The Socialist 9 March 2006
Wanted: A party for the millions...not the millionaires!
CWI proposals win support
Three hundred delegates attended the 2006 Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) conference, in Dundee last weekend. This was 120 fewer when compared to the previous conference, which was held in the aftermath of the resignation of Tommy Sheridan as SSP national convenor.
Philip Stott, CWI, Scotland
The SSP's electoral support has dipped significantly since then. Last year's general election in May saw the party secure 1.9% of the national vote, a fall from the 3.1% achieved in 2001. A series of by-elections at both parliamentary and council level have confirmed this trend.
The most recent Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, which produced a humiliating defeat for New Labour, saw the SSP poll 1.5% - a slight fall even when compared to the disappointing 2005 general election result.
There has also been a falling away in the number of activists involved in the party as the SSP has struggled to find a road out of these difficulties.
The CWI (Committee for a Workers' International) platform have consistently put forward a strategy that we believe could strengthen the SSP and help rebuild its support.
250,000 local government workers in Scotland are currently balloting for strike action over pensions and there is a growing revolt over the pro-big business policies of the government and the Scottish Executive.
Under these conditions there exist real opportunities to rebuild the SSP.
However, this would require a new political course and the CWI have opposed, in the main, the political direction and approach of the SSP leadership, which has been primarily responsible for the setbacks the SSP has suffered.
People not profit
LATE LAST year the party leadership proposed to launch a national ten-point campaign entitled 'People Not Profit'. The CWI welcomed and supported this initiative which, we argued, could help to popularise some of the SSP's key policies. The ten-point programme included demands like 'end low pay', 'end privatisation' and, 'opposition to the war in Iraq'.
However, we did not agree, as the SSP Executive Committee (EC) had initially proposed last year, that this campaign should, in the main, only be based on what the existing powers held by the Scottish parliament could deliver.
Speaking to the Glasgow Cathcart East motion on People Not Profit (PNP), Ronnie Stevenson, the convenor of UNISON social work stewards in Glasgow city council, said: "We came forward with this motion because we believe it will strengthen the cutting edge of the PNP campaign. It will allow the SSP to take up issues directly affecting working-class communities in Scotland - regardless of whether they currently fall under the remit of the Scottish parliament."
Seconding the motion Brian Smith, also a UNISON steward in Glasgow, explained: "We don't think that the demand for an £8 an hour minimum wage should just be restricted to public-sector workers as the EC have proposed in their PNP draft. Low Pay is endemic across the private sector and the service industries, particularly amongst young workers. By calling for an £8 an hour across the board without exemptions we can campaign to reach out to all workers facing low pay."
The EC original proposals had also suggested that on privatisation only the call for the abolition of PFI and PPP schemes would be included.
The Cathcart motion sought to widen this out to also call for the renationalisation, under democratic working-class control, of all industries and services privatised by the Tories and New Labour. This would be linked to explaining the need to fight for the public ownership of all the major industries as a part of a socialist planned economic alternative to free-market chaos.
Unfortunately the EC, (probably because they had realised they would be unable to carry the conference if they had held to their original draft) sought to confuse the conference by denying that they had ever argued that the PNP campaign would be so restrictive. And in the end had only brought to the conference a list of headline points that would form the basis of the PNP campaign, without any explanation of what each section would cover.
However, the leaflets now produced for the campaign, which appeared on the day the conference began, have taken on board many of the Cathcart East proposals and as a result are much more effective and will strengthen the impact of the PNP campaign.
THE EC put a motion to conference that would have seen the SSP withdraw from all constituencies for the 2007 Scottish parliament elections. The motion argued that only in "exceptional circumstances" would the SSP contest first-past-the post (FPTP) constituencies. Instead, the SSP would concentrate on the proportional representation regional lists - which is where the SSP's six MSP's were elected.
This proposal from the EC is, in reality, a reflection of the setbacks the party has faced. In 2003, the SSP stood in 70 of the 73 FPTP seats as well as the lists. Some sections of the SSP have used the EC proposal to justify a call to back the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the constituencies in order to maximise the "pro-independence vote" in 2007 (A call to vote SNP was not included in the EC motion).
The CWI, through Dundee West, sought to amend the EC motion because a wholesale retreat from FPTP seats would be seen as big setback and would further damage the SSP. We also ruled out that the SSP would call for a vote for the SNP or any other of the big business parties in 2007.
The EC was defeated by 140 votes to 132 and the Dundee West amendment was passed.
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