SCOTLAND: SSY: giving voice to young socialists


Keef Tomkinson is a member, and former national organiser, of the Scottish Socialist Youth, the youth organisation of the Scottish Socialist Party. He will be speaking in Sydney at the Resistance national conference, July 11-13 at the Glebe neighbourhood centre. Green Left Weekly's Chris Atkinson spoke to him about the success of socialists in Scotland.

How did you become a socialist?

I've always thought Scotland should be independent and I always admired socialists like Tony Benn.

I went to a Scottish Socialist Alliance meeting in 1996, and I filled out a form to join, but I didn't get involved because the SSA didn't openly support Scottish independence, it just called for a referendum on it.

So the only other real pro-independence group was the Scottish National Party. But through the 1990s, the SNP followed the British Labour Party to the right, and that left me in the weird situation of feeling compelled to vote SNP when I agreed with only some of their positions. The SNP became more and more popular, however, while becoming more and more conservative. So the winning of a Scottish parliament was a bit of a hollow achievement.

Meanwhile, the SSA decided to take the step of openly supporting independence, and moved to become a united Scottish Socialist Party. Six months later, SSP candidate Tommy Sheridan was elected to the new parliament. So for me, it was like finally, there was a bunch of people who shared my desire to see an independent Scotland, but more than that, a Scotland free of poverty, discrimination and inequality: a socialist Scotland. So, I joined.

So where did the Scottish Socialist Youth come from?

From its formation, the SSP was clear that the number of young people interested in the alternatives to the established parties and established politics was growing. Even while there were only a few young people active in the party, the SSP's growth and increasing influence brought us into contact with more and more young people.

They had a whole variety of political opinions, but many expressed common views on the issues that affect them most, be it getting rid of age discrimination in the minimum wage, being able to vote or being able to afford CDs. The media, and even many on the left, often just dismiss these views, but for us they were really important.

We decided to launch a campaign to legalise cannabis and overhaul Scotland's backward drug laws. This, combined with the party's anti-poverty, pro-socialist work, meant the SSP quickly became known to a wide section of youth. Now, across the country, many young comrades hold elected positions in branches, take part in the branches' regular local activities. And these branches, in turn, attract more young people.

You've talked about young activists working in the SSP, is that different from SSY activity?

Yes. For a variety of reasons, SSY has developed slower than the SSP. This may sound negative, but it's because so many younger members consider themselves SSP members first and foremost.

SSY is not separating young people from the SSP. It campaigns on issues that directly affect young people, providing them with a much-needed voice and a gateway to the SSP. I think this approach gives SSY, and the SSP as a whole, a greater chance of developing into organisations which will attract young people [to socialism] on a scale unseen for a generation.

Why are you so sure the SSY and the SSP are going to grow?

I think the main reason is the SSP doesn't make assumptions about or patronise young people. Our campaigns are not based on what we think young people should care about, but on what they do care about. Any ideas we might once have had that young members must do a long "tour of duty" before leading our work have been abandoned.

Young people around the world are radicalising around a range of issues and Scotland's not sheltered from it. Some say that the radicalisation process is weaker in Scotland because there is not a large anti-globalisation movement. But the SSP is the anti-capitalist force that most radicalising young people look to. So, that's the challenge for us — to develop SSY into an organisation that gives voice to young people's passion on a range of issues affecting them.

The fact that SSY and the SSP bring together socialists from a range of backgrounds is attractive too. I think that for most people, but particularly young people, political division and sectarianism is a real turn-off. No-one goes to an anti-war demo to listen to three, five, seven different socialist factions go on about how much better the nuances of their program is than all the others. No, I think the fact that the SSP gives people common voice against war and for a peaceful, independent, socialist Scotland made our voice louder. Unity really creates its own dynamic.

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