Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A new start for the SSP?

This weekend I was a delegate at the SSP's annual conference in Glasgow which was devoted almost entirely to reforming the constitution by giving members a chance to vote on over a hundred proposals which had been the result of extensive consultation within the party. Altogether I was impressed by how things went and while turnout, at around 120 over the two days, could maybe have been better it wasn't the sort of event likely to attract huge numbers of people and everyone that did come was really optimistic about our prospects for the future.

The election last year in which we lost all our seats in the Scottish Parliament was of course a huge blow for the SSP but, rather than sit back and allow itself to disappear from the political scene, the party has been ready to learn from its mistakes, examine and change its own structures based on the new political reality which faces us, and most importantly to get back on the picket lines and in to the community struggles to defend our services from attack. Naturally the media has been ignoring us (with just two brief reports on the conference – in The Herald and on the BBC website) but as Colin Fox pointed out the SSP remains by far the largest and most active party of the left in Scotland and there will always be a place for us, especially as people become more and more disillusioned with the SNP.

The SSP has throughout its existence tried to be different from other far left parties, being much more inclusive and largely free from outdated Marxist dogma, but the changes voted through this weekend, in my view, represent the most radical departure possible from the sort of traditions which have rightly given the left a bad name in the past. Perhaps most importantly the role of 'Convenor' (who the media have always referred to as the party 'leader') has been reformed as 'National Spokesperson' and split into two joint posts, one male and one female. In addition this post, along with all other elected positions, will be limited to a maximum 4 year term which will ensure powers and responsibilities are shared out far more equally among all our members.

Other important changes will include the strengthening of the 50:50 system which attempts to ensure gender equality in SSP bodies and on electoral lists together with a new passage relating to gender being written in under the fundamental aims and principles of the party. The conference itself was designed to be as open and inclusive as possible in terms of how things were discussed and how people could get up to speak and it'll be interesting to see how things develop within the SSP in the years ahead as part of a radical process aimed at making us one of the most democratic parties anywhere in the world.

Of course some will ask what the point of all this is when electorally things couldn't possibly be any worse than they are at the moment. I certainly hope the changes we all decided on will help to revive the SSP internally, something which has I think already been happening in recent months. But even if our support among the public doesn't improve in the immediate future I believe that what we've done and are trying to do will be a worthwhile exercise in building a new participatory and genuinely democratic type of politics, a politics in which there are no great men, only equals who are committed to working together in the struggle for a better world.