According to an Open Letter distributed in Glasgow by members of Solidarity (the 2006 breakaway from the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP)), which has also been posted on the Socialist Unity website:
“It is our understanding that a group of prominent Scottish trade unionists linked to none of the parties of the left in Scotland are in the formative stages of brokering left unity talks specifically on the issue of the Glasgow North East constituency [i.e. Michael Martin’s seat, where a by-election is due to be called].
“Our understanding is that during the next week [i.e. the week this issue of our paper goes to press] formal approaches will be made to trade unionists, left progressives, environmentalists, community activists, the SSP, the Socialist Labour Party [launched by Arthur Scargill in the 1990s] and Solidarity to see if a unity process is achievable.”
The nub of the letter is an appeal to the SSP to delay deciding whether or not to stand a candidate in that election until after left unity discussion.
But the SSP was clearly unimpressed with the appeal. According to an article on its website:
“A well-attended meeting of SSP members last night [16 June] voted to stand a candidate in the forthcoming Glasgow North East by-election, triggered by the resignation of Michael Martin.”
The SSP meeting was wrong to take the decision to stand a candidate — not necessarily wrong in principle, but certainly wrong not to delay taking that decision.
“Left unity” — the expression used in the Solidarity Open Letter — is certainly not on the cards if the expression means an organisational re-unification of the SSP, the SWP and the Socialist Party. There can be no re-unification without a political accounting for the split of 2006.
But the Open Letter also highlights a development which did justify postponing a decision — the reference to a group of “prominent Scottish trade unionists” trying to broker talks so that there is a single left candidate in the by-election.
At the time of the SSP meeting, and even now there is still a lack of clarity about the extent to which this represents a significant development.
Which unions are involved? Do the trade unionists involved represent forces on the ground, or are they merely acting in a personal capacity? Is their initiative to be an open and democratic one, or a top-down one like the No2EU project?
Are other forces (i.e. beyond the organisations of the left) likely to get involved? What is the political basis of proposed single left-unity candidacy in the by-election? Can such a project have a meaningful political life outside of by-elections and elections? If so, what organisational form would it take, and, again, what would be its political platform?
The initiative from within the trade unions may prove to be a damp squib. Or significant. Right now, no-one knows; but the answer may be determined by whether socialists intervene. The decision by the SSP to rush ahead with standing a candidate allows it to be portrayed as a force for sectarianism.