This will be also appearing in this week's Scottish Socialist Voice. I am not particularly happy that we had to mention the split again and go down the "who's the best party line", but given the ludicrous statement of Solidarity, I guess it couldn't have been avoided.
The day Scotlands rainbow parliament turned grey
by Alan McCombes
By any standards this was a massacre for the left.
The red-green presence in Holyrood, represented by the Scottish
Socialist Party, the Greens and Solidarity was slashed from 15 to
Of the six-strong group of independents, only Margo MacDonald was
May 3rd 2007 was the day that Scotlands rainbow parliament was
turned a drab prison grey.
The wipe out of the socialist left was made all the more bitter by
the final electoral arithmetic of the new parliament.
Last Thursday marked the end of Labours monolithic stranglehold over
Scottish politics at national and local level. The emergence of the
SNP as the biggest party in Scotland by the narrowest possible margin
will not lead to instant independence, the removal of nuclear weapons
from the Clyde, or even the demise of the Council Tax.
But it is likely to open up a new, turbulent phase in Scottish
politics, a time of strife, which could accelerate the ultimate
break-up of the United Kingdom and pave the way for the resurgence of
After the horrendous internal strife within the left over the past
year, and with the socialist movement bitterly divided, the SSP went
into this election in a brutally realistic frame of mind. This was a
damage limitation exercise. At best, the party hoped to maintain a
fragile toehold in Holyrood in preparation for better days to come.
Yet no-one expected the sheer scale of the collapse of the socialist
vote, down by 100,000 votes from 2003. The final tally of votes
appeared completely out of synch with the attitude of voters on the
streets and at polling stations, which was open and receptive to the
politics of the SSP.
The Greens too were stunned by the scale of their losses. On the
morning after the election, shell-shocked Green MSPs admitted that
they had been expecting to win nine seats.
Although Solidarity polled more votes than the SSP, the failure of
Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow was the biggest shock result of the night,
leaving Solidarity activists visibly traumatised.
At the start of the campaign, the bookmakers William Hill had offered
odds of 100-1 on Sheridan being re-elected the kind of odds that
might be offered on rain falling in Glasgow sometime in the next six
Every media and academic commentator predicted that Tommy Sheridan
would retain his seat in Glasgow, while the SSP would be wiped out.
As the political pundit, Professor Bill Miller, admitted on Scottish
Television the day after the election, We all expected the SSP to
lose all its seats, but none of us expected Tommy Sheridan to lose.
Sheridan, the most famous celebrity politician in Scotland, even
enjoyed the open sympathy of the mass circulation local newspaper in
Glasgow, the Evening Times.
As well as forecasting his certain victory - and the defeat of the
SSP - the paper even carried a sycophantic double page spread in the
final week, headlined the House of Sheridan festooned with
photographs of the Sheridan family.
This election has been a serious setback for socialism; it would be
futile to pretend otherwise. It is also a tragedy for the thousands
of people who had come to rely on Scottish Socialist MSPs to deal
with their problems.
In Glasgow, for example, Rosie Kane and her caseworker met with
queues of asylum seekers facing deportation. These cases are often a
matter, literally, of life and death.
Other MSPs have tended to hide behind the coat-tails of Westminster,
refusing to deal with asylum because it is a reserved issue. Sadly
one of these MSPs was Tommy Sheridan, who refused to dirty his hands
with asylum casework after leaving the SSP to form Solidarity.
Within the parliament too, the SSP has provided a voice for workers
in struggle, and for others who were too poor or marginalised to be
of any interest to the big mainstream parties. Holyrood will be a
poorer place without the Scottish Socialist group of MSPs.
There is no single explanation for the debacle of May 3rd. The
incineration of the left was the product of a combination of
In the first place, all of the smaller parties and independents were
mangled in a classic political squeeze, in which two parties were
running neck and neck. In this election, the drama was heightened by
the fact that one of the two parties stands for dissolution of the
United Kingdom, thus polarising Scotland into two camps: pro and
These two juggernauts had vast propaganda resources at their
disposal. While the SSP was forced to fight this election on a
shoestring budget of just £30,000, the SNP had a war chest of
£1.5million - ploughed in by big business, including a £500,000
donation from the reactionary Stagecoach tycoon, Brian Souter.
Labour, meanwhile, was gifted literally millions of pounds of free
advertising from Scotlands mass circulation tabloid press, notably
the Sun and the Daily Record.
Despite the partys cosy rapprochement with elements of Scottish big
business, many left wing voters - including it appears most of those
who voted SSP in 2003 - swung behind the SNP in this election.
Alf Young of the Herald - one of Scotlands most incisive and
experienced pro-Labour analysts - pointed out the irony behind that
The far-left took out its anger over New Labour, Blair and Iraq by
backing a party which, while sharing their goal of Scottish
independence, has even less interest than Gordon Brown in bringing
the pillars of modern capitalism crashing down.
The small print of Alex Salmonds economic policies were drowned out
by the headline promises of an independence referendum, the removal
of nuclear weapons, Scottish troops out of Iraq and more immediately,
the scrapping of the Council Tax.
Labour, the LibDems and the Tories have all been tested in government
in recent times, either at Westminster or Holyrood level, while the
SNP is as yet untarnished by power.
As we go to press, the LibDems have spurned Alex Salmonds advances
to form a coalition. That means that the SNP are likely to form a
minority government, possibly with the involvement of the two Green
However, with the SNP up against the much larger bloc of unionist
MSPs, it is unlikely that an independence referendum can be achieved
The other key flagship policy of the SNP replacing the Council Tax
with a three pence rise in income tax may also have to be shelved.
The economics of the policy do not add up. It would leave a black
hole in council budgets of half a billion pounds, forcing cuts
elsewhere. Moreover, although a deal could possibly be reached with
the Liberal Democrats over the scrapping of the Council Tax, the
Greens have in the past voted against an income-based tax which
means that the policy could be scuppered by the narrowest of margins,
even with LibDem support.
Paradoxically, a minority SNP government could potentially create a
more favourable climate for a future surge towards independence. A
stable SNP-led coalition would involve backdoor deals, horse-trading
and shoddy compromises with the LibDems, allowing Labour the
opportunity to recapture some ground.
In contrast, a minority SNP government could allow Salmond to portray
the SNP as a party which is trying to introduce radical changes, but
is being blocked and obstructed at every turn by the three unionist
Either way, the sands of Scottish politics are shifting. The
socialist left may have been marginalised for the time being, but
that can change rapidly and dramatically in the future.
It is not much more than year ago that the political obituaries were
being written for the SNP after the Dunfermline West by-election
the SNPs worst by-election performance since 1982.
A procession of political pundits pronounced the terminal decline of
the SNP and the unstoppable march of the Liberal Democrats
As one commentator, Chris Deerin, expressed it in Scotland on Sunday:
Nichol Stephen is youngish, moderate and attractive. Salmond, in
contrast, wears a sullen air& the perception that they have failed to
develop as an alternative government, makes him, and them, an
unattractive prospect. The LibDems are succeeding where the SNP have
repeatedly failed& The SNP cannot turn second place into first.
Even within the SSP at the time, some members (who later left to join
Solidarity) drew the conclusion that the SNP was finished, the LibDems
were now the main opposition force in Scotland, and the idea of
independence was all but dead and buried.
Fifteen months later, and the SNP are now Scotlands biggest party
and about to form a government.
As sure as the sun rises in the morning, the socialist left will be
back with vengeance in the future. And whatever the arithmetical
breakdown last Thursday, the only socialist party with the capacity
of coming back from this defeat is the Scottish Socialist Party.
The SSP fought this election with dignity and restraint. We also
fought a highly political campaign, with a 450-point manifesto,
including the boldest and most radical policy of any party in this
election free public transport.
In contrast, Solidarity exposed itself as an embittered personality
cult around Tommy Sheridan.
The 16-point manifesto of the breakaway party, along with its other
election material, prominently featured photographs of Sheridan, his
wife and his two year old daughter. His name appeared on every ballot
paper, including even for the local council elections.
A large part of the Solidarity vote was an expression of sympathy for
Tommy Sheridan based on confusion and misunderstanding of the facts
that led to the split in the socialist movement, rather than a
conscious socialist vote.
Tommy Sheridan himself, in his manifesto, on TV, and at public
meetings repeatedly accused the SSP of lies, dishonesty and
That is the prospectus upon which Solidarity was created: that Tommy
Sheridan was the victim of a plot to remove him as party convenor;
that the SSP leadership manufactured allegations about Sheridans
personal life to justify his removal; that the party leadership
forged documents to back up these allegations; that members of the
SSP conspired to pervert the course of justice and in order to
The entire Solidarity edifice has been built upon this fairy tale,
and will come crashing to the ground as the lies unravel and the
In the meantime, for wide sections of the public, including for many
ex-SSP supporters, there is no smoke without fire. The allegations
against the SSP have not yet been disproved. At the very least,
people are inclined to lay the blame equally on both sides.
The events of the last two years have been complex and labyrinthine.
But the stark facts are these.
Like Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken, two top Tory politicians who
served lengthy jail sentences for their actions, Tommy Sheridan took
out a libel action based on a fraud: at least some of the material
published in the trashy tabloid News of the World was substantially
The SSP did everything it could to dissuade Sheridan from this
insanely reckless legal case. We predicted that this grotesquely
selfish and deceitful course of action could lead to the destruction
of everything that had been built over decades by hundreds and
thousands of socialist activists.
But Sheridan carried on regardless. He dragged scores of people into
a legal toxic waste dump against their will. These included innocent
people who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and have
since had their lives destroyed to protect Sheridans right to
The SSP was also dragged into the Court of Session. Our response was
to defy the courts and face down a jail sentence.
In the weeks that the SSP was under siege, dragged through the
courts, having its offices raided, Sheridan effectively went into
hiding, failing to turn up to any of the meetings to decide tactics.
The rest of the SSP stood valiantly against the courts.
Finally, Sheridan emerged to argue that the SSP should now buckle
under and surrender the partys internal documents to the News of the
World and the courts. His capitulation was backed by those who went on
to found Solidarity. So far, so dishonourable.
But worse was to come. In an abysmal display of cowardice, Sheridan
told the courts and the media that the documents had been forged by
the SSP as part of a plot to fit him up.
To salvage his fake reputation, he denounced the SSP leadership as
liars, perjurers, forgers and conspirators, before walking out to
split the left and wreck the socialist unity project, built up over a
decade and more.
The mainstream press, cowed by the courts and the threat of libel
action and perhaps also by the fear of jeopardising an ongoing
police investigation into perjury and conspiracy to pervert the
course of justice have never been prepared to bring out these
As a result, the SSP was fighting this election under a cloud of
suspicion. To pretend otherwise would be to run away from reality.
However, two or three years down the road, the events of the past
year will have begun to fade into the mists of history. With the
removal of Tommy Sheridan from Holyrood, the Solidarity bubble will
That will be a massive step forward for the left, allowing Scottish
socialism to be rebuilt under the clean banner of the SSP.
Spoiling tactics turned confusion to fiasco
Its not who votes that counts, its who counts the votes said
The New Labour establishment could have taught the commissars of the
old Soviet Union a thing or two about manipulating elections.
If 100,000 votes had been disqualified in Venezuela, politicians and
newspaper editors would be calling for the tanks to be sent in to
In Scotland, it looks like the response to this mass
disenfranchisement of a vast swathe of the electorate will be a
whitewash, with the Electoral Commission asked to investigate the
Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, has called for a full judicial inquiry
a call that has been rejected by the man responsible for the
debacle, the Scottish Secretary, Douglas Alexander.
In Glasgow, lawyer Mike Dailly has begun legal proceedings.
The SSP should support both of these moves. This democratic
abomination was not the result of incompetence by the Scotland
It was a product of a deliberate, cynical manoeuvre by New Labour
politicians to confuse the public and marginalise the smaller
Since 1999, Labour has consciously undermined local democracy by
refusing to separate the council elections from the Holyrood
elections. In this election, when council elections were conducted
for the first time under PR, the case for a change was overwhelming.
But it was never put before the Scottish Parliament. A Tory MSP had
begun to initiate a private members bill, but, after what appeared to
be backdoor wheeling and dealing, dropped the proposal.
Even worse was the decision to swap the order of the Holyrood ballot
papers and to include the constituency and regional votes on a single
form for the first time.
This was a deliberate subversion of democracy, designed to protect
the big parties and undermine the diversity of Holyrood.
The SNP went along with this ploy, hoping that they too would benefit
from the confusion. They opportunistically attempted to manipulate the
new arrangements by renaming their party Alex Salmond for First
Minister SNP, reinforcing the confusion that already existed.
The SSP can report numerous examples of voters including even party
members - marking their X against Alex Salmond then scrolling down the
regional list to vote SSP. All of these votes would have been
Ironically, the SNPs tactic has almost certainly backfired on the
party. Their cunning plan was that voters would back Alex Salmond on
the left side of the paper, then be forced to vote again for the SNP
on the right side of the ballot paper when they realised that the
smaller parties were not listed on that side.
What the SNP failed to anticipate was that a large proportion of
voters would mark both their crosses on the left side of the ballot
Because the regional and constituency ballot papers were not
physically separate, tens of thousands of people appear to have
believed that it didnt matter which side they marked their two
This would not only distort downwards the vote for the smaller
parties; it would also negate many thousands of constituency votes,
particularly for the SNP.
Without a full analysis of every paper, it is impossible to say how
the results were affected by confusion.
However it is wishful thinking for Tommy Sheridan to claim he was
robbed of a seat in Glasgow. The claim that with just a few hundred
more votes, Solidarity would have won a seat in Glasgow is pure
fiction. Out of around 10,000 disqualified regional votes in Glasgow,
Sheridan would have required 2,200 to beat the Greens and 2,600 extra
votes to beat the SNP and even that would be based on the
far-fetched assumption that neither of these parties had any
In Glasgow as elsewhere, it is likely that the vote for the SSP, the
Greens, Solidarity and a range of other small parties would have been
significantly higher, but nowhere near enough to affect the outcome.
Nonetheless, this distortion of democracy blatantly discriminates
against the most deprived voters in the poorest constituencies who
are already disproportionately excluded from electoral politics.
The constituency with the highest number of disqualified papers,
Glasgow Shettleston, was also the constituency with the lowest
turnout in Scotland just 33 per cent.
And by the way, just in case you didnt know - Shettleston also tops
the UK league table for poverty and deprivation.
Wednesday, 9 May 2007
The Lair brings you the SSP statement on the election results before anyone else! Don't you just love us?