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JOHN McALLION - The state of the Scottish Left

Since we seem to be hosting an exchange on Scotland here on LeftClick this article below , which had been posted elsewhere, is a contribution to the discussion.Pam Currie sent me an invitation to Socialism 2007 but I'm lucky to get out of my front door, let alone to Scotland. So good luck and best wishes for the event on the other side of the world -- whose context John McAllion explores here. Next week here we also have the important LATIN AMERICA AND ASIA PACIFIC INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY FORUM - in Melbourne -OCT 11-14, 2007.
But McAllion's piece is very reminiscent of Australia, is it not?
-Dave Riley

[Intro by Andy Newman:There is a very interesting article by JOHN McALLION in the Morning Star. John is a former Labour MP and MSP for Dundee East and was a list candidate for the Scottish Socialist Party in May’s elections.]

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 - 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 - how to win a Labour Party that will defend the people’s interests.

Many on the Scottish left would take issue with the idea that Labour’s 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 Scotland’s only viable socialist movement, claiming to fight for a pluralist socialist republic for all - 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 Galloway’s 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 year’s 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 party’s 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. Labour’s Campaign for Socialism and the CPB could own up to the near futility of their own position within the Labour Party.

Since Tony Benn’s 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 people’s party into the party of British and global capitalism.

New Labour’s 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 (pictured with Salmond), the former head of one of the biggest banks in Scotland, the one certainty about the council’s 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 Scotland’s 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-man’s-land. We need to admit our own parties’ 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?

[NOTE: I don't want to replicate the discussion on Respect but if that's your interest recent posts on Socialist Unity and MacUaid are very informative about developments and debates --Dave Riley]

2 Com:

Dave Riley | October 02, 2007

If I can add a comment to my own engineered post: my view is that the debate in Respect at the present time is very relevant to the sort of 'unity" projects that may be possible and the sort of advocacy McAllion proposes.

I'm not suggesting that this has to be about Respect asserting itself as the core template after some refitting. It may indeed be about 'reforming' Respect -- but from my POV the key challenge is rolling back the schematic and rigid political outlook that is shared so religiously by most of the hard left groups in the United Kingdom and here in Australia.

Respect is a product of that myopia..and timidity. It's held hostage to it and a certain liberalism that is frightened of aggressive socialist advocacy. Thats' for purists alone huddled together in closed caucuses.

That's the core genesis of a lot of the disunity we are dealing with and to some significant degree it has to be rolled back so that formations that are open,pluralist, accountable and democratic can displace a lot of the modus operandi of the groupuscule left.

But I grant you, risks are involved. It is the most difficult thing to do. You only have to look at the Scottish and Australian experience.

Unfortunately I don't think logic is a winning argument, as in effect, the real world has to assert the proof of the pudding.

The irony is that elsewhere -- where Marxian English is not spoken -- they have transcended that first hurdle and are dealing with new problems and new challenges, the likes of which we can only yearn for.

I hazard the opinion that these debates in Respect are very relevant to the future of the left in Scotland --and warrant monitoring as you may find that new allies are gathering south of the Penines.

With the Sheridan court cases pending I cannot see any easy way to move aggressively forward in the way that McAllion urges here as the attention of the legal hearings will only serve to replay the bitter dispute and split.

To mark the occasion with a unity Socialism 2007 conference is absolutely the best way to proceed.

Alex Miller | October 03, 2007

John's piece was also published in the CP's Morning Star newspaper last week. I've written a short letter to the paper contributing to the recent debates:

In line with Gregor Gall’s excellent article (M Star September 29), I say it’s a shame that the piece by Robert Griffiths (M Star September 24) in which he signals that the left may have to think in terms of re-establishing a mass party of labour rather than reclaiming the Labour Party has been followed by a number of sectarian interventions in recent letters, along the lines of “We don’t need to re-establish a mass party of labour, just join mine!” This is particularly evident in the letters from Philip Chambers (M Star September 29), who advises us to join the Socialist Labour Party, and from Simon Steele (M Star October 2), who uses John McAllion’s (I thought deeply apposite) reflections on the Scottish left (M Star September 27) as an excuse for firing cheap and immature jibes at the SSP. This kind of stuff gets us nowhere. So I’d like to ask Tommy Morrison a straight question. Tommy writes (M Star October 2), “Communist policy is to reclaim Labour for the movement and, if that fails, re-establish a mass party of the movement” (emphasis added). Tommy: what needs to happen before you’re willing to conclude that the attempt to reclaim the Labour Party has failed? The left of Labour failing to get even a moderately left-wing candidate on the ballot paper for the Labour leadership either in the UK or in Scotland? A Labour PM inviting Pinochet’s best mate into Downing Street for tea and posing for the cameras while doing so? If not these, then what? But don’t take it from me: John McDonnell himself (M Star September 29) argues that “the old strategy” – influencing the leadership of the Labour Party via trade union activity within the democratic structures of Labour – is “largely over”.

Birmingham ALEX MILLER

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