Campaigning and Parliamentary Priorities

By Tommy Sheridan

Tommy Sheridan was the first member of the SSP elected to the Scottish Parliament, in 1999.

The election of six socialist MSPs represents both a massive advance for and a huge challenge to the socialist movement in Scotland.

Undoubtedly the ability of the SSP to link its socialist activity within the Scottish parliament to its socialist program outside parliament has played a major role in promoting the party in relation to anti-poverty, pro-trade union, pro-peace and anti-war campaigns.

The way the party was able to take the abolition of poundings and warrant sales campaign out into the communities and bring pressure to bear back inside the parliament was a model for uniting parliamentary and extra-parliamentary activity. A similar and even broader exercise was conducted in relation to the free school meals campaign. Even though the end result was unsuccessful, the party still managed to pressure thirty-five MSPs to vote for a significant anti-poverty and pro-health measure.

The party must continue to link its day-to-day campaigning activity to the work of the parliament and vice versa. The socialist group in parliament has to raise the anti-poverty and wealth redistribution issues in order to provide a focus for the party as a whole throughout Scotland

However, the party will be subjected to an incredible level of scrutiny and analysis, way beyond anything we have faced in the last four years, and our operation in parliament must therefore be able to take on the forces of reaction.

The level of expectation of the work of the socialist group and what it can achieve will inevitably be higher than what we can deliver, given the arithmetic of the current parliament. However, the strategy being recommended to the National Committee involves each MSP championing a specific and important part of our manifesto in the form of a member's bill, with the purpose of securing the widest possible debate and promoting the widest possible campaign across Scotland.

The priorities should be:

  • fair local government tax bill to replace the unfair council tax;
  • public workers' bill to promote a decent minimum wage, linked to a shorter working week and legal recognition after day one of employment;
  • and of course the immediate relaunching of the Free School Meals Bill.

These bills should be taken up urgently, and the parliamentary group should seek to secure enough signatures (eleven) to allow the member's bills process to begin. The Mirror newspaper has already committed itself to sponsoring the Free School Meals Bill, which should allow more publicity to be generated for this extremely popular and worthwhile measure.

Other areas which should be considered in the short term include:

  • a free prescriptions bill, which could also incorporate free eye tests and dental check-ups;
  • a smaller class size bill, if allowed within the confines of the private member regulations;
  • a fair voting bill to promote proper proportional representation, votes at sixteen years of age and other features;
  • a bill to promote public ownership and democratic control of bus, rail and ferry travel across Scotland, hopefully allowing us to link closely with the RMT [Rail, Maritime and Transport union] and other unions willing to support public ownership of public transport;
  • a youth rights bill to promote access for young people to facilities and travel concessions;
  • a bill on our unique drugs policy; and
  • within the first six bills, we are able to introduce a women-specific measure which allows us to promote our equality platform to the advantage of ordinary women throughout Scotland: perhaps free sanitary protection, a free morning-after pill or some measure linked to improved child-care facilities would be appropriate. More discussion is required among the women members of the party in particular, but it is hoped such discussions can get under way quickly.

As per our constitution, a parliamentary committee will be established and the parliamentary group will elect a group leader, a group secretary and a representative to the parliamentary business bureau.

After consultation with the parliamentary group, the staffing committee recommended the recruitment of six individual case workers for each elected MSP, three parliamentary assistants to be shared among the six MSP, and the establishment of a research/media/policy unit of three comrades able to serve the MSPs in relation to research, analysis and media rebuttals, while also providing essential service to the party as a whole in relation to our vital campaigning outside the parliament. This recommendation was accepted by the Executive Committee, and the recruitment process is well under way.

The parliamentary team must develop an identity based on that developed over the last four years. That is that the parliament is not a separate part of the SSP, but merely the parliamentary wing of the SSP, and although specific tasks and challenges face the parliamentary group, they will carry out their work on behalf of and in conjunction with the party as a whole.

The parliamentary group appeals to the wider party to involve them in localised as well as national campaigns by submitting motion proposals and questions to ministers and generally making use of the parliament resource for the advancement of the party as a whole.

It should be recognised that we are now entering uncharted territory for our small but determined and committed organisation. Inevitably there will be mistakes along the way, but with good will and comradeship we will eventually get our structures and organisation right to best promote our radical socialist program most effectively within parliament, to allow us increased opportunities to build a genuine mass socialist party outside parliament.