SSP Conference: Scottish Socialists Debate The Way Forward

SSP Conference

Scottish Socialists Debate The Way Forward

THE 2003 Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) conference met recently against the backdrop of a likely war in Iraq and two months before the Scottish parliament elections. In the following conference report* PHILIP STOTT, International Socialists (CWI, Scotland), explains the battle of ideas for a socialist programme in the SSP. (*abridged version of a longer article in International Socialist, the paper of the CWI, Scotland)

THE FIRST day of conference was dominated by the prospects for the 1 May elections. The SSP, currently polling around 7%, is well placed to make advances in the elections to the Scottish Parliament. The SSP’s manifesto was debated and passed overwhelmingly.

The SSP has produced six “fast track policy pledges” for 1 May. They include: scrapping the council tax and replacing it with a re-distributive, income-based, Scottish Service Tax; free school meals for all children; a 35-hour week for all public service workers; a £7.32 minimum wage for all public sector workers; cancellation of all PFI/PPP projects; and opposition to war.

These demands will get significant support in an election which will be dominated by the capitalist political establishment.


HOWEVER, THE draft manifesto reflected a qualitative shift away from an internationalist, socialist position.

As SSP MSP Tommy Sheridan put it in Scottish Socialist Voice: “This party stands for an Independent Scotland and that the people of Scotland, with whom sovereignty would ultimately lie, can then determine for themselves whether it will go down the socialist road or not.”

CWI delegates drafted amendments, including on the wider issues of socialism and the national question, which challenged this position of the SSP’s leadership.

There was no reference in this section to linking the struggle in Scotland to workers in England, Wales, Ireland or internationally. Instead, there was an tendency to see the achievement of independence for Scotland as a necessary first step before socialism could be built.

This trend was further underlined by a motion from one of the SSP branches on prioritising campaigning for independence that argued: “Independence will provide the Scottish people with the democratic machinery to support their struggle for socialism”.

It is essential that socialists explain that it would not be possible for an “independent Scotland”, on a capitalist basis, to stand up to a globalised economy and tackle poverty, low pay and inequality without breaking with capitalism and linking up with workers internationally.

The CWI opposed this motion but it was supported by the SSP leadership.

Socialist alternative

THE CWI put forward an amendment through Glasgow Cathcart branch that argued: “We stand for an independent socialist Scotland that would seek to work with a socialist England, Wales and Ireland in a free and democratic socialist confederation or alliance.”

“While standing for an independent socialist Scotland we advocate the maximum possible unity of the working class in Scotland with workers throughout the rest of Britain.”

Our amendment also argued for public ownership and democratic working class control of the economy.

In contrast, many in the leadership of the SSP believe that fighting for increased taxation on the rich could deliver significant advances for the working class. The effect of this is to foster illusions that on the basis of capitalism a more equitable form of society is possible.

Marxists have always sought to explain that the rich and big business will seek to avoid paying an increased share of their wealth. Moreover, in a recession-ridden world economy the possibility of lasting reforms through tax changes, without decisively breaking with capitalism is an illusion.

We fight for every reform possible that can be won through struggle. But we must link that to a movement to overthrow private ownership and control of the economy and establish a socialist planned economy.

The Socialist Workers platform (SWP) supported the leadership’s position on all these issues and voted against the Glasgow Cathcart amendment, which was defeated.

Anti-war campaigning

THE SSP executive committee supported a motion from the CWI that put forward the need for a socialist alternative to the war. However it is essential that the SSP incorporate such an approach into the SSP’s public material. This, so far, has not been the case.

The SWP moved an amendment during this debate which called on conference to “ensure our anti-war slogans and propaganda emphasise that the main enemy is at home and the violence of the oppressed is not equivalent to the violence of the oppressors.”

There are, nevertheless, methods and reactionary ideologies that socialists must oppose.

The political opportunism of the SWP was exposed during this debate. They seek to avoid criticising reactionary political Islam. After 11 September, for example, they refused to condemn the deadly actions of al-Qa’ida. The SWP amendment was heavily defeated.

Middle East

LAST YEAR the SSP’s position, drafted by the SWP, for a single secular Palestinian state to replace Israel and the Palestinian Authority was passed by conference. This year that position was defeated by 140 votes to 80.

The motion which was passed in its place was confused. It calls for support for the Palestinian struggle and argued for a socialist state in the future on the land that was Palestine pre-1948. In the meantime it supported a step in that direction by calling for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. This was a motion that came from Glasgow Govan and the ISM grouping who were formerly members of the CWI.

One leading member of the ISM and the SSP’s international officer, Frances Curran, argued that it was not our job to put forward solutions to the Middle East conflict from Scotland but to offer support to the Palestinians’ struggle.

CWI member Jim McFarlane called for a socialist Israel and a socialist Palestine as part of a socialist solution to the Middle East crisis. He explained that “this is not a programme written from thousands of miles away. But one that is being fought for by socialists and members of the CWI day-in and day-out in the region.”

During the debate it was widely recognised that the arguments of the CWI in relation to the right of the Israelis to a state as well as fighting for the national rights of Palestinians (which involve overthrowing all the reactionary capitalist and feudal regimes in the region), were decisive in undermining support for the SWP’s position.

Mass party

THE SSP is likely to make an important advance in the May elections. CWI members in Scotland will be campaigning for a big SSP vote.

Our differences with the SSP leadership are not on incidental points but about how socialism and a mass party of the working class can be built. We believe that in order to be successful the struggle for socialism requires a clear international socialist and Marxist programme.

The CWI campaigns to build the SSP as part of the struggle to build a mass party of socialism. We also fight to build a Marxist organisation and programme at the same time.

We are confident that while struggling against war, capitalism, poverty and inequality the ideas of the CWI will grow and play a decisive role in the struggles of the working class for a socialist future – both here in Scotland and internationally.

To subscribe to International Socialist and for more info about CWI, Scotland contact:

International Socialists, PO Box 6773, Dundee, Scotland. DD1 1YL.

e-mail: [email protected]

phone: 0141 221 7714.