SSP debate concludes

In defence of the SSP

After reading Michael MacGregor (FRFI 173) and Paul Mallon (FRFI 174) on the SSP I feel that I, as an SSP member, must respond and separate fact from fiction. Michael says that ‘the fact is that at no point in the election contest did the SSP campaign on the principled basis of demanding a no vote for the Labour imperialists.’

What the SSP did do is stand in every first-past-the-post seat (except against Jean Turner (hospital campaigner), Dennis Cavanagh (Independent) and John McCallion (Labour), and in every list seat, plus a large number of council seats. We called on the electorate not to vote for any of the big business parties (Labour, SNP, Lib Dems, Tories). Our propaganda also made clear that to vote Labour was to endorse their warmongering. In an electoral contest, and that is what Michael was talking about, I would call that opposing Labour. With regard to John McCallion (an extremely prominent anti-war campaigner), the local branch decided at the last minute, by one vote, to stand down (which constitutionally they are allowed to do) in his favour. It was not a popular decision within the SSP. Interestingly, if FRFI members in Dundee had remained inside the SSP (they were in its precursor the Scottish Socialist Alliance) the vote would have gone the other way.

With regard to the anti-war movement in Scotland, the SSP was the backbone of this movement and outside of the Muslim community provided the main organisers. Tommy Sheridan and other party spokespersons made clear on national television and elsewhere that we were opposed to the war on Iraq, regardless of what the UN said, even if it reduced our vote to zero. Allan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan repeated this at both of our public election rallies in Edinburgh. I was there.

Further, the Lothian Muslim Voting Committee distributed thousands of leaflets explicitly calling for a first vote for the SNP and a second (proportional) vote for the Scottish Socialist Party. In the Lothians Colin Fox of the SSP was elected on the second vote despite stiff opposition from Margo MacDonald (ex- SNP) and the Greens. Similarly, Michael says that ‘a pre-election FBU poll in Scotland showed that only 1% of members would vote Labour as compared to 63% in 1999.’

What he fails to mention is that the same poll said that twenty-odd per cent were going to vote for the SSP. Why? Because of the concrete solidarity (money, picket line reinforcements, support in our paper) delivered by ordinary SSP members all over Scotland. In short, to write comments like ‘the refusal of the SSP to take up the challenge of Labour’ or ‘the SSP’s endorsement of Labour’ is in my opinion to bend the truth beyond all recognition. Finally, Michael, as you know, the SSP, and Tommy Sheridan in particular, have stated repeatedly that they do not believe that there exists a parliamentary road to socialism.

Turning to Paul’s response to Ben Courtice, he repeats the arguments about the SSP not breaking from Labour and not being anti-imperialist which I have dealt with above. He goes on to say that ‘We do not oppose socialists entering parliament in certain periods and using it as a platform to spread more widely principled socialist ideas. Indeed the “minimum programme” of the SSP...could be used towards such an end, but only in the context of building a principled anti-imperialist working class movement outside parliament’.

I couldn’t agree more, that’s what we are trying to do. I also agree that the SSP doesn’t yet have the stature of the Black Panthers but we are less than five years old. It is true that the SSP is weak on its understanding of Irish Republicanism and Loyalism as the invitation to Billy Hutchinson to Socialism 2000, three years ago, showed. The SSP is still learning and changing. For example I can think of two former Militant full-timers, still prominent in the SSP, who now go on the annual Edinburgh James Connolly March. Similarly, in the only ever vote on whether or not the SSP supports revolutionary Cuba, the pro-Cubans won. And who is the SSP’s most prominent supporter of Cuba? Tommy Sheridan.

The vast majority of Scottish Socialists of every stripe are now in the SSP. It is a growing party of the working class. Its anti-imperialism would be strengthened if FRFI supporters joined as an open faction. I appeal to you to do so.
Bob Goupillot,
Communist Platform of the SSP (personal capacity)

Letter from Ben Courtice

Thank you for giving so much consideration to the issues in my letter. However the grave charges you have laid against the SSP are in my eyes yet to be proven. In his article, comrade Mallon recites the same criticisms as comrade MacGregor’s initial article, plus historical considerations on the British left’s weaknesses, and the electoral abstention of much of the working class.

Did the SSP organise against the Iraq war? Mallon admits that it did oppose ‘war for oil’. According to their website, they continue to organise solidarity campaigns with struggle in Palestine, Colombia and Afghanistan – all important elements of the anti-imperialist struggle.

The SSP appears to oppose Labour by providing an alternative to vote for. I am unclear whether Dundee represents the entrenched views of the whole party, or was an exception. The SSP election manifesto is critical of the current bourgeois parliamentary system and talks of ‘the pro-big business consensus of the establishment parties’. Which would appear to include Labour.

It seems that, however softly they may have said it, the SSP are in fact anti-Labour. They are also, in fact, committed to the anti-war movement. This is concretely anti-imperialist.

Electoral abstention by part of the working class may represent cynicism about bourgeois parliaments, but I find this translates into apathy as readily as rebellion. FRFI may choose to focus on this section of the class, but to rigidly condemn real or perceived failings of the SSP, rather than offering a critical engagement, would seem to build unnecessary barriers between FRFI and another potentially important section of the movement. I would have thought that each might have something to learn from the other.

Ben Courtice
Melbourne, Australia

Did the SSP oppose Labour imperialism?

We completely agree on the need to build a ‘principled anti-imperialist working class movement outside parliament’. We further contend that without this, there will be no possibility of a struggle for socialism. That is why we were more than interested in the conduct of socialists during this recent election.

Voting took place while the Labour government was engaged in an imperialist war against the people of Iraq. The response of the socialist left to this specific development was critical. Wherever they were campaigning, on the streets or for parliamentary seats, they were presented with an opportunity to rally thousands in the popular anti-war movement against the imperialist Labour Party. Imagine the effect of a large, organised socialist force using the election, amongst many other tactics, to disrupt and destroy the influence of the Labour Party: to link its murderous attack on the Iraqi people with its disgusting racism here and its ruthless advocacy of the multinationals’ neoliberal global agenda which is impoverishing millions and threatening environmental catastrophe. Such an intervention would have called on the anti-war youth, many of whom were excluded by age from the voting charade, to get out to the Labour Party surgeries, meetings, offices and phoney election rallies to express their righteous anger at Blair and his loathsome crew. It would have confronted his MPs as representatives of a party that has always used terror and bombs to defend British imperialism. Such a development could only have been based on complete and explicit opposition to voting Labour at the election, that is – no vote for Labour imperialists! That would have been anti-imperialist politics, working class politics, socialist politics in action. Instead what we got from the SSP was name-calling – ‘Blair is a poodle’!

Does Bob agree or disagree that the basis for any intervention in that election should have been explicit opposition to any vote for Labour? He does not provide evidence to disprove our statement that at no time during the election did the SSP campaign on the principled basis of a ‘no’ vote for Labour imperialists. He cites the fact that the SSP stood in every constituency and called on people not to vote for ‘big business parties’. To stand in every first-past-the-post seat in a bourgeois parliamentary election in which the SNP, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives also stand is not opposing Labour at all. This is the nonsense of parliamentarianism, where all challenges and opposition conducted by ruling class rules are phoney. Yes, Labour is a party of ‘big business’, but it was more specifically the party of big bombing; they were actually doing the imperialists’ business at the time!

Any electoral intervention by socialists in such elections should be on the basis of maximising the politics, not the vote, so when Bob tells us that Sheridan and McCoombes publicly stated that they were prepared to risk the SSP’s vote being reduced to zero we do not dispute that this was so. But this risk was assessed on the basis of the SSP opposing any UN-backed bombing of Iraq. Given that at the time popular anti-war feeling was massive, and the likelihood of a UN mandate very distant, this was a hardly taking a heroic and principled risk.

What Sheridan and McCombes were not prepared to risk was losing votes, particularly list votes from Labour constituency voters unhappy with the war but not that unhappy that they would want a Labour defeat, yet who could make a protest vote for the SSP through proportional representation. The SSP were not prepared to lose such voters and the electoral set-up allowed such two-way voting. That is why, as we stated, that Sheridan’s eve of poll ‘appeal to Labour voters’ was not to ditch the imperialist party but to vote as they liked as long as they supported the SSP with their second vote. Sheridan should have told Labour voters and members that they were condoning the bombing. A socialist intervention would have disregarded all risk of losing votes by confronting head-on the murderous racism and imperialism of the Labour Party.

Comrade Bob is concerned that we did not mention the statements of the Lothian Muslim Voting Committee and members of the FBU which called for support for the SSP. He misses the point that these groups were absolutely explicit in their refusal to vote Labour. The Scottish Socialist Party itself was unable to match such a clear and specific rejection of Labour. Bob ends up arguing that somehow the totality, the aggregate of statements and positions and actions of the SSP, from standing for the Scottish Parliament, to defending socialist Cuba, proves their anti-imperialist and socialist credentials. It is the other way around: these credentials were undermined by the SSP’s refusal to advocate no vote for Labour imperialists.

Michael MacGregor

FRFI 175 October / November 2003


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