2007 - 2021

All is Not Lost

When I was first asked to write this article I can’t say I wept with joy. It’s not because the subject doesn’t engage my thoughts (it does) but because there’s a bad smell wafting out from a section of the Scottish left. Thankfully some other poor soul has been handed the poisoned chalice of making sense of the complex legal and political issues raised by the two Sheridan court cases. I wish them luck. You’ll be damned if you take one side and damned if you take the other. And doubly damned if you sit on the fence.

As someone who was involved in the foundation of the SSP, and someone who, until 2004, was actively involved in formulating and promoting its drugs policy, it depresses me to see friends and former comrades constantly at war with each other, barely able to sit down in the same room without emanating visceral hostility. I still keep it touch with many on both sides of the SSP divide. I hear and read what is being said about “the other lot”; in private, in public, or on social media. And one thing is clear: as it stands there is more hope of Lionel Messi signing for Hibs in the next few years than any re-unification of the SSP and Solidarity.

The short term prospects for peace and reconciliation are bleak. Some of those involved fully intend to take undying hostility towards their enemies to the grave with them. Nor does Sheridan’s imprisonment mark any sort of closure. Two more legal appeals means the saga could become The Never Ending Story.

The forthcoming Holyrood election highlights the scale of the problem. The SSP and Solidarity camps intend to stand against each other in the regional List votes, despite neither having a snowball’s chance in hell of getting anyone elected. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that either party will improve on the derisory votes achieved in previous elections. Some observers may think, wishing the socialist left could get its act together, why bother? SSP leader Colin Fox went on record recently as saying there are no significant policy differences between the two parties. If so the obvious question arises: Colin, why are you standing against someone with the same views as yourself?

This is a bit like asking Cold War dinosaurs of old why they didn’t support unilateral nuclear disarmament. Both would simply shrug and reply: “We can’t or the other lot would win”. The Cold War is over but the damage – in the form of nuclear arsenals – are still with us. A them-and-us siege mentality is difficult to get out of. It creates walls by default.

All is not lost though. Pockets of activists around both the SSP and Solidarity – who see the futility of a prolonged and bitter war of attrition – have made contact with others in the opposite camp, and beyond. Lines of communication and dialogue have opened up. The online journal Democratic Green Socialist, set up by a group of Solidarity members, is one such ray of hope. Hopefully these non-partisan spaces will spread and grow.

It is not within the remit of this article to go into all the dots and commas of the fractious SSP split. But one crucial aspect of the SSP’s history is often overlooked. By late 2004, before the original News of the World article it was becoming increasingly obvious to anyone involved in the SSP that a damaging split was opening up on the question of Scottish independence. Truth is, if a wound hadn’t opened up around Tommy Sheridan, or Scottish independence for that matter, then something else would have torn the party apart. It was built on shaky foundations.

The rise and fall of the SSP was not a unique phenomena. If we look southwards a similar left unity project was attempted under the banner of Respect. It also fell apart in an acrimonious split, ostensibly around the personality of George Galloway. But scrape away the veneer of personality politics and the main underlying obstacle to any such left unity project soon becomes apparent. It was the Militant Tendency – in its re-jigged guise of Scottish Militant Labour – who were in the driving seat when the SSP was formed. In England it was the SWP who had their hands firmly on the rudder. To their credit both organisations were trying to think their way out of a political cul-de-sac and attempted to build bridges towards other lefts. But Scottish Militant Labour and the SWP had something else in common: both were unashamedly Trotskyite organisations. For decades the leading lights of both organisations had immersed themselves in Trotskyite methodology and inevitably they brought this ideology, along with their old practices, into both projects. It was like bringing a ticking time-bomb into a marketplace of ideas.

The SSP and Respect went through similar development curves. The Trotskyite methodology ensured that each project would be launched in a fanfare of excitement and enthusiasm at grandiose gatherings of interested parties. The top table of speakers, the interim office bearers, and the obligatory steering committees, would, of course, materialise through prior ‘caucuses’ and ‘working groups’. SML and SWP activists pulled enough strings to ensure their choice of candidates were safely ensconced in most leading positions. The seeds of self-interest were thus sown into the original fabric of both the SSP and Respect.

Trotskyism encourages personality politics and builds cults around certain individuals. A leadership fetish nurtures celebrity Pied Pipers in order to engineer some initial electoral successes. And build up party membership. Then, as sure as night follows day, a split occurs, seemingly from nowhere, with the celebrity politician(s) often at the centre of it. Before long minor political differences are amplified into spurious ‘principles’ and the initial project lies is in ruins, leaving all those who invested hope and hard work depressed and back to square one. For non-Trotskyites this is a unique and terrible experience to have to go through. They can’t believe how such-and-such could behave like that. For seasoned observers it’s depressingly familiar.

If any sort of Scottish left unity project is to be forged it cannot be driven forward by those who utilise this destructive methodology. The SSP was one Trotskyite balls up too many. Its time for all on the Scottish left to raise our voices and say enough is enough.

The Scottish Greens, on the other hand, far from being in disarray, are looking forward to the 2011 election with great confidence. And little wonder. They have retained a core presence in the Scottish Parliament for the last twelve years; they effectively influence policy where they can; take part in direct action campaigns; push a radical pro-ecology, anti-war and anti-corporate agenda; support Scottish independence; promote non-hierarchical forms of organisation, as well as non-patriarchal modes of communication; and stand consistently against the prevailing neoliberal orthodoxies. The Scottish Greens could justifiably consider themselves to be the main standard bearers of the left, yet it is a consistently appealing feature of the Greens that making such grandiose claims to centrality isn’t in their political DNA.

If the radical left is serious about mounting an effective struggle against the neoliberal consensus it would make sense that any re-organisation of the Scottish left involved the Scottish Greens from day one. If there was strategic joined-up thinking on the Scottish left the SNP and Greens would be given a clean run at the unionists on 5 May.

Defining the boundaries of the left remains problematic for some. The SNP government is one of the most left-leaning governments in Europe with a broadly social democratic agenda. The SNP membership consists of many individuals who consider themselves socialists or leftists. The same could be said for the Labour Party. Challenging neo-liberalism means mapping out new spaces for constructive dialogue and actions, spaces where old tribal loyalties aren’t deemed important enough to create unnecessary obstacles.

Perhaps the largest component of the Scottish left (this writer included) operates outside the structures of traditional political parties. This includes many thousands of trade unionists, community activists, co-operative members, social businesses, human rights lawyers, civil libertarians, peaceniks, and single issue campaigners, as well as Scotland’s formidable wealth of talent among its creative thinkers and independent media.

It is against this backdrop that the writer Pat Kane has captured the zeitgeist more than most and mapped out an emerging network of energised and imaginative Scottish thinkers and radicals. ‘Thoughtland’ is an imagined space where individuals are engaged in constructive non-programmatic dialogue, developing radical ideas and lines of cultural and political advance. Although not entirely disconnected from political parties closer inspection notes that ‘Thoughtland’ is not hampered by the restrictive pressures of groupthink and the need to defend a party line.

Although still relatively small this fascinating network is crystallising outside the mainstream media and political parties. This emerging space may grow to include cultural projects, social forums, community projects, music festivals, as well as social media, online publications, etc.

It is important to identify this development in order to juxtapose it to the traditional structures and institutions of power. Similarly if the concept of a Scottish left is to have any meaning it may need to be considered as an emerging fuzzy entity rather than ring-fenced in advance by rigid absolutism or fixed ideology. On the big questions – such as Scottish independence, neoliberal orthodoxy, social democracy, a centralised state, decentralisation of power – alliances may need to be forged with those of differing viewpoints if the status quo is to be effectively challenged.

These are all areas where strategic thinking and constructive dialogue may have a far greater pay-off in the medium-long term than isolationist posturing which demands that all boxes be ticked in advance.

This article is from Scottish Left Review Issue 63

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  1. Frank Martin says:

    Quote: “The online journal Democratic Green Socialist, set up by a group of Solidarity members, is one such ray of hope”

    Are you fucking high?
    I soldiered on with this piece Mr Williamson until I got to this point.

    Now I’ve just soldiered on again. It got slightly better. And by better I mean a little less pish (I must admit I skimmed quite alot after that – so forgive me if I missed something worthwhile – plus I’m still toasted from last night)

    I was a politically illiterate when I joined the SSP in late 2005. I was working in a call centre at the time. Long story short… when the split came it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had to make (no one, and I mean no one, canvassed me). I was so naive that if Tommy had stood for the leadership at that point I would have voted for him – he beat the News of the World after all.

    BUT… it was clear to me and anyone else with half a… nae… a brain cell left at their disposal, that Solidarity was a complete farce.

    Maybe I’m missing out on the subtle nuances of Trotsky and Lenin here, or maybe I’m just not a fucking nutter. Solidarity is and always has been a joke.

    Get your head out of your arse.

  2. ayewecan says:

    Frank – I dont think that is a fair or measure response to a really good article, which really was nothing to do with the specifics SSP-Solidarity split or indeed about the equally tragic fates of the two carcasses who will both go through the panto of standing in elections this may in the vain hope they might fluke a result somewhere or other. Why are they doing this at all> because we did it in 1999 and 2003 and it worked . In this regard the two rumps are the most backward looking forces in Scottish Politics. At least the Tories know they were mugged, are looking forward not back . But for SSP and Solidarity to be running around trying to out placard the mainsteam parties and the Scottish Christian nutters party all next month – and call that “activity” I have to say i find just laughable.

    Kevin’s article on the other hand does try to analiyse past problems beyond the Tommy panto and highlight the essential truism: The problem is the contined belief in a substancial section of the left ( Ex militant current SSP and others) to cling to democratic centralist modes of operation because they worked ( very temporarily) for Lenin in Trotsky in 1917 in Tsarist Russia.

    Where I would slihgtly disagree with Kevin is in his singling out of “Trotskyists’ – with The better term is democrtaic centralism – the rigid authoritarian dogma that believes that once the internal caucus has decided the line – on anything from the forthcoming revolution in India to the swimmig pool opening times in Easterhouse – everyone, and that’s everyone must adhere to this line without any dissent on threat of expulsion. Trotskyism yes, but Stalinism too. And Mugabeism, Gaddaffiism. The list is a long one. Catholicism, indeed. Blairism

    Now I know the SSP and Solidary never formally adopted such a creed, but the key caucuses that ran them certianly did and indeed would to this day still argue that democratic centraismis the only true creed for a serious revolutionary Everyone else are mugs to be manipulated for their crime of openness, transparency.

    Dated and dangeros . And as long as section of the left , and organisationally teh biggest sections – cling to this mode of operation in any way it the left will will fail – everywhere and in Scotland in particular. Diversity, libertariasm, anarchism , environmentalism, feminism and more are the ideologies around which any future left party/movement must be built. And all these isms may not have “won” but have incrementally made huge stride in the century that Marxism all but destroyed itself. Went bust in with a spectacular downfall that “capitalism” never has. More than this, any future left movement;s ethos must explicitly and continuously reject democratic centralism, challenge the lenin- trot badge wearers and the like. The nostalgic glorifiers of thatfailed historical project that was so cataclismic that we still have recovered. As toxic as Nazism is for the far right.

    Great article Kevin. I’ll end for now. But this is a debate worth having. More worthwhile than the battle of the lamp posts between the SSP and Solidarity rumps in Pollock and similar places which will pass for “activity”. Think for yourselves Solidarity and SSPers = you know it is a complete waste of time. As revolutionary as a round of golf. No the golfer is more objectively progressive – he don’t get in the way . poison the territory

  3. Kevin says:

    Frank, you dont do yourself or your party any favours by ranting and raging – just because someone has written something you disagree with. My article was not about the Solidarity/SSP split nor endorsing Solidairity over the SSP or vice versa. Its about ideas not organisational structures. And trying to engage in an amicable dialogue with fellow lefts around those ideas.

    While I’d concur with much of what AyeWeCan has written I’d make one ammendment which is what is meant by “Trotskyism”. I dont mean it as an insult nor purely a structural form eg ‘democratic centralism’. The old SSP can correctly point out that the SSP was never organised in a “democratic centralist” manner.

    When I use the term Trotskyism I refer to a methodology. It fetishises leadership and needs its organisatiio and members to be seen as ” leaders”, This affects how it intervenes in campaigns – rarely as facilitators, usually desperate to lead and pull the strings The SWP utilise this approach in everything they do

    But worst of all this archaic destructive approach STILL uses Trotsky’s dishonest Transitional Programme – a shopping list of freebies and “demands” – as the basis of electoral interventions, (see every SSP manifesto since 1999,)

    Trotskyists internalise an approach which promotes cultish behaviour. For instance if someone says something negative about the party or organisation it is read as an attack per se on “the group” rather than a starting point for constructiv vdialogue. Groupthink is the hallmark of a cult not a mature thoughtful political organisation.

    This negative destructive methodology was internalised over many years inside Militant and brought into the SSP by many of its founders and “leading” figures. It still exists. the way yoyu responded to the original article Frank is proof that this methodology still exists inside the SSP, This is a real shame and is causing the SSP to be increasingly isolated from the rest of the left.

    The opposite of a Trotskyist approach would be to seek out common ground with others and act together – rather than always seeking out differences.

    And dont take everthing so damned personal! Its only a party. Political parties are all transient. The ideas are what are important.

  4. Great article Kevin – thanks.

    Frank would probably (now) say you should take his comments with a large pinch of salt: since he wrote while “still toasted from last night”!

    Your explanation of Trotskyism as a methodology, and “Ayewecan’s” point about the refusal of dissent being a far more widespread approach to politics, are both really helpful. There is evidence of that approach in every Political Party in Scotland right now, and it is far more prevalent in some than in others. Perhaps the most crucial thing is that people do not keep quiet about it for fear of letting the others win, but instead are willing to challenge it when they see it in ‘their’ party. If it is not caught early, it is corrosive wherever it is.

  5. ayewecan says:

    Kevin – I first encountered Trots when I was 14 and a member of Paisley Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS) The who barnd was full of trots – and in the heat of a meeting being given the line on every failure of te Labour Party , plu my favorite “the forthcoming revolution in India”. The Paisley LPYS branch chairman (and they insisted on this term) -Frances Curran, laterly of SSP MSP fame and I think the SSP’s top of list candidate in Glasgow this May, The queen of the no hoppers . All members of the trot entrist cabla the Revolutionary Socilaist league which they denied the existance of – even to me when they failed to recruit me. So they were all trained for that High court panto many years ago.

    Your analysis of trotskyism is bang on and you are righto remind me of who the thouroghly dishonest tactiic of transiltiona demands – demand delibertely framed to ensure they coudl nt be met. A demand that coud be met was rformist , counter-revolutionary. This was/is the halmark that made Trots stand out from other democratic centralist organisations like the Communist party who were altogther more reasonable in ths respect. But the CPs organisational tactics were fundamentally thesame, Democrtic centralist, authoritarian and devious, even when dealing with people they claimed the were in alliance with. And exploitative too – numeous industrial dispute they got involved in, where the number 1 obejective was to recruit new cardres. So much so they wanted stikes to fail to fail to maximise dissolusionment and with it their recruitment chances. This was not just a tactic, it was a strtegy, way of life – picked up from Lenin and co from about 1905 onwards.

    But whilst the tactics may have change a little, the fundmanetal adherence to democratic centralism as both a legitimate and indeed necessary mode of operation remains. As does the concept of front “organisations”, they coud hide their true objectives from within. Looking back I still wonder whether or not the SSP was ev really any more than a front organisation for Militant ( RSL) and the SWP. We will never know because of Tommy’s visit to Cupids. Maybe he was on a recruitment mission.

    I also detert these folks assumption still that they are “the left” and everyone else is some sort of dillitant to be educated in the ways of a true revolutionries. As if they have been succesful in the past, whereas they now have about a 80 year record of total defeat on their collective CV.. But failure always because someone else sold out the c. Thy never seem to consider that their might be a simple and common reason why they are permanent losers- not just here in Scotland but throughout the world,in hundred of different contexts. At least the Communists had a go an failed, The trots never go past 1st base. An even when they almost did in Scotland circa 2003-7 they totally blew bickering over the most seedy and irrelevant political crisis I can think about. I think both sides got collectively scare at the prospects of actually achieving something – which a simple glance at the post election Holyrood election outcome tell you they might well have. But in the world of the Trots success is failure and failure is success, So I look forward to their magnificent victories on 5th May

  6. James says:

    Interesting article and one I’ll read again. I do however have to confess that Kevin seems to take no political responsibility for anything that happened in the SSP, despite being a leading member of the organisation, a regular writer in it’s newspaper and a parliamentary candidate.

    I would also question any new left initiative that starts it’s life deciding who to exclude, in this case the archetypal, evil “Trots. As for ” a 80 year record of total defeat on their collective CV” how is soggy reformism doing?

  7. Kevin says:

    Hi James

    I was just as responsible as Tommy Sheridan, Alan McCombes, Colin Fox, Frances Curran, Richie Venton, Keith Baldessara and all the other ex-Militants who brought a Trotsykist methodology into the SSP at its foundation.

    But unlike those named above I’ve put my hands up and tried to analyse and understand what those methodologies were, and why they are so destructive. The others are either in denial, afraid to accept responsibility for getting it wrong from the start, or intend to continue with more of the same.

    I’d challenge any or all of them to examine how much of a Trotskyist methodology they have internalised.

    Eg In 2003 Colin Fox was still giving Trotsky books to school the Lothians Full-time organiser who replaced him when he became an MSP! And only recently Tommy Sheridan was on Big Brother explaining to Coolio how Leon Trotsky was the good guy in the Russian Revolution!

    Until the ex Militants come to terms with their own past – and the methods they have internalised – they will hold back the rest of the SSP and Solidarity from developing into progressive organisations.

  8. James says:

    Thanks for the reply Kevin, and as I said I will need to read your piece properly to come up with a considered response, too many beers tonight to do it justice.

    all the best


  9. Andi Rossetter says:

    Kevin – democratic green socialist are solidarity in the highlands, do you not know this? Or are other forces outside of solidarity and ex solidarity members involved in democratic green socialists? you understand why when you claim that they are “opening up non partisan lines of discussion” how ridiculous that sounds to anyone with any knowledge of the nature of that group? If you are praising them and attacking the SSP then how are we not supposed to draw the conclusion that you are coming down on one particular side in the SSP split? Why is Colin Fox singled out for criticsm and Tommy Sheridan is not?
    Furthermore what trotskyist background did Rosie Kane, Carolyn Leckie, Roz Paterson, Alison Kane, Ken Ferguson, etc, etc, etc come from? My experience of even those you denigrate as trotskyists is that they were activley looking for ways to move beyond that past, and even when i joined in 2002 and I was asking people who had been involved in the Militant and Scottish Militant labour about Trotsky they were reluctant to talk about him and directed me instead to concentrate on what was happening in the present day – Alan Mccombes for one, Liam Young in Maryhill, and Frances Curran have all been leading initiatves in the party to introduce new educational methods, new ways of organising.
    Also the SSP has had an impact on the public debate – free school meals, scrapping prescription charges, and an alterntative to the council tax are just some of the ideas the SSP have pushed up the political agenda.
    SSP activists were also key in building a red green conference in Edinburgh in 2008. I wish the greens well, and one day i hope that there can be much closer cooperation between the socialist movement and the environmental movement, but i do have problems with the green party, but you know what? I won’t attack them in an open forum, or in the sunday herald for that matter – still angry about your article in the Sunday herald Kevin
    My experience is that many in the SSP are activley trying to tackle isssues around patriarchal attitudes and behaviours, and are actively working on the ground to build left unity, acticvley working on the ground to make our communties better places to live and work in.
    your article has made me really angry, and i believe it is a complete misrepsentation of the nature of the SSP

  10. Willie Macleod says:

    Kevin As Socialists we all know what we need to do in the fight for a fair and just society.But what do we do tear into each other over the way we get there. Common ground and fight for what we all want .

    The Hamish Henderson Festival in Thurso next weekend I hope to get there myself it would be good to see you and talk about this . All is not Lost and never will be the fight for social justice goes on. From your Fellow Caithnessian and comrade Willie Macleod

    1. Kevin says:

      Hi Willie

      All is not lost indeed. I wish I could come north for the Hamish Henderson event. Sounds great. The more events like this up in Caithness & Sutherland the better. Enjoy.


  11. Kevin says:

    Hi Andi

    Thanks for taking time to respond. I totally agree with you that many within the SSP are trying to challenge old ways of working.

    You make a wrong assumption though. I’m not attacking anyone within the SSP or Solidarity here. I’m challenging the ex Militants to examine their poilitical roots and consider the baggage we/they brought into the SSP project.

    Its now almost five years since the SSP split and NOT ONE single ex Militant mentioned above has put pen to paper and tried to make critical sense of their Trotskyist past and its destructive sectarian methodologies? Why not? Embarassment? Want to sweep it under the carpet?

    Think about this Andi. I write a piece about the historical roots of the SSP. You had no part in Militant or the first years of the SSP, your past is in the SNP. Yet YOU get angry? Why? Are you a freethinking individual or have you bought into Party Groupthink? Therein lies the problem.

    When members of a party act like the Borg in Star Trek every time there is a perceived slight it confirms that Groupthink will isolate and create adversaries where adversaries dont exist.

    I consider myself a friend and ally of the SSP not an enemy. And that includes with all the former Militants named above. Friends raise differences in a calm and thoughtful way.

    Anger on the other hand – at an individual for their political ideas because they’re different from or critical of the Group’s – is a pointless, childish, and emotionally stunted response.

    Surely its better to leave the anger behind with all the other destructive shit and endorse constructive dialogue instead?


    I dont lnow what article in the Sunday Herald you are referring to as I havent written one for them in many years.

  12. ayewecan says:

    First of all apologies to all from the late night typographical gibberish of my last post. It reads as fluently as a 1982 Ted Grant pamplet on “why the ANC is wrong”

    But if I could also pull back from my on reading somewhat overcritical analysis of Trotskyism and indeed my very use of the word Trots which I know is derogatory – but easier to type than Trotskyists.

    Becuse Trotskyist were not always wrong as I overstated. They got it bang on on the Poll Tax for sure, were not far off the mark on the Miners Strike, CND, and quite a few other impartant issues. I just think they have always been wrong in their analysis of where we are strategically and and where we need to go.

    But that is my opinion and my judgemet – and I persnally have been wrong and badly wrong loads of times, And of couse so too have the ‘soggy reformists” of which I am certainly not one, but may have travelled with along the way with from time to time.

    And some folks are moe left wing that others, some very radical on particular issues, less so on others. If I could use as very current example, George Galloway. Terrific on things like the bombing of lybia and global afairs in general but, in my view, appauling , embarrasing even on the national question here in his only country.

    And although George comes from a Dundee Communist Party/Broad left culture which certainly has a big democratic centralist tendency , still has, it is in our ability as “the left” to positvely embrace the idea of divessity as a strength not a bourgeois weakness that I think Kevin is grasping at. George is a good example here — he could easily become a very divisive figure for the left in Scotland – but only if we let t happen., not rather just accept he is wrong on one particular ( and very important) issue but otherwise is a fantastic asset. A net gain fro sure

    It is not the leftist ideas of Trotskyist or any other “ists” that are or hve been stategically damaging, but th democratic centralist creed that goes with these ideas that has near fatally killed of the left not just in Scotland but elsewhere. Today, the democratic centralist tight cadre organisational mode that Lenin invented and then Trotsky embraced, ( and Stalin “refined”), if it ever had validity , was to another age,

    Today it is just an impossibility for any movement of any size to progress with this organisational mode at its core, The internet alone -Facebook alone – has busted it wide open as has mass literacy , education and much more. Impossible to enforce beyond the tightest of sects.

    Here is where the Tommy Trial is instructive. Whether guilty of not ( and guilty was my undoubted conclusion having followed the trial initailly rooting for Tommy), the point is that the SSP was completely incapable of dealing organisationally with what was, whn one step back ,was a trival idsagreement over a personal lifestle Yet the moralistic Torty party did not split into oblivion over Archer. the Libs over Jeremy Thorpe etc etc. Why? – because they non democratic centralist modes of operation allowed them to organisationally and hen politically deal with difference of opinion personal and political. Labour has survive Iraq , a massive issue which genuinely split the party right down the middle, The SSP could not survive a dispute over a night at Cupids.

    Becsaue near all the key folks in the SSP weer schoold – some from a very early age – to belive that ANY divergence of opinion was a sign of wekness, was “counter revoltionary” and bourgeois. We even saw this in the two tommy trials – with Tommy and his acolites in particula accusing the SSP witness on the other side of all sort of heniosu crimes, not for for having diffence recollection of events than him, ut of stating hem in public in a court of law in this instance g. He more or less said it was a revolutinary duty to lie. Classic democratic centralism applied not to activity in a Tsarist police state but to a cout case cetred aroun a Mancheter swingers club.

    Finally thre is also the contuing false notion that democtic centralists can cedibly work in a left movemet with othe grops an parties that are not democratic centralsit. This just dont work – all tat happens is the democratic centralist groups use the tactics devised by Lenin pre WW1 against oftem incredibyy transparaant and libetarian peoples or groups. Exploitative in the extreme -not against the Britsh state etc, but against often the very best element of the opposition to that state

    If I coud finish on a hsitorical analogy. The tragic victim s of the Spanish Civil war were not -as is still the authooxy o f tratslkyiss them but rather the Anarchists movment , the non Trotskist POUM and left social democrats in the spanish and catalaan Socilalist parties. They were done in by Stalins ruthless GPU as we all know. So to wee”the Trost”. But the GPU were only doing what the democratic centralist logic of the Trotskists themsleves would have done were only they only in a position to do i: .”You are either for us ar against us comrade, this is a revolutinry situation and becuse of your public disagreemts in this situation you are a counter revolutionary” What the stalinst CP said in Spain in 1937, what I was told weh I joined the Militant controlled LPYS in the 1970s. What Rosie Kane and co were told by Tommy and his ackolyites in the high court trials. What Zinoviev and the left opposition, including Trotsky himself in absentia was told in the Stalinist show trials of the the 1920 and 30s

    It ddn’t wok then, It wont work now – anywhere, but certainly not in Scotland where the “democratic intellect” ideology predates “democratic centralism” by over 100 years and has already all but outlive it. Time to bury it forever, if we are going to rebuild with any prospects of success. Invent something better

    As were Rosie Kane and co when tehy stood up in te high cort , s wil evryone lese of teh left, Inlclding SNPers, in te eutyes of democratic centarlists as we approach a showdown wit the British state, Unles the near 100% agree wit their line – an impossibity in ths day and age even if thedemoctratic centralist were rigt on every point of policy

  13. ayewecan says:

    ignore that last paragraph – an earlier bit i edited out that some how or other appeared in my post

  14. Andi Rossetter says:

    i get angry when my friends get attacked Kevin. Write an article attacking Salmond if you want to see examples of groupthink

  15. Ray Bell says:

    The saddest thing about the split (and for what it’s worth, I wasn’t in either half!) was the tendency of certain people in both camps to take gossip and run with it. Some folk took sadistic glee in repeating such stories, embellishing them etc. Very sad. If there was any state involvement in it, it was probably minimal, since what we witnessed was more or less a domino effect.

    I had considered joining, but watching some of this behaviour in its early stages was off-putting. The “solidarity of anywhere but here” attitude of some members was off-putting too. I don’t mind internationalism, as long as it’s not a substitute for local campaigning.

    I also don’t believe dirty laundry should be washed in public. But that’s by the by. Tommy Sheridan was a focus, not the sole cause, for what went on. Lack of self-discipline did the rest.

    The SSP was a big chance to break away from Brit Left mentality, but failed in that because it absorbed it. They broke through, lost the momentum and fought against themselves. A house divided cannot stand.

  16. Kevin says:

    Andi – I was challenging a methodolgy not personally attacking anyone.

    NB if you think the members of the SSP are your friends you’ve got a bit of a shock coming to you if you disagree with them politically, or heaven forbid, leave the party.

    Real friends dont give a toss about your politics. Groupthink on the other hand shuns the heretic, same as in any other religious cult

  17. James says:

    My 2c

    The mistake I think you fall into Kevin is saying that the problem with the SSP was that it never abandoned what you call “Trotskyism” I’d argue that the opposite is true.

    Interestingly you never define what you mean by “Trotskyism” beyond the big, bad bogeyman of democratic centralism. Democratic centralism is just left wing jargon for a simple process, a political party makes a democratic decision and then asks the members to stick to it. That happens in every political organisation from a bowling club to the Cabinet. Factions within a political party trying to have their own members elected as candidates or taking up official positions again is not “Trotskyism” it is standard practice in any party, ask our Labour and SNP friends if you don’t believe me.

    I’d define what you call “Trotskyism” as revolutionary socialism, a belief that the existing state institutions cannot deliver real social and political change and that a socialist transformation of society can only come about through the actions of the people themselves. In this model parliamentary work is secondary, a place to engage in the battle of ideas but not where real power in society lies. It is that that, in my opinion the SSP leadership in Scotland forgot.

    Rhetorically the SSP always spoke about combining parliamentary and extra parliamentary work, and did carry out some useful campaigns. However as 2003 approached the party became more and more focussed on electoral politics (I vividly recall being argued with to cut back on anti-war campaigning to focus on “bread and butter issues” that were seen as more electorally appealing) With the election of 6 MSP’s the situation worsened as Holyrood became more and more the focus of the organisation’s time and effort and, as came out in the Sheridan Trial, more and more of the party’s membership earned their living via the money coming out of the parliamentary group. In this situation there was no effort to build a mass membership party, which was the obvious next step. Indeed in many areas branches withered on the vine while the main activities of the leadership seemed to be squablling for positions. The argument over the press secretary role and the endless bickering about the constitution turned many people off the party.

    When I left the country in 2004 I did think there was a split coming. I don’t think anyone expected the bizzare way it occurred or that it would play out in Glasgow High Court as it did, however there were real political disagreements behind the surface even before the News of the World printed the “Swinging MSP” story.

    I wish you luck with your model of the “fuzzy left” it is not a particularly new concept, indeed much of it sounds like a rehash of the structures of the anti-globalisation movement circa Genoa in 2001. I am very hopeful for the future of the Scottish left, recent mobilizations around student issues have been impressive (and generally led by “Trot dinosaurs BTW) and as the cuts bite I think workers struggle may be back on the agenda in a real way. Internationally the revolts in the Middle East have, for the first time I can recall, put the idea of revolution back into circulation. March 28th in London will be instructive but no-one can argue we do not live in interesting times.

    Finally thank’s for writing this piece knowing the flak you will get. After the courtroom dramas of the last year we need to do some serious thinking of where we all went wrong in the SSP project and move away from just screaming “Scab” or “liar” at each other.


    1. Kevin says:

      Hi James

      Points taken. Agree with many of them. I may take up your suggestion of writing a longer clearer non-inflamatory piece on what is meant by “Trotskyism” and how deep its methodologies have been internalised by a section of the Scottish left.

      And just for clarity the idea of “fuzzy logic” is simply shorthand for a less dogmatic or straitjacketed approach to ideas.

  18. Tocasaid says:

    Good article. With Salmond and the SNP now supporting the hypocritical bombing of Libya, it seems as if only the Greens offer a progressive pro-independent alternative to the Unionist dinosaurs.

  19. Frank Martin says:

    My main focus, if I can call it that at the time, was the suggestion that, “The online journal Democratic Green Socialist, set up by a group of Solidarity members, is one such ray of hope”.

    Why is this a ray of hope? What has it done to cause this hope?

    I would agree that some are trying to work together. They have to at times. But the majority of them don’t view themselves as Solidarity members.

    Andi noticed something else that wound me up. Why single out Colin Fox?
    He was on TV saying that he would be willing to work with those from Solidarity as long as they were willing to accept the truth. And then you carry on to criticise him in an article named “All is Not Lost”?

    1. Kevin says:

      Hi Frank

      I mentioned the DGS group simply because they are open to ideas from outwith Solidarity and when I read their online magazine I see people trying to think their way out of old leftist methods that have little relevance to the 21st century.

      Colin Fox is right to attempt to build bridges towards Solidarity. And good luck to him. I suspect that overtures through the media wont work though and will be viewed as opportunistic point-scoring by Solidarity members. If old wounds are to be healed the SSP and Solidarity may need to take a leaf out of the peace processes in Northern Ireland or the Basque Country where trusted non-partisan intermediaries are involved in the early stages to map out areas of convergence and conflict. It would take time and patience.

      My feeling is that those on either side who have internalised Trotskyist or Leninist methodologies will be the most resistant to conflict resolution and will be most eager to make bad situation worse.


  20. ayewecan says:

    I feel like an outsider here in a private family conversation. I have never been a trotskyist or a member of any political party other than Labour and I left that in the early 90s.

    But I was very active in the Student movement in Scotland betwwn 1976 and 1986 – a strong perid for Trotsykist – the rise and rise of Thatcherism, The peace movement the Miners stike and much more. The “trots” I most crossed swords with were in Miltant, Frances Curan , Alan McCoumbes, Tommy and many more being my contemporaries.

    Take my word for it that I was during thi perid always on the leff of the various non Trotskist faction – Broad left , Cluse 4, LCC and a few more – ideed some of the more rigth leaning types not infrequntly accusing me of being a Trot plant – or being told , in anger to “go join you trot friends et”. I had my moment , but tried and larely suced in keeping good personal rlation with most trost I cae acroos.

    Ar Glasgow Uni the SWP were more of a force than Militant and though knew the difference I could see that in most essential matters they agreed with the Militant – the main difference was over entryism in the labout Pary. I even, rather bizzarely had the RCP ‘s daily newspaper Newsline deliver to my door every week by an RCP acticist who often came into to discuss the world as the RCP saw it, with presumably a aim of recruting me at some time.

    Now ths was all pre SSP – a full deacde or more. But near all the key player that went on to found build and then destroy th SSP were my contemprries.

    I also worked as apolitical jornalist at STV during the late 80s and 90s and was about the only journalist in Scotland that took first Tommy and then SSP seriously.I was he gut that got the moble phone into Tommy at Saughton when he won his council seat from jail in Pollok – the deal being Tommy could use it for whaetver he wanted as long as he gave STV the fisst live interview after the decalration.

    When the SSP emerge I was excited 0 though due to work unable to rake part. I have always believe what Scotland has lacked is a credible electoral force to the left of the Labour party and could see the potential of the SSP , In 1999, 2004 and even the the debacle of the 2007 election I was rooting for the SSP /Solidarity to do well,

    Bu the qusetion I have asked myslef , and other , including Trots, have asked me many time is why did I never join. As explainmed i had a wolk related excuse for what were the halcyon days of the SSP, but I had a completely free hand throughtoy the late 70s and all through the 8oss,, And whilst I did have quite significant and policy disagrement with all trotskyist groups, I was probaly closer to them than the laboit party leaderships of my era, But Labour, for all its many many faults, lowed me a voice and at no time gagged me , disiplined me threated to expel me if I criticed labour party policy, clled ot teh leade to resign etc – I could even do TV inteview write to papers ,take part in radio phone in programmes and litrally say what I wanted . It just struck me as fundamentally unappealing that it should be anything but like this, That I, or anyon else wodl wish to join a tiny grop of folks who wou dexpcpt you to agree 100 in publis with the collective decison taken, most by tiny gtoups of peopel with who you had near nothing in commin with than a Party vard or RSSL secret redasr card

    Now ta was nappealing and alinating to me as a left leaning 2o someting 30 years ago when everyone choice were more limted, the world altogether small. How then coud it possible be appeal to my own clone fast forwaded 30 years to te wild of mobile phone, blogs You tue facebook etc etc, where at teh press of a few bitton yo ciud communicated with thoisnads of peope in doxen a countries, near none of who would be members of the RSL , SWP or whateve the RCP are calling themsleves these day. Who iwithout, frnkly mental health problems woudl want to trade this for a tuny disciline group og cadre – in teturn for what, near complete irrelevance? a 1000-1 joy at next to nothing That in order to liberate other people you have to imprison yourself in a sect?s
    And James you are just factually wring when you assert

    “Democratic centralism is just left wing jargon for a simple process, a political party makes a democratic decision and then asks the members to stick to it. That happens in every political organisation from a bowling club to the Cabinet. Factions within a political party trying to have their own members elected as candidates or taking up official positions again is not “Trotskyism” it is standard practice in any party, ask our Labour and SNP friends if you don’t believe me.”

    It doesnt. It is uniue to Marxixt Leninists – CP and Trotskyists.
    . Remeber labour only expelled George Galloway when he effectvely called for the assasination of his party leader ( Blair( by Islamic Jihadist, Short of that he did about everything imaginale to openly and publiclly cahallenge te party lien on almsot anythin. And on newsnight, Question time, phone in show, Trade Union conference. Adnd George was far from alone, On a smaller level I was that soldier – there were tens of thousand of with arty cards, and for decades


    And that was the 1980s. Society now is much more complicated, people are to comlpex . intellectually liberated .

    Democratic centralism, count me out, Indeed count 99.5% of the population of Scotland out, And i am being generous to you here

    1. Kevin says:

      A – The SWP still operate as a the oxymoron that is democratic centralism. Definitely. The SSP was a different beast though. it moved away from traditional Trotskyist structures from day one. Even now it is still evoilving further and further from the concept of the revolutionary vanguard party of yore.


  21. Frank Martin says:


    The N.I. peace process is a good example to put this in perspective, and one I like to use as well. People died and were tortured during that conflict and yet it seems to stand a better chance of success than the left getting together at times. It’s quite ridiculous.

    You’re right, Solidarity members are likely to view Colin’s words as point scoring, but because the statement comes after the court case he can at least be held to it. Not like the attempt at unity made by Tommy several times before the trial – through the medium of the Daily Record. Sarcasm alert: “Come join together and work as one. I realise there is a nasty court case coming up, and that we will be at the opposite side of it but surely that won’t be a problem will it? And I sear that I have absolutely no ulterior motives for extending the olive branch at this time”.

    What words have we been seeing coming from the other side of this recently?
    “if you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. These flea-infested rats[SSP members], that played that role to put Tommy in jail”
    “shameful, sordid”
    All via George Galloway at the recent Defend Tommy Sheridan rally. Words that were whooped on and cheered by the remaining Solidarity members in the crowd.

    All is not lost? I hope not, but it seems like it’s Solidarity members than need to be talked down here.

    “Colin, why are you standing against someone with the same views as yourself?”

    There’s a good few reasons for this but I’d imagine that one of the best at the moment is pressing election.

    YouGov poll, conducted between the 15th and 18th of March

    Labour ~ 39%
    SNP ~ 32%
    Tories ~ 11%
    Liberal Democrats ~ 6%
    Green ~ 5%
    SSP ~ 4%
    Solidarity ~ 0%

    Other ~ 3%
    Don’t know ~ 16%
    Wouldn’t vote ~ 6%

    Solidarity has collapsed. It was able to boast far better results than the SSP at the last Holyrood election, but remember… back then the question was “Tommy, why have you just set up a party with the same views as the one you’ve just left?”

    Now George Galloway has wheeled into town and joined the cause. Is that going to help matters? Or allow us to move on to a meaningful debate. Probably not.

  22. Kevin says:

    Hi Frank

    As you point out hings have been said which have just poured petrol on the flames. But its not all lost.

    The proressive radical left in Scotland still have the potential to be a force in Scotland. A positive force for independence and a positive force to counter neoliberalism.

    Outside the Lab Party and SNP there is a political space that can be filled. my article was trying to identify who could fill that space and what would most likely provide the biggest obstacle.

    The answer to the first was: The Scottish Greens, SSP, Solidarity and non-party radicals, libertarian lefts, and community activists. Those are the four main components of a re-emerging radical Scottish left. And I identified the methodoligies of Trotskyism as the biggest obstacle. The hows and wheres are up for grabs.

    If the left focusses on simply re-uniting the old forces of the SSP then this would IMO be a waste of time and energy.

    i hope the players involved can move closer to one another rather than ostracise and alienate one another. Which is why critical dialoguing is essential.


  23. Frank Martin says:

    Quote: “My article was trying to identify who could fill that space and what would most likely provide the biggest obstacle.”

    Aye, it’s a long hard debate, and a very complicated subject. The fact that people tend to resist change doesn’t help.

    When the election is over the SSP will finally be able to work on restructuring, as a whole. The Scottish Socialist Youth, and some of the SSP branches, have been opening themselves up to other groups for a quite a while now. The results seems positive if perhaps a little confusing to those of us that enjoy structure.

    There’s many young voters that looked at the SSP and the Greens and thought they should merge. Perhaps naively. This is before the salacious tabloid legal pantomime started playing out. Maybe in the long run the destruction it caused will have a positive effect. If people were going to get out of that old mindset then maybe that was the jolt that was going to do it. How’s that for positive spin, or glass half-full mentality? Ooft! Personally I think some form of change would have happened anyway.

    Despite the significant faults and errors in the SSP it did still managed to gain decent progress. So it was doing something right. One of the main faults of the Green Party is that it still hasn’t figured out how to gain respect in working class communities.

    Sorry for the initial reaction, but the start of your piece portrayed Solidarity and the ourselves as on some sort of equal footing when it comes to shouldering the blame for recent failures. That’s clearly not correct. Nowhere near correct. Certain groups and individuals took a calculated strategic decision to form another party and to try and destroy the people and the party they left behind. Thankfully that hasn’t happened. Who would you rather have working at a table to negotiate a new radical left with? Those that practice and had been successful in that sort of strategy, or the SSP as it stands today? As it stands we’ve both learned lessons from the panto. Some more than others I dare say.

  24. Vronsky says:

    I feel a lot like ayewecan, intruding on a private conversation. My apologies, but anyway – perhaps a message from an alternative reality could be useful.

    I see the word ‘methodology’ being flung around, accompanied by the assumption that some methodologies are better than others. I’d like to question the whole idea of methodologies in politics.

    At school I was fortunate to be taught physics by a young graduate who thought his subject was important (he quickly moved on to other endeavours). He showed us a card game called Eleusis – one person (the dealer) has the deck and deals out the cards to each player, except for one card which is placed face up on the table. Each player in turn then offers a card to discard on this heap, and the dealer says whether or not this card is acceptable. Before the game begins, the dealer has to write down on a piece of paper his rule for discards – for example, a red suit must be followed by a card of even number, black by odd.

    Our teacher let us play this for a bit, then asked us if we thought that the laws of physics were of the same sort – written down somewhere, and discoverable. He pointed out that sometimes people who won at Eleusis were wrong about ‘the law’, and had just guessed close, or been lucky – success didn’t mean truth. This he demonstrated by having no rule on his piece of paper, and just deciding randomly whether or not a card should be accepted. It was extraordinarily difficult to persuade winners that they had merely been lucky, and there was no rule.

    Now of course this about Platonism, and I’d like to suggest that the failure of the left is its unconscious Platonism. Not only (they think) is there an absolute truth, but it is a TOE – a Theory Of Everything. And a GUT – a Grand Unified Theory. Such ideas are questionable in the disciplined world of physics and ought to be a lot more so in the chaos of politics, something to be reckoned alongside the hunting of snarks.

    The examples you mention of useful activities have in common that they select practical problems which have more or less obvious approaches to their solution (always assuming you agree it’s a problem). But ‘Socialism’, ‘The Left’ – whatever – are drowning in pursuit of Theories of Everything, the Grail, the Philosopher’s Stone, the Grand Unifying Theory, the Lost Chord. The grandiose ignores and loses the particular and simple. The more embellishments you add to your story, the less likely people are to believe it.

    But you’re especially right about the voluntary sector. Why not everybody pick a problem and go and do something about it? That brings the revolution within the compass of ordinary endeavour. As they say at the managerial motivation meetings, the way to eat an elephant is a little at a time.

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