SSP: 25 Years the Voice of Workers and Socialism

By Richie Venton, a founding organiser of the SSP

The Scottish Socialist Party celebrates its 25th birthday on 28 September.

Throughout the quarter of a century since our formation, the SSP has held the clean principles of socialism aloft, whilst Labour pretenders have trampled them in the muck. We have voiced the demands of working-class and young people forcefully against the planet-trashing, profiteering, union-busting capitalist rich.

Workers in this country entered the 21st century without a mass political party that even partially represents their interests.

We established the SSP as a broad, inclusive, class struggle socialist party in 1998 – when Tony Blair was at the height of his pomp, after winning office through the 1997 landslide against the Tories.

As we warned from day one, Blair’s New Labour were New Tories, whose first guest at 10 Downing Street was the hated Tory, Maggie Thatcher, who rightly wrote that her greatest legacy was New Labour. Their first act in government was to demonise single parents and then slash their benefits.

During thirteen years in government, New Labour left every Tory anti-union law entirely intact; privatised record numbers of projects, including huge swathes of the NHS; led us into an illegal war for oil and empire; and presided over a wealth transfusion to the rich from the rest of us which led Oxfam to declare the widest wealth inequality since Victorian times.

Labour proved themselves to be a shameless, undiluted capitalist party.

Meantime the SNP was a rising force, presenting fake radicalism in the urban Central Belt to win over working-class former Labour voters, whilst at their very core upholding the same capitalist system that grinds out inevitable poverty and inequality.

Their timid, conservative version of Scottish independence proved incapable of convincing a majority in the subsequent 2014 referendum.

SSP: Struggle, Solidarity, Socialism

The SSP can be justifiably proud of its achievements, against all the odds, confronted by political rivals with a bottomless pit of money at their disposal and infinitely greater media coverage.

The SSP has been at the heart of virtually every workers’ strike over the past 25 years, broadcasting their justified demands in millions of leaflets and the regularly produced Scottish Socialist Voice; building solidarity with them in our workplaces, trade unions and communities – and in many cases, SSP members provided serious leadership within groups of workers.

We have been an integral part of the anti-war, anti-Trident and anti-racist movements in Scotland.

When a murder in Glasgow’s Sighthill in summer 2001 threatened to trigger conflict between long-standing locals and refugees and asylum seekers dumped in the area by the Council without proper resources, the SSP was instrumental in turning the explosive situation into a united struggle for better housing and community resources, epitomised by Sighthill United demos on the City Chambers – which won concessions and helped unite the community.

A month later, days after the 9/11 atrocity, we approached Scottish CND and established the broad Scottish Coalition for Justice not War, which went on to organise a demo of 100,000 against the invasion of Iraq, marching from Glasgow Green to the UK Labour party conference at the SECC, as it was being addressed by Bush’s sidekick, Blair.

We have helped spearhead demonstrations to drive the fascists off the streets, several times, over the past 25 years.

SSP Gains for Working Class

Despite being a relatively small (and certainly under-resourced) party, we have won many material gains for people through our fighting policies and determined action on the streets, in unions and community groups, and in the Scottish Parliament.

The people of Scotland are free from paying (£10 an item) prescription charges due to the SSP’s persistent demands for their abolition.

Likewise, we set the pace in campaigning for universal free school meals, winning concessions to at least a minority of kids.

In the 1999 Hamilton by-election the SSP came a respectable 3rd, battering the Lib Dems, forcing the latter to take a different stance than their English counterparts on abolition of student tuition fees – which means Scottish students do not face front-loaded charges for education.

Pioneering Socialist Policies

In the organised workers’ movements we have pioneered and won support for many far-reaching socialist policies – including outright abolition of every zero contract and their replacement by a guaranteed minimum 16-hour week for every worker who wants it; universal free school meals; public ownership of public transport, made free at the point of use; a £15-an-hour minimum wage and Legal Maximum Income initially set at 10 times that minimum  – as opposed to the current 108:1 differential between chief executives and even the average worker’s wage, let alone the minimum.

During COVID, we not only proved our mettle by defying a multinational to win full average wages as sick pay for 13,000 IKEA workers in Britain and Ireland, but also pioneered that demand across the trade union movement, proposing and winning support for it at the 2019 STUC conference.

Independent Socialist Scotland

During the 2014 Referendum, as the socialist wing of the independence movement, the SSP convinced countless thousands of working-class people to vote Yes by our entirely different vision of an independent socialist Scotland, utilising the nation’s wealth for the people, not profit.

For over 20 years we have not only pioneered the policy of free public transport – as perhaps the single biggest contribution to combating the climate crisis – but expanded a socialist alternative to the catastrophe created by capitalist profiteering and pollution, publishing a whole book on it.

Like every living organism, the SSP has had good times and bad. However, we have never sullied socialist principles, nor given up on waging a class struggle which we never invented – but has been imposed on working-class people by the profit-crazed system of capitalist economy.

We have helped to lift the sights and inspired the fighting spirit of countless thousands of people taking collective action in their own self-defence, including during the recent, massive upsurge in workers’ resistance.

SSP Needed More Than Ever

The truth is, the need for the SSP is infinitely greater now than 25 years ago.

Capitalism means an average increase of £500,000 in the incomes of company chief executives, whilst 1.3 million Scots are officially below the breadline – many resorting to food banks for survival.

Floods, fires and mass deaths across the planet underline in human suffering the urgent need to end a system driven by the profit motive which is trashing the planet with its mindless pollution. Only fundamental system change – socialist change – can protest people and our planet from the plundering profiteers. You truly have to be Red to be Green! 

The SNP and their Green Party coalition partners have miserably failed to meet the needs and expectations of workers, and have accelerated privatisation of hospitals, offshore resources and even the trees in Scotland’s woodlands.

Starmer’s Labour swagger with great expectations of being elected, but get their betrayal in first, in a fashion even Blair may have blushed at, by dumping every mild reform they previously promised. They are the Continuity Conservatives.

Any socialist who still clings onto their Scottish Labour membership is a political prisoner whose release we advocate – and they’re indulging in a cruel deceit (of themselves and others!) if they imagine Labour can be turned into a pro-worker, socialist party.

Claim the Socialist Future!

When hatred for the Tories and mounting discontent and disgust with the SNP lift Labour into government, they can expect no honeymoon – but rather, moves towards divorce from a working class who rapidly discover how utterly betrayed they’ve been.

Those of us who have kept the red flag of socialism aloft during tough times have laid the foundations for a growth of socialist opposition to the multiple shades of Toryism in government.

Provided every existing SSP member faces outwards and finds the workers and young people who want change – and reject the profiteering and pollution of capitalism – but are currently politically homeless, then we can be confident that the SSP’s best days are ahead of us.