Five members of the Respect Party, who were members of its ruling National Council until this week, have resigned in protest at the party’s decision to organise in Scotland. Alan Thornett, Terry Conway, John Lister, Bob Whitehead, Andy Richards, who are members of Socialist Resistance, sent this letter to Respect.
Please accept this as our resignations from Respect.
Our reason, as you will know, is the decision taken at Respect conference on Saturday to reverse its historic position and to begin to organise in Scotland -with George Galloway as a Respect candidate for the Scottish Parliament in the forthcoming elections. This is a big problem given that there will be at least one Scottish broad left party standing and probably two.
We were also concerned that a major change of policy was made via a last minute amendment to a resolution on the cuts, which illustrates a problem of democracy within Respect. The fact that so many people think a few days debate on a couple of blogs and 30 minutes at conference is a big discussion indicates that we have not succeeded in developing a real political culture within the organization.
As we argued in the debate any decision to organise in Scotland would inevitably have negative effects on the resources that could be devoted to building Respect in England – in particular in Tower Hamlets. Proposals to make build Respect as a national organisation in England or Respect a more visible part of the movement against the cuts have either been defeated or not carried out in practice over recent months. Declarations to the contrary were unconvincing.
Nor can one seriously believe that this decision will not take further resources away at a time when the need for a political alternative both to the Condems and to the completely ineffectual Labour Party are stronger than ever before.
The decisive issue, however, is that we think that it is generally wrong for English organisations to organise in Scotland — unless they do so as a part of an initiative led by the Scottish left. This is particularly the case with Respect which has no roots in Scotland or policies on Scotland. It is also particularly the case when the election concerned is for Holyrood rather than Westminster.
As we pointed out, we support the SSP, which has already selected its lead candidates in each region of Scotland for Holyrood. It is true that the SSP was seriously weakened by the split of Sheridan, which was a result of his disastrous decision to sue the Murdoch press in the way he did. The SSP, however, has consolidated and grown since this time and is an organisation today with proportionately many more comrades in Scotland than Respect has in England.
It is also an organisation which is visibly present at every key moment of Scottish politics on the side of the working class and the oppressed – so against the war, against racism and fascism, in defense of women’s rights and at the heart of the anti-cuts movement. The youth group Scottish Socialist Youth has played a key role in all these and many other initiatives and is a vibrant and dynamic organization.
We make these assessments on the basis of the fact that we have supporters who are members of the SSP and on the basis that SR comrades have attended every SSP conference and many other initiatives over the years.
For us to advocate a vote for a different party would be untenable - both for Respect and for ourselves. In any case the last thing the Scottish left needs is another left party standing in the Holyrood elections and dividing the left vote still further. This is a counterproductive and sectarian decision by Respect.
Respect has no policy what-so-ever on the issue of devolution and self-determination around which Scottish politics turns. To decide to stand for Holyrood without a single discussion on the policies on which the candidate would stand leaves it in the hands of the candidate with no collective input. While George Galloway was a founding supporter of Scotland United – the organization which spearheaded the fight for Scottish self determination - he opposes independence. We don’t take this view – we believe the break up of the British state is in the interests of socialists on both sides of the border.
Support for independence does not mean that the left in Scotland and England cannot and should not work together to fight the Condems or imperialism – the SSP has been part of working with organizations in England (and Wales with the Plaid left) through formations like the Convention of the Left.
We are resigning with great reluctance since we remain committed to the building of a broad pluralist party to challenge New Labour and the neoliberal parties and for us this is a further setback in that process.
Meanwhile we wish Respect well, genuinely so, and will work with you where the opportunity arises - particularly in the struggle against the cuts, over racism and in solidarity with the people of Palestine. We will continue to support and work for Respect candidacies in many places in England and hope that perhaps one day we may again be part of a common organisation that provides a real alternative to neoliberalism.
Alan Thornett, Terry Conway, John Lister, Bob Whitehead, Andy Richards – NC members over the last year.
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