Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Why SSP members should vote against the Left Project

On Saturday, members of the Scottish Socialist party will gather in Edinburgh to decide on the continued existence of the SSP. 

Those who have demanded that joining the Scottish Left Project be put onto the agenda rather than, say, fighting the Tories' austerity plans, working for nuclear disarmament, or increasing the number of Socialist votes in Scotland ahead of the Holyrood general election, might not like it described that way - but that is what it is. 

The SSP has been established for 17 years now (that's almost twice as long as the SDP, to give an idea of how impressive that longevity is), having achieved parliamentary representation and still with representation at local authority level. Its success in the early part of the century is the blueprint for getting small parties into parliament, with the likelihood of being able to play an influential role in policy. Despite never being in coalition, many of the SSP's signature manifesto commitments from the Second and Third parliaments have been implemented (such as free school meals and tuition fee-free higher education).

It's an unarguable fact that a united Left in Scotland will be able to achieve greater success in Scotland than a fractured divided Left. But that's not what's being argued for on Saturday. 

When I was on the SSP's Executive Committee, I saw how some individuals in the nascent Left Project operated. Rather than making an honest approach to the SSP as a whole, they secretly went round individual members, picking them off one-by-one, and getting them to sign the Left Project's declaration without the knowlege of the SSP. It was viewed - is viewed - as very much the wrong way to go about doing business, and is a huge part of the reason why the Left Project is viewed with extreme suspicion by many SSP members. 

One individual in particular, who had abandoned the SSP for years and whose only contribution to it in at least seven years was to go round anyone who would listen and tell them the SSP was finished, seems to have spent the last two years systematically and deliberately undermining the SSP; slithering around its membership trying to poach young SSP members in Glasgow to a new branch (of which, natürlich, the individual in question was in total control) whose only purpose is to bring the SSP under the Left Project's control by presenting it as a fait accomplit to Conference.

The main objection, as far as I can see, is that the Left Project seems want to consume the SSP. They claim to want to work with the SSP, but refused, for the most part, to join it. 

And, far from being a broad front of the Left as is being claimed, it seems to have targeted the SSP specifically and solely. If it was to be a broad Left electoral front, why is there no negotiations with, for example, the Scottish Green Party? Last year, there were lengthy negotiations between the Greens and SSP about a Red/Green alliance for the European parliamentary elections (albeit they ultimately failed). The people pushing the Left Project didn't ask to be part of that broad Left front then: why now?

If it is to be an electoral alliance, what sort of electoral alliance will it be? Will it be the first Holyrood election ever in which the SSP is prevented from using its name? Because if the Left Project broadly refuses to join the SSP, is it likely they will stand under an SSP banner in the election? 

Or is it, as I suspect, to be a repetition of the famous SDP/Liberal sketch in which each of the two gets to pick a single word from its name to make up the name to be on the ballot papers: from the LP, "Left", and from the SSP, "Party"?

What currency will they use? Will they be in the European Union? Shit, hold on, that line was from September.

The Scottish Left Project says it's not a political party. But it wants to compete in a general election next May. It doesn't have a constitution. It doesn't have a manifesto. There is less than a year until the general election. Is the aim to consume the historically-established and successful SSP, a party which has grown exponentially during and since the referendum.

RIC was a huge success during the referendum. But it was a campaigning organisation, a great one, not a political party. Now, I'm not saying that there aren't problems with the SSP. A derisory vote at the Westminster election was likely caused in the main by being squeezed by the SNP being seen as the "Yes party". And the continuing (and not entirely inaccurate perception) that it remains less a political party and more of a social club for ex-Militant members is an issue - albeit one that is lessening as the influx continues of new members born after the Militant years. However, those are minor issues compared to the main necessity - to provide a strong Left-wing voice in Scottish politics. 

The SSP has done that before. It would be an act of almost unforgivable folly for SSP members to vote to throw everything the party has worked towards for almost two decades away on Saturday in favour of joining an untried group with little organisation and - as far as I can see - no tactical or political vision further than "SYRIZA are cool. It would be bantz if Scotland could have something like that". 

Instead of re-entryism, wouldn't it, in fact, make more sense to reverse the position (and if Left unity is the overarching point of this move on Saturday as is claimed, that surely wouldn't be a problem) and have the smaller Left Project join the SSP as an internal platform?

It's too close to the election to try and start a new political option from scratch. If I was going to the SSP conference on Saturday instead of getting pissed in Blackpool, I would recommend that SSP members vote against joining the Left Project. It doesn't have to stay out forever, but a bit of breathing space to debate motivation and tactics would certainly seem to me to be the sensible option here.


  1. I am not in the SSP, in fact I am not in any party. I would describe myself as a Green-Socialist -Nationalist (normalist), so I don't believe I have an axe to grind in this debate.

    However, I tend agree and think "The Left Project' has not only missed its chance, it has chosen to distance itself from other Left leaning voices.

    Maggie Chapman of the Greens reached out directly to Jonathion Shafi about the Left Project at a Common Weal event in Edinburgh ("An Evening of the Left" with Tariq Ali) asking how the Greens could be involved or support the project, yet I don't believe this offer has been taken up.

    In fact I have now read a few articles of the Left Project which I would pretty much describe as Green bashing, because they are not a "true" Left party. I left comments on those articles criticising the tone used against the Greens, to my knowledge those comments have never been approved, so it would seem the Left Project likes to dish it out, but can't take criticism.

    I wanted the Left Project to succeed. I thought it was the way forward and could build a movement/party that would replace Labour. I wanted it to pull the Greens, SSP and any left leaning group together (maybe even attracting the few true socialists left in Labour under the new banner). It has not done so, therefore it is now an irrelevance as we are too close the Holyrood elections.

    It had a chance if it acted swiftly after the IndyRef and included ALL parties. It's failed before its begun and because of the "Green" bashing feel I have gotten from reading those articles, I am not even sure if I want to succeed.

  2. Oh for goodness sake of course we must have the SSP, it would be unthinkable not to.
    I am not a member, I am one of those nasty nationalist but even I know there has to be this party. My take is that next year it will scoop up votes from still disaffected members of the Labour Party and it has to be there in it's present form to do so. This is the only way that Holyrood will get a principled opposition, with more Greens as well.