Still on the left path

Scotland/Socialism:SINCE its formation as a unified socialist party, the SSP has inspired thousands not just in Scotland but in the movement across the world.

Growing from several roots, the SSP was formed out of the Scottish Socialist Alliance and was a serious attempt to bring a range of different socialist traditions together in a left-wing version of "big tent" politics.

It attempted to combine parliamentary and extraparliamentary politics together in what was not either an electoralist or a vanguard party but what was described as a "combat party."

The SSP can be found opposing closures, supporting strikes, opposing motorways, backing communities against NHS and council cuts and fighting elections.The process was given a major boost by the fact that, throughout the Thatcher years, Scotland resisted her agenda and, although this happened elsewhere, in Scotland, there was the added dimension of the national question.The savage attacks, from pit closures to the poll tax, which was trialled first in Scotland, had both a social aspect and, increasingly, a national dimension.

Put simply, parts of the left asked the question, if Britain wants Thatcher and we don't, why not back an independent ScotlandReaders should understand that the call for a parliament dealing with Scottish affairs goes back to the pioneers of Keir Hardie's time and that the modern campaign was led by the STUC.

The victory of Tommy Sheridan in the first Scottish Parliament, followed four years later by that of six SSP members, was a direct consequence of the more democratic electoral system used in Edinburgh.This is similar to the list system used in Germany, which gives parties seats if they gain a certain percentage of votes across a region.

The events of this summer, with lurid sex headlines culminating not just in Sheridan's court victory but in an organised attempt to wreck the SSP, have put much of this at risk.However, the initial evidence suggests that, despite highly opportunist backing from both the SWP and the CWI, the misnamed Solidarity looks likely to fail.

The vast majority of members stayed with the SSP, with organisation in the key central belt solid.The party is turning outwards and is about to table a key Scottish Parliament Bill for the provision of free school meals which has won widespread support from medical, educational and campaigning groups.The latest post-split opinion poll put the SSP on 6 per cent, just one point below its winning level of 2003.

The party is also showing signs of opening up education and policy making and this more open approach is likely to win support at the SSP conference in early October.There is also the question of what direction the non-Labour radical forces will take, particularly in the current context of rising support for independence, with recent polls now showing a majority of Scots voters supporting it.The right-wing offensive inside the SNP has seen a considerable softening of its previous left positions, with the adoption of a heavily pro-business posture while retaining opposition to Trident and the Iraq war.

The SNP leadership will also put independence on the back burner, with demands for an independence referendum now coming at the end of a SNP government's first term. The thinking seems to be that, if the voters see it running the devolved services first, they will trust it with an independent state.

With the Scottish Greens actively courting a place in any post-2007 election coalition with either the Scottish National Party or new Labour, left greens have much to ponder. They have to square working with a government which, on the one hand, proclaims its "green" credentials in support for renewable energy while, on the other, building motorways and bankrolling air travel growth.

The reality is, as the SSP argues, that you need to be red to be green. In other words, only a challenge to planet-trashing corporate power can lay the basis for green collective solutions on issues such as energy supply, public transport, health and housing.

Free school meals are a shining example of this approach.

A recent report showed that 10 years of healthy eating helplines, food tsars, advertising and advice on food content have had virtually no impact on Scotland's bad health record.

Yet, where a policy of providing free, nutritious school meals was adopted in Hull, the take-up rate went from 36 per cent to 64 per cent.

SSP MSP Frances Curran is piloting a Bill in the Holyrood parliament to introduce free school meals and it will be interesting to see how much support is forthcoming from the parties who daily lecture us about children's eating habits.

The politics of the period between now and 2007 - the 300th anniversary of the union treaty setting up the UK Parliament - will be highly fluid and unpredictable.

Which way will the Lib Dems, the India rubber men of Scottish politics, jump? Can new Labour halt its current downward spiral with Blair at the helm?

For pro-independence socialists and radicals, 2007 can be the moment when we break the blood-stained imperialist British state, meeting
the democratic needs of Scots and punching a hole in the current pro- war forces led by Bush and Blair.

However, to win this, they will have to put aside illusions about alliances or deals based on pro-market ideas, work patiently for an agreed way forward and for policies which challenge the pro-business, pro-war agenda of the current Scottish Executive.

•Article by Ken Ferguson who is convener of Tay Coast SSP.
The article comes from Voices of Scotland (Wednesday 27 September 2006)