Slow separation

[Monday]

This snippet of information was brought to my attention by the Wishart Standard:

Membership of the Scottish National Party has increased dramatically since the elections in May. Around 100 new members have joined the SNP every week, leading to an 8% jump in members since the turn of the year.

The organisation said it had been working flat out to cope with a flood of applications after the SNP emerged as the largest party in the Scottish election and entered government for the first time.

SNP business convener, Angus Robertson MP this evening (Thursday) confirmed to the Party’s national executive committee that the end of quarter membership figures showed a rise in members of over 8% in the last six months.

At 30 June 2007, the SNP had 13,585 members (12,571 at 31 December 2006).
Mr Robertson commented:

“SNP membership continues to grow apace as we carry forward the momentum of our election success.

“Around 100 new members are joining the SNP every week, making us Scotland’s fastest growing political party.

“The elections on May 3 saw the SNP win the most seats in the Scottish Parliament, the most councillors across the nation, end enter government for the first time ever.

“We expect to see the Party continue to grow as we start about the job of building a new and better future for Scotland.”

Opposition to war in the Middle East and private sector involvement in the NHS, along with positive health and education reforms might be behind the Nationalists’ increased membership – the SNP did win the “progressive” vote, after all.

I recall that Tommy Sheridan made great play during the election about having an independence referendum within the first hundred days of a new Scottish government. As he is no longer in the Scottish parliament, his attempts to push the SNP on independence have suffered a setback.

The SNP didn’t fight the election just on the issue of independence, but by dressing left and looking like a progressive party. Could this be a clever ploy by the Tartan Tories?

In terms of electoral politics, they appear to be doing quite well – but how will they deal with a national public sector strike? Denunciations or tacit support?

Salmond got out of a little scandal about his being paid two wages (one from the Holyrood, the other from the Westminster) despite having promised to just take one, during the election. His way out was to donate the second wage to charitable projects. It’s not the same as taking the average worker’s wage, but it too is part of the whole dress left approach.

In Wales, the Red-Green coalition has boosted the poll ratings of both Welsh Labour and Plaid at the expense of the other parties. Like the SNP’s sloth on an independence referendum, there is to be no rush for referendum on increased powers for the Welsh Assembly. Now that Plaid share power with Labour, both parties must rewrite their election literature, although it might be hard for the Welsh Labour MPs to keep quiet about the nationalists after all the fuss they made about the coalition delivering Plaid to the gates of independence…

The break-up of Britain won’t happen in the next few months, then. But the sense of discreteness is sure to increase. Nationalists are in power in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – Gordon Brown will the only politician from an all-Britain political party at the British-Irish Council meeting at Stormont in Belfast.

The Prime Minister will meet Northern Ireland’s First Minister Ian Paisley (DUP) and his Deputy Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein) and the Welsh Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones (Plaid Cymru), who is standing in for Rhodri Morgan, who is still recovering from an artery operation. Also present will be Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, whom Brown has yet to meet and who he famously took weeks to congratulate on winning the parliamentary elections in Scotland.

Note that the largest nation in the UK is not represented – and it is this lack of representation which is feeding anger in the public sector over pay increases which are in real terms pay cuts. Nurses in England could strike, their colleagues in Wales and Scotland will be paid a 2.5% “increase”, but they will receive 1.9%. Both figures are too low, and I am sure that strike action which does not disrupt patient care will gather wide support across the country…

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Why does Scotland have two socialist parties?

[Tuesday]

A rhetorical question, please note. But compare and contrast the following:

Solidarity Statement on Glasgow Airport Attack

Sunday, 01 July 2007

Solidarity condemns unreservedly the attack which took place at Glasgow Airport yesterday. If successful it would have resulted in the mass murder of innocent civilians of every background, ethnicity and religion, including children. It follows recent events in London, again with the intention of causing maximum carnage, and we join all right thinking people in condemning any and all such indiscriminate attacks.

However, we remain in no doubt that at the root of such attacks is the government’s culpability in the ongoing carnage and slaughter which is now part of daily life on the streets of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Last week, Tony Blair left office accompanied by a standing ovation in the House of Commons, only to leave Downing Street with his family a few hours later accompanied by jeers of “murderer” and “war criminal” from antiwar protesters. It was a contrast which served to underline the extent of the disconnect which now exists in British society -between a government and a parliament and the vast majority of people over which it governs.

Pat Smith stood as a Solidarity candidate in the Scottish elections and is on the national steering committee of the Stop The War Coalition. She said: “Blair and Brown have only succeeded in helping to make the world a much more dangerous place with their support for the illegal US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Iraq is in flames, in Afghanistan civilians are being killed on a daily basis, yet at home the vast majority of people are against the war, including the troops. It is time to bring them out.”

Solidarity Co-Convenor, Tommy Sheridan, said: “Newly appointed Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has warned the public to be vigilant as there could be more attacks. Our message to him is that there will inevitably be more attacks as long as British troops are engaged in the Middle East and as long as he remains committed to US foreign policy and strategic objectives around the world.”

Solidarity Glasgow Councillor, Ruth Black, said: “This incident has really brought home the enormity of the polarisation and extremism which exists both at home and abroad as a direct result of this New Labour government’s policies in the Middle East. It was random and indiscriminate and I would make a plea for calm in the days and weeks ahead.”

This attack will no doubt be taken as a green light by racists and fascists, such as the BNP, to push their agenda of hate and division across Scotland. Let them be in no doubt, however, that Solidarity will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community, immigrants and asylum seekers come what may. They are not the enemy of working class people. The true enemy of all working class people are the millionaires, the corporations and a government that governs on their behalf.

*

SSP statement on attack on Glasgow airport

Scottish Socialist Party Executive Committe

1.7.07

The Scottish Socialist Party offers its support and sympathy to Scotland’s Muslim community in the wake of Saturday’s attempted atrocity at Glasgow Airport.

As the Muslim Association of Britain has pointed out, Scotland’s Muslim community are justifiably angry at this attempted atrocity, which has the potential to play into the hands of the racist far-right, damage community relations and heighten fears in the Muslim community.

Saturday’s action is the first serious attempt in Scotland to conduct a terrorist campaign aimed at civilians since Word War II. With Gordon Brown taking the reigns of power in Westminster, Scotland has apparently become a legitimate terrorist target, as a result of the government’s disastrous and murderous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From the needless murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians to young men from Fife meeting a premature and futile end in Basra, families around the world are in mourning as a result of Bush, Blair and now Brown’s warmongering.

In opposition, the SNP were vocal in their opposition to the war and their desire to bring the troops home. The SSP calls on Scotland’s politicians from all parties, whether they supported the war in Iraq or not, to end this mess and to end it now.

An independent Scotland would not have been dragged into an illegal war against the wishes of a majority of the people; the decision to bring the troops home is ours, not Mr Brown’s.

We call for the whole of Scotland to rally to the anti-war cause and to resist attempts to divide us on race or religion. Scotland’s Muslim community is not responsible for these attacks and should not be allowed to be scapegoated by the press or the politicians. Acts of terrorism target the innocent; we condemn such attacks wherever they occur.

Brown trouser time

[Thursday]

In perhaps the shoddiest post I have ever written, I deal with Gordon Brown’s attempted seduction of Paddy Ashdown, the Scottish government’s lurch to the left, and finish with a humorous “And finally” item.

Ashdown’s got talent?
At the launch of his leadership campaign, Gordon Brown spoke of a “government of all the talents” at the launch of his leadership campaign. At the time, this was though to be a reference to bringing figures from business into his cabinet.

Today it emerged that Brown had approached former Liberal Democrat leader, Lord Ashdown to offer him a cabinet post as secretary for Northern Ireland. The current leader of the Liberals, Sir Menzies Campbell, had ordered his party to refrain from joining Brown’s administration and views the move as an attempt to cause divisions in his party – which is styling itself as an alternative to the Tories in much of the country.

The fear/scare-tactic of the Tories is that Labour will retain power in Westminster beyond 2009 by entering a coalition with the Liberals. Campbell strenuously denies this, citing differences with Labour on nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and the war in Iraq amongst other things; it will be damaging for the Liberals that Campbell met with Brown and appears to have given some consideration before calling upon his party to turn down any offers from the new PM.

Brown’s new politics
The Labour left is not terribly happy about this latest move by the Chancellor. John McDonnell, whose long-running campaign to challenge Brown in a leadership contest was ended by Labour MPs, had this to say:

“Gordon Brown may have mentioned wanting a Government of all the talents but at no stage in his speeches to meetings of party members during the leadership process has he ever suggested a coalition with the Liberals. He should have had the decency to consult his colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party and the party on such significant matters of principle. I believe that many would have been more circumspect in giving him their support if they knew these were his plans.”

Brown faces the prospect of being forced to hold a referendum on the EU constitution (which the government would lose) and a series of public sector strikes in his first hundred days as PM: the Communication Workers Union announced today that the first national postal strike for ten years will commence next Friday after talks with Royal Mail failed to produce an agreement.

The Brownite defence of their man’s wooing of the Liberals has been that there is a desire on the part of the electorate for a “new politics” that breaks down tribal party divisions. But who are these talented people accountable to? Paddy Ashdown is an appointed Lord – he has no constituency and is not a member of the governing party. The effect of the new PM inviting people from outside the Labour Party to join cabinet will be to further alienate the dwindling electorate.

Perhaps Brown sees that his party has an uncertain future and is intent on forming the first unity government since the Second World War. Or maybe he’s just set on screwing the Liberals’ new Tory-friendly image…

Sense and consensus
In Scotland, meanwhile, the SNP-Green coalition has been founded more consensually. SNP leader Alex Salmond has made much of his accountability to the Scottish parliament, especially over the recent scandal concerning the “Lockerbie bomber”. No doubt Salmond will have something to say about Brown’s scheming – which seems to have backfired on the Chancellor – the next time there is a clash between the devolved administration and the central government.

After the announcement that schools in Scotland would in future have smaller class sizes, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has revealled that the Scottish government plans to end private sector involvement in the NHS north of the border. The creeping privatisation of healthcare is particularly unpopular – the issue of privatisation has never been a political issue in the UK and there has never been majority public opinion in favour.

In marked contrast Gordon Brown signalled at last night’s Mansion House speech to the City of London that he would like to see business involvement in all schools. This paves the way for more creeping privatisation, with City Academies the key to future capitalist ownership of public schooling.

No bombs, please: we’re Scottish
Last week, the Scottish parliament voted, by 71 votes to 16, against Westminster’s plans to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system. No Labour MSPs supported their party’s position on the issue, with most abstaining and five voting for the motion, which had been put forward by the Scottish Greens. This is the first time that a nuclear weapons system has been rejected by elected representatives in a UK parliament, and was the result of a successful campaign by Scottish CND that united trade unions, political parties, and religious organisations.

Andy Newman wrote the following about the SNP in a post entitled “Will Trident destroy the UK?” a few days ago:

Scottish Left Review, a very impressive and non-politically aligned publication, argues that Scottish politics can best be understood in terms of a core SNP electoral bloc, a core Labour electoral bloc, and a less clearly defined progressive vote that is tactically inclined to what ever is the best left of Labour option at the time. In 1999 that vote went largely to the SNP, in 2003 it was split between the SNP, Greens and SSP, and in 2007 returned to the SNP.

“So is the SNP a left party? Well clearly it is a pro-capitalist party, but so is Labour. On most policy issues the SNP stands to the left of Labour, and in particular Trident and opposition to the Iraq war have been central SNP policies.

“One of the most successful and enduring myths promoted by labour is that the SNP are Tartan Tories. But Gordon Morgan, again in Scottish Left Review, points to the second preference transfer votes in the Glasgow local elections last month. Among SNP voters just 4.7% of then placed a second preference for the Tories, and just 0.3% for the BNP. In contrast, 13.1% of SNP voters in Glasgow placed a second preference for Solidarity, 7.5% for the SSP, and 14.3% for the Greens. 35% of SNP voters put a second preference for a left of Labour party.

“If we compare this to the transfers from Labour voters, 4.5% expressed a second preference for Solidarity, 2.6% for the SSP and 9.8 % for the Greens.

“On this evidence the SNP’s electoral base is as least as broadly progressive as Labour’s – but the party itself is to the left of Labour.”

That’s a cracker!
And finally, a joke:

It is rumoured that Tony Blair will take on a peace-making role in the Middle East when he leaves 10 Downing Street, representing the Quartet of America, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations.

No, wait a minute – that wasn’t a joke. Or at least, it wasn’t supposed to be funny.

An assessment of workers’ parties and the national question in Wales

[Wednesday]

This is to be read in conjunction with “An assessment of workers’ parties and the national question in Scotland”. What got me started on the subject of Welsh politics was an enchanting little post to the Welsh Independence blog, What sort of independence?. It was written by “hafod”, who aspires towards an independent Wales based on “cooperation not the free market, care not warfare and putting people before profit.” As for ownership and control in the economy, hafod is straightforward: “the wealth of the country is in the hands of […] the workers [and] democracy means more than putting a cross in a box every four years […] In the same way as I have faith in the people of Wales to have the ability to run their own country, I’m also confident that the workers of Wales can run our industries and services.”

How it Plaid out in Wales
Despite expectations, the Labour Party was not disastrously defeated in the Welsh Assembly elections. This may be attributable to the ‘freebies’, such as free prescriptions, that Welsh Labour are introducing, thus going against the New Labour grain. It may well have been that the low approval of Labour registered in opinion polls did not result in an embarrassing defeat because many traditional Labour voters no longer participate in elections.

Rhodri Morgan, the leader of Welsh Labour, had said there would be ‘clear red water’ between the party and its rivals, hence the criticism that the party’s losses were due to ‘the slow pace of [neo-liberal] reform’. The difference between Welsh Labour and New Labour may have been big enough to lessen the impact of the latter’s imperialist wars, corruption, and habitual dishonesty.

One cannot imagine Blair or Brown holding a meeting of Labour MPs to decide what to do next after the loss of a majority position, as Morgan did with his party’s Assembly Members. Neither Blair nor Brown would talk of having a mandate from their peers to proceed with negotiations, such is their leadership style – centralist rather than democratic – there would be no pretence at accountability.

Morgan has acknowledged that the party requires a coalition, or at least a deal, and that it would not be right to carry on as before. This may be merely an affectation on his part, but it is more graceful than the words and deeds of Jack McConnell, the deposed First Minister for Labour in the Scottish Parliament, who is waiting for the SNP to fail to secure coalition partners so that he can do a deal with the Liberals to prop up Labour. But then, I’m sure Morgan would have acted just like McConnell if Plaid had one more AM than Labour.

Coalition not dole
Though Tories fared better than before, it was not through stealing votes from Labour. It was a party to the left of Labour, Plaid Cymru, which came second. Plaid now has a quarter of the seats in the Assembly: 15 out of 30. Labour needed 31 seats to retain a majority, but they now have 26 seats, meaning they will have to deal with either Plaid or the Liberals, who have 6 seats, but certainly not with the Tories, who have 12 seats. There is a single independent Labour member, Trish Law, who may remain independent from the coalition-building process.

A rainbow coalition of Plaid, the Tories and the Liberals is possible, but it would be unstable and rather embarrassing for all concerned. The Liberals would not want to be seen sharing power with the Tories, and the feeling is probably mutual, as the two are rivals for power in many council and parliamentary seats in England. And it would be unwise, from an electoral perspective, for Plaid Cymru to get cosy under the covers with the Tories (like the Scottish nationalists, Plaid is not a racist or right-wing party).

What will happen, then? In all likelihood there will be a deal struck between Labour with the Liberals and/or Plaid if not an actual coalition. A non-aggression pact would allow the stable government that Labour desire, but would create problems for both Plaid and the Liberals.

Don’t shoot, we’re only bourgeois nationalists
It is obligatory for me to lurch into a rant about these petty-bourgeois nationalists at this point. But I will not oblige. However iffy their socialist credentials, Plaid wish to dissolve the Union; they are opposed to imperialist wars in the Middle East and have plotted with the SNP in the Westminster parliament to impeach Tony Blair. All of this might suggest that they represent a nascent national bourgeoisie in Wales which wishes to break away from Britain because it sees no profit from protracted wars in a junior partnership with an unreliable and unhinged superpower. Indeed, Plaid, like the SNP, is oriented towards the EU and away from NATO.

Plaid Cymru are Welsh nationalists, but their election campaign was not focused on the question of independence to the same degree as the SNP in Scotland. Nor was “decentralist socialism” mentioned in Plaid’s campaign literature, though supposedly their vision is of an independent and socialist Wales.

I have had trouble unearthing anything detailed on Plaid’s professed socialism; there is no satisfactory definition of the term on their website. The absence of a class perspective has, in the past, led me to believe they are social democrats in reality and therefore have no revolutionary potential (nor potential in a revolution).

Could Plaid be disguising their proletarian partisanship at this time, hiding their wholeheartedness to the workers until the national democratic revolution is in full swing? Would Ieuan Wyn Jones take to wearing a red berret and quoting Trotsky if Plaid were dominant in an independent Wales?

Post-colonial Welsh nationalism
Plaid Cymru have taken advantage of Welsh devolution to argue for self-determination, but as talk of independence has been delayed, so too “community socialism”. Generally, the “S” word has been unofficially banned from polite conversation – it is of the past, not the future. Where the “S” word was tolerated, it denoted a form of welfare capitalism that did not trouble the bourgeoisie nor threaten to expropriate it, and was actually supportive of imperialism. Plaid’s stressing decentralisation could be a nod to the ruling class that since the commanding heights of the economy are not in their sights they can be trusted to govern without upsetting any apple carts or felling trees in the orchard. Is community socialism now just the wink that says an independent Wales will be open for business?

I have no trouble believing that Plaid is a nationalist party, but socialist? Prominent members come across as radical nationalists more than anything else; socialism implies an alternative to capitalism. By advocating national independence for Wales, Plaid signals that it is seeking an alternative political arrangement, namely Welsh self-government. In cultural terms, Plaid aims to revive the Welsh language and affirm a positive national identity.

Could it be that Plaid Cymru is also seeking an alternative economic arrangement, a Socialist Republic, a workers’ state in which there is common ownership of means of production under democratic control? What does socialism with Welsh characteristics look like?

Don’t ask, don’t tell
The questions that revolutionary socialists should use to interrogate Plaid’s vision of socialism are: who will own the means of production and on what basis will goods and services be allocated?

Naturally, these inquires will be dismissed as premature until Wales has independence, by which time another excuse will have been found. They are relevant questions, though. Plaid’s leadership would prefer that its politics remain moderate, which is to say within the realm of bourgeois respectability; a vanguard of the nation rather than the proletariat.

But let us imagine that Wales has gained independence and there is a militant labour movement and strengthened class consciousness. Would Plaid be with this movement, on the fence, or actively against it? One can be a democrat and disagree with the results of democracy. Would Plaid be Welsh nationalists opposing the majority Welsh opinion?

Throw another party?
Ah, too many questions, too little time. Here is an important one: what should be done by revolutionary socialists in terms of organisation? In Wales, the options are: enter Welsh Labour and agitate for change, build up either Respect or the Socialist Party of Wales, or join Plaid Cymru and agitate for change.

If Welsh Labour and Labour in Westminster continue on the same path, there will be further erosion of their working class base. And the fact that there will be no massive change in Labour policy leaves an opening for another party to fill their boots, “left-leaning” in the case of Plaid, or fully leftist. Recall that the disaffiliated unions have contributed financially to the Scottish Socialist Party in the past, would a Welsh version get union cash and have the same success? Wait, don’t answer that one.

The recent creation of the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party by the Socialist Party of England and Wales and the electoral intervention by the Socialist Party of Wales, which is part of the SPEW, confirms that the organisation formerly known as Militant has given up entrism for good. A habit worth kicking is one that is damaging. And the other sizable (larger, that is) Trotskyist outfit, the Socialist Worker Party is keen to build up respect in Wales… by building up Respect in Wales. Ahem.

But seriously, it is inefficient to have two or three left reformist parties populated by revolutionary socialists. Why not make do with one? Again, a bad example nowadays, but the SSP saw the various far left parties work in a single organisation and the failure of the project was not caused by these groups being unable to work together. (I accept that the Sheridan trial was viewed as political by both sides in the SSP, but contend the split resulted because of personal differences.)

I do not think it wise for socialists to join Plaid Cymru for it is primarily committed to national self-determination and would serve the interests of the capitalist class more than the working class.

A Welsh Socialist Party should be formed by the SWP, the SP, and others, following the template of the Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party. This would be a workers’ party with a workers’ programme – supportive of Welsh self-determination and dealing with Plaid, but committed to the class struggle at home and in solidarity with struggles internationally.

Don’t let it dragon
I suspect that in future Plaid may experience a win like that of the SNP – gaining support for a change, but not independence. The neo-liberal nature of the Welsh nationalists would become more apparent in these circumstances. A minority may well be full-blooded socialists, but the direction of Plaid will follow the route of the SNP: talk of social reforms to gain workers’ votes, but at the same time promise stability, continuity and cuts in tax and red-tape for bosses at home and abroad.

Plaid wants lower business rates, and it might be argued that low taxation is the only way for a country without natural resources to guarantee investment. But as there is no alternate form of ownership articulated by Plaid in which investment and disinvestment can be decided democratically, one is given to believe that the colonial relationship will remain, but on better terms and with a leftish and nationalist gloss.

It remains to be seen what will come of the SNP’s promises and whatever happens it will not totally determine the future of Welsh nationalism. But if the SNP fail to implement the progressive elements of their programme for reasons other than being a minority government, it will impact negatively on Plaid. Conversely, if the SNP succeed and win an independence referendum, it will buoy the case for self-determination in Wales. Either way, the national capitalist support for the Union will continue to fade as the imperialist wars rage.

There needs to be an independent working class party in Wales. And that’s one party in total, by the way. There will and should be differences of opinion, but there is no need for disorganisation. My fear is that the electoral division of the left in the UK, wrought by the two largest far left groups, will continue to impede the progress of the working class movement.

Unity is not a luxury and should not be treated as such, it is a necessity. Two parties don’t produce twice as much growth or double strength. There should be coalition talks between the revolutionary socialist parties! If not physically, then at least here, in the Blogosphere. What do you say?