That election, as all serious students of socialist politics will be aware, is remembered only for the candidate who came fourth. No one remembers who won. That was unimportant. The political earthquake that occurred that day was due to the emergence of the first ever candidate from the organised labour movement, one James Keir Hardie.
His candidacy marked the beginning of a new era, as the working class majority ended its links with the Liberal Party and recognised the need for its own political voice. Britain was changed utterly as a consequence. The 2014 referendum has also changed Scottish politics forever. And you could be forgiven however for thinking after one month that the Yes side had won as more than 60,000 people have joined the three independence parties.
But it is the huge problems at the heart of the Scottish Labour Party in particular that have dominated political conversations. First Johann Lamont dramatically resigned as leader bitterly accusing Ed Miliband of betrayal and of treating Scotland like his ‘branch office’.
Then a series of opinion polls suggested that Labour could lose virtually all its Westminster seats here in what threatens to be its worst result in 50 years. And as if that was not bad enough the East Renfrewshire MP and arch-Blairite Jim Murphy has now emerged as the likely heir apparent and the answer to Scottish Labour’s many ‘challenges’!
Murphy is no Keir Hardie to be sure, his election will not be greeted by organised labour or the wider working class. It signifies that Labour will continue to try to attack the SNP from the right. This fact illustrates that Labour’s biggest crisis is that it does not know what it stands for anymore. Whilst both parties offer more or less identical neo-liberal economic polices the SNP backs some left of centre social policies.
Next year’s General Election looks set to be dominated by two issues above all, the fall in living standards of working people on the one hand and the rise of UKIP on the other. Labour has nothing to offer either debate. They favour further austerity, massive cuts in public spending and in the living standards of the working class majority and they pander to UKIP on immigration.
This is all light years removed from the magnificent independence campaign these past two years that reminded SSP members of the need for a mass party, with a clear and widely understood socialist programme and an unshakeable orientation towards the working class majority.
Conference congratulated the party leadership for playing such a prominent role in Yes Scotland and it also decided our campaign priorities for the year ahead. These will include furthering our goal of an independent socialist Scotland, counteracting the pernicious influence of UKIP and backing the Campaign for a Living Wage.
With wages for working people having fallen by £50 per week since 2008 in real terms [Source; TUC] this latter campaign is crucially important. Some 22 per cent of employees are now earning below the living wage of £7.69/hour in Scotland with bar staff, shop assistants and care workers the worst affected.
A report by consultants KPMG found that 43 per cent of all part time staff earn below the living wage. This is the type of campaign the SSP intends to pursue, with our demand for a Scottish minimum wage of £10 an hour, to build upon what we achieved these past two years. Our local activists also aim to raise the political consciousness of working people about socialism and the nature of the class struggle in Scotland today.
And as I said to Conference my message to the people of Scotland remains clear: ‘If you are a socialist you should join a socialist party. Don’t build illusions in other ones! You are not furthering the socialist cause by doing so, you are hindering it both in the short term and long term.’
Those who talked of ‘the post-SSP political landscape’ in Scotland back in 2012 look foolish today. The SSP is more necessary than ever. We marry the struggle for self-determination with the equally important struggle to emancipate working class people from the yoke of free market capitalism.
That’s the unique dual role the Scottish Socialist Party plays today. We aim to transform Scotland from a capitalist country run by a wealthy elite into a socialist republic run for the benefit of all where self-determination, empowerment, equality and democracy rein supreme. And we will.