Sunday, November 14, 2010

No Respect North of the Border

ANY SEATS GOING? Scottish parliament at Holyrood, during recess.
As empty as Respect's presence or policies in Scotland.

ONE of Britain's newer and smaller political parties held its conference over the weekend. George Galloway's party Respect had to consider motions on the 'Age of Austerity' and response to the government's cuts, on the idea of a 'Robin Hood tax' on wealthy speculators, on Latin America, and on Cuba and the 'Miami 5' - Cubans imprisoned in the United States for spying on right-wing terrorist groups based there.

But it was not one of these resolutions from branches that occasioned most controversy. As announced on the party's website, a few days before the conference, (and over a month after the deadline for motions to be submitted) it was an initiative from the party's leader:

Should George Go North? - Conference debate The Respect Party will this weekend debate whether we should for the first time organise in Scotland. An amendment has been tabled which will open the way for Respect to campaign in elections to the Scottish Parliament. Below George Galloway outlines his arguments in an interview with Scottish Newsnight on BBC. Details of the conference can be found here.

The conference, held at South Camden Community Centre, near St.Pancras in London, adopted the following:

“Conference notes that:

  1. There will be elections to the Scottish Parliament in May 2011
  2. These elections will be conducted under a form of proportional representation in which some MSPs are elected from a list
  3. Respect has not organized in or contested elections in Scotland in the past because of the hegemony of other parties to the left of Labour
  4. This hegemony no longer exists
  5. In the context of unprecedented cuts by the Condem Coalition and disappointment with the Labour and SNP, there is now an opportunity for Respect to contest elections to the Scottish parliament with a realistic prospect of success

Conference therefore believes

  1. National officers should start preparations for Respect to contest elections to the Scottish Parliament
  2. Preparations should include immediately registering Scottish Respect as a description that can be used in Scottish elections and seeking to recruit residents in Scotland to Respect.”
So George is going home?

Already, supporters are referring to his "strong roots" in Glasgow, as an augur of success. But how deep do they go? Born in Dundee, where he first made his name - good or otherwise - as a young Labour organiser, he later became Labour MP for Glasgow, Hillhead, defeating the SDP's Roy Jenkins, and then for Glasgow, Kelvin, before his expulsion from the Labour Party as a result of opposing the Iraq war, calling Tony Blair a liar, and calling on British soldiers to refuse to obey illegal orders.

With that, and his stand up to bullying from the US Senate, Galloway became a hero with many people who neither knew nor cared about past controversies in his career, especially when set against the calamity of Tony Blair. Becoming a founder member of the Respect coalition, he gained as allies a large section of the Socialist Alliance, notably the Socialist Workers Party, who were also able to introduce him from Stop the War Coalition platforms as the voice of the anti-war movement. For them, and for other left-wingers who joined Respect, it was enough that Galloway was no longer in the Labour Party, even though some MPs remaining in it had a longer record of opposing the leadership.

Rather than fighting on in Glasgow, or in Scotland, Galloway came down to take the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency in London from Labour's Oona King, who had supported the war. Once in it was said that he spent more time in the Big Brother house on TV than in the Commons speaking up for his constituents. (But unlike this time, he didn't ask for his party's advice before making that move, though once in, they, and not least the SWP, felt bound to support him there). Then in this year's election, he unsuccessfully contested Poplar and Limehouse. Now he apparently fancies trying his chances back north of the Border.

Not that he has not kept up an interest in Scottish affairs. When the cracks first appeared in the Scottish Socialist Party over Tommy Sheridan's entanglement with the News of the World, it was Galloway who, via the pages of the Scottish Mail on Sunday, urged Sheridan to team up with him on a "dream ticket", and ignore the SSP's "Trotskyite apparatchniks".

At that time, Tommy Sheridan rejected Galloway's call, and the Scottish Socialist Party itself accused Galloway of trying to sow a split, and urged socialists within Respect to dissociate themselves from their leader's hostile activity.

Still, Sheridan did decide to split, forming his Solidarity party with support from the Socialist Workers Party and encouragement from Galloway. There were rumours this alignment might not last, though admittedly the story on which Dave Osler commented here appeared in the Sunday Times, which as sister paper to the News of the World had its own reasons to welcome someone bringing down Sheridan. The story may now only appear to have been premature, though this time last year George Galloway was supporting Sheridan.

When I was in the Socialist Alliance, we looked north of the border to the Scottish Socialist Party' s success in uniting to break out of the left groups ghetto and raise the red flag of socialism in mainstream politics, with its electoral breakthroughs. Giving it a clear run in Scotland, the Socialist Party in England and Wales had launched the Alliance, and were joined by the Socialist Workers Party which gained the leadership of the Alliance, only to ditch it so as to join Galloway in Respect. Marry in haste, repent at leisure as the saying goes.

Now Respect, a party based in England, and not even widely based here either, decides at its conference in London, that it will try to establish itself in Scotland too. Not that we have heard of any spontaneous grass-roots groups forming there, and delegations coming to plead for Respect to come north. Nor that Respect has any great policy to put before the Scottish voters. All we are told is that the fight against the Con Dem cuts offers an "opportunity", and that "other parties to the left of labour" no longer have "hegemony".

If Galloway has been consistent in anything it has been his attacks on the Scottish Socialist Party - that and his hostile references to Trotskyism.

The Socialist Workers Party, widely regarded and claiming to be Trotskyist, managed to keep a thick skin so long as it was in Respect. (SWP in Scotland which was officially under the SSP umbrella opted for Sheridan's breakaway). So, apparently, did Ken Loach, a member of Respect's national council, when George Galloway disparaged his film 'Land and Freedom' as sustaining "slanders" against the Stalinists in Spain. So did Alan Thornett's International Socialist Group/Socialist Resistance, which helped in the move from Socialist Alliance to Respect and participated loyally, even turning its own paper over to be a Respect organ for a time, though it happens to hold the official "Fourth International" franchise in the UK.

When I heard Galloway attacking people who raised gay rights issues in Iran as being warmongers, I wondered how the ISG, traditionally more advanced than other leftists on such issues, could stay silent.
They did show signs of stepping out from Respect to support the Green Party sometimes, and with their comrades in Scotland adhering to the Scottish Socialist Party, they have decided this new move north is too much.

Here, courtesy of Liam McOaid is the text of a leaflet distributed by supporters of Socialist Resistance in Respect.

"We are strongly opposed to the proposition that Respect organise in Scotland, as proposed in amendment E to Motion 1

imageSocialist Resistance has supported Respect since its inception in 2004 and previously supported the Socialist Alliance. We supported George Galloway’s letter which sought to democratize the leadership of Respect and backed the majority in the ensuing split in the organisation in 2007. We put the resources of our newspaper at the disposal of Respect. We understood that George and Salma , given their role in the anti-war movement had a vital contribution to make in building a political alternative to New Labour.

But were a resolution to organise Respect in Scotland to be passed at this Respect Conference this would make our situation in the organisation untenable. We are against such a resolution being adopted on a number of grounds:

1) A controversial change of a long-held policy that Respect does not organise in Scotland should not be introduced a week before the conference and with no discussion at the National Council or in the branches.

2) The only purpose in organising in Scotland would be for Respect to stand candidates in next May’s Scottish Parliament elections and in subsequent parliamentary and local elections. Respect has no policy positions on the specific situation in Scotland, particularly the issue of devolution and self-determination an issue around which there would be several different positions. To go into a Scottish election with no debate on key political issues would be fundamentally wrong.

3) There are already two left parties in Scotland standing in elections and they intend to continue doing so, namely the SSP and Solidarity. The SLP also stands in elections in Scotland. The last thing the Scottish left needs is another left party standing in those same elections and dividing the left vote still further.

4) In Respect there have always been different views on which party to support in Scotland. We support the SSP. If this conference were to adopt a position on organising in Scotland and to fight elections SR members would be in an impossible situation. For a party to have members who advocate voting for a different party would be untenable – both for Respect and for SR".

Some Respect supporters are saying why should their party not stand where it likes, ignoring the fact that it has still to establish itself there or even adopt policies. One person I saw said that Scotland needed a good left-wing voice to fight the cuts, at Westminster -ignoring the fact that what Respect is talking about is fighting for a place at Holyrood. They point to the setbacks suffered by the existing Left, but don't explain why adding to divisions would remedy the matter. It is less like someone proclaiming the need to advance a cause, more like the directors of a chain-store seeing the closure of high street shops as their chance to move in. Mind you, one person was kind enough to suggest that if the SSP - which has already announced candidates - really wants unity, it should apply to join Respect -which has not even arrived yet!

I think that Socialist Resistance has made the right move. And I hope they are not the last.

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