Scottish voters will have a new choice of pro-independence left vote with the emergence of Rise. COLIN FOX explains
THE background political context to the Rise (Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism) conference in Glasgow last weekend could hardly be more significant. Having declared war on the poor at home, the Tory government is now embarking on another spurious and ill-advised military adventure in the Middle East.
It’s as if it learned nothing from the humiliating British reversals in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Of course it will not be David Cameron or Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s sons who get killed in Syria. It never is. The polls are inconclusive but many suggest this is being seen as another unwelcome knee-jerk military engagement without a thought-out exit strategy. Rise can look forward to playing a leading role in the Scottish anti-war movement.
Meanwhile the civil war in the Labour Party — 66 of its MPs voted for more warmongering despite the views of leader Jeremy Corbyn — is now being played out in full Technicolor. Labour can hardly lead the case against the war when so many in its ranks support it.
Its division is just as deep in Scotland where, to add insult to injury, the pollsters are now flagging up the possibility of Labour’s support at 19 per cent falling below even that of the Tories.
And with another SNP MP now mired in an unseemly financial scandal, the need for an effective, principled, popular left-wing alliance advocating independence and campaigning on an anti-austerity, anti-war and anti-corruption programme could hardly be more obvious.
Rise has come a long way since the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) affiliated in May. While progress may have been frustratingly slow at times, our involvement has nonetheless helped shape this electoral alliance and propel it towards activity on the streets and on the issues that matter to working-class people.
The weekend before last was a good illustration of Rise’s confidence and combativity as we were involved in the climate change march in Edinburgh and the STUC anti-racism celebrations in Glasgow.
Our active involvement in both mass movements augurs well for the future. This is the shape of things to come for Scotland’s Left Alliance as the Holyrood elections draw near.
Held in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, the conference endorsed many issues the SSP has pioneered and promoted over the past year — not least our commitment to a second referendum on independence as part of its manifesto next May.
It will help Rise appeal to those independence supporters who currently intend to vote SNP with both ballot papers. There is also agreement on Rise MSPs taking a worker’s wage should they get elected.
The SSP is the only party to have implemented this progressive practice in office in Scotland. And there is a united determination to highlight those other progressive policies unique to Rise such as a £10-an-hour living wage, welcoming refugees and immigrants, creating 100,000 new climate jobs and introducing free public transport.
These flagship policies were agreed last weekend.
That is not to say there are not disagreements within Rise but the conference highlighted, above all, the 90 per cent of issues that we do agree on and acknowledged the significant progress we have made together. Rise is still a “work in progress.” There is some way to go before we become a household name and register in the polls. To do so we need to become much more involved in the various progressive campaigns and advocate an independent socialist Scotland, resistance to neoliberalism, to austerity and of course to warmongering in Syria and elsewhere.
The structures of Rise, from its local circles or branches to national forums and assemblies, reflect this work in progress and these were discussed at the conference.
The alliance is still developing and its longer-term prospects depend on how it performs in May. With that in mind the final session at the conference considered the full electoral challenge Rise will deliver in the Holyrood elections.
Our key task must be to persuade Labour and SNP voters to give Rise their second or regional/list vote. This will be more challenging with Labour voters as the polls suggest Kezia Dugdale’s party will win few constituency seats and depend on securing lists seats. Rise will do better persuading SNP voters that a second vote for the nationalists will be wasted and runs the risk, paradoxically, of electing anti-independence MSPs instead.
The conference will hopefully inspire and direct the work of Scotland’s Left Alliance for the next six months and beyond.
Colin Fox is national spokesman of the Scottish Socialist Party.