Scottish Socialist Party: ‘Little Britain’ politics and the left

By Alan McCombes

April 24, 2009 -- Voters who want an isolationist Britain will be spoiled for choice in the European elections on June 4th. On the far right, the BNP and UKIP both demand an independent Britain. Left of centre parties that want British withdrawal include Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Parry and the NO2EU Yes To Democracy coalition. While these four parties promote British independence, the Free Scotland Party campaigns for an independent Scotland outside the European Union.

What should be the attitude of Scottish socialists towards Europe? Should the left back British separatism? And does the NO2EU Yes To Democracy campaign represent a progressive step forward?

The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) has always rejected the Union Jack-waving Europhobia of the Tory right. We are a pro-European party, and believe in working with progressive and left-wing forces across Europe to resist and defy every directive and piece of legislation from Brussels or Strasbourg which damages the rights and conditions of working people.

For a people’s Europe

In the 2004 European election, the SSP manifesto argued for a social Europe, and pledged to fight alongside the wider European left for range of radical reforms, including:

  • A continent-wide minimum wage
  • A continent-wide minimum pension
  • A continent-wide wealth tax
  • A continent-wide minimum level of corporation tax
  • A nuclear-free Europe
  • Tougher European Directives on carbon emissions, pollution and toxic chemicals
  • A Corporate Accountability Directive to force company directors to become accountable for the social and environmental impact of their business’s activities
  • A European-wide publicly owned, intergrated, rail, bus and ferry network as a an efficient and inexpensive alternative to air travel.
  • The replacement of the Common Agricultural Policy with a scheme that shifts the balance of farming subsidies towards subsistence farmers, crofters, organic farmers and other local producers.

[Full SSP Manifesto, 2004 European election (PDF)]

At the same time, we were – and remain -- highly critical of the top-down, bureaucratic structures of the European Union. Institutions like the European Commission are unelected and unaccountable. Under the guise of open competitive tendering, the European Commission has driven forward a privatisation agenda, which now threatens the existence of Scotland’s publicly owned, lifeline ferry company, Calmac. The Scottish Socialist Party believes that the Scottish government should defy any European-driven initiatives to impose privatisation on any of Scotland’s public services.

Recent rulings by the European Court interpreting employment legislation in favour of construction companies as they attempt to drive wages ever lower and smash trade unions has resulted in a wave of industrial militancy in the UK which the Scottish Socialist Party actively supported while warning of the dangers of xenophobic slogans such as ``British Jobs For British Workers''.

We oppose any moves to create a Euro-wide regimented, federal state. We stand for a new European Union based on democracy, diversity and decentralisation. As a step in that direction, we will campaign with the left across Europe for the downgrading of the European Commission to the status of an administrative back-up unit, restricted to implementing decisions and distributing information.

British withdrawal ?

Where should we stand on British withdrawal? Would a victory for the anti-European forces in the UK be progressive advance? Would it be a victory for the left. Or would be a triumph for the right?

During the 1975 referendum, the vast majority of left in Britain, together with the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru in Wales, opposed Britain’s entry into the Common Market, as it was then called. At that time, the left’s opposition to the creation of a European bloc was based on clear logic. The left in Britain was powerful: the trade unions has just brought down a Tory government; the governing party was committed, at least in paper, to a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power to working people and their families; Britain’s National Health System and welfare state was the envy of the world, and the UK had a long tradition of parliamentary democracy which within living memory had survived the fascist conquest of most of Europe.

The anti-Europeanism of much of the British left was forged under these conditions. But times have moved on, and the rationale for supporting British withdrawal no longer exists. For the past 20 years the UK has, along with the USA, led the worldwide crusade to privatise public services, deregulate big business; slash taxes for the rich; and encouraged plunder and greed. Even the right-wing leaders of France and Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, have blamed ``the Anglo-Saxon countries'' for dragging the world economy into a deep slump by fostering the culture of unrestrained, unregulated profiteering.

A victory for the right

Britain today has the widest wealth gap of any state in Europe, and by far the most millionaires and billionaires. It has the most repressive anti-trade union legislation on the continent. The British government was the most bloodthirsty and gung-ho in its support for the US-led war on Iraq. Successive British governments have eagerly complied with right-wing directives from Europe (for example, on privatisation) while consistently resisting progressive European legislation (for example on the environment, and on working conditions).

Britain is not Norway, which has resisted joining the European Union to protect its superior public services and welfare state. Out of Europe, the UK would not be one iota more progressive. By this time next year, David Cameron and the Tories are almost certain to be in government. Like prime ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, a Cameron government won’t need the excuse of European directives to forge ahead with the privatisation of public services. Britain is already to the right of most of Europe, and looks set for a further lurch toward reaction.

Meanwhile, the left in Britain is weaker and more ineffective than almost anywhere else in Europe. The three major parties all back nuclear weapons, more privatisation and brutal public spending cuts to balance the books. Across Europe, even the right-wing parties appear more left wing than Britain’s three big parties. As things stand, a British exit from the EU would be a victory, not for the left but for the right. The dancing on the streets would be to the tune of ``Rule Britannia'' rather than the ``Red Flag'', and the forces celebrating most rapturously would be the ultraright.

Scottish independence

In contrast, the call for Scotland out of Britain is a left-wing, progressive idea. The SSP has many criticisms of the governing party of Scotland, the SNP. But in contrast to the big Westminster parties, it rejects nuclear weapons, resists racism and opposes privatisation. The SNP is not and never will be a socialist party; but unlike New Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems it is a left of centre social-democratic party. The balance of class forces in Scotland is overwhelming tilted towards the working class – a process which will be accentuated in the years to come as a consequence of the collapse of the countries two major capitalist institutions, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland.

Yet the NO2EU coalition, while supporting the right-wing concept of ``British sovereignty'' does not support the progressive idea of Scottish independence. The main driving forces in the coalition have been the Communist Party of Britain, the UK-wide RMT Union and the Socialist Party of England and Wales. The top of the NO2EU list for the European elections in Scotland is John Foster, a leading figure in the Communist Party of Britain and an opponent of Scottish independence.

The Scottish list of candidates for the election was not even decided in Scotland. It was drawn up in London by the above organisations, plus the small and disintegrating Scottish-based Solidarity group, which from its formation as a splinter group from the SSP in 2006 has been numerically dominated by two London-controlled factions, who are anti-independence -- the Socialist Workers Party and the CWI.

June 4 election

The SSP was belatedly informally invited to participate in the NO2EU campaign (after reading about it in the Daily Record). We have criticisms of the way that the coalition was launched from London, with certain selected individuals from Scotland invited down to private steering committee meetings to prepare the public announcement. The suffix of the NO2EU – Yes To Democracy – is in startling contrast to the bureaucratic, top-down way that the coalition has been established.

We also understand that NO2EU has pledged to refuse to take up any seats in the European Parliament. The SSP has never been an abstentionist party. If we were to have an MEP, he or she would fight alongside the other left and radical parties in Strasbourg for progressive politics to big business and improve the lives of ordinary working people. We would insist – as we do in every election – that our elected representatives would live on no more than the average wage of a skilled worker, with all expenses vetted by the party to guard against corruption.

However, these are secondary points. The main reason why the SSP has decided to stand in the Eurpoean elections on June 4, 2009 -- as we have done in every national election since the party’s foundation in 1998 – is that we have serious political differences on Scottish independence, and on Europe. We will be targeting a broader section of the electorate. NO2EU may take some Labour votes from people who may otherwise, in this election, have switched to a party like UKP. The SSP will target our appeal towards pro-independence voters with an internationalist outlook.

Beyond this election we will maintain friendly relations and continue to work constructively on specific campaigns where we have political agreement with other principled socialists, such as the Communist Party of Britain and the RMT.

* * *

The SSP will fight the European elections as a signatory to the European Anti-Capitalist Left joint statement, 'Make the capitalists pay for the crisis' available to read on the Socialist Resistance website here...

SSP to stand in European elections

By Ken Ferguson

The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) is to take the message that the answer to the gathering crisis is to work for an alternative socialist society into the European elections in June.

The party took its decision at its annual conference in Arran at the end of March.

Amidst growing concern at the gathering economic crisis, rising unemployment economic insecurity and concerns over climate change delegates gave a firm yes to the need to put socialist solutions to voters.

As in Scotland with New Labour, former mass socialist parties in the EU are now involved with saving the existing order with, for example German social democrats in coalition with right wing Chancellor Angela Merkel and most others adopting a pro capitalist line.

In opposition to this a range of new formations such as Das Link in Germany and the New Anti Capitalist Party in France are staking out the ground for socialist ideas and policies which also draw on the growing concerns on environmental questions.

The SSP also rejected a call for a withdrawal from the EU at its conference and will aim to campaign for radical change on a socialist programme and will co-operate with comrades across the EU sharing that view.

Delegates clearly believed that an approach of fighting with other left forces for demands across Europe such as a European minimum wage was the way ahead.

The fact that a large number of the voices calling for EU withdrawal come from right-wing forces such as UKIP, the BNP and far right Tories clearly further made the demand unattractive to delegates.

The party now faces a major battle to raise the resources including a deposit of £5,000 which are needed to fight an all Scotland election and are a major barrier to smaller parties putting their case.

Massive demonstrations in France, riots in Greece and unrest and questioning across the EU grows daily as factories close, dole queues grow and threats of wage and benefit cuts loom.
For the first time in many years the elections to what many see as a toothless European parliament will have a sharp relevance for voters who see the illusion of market capitalist prosperity evaporate like the mirage it was.

In such a situation there is a vital need to put the alternative of a socialist society based on need and not profit to voters.

Alongside comrades and allies in Europe the Scottish Socialist Party will ensure hat case is put to Scottish voters.

SSP co-spokesperson Colin Fox said: “The Scottish Socialist Party will contest the European elections on our unique anti-capitalist programme, as we have done in all elections in the 10 years of our existence.

“The SSP looks forward to our part in a European wide protest by the left, socialist and anti capitalist parties at the terrible consequences for working class people of the financial catastrophe that the banks and big business have brought upon us.

“In the forthcoming European elections the SSP will be once again ask voters to mark their cross beside the SSP, for socialism, independence and internationalism.”

Victories for left candidates and parties would indeed be a “spectre” to haunt the cosy coterie of capitalist politicians facing the crisis.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Fri, 05/01/2009 - 16:31


Supporting ‘no2eu-yes to democracy’ on June 4th

feature photo

In our national aggregate of March 21st and our statement on March 31st we welcomed the launching of no2eu-yes to democracy campaign. We repeat that here. The scale of the economic and environmental crisis, and the need for a working class response at both the industrial and the political level, makes tackling the crisis of working class representation ever more urgent.

What the no2eu platform represents is the involvement a militant national trade union in an electoral initiative against Labour.  This is a significant development. It is evidence that some sections of the working class are looking for a political alternative to Labour’s neo-liberalism and has the potential to contribute to a realignment on the left in Britain. 

As the success of Die Linke in Germany has demonstrated radical sections of the trade union movement can play a crucial part in the development of a broad political alternative. In fact it is difficult to build broad left parties without the involvement of the trade union left — particularly in Britain where the organised left is chronically divided and lacks social weight.

From this point of view it would be a mistake not to recognise the importance of the RMT’s involvement in no2eu yes to democracy. Britain is now well behind many other parts of western Europe when it comes to the development of such parties. 

Now that it is clear that Respect will not be standing in the European elections in London or anywhere else on June 4th we will be building support for no2eu in England and Wales where Respect is not endorsing any other candidate. We will get involved in the campaign and work to maximise its vote. How many votes no2eu-yes to democracy will attract is difficult to predict, of course. It has a very small budget on which to fight a European election in all constituencies.

The size of its vote, however, is not the main thing to be taken into account when its longer-term significance is assessed. What will also be important is: How it conducts itself politically during the campaign; How the coalition around it develops; What relations it establishes with other sections of the left; How the campaign is taken into the rank and file of the RMT. 

The emergence of no2eu has raised some important issues for Respect. We in SR, and more broadly in Respect, have long held the view that Respect must actively seek to be part of a broader recomposition of the left. In fact we have argued that such a recomposition is essential if a genuinely broad working class party is to be constructed. If no2eu represents even half step in that direction then Respect has to develop a relationship with it. 

One debate in Respect has been around whether it would be wrong in principle for Respect to stand against no2eu once it was launched. There was rightly a debate over the resources for the campaign which was a big problem (both for Respect and for no2eu), but the over-riding issue for some was whether Respect should automatically stand aside in favour of no2eu or not. We in SR held the view that it would have been perfectly legitimate for Respect to stand if it had so wished and that in principle it should have stood in London if it could have gathered the resources for a credible campaign together.

If Respect is to maximise its chances in the general election, where it may be the only radical alternative, it needed where possible to keep its name on the ballot paper and in the public eye in the interim. Respect, despite its weaknesses, is an established left party with a high profile MP and a number of successful councillors. It is the party of the left with the highest public recognition and best electoral record for many years. It has important bases amongst Asian communities in South Birmingham and East London and plans to stand in several Parliamentary seats in the general election next year. It has just been central to Viva Palestina, the hugely successful aid convoy to Gaza, which has enhanced its reputation. Jerry Hicks, as a high profile leader of Respect, has just achieved a remarkable result in the Amicus elections. 

It is not reasonable, or sensible, therefore, to expect such a party to automatically step aside for a new and unproven initiative. This is especially true when we consider that no2eu has brought together a strikingly diverse range of organisations and yet did not make any approach to Respect, thre SWP’s Left Alternative or the Scottish Socialist Party (Organisations involved so far are the RMT, the CPB, the Socialist Party, the Indian Workers Association, The Alliance for Green Socialism (AGS), Solidarity (Scotland), and the Liberal Party — a libertarian-liberal group which split from the original Liberal Party after the Liberal Democrat party was formed).  

It is important that Respect defends and develops the gains it has already made — which are actually gains for the whole of the left — as well as looking for new opportunities. If it loses these gains, the left will have far less to bring to any future broad party which might emerge.  

Nor is it at all clear that the RMT, or any other of the main players in no2eu, ever regarded it as a problem if Respect had stood in a couple of constituencies — particularly since the voting overlap would have been very small.  Otherwise they would have approached Respect at an early stage and sought to bring Respect on board.  

The politics of no2eu 

In supporting and getting involved in the no2eu campaign we will be taking up some of the political problems, which in our view, have emerged since it was launched. It is important that these are debated, and openly debated,  if, as we would hope, no2eu is going to have longer-term significance.  T

he most significant of these is its top-down structure and method of organising. There are signs that this is breaking down in some regions and that is all to the good. But all of its policy making decisions were taken at invitation-only meetings and our information is that what are termed ‘ultra-left’ groups are not welcome in it. We also understand that support for the Lindsey dispute was made a criterion of inclusion.

 This top-down approach needs to change otherwise no2eu will be campaigning to democratise the EU when it lacks democratic legitimacy itself. Any organisation which wants to be represent a diverse range of opinion which rejects New Labour and wants to fight for the interests of working people has to allow a plurality of views and offer the space to put them forward. 

For Socialist Resistance this is important, for while there is much in the list of demands that no2eu makes that we enthusiastically support such as  rejection of  the Lisbon Treaty; opposition to EU directives that privatise public services and the repeal of anti-trade union ECJ rulings there are aspects which are concerning. One example is the rejection of “the so-called ‘free movement’ of labour”. We support the right of any worker to work anywhere, with the same rights, with equal access to jobs, and to hold the union leaders to account for not defending wages, pensions and working conditions.  

An important political task which faces any left-wing campaign against the EU is to clearly separate itself from the much bigger right-wing nationalist campaign against the EU — led by the Tories, UKIP and the BNP. Otherwise things can go badly wrong. Respect did this very well in 2004 making sure that it projected a high profile left-wing agenda. In fact in 2004 Respect did not focus its campaign mainly on the EU as an institution, as no2eu does, but made the election a referendum on Tony Blair and the invasion of Iraq. 

No2eu has been weak on this aspect. There is nothing in the large print on its leaflet which defines it as a left-wing campaign — and first impressions are important. Most worrying was the decision of a key RMT organiser within the no2eu campaign recently to speak on a Campaign Against Euro federalism platform along with former Tory MP Teddy Taylor. This is a bad sign and needs to be corrected quickly. No2eu has to make very clear that it is a campaign in favour of the rights of working people and has nothing in common with Tory or UKIP style euroscepticism. 

It also needs to be much stronger on the environmental issues. It is a real step-back in today’s conditions to find that the environment is hardly mentioned, especially considering the RMT’s campaigns for environmentally sustainable transport. One of the organisations involved, the AGS, which regards itself as ecosocialist must be in a very uncomfortable position. No2eu would greatly strengthen its appeal if this weakness could be corrected. 

The other problem with no2eu is its decision not to take a seat if it wins one. The press pack distributed at its press launch said the following: “No2eu is an electoral platform and not a party and our candidates will not sit in the European Parliament in the event of winning any seats”. There have been some debate around this and some signs of a more flexible position.  This debate, however, was addressed directly by Alex Gordon of the RMT executive (and a no2eu candidate), in the Morning Star on Saturday April 18 and he didn’t give any ground on it. He argued that since the European Parliament is ‘not a proper parliament’ and is riddled with corruption it would be wrong in principle to attend it. No2eu would, therefore, he says, nominally hold the seat if it won one but would refuse to attend the Parliament even if censured as a result.  

The model Alex Gordon puts forward for this is the refusal of Sinn Fein to sit in Westminster. But Sinn Fein is a very different matter. It is understandable to its supporters that whilst leading a national struggle its leaders would not be prepared to swear allegiance to the imperialist power. It would be far less understandable to no2eu supporters as to why they would not be represented in the European Parliament if they voted for someone who was elected. How can you tackle the crisis of working class representation by refusing to represent your voters if you are elected? 

Of course it is hard to compete with the European Parliament when it comes to the gravy train and the democratic deficit. But illusions in national Parliaments should be also avoided. The difference is only a matter of degree. Many, even most, of the arguments Alex Gordon makes again the European Parliament could apply to Westminster — which is not so great in the democratic legitimacy stakes either, and is up to its armpits in sleaze and corruption. Most people who consider the European Parliament irrelevant won’t vote in this election whilst those who think it does have an effect on their lives will want to be represented if the party they voted for wins a seat.

What potential voters want in this situation is not that politicians of the left to abstain from such an institution. They want them to demonstrate, consistently in practice, that they are different, and on the basis of that use these institutions as a platform to defend the interests of, the working class and the oppressed. 

·        We welcome the emergence of no2eu.

·        Where Respect is not endorsing other candidates in England and Wales Socialist Resistance will encourage its supporters to vote for no2eu.

·        We will get involved in the campaign

.·        We will argue inside Respect and no2eu that they actively seek to develop a working relationship with other forces seeking to build a working-class and green alternative to New Labour.