Scotland

Report on SSP Conference

Over 400 Scottish Socialist Party members and visitors attended the 6th annual SSP conference, which was held in Edinburgh over the weekend of March 27-28. Paul Wilcox, who is a supporter of Socialist Resistance in England, attended the conference as a visitor and has written the following report.

The conference represented a big step towards the SSP becoming a mass party in Scotland. This was the first conference since the election of six SSP MSPs at the Scottish Parliament elections last May, when the party won more than 130,000 votes.

Just as important for the SSP's development has been the affiliation of the RMT and moves towards affiliation from other unions. The SSP gained credibility from its role in the FBU strike and more recently in its support for the striking nursery nurses, many who have since joined the SSP.

Tommy Sheridan in his keynote speech demanded the Scottish TUC call a national demonstration for the striking nursery nurses even if the leadership of public sector union Unison, which the nurses belong to, opposed it.

He said: "We, in this party, will continue to support those nursery nurses whilst other unions affiliated to New Labour are not because that is what working class solidarity is all about."

Tommy also called on other trade unionists to break from New Labour and join the only party in Scotland which represented working people.

Independence

The SSP conference reaffirmed its commitment to campaign for Scottish Independence. The SSP will attempt to bring together all supporters of an Independent Scotland in a convention to campaign for this aim.

There were a number of motions attacking the SSP's moves to establish an independence convention; the politics behind the motions was that a small minority in the party, around 20% of conference delegates a much smaller percentage of the party, are opposed to independence.

These are the same tired old arguments from the Brit Left that it would divide the working class in the "UK" Are these comrades saying that the break up of the British State would be a step back for the English working class? If we follow this logic we would end up supporting the continuing occupation of the six counties - politically and militarily, so as not to "divide" the Irish working class from the English working class in fact a motion on Ireland (defeated) from some of these comrades did suggest the need to unite Irish and English workers.

Another argument from the Brit Left is that we can only support an independent Socialist Scotland, not an independent capitalist Scotland. They do claim to defend the right of self-determination, but they argue that the Scottish working class do not want independence. How they argue this is confusing to say the least – but if you believe in self-determination - then you must support the right to raise the democratic demand for independence, and that means under capitalism or Socialism.

At the present time the demand for an Independent Socialist Scotland is not on the agenda, but independence is. Only by launching the independence convention can the argument be won for a Scottish Workers Republic.

In the debate Alan McCombes announced that the SNP and the Green Party are now officially supporting the convention, and are looking to launch the convention later in the year.

How socialists take up the national question will be key to the success in the fight to develop a socialist consciousness within the Scottish working class, particularly given the divisions throughout sections of the bourgeoisie in Scotland. As part of this debate there was a motion calling for independence to be enshrined in the SSP constitution i.e. not subject to change by the usual 2/3 rule. This was borne out of frustration from some comrades on the continuing debate on independence. It should be noted that the same small minority, including the CWI and the SWP, have argued against independence at every recent conference of the SSP.

Many speakers opposed to this motion said that the SSP was a pluralistic and Democratic Party and conflicting views and minority rights must be safeguarded. SSP Co-Chair Catriona Grant said that the executive were opposing it, not out of any opposition to Independence but because such a proposal was a bureaucratic attempt to solve a political problem, the motion was overwhelmingly lost.

Religion in Schools

Conference rejected calls for a ban on all faith-based schools after a strongly contested debate in which many delegates fought to advance the party's support for secular education. The conference upheld the party's commitment to a secular Scotland in the long run, and to continue the existing policy of accepting religious schools where these had strong local support. It was accepted that change had to come through maximising the arguments and support for removing religion from schools. Many delegates pointed out that most so called non religious schools were in effect Protestant schools.

The SSP is also calling for a nationwide debate involving parents, teachers and school students on the question of religion in schools; this will help come up with a more detailed policy.

John Milligan, from the RMT delegation, said the SSP had to back the continued existence of religious schools, which meant primarily Catholic schools in Scotland, if it wanted to win support from the public and grow as a party.

"I ask conference to recognise the reality out in the country and stand full square behind the SSP's policy. It's a good policy and worth fighting for," he said.

Ireland

All the motions and amendments on the question of the six counties (The North of Ireland) were defeated. The existing policy which includes calls for a united Ireland and withdrawal of troops therefore remains.

The motion from Dundee West and supported by the CWI Platform - which called for working class unity, as shown by the demonstration of Postal workers after the shooting of a fellow postal worker and the Protestant and Catholic school kids who marched together against the war in Iraq.

There is nothing wrong with building working-class unity, but simply to state the problem is sectarianism - is to forget the role of the British State.

The continued British presence in Ireland maintains and perpetuates sectarian division and conflict in the occupied north. Socialists who preach protestant and catholic working class unity in the abstract form and divorced from reality of the British Military presence only serve to entrench sectarian divisions amongst the working class.

As James Connolly said partition would lead to a "carnival of reaction" on both sides of the water. Only by calling for the withdrawal of all British Troops and the establishment of a united Ireland, which accepts the rights of minorities, can we truly begin to see working class unity.

This again was a hot issue with many different opinions; part of this debate has a major relevance on the national question in Scotland and Wales. SSP members accepted that there has to be a more clear policy on this question - for all socialists in the British State.

Prostitution

There was also very good debate on prostitution and the tolerance zones being advocated in the bill from independent MSP Margo MacDonald. Angela McCormick, from Maryhill East, urged delegates to back tolerance zones to minimise the risks faced by sex workers. Other delegates opposed the Bill as it could mask the problems of other sex workers not covered by the proposals and legitimise pimping and exploitation. The motions on prostitution were withdrawn and submitted to National Council for a fuller debate and there the call for a day school to debate the issue was endorsed by conference.

For a good analysis of the question of tolerance zone's comrades should read Catriona Grant's article in Frontline issue 12.

Kurdistan

A motion form Cumbernauld & Kilsyth calling for a Kurdistan Solidarity Committee to be set up within the SSP was overwhelmingly passed. Moving the motion was Kurdish asylum seeker and campaigner Serder Barzini, who alongside hunger striker Fariborz Gravindi received a standing ovation.

Respect and Europe

Importantly, the conference also passed a motion welcoming the establishment of Respect and sending fraternal greetings. The Euro elections in June will provide a real opportunity for both the SSP and RESPECT to work together to present a desperately needed alternative to New Labour both north and south of the border.

Adding to this a motion was passed to support any slate put together for the Euro elections by the Anti-capitalist Left, this is seen as very important issue for the party. Both Alan McCombes urged comrades to put their weight behind the Euro elections and the importance of internationalism. Felicity Garvie heads the SSP's Euro list. And as Frances Curran said at the ISM fringe meeting if we get a SSP member elected to the European Parliament - then we will have a bigger impact on pushing the project of the anti-capitalist left in Europe.

Conclusions

Yet again the conference demonstrated that the SSP is a serious force in Scotland. It was also healthy to see that in practice the existence of organised platforms within the party allow it to attract broader forces and to conduct serious political debates without this at all cutting across its effective operation on the ground either in campaigns or elections.

Overall, The SSP conference was a serious and educational experience. The level of discussion and analysis was of a high order and clarified how socialists in Scotland should respond to events both locally and Internationally.

The Scottish Socialist Party faces many challenges in the months and years ahead. There can be little doubt that the party will continue to grow and strengthen through its campaigning work such as the Scottish service tax campaign and its continuing work amongst the working class.

For comrades on this side of the border we must rise to the challenge facing us and for all socialists in England our aim must be to build a dynamic, broad, truly democratic party to the left of Labour which the working class so desperately needs.

Socialist Resistance