Socialist Alliance formed in Scotland

August 14, 1996

By Stuart Russell

EDINBURGH — Coalition-building on the left has been sporadic at best and rarely successful or enduring. But in Scotland, a fresh and exciting attempt to build left unity has emerged, which has the potential to reshape Scottish politics.

The Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA) was launched at a founding conference held in Glasgow this past April, attended by more than 150 people. Scotland has been moving towards a major realignment on the left, spurred on by a revulsion at the rightward swing of the British Labour Party and growing support for the re-establishment of a Scottish parliament.

A number of organisations held talks about the formation of a new united left organisation, including the Scottish Socialist Movement (the "hard left" of the Scottish Labour Party), the Community Party of Scotland, Scottish Militant Labour and the left of the Scottish National Party. Preparatory gatherings were held — including one attended by some 400 in Glasgow in March — and the SSA was formally launched in April. The members had been working together on a variety of campaigns, and saw that the time for divisiveness on the left was over.

The alliance also includes people from international solidarity campaigns, community struggles, women's and gay/lesbian groups, the Green Party and many non-aligned socialists and trade unionists. Two trade union branches have affiliated, and Colin Fox, of Scottish Militant Labour and a leading member of the alliance in Edinburgh, told Green Left that he expects "a lot more trade union affiliations in the near future". The only significant group on the left which is not in the alliance is the Socialist Workers Party (counterparts of the International Socialist Organisation in Australia).

The SSA has already been involved in important struggles. It initiated the Save Our Schools and Services campaign in Glasgow, organising militant demonstrations and meetings which forced the Glasgow Council to back off from closing 17 of 22 threatened schools. As a result, the Edinburgh Council backed down from similar closures.

It has also participated in campaigns against the extensions of motorways, and similar local issues. Successful meetings of the alliance have been held recently in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Motherwell.

The SSA fielded a leading member of the local anti-motorway campaign as a candidate in the Toryglen by-election on August 8, for the Glasgow City Council. This was its second electoral foray, the first being a campaign in the June Highland Council by-election in Invergordon, where they finished second last, above the Scottish Green candidate. The alliance has been involved in a vibrant discussion about whether to field candidates in the next British general election, which is less than 10 months away.

A campaign against the job seekers' allowance, which will reduce welfare benefits and make it more difficult for young people to qualify for benefits, has been launched by the alliance. A 32 page bi-monthly magazine called Red will also be publishing its first edition in August. Youth members of the SSA have formed the Young Socialist Action, and brought out a newsletter called Red Alert, while women in the alliance have launched an SSA Women's Network.

The alliance will also be involved in campaigns to stop the seizure and sale of personal belongings of ratepayers who fail to pay their water bills. The SSA has already been effective in stopping sales conducted by sheriffs for unpaid water bills.

A draft "Charter for Socialist Change", which will be the main programmatic document of the group, was released in May and is being actively discussed and debated.

Scotland is currently experiencing a vigorous debate about its future, which revolves in large part around proposals for devolution and independence. The Scottish National Party, which supports independence, has considerable support, and the proposal for a referendum on the future of Scotland is hotly debated.

The SSA supports self-determination and stands for a sovereign Scottish parliament elected by proportional representation in a socialist Scotland that puts people before profits. The self-determination issue is heating up, in part due to Prime Minister Major's recent opportunistic decision to return the famous Stone of Scone to Scotland. Colin Fox told Green Left that he expects "there's likely to be a lot of civil disobedience around the issue in the near future".

Although still in its infancy, the Scottish Socialist Alliance has tremendous potential for becoming a pole of attraction for the left, radical workers, students and movements for social change. It can certainly teach the left in other countries some lessons about the need to discard the discredited legacy of division by building unity in action.