Sunday, 30 August 2015

The End of the SSP? Or An Opportunity to Reshape the Narrative?

Yesterday, RISE- Scotland’s Left Alliance held its launch event in which between 400- 500 lefties from all parts of Scotland came along to find out more about this new electoral alliance which will contest the list seats in the Scottish Parliamentary Elections next May.

So far the only political party that has joined this alliance is the Scottish Socialist Party. This has came about after months of internal discussion and debate before the membership of the party democratically decided to be a part of this group. Over the next 9 months the SSP  members will add their incredible array of talents and commitment to others within the left in a genuine attempt to create a broader, inclusive left movement which seeks to broaden appeal for voters here in Scotland

While being a part of this alliance, as agreed by our National Council, RISE is just one of the many facets of the SSP’s activity. There will be a continuation of the party standing in local by-elections such as Natalie Reid in Leith Walk, a renewal of our policies, our youth and women's networks and our continued activism in communities and towns across Scotland.

It should come as no surprise to some that in the political system we have in Scotland that questions are already being asked to whether RISE is an actual party. After all it does have a membership and will have branches or circles as I believe they are to be called. If RISE are to be a party, questions then quite rightly will asked about the longevity of the SSP. Some will argue that this will depend on the success of RISE in the elections next year, while a poor showing would perhaps split those who feel the experiment has failed and those who feel it needs more time to develop.
SSP Co Spokesperson Colin Fox at Rise Launch.

In many ways the elections and success of RISE will shape the future of the SSP. It wouldn’t be the first time that political parties are subsumed into something new . The key question to ask is whether this will be the end for Scotland’s most successful socialist party? I don’t think it will, and nor should it.

While we are more than happy to be a part of and to campaign for the RISE alliance, it is imperative that the identity of the Scottish Socialist Party remains intact. It is in this spirit that we must disseminate the difference between left and socialist ideology. RISE, it seems will offer an alliance that will also include the Scottish Greens. An offer which I cannot see them accepting. Nonetheless it signifies that left wing politics is a broad canvass, which while supporting anti-austerity movement, seem will work with parties who share similar beliefs but to do so within a capitalist system. This is of course no issue if the agreements are an electoral alliance, The SSP itself has discussed such agreements in the European elections with the Greens. The problem however would be if RISE were to become a political party and incorporate both the Greens and the SSP.

All of this is theoretical and very much in the future. Our focus should be the work we do in our communities and also on our work in progressing this alliance. But conversations must begin within the SSP as to what if any future we see for the party. What the last 8 months of discussions with the Scottish Left Project has done is deflected the need for a real conversation of what vision the SSP has for itself and for Scotland.

Upon joining the party it was my intention to argue that we needed to move away from the far left position and move to attract disaffected Real Labour voters, to destroy the myth that Labour values was anything but socialist values. I am aware others in the party will have conflicting visions for the party and these should be debate in a robust comradely fashion as we seek to set out what kind of party we want. I understand there may even be members who want the party to merge as a RISE but for me an RISE’s success and stability will only work as an alliance, as a party it would be too disparate, unable to provide substance to the politics. This is not a knock on the project, rather a reality of the vast array of ideology on the left.

Instead let it be the SSP, who will not only provide the experience and a great deal of talent and ability to this alliance but that will also take on those hard discussions and create a vision of that the Scottish Socialist Party is and can become. Exciting times ahead. I look forward to the elections and the aftermath.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Left Project Can Work - If It Gets It's Head Out The Clouds

Since the referendum last year there has been talk of taking forward the incredible awakening of a social movement against the current status quo. The environment of radical change precipitated by groups such as Radical Independence, Labour for Independence and the resurgence of the Scottish Socialist Party was only heightened by the defeat in last Septembers vote.

With the instant rush to the SNP post September 18th last year, the left have been playing catch up. Unprepared for an aftermath of the vote could be seen as a critique but for me it highlights the dedication and commitment to the yes campaign that meant we did not have time to consider the after event. Following the vote a fluid discussion began to take place, of where to go for those who felt the SNP were not a new divine home.

For myself as a Labour member who through the campaign had embraced the word outlawed under New Labour, I felt finally able to leave behind the faux democratic socialism to join the Scottish Socialist Party. Since joining I have felt incredibly at home, witnessing for the first time a political party having actual political discussion and local activism which is a far cry from the stay at home- they will vote for us anyway- activism of the Labour Party.

Soon after joining the party the proposition of a new left alliance was created in the Scottish Left Project. In the following months I had several conversations with those involved sharing my hopes and concerns with the founders of the project throughout the winter and spring. After careful consideration, I spoke out against SSP participation in the project at our annual conference in May. For me there were too many unanswered questions, and a genuine concern for the growth of the party I had joined and remain loyal to.

Since that conference there has been may discussions and debates, some private, some less so regarding the benefits of a left alliance in this current form. As a member of the Executive Committee of the SSP I was part of a frank and full discussion of the leadership in which we set forth a motion to our members of the type and level of involvement we would have in the soon to be renamed Left Project. What has followed this past week has been our members overwhelming approval that we will become an affiliate member of the (soon renamed) SLP.

I want to first say that I voted for the motion myself despite my reticence as I believe in the democratic values of the party, that the will of the majority of the SSP members were that we are a part of this project. Secondly it is important to recognise that the level of debate and discussion of this issue highlights the strength we have as a party to debate issues in a civil and democratic manner. We have now been given a mandate by our members to affiliate to a left project which we must ensure will become an electoral force in 2016. This can only occur if the experience and vast array of talent and ability of the SSP is put to the forefront.

The question now arises as to how to make this project a success. Already in the works is a major launch event at the Marriot Hotel in Glasgow. International speakers have already been announced with more to follow. I have no doubt that the event will be a success in terms of turnout and these speakers will give fine speeches cementing good faith and wishes from our international comrades. But unless the agenda moves quickly from workshops and policy primaries into communities and work places then I fear we may do little to impact the public consensus in time for 2016.

The activism of Radical Independence and other groups during the referendum showed just how effective our message of fairness and equality can be. The SSP have shown the way in campaigning against council cuts, placing key areas such as transport and energy back into public hands, of community ownership, a living wage of £10 an hour. We need to embrace this and get out into communities to ensure that the Left Project in whatever guise it will be renamed will be in their thoughts when they go to the polling stations;- that we are an alternative to austerity, a hope for families trying to put food on the table, to workers struggling to make ends meet.

Yes media is important, as is word of mouth but the current media strategy isn’t intended to appeal to the people who need this project, instead it appeals to Merchant City Marxists who have the spare £10 an hour to attend workshops such as this.

This is why I will not be attending the launch event. Instead I will spend the day campaigning in my local area, talking with real people, trying to find real solutions to the struggles we are all facing.

I will do what I can to support and work towards making this left project successful, The SSP will put our considerable experience and talents to good use in our affiliation with them for this election. But the only way it can work is if those making the moves get their heads out the clouds and on the streets where we should be.