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Sunday, 13 March 2016

A tale of two "socialists."

Back in 2007, when the superb project, of its time, the SSP, began its deep depression, one member I knew found the whole "which way to jump" thing very difficult.

He had lapped up all of the propaganda created around Sheridan, created by a small group of people.

Sheridan was the leader who had brought the left to the Scottish Parliament, he thought. A lot of those who were persuaded to come on board- those who twisted and turned "analysis," so painstakingly worded and labyrinthine in reaching conclusions, were calling for the Great Tommy to re-take the party whose leadership he had "given over to Colin Fox."

But it didn't look like Tommy would get his majority. For a reason unknown to socialist number one, a majority of the party seemed to want to stand by truth (because he knew the truth), rather than stand by the Scottish Left personified.

Sheridan, to him, was a flawed hero  who, during the court proceedings had been hoisted upon a cross, been flailed and basted in vinegar, but had risen from the dead and celebrated by the Daily Record, the voice of the working class. And other great leaders shouted that message at "socialist number 1" from platforms and "analysis" documents written by old, shoogly peg like pens.

The rhetoric surrounding Sheridan was that of condemnation of "scabs," "witch hunts" by "ultra feminists," "class traitors" and everything socialist number 1 knew he wasn't. The language was the macho language of the left he had grown up with, mediated by the lyrics of John Lennon. Sheridan was surely from the same gene pool as Maclean, Maxton, Jimmy Reid and the industrial union leaders of the post war twentieth century.

He jumped ship with Sheridan and helped build the odd Clydeside leaky puffer called "Solidarity."

The SSP, left with the history of conferences and the legacy of democratically debated and instituted structures, plodded on. The party members who stayed, kept branches working and while some on the more and more isolated EC kept their eye on regaining the seats some of them had lost in the Scottish Parliament, the branches that kept functioning outside the wrangling of those whose raison d'etre became elections, built and maintained local, community politics- working with others in campaigns and helping rebuild a sullied name where it mattered- at grass roots. In the schemes and villages.

Sheridan's only reason to be was election into the Scottish Parliament. Socialist number 1 soon realised that Solidarity was far from the Democratic Party he had debated, discussed and voted into existence a few years back. After a couple of years of watching the SSP plod along, but Solidarity wither on the vine of ambition and ego, he left the "radical left," unable to rejoin the SSP because, well, he'd condemned those people as scabs, witches and worse. He'd echoed the great leader he'd followed. He had been led by the nose along one of the binary paths the radical left leaders had created.

He realised his mistake. He realised how he'd been used. But as a West of Scotland man, he could never admit that. He stuck by his narrative that "youse had it in for Tommy."

He left Solidarity (branches stopped operating and it only existed on the lead up to elections to promote Tommy's campaign to get Tommy elected or in the media). He joined the Labour Party and became a lefty poet, making his difference in pubs and online. Totally divorced from the community politics he had started out in.

Fast forward to 2014.

Socialist two, who had in the past been an SSP member, rejoined the party as it detoxified itself during the independence referendum. He joined a new branch, and was guided by one of those original members who had built the SSP through promoting Sheridan as a socialist in the pantheon of Scottish socialists that included Gallacher and the ILP.

He was back in "men's territory" here, but he didn't want to make the same mistake he had made before- that is, he didn't want to be part of something that could well fall apart at any time. So, watching what was going on around him in the post independence landscape, he saw that the Radical Independence campaign had brought to it many more socialists and "radicals" than his new, growing SSP branch.  And those who pulled strings and held microphones for that "organisation" began to whisper about creating something from the radical independence campaign and taking the Labour Parties place as an opposition to the SNP. He wasn't totally convinced this could happen, but neither were the string pullers and microphone holders, so rather than diving headlong into something that would cause friction in the SSP leadership, a plan was hatched to create a conversation- something that would drive the SSP and the Greens into a bigger organisation. Soon it was realised that the Greens, who had been better prepared for the post independence landscape and were in no way influenced by whispers of Sheridan's nonsense, would not touch this amorphous thing with a barge pole. The only way to go forward, socialist number 2 was told, was to dissolve the SSP into it, and they would win seats in the Scottish Parliament in 2016- a new thing, with a name not sullied by the past, would be just what people would want. He signed an online statement.

It soon became obvious that the SLP statement was unpopular with those who worked solidly in their communities with their Yes partners, and continued to do their community work. So he said things like, "it's only a conversation." Others said that it was the will of the younger comrades and that the old, stale comrades were keeping them back. These narratives mixed with those from many who hadn't involved themselves in the huge Yes campaign, but couldn't seem to see past the limited success of the minuscule RIC (comparatively speaking- RIC was about the size of two- three SNP branches) and its "personalities," signed up and began a campaign that by May 2015 had people in the SSP sceptically voting for talks, which then, under the old leadership that had created Sheridan, and old organisers from other left "sects," became something that is a hybrid of personality politics with a small, almost swamped element of community politics that has been reduced to selling papers (the community aspect with any mass, that is- that being the SSP) and leafletting.

The elements within the SSP who had created something different- real community links and campaigns, saw through the old ways and have melted away into other parties, other campaigning organisations etc. Those who tried to hang on and hopefully help rebuild, have been condemned, insulted, threatened and banished in order to ensure the old guard can say, "we knew this was temporary all along," and "it was a way to pull members in to the SSP." The reality is, as socialist number two sweats and promotes and leaflets and sells papers, is that the SSP collapsed.

The rhetoric in the rushed and thrown together alliance was of "scabs," "abusers," "pale male and stale," "mysoginists," and like the time of the Sheridan split, threats were made and hearts were hardened. Many more have moved away into working for socialism in other ways. A new alliance is beginning to take shape away from the sects and others have joined the Greens or SNP.

What the mixture of those people who came back on board after the independence campaign and those people who really don't see the error in hero creation did, as did those egotists on the SSP EC who would not listen to REAL analysis rather than the fantasy that RIC microphone grabbers etc were in, was kill the community aspect of the SSP that had survived and helped detoxify the brand within the huge Yes campaign consisting of other parties and none. What drove other new members like  Allan Grogan and others away, (one of the leaders of Labour for Independence), was the sticking to the same techniques that had many new members in 2005, leave (the Great Leader style of politics). They couldn't resist it. And it again, has kicked the left into the wilderness.

The EC of the SSP got warning after warning from the likes of me, Allan Grogan, and others who have more silently stood aside or down, that this creation of something less significant than what we had built,  was signing the warrant for the splintering of the left.

The process they are in is too far past tipping point to save the SSP, in my opinion. Rise is seen by many who lived their political lives through the staged cult of personality of Sheridan as a repeat with a woman at the top. The dreadful condemnatory language used by supporters during the "negotiations," and towards the wider political left online has isolated Rise from the electorate it was supposedly designed to attract. The left as run by the cults of the Cold War left was killed completely by their never really supporting independence and their using old Trotskyist tactics to use it as a lever for yet another great leader.

They were damaged by the generation before them and anyone who wants to help change that narrative must be proclaimed "enemies of the party," (and many of us now outside the SSP, outside Rise -and critically within Rise are given those labels by the Cold War warriors).

And what they have done with their "education" of the bag carriers around them is create further barriers for yet another generation.

Socialist two is a symptom- flapping around trying to please his bosses. And that just shores up the crumbling old guard. He proudly shouts aloud that paper sales are up and his narrative is changing as the new one is rolled out into the SSP- the alliance was temporary.

To be honest, there is much in Rise that is admirable- especially aspects designed by the likes of Nick McKerrell and Liam Young; but yet again, those who want to use the "hero" method and the centrist, even hidden, leadership model are reigning supreme -hidden by the nods to democracy others think they are in. The bare bones of this kind of organising were seen during the Sheridan Fiasco.

Yet again, the left sects bump along the bottom, some of them still ringing a bell when newspaper sales are up, condemning those as having "less fervour," who sell none and three people join in a week. That bell is becoming less and less frequent. And the opportunity that the independence referendum brought to the SSP has been wasted by dreadful analysis by people still, privately, not that convinced by independence.

Their time is done. Hopefully something honest will begin to take shape once the recriminations etc stop  bouncing around post May.

But those following "wise leaders" need to take stock and rethink their activism. What will change lives is working in communities, building a narrative that is logical and costed and challenges power structures, not creates them.

Socialist One and Two will both be lost to real community, socialist politics as long as they echo the old leaderships. Both need to rid them selves of the past and reliance on gurus.

Rise, the SSP EC and Solidarity are hopefully the last follies these people control.


  1. The socialism that I embrace resides in my heart.
    It is ill served by the parties that tag themselves with the name.
    Neither Labour, SSP, Solidarity, nor Rise are able to breathe life into a brighter future for all as they are without exception poisoned by ego.
    For every individual who is open to debate, who is pursuing personal growth, and has a healthy regard for others and their views, there are far too many crowding them out that nurture plans for personal advancement and the accruing of power.
    They hold the responsibility for creating division, sowing the seeds of disharmony.
    Politics is without a doubt a mess of dysfunctionality, and until that is addressed those who I know that share my view will never feel comfortable residing within the ranks of a party.
    Or as the short colloquial version would say 'too many heid the baws.'

  2. What newspaper is it that RISE is obsessed with selling?

    1. The article does not mention Rise selling a paper.

  3. Great article.

  4. hi Neil,as you may have noticed today on the,'Scottish Left Forum' 'fb' page,I was involved in an exchange regarding the Tommy Sheridan 'experience' and 'heritage'.When you write, 'But those following "wise leaders" need to take stock and rethink their activism.What will change lives is working in communities,building a narrative that is logical and costed and challenges power structures not creates them.' And,'Socialist One and Two will be lost to the real community,socialist politics as long as they echo the old leaderships.Both need to rid themselves of the past and reliance on gurus.'What you are suggesting in this article,I am in general agreement with.Democratic politics has to be where the people are,in the housing schemes,in the rural communities,and in all the other places away from the media lights and glittering prize of a seat in Holyrood ! Radical change will come through the people,not through some law passed at either Holyrood or Westminster.Surely the first step to change is recognising that the political life in this country is simply not democratic.At the last U.K. General Election a third (1/3rd !) of the electorate didn't even bother voting ! How can this be 'democratic' ? Yet,so many people are still prepared to go along with this system ! Look at the Corbyn 'phenomena';if the people are given a bit of time and room to consider real options,they will choose justice ! But the ego and ambition of the few dissaudes the many from participating in the political debate.I've seen it happen.I lived in Govanhill for 30+ years and I was involved in residents groups,community councils,occupation of Calder Street baths ect. ect. And I seen middle-class types from outside Govanhill and also some locals,just dominate and crush any authentic community debate;all to serve their narrow political-party 'aims' and/or neurotic egos ! Again,I don't know exactly how radical change is brought about;but I do know that the first step has to be recognising that this system,and more relevantly,the egos and personal ambitions it is allowed to foster is simply not democratic.Regards.Charlie Haggerty.

  5. Hi Charlie. To be totally fair, the SSP in my experience (7 years as branch organiser, 2 times on EC, 13 years in the party) never seeks to take over campaigns. It has supported and given advice - some of those I've been part of were real community led campaigns and we never sought to gain anything only the victory of those campaigns (community centre closures, bus campaigns, housing campaigns, save our schools, occupations, anti nuclear etc). The problem is when the vanguardists believe they have the one true way and use their "power" to stifle innovation etc and in doing so, wreck the real work others have been doing. The Vanguardists final yahoo is playing out now. We'll see if their arrogance is quelled by what happens in May. It is a great shame- the SSP and those who allied with us through RIC could have made solid gains next year in the local elections. Hopefully for the party it isn't too late. But in order to do that, the old guard centrists are going to have to trust their branches to know their locale and what works. Ego plays a huge part in what is going on in the SSP. No-one likes to be a "place keeper." But those who truly recognise talent, nurture it and stand aside and support, are the ones who will help the left build. The leadership of the SSP has become stale and only encourages others to carry its bags. As for Rise, there is a lot of talent there- but there is a lot of the same vanguardism going on- all to win seats in Parliament. The vanguardists were really badly personally damaged by their gains in 2003 and also their part in the Sheridan show. And that damage continues to set the agenda on left politics!

  6. hi Neil,in my experience as well,the SSP never tried to take over campaigns.As I've commented before,my main criticism of the SSP would be the apparent passivity of the senior people,who worked regularly with Sheridan and utterly failed to scrutinise and challenge the psychopath and ,basically,have never attempted to explain their inaction,even in terms of a lesson to be learned !The consequences of this failure are woefully and tragically,everywhere to be seen.If I had to name one group that is guilty of taking over campaigns ect. then I would,and have regularly in the past accuse the SWP of doing so.After observing the SWP for many years now,I can only conclude that their 'apparently' strange behaviour is most consistent with a group that is being 'run' by MI5/Special Branch or some other arm of the Brit security state.cheers.Charlie Haggerty.


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