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Shattered Scottish Left

John McAllion

THIS Sunday, the Morning Star conference Rebuilding the Movement will meet at the STUC in Glasgow.

The flyer promotes the conference as being open to all, from whatever background they might come, who are concerned with a given set of "issues."

All of the "issues" set out in the flyer would concern and interest anyone on the Scottish left Ė opposition to Trident, privatisation and anti-union laws, support for public-sector housing and a stronger trade union movement.

All, of course, except the last one listed Ė how to win a Labour Party that will defend the peopleís interests.

Many on the Scottish left would take issue with the idea that Labourís vision of a parliamentary road to socialism is any longer of relevance either to workers in Scotland or in any other part of this island.

The Morning Star conference is, therefore, clearly aimed at only one section of the Scottish left, largely those in the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and the Labour Party.

A glance at the line-up of speakers confirms this to be the case.

A few weeks later, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) will host its own Socialism 2007 event, along with its annual conference over an October weekend in Dundee.

Socialism 2007 is meant to be for socialists from across the political spectrum. Yet a social event on the Saturday evening supposed to bring them all together will run up against a rival social event being organised elsewhere in the city by the Socialist Workers Party.

At the end of October, the Scottish National Party (SNP) will then gather in Aviemore with its trade union group providing a fringe platform for socialists like Jimmy Reid to proclaim the nationalists as the only party that currently represents the needs and aspirations of the working people of Scotland.

Meanwhile, Solidarity continues to canvass support across the country as Scotlandís only viable socialist movement, claiming to fight for a pluralist socialist republic for all Ė except, of course, for those traitors still in the SSP, SNP, CPB or Labour.

Rumours also continue to persist around the possible emergence of a new Respect-style Scottish party that will bring Scottish socialists and Muslims together in an anti-war and anti-racist alliance and open the way for George Gallowayís return to Scottish politics.

This shattering of the activist Scottish left not only leaves those genuinely interested in unity close to despair, it is also dividing and dispiriting the Scottish working class that each of these socialist splinters claims to represent.

A Strathclyde University study published this week revealed that the voting in this yearís Scottish general election did not follow class lines. No party won a third of the votes cast, either in the constituency or the regional list ballots. Almost half of those eligible did not bother to vote at all.

The lowest turnouts were in the poorest constituencies where those with most to gain from socialist change simply stayed at home.

No-one should be surprised by any of this. If politically active socialists cannot even meet together in the same room to openly and honestly debate the way forward, if they cling to their old ideological certainties, convinced of their own political correctness and of their partyís unique capacity to lead Scottish workers, and if they continue to treat socialists in other parties as part of the problem rather than as part of the solution, then the future for socialism is bleak.

Perhaps, a little humility on the part of all concerned would help to break down the barriers between us.

Labourís Campaign for Socialism and the CPB could own up to the near futility of their own position within the Labour Party.

Since Tony Bennís challenge for the deputy leadership a generation ago, there has been no serious left challenge either for the leadership of the Scottish or the British parties.

There has been no effective left resistance to the transformation to new Labour that turned the one-time peopleís party into the party of British and global capitalism.

New Labourís leadership tolerates its left wing with a disdain bordering on contempt.

The SNP left could open its eyes to the kind of independent Scotland that it is asking workers to buy into.

This week saw Alex Salmond pack his Council of Economic Advisers with capitalist business and academic cronies. Chaired by Sir George Mathewson, the former head of one of the biggest banks in Scotland, the one certainty about the councilís future advice is that it will not take Scotland in a socialist direction and will completely ignore the needs and aspirations of Scottish workers.

Socialists in SSP/Solidarity could admit that their split was not only self-inflicted but has also disheartened and demotivated socialist activists around the country.

By splitting, they threw away what was a promising political foothold in Scottish politics, retreating back to the political fringes where they can settle sectarian scores but remain irrelevant to the real working-class struggle of effectively challenging a capitalist British state.

The stark truth is that socialism will remain off Scotlandís political agenda so long as Scottish socialists turn on and against each other.

We need to get out of our party political trenches and meet somewhere on the political equivalent of no-manís-land.

We need to admit our own partiesí individual and collective failure to advance the cause of socialism in our country.

We need to begin to explore the kind of concrete socialist change that all of us want to see. We really do need to start all over again.

Is there anyone out there able and willing to stage a peace conference that will begin such a process of putting back together the shattered Scottish left?

John McAllion is former Labour MP and MSP for Dundee East and was a list candidate for the Scottish Socialist Party in Mayís elections.

This article was published in the Morning Star, 26 September 2007.