“We should get George Galloway elected so he’s a voice which stands up for people in this city. He will stand against the cuts,” said Socialist Party Scotland member Brian Smith at the press conference held last week to formally launch “George Galloway (Respect) – Coalition Against Cuts” (GRC).
The GRC is an electoral bloc involving Galloway, the Socialist Party Scotland (SPS), the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), and some organisationally unaligned members of “Solidarity – Scotland’s Socialist Movement” (set up in 2006 when the SPS, the SWP and Tommy Sheridan split from the Scottish Socialist Party).
In this May’s elections for the Scottish Parliament the GRC will be standing eight candidates for the Glasgow ‘list’ seats. (Holyrood elections are a mixture of first-past-the-post constituencies and proportional representation ‘lists’.) It will not be standing any candidates outside of Glasgow.
Brian Smith was right to focus on the perspective of George Galloway – number one on the GRC ‘list’ – securing a seat in Holyrood. That is the sole function of the GRC.
The financial appeal which has been launched to help fund the GRC election campaign, for example, is entitled the “George Galloway Election Fund”. The appeal reads:
“Please donate to George’s election fund. I am writing to ask for your help in my effort to re-enter parliamentary politics. … I sincerely hope you can help me. … I would be very grateful if you could see your way to making a donation to help me win. … Donations to George’s campaign can be made online ….”
Judging by the appeal, it’s almost as if the other candidates and parties involved in this electoral initiative count for nothing (and, in reality, that is all they count for).
Ironically, the Socialist Party used to criticise the Respect Party because it allowed Galloway to enjoy “an exaggerated profile” and also because it had shown “particularly through the behaviour of its MP George Galloway, that its public representatives are far from accountable to the party.”
But now the SPS has reduced itself to a mere appendage of the George Galloway (Respect) electoral bloc. Galloway’s profile in that bloc is even more “exaggerated” than it was in Respect Mark 1.
Brian Smith was rather less right in his naïve confidence that Galloway “will stand against the cuts.” To be sure, Galloway will make lots of speeches attacking the cuts. But his approach to fighting – or not fighting – the cuts is far removed from that of the SPS.
In the 1980s Galloway was opposed to councils setting ‘needs only’ budgets and defying the Tories’ cuts. In his ‘autobiography’ – published in 2004, and aptly described by one reviewer as “a short and incoherent rant” – Galloway took the same line. More recent events indicate that that remains his position.
Galloway is the leading figure in the rump of the Respect Party, which still has two councillors in Tower Hamlets (down from the twelve it had at its height).
In February of this year the council’s elected mayor proposed a budget containing cuts amounting to £56 millions. The response of the Respect councillors was not to table an alternative ‘needs only’ budget and use that as a focus for campaigning against the cuts.
Instead, the Respect councillors signed up to an amendment from the Lib-Dems which went no further than proposing some additional funding for apprenticeships and social housing but otherwise failed to challenge the mayor’s cuts.
This Respect-backed amendment did not contain a single word of criticism of the mayor's budget.
In a subsequent council press release the Respect councillors were deservedly congratulated by the mayor for the role they had played in facilitating £56 millions worth of cuts:
“I want to thank councillors from parties across the chamber – Labour, Respect, Liberal Democrats and of course the Independent group – for supporting a budget that, despite financial constraints, will still deliver services that we as a community hold close to our hearts.”
In the pages of the local press Respect councillor Fozol Miah defended the line which he and the other Respect councillor had taken in failing to oppose a budget for £56 millions of cuts:
“We are with the people and against the government. But the town hall will be prevented by law if it tries setting a budget which ignores the cut in government grant. Budget decisions will then be taken by officials.”
Galloway has failed to criticise the words and actions of his party’s councillors in Tower Hamlets. But why should he criticise them? What they have done is in line with Galloway’s own politics.
After all, Galloway’s longstanding advice for councillors confronted with cuts in government funding is that they should adopt “a posture of militant opposition but stop short of political suicide, in order to live to fight another day.”
This is the exact opposite of what is argued in every issue of the paper sold by Brian Smith and other members of the SPS, which condemns councillors who claim that they are legally ‘obliged’ to pass on the Con-Dem cuts.
If Galloway really was serious about opposing the Con-Dems cuts, he would disassociate himself from the Respect Tower Hamlets councillors and condemn their actions.
Given his failure to do so, how can Brian Smith and other members of the SPS have any confidence that if Galloway is elected to Holyrood, he will take a stand against the cuts?
(The answer to that question might be: They do not have any confidence in him to do so, and the entire GRC adventure is a tri-partite exercise in political cynicism and opportunism.
That would also explain why, a fortnight after the creation of the GRC was first announced, the website of the SPS has yet to even mention its existence.)
Ironically, the Socialist Party and the SPS have recently taken to attacking the SWP for their alleged ‘softness’ on councillors who vote for cuts.
At the recent launch conference of the Scottish Anti-Cuts Alliance, for example, the sole item of debate was one between the SWP and the SPS about what attitude to take towards councillors who declare their opposition to cuts, but then go and vote for them.
Now, however, the SPS is not only in alliance with someone who acts as an apologist for councillors who implement cuts but is actually doing the spadework to try to get him elected to Holyrood – as the anti-cuts candidate!
Whatever happened to the Campaign for a New Workers Party???