Pauline Bryan, editor of Scottish Labour left publication The Citizen and The Red Paper on Scotland 2014, discusses the history of the Scottish Labour Campaign for Socialism.
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. The left should have been fully aware that the rise of Blair would result in substantial damage to the Party. Blair committed himself to rewriting the definition of socialism in a speech during the leadership election campaign. When describing his vision he stated, “For too long the left has thought it has had a choice: to be radical but unacceptable or to be cautious and electable…. 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 he would 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 of its content. This was a vote for or against the Labour Party continuing in the tradition of a party for and of the working class.
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 (CfS). Its founding statement declared 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 current leader of Scottish Labour.
One achievement of Blair’s first government was to deliver the Scottish Parliament which carried the hopes of disillusioned Party members. Nonetheless, there were reasons to be more than sceptical. The electoral system adopted for the Scottish Parliament was designed to prevent a one party majority. This constitutional hobbling was intended to block 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 a weak and timid Labour Group which, after the death of Donald Dewar, saw four leaders in eight years, each put in place without an election. CfS campaigned on each occasion for party members to have a chance to vote for the leader.
Throughout its history CfS has led campaigns within the Labour Party and joined with others within the movement in many struggles. It supported John McDonnell in his campaigns to receive leadership nominations in 2006 and 2010 and was involved in campaigns against the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Ten years ago CfS joined with trade unions in a campaign to revitalise Scottish Labour. At the core of the campaign was the Party’s democratic procedures, or rather, the lack of them. As well as the issues relating to policy making, there was also in Scotland an additional concern about the Labour Group in the Scottish Parliament working in coalition with the LibDems. While the LibDem Party consulted its membership before agreeing the Coalition programme, the Labour Party didn’t.
CfS was also at the centre of the work on the People’s Charter which achieved Scottish TUC endorsement in 2009. The Charter is now included in the work of the People’s Assembly. 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 at Dungavel detention centre.
Members of CfS developed links with the Labour Representation Committee from its foundation. It is now joining with Labour Briefing to promote greater understanding of Scottish politics and CfS throughout the UK and to bring the views of LRC members to Scottish readers.
CfS has provided key contributions, support and editors for the publication of two volumes of the Red Paper on Scotland in 2005 and 2014. CfS will be hosting its AGM on February 8 on the theme of the Labour Party-trade union link.
» More information can be found on CfS’ website: www.campaignforsocialism.org.uk
The 20 year history of the CfS has witnessed fundamental changes within the Party that resulted in thousands giving up their membership. During that time CfS has fought for the following:
- To promote Labour as a party committed to socialism on the basis of common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.
- 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.