by Angela Paton, Kilmarnock SSP conference delegate
To judge by the Scottish Socialist Party’s annual conference, which took place in Perth on 12–13 February, the party, despite problems, continues to represent a level of organisation and a commitment to working-class politics that place it in a completely different category from Respect.
There were about 300 delegates and 100 observers present; the SSP now has 3,000 members, but, with not all of them active, the bigger factions are able to dominate with relatively small numbers.
The International Socialist Movement, a majority split from Scottish Militant who took the initiative in founding the SSP and now dominate it, has about 200–250 members; the SWP about 100; the remainder of Militant, linked to the Committee for a Workers’ International and the Socialist Party in England, fewer than 40.
The party now has six Members of the Scottish Parliament (half ISM, half close to it) and if PR is introduced in Scottish local government elections, it will gain numerous councillors as well.
< p>A new convenor, following Tommy Sheridan’s surprise resignation in November last year, was elected. Both candidates were members of the ISM: Colin Fox gained a clear victory over Alan McCoombes.
Most interesting were the policy debates, which, despite the shortness of the conference, covered a wide range of issues and allowed for a relatively high level of debate.
The discussion on Iraq, saw delegates reject the SWP’s calls for unconditional (read: uncritical) support for the Iraqi “resistance” and pass AWL and CWI motions supporting the Iraqi labour movement and left.
Although the CWI motion was, typically, extremely abstract, and the CWI speakers, typically, blurred the lines of disagreement with the SWP, this was a very satisfactory outcome, providing expanded opportunities for Iraq solidarity campaigning in Scotland.
The two other debates that stood out were on the SSP’s attitude to Scottish nationalism, and its position on the upcoming election for Unison general secretary.
In the former, those of us — organised in the Workers’ Unity Platform — opposed to the ISM’s left-nationalist obsession with Scottish independence had little chance of prevailing. While the conference remitted the most controversial pro- and anti-nationalist motions to the National Committee, it reaffirmed its general commitment to Scottish independence, and there is no sign of the SSP’s nationalist drift doing anything other than accelerate. (One thing worth noting is that the SWP stays very quiet about its opposition to nationalism, preferring to keep its powder dry to advocate support for clerical fascists in Iraq.)
The party’s roots in Militant were also evident in the debate on Unison, with the leadership backing a CWI motion to back the Socialist Party’s Roger Bannister for general secretary against United Left candidate Jon Rogers.
The leadership’s arguments on this issue were utterly opportunistic and self-serving, amounting to support for anyone who isn’t in the Labour Party and argues for “breaking the link with Labour”.
In other words, Fox, Sheridan and Co. hope that Bannister, if elected Unison leader, will disaffiliate from the Labour Party and open up the possibility of the union’s Scottish section backing the SSP.
Despite opposition from us and the SWP, the pro-Bannister amendment passed by a substantial majority.
The conference agreed to campaign for a “progressive reform of abortion law” and reaffirmed the party’s commitment to working-class politics — including, crucially, the demand for workers’ representatives on the worker’s wage which the SSP has put into practice in the Scottish parliament.
There was also a debate on whether trade union officials who are SSP members should make a similar commitment. The Scottish RMT’s delegates opposed this on quite openly right-wing, “trade union autonomy” grounds, but the discussion was confused by poor phrasing in the relevant motion, which did not pass. Nonetheless, no one, including the SWP, dared to dispute the general principle.
The Workers’ Unity platform organised a fringe meeting on Iraq with a comrade from the Worker-communist Party — who, unfortunately, was not allowed to address the conference itself due to the SWP’s manoeuvring.
There was a good response to the call issued by No Sweat and Edinburgh TUC for a national Iraq solidarity network. No Sweat made a number of contacts to work with in the months ahead.