Scottish socialists see good growing weather
Lisa Young and Pam Currie
GLASGOW — The Scottish Socialist Party exploded onto the political scene in 1999. Tommy Sheridan's election to the Scottish parliament represents a major breakthrough for a party which is just a year old.
The party has a base of nearly 2000 members in 40 branches, with thousands more on the periphery. Alan McCombes, who edits Scottish Socialist Voice, is clear that the SSP must be more than just an electoral party.
"The SSP is essentially going to be built as a combat party that fights on all the day-to-day issues affecting ordinary people", he says.
The consolidation of the membership, particularly those presently on the periphery, is a key task. A "red month" is planned for February/March, to coincide with the second party conference in February. A target has been set of "2000 in 2000", aiming to bring in 2000 new members.
Regional organisers intend to target towns where the SSP does not yet have a presence, as well as bringing the SSP into local districts of the major cities.
West of Scotland organiser Richie Venton identifies a lack of confidence among newer members as a key factor holding back the recruitment of the growing lists of contacts.
Education will be the key to tackling this, in day schools covering the basic tenets of socialism. The success of the recent Socialism 2000 conference has activists already planning to make it an annual event.
The February conference will also be crucial in developing in-depth policies as part of a comprehensive socialist program.
The SSP is already well on its way to achieving this, Alan McCombes explains: "The program that the SSP is founded on is the most advanced anti-capitalist, pro-socialist program of any significant left party in Europe".
While this year's conference was preoccupied with election campaigns and the manifesto for the Scottish parliament, 2000 offers a chance for the party to flesh out policies and demands.
The joint chair of the National Council, Catriona Grant, is clear who will be making these policies: "It's not going to be stuffy executives or middle-aged men in smoke-filled rooms. They'll be written by party members, at the branch level."
The party plans a series of pamphlets to develop its ideas, in addition to a book deal with Canongate Books, the largest publishing company in Scotland, offering a unique opportunity to get the party's ideas across.
Scottish Socialist Voice, the party's fortnightly paper, provides a forum not only for party news and views but also for broader cultural and social issues. Another "red month" is planned for later in the year to promote subscriptions to the paper and local sales.
The growth and development of the party until now have occurred in a period of relative calm. With an economic downturn likely and New Labour's Scottish honeymoon in tatters, this looks set to change. The rumblings of the national question will continue to send disillusioned Labour voters towards the Scottish Nationalists in droves.
The SNP, a politically heterogeneous party, has shifted to the right. While proclaiming the need for social reform, it calls for the lowest business tax in Europe.
The economic issues are raised particularly sharply in the industrial arena. While there have been no major national industrial struggles for several years, localised action has been increasingly militant.
Richie Venton, also the SSP industrial organiser, plans to build on a core of trade union activists, building members' groups in the major unions.
SSP trade union activists have been to the fore in leading recent unofficial strikes among social workers and postal workers, and in offering solidarity to other workers in struggle. In Edinburgh in particular, the SSP has attracted the most radical local union leaders to its ranks, from the postal workers', banking, health and public transport unions.
Perhaps the most important industrial campaign of the coming period, however, will be the battle over political affiliations. There is growing dissent within the trade union movement over the levy paid to the Labour Party. Growing numbers are rejecting the ideas of "social partnership" between bosses and unions that New Labour is so keen to promote
A major pole of attraction to the youth has been the SSP's drugs policy. The SSP plans to take this into the streets in the new year, particularly around the issues of changing the cannabis laws and proper facilities for Scotland's thousands of heroin addicts.
The SSP student societies will be going on the offensive for free education. Labour's hated tuition fees could be the breaking point of the Labour-Liberal coalition in Edinburgh. Liberal Democrat MSPs are threatening to rebel and vote to abolish fees, at least for Scottish students.
The SSP is the only party to have called consistently for the reintroduction of pre-Thatcher grant levels, a vital demand if students win the battle on tuition fees.
The SSP women's network has already taken to the streets, giving support to campaigns to defend a woman's right to choose.
The women's network is making plans for International Women's Day celebrations, a date which has tended to be depoliticised in Scotland by the organised women's and labour movements. The SSP aims to bring International Women's Day back to its working-class, socialist roots, with a celebration as big as May Day.
The parliament has the financial power only to raise general income tax by three pence in the pound, a regressive tax which would hit the working class hardest. The SSP demands the immediate nationalisation of the oil industry to fund a decent health service and education system and to improve appalling housing conditions.
Although the party's international links are at an early stage, there have been interest and support for the developments in Scotland from around the world. The SSP is keen to develop ideas of international solidarity within the party, and to put this solidarity into practice in common struggles with other groups internationally.
(We would like to thank the following people for help in preparing this and the preceding article: Richie Venton, Allan Green, Catronia Grant, Alan McCombes.)