Over 600 people from across Scotland crowded into a room in the centre of Glasgow on Sunday afternoon for the launch of Solidarity, a new movement for socialism in Scotland.
The meeting was called by former Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) convenor Tommy Sheridan and fellow SSP Member of Scottish Parliament Rosemary Byrne.
Alongside a large number of former members of the SSP, there were many people from the anti-war movement and other campaigns who had not been members of the SSP.
Speeches at the meeting were divided into three themes - the need for the new party to be a movement for workers, a campaigning movement and a grassroots movement.
Several trade unionists addressed the meeting, including Jim Walls, the T&G union convenor for opencast miners in Scotland.
He said that he had brought 100 membership forms with him from miners and their families who want to join the new organisation.
Osama Saeed from the Muslim Association of Britain spoke about the positive experience of Muslims and the left working together in the Stop the War Coalition and Respect in England.
He said that he hopes that this can be built on in Scotland.
“It has not always been easy. Muslims have been criticised for working with the left and the left has been criticised for working with Muslims,” he said.
He talked about growing attacks on civil liberties and the increasing racism that Muslims face across Britain.
“Many Muslims are starting to feel that they have to leave this country,” he said. To much applause he added that despite friends calling him naive, he won’t be leaving. “I am going to stay and fight.”
Angela McCormick, a Stop the War activist and former SSP council candidate, spoke about the crisis in the Labour Party.
She urged people to join the demonstration outside Labour’s conference in Manchester on 23 September. She said that many people who have given their hearts and minds to the Labour Party feel bitterly betrayed by New Labour and that they should have a home in a new party in Scotland.
A rally organised in the same room the previous day by those who have stayed in the SSP attracted 300 people.
The Solidarity meeting voted to formally launch the organisation under the working title of “Solidarity - Scotland’s movement for socialism” and to hold a formal launch conference in November.
Every member will have a vote at this conference which will make decisions about campaigning priorities and the constitution of the new organisation.
Moving the motion, Graeme McIver, former SSP organiser for the south of Scotland, said that he was addressing two groups - those that had been part of the SSP and those who hadn’t been members of the SSP.
He encouraged those that hadn’t felt that they had a political home in the SSP to get involved in Solidarity and to come along and say what they want from it.
Tommy Sheridan spoke towards the end of the meeting. He thanked people for the support that they had shown him in his recent battle against the Murdoch press.
The opening of his speech seemed a little downbeat compared to the mood of the meeting.
He said, “We may collectively as socialists never realise our dream. We may never deliver the type of society we have burning away in our hearts, but can we say in unison that we will fight with all our ability to discover that type of world regardless of the obstacles?”
He went on to say that people should take inspiration not just from the size of the meeting, but from the movement internationally, especially in Latin America.
“There are millions that we can win to the banner of social justice and equality,” he added.
Dave Sherry, from the southside of Glasgow, said that he thought that the meeting had been very positive and proved that it is possible to build a vibrant campaigning organisation in Scotland.
However, he added, “I was a little disappointed not to have heard Tommy Sheridan spell out more about what we need to do over the next few months.”
Emma Morison, a former member of the SSP and chair of Aberdeen Stop the War, told Socialist Worker, “There is a great vibe in the meeting.
“It seems very outward looking. This is what the SSP should have been like. Obviously this is the early stages and we will have a founding conference in November.
“I hope that it will be a very broad movement. I hope people from the Labour Party will come on board, as well as environmentalists and trade unionists. It needs to be open and broad - we will see how it develops in the next two months.”
Voices of debate and discussion at conference
New and old activists attended the meeting to discuss the way forward for the left in Scotland.
Vicki Robertson and her sister Clare told Socialist Worker that they were not members of any political party.
They heard about the meeting from an e-mail and came to find out more. Vicki said, “I hope that a new direction comes out of this.”
Many SSP members said that they were sad to leave the SSP but were excited at the prospect of moving on to build a new sort of organisation.
Joyce Drummond, a nurse whose SSP branch voted almost unanimously to leave the SSP and join Solidarity, said, “I am very excited by today’s meeting.
“I hope that we are going to build the future of socialism as part of a party that includes people, rather than excludes them, and that is based on political belief and not backstabbing and nastiness.”
Akhter Khan, an activist with Friends of Lebanon, told Socialist Worker, “I came to the meeting with some friends. I have voted for the SSP but never joined them.
“A new party needs a way to reach out to people who feel excluded—for example younger generations of Pakistani Muslims whose parents supported Labour.
“I will probably join the new organisation. But it needs more young people and more creative thinking, and there need to be strong people around Tommy Sheridan who can challenge him.”
Rani Dhanda told Socialist Worker, “I have been looking for a party that could stand up for the views that I share as a black person, a woman and as part of the anti-war movement.
“So when I heard about this new group being set up, I thought that I would come and find out more. I like what I have heard so I have joined.
“The only concerns I have are about women and black people being sidelined, but I plan to keep coming along and making a noise so that can’t happen.”
There are many issues yet to be debated about the new organisation, including its structure. Euan Dargie, a student from Dundee, said, “The meeting gives me hope that we can build something wide and open that makes a real difference to people’s lives.
“But I don’t want a new party to have too much bureaucracy or for it to hold back the grassroots members.”
The challenges ahead
It felt good to be in an assembly of people who clearly represented the spirit and the enthusiasm of many different aspects of our movement.
More than 200 people filled in Solidarity membership applications and whole former regions of the SSP are joining en masse.
This movement faces some immediate tests of its ability to deliver results. The first of these is the mobilisation for the 23 September “Time to Go” demonstration in Manchester. The turn out from Scotland will be a good gauge of the new organisation’s ability to enthuse and mobilise anti-war feeling.
We must also show that Solidarity can be an open, welcoming and democratic movement.
We need to create structures that encourage the enthusiasm and creativity that was so evident on Sunday.
We need a series of Solidarity public rallies across Scotland to attract and recruit members. People will be attracted by the prospect of a fighting, democratic, creative organisation that is built from the bottom up.
Solidarity has the opportunity and the responsibility to fulfil that potential.
For more information or to join Solidarity go to www.solidarityscotland.org