Policy and programme of the SSP
Over the past seven years, the SSP has achieved a degree of political cohesion which would have seemed almost impossible in the 1990s. In 1997, for example, the election manifesto of the Scottish Socialist Alliance consisted of around ten points which could be reproduced on a single tabloid page.
The SSP itself was initially constructed on the basis of a simple 16-point programme. In contrast, our 2003 and 2005 manifestos ran to over 50 pages, with hundreds of specific policies as well as a general explanation of our overall ideology.
Some of these policies are more clearly developed than others, with for example the Scottish Service Tax and free school meals, costed in detail. We do not have the resources at this stage to apply the same rigour to every policy in our recent manifestos. Many of these remain general aspirations rather than specific goals that we could fight for and win.
One problem the party has faced since 2003 is the slow progress of our parliamentary bills. Just six months before the 2001 general election, we had succeeded in forcing through the Abolition of Warrant Sales bill, which at the time was hailed as the biggest achievement of the Scottish Parliament.
In 2003, expectations were raised by the election of six Scottish MSPs pledged to bring forward a range of specific bills. Currently we have three bills in the pipeline: free school meals, abolition of prescription charges and replacement of the Council Tax with the Scottish Service. But as result of a combination of circumstances, including new procedures introduced by the Scottish Parliament, and delays to our timetables imposed from above, none of these have reached the parliamentary first stage.
By this time next year, it is likely that all of these will at least have been brought before the parliament. There is now a more hostile attitude towards us from other political parties, including the SNP and the Labour backbenches. That in turn means that the revolt of parliament over warrant sales will not be repeated - though we could not rule out winning some concessions, for example, the broadening of exemptions on prescription charges, or the widening of free school meals provision. Even if we do not achieve any concrete gains, the public debate that will be generated around these bills will give an invigorating boost to the party and could also cause collateral damage to rival parties as they are seen to bloc with New Labour to prevent our bills becoming law.
Our parliamentary work is only one dimension of our political campaigning. One of the vital questions we now have to address is how to broaden the appeal the party beyond those who are already around our sphere of influence.
One possible way forward is for the party to launch a ‘People Before Profit’ campaign with a minimum programme of perhaps 10 basic points. In 2007, we will need a detailed manifesto, developing further some of the policies set out in the 2003 manifesto and adding others. But right now, we need something more simple and digestible, a basic programme that can be reprinted on the back of an A5 leaflet for mass distribution.
Under the broad headline of ‘People Before Profit’ we could develop a short simple 10 point action programme for the Scottish Parliament, and seek to build widespread support for the programme in trade union branches, community organisations and among the general public. This in turn could be used as lever to build for a major ‘People Before Profit’ conference, perhaps in in autumn 2006. I’ve set out below a preliminary suggestion for such a programme - this could, of course, be chopped and changed in the course of further discussions inside and outside the party.
OPPOSE WAR AND RACISM
Although reserved to Westminster, we will fight for the Scottish Parliament to come out and denounce the failed war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan and the divisive onslaught against the Muslim communities in the UK
We will fight for the cancellation of all PFI contracts and clear out the profiteers from our schools, hospitals and other services by all catering, cleaning, building and other contracts into the public sector
SCRAP THE COUNCIL TAX
We will fight for immediate action to redistribute wealth by scrapping the Tory-devised Council Tax and replacing it with an income based service tax.
FREE SCHOOL MEALS FOR ALL
We will fight to transform the health of future generations by providing universal, nutritious free school meals for in every state school.
80,000 NEW HOMES FOR RENT
We will fight to tackle Scotland’s housing crisis by calling for a four year construction programme of 80,000 new high quality homes for rent, exempted from the right-to-buy policy. This is in line with the Chartered Institute of Housing estimate that Scotland urgently needs 20,000 new hoes for rent each year.
AN £8 MINIMUM WAGE
We will fight low pay by calling for the parliament to upgrade all public sector workers to £8 an hour minimum, without discrimination on the grounds of age or employment status, as a first step to banishing low pay across the board. .
FREE EDUCATION AND SMALLER CLASS SIZES
We will fight for better start for our children off to better start by slashing class sizes to 20 maximum by recruiting and training the required number of teachers within four years.
A CLEAN, GREEN SCOTLAND
We will fight for green Scotland by transforming public transport and ploughing resources into renewable energy. We will argue for the creation of a unified publicly-owned Scottish national transport corporation - combining Scotrail, Calmac and the major bus operators - with a ten pence a mile maximum fare. And we will take over North Sea oil and use some of the proceeds to turn Scotland into the renewable energy capital of Europe.
A FREE, DEMOCRATIC AND FULLY PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE
We will fight for an NHS which is free, non-commercial and democratic. We will call for the existing quangos that run the NHS to be replaced with elected health boards comprising representatives from local communities, health trade unions, and professional medical bodies.
AN INDEPENDENT SOCIALIST REPUBLIC
We will fight for the powers to turn into a nuclear-free, anti-militarist, multicultural, socialist republic, starting with a referendum on independence.
This is not a full-blooded socialist programme, but a fighting programme around which we raise peoples sights and challenge the right wing consensus of the mainstream Holyrood parties.. It is more easy to digest than a full-scale manifesto; it could be costed by sympathetic academics; and it could mobilise wide support, even beyond the existing electoral base of the SSP.
We could also launch more localised People Not Profit campaigns in council districts, with our national programme adapted to local conditions. For example – again, as very rough and ready guide - “We will fight for ‘Shieldinch Council’ to:
Provide free school meals across the council area
Build 10,000 high quality homes for rent
Recruit enough teachers to cut class sizes in all local schools to a maximum of 20.
Cancel all council PFI contracts.
In consultation with the local authority unions, introduce an £8 minimum wage for council employees
Abolish charges for council-owned sports and leisure centres.
Create neighbourhood assemblies, open to all residents, with the power to make and veto decisions affecting the local community.
Consult with all local communities to find out what speed limit changes and traffic calming measures are necessary.
Create new children’s playgrounds, skateboard parks and five side football parks in the following local areas: ABCDEFG
Establish properly-staffed after-school clubs in every neighbourhood.
Further ahead, in the run-up to the 2007 elections, we should produce a more in-depth national manifesto, plus a local manifesto in every area where we are contesting council elections. IN the short-term, we should develop and cost at least a further one or two key policies, perhaps to promote in the parliament via the mechanism of private members bills.
At the same time, it will be necessary to guard against any slide towards localism or devolutionism. The current constitutional arrangements for Scotland represent a temporary and uneasy comprise between the forces of unionism and the forces of independence.
The SSP is a party with a wider vision of independence, internationalism and socialism. Even while developing practicable policies that can be implemented at council and Holyrood level, it will be important to develop our broader ideological opposition to the British state, globalisation, the European Union and capitalism. We need pamphlets and books to explain and popularise our positions for example on independence, public ownership, nuclear weapons, the environment, racism, sexism, and international events.
You can read a number of SSP discussion papers here