A very different parliamentarian



A whirlwind speaking tour by Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) member of parliament Colin Fox left a trail of inspiration and optimism along the east coast of Australia last week.

Fox, one of six SSP activists elected to the Scottish parliament on May 1, was brought to Australia by the Socialist Alliance, on route to the New Zealand Alliance conference in Wellington. Contrary to accusations made in the Scottish parliament that he was on a "junket" and should "stop gallivanting and get back to his job", Fox addressed public meetings in Melbourne, Hobart, Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney during his six days in Australia.

The roughly 400 people who attended the meetings included anti-war, trade union and refugee-rights activists, members of left parties, the Greens and the ALP (including the Queensland attorney-general), and many from the Scottish and Irish communities in Australia. Fox kept them enthralled with his accounts of the shifting political mood in Scotland, and the world.

One-hundred years ago, he said, people gathered in rooms like those he was now speaking in to discuss how the conservative politicians "didn't give a toss" about workers and decided to form their own labour parties. Today they are discussing how Labour doesn't give a toss about workers, and are launching real workers' parties. More than 130,000 people voted for the SSP in May, resulting in the biggest Scottish left representation since 1931.

After addressing the Socialist Alliance's Victorian "Socialist Ideas" conference in Melbourne on November 15, Fox spoke in Hobart on November 17, where he provoked a lot of discussion about whether or not it is possible to establish a credible alternative to the ALP.

Fox argued that while defeating conservative governments is important, simply calling for a vote for an opposition that is equally committed to neoliberal policies is no answer. "I'd not cross the street for the Australian Labor Party, but I'll come half-way around the world for the Socialist Alliance", he said.

Fox received enthusiastic applause when he pulled out his pay slip, pointed out that MPs earn at least twice the average worker's wage, then announced that every pay day he gives half of his salary to the SSP to strengthen its extra-parliamentary work of building a mass socialist party.

In Brisbane, two bagpipe players arrived in full kit to welcome Fox to the November 18 meeting, and the local activist centre was so full that the organisers resorted to upturned milk crates to provide more seating. Activists traveled from as far as Lismore to hear Fox speak.

Discussing the fundamental difference between the SSP and all other parties in the Scottish parliament, Fox presented a powerful case for why fundamental social change will never be achieved via parliament. It is an important sphere of work for socialists, he said, and the SSP will undoubtedly gain from having had six MSPs. But, the party would give every one of those positions up if they could instead have another 10,000 party activists. "The parliamentary road to socialism", he said, will be found "alongside the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq".

Fox has been a socialist activist and full-time organiser for 20 years. "Every day as I walk to parliament from the bus stop, I remember who it was that sent me there and that I am there for working people", he said. The SSP, which was formed out of the Scottish Socialist Alliance in 1998, was built by grassroots campaigning. Fox continues to join his comrades on the street for a couple of hours every Saturday to sell copies of the SSP's newspaper Scottish Socialist Voice.

In Sydney on November 20, Fox had the audience of more than 100 in stitches as he recounted his, and his comrades, response to an invitation to a reception with the Queen. This was just one of dozens of accounts of the SSP's deep-going irreverence for the pomp and privilege of capitalist parliament, in favour of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with working people. This steadfast stance evoked laughter and loud applause.

Explaining that his trip to Australia was part of the SSP's commitment to communicating the socialist story that the Murdoch press refuses to tell (and to seek compensation for Mel Gibson's woeful portrayal of the Scottish fighter William Wallace in Braveheart), Fox presented a strong case for greater left unity, solidarity and genuine internationalism. His message was clear: that the progress being made by the SSP in uniting the left and creating a strong socialist party that can shake the very foundations of capitalist politics and society, can and must be repeated in Australia.

From Green Left Weekly, November 26, 2003.
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