Connor Beaton: How the SSP must change in order to progress in Scotland

SSP member Connor Beaton explores the party's direction ahead of its conference this weekend

WHEN the Scottish Socialist Party's annual conference takes place in Edinburgh on Saturday 11 June, it will be our third consecutive conference held in the immediate wake of election or referendum defeat.

We met in the aftermath of the No vote in the independence referendum, again after a disappointing performance in the 2015 UK election, and we're set to meet once more a mere month after new leftwing alliance Rise failed to make a breakthrough in the recent Scottish Parliament elections.

But that doesn't mean it will be a downbeat affair, with low spirits and little enthusiasm – if anything, socialists have long learned how to take setbacks in their stride, using events like this to reinforce each other's activism and give essential support to those feeling the pressure in neoliberal Britain, before typically rounding off with a rousing rendition of The Internationale.

Read more: What's left? Rise alliance faces crossroads ahead of SSP conference

Part of that spirit of solidarity involves coming together for a frank, honest examination of our collective experiences over the past year, looking to identify the best way forward for socialists in Scotland.

The SSP presents itself as Scotland's socialist party – a democratic, pluralistic organisation that serves as the natural home for socialists in Scotland. There are thousands of socialists in Scotland outwith the SSP for whatever reason; some have too many political differences with other party members, while others have tactical or sectarian reasons, and many more have simply never been interested in going into active party politics.

But there are also a great number of people out there who the SSP could attract if it can demonstrate itself to be effective at organising socialists in a powerful party machine, making the most of the sum of its components. They need to see the SSP as a space where their individual contribution will have maximum impact.

There is always room for improvement in organisational terms. This is especially true in the Scottish Socialist Party, where a number of solvable issues have emerged over the past year or longer.

There is always room for improvement in organisational terms. This is especially true in the Scottish Socialist Party, where a number of solvable issues have emerged over the past year or longer.

Two that have reared their head regularly, particularly while locked in the negotiations that led to the creation of Rise, are communication and transparency. Another is the party constitution.

These subjects often come across as dry, boring stuff – but they have massive repercussions for how effectively we can mobilise our forces against the austerity measures being implemented by Westminster, Holyrood and local authorities.

Most members now accept that the constitution adopted by the party in 2009 is poorly understood and no longer fit for purpose, but efforts to modify or replace it have languished at the bottom of a long list of priorities.

I'll be the first to admit that constitutions are neither exciting to read nor to write, but they provide the basis of the party's democratic structures. Without a constitution that is widely understood and properly enforced, it becomes more difficult for members – particularly new members – to figure out how they can give their time, energy and skills to the movement. That represents lost potential and missed opportunities.

Two that have reared their head regularly, particularly while locked in the negotiations that led to the creation of Rise, are communication and transparency. Another is the party constitution.

There is also a regrettable tendency of Glasgow-centrism in Scottish leftwing politics, where activists who cannot or do not want to travel to Glasgow for regular meetings and demonstrations are effectively marginalised within national organisations. This is inexcusable in an era where technology provides for increasingly effective ways of decentralised organisation.

The SSP should not only claim to stand in the narrow political tradition of John Maclean and Red Clydeside, but embrace the wealth of radical and socialist history that permeates all of Scotland's major cities and towns – figures like Mary Brooksbank of Dundee or the Paisley weavers of 1820.

In May, the SSP's Dundee branch agreed to nominate me for the position of SSP national secretary. I'm pleased to have also been nominated by our Highlands and Islands branch, and to have received support from individual members in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Renfrewshire, Stirling and beyond.

I want to go into that role with a view to maximising rank-and-file participation in the party's democratic structures, particularly outwith the central belt, and establishing more regular two-way communication between the executive committee and the membership to which it is beholden.

There is also a regrettable tendency of Glasgow-centrism in Scottish leftwing politics. This is inexcusable in an era where technology provides for increasingly effective ways of decentralised organisation.

There are outstanding candidates in the running for positions on the executive for the next year, including – but not limited to – Katie Bonnar's bid for national co-spokesperson, Sophia Lycouris' run for international secretary, and Scott Macdonald's candidacy for social media co-ordinator.

A team made up of people of this calibre would seriously strengthen the SSP and, through it, the wider Scottish pro-independence left as we continue to involve ourselves in community struggle against capitalism, austerity and Tory rule.

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Picture courtesy of Màrtainn MacDhòmhnaill

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