Sunday, 29 June 2014

Healing the rift?

The Scottish Left is famous for splits, ructions and tensions, but a new generation of socialists aligned to the Yes campaign is discussing plans to unite the Left after September 18th.

I wrote about this subject in the Sunday Herald today, but here is a fuller version:

By Paul Hutcheon

TALKS are underway about creating a new left-wing party in the wake of the independence referendum.
Figures in the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) have discussed uniting left-wing groups divided by nearly a decade of turmoil.
Until 2004, the SSP had successfully brought together disparate elements of the Left under a pro-independence and anti-capitalist banner.
The party’s high point was the 2003 Holyrood election, in which it got six MSPs returned and polled 15.2% of the List vote in Glasgow.
However, following ex SSP leader Tommy Sheridan’s decision to sue a tabloid newspaper over allegations relating to his private life, the party split and faded away electorally.
It won 0.42% of the vote at the last Scottish Parliament election, while Sheridan’s Solidarity party polled 0.14%.
Neither party contested the recent European election.
Despite the lack of electoral success north of the border recently, the referendum campaign has given the broader Left a shot in the arm.
The wider Yes campaign is dominated by left-wing groups and individuals, including RIC, the Jimmy Reid Foundation, the SSP and the Greens.
Other than the Greens, which has two MSPs, no electoral vehicle exists to bring all the groups together.
The informal talks - involving key players in a variety of organisations - have centred around creating a new Left party or umbrella group.
The discussions are at the exploratory stage and are likely to be stepped up after September 18th.
A red line for many of those involved is that Sheridan, who is seen as a divisive figure, plays no part in any new group.
Another obstacle is that the RIC contains individuals previously involved with the Socialist Workers Party, an outfit mistrusted by the SSP.
Gregor Gall, a professor of industrial relations at Bradford University and an expert on the Scottish Left, said the idea was good in principle:
“For the future of the radical left in Scotland, there is no doubt that a new, fresh and broader party is essential if this radical left is not only to get back to its former zenith of 2003 but also go beyond this.
“Although parliamentary politics and representation are not the be all and end all to the radical left, it will never get anywhere fast unless it can construct a new vehicle that is capable of getting MSPs.”
Cat Boyd, an activist with the RIC, said: “The referendum campaign has opened up a space for left wing and socialist ideas to come to the fore in Scottish politics again. We are seeing a rebirth of progressive left wing ideals as people look for an alternative to the austerity agenda. The RIC has shown the left works best when we stand together and I hope that lesson will allow us to move past old divisions and open up the path for a new electable left with new leadership.’
Colin Fox, the SSP co-convener, confirmed “informal” discussions had taken place but restated his commitment to the SSP.
He added that any umbrella group would have to have a clear ideological underpinning, with a focus on the working class.
Robin McAlpine, the director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, said the creation of a new vehicle would depend on whether the SNP and Labour left open the space for such a new entity.
He said: “Lots of people on the Left are talking about post-referendum configurations. Conversations are happening everywhere. If the SNP’s social democracy is shallow, there will be competition.”