Socialists group break with party tradition hostile to factions
THE ORGANISER of a new socialist grouping within the SNP has said that the left is already “challenging for leadership” of the party on the eve of its launch this Saturday (20 August).
The SNP Socialists interim convenor, Rory Steel (pictured), said that the presence of two socialist SNP members, Tommy Sheppard MP and Gourock councillor Chris McEleny, in the race for depute party leadership was evidence of the influence of socialist ideas in the party since the referendum.
Asked if the leftwing group would be challenging for the leadership of the party, Steel said: “Socialists already are challenging for the leadership. Both Tommy Sheppard and Chris McEleny are self-identified socialists.”
Steel also raised the prospect of SNP Socialists sponsoring its own candidates for future internal elections, but said that the group had “a long way to go” before considering any such moves as it had not yet agreed its strategy.
Steel also reflected that the new influx of around 100,000 members into the SNP since the 2014 independence referendum had brought in many leftwing members, creating the space for SNP socialists to grow.
He said: “I definitely think that since the independence referendum, the new uptake of members who have joined are more leftwing than the general membership before. It was the message of self-empowerment, self-determination and hope for something better than the status quo that caused so many people to join.”
All four of the SNP’s candidates for the position of depute leader candidates will speak at an SNP Socialists hustings directly after its inaugural meeting, but the group is not currently advising members and supporters to vote for any particular candidate.
“SNP Socialists naturally have our own views and interests, as do all members, and are seeking to form a unified voice to raise issues important to us and many other members within the party. We want to be a pragmatic, democratic and constructive collective voice to influence policy.” Rory Steel SNP socialists interim convenor
Steel said: “We are holding a depute hustings at 4:30pm on Saturday following our first meeting with all four of the candidates making contributions. Members will be able to decide themselves individually who they’re voting for.”
“Many members of the SNP identify as socialists and have done since the party’s formation in 1936. We naturally have our own views and interests, as do all members, and are seeking to form a unified voice to raise issues important to us and many other members within the party. We want to be a pragmatic, democratic and constructive collective voice to influence policy.”
The other candidates of SNP depute leader are leader of the party’s Westminster group Angus Robertson and MEP Alyn Smith.
The SNP has traditionally been hostile to formal internal groupings and factions, following a power struggle in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s between official party structures and the ‘79 Group of socialist members which included Alex Salmond, Jim Sillars, Margo MacDonald and Stephen Maxwell.
The 1982 SNP conference in Ayr, under the threat of resignation of then party leader Gordon Wilson, voted to ban internal factions, a move deployed to extinguish the ‘79 Group.
Today the SNP has several internal groupings including SNP Friends of Palestine, the SNP Trade Union Group set up since the referendum, and SNP CND which reflects the party’s longstanding opposition to nuclear weapons. However, SNP Socialists is unusual for being overtly ideological rather the single issue or limited in scope.
Other centre left parties, including Scottish Labour and the Scottish Greens, have long established internal leftwing groupings.
The SNP was asked to comment on whether it welcomed the formation of the new group, but had not responded by time of publication.
Picture courtesy of Facebook
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