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Left Labour MSP Speaks on The War And The Labour Party
JOHN MCALLION, one of the few outspoken and principled socialist MSPs (members of Scottish Parliament) left in the Labour Party, has voted against the leadership on many issues from war preparations on Iraq to opposition to privatisation. Increasingly isolated within the Labour Party John McAllion spoke to the International Socialist (The Socialist's sister paper in Scotland).
IS: You voted for an amendment, moved by Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist Party, in the Scottish parliament opposing war with Iraq under all circumstances and called for civil disobedience against the build up to war. Why?
JMc: It was the only genuinely anti-war amendment. The SNP and Liberal-Democrat amendments would have given the sanction to the United Nations Security Council to go to war. The Security Council is dominated by the five big powers and is itself dominated by the interests of the biggest power - the US.
I think they will get the second resolution through the UN for those reasons. I could not have supported an amendment effectively supporting a war with the UN's backing. I think if the General Assembly of the UN, rather than just the Security Council, got to take a vote then we would have far fewer wars.
IS: Some people in the Labour Party say they'd support a war if the UN backed it.
JMc: I don't think it's a position you can defend because the UN in the past has authorised unjust wars. The Security Council... is an institution that has caused more havoc and damage on the third world than any other since the second world war.
We heard a number of passionate anti-war speeches from Labour MSPs. But they then went on to vote for the Labour Party's motion which gave Tony Blair the green light to pursue a war policy.
What do you think is the potential for the anti-war movement?
I've been surprised by the size of the anti-war movement because in the media the anti-war case is not heard that often. The overwhelming majority of politicians, spokespersons and commentators tend to support a pro-war line.
It's quite staggering to see so many people rallying against the war. And that's without the involvement of any of the four big parties.
In Scotland none of the main parties have organised anything, it's really all come from the grassroots.
It's touched a nerve with the public who are beginning to understand that the drive to war and the inevitable suffering that would take place is about control of Iraq's oil.
I also think that the hesitation of Bush and the pro-war clique is due to the scale of the anti-war movement which has put them on the back foot.
Why is there a different approach to say North Korea by the US than to Iraq?
Bush knows that North Korea can fight back whereas Iraq can't. Iraq has been weakened enormously since first the Gulf War and then the sanctions that have been imposed ever since. The disparity between the weapons held in the West compared to those in Iraq for example is enormous.
Even in the last Gulf War the overwhelming firepower of the US guaranteed victory. The weapons inspectors will come up with something that will guarantee the war goes ahead.
How difficult is it for a socialist in the Labour Party now?
The situation in the Labour Party is a result of the party's reaction to Thatcher. Initially the Labour Party but now the SNP have become more "professional" and more tied to big business. For years in the US with the Republicans and the Democrats we have seen both main parties being pro-capitalist parties. Now we see the same here as well.
All the main parties are capitalist-orientated. People in the street don't see any difference.
What about Blair's attitude to the firefighters dispute?
The attacks on the firefighters have been a disgrace. The government have been absolutely hard-line refusing any type of compromise. And this is after the local councils agreed a deal of 16% back in the summer.
The government are actively seeking to keep public sector wages low, low interest rates and low inflation. In other words acting on behalf of big business. In the long-term that's undermining the Labour Party in the eyes of workers. They will say that's not what I expected.
How do you think a new political voice for workers will be built?
I don't know. I'm not sure the SSP is necessarily that voice. There are some people talking about a new independent Labour Party. But the link with the trade unions will always be the key.
If they switched then you could see the basis of a new party. I'm not talking about the tops of the unions, they are very supportive of New Labour. It's the grassroots that are important.
I think the FBU will disaffiliate from Labour at their next conference. They almost did at the last one and it was Andy Gilchrist that saved them. Now he is public Enemy No 1 for the government.
I won't leave the Labour Party voluntarily. I'll need to be removed. But I won't back down. I have a lot of loyalty to some activists in the Labour Party in Dundee, although in truth there aren't many left now. The party has very few trade unionists and virtually no young people, except those who come from the universities and they're only interested in a career.
It will be a drawn-out process that could take some time. You might well see independent candidates of the left winning elections under the PR system for the Scottish parliament and working together as a group in the parliament along with the SSP and others.
Out of that you could see a party develop. It would need to allow people to have their voice heard. Having a whip or a line all members had to put forward would not work in such a party.
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In The Socialist 24 January 2003: