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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

In the Post-Rise political landscape, where now for the Scottish Left?

2007 Redux? (updated 17.5.16 12.48pm)

Is it 2007 again? The left in disarray and Shagger Sheridan in the headlines...

One of the most sadly tragicomical things I witnessed during the long independence referendum was the then Solidarity bound SWP leading a small chanting crowd around George Square. I don't recall if it was one of their Sheridan promoting bedroom tax usurping demos or their Sheridan promoting "indyref" "Hope over Fear" things- but the sad thing was they led a small crowd of new activists, young and old, very confused, round and round the square- unable to go anywhere else because of Glasgow City Council restrictions- the pretence in dragging the crowd round and round was that "no one will tell us what to do." The MC was a college lecturer and the usual suspects dotted themselves around the crowd to recruit for their wee group as we, another wee socialist grouping sat in a room in a pub overlooking the square lecturing another wee group of grassroots organisers as to our preferred path to a winning outcome.


And in my opinion a lot needs to change in Scottish left politics before these scenes stop and real change can take place in Glasgow and Scotland on the scale and lasting impact the Militant Councillors managed in Liverpool in the eighties.

Let's get something off my chest about Rise/SSP, after a year of divisiveness and negativity. I need to. Election analysis and Rises part in the election will be made by pro-Rise folk and anti. (I've commented on this one -one of the better ones)

Believe it or not, I was never anti- I just didn't see the need for Rise and wanted to know beyond getting a new face promoted in Glasgow, what the point was for the wider SSP to get involved.

But I need to also contribute to solutions.

Do I blame everyone in Rise/SSP for the fiasco that took place in the past year that seemingly pitted socialist against socialist and feminist against feminist?

 No. I don't.

But I blame some individuals. Some may say we should not be personal. I agree- but the attacks by individuals and the same people being involved in Machiavellian manoeuvring as have been for over twenty years and who used the same tactics to keep their position within parties/movements etc, must be called out.

They have done it again.

(Bear with me- I get to positive solutions later!)

Through words that sound reasonable and actions that are far from it, they have managed to cause damage to something that was building into perhaps, an entity they were not in total control of- but it was building into a new SSP -respected across the Yes movement.

I blame the "pale male/female and stale" people on both sides of the SSP/ISG divide (some were not formally part of the ISG, but had close ties) who are still playing out differences of opinion that go back to the eighties and dressing themselves up and surrounding themselves with young new activists who they exploit for legitimacy (and votes).

But it is the same power dynamic that created Sheridan; alienated grassroots activists from the Poll Tax demos through to the independence referendum and continued afterwards. They speak of victories, and party enemies. They never ever self-analyse- and the same mistakes play out over and over, alienating and destroying new talent while they whisper in ears and massage egos in order to keep their own position in something perhaps they are trapped in (and look around you Rise- the same people who were in control ten years ago, are still facilitating, controlling and speaking for you).

The current self-congratulatory tweets and Facebook are of course, designed to keep the chins up of the young people and new activists the leadershipsbrought on this car crash journey. It has been interesting- and tragic - to watch some kick out against criticism on social media- calling people "creepy" and worse, for following them and disagreeing on SOCIAL MEDIA.

But the more positive posts are also designed to quickly send a message out about the ISG/new Rise leadership and the SSP leaderships wish for where the smashed up vehicles should come to rest. New tyres and a coat of emulsion; more fixes for the poor they speak to from podiums, more middle class paid saviours; they'll be off again- careering towards NEXT May, both groups have indicated.

 Some of these people are so desperate for power and a place in left history, their analysis is totally skewed (and let's be honest, some who have done the same things for so long they really don't want to give up). Some who have been so damaged by the continuous left sectarian fights and the Sheridan disaster they took part in that they cannot truly see the reality of the current situation.

But not all.

Has any of the machinations of these people helped the working class over the past year?

Not a lot.

Some of them are more concerned about the dynamic within their small political groupings to give more than a glancing, dancing, fiddlers fuck at the working class communities they are letting down time and time again.

The left hierarchy are at present acting like capitalists- trying to out manoeuvre the others for gains- gathering loyal bag carriers around them- and new people keen to change the world (the latter are always jettisoned as they pose a threat to the power dynamic of the islands of cadre).

But aye, not all.

I do feel some who created firstly the SLP from the ISG and those who wanted to save the pluralist constitution of the ssp in the late 00's, but failed, did so with honourable intentions. I believe, though, their honourable intentions were all but lost with the rush to show "we can do it better," and the panic that set in when they realised the SSP, with its degenerate democracy, had publicly detoxed during the indyref. Their negative messages sent out pre- May 2015 about the SSP showed little want to understand the post independence referendum political landscape. They were still engaged in the fights within the SSP that had completely died during the referendum campaign. Some believed their work in RIC should really have paid the dividends- for their want for a new party away from their 2010 assessment of a toxic SSP. They constantly referred to the importance of RIC without recognising the huge work SSP activists, The Greens and The SNP did for it and actually, on a scale of things, the RIC work and recognition was minuscule to the positive response and recognition the SSP got from its punching above its (and the Greens) work in "Yes" across Scotland.

RIC = Party...

The analysis of RIC as something that could become a party totally missed the reason as to why RIC had managed to bring a small, but significant "lefty" bunch of people together.

It wasn't for socialism, it wasn't even for anything hugely radical. Look at where the once non-aligned members of that "campaign" within a campaign actually bled to after the referendum. Few begged for a new party and few have stayed in RIC. Their "radical" is now within the safety of the "radical" SNP and the Greens.

The parties who benefitted from the non-aligned "radicals" we're the SNP and the Greens (the SSP benefitted also, but a lot less than it should have due to little importance at the time, being given to an online membership pay site by the then controller of the website -the National Spokesman, and other key EC members).

In the coming weeks there will be recriminations and current SSP vs Rise leadership ego stand offs.

Few I have spoken to in the party I was in for 13 years have respect for the people who warped democracy and cast away the constitution (one that others who were key SLP/Rise people had tried to save back in 2010).

But Team Rise has also lost its credibility through the campaign it first launched to win over the SSP and key people within the SSP in doing so alienated modernisers within the party and attacked them for asking questions about the rush to the shiny shiny. Of course, getting rid of the modernisers concreted the old stale leaderships place in the SSP -and Rise- , and massaged egos and soon had them proclaiming Greece 2.

Social Media...

Team Rise quite rightly had identified the new media- social media, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook etc- as a place it could exploit to get its message across. As pointed out by many, their videos were great- but they totally misunderstood the *social* in social media. And they seemed to allow members to scream, demean, patronise and name call across Facebook groups and Twitter. The attacking and trolling again, of people with questions about the grouping, their purpose and their politics managed to alienate socialists across the UK, not just Scotland. I did point this out in private meetings with a Rise "facilitator," who then did try to do something about it- but it only began to change with days to go before the election. Way too late- and then when Greg Moodie pointed the viciousness of Rise people on Social Media, he, in the full glare of the press, and political twitteratti, was also attacked -1000 attacking tweets in a few hours after he published a preview of his pre- election strip, featuring Rise's Cat Boyd. These attacks also extended towards SNP candidates with Yes Bar owner, socialist and activist Suzanne McLaughlan also bearing the brunt of attacks from Rise activists- again in the full glare of the SNP and press AND Twitter electorate -who on the one hand were expected to give the peach ballot paper vote in Glasgow to Rise's Boyd, yet we're seeing their favoured constituency candidates attacked and their questions batted off with sarcasm, expletives and various "ist" words, like racist, sexist and misogynist.

Of course, the Rise Twitter crew and Facebookers had form- some of those involved in these shocking displays had been doing the same things within the SSP the previous year, leading me -and others- to stand down from EC and resign from the party. They had protection and cover to do so from the top of the SSP (and the SLP/Rise team) and they perhaps felt their trolling was justified because no one took them to task- from either the SSP leadership nor from Team Rise. And so it continued as a "successful" campaigning tool...


The problems that beset the left in Scotland go back years- and split after principled split lead to local campaigns being fought over by damaging sectarian groups who have no real claim in knowing how to move forward though can claim vast experience in internecine battles.

There is now no room for the SWP, CWI and splits from Militant Tendency to fight over who leads campaigns. It is and has been for years, hugely distracting and indeed continuously poisonous and polarising. We are losing the fight against austerity- and if the SNP are a party of bosses and business, then the current state of the Labour Party ensures we have no protections at all from an SNP who could end up fighting off Tory rhetoric by sounding more Tory.

Yes... Euskadi.

A number of years ago, I spent a lot of time with Basque nationalists and republicans here in Scotland, and then over in the Gexto region of Euskadi. Although the referendum ignited Scottish nationalism, republicanism and the calls for independence from the UK, we still have a way to go in how the Basques have political conversations across political groupings. There are some of the community aspects of Basque street discussion beginning to happen- and their political party pubs and local "txokos" (hired shop spaces where people cook, eat and drink around a large round table and sing and discuss) are beginning to have small copycat business and community models here (Yes Bar; Women's groups; Rise "circles"). But we are a long way from the comfort that different political beliefs can walk from bar to bar and have meaningful conversation without molestation. In that, I don't mean our Glasgow Yes Bar is unfriendly to unionists, but our Ulster British and Irish Celtic bars could be in East and West Belfast. We need more of the conversation and debating forums the independence campaign allowed us. And I believe the people RIC, Women for Independence and Rise mobilised should form those roles. Town halls, meals, stalls calling for discussion should now be our focus. And party politics should be left to those who only want to shout at elections for their few hundred votes.


How does the left become relevant again? The branches/circles in these organisations need to take control from the dreadful strategists who threw enthusiastic, hard working activists into the jaws of defeat and humiliation and alienated many more (and will continue to do so with their sage, whispered advice). Strategy is not a few newspaper articles, winning an argument via a warping of democracy- strategy is bringing your membership -and new members- with you. It is listening and talking, and it is looking at the real lie of the land- not a virtual reality tour of it as built by your rose tinted, self aggrandising ocular forehead strap on.

Post Election...

My original reaction to last Thursdays result was anger towards the self appointed gurus and pity towards those who were new to politics who were led through exhausting activity to defeat. The fact is, these people who control the mobs will continue to manipulate in order to manipulate the ever decreasing circles and branches. For me, I feel if they can't let go, activists need to. They need to get active in their communities and bypass, for now, internecine willie wagging from the old guard and the new cadre who are now on their turf, playing their ever decreasing circle game.


I feel better towards what can happen by all of those people in the past few days who are demanding decentralised, democratic organisation that is led by branches and has a fully accountable executive. The ssp was going towards that after the Sheridan split but was hijacked by - perhaps well meaning people - but as usual well meaning becomes stale and a block to power and the game players become blocks to progress.

In my opinion, there needs to be a period of decentralised local building, with conferences periodically to discuss national issues and links. The personalities like Shafi, Boyd, Curran and Fox can be retired to RIC or elsewhere. They have proved themselves, at present, not to be the great strategists, or bridge builders they built themselves up to be.

The left will only prevail by making differences to lives- and we can't do that by pursuing election after election, fruitlessly, embarrassingly.

We need to build local, diverse -cross party even- groupings that talk to each other and fight local campaigns and back local activists in local elections.

And never again do I want to witness a bloody awful, screaming, nasty, patronising and demonising campaign on social media as the Rise activists launched on us, firstly in the SSP, and then across the political spectrum in the past year (and beyond as SLP) by undirected, angry young people- who in actual fact seemed, at times, unsure what it was that was making them angry.

Was it men?

Was it lefty men?

Was it modernisers?

Was it the old guard they were in the organisation with?

Was it independence?

The SNP?

The Labour Party?

The Tories?


Did they have solutions for any of the communities they said they were standing up for?

But having said all of that, the two cadre- those in charge of the SSP and the hidden leadership of Rise, need to be taken on- persuaded to leave the scene for now, or dumped. They are what will keep the left wee.

Setting the Agenda...

And one more thing though, as pointed out by a comrade who left the SSP - those who fucked up over the past year can, of course, be part of the agenda- not setting it or facilitating it. I've seen those who supported and "enabled" the thing that became the spitting, venomous, finger pointing vehicle that brought us to 0.5% disaster telling people we now need calm heads! That's what they should have been telling their new, online zealots and those who demonised and demeaned socialists who questioned the process and tactics of it. And 0.5% may have been a few percent more.


Yes, things need to move on- but if those who controlled the processes that led to (or supported)early May's embarrassment and the emptying of the newly buoyant SSP, then the left stays small.

There needs to be honesty- not figure massaging.

Honesty- not fitting history around what you want it to have meant.

Honesty- who fucked up (and why).

And then we need to allow people to focus on their local areas away from interference or brand names. The socialist movement needs to recover from Sheridan (I honestly thought it had until those who used their "power" in the SSP to go in this direction did so) and it needs to recover from, but learn from, Rise.


There have also been suggestions within the SSP that it should join the pro union TUSC- a grouping long discredited in Scottish left circles because of just how many Sheridan supporters and enablers are in it, and its failure to take on basic feminist and democratic principles. TUSC has a long way to go before many will touch it- but it did out poll the other factions, so Rise and SSP rather than setting the agenda, perhaps need to be a little more attentive of where and how TUSC organise.

People Before/Not Profit...

There are huge lessons to be learned from West Belfast and Derry in the elections. People Before Profit and its new MLA's are very much embedded in working class communities and imbued with working class principles and politics. A place the SSP was in 2003- and seems to have, for odd reasons, to have abandoned for a student and graduate led "alliance" who spent more time on Buchanan Street than Possil, Govan, Drumchapel, Easterhouse or Yoker. Working class branches of the SSP seemed to drop away. As did working class gems like Liam McLaughlan, Sandra Webster and Councillor Jim Bolan, sacrificed for a new personality cult- or at least, they fell silent once the direction was decided by the undemocratic moves within the party to clear the Rise path.

The People Before Profit organisation and grassroots campaign has much more relevance to the Scottish working class than the Podemos and Syriza groupings.  But some in the SSP/Rise seemed to be totally seduced by Ouzo last year.  Their Greek plate smashing holiday seemed to go to their heads and they seemed to see a path through the labyrinthine and difficult terrain of actual on the ground political work and thought they could street stall and twitter their way to Holyrood. 

The Rise/SSP leaderships will struggle to admit they were wrong, and little will change on the left.


The new left- whether that is the SSP/Rise/Rise 2, can only be built from the ground up- and this generation of activists need to sacrifice any quick fix towards socialism to start building on the ground for their children and their grand children to take it to the next level.

Quick fixes don't work.

Winning local and large campaigns (like the huge victory of Liverpool in the eighties that still has a huge positive impact on health and housing etc) are the only way forward. And constant non-sectarian education about socialist/grassroots victories for up coming activists and young people is essential. There is no road map- but for human beings, the proof of something's worth is in the actual practise.

Our organisations should be democratic, non-centralised and allowed to evolve organically locally, nationally and historically or else we have them breaking and competing with each other and wrecking all they come in contact with. The fable of the tree and the blade of grass in the storm is apt.

The SSP needs to also talk to people who left last year and ask why they did. And also, without the shitty "at least I worked my Arse off" crap, ask why others didn't work for Rise. If this is purely an internal thing that keeps outside criticism away from its sensitive ears, the SSP- and indeed, the principled left as a party- is dead.


Truth and reconciliation stretching from today, back to 1999 must happen, in some form. We cannot as a left continue in this broken, ego driven fractious way, or as Yanis Varoufakis has said recently, we are making the mistakes of the 1930's yet again and are letting fascists walk in.


Some are saying, "let's be dispassionate in our analysis." No- there needs to be room for truth with passion. We need to have a shouting, wailing and gnashing of teeth truth session- the differences bubbling under the principled left for many many years need to be heard and addressed, learned from and gotten rid of.

There was a process that led the Scottish Socialist Party/ Scottish Left to this point and it needs to now be revealed in its totality- things that led to a huge bleed of members between 2010-12 and the enabling of last years conference in which a National Secretary chose who spoke and when, leading to a huge bleed of new, enthusiastic members.

There are massive historical issues to get over here.

Truth and reconciliation is one.

Democracy another.

Ego the biggest.

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