Monday, 2 March 2009

Resistance or representaion?

On Saturday afternoon I was back at the Caley for the launch of Scottish LRC and people's charter. Report:

The launch of the Scottish Labour Representation Committee saw an audience of around 30 being addressed by John McDonnell MP, Rozanne Foyer full time official with UNITE and Vince Mills - the secretary of the Campaign for Socialism (a left group in Scottish Labour). It was chaired by Kevin Lindsay of ASLEF. There were also a couple of MSPs in the audience - Bill Butler and Elaine Smith.

As well as consolidating the launch of the LRC which has operated at a British level for the last couple of years it was to launch the People's Charter in Scotland. A document that had been drawn up by two lawyers! including Imran Khan following meetings of left groups down south. The idea is to get a million signatures which I guess would be a hundred thousand in Scotland. I say I guess because the meeting fell down a little bit on concrete proposals which Ill come back to.

There was no clear message from the top table - which is the format in which the meeting went. Indeed some of the tensions of the LRC were inherent. Rozanne spoke explicitly of it being a vehicle to reclaim the Labour Party although she did also say that the broader "Labour movement" she was also very positive about the new broad left formation in UNITE which had its founding conference last weekend. Vince however spoke on the Charter and spoke of it being part of a radical coalition for change which would involve other parties and individuals. Indeed he stated the Labour left in Scotland is not strong enough to put the charter into practice. He also stated that the left in Scotland was currently very weak and divided and this could be used to coalesce a movement to reignite that in Scotland. This sort of confirmed Vince's approach that he thinks the Scottish LRC should be not only open to Labour members and parties that dont stand against Labour.

John McDonnell who spoke in quite an open way allowing interruptions and discussions did state the question was not one of representation but resistance. This is a movement I think from when I last saw him speak when he was more open to the idea of left regroupment in a political sense. But at base I would probably agree with him in Scotland (and probably England& Wales) because the left is weaker I dont think any group can claim the hegemony of being the main organisation and thus impose its own programme. If the SSP was at its strength of 2003 then we would clearly be the beacon for this with our programme of building a broad pluralist Scottish socialist party outside the Labour Party, if the left in the SNP were strong they would be the focal point, ditto Left in Labour. But none of this is true so joint activity around these sort of demands I think is positive and may lead in the direction of a new left formation in Scotland - but to be honest that seems a long way away at the moment.

The floor discussion was also reflective of this contradictory position. It was frustrating that 4 of the speakers from the floor were from the SWP but not one of them identified themselves as such Dave Sherry was a trade unionist, Keir McKechnie from Stop the War, Margaret Woods from Campaign to Welcome Refugees and Unite against Racism. Ridiculous really they must have about 80 years of SWP activity between them. Perhaps they think they can get multiple representation on any campaign if they have many different hats. They deflected any serious discussion on strategy and tactics because they just came up with usual bland pronouncements specifically on the British jobs for british workers thing. And they adopted usual patronisng approach - the campaign should call a demo on about a million different things.

Socialist Appeal had a group of 4 there - mostly thru from Edinburgh - they adopted a sectarian approach - it wasn't a transitional programme, didnt mention the need for workers' control or the taking over of the commanding heights of the eceonomy. Very CWI-ish I thought - unsurprising given the political tradition which at one time also included me!

Simon Steel spoke from the CPB and they were positive -seeing it as a plan for action in housing schemes. As did Gregor who echoed these problems.

John Milligan for the RMT spoke quite negatively about the left in Scotland - although he didnt explicitly have a go at the SSP that was implied point I thought and John McD for believing the Labour party could be reclaimed. To be fair though that wasnt really John McD's position at least at this rally. He also spoke about some Socialist Forums that have been taking place in Lanarkshire.

Liam spoke very well about the context of the crisis of capitalism and the environment and how we are running out of time for a socialist solution. This was more frustrating given the weakness of the left across Scotland including the SSP and that campaigns like this were needed to bring these together. A lot of people came up to speak to him at end to say they agreed with it - including Bill Butler!
Solidarity werent there -though Gordon Morgan came to social event after.

So meeting came to quite abrupt end with no clear direction as to what to do next. The format and the dominance of lengthy SW contributions from floor did not allow itself for that. I think a good initiative would be to have a more interactive set up like a Socialist Forum to decide how we campaign on the Charter. Another criticism would be the lack of any real Scottish dimension - the SNP government werent mentioned once for example let alone independence or inviting lefts in the SNP to other. I dont think that should be in charter because it would essentially kill it dead as a broad campaigning tool.

So a mixed bag but on the whole a positive move - it may not progress much under the weight of its own contradictions but I think the SSP should participate in this as much as we can.


  1. considering the variety of socialist trends and individuals in the room i thought it went very well

    the swp were up to their usual, and you're right that socialist appeal and the rmt members ( the last of those in a more understandable but still unhelpful way) were negative

    both the slrc and a peoples charter would be filled with contradictions like you say but i can live with that

  2. I do agree with this mark and think it will prove to be a positive move.

  3. thanks for the link