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Interview with SSP candidates


Socialist Unity spoke to the two candidates standing for the position of Convenor of the Scottish Socialist Party. The Convenor will be elected by delegates at the SSP's annual conference in Perth on 12 and 13 February.

Colin FoxColin Fox is the Scottish Socialist Party's justice spokesman, and MSP for Lothians. He co-organises the Edinburgh Mayday Festival and founded the Edinburgh People's Festival in 2002. Formerly a Labour Party Young Socialist, he went on to become a founder member of the SSP.

Socialist Unity: Why are you standing to be SSP convenor, and why should the comrades vote for you?
Colin Fox: I want the Scottish Socialist Party to grow from here in to what can be seen as the early stages of a mass party. We have 3000 members and 130000 people voted for us 18 months ago and I want to see the party tap into the potential. Not just what the 130000 clearly reveals but we know that our potential support lies considerably beyond that. It is against a background where labour and the SNP, our principle opponents for the working class vote in Scotland are moving considerably to the right.

I think that is the primary challenge that the SSP faces. And I think I am the best candidate for tapping into that potential.

Socialist Unity: How do you see the relationship between the SSP as an electoral party, and its tradition of commitment to the class struggle, and the movements outside parliament.

Colin Fox: They are entirely complementary and they always have been. We stand in elections but it is not the only thing we do. I have spent 18 months as an MSP and during that time I was on the picket line every single day of the nursery nurses dispute; I've recently been on the picket line with the PCS strikers in Edinburgh and Dundee; I've been involved in campaigns, including a very successful one in Edinburgh to prevent the closure of a primary school - the first defeat the council in Edinburgh have had in 12 years. So I have been involved in what the party have been doing in the parliament. Recently, last week in fact, I introduced a bill which was part of the SSP's election manifesto to abolish NHS prescription charges in Scotland. What we do in the parliament is important, and it is part of an array of fronts that we fight on. It is no more or less important than others. But it is quite simply that: a part of a rainbow of fronts that we fight on: industrial, community, electoral; every front that we can.

I think that is why we fought to get six MSPs elected. Six MSPs who have worked very, very hard in the last 18 months to fulfil the party's wishes. It is no more important than any other part of the party's work: it is certainly no less important either.

Socialist Unity: What do you think the pros and cons of having a convenor either inside or outside of the parliament would be?

Colin Fox: I don't think there is any question that either Alan McCombes or myself would be standing for Convenor if Tommy Sheridan had not resigned. Nobody in all likelihood would be standing against Tommy for the convenorship. I think we have to take on what that involves. A lot of the suppositions about convenors inside the parliament, or a convenor outside the parliament, or two convenors or five convenors, etc. are understandable, but are an overreaction to Tommy's resignation. We have one convenor - I think this is the right way forward - to have one convenor doing the job working in tandem with a team of people. That is what Tommy did. I have not been convinced of the reason for any structural change: it is a question of filling the position. And making sure that the genuine collegiate approach; the team approach that we have to working together continues. That would be my approach as a convenor.

Alan McCombesAlan McCombes is the SSP's policy co-ordinator. Alongside Tommy Sheridan, he played a crucial role in the anti-poll tax movement. His 1988 pamphlet, "How To Beat The Poll Tax", written a year before the tax was introduced, set out the strategy of a nationwide non-payment campaign.

Socialist Unity: Why are you standing to be SSP convenor, and why should the comrades vote for you?
Alan McCombes: I was persuaded to stand by a combination of rank and file activists in our working class Glasgow heartlands and by a group of our MSPs in parliament. They convinced me because they had confidence in my judgement, my track record, my preparedness to fight for progressive, socialist politics in Scotland; within the party and outside the party. But also because they believe - including MSPs - that we no need to escalate our extra-parliamentary dimension of the party. We need to continue the stalwart work we are doing on parliament particularly around free school meals and scrap the council tax legislation, free prescription charges. And over the next few months we will be fighting a general election campaign; we will be mobilising against the godfathers of corporate capitalism when they descend on Perthshire in July for the G8 summit. We will be launching along with further parties an independence convention; we will be stepping up the campaign to bring troops home from Iraq. We will be escalating our opposition to the evil detention centres and to the nuclear weapons of mass destruction located just 20 miles from the centre of Glasgow, we will be fighting for a new pension system and against low pay among young people.

None of these are within the powers of the Scottish parliament, because it is a cut down parliament, and there is a strong feeling that we cannot allow our ambition to be stunted within the parameters laid down by Westminster. So from that point of view my intention to stand is based in the ideas we need a full time party convenor outside of the parliament. We also respect the fact that we do need a separate figurehead within the parliament, Colin Fox and the other 5 MSPs are all more than capable of playing that role of fronting our parliamentary work and acting as media spokespersons. But we desperately need a full time convenor outside parliament as well to pull together the different strands of our work: including directing some of the focus to outside of the parliament.

Socialist Unity: How do you see the future of the party over the medium term, going through the next Holyrood elections and beyond?

Alan McCombes: We have made remarkable progress in the first 5 years of the party. When I first drew up proposals for a Scottish Socialist party it was denounced by many people in the UK and international left as utopian, saying we cannot unite the left in Scotland - that we would be fighting like ferrets in a sack; that we would be uniting four organisations into ten.

That was 7 years ago - we have proven them wrong - the SSP is still together; it is a vibrant party, a diverse party, but it is a unified party. I believe what we have to do now is build on the profile that we have achieved through our parliamentary breakthrough, but we have to turn very forcibly now towards the 50% of the population who do not vote. Not because they are apathetic but because to them party politics appears irrelevant to them may of them are contemptuous of politics and a huge proportion of that 50% of the disaffected electorate are young people. I believe that is out biggest source of recruitment into the party and the biggest reservoir of increased votes, even if we didn't poach a single vote from Labour or the SNP we could double our support in society as a whole by making a radical appeal to young people, to those who now don't vote for anybody. I think we do that by direct action outside of parliament. We had an MSP arrested last week for protesting against nuclear weapons, and by spending one night in prison that had a massive effect on our profile in the media. We achieved more with that one action than with a hundred speeches in the parliament building. So we have to be a party of direct action but also a party that is not just playing the Holyrood game but also a party that is raising strongly our vision of international socialism, of an independent Scottish socialist republic that can play its part in the fight back against global capitalism. We need to reconnect with the idealism of young people, and that is certainly where I would be trying to influence the party.


January 2005


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism