Scotland: Respect votes to split left vote, Galloway opposes independence

On November 13, 2010, the English left-wing organisation Respect’s annual conference voted, 59 to 15, to begin organising in Scotland. The decision was preceded by the most prominent Respect leader and former MP George Galloway floating the idea that he stand for the Scottish Parliament, either as part of a Respect campaign or an independent "George 4 Glasgow" campaign. Below are a number of articles from the Scottish and English left on Respect's move into Scotland.

* * *

Don't do it, George

Writing on Liam MacUaid's blog on November 10, 2010, Raphie de Santos of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) makes a case against George Galloway standing for Respect in Scotland.

George Galloway is right: the Scottish parliament needs a left voice after three years of acquiescence to the recession and the recent cuts put forward by the Coalition. That left voice has been sadly missing for nearly the past four years as the SSP, left-wing Greens and independents lost their seats as the left of the Scottish electorate put their faith in Alex Salmond’s left sounding Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). Of course the tragic split in the SSP did not help either. Four years later voters are disillusioned in the SNP and many are unwilling to put their trust in Labour again. The Liberal Democrats will be obliterated after becoming the Tories’ king makers [in Westminster] in what is likely to turn out to be the most vicious anti-working class government since the 1930s.

The SSP has slowly rebuilt itself, rising from the ashes of the split, to play a leading role in the campaign against school closures in Glasgow; building along with the Scottish Socialist Youth a militant anti-fascist movement in Scotland against the [fascist] Scottish Defence League and rebuilding the campaign against the war in Afghanistan. They have been in the forefront in pushing the Scottish Trade Union Council (STUC) into action against the cuts and offering a real socialist alternative.

Electoral support has been on the up in council elections. As the fight against the cuts intensifies with the SSP doing all it can to take it forward and the reason for the split becoming clearer to all as the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial progresses there is real hope that the SSP can make further gains in next year’s Scottish elections.

If George Galloway stands it will split the left vote and decrease the chances of a real left voice in Holyrood in 2011. George has many plus points: his support of the Palestinians and his anti-war stance are legendary. We hope that he won’t use that hard earned credibility to damage a socialist organisations here.

George don’t split the left vote in Scotland.

Respect has no organisation here and we in the SSP stand for many of the same principles that George and Salma Yaqoob express so eloquently. We are building a party for working people which is opposed to the imperialist wars, stands with the Palestinians and is fighting the Con-Dems [Convervative Party-Liberal Democrat coalition in Westminster]. Let us get on with that job without further dividing the left. This is the time we need to be pulling together.

Socialist Resistance: `Why we are against Respect organising in Scotland'

November 13, 2010 -- Socialist Resistance (England) -- After a week in which George Galloway said he was under pressure to stand in next year’s elections for the Scottish Parliament, Respect’s annual conference on November 13 voted, 59 to 15, to organise in Scotland. That resolution, published below, makes Socialist Resistance’s position inside Respect untenable.

Socialist Resistance supported the establishment of Respect in England and has been central to the party’s leadership and work since then. As we explained in the leaflet distributed to the conference, because Resistance supports the Scottish Socialist Party the decision to organise in Scotland in competition to the SSP is a deep error by Respect, one which weakens Respect’s democracy and neglects the importance of Scotland’s struggle for self-determination.

The following amendment was passed by a large majority at Respect’s annual conference on November 13.

Conference notes that:

1. There will be elections to the Scottish Parliament in May 2011.
2. These elections will be conducted under a form of proportional representation in which some MSPs are elected from a list.
3. Respect has not organized in or contested elections in Scotland in the past because of the hegemony of other parties to the left of Labour.
4. This hegemony no longer exists.
5. In the context of unprecedented cuts by the Condem Coalition and disappointment with the Labour and SNP, there is now an opportunity for Respect to contest elections to the Scottish parliament with a realistic prospect of success.

Conference therefore believes

1. National officers should start preparations for Respect to contest elections to the Scottish Parliament.
2. Preparations should include immediately registering Scottish Respect as a description that can be used in Scottish elections and seeking to recruit residents in Scotland to Respect.

This is the text of a leaflet distributed by supporters of Socialist Resistance in Respect who now feel that our situation in the organisation is now untenable.

We are strongly opposed to the proposition that Respect organise in Scotland, as proposed in amendment E to Motion 1.

Socialist Resistance has supported Respect since its inception in 2004 and previously supported the Socialist Alliance. We supported George Galloway’s letter which sought to democratize the leadership of Respect and backed the majority in the ensuing split in the organisation in 2007. We put the resources of our newspaper at the disposal of Respect. We understood that George and Salma, given their role in the anti-war movement had a vital contribution to make in building a political alternative to New Labour.

But were a resolution to organise Respect in Scotland to be passed at this Respect Conference this would make our situation in the organisation untenable. We are against such a resolution being adopted on a number of grounds:

1) A controversial change of a long-held policy that Respect does not organise in Scotland should not be introduced a week before the conference and with no discussion at the National Council or in the branches.

2) The only purpose in organising in Scotland would be for Respect to stand candidates in next May’s Scottish Parliament elections and in subsequent parliamentary and local elections. Respect has no policy positions on the specific situation in Scotland, particularly the issue of devolution and self-determination an issue around which there would be several different positions. To go into a Scottish election with no debate on key political issues would be fundamentally wrong.

3) There are already two left parties in Scotland standing in elections and they intend to continue doing so, namely the SSP and Solidarity. The SLP also stands in elections in Scotland. The last thing the Scottish left needs is another left party standing in those same elections and dividing the left vote still further.

4) In Respect there have always been different views on which party to support in Scotland. We support the SSP. If this conference were to adopt a position on organising in Scotland and to fight elections SR members would be in an impossible situation. For a party to have members who advocate voting for a different party would be untenable -- both for Respect and for SR.

5) Underlying this issue is an important political question; namely the right of the Scottish people to self-determination, including the right to independence. Therefore we reject the idea of English-based parties organizing in Scotland.

6) We still haven’t managed to build Respect on an England-wide basis -- a decision to stand for election in Glasgow will inevitably lead to the deprioritisation of Tower Hamlets.

We therefore urge the leadership and membership of Respect to avoid this course of action and to reject the proposal to organise in Scotland, avoiding both the undemocratic nature of such a decision and its consequences for the unity of the organisation.

Scottish Socialist Youth: `George, show us some RESPECT'

By Jack Ferguson

November 10, 2010 -- Scottish Socialist Youth -- After lots of threatening to do it over the past five years, George Galloway looks set to finally stage a comeback attempt to Glasgow.

This weekend, his party, RESPECT, are discussing the possibility of setting up in Scotland. But before they’ve even had a chance to vote on it, George has as good as said he’s going to do it anyway, if not as RESPECT then as "George 4 Glasgow".

When asked why he’s thinking of doing this, his justification has had two major points: I am awesome, and that he’s against “separatism”. So we can expect him to run an inspired campaign about how much we need him waffling away in the Scottish Parliament, and against independence. Just check out his recent performance on Newsnight Scotland, where he managed to not mention a single socialist policy, talked about how he was a celebrity and the only piece of politics he did advocate was British unionism.

Scotland needs another egotistical former Big Brother contestant politician like it needs a violent dose of the runs. His intervention couldn’t come at a worse time, and will be pretty much universally unwelcome by socialists who have actually been trying to do stuff in Glasgow, while he was off on his adventures elsewhere.

When the Scottish Parliament was set up, the SSP was formed as an attempt to unify the left and make sure all socialists were working together to try and get someone elected. Of course, back then, George was still a Labour MP, and not interested in anything else going on. Until he was kicked out of the Labour party, and decided to go looking for glory in London, where he managed to get elected as a RESPECT MP in Bethnal Green and Bow.

However, in the last election he didn’t manage to get back in when he stood in a different area, and he’s now casting around looking for something else to do. Hence the brainwave he’s had now -- “I can get in up there!”

The problem is, he’s taken the decision without actually consulting the existing Scottish left. In the amendment going to RESPECT’s conference, it says:

Respect has not organized in or contested elections in Scotland in the past because of the hegemony of other parties to the left of Labour. This hegemony no longer exists.

So speak a bunch of people based in England, who have no idea about the left in Scotland. All the signatories are English-based people, because RESPECT doesn’t exist in Scotland. But yet again, English socialists think they know best what will work up here.

People from down south just don’t seem able to get their heads round the idea that Scotland is a different country, with a different political situation. Pretty much all the organised left in Scotland, at least on paper, is in favour of independence. They realise what a farce it would be if there was an independence referendum and socialists were arguing for keeping the imperialist, warmongering British state. If George is aspiring to be the voice of the left in the Scottish Parliament, he needs to realise that he’s totally out of step with Scottish socialists on this issue. But then, we shouldn’t be surprised if a London-based organisation, that thinks it’s ok to turn up and plant their flag like modern-day colonialists, don’t get it.

You would think though that people in RESPECT would have at least the common courtesy to talk to people before they announced they were coming to enlighten the northern barbarians. The arrogance of just declaring this is the way things are going to be without consultation is amazing.

Socialists in Scotland were able to get elected when they were united. But in 2006, Tommy Sheridan and his supporters decided to leave the SSP and set up another celebrity ego project, Solidarity. Since then we’ve had the even more obscure Scottish Trade Union and Socialist Coalition set up by those same folk. The result is that there’s likely to be at least two organisations battling it out for left-wing votes in Glasgow next year (SSP and Solidarity/No2EU/STUSC). What this situation calls for is -- MORE PEOPLE STANDING!!!

In the past, George vehemently supported Tommy (with such bizarre statements as “Let the monkeys shriek in their trees, the lion walks on by. The Lion is Tommy Sheridan.”) Apparently now though he thinks that’s not a runner any more, and thinks what Scotland needs is ... HIM. He’s even gone as far as saying he thinks there haven’t been any big hitters in the Scottish Parliament, conveniently forgetting his former romance with Tommy.

What this will actually mean is an incredibly divisive move at a time when the left in general needs to be thinking about the ways we can work together. There’s no existing organisation that will support him, given that his antics down south have alienated most of the other socialist groups away, and there’s no way the SSP will be able to support him. He claims he’s under “intense pressure” from “football fans” and “the city’s Asian community”. We don’t buy it. We think the only pressure he’s under is the pressure to find a new elected position and continue his political career. It’s as if when the SSP was at its height, we’d decided we were going to take England in hand and set up the "Scottish Socialist Party -- England".

So consider this a plea to members of RESPECT to live up to their party’s name, and not blunder into a difficult situation and make it much much worse. Three lists standing for parliament almost certainly guarantees that no socialists will be elected, and there’s no way RESPECT can be a unifying force for socialists up here. Yet another “socialist” group getting set up would be a disaster for Scotland.

But it doesn’t look like George is going to listen to reason on this one, he seems determined to plough on anyway. So, for when the day comes that he announces he’s standing, here’s a few of the reasons that SSY won’t be flocking to his banner, in advance:

1. Like we said, he’s against independence. He’s described Scotland as “the country with the highest number of junkies, alcoholics and religious bigots in Europe”. As opposed to the majority of the Scottish left, George thinks the best idea for Scotland is to stay part of Britain. He justifies it with sophisticated arguments:

The seas are rough out there. Getting out of a liner and into a Para Handy puffer on the storm-tossed seas just for the pleasure of shouting "och aye the noo" as loud as we like doesn’t strike me as all that smart. How about you?

Independence is pretty fundamental to how we see social progress for Scotland. There’s currently half-a-state in Scotland, and we need to make it a fully independent democratic republic with the power to really tackle Scotland’s social problems. We also need Scotland to be withdrawn from a state that was set up specifically to be a stronger imperial power, and continues to be one today, with Scottish soldiers dying in Afghanistan. There’s just no way we can support electing yet another unionist MSP.

2. He insists on taking the full salary as an MP/MSP. When the SSP had people elected, we made sure they only took the average wage of a skilled worker, so that they could really represent the people who elected them, rather than becoming a well off part of the establishment. This is a well-established socialist principle that goes back to the Paris Commune. Not for George though -- he says he “couldn’t live on three worker’s wages” and that he spends his money on “the things I need to function properly as a leading figure in a part of the British political system”.

3. He’s against a woman’s right to choose. This is another pretty basic political fundamental for us: women have the right to control their own bodies, and restricting abortion would cost untold lives in Scotland -- we know this because around the world 200 women die every day due to not being able to access safe and legal abortion services.

To be fair to the RESPECT party it prominently states that its position is pro-choice. It’s just not one shared by their most prominent member, who in the past hasn’t turn up at any time it’s voted on to get out of voting against. But if GG ends up running some kind of independent campaign ("George 4 Glasgow"), will he even have that restriction placed on him? For us, it would be pretty much impossible to support an anti-abortionist for the Scottish Parliament.

(In addition, he’s not above spouting some really cringeworthy Swiss Tony style remarks about women. Check out some of the belters from his book:

“Air-headed blow-dried telly-dollies”

“fragrant rose”

“all folded arms, chins and bosoms”

“wives of the elite” wouldn’t “get a spot in Sex and the City

or indeed these two particular offerings from his Record column on key issues of the day: "Check out the hot M&S underwear ads "and "Pirates of the Caribbean boobs".  Or the way he ganged up on Jodie Marsh in the Big Brother house using language like “page 3 trollope”. The point about this stuff is it's really embarassing and reflective of a lack of engagement with feminism which is essential for socialists. Which leads us on to our next point ...)

4. We just don’t need another cheesy, Big Brother “lefty” celebrity in Scotland, we’ve had quite enough of the main one ([Tommy Sheridan] who George used to love)!

No article like this would be complete without talking about the cat thing. I’d actually forgotten he’d done that, until I was reading about him again the other night and burst out laughing. See if you can actually bear to watch it all the way to the end.

Leave all politics aside, that is just one and a half minutes of wrongness.

There’s lots of other reasons people on the left have criticised Galloway, such as the fact that he’s a bit too friendly with certain Middle East governments who do lots of nasty stuff. However, I’m trying at this stage to steer clear of things Galloway fans would argue about, and stick straight to some of the reasons we could never support his candidacy for Glasgow. Things that Galloway himself accepts are his views that are fundamentally different from ours. Three of the above four points are things that George himself accepts, and that we feel are pretty much matters that we couldn’t compromise on, and the fourth is just an undisputable fact: Celebrity Big Brother was an embarassing mistake, and it would make us cringe to go out and tell people to vote for that guy.

However, the main point here isn’t to bash George Galloway, but to appeal to members of RESPECT to get some commonsense. You have no organisation in Scotland. Trying to impose it up here will cause further alienation and division in a country that’s had quite enough of that on the left. We quite like some of the folk in RESPECT. Please don’t be so arrogant as to support this move, as it will do ZERO good for anybody.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

Can the English left get

Can the English left get anything right?

Socialist Resistance members' letter to Respect

Five members of the Respect Party, who were members of its ruling National Council until this week, have resigned in protest at the party’s decision to organise in Scotland. Alan Thornett, Terry Conway, John Lister, Bob Whitehead, Andy Richards, who are members of Socialist Resistance, sent this letter to Respect.

Please accept this as our resignations from Respect.

Our reason, as you will know, is the decision taken at Respect conference on Saturday to reverse its historic position and to begin to organise in Scotland -with George Galloway as a Respect candidate for the Scottish Parliament in the forthcoming elections. This is a big problem given that there will be at least one Scottish broad left party standing and probably two.

We were also concerned that a major change of policy was made via a last minute amendment to a resolution on the cuts, which illustrates a problem of democracy within Respect. The fact that so many people think a few days debate on a couple of blogs and 30 minutes at conference is a big discussion indicates that we have not succeeded in developing a real political culture within the organization.

As we argued in the debate any decision to organise in Scotland would inevitably have negative effects on the resources that could be devoted to building Respect in England – in particular in Tower Hamlets. Proposals to make build Respect as a national organisation in England or Respect a more visible part of the movement against the cuts have either been defeated or not carried out in practice over recent months. Declarations to the contrary were unconvincing.

Nor can one seriously believe that this decision will not take further resources away at a time when the need for a political alternative both to the Condems and to the completely ineffectual Labour Party are stronger than ever before.

The decisive issue, however, is that we think that it is generally wrong for English organisations to organise in Scotland — unless they do so as a part of an initiative led by the Scottish left. This is particularly the case with Respect which has no roots in Scotland or policies on Scotland. It is also particularly the case when the election concerned is for Holyrood rather than Westminster.

As we pointed out, we support the SSP, which has already selected its lead candidates in each region of Scotland for Holyrood. It is true that the SSP was seriously weakened by the split of Sheridan, which was a result of his disastrous decision to sue the Murdoch press in the way he did. The SSP, however, has consolidated and grown since this time and is an organisation today with proportionately many more comrades in Scotland than Respect has in England.

It is also an organisation which is visibly present at every key moment of Scottish politics on the side of the working class and the oppressed – so against the war, against racism and fascism, in defense of women’s rights and at the heart of the anti-cuts movement. The youth group Scottish Socialist Youth has played a key role in all these and many other initiatives and is a vibrant and dynamic organization.

We make these assessments on the basis of the fact that we have supporters who are members of the SSP and on the basis that SR comrades have attended every SSP conference and many other initiatives over the years.

For us to advocate a vote for a different party would be untenable - both for Respect and for ourselves. In any case the last thing the Scottish left needs is another left party standing in the Holyrood elections and dividing the left vote still further. This is a counterproductive and sectarian decision by Respect.

Respect has no policy what-so-ever on the issue of devolution and self-determination around which Scottish politics turns. To decide to stand for Holyrood without a single discussion on the policies on which the candidate would stand leaves it in the hands of the candidate with no collective input. While George Galloway was a founding supporter of Scotland United – the organization which spearheaded the fight for Scottish self determination - he opposes independence. We don’t take this view – we believe the break up of the British state is in the interests of socialists on both sides of the border.

Support for independence does not mean that the left in Scotland and England cannot and should not work together to fight the Condems or imperialism – the SSP has been part of working with organizations in England (and Wales with the Plaid left) through formations like the Convention of the Left.

We are resigning with great reluctance since we remain committed to the building of a broad pluralist party to challenge New Labour and the neoliberal parties and for us this is a further setback in that process.

Meanwhile we wish Respect well, genuinely so, and will work with you where the opportunity arises - particularly in the struggle against the cuts, over racism and in solidarity with the people of Palestine. We will continue to support and work for Respect candidacies in many places in England and hope that perhaps one day we may again be part of a common organisation that provides a real alternative to neoliberalism.

Comradely

Alan Thornett, Terry Conway, John Lister, Bob Whitehead, Andy Richards – NC members over the last year.

Powered by Drupal - Design by Artinet