Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Guest Post: SSP looks to an upbeat future

Pam Currie, Scottish Socialist Party National Secretary, has kindly written this guest post on the SSP's recent conference season.

Over 100 Scottish Socialist Party activists gathered in Edinburgh on Saturday 31 May, for the party’s second Conference of 2008. This Special Conference followed a full review of the party’s internal structures in March, which saw SSP members try a different way of ‘doing’ Conference and endorse changes to the party’s constitution, including a four year time limit for office bearers and the convenor post replaced by two gender balanced national spokespersons – former MSPs Colin Fox and Frances Curran were elected unopposed.

The constitutional changes underline the changes in the party in recent years, with a decisive shift away from the traditional Left model of a ‘leader’ and an Executive elected for life, handing down the received knowledge to the membership.

A four year time limit for office bearers – applying to national office bearers elected from 2008, Executive Committee members elected from 2009 and Regional office bearers from 2010 – will mean younger and less experienced members are actively encouraged to come forward and develop their skills, although Scottish Socialist Youth activists already hold several positions on the party’s Executive Committee.

We have experimented with the methods of the Brazilian radical educationalist Paolo Freire at all levels of the party in the last few years – at the Executive, branches, regional and national events – to create a much more participatory model. Applying these methods to a decision-making Conference was a real challenge, but feedback from members suggests that it has worked.

At Conference, motions are grouped together by topic, and discussed around small tables, with a facilitator chosen by each table. Members have the chance to discuss the motions in a less formal environment; everyone is heard, and issues and ideas emerge. We then move to the plenary debate more familiar to regulars at socialist and trade union conferences, with discussion and voting on individual motions, but without movers or seconders – instead, anyone who wishes to speak comes forward, and all have three minutes to address Conference.

The impact of these methods has been impressive; the mood of Conference changes, more young people and women participate, and more members address the full Conference. Everyone is actively involved in Conference, and everyone’s voice is heard as a result.

While SSP members have taken up the ideas of Freire through our Radical Education Network, a further driving force behind the changes has been an increased consciousness of feminist ideas in the party, and a desire not only to involve more women but to actively challenge the macho nature of Left politics and to decentralise power within our party. This is a critical debate within the SSP, and a debate which has historically been marginalised and neglected by the Left. Conference 2008 was not the end of that debate for the party – one motion instructed the Women’s Network to redraft the Aims and Principles of the party’s constitution to include a clearer statement on women’s oppression – and this will undoubtedly make for an interesting debate in 2009.

Last weekend’s Conference saw the SSP move on from internal issues, with a participatory discussion on the current world economic crisis, facilitated by finance workers Raphie de Santos and Linda Somerville. Despite a tight squeeze to fit everyone into the Central Halls, members were able to form groups of workers, spin doctors and government ministers to discuss and advise on the situation.

The afternoon session brought discussion on the SSP’s week of action on free public transport, to be held from 19th June, with campaigning activities planned across Scotland. This week of action will precede an activist conference to be held in October, endorsed by Saturday’s Conference, to be jointly organised with activists from the Scottish Green Party and other environmental groups. This conference will discuss the relationship between capitalism and environmental crisis and potential solutions, as well as the potential for future activism and campaigns.

Conference also formally endorsed the Convention of the Left being held in Manchester in September, to which we hope to bring a sizeable contingent of SSP members.

Overall, the mood of both Conferences has been positive and upbeat, attracting new members as well as well-kent faces. The party has not only kept going through an incredibly difficult few years, we’ve come out of it determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past – and we’re well on the way to recovery.


Aaron said...

Interesting piece - though I wasn't aware that there was a 'macho nature of left politics'! I thought it was perceived by many people as quite the opposite.

Jim Jay said...

Well, I suppose it depends how you define macho I suppose - but there is definately can be a problem with "bullishness" and dogma and insisting on there being only one right approach to any question.

It's really good to see the SSP thinking about these things and trying new ways of doing things - although I'm sure it's not perfected as yet.

It may also depend on what you mean by the left, but whatever it's faults I love it of course

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Lack of many is the root of all evil.