Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) were stunned by the May 1 election of 17 Socialist, Green, health campaigners, and independent left-wing candidates. The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) increased its MSPs from one to six. Before May 1, only 2% of MSPs were outside the four dominant political parties; now 13% are. The proportional representation system allowed smaller parties to take advantage of a second round of voting in eight regions.
The SSP’s vote in Glasgow rose from 7% in 1999 to 15%. The highest constituency vote in Scotland was won by SSP candidate Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow with 28%. In 1992 he polled 19% in Pollok when he ran as the Scottish Militant Labour (former CWI section in Scotland) candidate from prison. The SSP ran candidates in 70 of the 73 constituencies, gathering 6.2% of the vote. In the second round, the SSP vote increased to 8%. In total the SSP, Greens, health campaigners, and left-wing independents won 380,000 votes on the second round – almost 20%.
Despite all the propaganda that “socialism is dead,” this proves that it is possible for a socialist party to gain mass working class support. The SSP’s gains resulted from the ruling parties’ support for the Iraq war, general working class alienation from the capitalist political establishment, the upturn in the class struggle, and the deepening economic downturn.
Unfortunately, in their election manifesto and interviews SSP leaders expressed illusions in reforming capitalism. For example, in an April 21 BBC Scotland interview, Sheridan commended the “number of countries which have a successful mix of public ownership with high levels of taxation…for the wealthy.” In reality, governments that chose to work within the capitalist system are being forced by competitive market pressures to privatize public industries and shift the tax burden from the rich onto workers.
The SSP’s growing reformist and nationalist tendencies could lead it, at a certain stage, to joining a capitalist Scottish National Party government in attempt to secure Scotland’s independence from Britain “first,” postponing socialism until “later.” This would entail the SSP participating in “free market” attacks on workers’ living standards. The CWI in Scotland strives to build a powerful Marxist wing of the SSP to fight these inevitable pressures and arm the SSP with a clear program and strategy for overthrowing capitalism.