SCOTTISH VOTERS will go to the polls on 1 May against the background of widespread opposition to the war and deep bitterness against New Labour's failure to help working people. Both factors are boosting the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). The SSP's manifesto, launched last week, contains a clear denunciation of the war. 'This is a war for control over the Middle East and its resources by American big business interests,' it says.
'As well as fighting for the Scottish Parliament to stand up for peace, the SSP will also encourage and support direct action and civil disobedience by the people of Scotland against war. All our MSPs will join and help to build anti-war protests - and will be prepared to go to jail if necessary in support of peace.'
Tommy Sheridan, the party's only Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), launched the manifesto. He asked voters to show their opposition to the war by treating the election as a referendum on Labour. The SSP is calling for action on other key issues.
Tommy Sheridan said he wanted 'all-out war against poverty. For the past 20 years the wealthy and the millionaires have got away with daylight robbery.' The SSP wants Scotland to have a top rate of income tax of 60 percent, up from the present 40 percent. Tommy Sheridan also called for the 'social ownership' of land, industry, energy, transport and finance.
The SSP wants to abolish the council tax and replace it with a services tax. The poor would pay much less than at present - or nothing - while the rich would pay much more. Overall 77 percent of Scottish homes would be better off under the service tax than under Labour's council tax.
If the SSP had a majority in the parliament then it would come into conflict with the British government. The manifesto says the SSP 'would set a deficit budget - a people's budget based on the democratic mandate we have received from the people of Scotland. 'We would demand that Westminster either provides the finance to allow us to carry out our mandate, or to give the Scottish Parliament the powers to raise finance.'
Other parties rushed to attack the SSP. Labour has accused the party of trying to 'exploit' the war to get votes - as if being popular by being against the war was a crime! None of this is likely to stop the SSP from making a real electoral advance and greatly increasing its representation in the Scottish Parliament. The SSP's six core pledges are:
To abolish the council tax and introduce a service tax based on personal incomes.
- Provide free school meals for every state school pupil.
Introduce a minimum wage of £7.32 an hour for all public sector workers.
- Create 24,000 jobs with a 35-hour week for public sector workers.
- Scrap all Private Finance Initiative schemes and clear the private profiteers out of Scotland's public services.
- Oppose and obstruct any war for oil.
Getting voice heard
THE VOTING system for the Scottish Parliament makes it easier for smaller parties to win seats than in England. Everyone has two votes. One is for a 'first past the post' election, like a general election. In the second vote parties get seats on the basis of what percentage of the total vote they win.
It is possible to win a seat with 7 percent of the vote - the sort of figure the Socialist Alliance gets in its strongest areas in England. This system means that people are more likely to vote for smaller parties because it cannot be argued they are 'wasting' their vote on parties that have no chance of winning seats.
If the SSP wins 10 percent of the second vote then it could get six to eight MSPs. At the 1999 Scottish elections the proprotional representation system meant that Tommy Sheridan was elected in Glasgow. This has helped to make the SSP's message much more widely heard.