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Clear socialist alternative needed
THE SCOTTISH Socialist Party (SSP) conference meets this weekend in the aftermath of Tommy Sheridan's resignation as SSP convener. As well as electing a new convener, the conference will be debating key issues of policy and programme.
Members of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) will be arguing for a change of direction by the SSP leadership to ensure the party moves forward and strengthens its position in 2005.
PHILIP STOTT looks at the challenges facing the SSP.
THE SCOTTISH Socialist Party, since its launch, has made important advances. With six MSP's in the Scottish parliament and the affiliation of the rail workers' union the RMT, the SSP is potentially well placed to build on that breakthrough
Against the background of New Labour's attack on jobs, pensions and working conditions there is a big opportunity to significantly strengthen the SSP in the months ahead.
On a global scale the horrors of the Indian Ocean tsunami, increasing world poverty and the carnage in Iraq underlines the fact that the international capitalist system can bring only barbarism for most of the world's population.
Unfortunately, the last few months have seen the SSP struggling to recover from the events surrounding the resignation of Tommy Sheridan as SSP convener.
The fact that there is now a head-to-head contest to replace him between Colin Fox MSP and the SSP's policy co-ordinator Alan McCombes can only compound the damage that has been done.
Both candidates claim there are no significant political differences between them. It is therefore ridiculous to have a contest on that basis. It would of course be different if there was a debate over fundamental political questions of policy. In the absence of that debate this contest will be seen as personal manoeuvring for influence that will only cause further damage to the SSP.
Many SSP members are dismayed at this development which is a diversion from the real tasks facing the party.
One of those tasks, which was not addressed by the leadership contest, is a discussion about how the party recovers and moves forward following recent events.
The CWI, who form an active part of the SSP, says this requires linking a day-to-day fighting programme to oppose the attacks on pensions, pay, jobs, the occupation of Iraq etc, while fighting for reforms to benefit the working class like the scrapping of the council tax and increasing the minimum wage.
However, this must be done alongside a clear explanation of the need to build a movement to break decisively with capitalism to resolve the problems facing the working class.
But a majority of the SSP leadership have moved away from putting forward a consistent socialist alternative to capitalism.
The SSP's European manifesto, for example, called for the building of a "social Europe" - that is a more equitable form of capitalism. It was Alan McCombes who opposed the call, led by members of the CWI, that the SSP should instead argue for a "socialist Europe".
The CWI has important political differences with both candidates, particularly Alan McCombes who has played a central role in driving the SSP in a 'left nationalist' and reformist direction. Unfortunately, Colin Fox has not opposed this trend among the leadership of the SSP.
THE CWI has led the opposition to those in the SSP leadership who argue that an independent Scotland, without breaking from the rule of big business, would offer a route out of poverty, low pay and inequality in Scotland.
Carolyn Leckie MSP, intervening in a debate in the Scottish parliament last December on the crisis in the NHS said; "Nothing less than full independence is what the people of Scotland need to save our NHS."
These ideas, which have been largely inspired by SSP leadership contender Alan McCombes, have been used in an effort to establish a campaign to: "break apart the UK state."
With support for independence in Scotland at its lowest level for a decade, this strategy can clash with the outlook of many workers and young people. This is especially the case when there is an increasing turn to united action across Britain as a means to fight Blair and New Labour.
Such a light-minded slogan can also arouse legitimate fears that the working class could also "break apart" if such a campaign was successful.
Nevertheless, a significant minority, which could become a majority in the future, do support the idea of independence for Scotland. The SSP's role should be to support the democratic rights of the Scottish people, including the right to independence should a majority support that step.
At the same we should explain that an independent Scotland based on capitalism would not be a solution to the problems facing the working class.
Under these conditions, only an independent socialist Scotland, linked to a wider, voluntary socialist confederation with England, Wales and Ireland and beyond, could offer a way out.
THERE IS a growing mood to fight among the working class, for example, against the attacks on pensions.
The G8 summit, which is due to meet in Scotland in the summer, will bring thousands of young people onto the streets over Iraq, world poverty, and capitalist inequalities. The general election will also be a test for the SSP.
The SSP will be mobilising for these events. But at the same time, the party leadership has the responsibility to put forward a clear socialist alternative to global capitalism and win a new generation to socialism.
On that basis we believe the SSP can recover and can potentially build a more powerful force for socialism in Scotland.
In The Socialist 12 February 2005: