SCOTLAND’S POLITICAL establishment were licking their wounds after the Scottish parliament elections of 1 May. There were spectacular advances for the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), who between them won 13 seats – an increase of 11.
Philip Stott, Dundee SSP and International Socialist
Four independents were elected including Dr Jean Turner, a hospitals campaigner who won Strathkelvin and Bearsden from New Labour. Denis Canavan was also reelected in Falkirk with the biggest majority in the Scottish Parliament.
In contrast, there was a massive rejection of New Labour and the SNP. With the turnout falling below 50%, Labour’s vote fell by 4% on the first vote (their lowest vote since 1931) and 5% on the second PR based party list vote.
The SNP, supposedly New Labour’s main opposition, were shattered by the loss of 20% of their MSPs, reducing them to 27 MSPs from the 35 they previously held. The nationalists’ pro-business agenda undermined their attempts to appeal to workers and young people. Their vote slumped by 5% on the first vote and almost 7% on the second.
It was the SSP and the Greens who between them captured the imagination of tens of thousands of those looking for a radical alternative to the establishment parties. Between them they won 250,000 second votes.
The SSP stood in 70 of the 73 first past the post constituencies winning 6.2% of the first vote. The party polled over 5% in 43 seats with Tommy Sheridan winning 28% of the vote in Pollok. Well over 100,000 people voted SSP on the first vote and 130,000 people voted SSP on the second vote – trebling the SSP’s vote compared to 1999.
All the SSP MSPs were elected through the regional party list vote. In Glasgow the SSP won two seats, Tommy Sheridan and Rosie Kane. With 16% of the city-wide vote the SSP almost defeated the SNP who won 17% of the Glasgow second vote.
One SSP MSP was elected in four other regions: Lothians, Colin Fox; South of Scotland, Rosemary Byrne; Central Scotland, Carolyn Leckie; and the West of Scotland, Frances Curran. The SSP also won two council seats. Keith Baldassara won the North Pollok ward previously held by Tommy Sheridan.
The Greens did not stand in the constituencies, concentrating on the second vote where they won seven seats. A pensioners’ campaigner won a list seat in Central Scotland and Margo McDonald, the former SNP MSP, won a seat on the Lothians list. Independent left and anti-establishment candidates, the Greens and the SSP took an incredible 20% of the Scottish second vote, and 10% of the first vote.
MEMBERS OF the International Socialists (the Socialist Party’s sister organisation in Scotland) stood as SSP candidates. Jim McFarlane polled 1,500 votes in Dundee West (6%) and Bruce Wallace in Angus doubled the SSP vote to win 1,300 votes.
The International Socialists proposed that we stood down in Dundee East where John McAllion, the socialist Labour MP, was standing. We also called on him to break with New Labour and help build a new mass party for socialism. John lost his seat by 90 votes to the SNP. This underlined the correct decision not to stand in an effort to maximise the socialist vote.
Probably Labour (50 seats) and the Liberal Democrats (17), will form another coalition Executive. For that Labour may have to pay the price of introducing PR for local government elections from 2007.
However the Greens may possibly back the new Executive in parliament while not formerly joining the coalition. This would be a variation of a “Red-Green” theme in Europe where the Greens have either entered coalitions as in Germany or backed the Social Democracy from the outside, for example in Sweden.
Whether there is a formal “traffic light” coalition involving the Greens or an informal one, support for the Greens will be undermined unless they maintain their distance from the Labour-Liberal coalition.
Resisting the pressure
We welcome the SSP’s success, which will be welcomed by tens of thousands of working-class people across Scotland. This important breakthrough can also lead to a significant growth in the party’s membership and influence.
Pressure on the SSP to adapt its socialist programme in favour of “practical measures” that can be implemented by the parliament will be intense. We fully support reforms such as the introduction of Free School Meals and the abolition of the Council Tax.
At the same time, it is essential that the SSP fights for public ownership of the major sectors of the economy under the democratic control of the working class as the only long term solution to poverty and inequality.
The socialist will carry more material on the SSP and its programme in a future issue.