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Monday, 12 November 2018

... My former party the SSP

Written in response to an article written by Carolyn Leckie in The National Newspaper.

Weird seeing a whole article on the ssp in today's national by a former member, who couldn't see past those who attacked me for saying basically the same thing after the original Rise conference. Thing is, she won't have to go to the police like I had to, after threats of doxing etc came from the Rise leadership.

Colin Fox WAS and IS politically wrong to position the ssp as outright enemies of the snp. Many of us who were in the ssp at the time of the first Rise conference a few months prior to the last Scottish Election, expressed that. Many of us knew a campaign similar to the 1999 and 2003 ssp campaigns in which we asked Labour Party members to give us their list vote in order for us to pull the  Scottish Labour Government to the left, was appropriate, only this time saying the same thing to left snp supporters. Colin seemed to want to take on the tens of thousands of members of the snp and the hundreds of thousands of supporters - the sheer idiocy of such a campaign is patently clear now to all except, it seems, Colin.

The ssp stood to make great gains in the last Council elections (and perhaps even some gains in the Scottish elections) after an amazing ssp online campaign in the lead up to Sept 2014 (I should know, I was the online organiser throughout the Yes campaign) . Our online campaign, complemented by a speaking series by Colin fox, Richie Venton, Jim sillars, Sandra Webster and others brought in hundreds of new members and thousands of people who although throwing their hat in with the snp, were ready to lend us a vote. We had managed to attract one of the superb voices of the left Indyref campaign, Allan Grogan which some of us hoped, would lead to more Labour for Independence people coming over to us, who in the pre Corbyn /post Indyref Labour Party, were not welcome in their party.

Locally our branches were thriving. Our branch had embedded itself in the Yes campaign, and were hugely visible on the ground, in local public meetings and as part of the local Yes leadership (I was one of the three party political leaders of Yes in East Dunbartonshire). This was the case throughout Scotland. Ric made a headline or two in the national press, but the ssp were in local press and local yes public meetings every week.

The Rise project was from a marketing point of view, saying "our long serving product we sold you is actually shit, this unproven new thing noone has heard of is better." And this was then compounded by the odd speech Colin made to the rise conference saying that he was now going to "take the fight to the snp."

The utter confusion in the lead up to this within the ssp was soul destroying. We had went from a conference of less than 50 delegates in early 2012, to two conferences after the independence referendum of around 300 activist delegates. Our working with indy live stream people brought our conference to many more hundreds across Scotland. This was small, of course, compared to the snp, but what promise! 300 people saying, this is my party, and I want to be active building it and getting out a positive message. And many more watching across Scotland at vibrant debate and discussion about socialism!

The leadership in deciding to create a vehicle they thought would lead to “ric sized conferences of possibly 3000 people,”(as one member of the leadership told me) and membership of as much as 2000 from Ayrshire alone, according to another, then turned on any dissenting voices. This was the tactics of people very far removed from what had actually happened to build the ssp or Ric. People who still firmly believe stalls and paper sales AND glossy websites were all it took. And as someone in a key position re publicity who wasn't shy in trying to defend and build what we had accomplished, the hounds were set upon me.

The flaws in thinking they would create a ric political party were many fold. Those I raised were that 1 ric was composed of snp, greens and ssp. We could not create anything near to the size of the indyref conferences ric did. 2 ric was a campaign, not a socialist party. In fact many who helped out with ric were not socialists. Radical has many different meanings. Green's who would be to the right of the ssp, or indeed the snp leadership, consider themselves radical. Snp right wingers consider themselves radical. Rise was really composed of ex ssp folk who had fallen out with Colin, ex swp folk who had left the swp with Chris Bambury (who had helped Sheridan split the ssp) and the newly invigorated ssp. 3 the precursor and basis to rise, slp, was hugely undemocratic (creating committees and leaders no one voted for) ... The ssp needed democratic reform within, not the replacing of one undemocratic cadre with another.

My disagreement was that we should be continuing building the ssp and not creating a "New Coke" "Ratners" marketing disaster. We should be saying to those who were outside the ssp that they should join and help in the further transformation of the party. And many of the people in the ssp who had hung on through the disastrous Sheridan shows agreed. Many of us held on even when the rise motions were passed at our early 2015 conference, even as Colin Fox and Frances Curran unleashed a dreadful culture of bullying and secret whispers in toilets and rumour mongering tore like a Heather fire through the party, and the newly planted seed - New members - walked. And then the Rise leadership (of which Colin was an inconsequential part) joined in. Without going in to detail (I have elsewhere) I had to call the police in twice, as a Rise leader insinuated I was trolling, and was being "creepy" and threatened to dox me and reveal where I worked on her twitter etc.

Don't get me wrong. There were many people involved in Rise who were so for good reasons. But the fact is that it was built on the heavily fracked, earthquake cracked egotistical, personal vendetta riven, sectarian landscape of the Trotskyist left. And those shaking foundations made it impossible for new secular shoots to take root. Those of us wanting to stay outside those fights and who criticised the subterfuge openly, were painted as traitors and “enemies of the party.” Secularists were not wanted. What was, were people who took sides. I wasn't on any of their sides. I was on the side of building a secular SSP, as were many of those Colin berates. And I wasn't going to take sides with Frances, so became party traitor number one for a short time, until someone else took my place. And this is how the ssp plays out, year after year.

Carolyn Leckie praises Frances Curran for trying to democratise the party. Frances, who until the lead up to the Rise debacle I had a lot of time for, proved herself to be as bullying and undemocratic than Colin and those around him. The factions built around Colin AND Frances are the problem. Equally. Her support for the rise leader who wrote a dreadful letter to the ssp EC about me-and her own insinuations about me revealed another side to her. This as well as her telling Alan Grogan at his second conference that he "wasn't in the party long enough to have an opinion," and her rumour spreading  witnessed by many, really brought this clever woman who could have led the ssp to better things, far, far down in my estimation.

I left the party at this stage, because my leadership praised those meting out online bullying as "guilty only of building the party," and I was followed out by two major branches made up of people who had been part of the ssp from the outset. A deceased Comrade (someone with many years of experience in politics and a founder member of the ssp) said of what happened to the ssp on the run up to the Rise conference, "this is what happens when you impose things , rather than bring your members with you."

The culture of bullying in the ssp goes back a long time. The branch I organised managed to stay well out of it and we built local campaigns and made great inroads in creating a good name for the party locally. That branch was killed off when the leadership decided to disassemble a superb culture of friendship and activity, by imposing a culture akin to old militant tendency meetings. I notice the party praised one of our quieter members, who died leaving lots of money, for the second year in a row. Unfortunately for him, the leadership wrecked the branch he loved by meddling and basically ensuring disagreements were not allowed. Our branch had thrived on different opinions, discussion and debate. None of that, which was the reason many of us joined the pluralist party of the left in the early 2000's (some were members from the party's inception in 1998), was allowed anymore.

Imagine an ssp allowed to thrive. One free of the sectarian politics that has all but killed off the organised left in Scotland. That's the ssp Colin and Frances should aim for. And to make that happen, they need to step aside. A huge swathe of people politicised by the ssp are now running snp branches and are, indeed Msps, councillors etc. The ssp did amazing things. Unfortunately since 2007, the ever decreasing circles of Colin and Frances, and some of those around them has the ssp just really a great memory. The need of these people to control and to "win," rather than allow a rainbow coalition that encourages dissent has killed off what the ssp was.

Like Carolyn Leckie, I'm party-less. I'm not without political thought and the want to express it though. But with these people still driving the ssp, some of whom have never been voted in position by the bulk of what makes up that yet again tiny party, im not likely to share a party with those who shone brightly between 2003-2007.

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