Scottish Socialist Party conference
Paul Wilcox, International Socialist Group
Over 400 Scottish Socialist Party members and visitors attended the 6th
annual SSP conference, which was held in Edinburgh over the weekend of March
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,
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.
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
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
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
"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,"
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.