:: Friday, June 01, 2007 ::

Rebuilding the Left

John McAllion, respected former Labour MP and MSP and current SSP member, had an interesting article in the Morning Star this week.

Among other points he states:

"Yet, welcome as these policies are, they cannot disguise the dire defeat inflicted on the Scottish socialist left by this election. The forward march of 1999 and 2003 has been brought to a shuddering halt in 2007 with all six SSP/Solidarity members wiped out and the Greens reduced to just two seats.

Yes, the socialist vote was squeezed in a tight election where left voters wanted to maximise the chance of the SNP inflicting an historic defeat on new Labour. Yes, the media coverage and comment was unfair and slanted in favour of the mainstream parties. Yes, they had money to burn where we had little or nothing.

But the reality remains that no candidate standing on a socialist ticket was elected and, between Solidarity and the SSP, we registered just over 2 per cent of the list vote.

It is simply fatuous to pretend that the now infamous infighting that led to the disastrous split into two opposing socialist camps did not contribute to this electoral rout.

The wrecking of socialist unity and the spectacle of comrades opposing each other while standing on exactly similar manifestos guaranteed that voters would not see us a serious political force. In truth, we got the vote that we deserved.

In the course of this campaign, I read an account of a Solidarity meeting at which Tommy Sheridan and George Galloway addressed a wildly enthusiastic crowd of 250 supporters packed into a church in Edinburgh. It reminded me of a similar meeting which I had read about where Jim Sillars had addressed an equally large and enthusiastic group of SNP supporters on the eve of the 1987 general election before going down to a glorious defeat in the following day's election to Tam Dayell, who was elected MP for Linlithgow.

I am sure that everyone at both meetings had a great time. But we are not in politics to indulge our taste for rhetoric or to attend packed political meetings because they make us feel good.

We are in politics to challenge the big business parties' grip on political power and to get socialists elected into positions where they can begin to make a difference on behalf of working people.

This election result has made that an infinitely harder task for socialists across Scotland. There was nothing glorious about Solidarity/SSP defeat in this election.

If we can face up to that bitter lesson and begin the task of putting the Scottish left together again, then maybe there is light at the end of the dark tunnel that we now find ourselves in."

There is no doubt that the division in the left was a huge factor in the collapse of the left vote. All the left parties put together got around a third of what they polled in the previous Scottish parliamentary election. Is unity possible or even desirable? Well in the long term it is unavoidable, there is simply no room for multiple parties standing with similar programs (SSP, SLP, Solidarity...). All it leads to is mutually assured destruction.

But exactly how to overcome division is another questions.

The SSP/Solidarity split was bitter, the worst I have experienced in 25 years, and I've experienced a few. Sheridan has more court cases to come, which will re-open all those wounds. But solidarity faces an uncertain future. They were set up as a project to get Sheridan elected. Having failed to do that, and with his lies unravelling day by day, his fair-weather friends are keeping their distance. One of the biggest components of Solidarity is the SWP, whose English project is Respect. Respect at their last national council meeting voted to set up a committee to explore the possibility of organising in Scotland. The proposal came directly from George Galloway, so the result is virtually a foregone conclusion. In addition the previously friendly press and media types are notably more hostile to Tommy.

If Solidarity still exists in a years time it will look very different to the way it does now and could face yet another rival in the form of Respect Scotland (which most of Solidarity will want nothing to do with.)

The Greens also have to face up to a relative failure. But what is more their party has a few years of their relationship with the neo-liberal SNP to come. It could be a sobering experience for radical Greens.

Rebuilding the Scottish left will be a process that will take years and not months. It will be impacted by the tussle between Holyrood and Westminster and the evolving constitutional crisis, which could include a tory Cameron government in Westminster. It will be blown by the unpredictable winds of struggle and the challenges that will pose all of those organisations.

But with dedicated and painstaking engagement with local communities, trade unions and struggles there is still hope for the left in Scotland. It may have to take the form of a 'unity list' giving different organisations priority in different regions. But that is a long way off.

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