Workers Hammer No. 196

Autumn 2006


Schism in Scottish Socialist Party

'Holier than thou' parliamentary hopefuls fall out

“Well, brothers and sisters, what today's verdict proves is that working-class people, when they listen to the arguments, can differentiate the truth from the muck. The working-class people on the jury who have found in our favour have done a service to the people of Scotland….” So declared Tommy Sheridan upon winning his defamation case against the News of the World. What Sheridan hailed as a “service to the people of Scotland” was the jury’s verdict that Sheridan — a respectable Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) — did not attend swingers clubs; did not have an affair with a former prostitute, nor did he commit any of the other sins that Rupert Murdoch’s rag accused him of. In fact, the good “people of Scotland” can sleep content now, assured that this particular MSP — who regards himself as God’s gift to Scottish “socialism” — is a respectable family man. While the scurrilous News of the World was trying to smear a leftist politician with a “sex scandal”, for Marxists, consensual sexual activity is a private matter. However Sheridan wants us all to believe he is a paragon of virtue who only ever has sex with his (adoring) wife, to whom he is devoted and who would drown him in the Clyde if he were unfaithful!

The Edinburgh court drama outdid any theatre event at the Festival. It was a classic case of a reformist politician insisting that he is a God-fearing upholder of bourgeois morality. According to this, sex must take place only between one man and one woman, within the confines of the “holy family”, with the husband on top. (Arguably, the court drama was better stage-managed than some fringe events: Sheridan’s mother Alice sat in court daily reciting novenas to the Virgin Mary while Mary Magdalen-type women alleged they performed wicked sex acts with her beloved son.) Sheridan was appealing to dour Presbyterian (and Catholic) moral hypocrisy, asserting that, to paraphrase George Galloway, he never, ever engages in sex standing up “in case it might lead to dancing”.

The News of the World “sex scandal” was to become part of a bitter power struggle in the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) that has now resulted in an acrimonious split with Sheridan launching his own rival party. The rip-roaring fight has gutted the SSP which was once held up by reformists as the model party. Formed by Scottish Militant Labour, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Taaffeite Committee for a Workers International dived into the SSP. Despite disagreeing over Scottish independence, these consummate opportunists have lately become Sheridan’s cheerleaders. With Labour widely despised because of Iraq, the SSP scored considerable electoral success in 2003, winning six seats in the devolved Scottish parliament. Sheridan & Co saw the tantalising prospect that they might soon become a significant factor in Holyrood, assuming their rightful place as reformists in parliament administering the capitalist order. With a view to an electoral bloc, the SSP embarked on a major orientation to the Scottish National Party (SNP), a bourgeois party that aspires to represent the Scottish bankers and bosses in an independent Scotland. The SSP has been working towards forming such a classic popular-frontist lash-up with the SNP and the Green party, on the basis that all three are “pro-independence” parties. Such a cross-class coalition would surrender even nominal independence of the working class in an electoral pact with openly bourgeois parties and for us revolutionaries would rule out giving critical support to the SSP.

The Blair government has changed the boundaries and the voting system for the Scottish elections in 2007 and polls show that the SNP may become the biggest party in Holyrood next year, while the changes mean the SSP may well be reduced to one MSP. Deep divisions had already erupted within the SSP over how far to go in the capitulation to the nationalists. Sheridan’s rival faction includes hard line pro-SNP elements but both wings accept a bloc with the bourgeois nationalists in principle. However the prospect of losing several seats (not to mention the generous salaries that their six MSPs earn) fuelled tensions within the party. Sheridan, who had resigned as SSP leader over the “sex scandal” in November 2004 sued the News of the World to re-establish his leadership. When senior SSP members (including MSPs) were cited to appear in court, many testified that Sheridan had previously admitted to some of the allegations about his sex life. Sheridan won his case, denounced SSP members who had testified against him as “scabs” and on 3 September set up his own rival party known as Solidarity.

Fittingly, its name is associated with Solidarność which was the spearhead for capitalist restoration in Poland and was backed in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and the Vatican — as well as the reformist left, including the SSP’s forerunner Militant and the SWP. It is a travesty that the SSP purports to represent the Scottish proletariat, which historically openly identified with the Soviet Union and Communism. During the 1980s Cold War we appealed to such sentiments by raising evocative slogans such as “Turn Holy Loch into a Soviet U-boat pen!” and “For a Scottish workers republic as part of the USSR!” to distinguish ourselves from the anti-Communist, “Sassenach” Labourite left, of which Militant was the prime example, and to express our opposition to English domination.

The SSP All-Members Bulletin (August 2006) describes their own former comrades who have now quit with Sheridan as a “disparate mish-mash” saying: “Some are pro-independence, others anti-independence; some are pro-gender equality, others anti-gender equality; some are ultra-libertarian on crime and punishment, others are to the right of the Tories.” This sounds entirely plausible, not to mention a triumph of the SSP’s vaunted “broad unity”. As we have noted, there is nothing remotely socialist about the SSP’s reformist programme, which merely consists of a series of bourgeois-democratic demands and some phrases about “socialism”. While looking to the SNP to institute an independent capitalist Scotland, Sheridan the consummate opportunist has reassured the Scottish bosses and foreign multinationals that: “What we’re saying is that in a future independent socialist Scotland we want to work on training, on skills. We want to offer a very highly skilled economy, a motivated work force for big business” (Glasgow Herald, 30 April 2003).

The SSP’s capitulation to Scottish nationalism is the opposite of the Leninist policy towards the national question on these islands. We uphold the right of self-determination for the oppressed nations of Scotland and Wales, which includes the right to form independent states (or not) if they so choose. At present, given the lack of decisive national differences in either language or religion, we do not call for independence for Scotland and Wales but advocate a course of common class struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of the British state. We oppose all forms of nationalism, first and foremost the dominant English chauvinism, as well as Scottish and Welsh nationalism. The duty of the revolutionary party is to fight to win the working class in England, the oppressor nation, to the need to champion the right of self-determination for Scotland and Wales. It follows that the duty of the proletarian vanguard in Scotland and Wales is to fight for voluntary integration with the proletariat of England. In counterposition to the SSP — and Sheridan’s Solidarity — we seek to build a multiethnic revolutionary workers party that fights for British troops out of Northern Ireland and fights for workers revolution on these islands that will do away with the reactionary “United Kingdom” and replace it with an Irish workers republic within a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles.