'Socialism is alive and kicking in every corner of Scotland.' That was how Tommy Sheridan, national convenor of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), opened the party's fourth annual conference in Dundee on Saturday of last week. 'Labour has been transformed from the party of the millions to the party of the millionaires and the multi-millionaires,' Sheridan said. The SSP, by contrast, had 'a vision of an independent Scottish socialist republic where pensioners are more important than profits, kids are more important than cash, and people are more important than big business'. The SSP, he said, was 'internationalist to the core'.
It differed from the Scottish National Party because 'independence for us isn't an end in and of itself. Independence for us is independence from poverty, inequality and low wages.' The SSP showed a clear sign of its commitment to internationalism when it sent Alan McCoombes, editor of Scottish Socialist Voice, to contact socialists in Afghanistan at the height of the war last autumn.
The 400 conference delegates, representing 3,000 members, could rightly claim to have established the SSP as a real force in Scottish politics. Support for the party is running at between 6 and 7 percent in the opinion polls. This means the SSP could win between two and six seats in next year's elections to the Scottish Parliament.
The most passionate debate concerned the proposal from the party's Socialist Women's Network for the SSP's lists of parliamentary candidates to be equally balanced between men and women. The aim is to ensure that women stand as good a chance of election as men. Supporters of this '50-50' proposal argued it was a key test of the party's commitment to fighting women's oppression. After a fierce debate, the 50-50 mechanism was approved by 150 votes to 117. This was the first conference since the members of the Socialist Workers Party in Scotland joined the SSP last May.
Leading members of the Socialist Worker Platform argued alongside the Socialist Women's Network for the 50-50 mechanism. The other debates ranged over a wide range of issues, including trade unions, anti-racism, and the anti-war and anti-capitalist movements. It was decided to hold a special conference later in the year to decide the party's policy on the euro.
Palestine was another hotly contested issue. The SSP is united in opposition to the Israeli occupation. But it had been committed to the coexistence of Israeli and Palestinian states-a version of the status quo that is causing such misery. The conference voted by a large majority to replace this policy with support for a secular Palestinian state in which Jews and Arabs can live on an equal basis.
The conference showed the SSP to be a living and growing force that has become a beacon for working class people disgusted with New Labour. The debates last weekend should lay the basis for more successes in the coming year.