By Pauline Bryan
The sudden death of John Smith in May 1994 precipitated the election of Tony Blair to the Labour Leadership and accelerated change within the Labour Party that may otherwise have been deferred or redirected. There are times when only hindsight says you have witnessed a significant event, but on this occasion the left should have been fully aware that the rise of Tony Blair was going to result in substantial damage to the Labour Party.
Blair committed himself to rewriting the definition of Socialism in a speech during the leadership election campaign. No one who voted for him should have had any illusion of what they were getting. When describing his Vision he states "For too long the left has thought it has had a choice: to be radical but unacceptable or to be cautious and electable. Whilst being 'radical' is defined as the old-style collectivism of several decades ago this may be true. But that is not really being radical at all... Once being 'radical' is redefined as having a central vision based around principle but liberated from particular policy prescriptions that become confused with principle, then in fact being radical is the route to electability." He wanted to 'liberate' Labour from its class base.
Blair immediately made it clear that he was going to drive a stake through the very heart of the Labour Party by challenging Clause IV. Not on the basis of its 1918 style language, but rather on the basis of its content. The replacement words were irrelevant, it was a vote for or against the Labour Party continuing in the tradition of a Party for and of the working class or a party in the mould of the European Christian Democrats that were ready to adapt to neo-liberal economic policies.
In Scotland, as elsewhere, the response was to build an opposition. A meeting held in Glasgow City Chambers in 1994 founded The Scottish Campaign for Socialism. Its founding statement was that it "believes that Clause IV, as presently worded, should remain as an integral part of the Labour Party Constitution, and only be added to if required". Among the many founding signatories you can find Johann Lamont, the former leader of Scottish Labour.
The twenty-one year history of the Campaign for Socialism has witnessed fundamental changes within the Party that resulted in thousands giving up their membership. During that time CfS has fought for the following aims:
- To promote Labour as a party committed to socialism on the basis of common ownership of the means of production, distribution & exchange.
- To campaign within the party for a democratic, comprehensive and accountable public sector; full employment; socialised medicine, transport and education; common ownership of the public utilities and an extension of common ownership in the banking and financial institutions; a reinvigorated and devolved system of local government; a parliament in Scotland; and the elimination of poverty and injustice.
- To determine socialist policies for Labour in government - socialist policies that will build the sound planned economy needed to ensure equality and social justice.
- To act as an organisational focus for all those within the party and Labour movement who agree with the above aims, and wish to see them form the basis of the party's approach to policy making.
One achievement of the Blair's first Government was to deliver the Scottish Parliament which carried the hopes of disillusioned Party members. It has to be remembered that the electoral system adopted for the Scottish Parliament was designed to prevent any one party majority. This constitutional hobbling was intended to prevent a socialist Labour majority challenging the right wing policies coming from a Labour led Westminster government.
There was also a London led culling of potential candidates for the Scottish Parliament to prevent it having a strong left grouping. This resulted in was a weak and timid Labour group which, after the death of Donald Dewer, saw 4 leaders in 8 years, each put in place without an election.
The Campaign for Socialism campaigned on each occasion to demand that Party members should have a chance to vote for the leader. Since then a further a further 2 leaders have come and gone and in total we are on our 8th leader in 16 years. This alone must surely suggest a fundamental problem within the Scottish Party.
During the 2014 leadership election CfS supported the campaigns of two of its members, Neil Findlay and Katy Clark. Despite an extremely active campaign these candidates were not successful. It was clear that the members Party in Scotland were not to the left and being held back by their leaders, but supported instead one of the most outspoken Blairites left in Scotland, Jim Murphy. Barely 6 months later CfS members are centrally involved in the campaign for Jeremy Corbyn to become leader of the British Labour Party and getting a totally different response. What happened in between was the General Election, which shook existing members out of complacency, but also encouraged new members to join and some previous members to return.
Eleven years ago CfS joined with trade unions in a campaign to Revitalise the Scottish Labour Party. At the core of the campaign were the democratic procedures of the Party, or rather lack of them. As well as the issues relating to policy making, there was in Scotland an additional concern about the Labour Group in the Scottish Parliament working in coalition with the LibDems. While the LibDem Party was able to consult its membership before agreeing the Coalition programme, Labour Party members were excluded. The following election Labour did not have that decision to make and the SNP became the largest Party and decided to govern alone for the following four years and in 2011 it achieved what should have been impossible, it won a majority.
Campaign for Socialism has led campaigns within the Labour Party and joined others within the movement in many struggles over its 20 year history. It was involved with campaigns against the invasion of Afghanistan and helped to organise and then marched with the hundred thousand people in Glasgow opposed to the imminent invasion of Iraq
CfS was at the centre of the work on The People's Charter achieving STUC endorsement in 2009. It continued to campaign alongside comrades in the rest of the UK but also with a petition to the Scottish Parliament which was supported by evidence to the Petitions Committee in December 2012. The Charter is now included in the work of the People's Assembly.
Members of CfS developed links with the Labour Representation Committee from the foundation of that organisation in 2004. It is now joining with Labour Briefing to promote the ideas of CfS and to promote greater understand of Scottish politics throughout the UK and to bring the views of LRC members to Scottish readers.
At a more local level CfS took part in the left fringe events at the G8 in Edinburgh campaigned against the privatisation of Calmac and the detention of children in Dungavel detention centre.
CfS provided key contributions and editors and other support for the publication of two volumes of the Red Paper in 2005 and 2014.
Most recently some of its members have been involved in setting up the Scottish Labour Young Socialists, which has quickly established itself as a place where young activists can campaign and build the future generation of socialists in the Labour Party.
In 2015, after the successful election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, Momentum was set up to help keep together the activists and supporters that made that victory possible, and build on the enthusiasm and policy platform of the campaign.
CfS, which had been the organised Labour left in Scotland for over two decades, was asked to take the lead on building links with Momentum. In 2016, a joint membership structure was agreed between the two organisations. In 2017 we agreed CfS would keep this scheme, but we remain a separate organisation to take all decisions - both political and campaigning - relating to Scotland.
This represents the next chapter in the history of CfS, and if you want to get involved and help build for socialism, you can join HERE.