Above: the liar, sexist and bully Sheridan
By Ann Field
“The left in Scotland can’t look to the Labour Party for a way forward,” proclaimed Socialist Worker, paper of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), in one of a flurry of articles about Scotland published immediately after last year’s referendum.
Instead, the focus had to be on maintaining the momentum of the “Yes” campaign. As the SWP modestly put it in another article:
“The SWP in Scotland has fought magnificently in the Yes campaign. It has been imaginative, involved, determined and hardworking. We have sold thousands of copies of Socialist Worker and recruited dozens of people.”
What the Scottish left needed after the referendum was “its own political party – and urgently. Days and hours matter at such a time.” Tommy Sheridan – perjurer, misogynist, demagogue, ultra-nationalist populist and all-round charlatan (but not in the eyes of the SWP) – had a central role to play in this:
“Tommy Sheridan played an astonishing role in the [Yes] campaign, speaking to over 25,000 people at meetings and inspiring many more. He ought to play a leading role in building the left.”
The delicate matter of the SWP’s role in splitting the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) – which the SWP helped destroy in 2006 by backing Sheridan’s demand that members of the SSP Executive Committee lie on behalf of his ego – was imperiously dismissed:
“This [new] party cannot be defined by the splits in the SSP a decade ago. Imagine you are talking to one of those thousands of 16 and 17 year-olds who voted yes. What would make sense to them now? Surely radicalism, activity, bold left politics – and unity.”
But a conference held in October by “Solidarity” – the Sheridan-cult set up by the SWP and the Socialist Party after their departure from the SSP – produced a split rather than unity. The SWP walked out after the conference backed a vote for the SNP in the 2015 General Election.
(Sheridan’s questioning of female witnesses about their sex lives in his very public perjury trial of 2006 had not been a reason for the SWP to break with him. But for Sheridan to advocate openly what the SWP would subsequently advocate implicitly was the SWP’s line in the sand.)
Unabashed by the debacle of the “Solidarity” conference, the SWP now declared: “Everyone should come to the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) conference on 22nd November. Let’s not see this opportunity wasted.”
RIC had been initiated by members of the International Socialist Group (ISG), a 39-strong Scottish breakaway from the SWP in 2011. Given its origins in a breakaway from the SWP, RIC was unlikely to extend the hand of “unity” to their former comrades.
And so it proved to be.
The SWP hyper-ventilated about the numbers at the RIC conference. Over 3,000 in attendance! People had travelled from all over Scotland to be there!! “A phenomenal turnout!!!”
But it was downbeat about the outcome: “For all the talk of alternatives, there was no official call for a new organisation coming from RIC as many [read: the SWP] had hoped. Sadly, the prospect of a unified left seems as distant as it was directly after the referendum.”
In early 2015 the SWP began to enter general election mode. It was at least capable of reading opinion polls:
“Old political certainties are crumbling across Britain. In Scotland they barely exist any more. Many believe they are witnessing the death of Labour in Scotland. The latest poll of polls this week puts the SNP on 50% of the vote – a landslide. But the left could do well too.”
Although Labour in Scotland was standing in the same election, on the basis of the same manifesto, and with the backing of the same unions, as the Labour Party south of the border, the SWP made a point of not calling for a vote for Labour in Scotland:
“Where there isn’t a left alternative candidate, Socialist Worker is calling for a vote for Labour in England and Wales. Many working-class people still see it as the party with trade union roots. …
In Scotland this picture no longer fits. Labour’s role in blocking with the Tories to defend the union with Britain in the independence referendum has lost it the mass support of millions of workers.”
In a leaflet distributed in Scotland in the run-up to election day, the SWP implicitly called for a vote for the SNP.
The leaflet was unqualified in its hostility to Labour. By contrast, it praised the “many positive policies in the SNP manifesto”. Given the “mood to punish Labour”, it was “understandable” that so many people would be voting SNP.
But, the leaflet explained, “the SWP is not calling for a blanket vote for the SNP on 7th May.” This was because the SWP was standing a handful of its own candidates as part of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
Not calling for “a blanket vote for the SNP” because you are standing some candidates of your own can only be read as: vote SNP where there is no TUSC candidate.
In its coverage of the election campaign in Scotland Socialist Worker was certainly enthusiastic about the SNP campaign, and Sheridan’s parallel campaign for a vote for the SNP:
“Hope filled the streets of Glasgow last Saturday. At two separate events a combined total of up to 10,000 people pursued a common purpose – building the SNP vote.” While SNP leader Sturgeon addressed 2,000 in Glasgow city centre, “socialist politician Tommy Sheridan was addressing a mass Hope Over Fear rally.”
Hope Over Fear and RIC, Socialist Worker enthusiastically explained, were “a focal point for the movement unleashed by the referendum.” Clearly, their support for a vote for the SNP was a side issue for an organisation which itself was quietly backing an SNP vote.
The SWP’s claim that in the general election in Scotland “the left could do well too” was absurd at the time it was written, and subsequently turned out to be an embarrassment.
Compared with 2010, votes cast for TUSC candidates in Scotland fell by up to 50%. That is to say, they fell from a fraction of a per cent to an even smaller fraction of a per cent.
SWP/TUSC candidates in Dundee East and Edinburgh East did spectacularly badly, respectively securing 104 and 117 votes (0.2% of total votes cast in both cases).
“The Labour Party in Scotland has been wiped out,” was the SWP’s verdict on the general election result in Scotland. The election count “was like a funeral for Labour.” But, explained another article, “it was a bittersweet result as people still ended up with a Tory government.”
In other words, it was “sweet” that the SNP had won so many seats from Labour but “bitter” that the Tories” had been elected as the new government. The relationship of the one to the other seemed to have escaped the SWP’s attention.
Undeterred by the virtual wipe out of votes for its own candidates, the SWP looked forward to the trade unions in Scotland splitting away from Labour. The SWP predicted, albeit completely wrongly:
“Unite is widely expected to change its rules at a conference in July allowing it, at least in Scotland, to fund parties other than Labour. The SNP looks on expectant.”
Reverting to its post-referendum rhetoric, the SWP also wheeled out its ritualistic pleas for left unity:
“The potential for a united left alternative to grow has never been greater. The whole left must rise to the challenge to provide an alternative to Labour and the SNP.”
After all, another Socialist Worker article explained, “there will be people in Labour who are wondering where they go now. We need to create a new home for them, and for those who don’t think the SNP is good enough.”
While the SWP busied itself searching for the building materials needed to construct “a new home” for “people in Labour who are wondering where they go now”, the Labour left was campaigning for Corbyn for party leader.
Despite the more right-wing nature of the Labour Party in Scotland, Corbyn still won more nominations from Constituency Labour Parties than any other leadership contender. And his Scottish rallies were as big as any held in England, outside of London.
The SWP in Scotland adopted a distinctly sniffy attitude towards the Corbyn campaign. According to their leaflet distributed at a Corbyn rally in Glasgow, “while we should wish Jeremy Corbyn well [thanks!], we urgently need a socialist alternative to Labour.”
What was needed, the leaflet declared, was “a wider fight against austerity” and “a movement with the strength to resist austerity and to stand up to this disgusting racism” – which was exactly what Corbyn was advocating as part of his leadership campaign.
Corbyn’s victory was subsequently dismissed by the SWP as a matter of little account for Scotland: “Scottish Labour has elected an uninspiring new leader in Kezia Dugdale. Corbynmania hasn’t passed it by, but it looks set to suffer another crushing defeat next May.”
The focus, again, should therefore be on overcoming “divisions on the Scottish left” in order to create a “united electoral challenge to the SNP and the Labour Party” in 2016: “The left is arguing to give second votes to pro-independence anti-austerity parties.”
The SWP’s working definition of “the Scottish left” thereby excludes the Labour left. The latter is certainly not wanting to mount an electoral challenge to Labour in 2016. Nor is it advocating that regional-list votes be cast for “pro-independence anti-austerity parties.”
The SWP’s self-serving and sectarian definition of “the Scottish left” is underlined by its suggestion: “Any new left project must also think seriously about working with supporters of Jeremy Corbyn in the fight against austerity.”
Corbyn supporters are thereby seen as a category external to this “new left project”. And, ironically, the most recent “new left project” against austerity – Momentum – was launched by Corbyn supporters themselves.
While the SWP argues the vital importance of a “united electoral challenge” in 2016, it simultaneously dismisses this as being a parliamentary-cretinist waste of time:
“Yes, we want more anti-cuts MSPs and more socialists in parliament. But we need a mass movement rooted in struggle, not in parliament.”
Most incoherent of all is the fact that SWP knows that its wistful calls for a “united electoral challenge to the SNP and the Labour Party” are dead in the water.
Sheridan-Solidarity will be standing its own candidates: “Tommy Sheridan has already declared that Solidarity (which he heads) will contest the 2016 elections itself.”
The newly launched RISE – “Respect, Independence, Socialism, Environmentalism”, a continuation of the ISG-RIC ‘tradition’ – will not ally with Sheridan: “RISE won’t work with him (Sheridan).”
In fact, RISE will not ally with the SWP or the Socialist Party either. Both were banned from its founding conference. This explains the SWP’s pineful lament: “RISE should be open to all on the left. It will be a disaster if left groups compete for the same votes in 2016.”
So, all that the SWP can look forward to by way of a “united electoral challenge” is an ‘alliance’ with the Socialist Party under the TUSC banner and an even more lamentable electoral performance in 2016 than in 2015.
This is no more than it deserves.
In England and Wales the SWP wrecked the Socialist Alliance in order to launch Respect with Galloway. Then Galloway showed the SWP the door after he got bored with their toadying.
The SWP helped wreck the SSP in order to launch Sheridan-Solidarity. Then the SWP walked out of Solidarity even though it could easily have mobilised enough votes to prevent Solidarity from backing a vote for the SNP.
In recent years the SWP’s own internal history has been one of a succession of splits. The SWP wants “a united electoral challenge to the SNP and the Labour Party.” But it cannot unite even its own ranks.
The SWP’s attitude towards the Labour Party (and the broader labour movement) has consistently been one rooted in build-the-revolutionary-party sectarianism. Corbyn’s victory has now put that sectarianism into the limelight.
And in the run-up to last year’s referendum the SWP ditched its longstanding opposition to Scottish independence. Instead, it sought to ingratiate itself with independence-supporters by adopting a vicarious Scottish nationalism.
The sole beneficiary of that abject accommodation was the SNP. While the SWP recruited “dozens of people”, the SNP recruited tens of thousands. While the SWP struggled to achieve even a triple-digit election score in the general election, the SNP won 56 seats.
When it comes to organisations that “the left in Scotland can’t look to for a way forward”, the SWP is truly in a league of its own.