The Soon-To-Be-Renamed Scottish Left Project farce is lurching from tragedy to comedy. But those in our society who need Left-wing voices in our Parliament to improve their lives aren’t laughing.
There are now only eight full months of campaigning until the Holyrood general election, and having engulfed Scotland’s largest and most successful-ever Left-wing party, the Scottish Socialist party, one might imagine that the Soon-To-Be-Renamed Scottish Left Project would be busily engaged in writing its manifesto and selecting candidates.
It’s not. There remain major questions about the viability and purpose of the project.
And whilst time ticks by, whilst Scottish Labour selects this month’s “leader”, and the National party busily deselects underperforming MSPs and replaces them with new blood; whilst the Green party gets its fundraising underway with a candidate in place for its only winnable constituency, and the Tories shuffle the pack to try and sneak their leader back into Holyrood despite her being rebuffed by the voters, the Scottish Left Project appears instead to be spending its time gathering endorsements by international luminaries.
Now, I’m not saying that the support for the Scottish Left of the Deputy Mayor for Litter-Picking Services of the Municipal Council of Cluj-Napoca is not important. I welcome it. Nor do I presume to say that the endorsement of the Assistant Secretary General of the Federation of Printworkers (Wuppertal North branch) should not be the guiding ambition of our movement.
However, perhaps it might be just the tiniest bit more important to receive the endorsement of voters in Glasgow, and Motherwell, and Paisley, and the working-class central belt comprising voters who have lost a Labour party but have never been truly comfortable with its National party alternative; and who are actively seeking a home.
The engulfing of the Scottish Socialist party was done in the most sleekit, underhand manner imaginable. Rather than approaching the SSP with an offer of a merger, the Soon-To-Be-Renamed Scottish Left Project leadership approached individual – often very young and inexperienced – SSP members to ask them to sign a declaration of support for the STBRSLP. This was then presented to the SSP’s Executive Committee as a fait accomplit, with the EC invited to endorse the membership’s “decision” to dissolve into the STBRSLP.
Throughout the previous year, STBRSLP supporters had carefully inveigled themselves into positions of leadership within the SSP, purging the EC, and engaging in systematic bullying of anyone who did not now show sufficiently unquestioning loyalty to the STBRSLP. This meant that when the merger was put to SSP members at Conference, the leadership of the SSP (who were, of course, selecting speakers for and against the motion, writing the agenda, and composing the rules) was composed almost entirely of STBRSLP supporters, despite the membership being split pretty much evenly 50:50. It was the most perfectly-executed hostile takeover of a political party in years. I have to take my hat off to them for it.
(One might ask why, if the STBRSLP was to be a pro-independence coalition of Left and progressive forces, only one political party was ever earmarked for takeover. One might ask why the Green party were never approached, or even the likes of Socialist Party Scotland, or Left Unity Scotland. No approach, presumably, to the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. However, this is Trolling. And Trolling is A Bad Thing.)
Worse than Trolling, however, is asking questions in public. This is Undermining The Movement. This, also, is A Bad Thing.
It is Undermining The Movement to ask about the structure of the STBRSLP.
Who will be writing the manifesto? The organisation it replaced, Radical Independence Campaign, is unlikely ever to be written about in European modern history textbooks as a worked example of a successful internal democracy. There were never votes taken – only decisions handed down by a self-selected handful of people at the top. Even the enormously-successful – in terms of attendance – RIC conference immediately after the referendum, was more of a rally than a conference. Delegates were invited to admire people, and applaud speeches. There were no votes taken. No shows of hands. No decision by RIC supporters to transform the organisation into a political party. No opportunity for them to object.
A conference is an opportunity for dissenting voices to be heard, and a forum for debate to take place. A rally is the opposite. The non-applauding hands amongst the applauding hands are easy to ignore.
So with this in mind, it’s hard to see a massive sea-change in approach from the organisers of the STBRSLP, and a sudden, Damascene conversion to internal democracy. The launch of the STBRSLP will be held this month. Tickets are on sale now. It is likely to be a parade of the few, rather than a space for engagement of the many. Delegates will likely be spoken at by a carefully-selected group of speakers, not on stage giving their views on what STBRSLP MSPs should be arguing for in Holyrood to replace Council Tax.
It is Undermining The Movement to ask about the selection process of the STBRSLP.
When asked what form candidate selection will take, there is little reply from the STBRSLP. Only one personal opinion has been ventured from its leadership; namely open primaries.
The deadline for nominations for the election is March 30th. This gives just 226 days until all candidates have to be selected. I’m going to include bank holidays and weekends in that.
So in 226 days, the STBRSLP has to devise (or at least, divulge) a system for elections.
Will it be a show of hands at another special conference in Glasgow at a tenner a ticket (that’s 17% of a young person’s JSA for the week)?
Will it be postal voting? The Tories’ open primary experiment in Devon cost £38.000. Even assuming that open primaries to every constituency and region being contested could somehow be folded into one single vote, and that the Tories’ costs could be halved (presumably the Tories used very expensive ballot papers made from the skin of peasants, or something), twenty grand is a lot of cash to come up with for an organisation with no income other than donations, no membership fee, and no business or Trade Union backing. It’s about double the SSP’s budget for deposits and campaigning materials for a whole national election.
And who decides which regions or constituencies to contest? Is the STBRSLP really going to throw a monkey down the drain by contesting, say, Eastwood? Are they going to come up with some arrangements with the parties the secretive leadership has excluded from this broad front of the Left? Who decides whether TUSC’s offer to stand down in, say, Pollok in return for a free run for the STBRSLP in Shettleston is acceptable? Whether the STBRSLP should stand down in constituencies where there’s a sufficiently Left-wing SNP or Green candidate? Whether the STBRSLP should contest constituencies at all? This hasn’t yet been decided (or communicated, at least…). With 226 days to go, shouldn’t that be something being decided democratically at a conference of supporters rather than squealing excitedly that the Sub-Postmistress at the Alma-Ata General Post Office has announced she would be voting for the STBRSLP if only she had a vote?
Who gets a vote in the open primaries? Is anyone eligible to stand? Does the SSP have a veto on nominations to the primary list? Does anyone have a veto?
If it’s an open, open primary in which anyone is eligible to stand and vote, then what’s to stop a scenario in which Tommy Sheridan submits his name as a candidate. Sheridan would win a landslide victory in an open primary and be the Number 1 candidate on the STBRSLP’s Glasgow List. The immediate upshot of that would be that the SSP would immediately walk – and it’d be far too late for them to get their shit together to stand independently. So Scots would be deprived of the opportunity to vote for the most electorally-successful Left force we’ve ever had, and its replacement would be offering Tommy Sheridan as its best candidate – a washed-up, washed-out criminal whose skin tone looks like he’s eschewed his fortnight in Benidorm for all-inclusive on the planet Venus.
That’s a ludicrous scenario. It certainly won’t come to pass. But exactly what checks and balances are in place to stop it?
If the SSP has a veto on Sheridan standing, do they have a veto on anyone else? If the SSP has a veto, is there a reciprocal veto? Maybe RIC could have a veto so that those insufficiently supportive of their organisation would be banned from standing? But it’s a non-membership organisation, so who exercises the veto?
Will anyone be able to submit their name to be a candidate? Or will there be a vetting procedure? Who does the vetting? Is it going to be balanced between RIC people and SSP people? What about people who’re members of both? How does the STBRSLP select the vetters? A public vote? A vote at a special conference at a hotel in Glasgow (tickets £10, available at all good newsagents)? Open primaries to select the vetters? But who vets the names of the people who go forward as vetters?
Who gets to vote in the open primaries? Everyone? Just registered supporters? What’s to stop people registering as supporters just to get a vote, and voting for a comedy candidate to cripple the credibility – such as it is – of the STBRSLP? Imagine how much Labour is spending on their phone banks verifying the identities of those who’ve signed up to do just that in their leadership contest now.
But, then, asking questions is Undermining The Movement.
And meanwhile, that 226 days is ticking down – with no idea of how the STBRSLP works out who goes on a ballot paper for the internal elections, how the election is conducted, who is eligible to vote, and under which system such an election is conducted.
(If I was a cynic, I’d ponder the possibility of the STBRSLP conference this month coming to the conclusion that it’s a whole lot of work to go to and maybe it’d be really good to do next time when there’s a bit more space to do it and sure haven’t we got a load of well-known folk and shouldn’t we just put them forward and applaud if you agree and motion carried well done comrades. Just as well I’m not a cynic.)
Oh yeah, and after all that’s done, there’s an actual general election campaign to run. Posters to be printed, leaflets to go out, an election broadcast to be filmed (it’s going to be a pretty anodyne film given the STBRSLP has not a single policy yet, nor a manifesto agreed).
So no candidates, no mechanism to select candidates, no internal democracy to speak of (and its largest component – the SSP – in a state of civil war with members resigning, entire branches on the verge of leaving the party en masse, and senior elected members walking off the EC), no membership structure, no secure income stream, no manifesto, no Trade Union support. And just eight full months until Scotland goes to the polls.
It’s not looking good.