
Given Tommy Sheridan's resignation as party convenor, the election of his successor was high on the agenda. The two contenders for convenor, Colin Fox, member of the Scottish parliament (MSP) for the Lothians region and Alan McCombes, the party's policy coordinator, both addressed the conference and answered wide ranging questions from delegates.
Fox and McCombes both stressed their commitment to working together and building unity within the SSP whatever the result of the election. Colin Fox was elected SSP convenor with 62% of delegates' votes and the conference was swamped by media anxious to report the result. Fox and McCombes were both greeted with a standing ovation from the delegates as they met the media together with hands held high, as Fox joked "you can see this is a highly divisive party!"
The party voted almost unanimously in favour of a motion recognising that SSP parliamentary work has to be guided by the party as a whole and that MSPs must operate within the collective structures set by the party. The motion called for conference to confirm that parliamentary finances are open to scrutiny and that decisions on spending are to be taken collectively and reflect the objectives of the SSP.
The motion was moved and seconded by two of the party's MSPs. Speaking to the motion, Carolyn Leckie said "at this stage we are the most open, democratic and accountable party in the parliament. But we need to ensure that the pressures we are under do not affect the political priorities of the party."
A historic first for the SSP was the discussion of a motion presented by an affiliated trade union. John Grey from the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union argued for a motion that developed SSP campaigning for re-nationalisation of the rail industry in Scotland. Conference also heard that the union has initiated a campaign for public ownership and will be marching from Glasgow to London in April to put this issue on the agenda in the British elections, which it is rumoured will be called for May 5. The motion was unanimously supported by conference.
A standing ovation was given to Rose Gentle, whose son was killed in Iraq in June. Since then Rose has been outspoken in her belief that the responsibility for the deaths of British soldiers in this illegal war lies squarely with British PM Tony Blair. The party reaffirmed its support for the Gentle Family Campaign, which aims to unite the soldiers' families, demanding justice for the victims of the war and the full withdrawal of Scottish and British forces from Iraq.
The conference accepted an emergency motion sending solidarity to those whose lives have been devastated by the tsunami. The motion condemned the global inequalities that meant that so many thousands of people were vulnerable to such a disaster and resolved the party to make links with progressive, socialist and workers' organisations in the affected countries to help resist the brutal impact of global capitalism.
Warming up to the Westminster elections, where the SSP is contesting every Scottish seat, conference endorsed the outline of the party's election manifesto. The SSP is contesting these elections with no illusions of becoming a significant minority in the Westminster parliament. The manifesto therefore focuses on the broad themes of opposition to war, support for an independent socialist republic, support for workers in struggle, opposition to poverty and inequality and international solidarity with those fighting oppression and injustice.
Speaking to the document, SSP policy coordinator Alan McCombes introduced the document: "in this election we are up against Mr. Blair, dripping with blood from head to foot. We are the only intransigent anti-war party in Scotland and we need to get that message across in this election. We are also Scotland's anti-poverty party and we need to convey the message that in order to make poverty history we have to make capitalism history."
Another key event on the horizon for the SSP is the G8 summit, to be held in Scotland in July. The SSP unanimously recognised the importance of this event internationally, condemning the hypocrisy of the meetings, which have furthered poverty, environmental destruction and war around the world. The conference agreed that mobilising for anti-G8 protests is a political priority for the year. During the conference, the International Socialist Movement platform within the SSP held a meeting to further discuss SSP strategy for organising around the protests.
Delegates left the conference looking forward to the G8 and the Westminster elections as opportunities to build the party and to take socialist ideas to a growing audience.
From Green Left Weekly, February 23, 2005.
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