Forwarded from Ernie Tate (Scottish SP)
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Aug 17 16:21:50 MDT 2002
Socialist party's star rising in Scotland Preaches nationalization
National Post, Thursday, August 15, 2002
The Scotsman Tommy Sheridan is described as a charismatic leader able to
draw attention to his far-left policies. In a political world where all
parties strive to occupy the centre, Sheridan is radically socialist and
proud of it.
LONDON - When Tommy Sheridan, leader of the Scottish Socialist Party,
won a seat in the new Scottish Parliament in 1999, it was considered
something of a fluke.
The SSP, whose logo is a red star, supports a host of far-left policies
that would frighten the Birkenstocks off Canadian socialists.
"Our party is clearly an anti-free-market party," says the SSP leader.
"We believe in collective ownership and control, which makes us
He talks openly of his admiration for Cuba, and the party's election
platform -- its "manifesto"-- calls for nationalizing industry in
Scotland, confiscating corporate assets and making Scotland an
independent socialist republic that would be an "international symbol of
resistance to free-market exploitation."
The radical message appears to be striking a nerve.
A poll this month shows the SSP's popularity surging to an all-time high
of 8% (two percentage points behind the Conservatives) and 12% in its
home base of Glasgow.
That's a long way behind the Labour party's 39% and the Scottish
Nationalist Party's 31%. But under Scotland's system of proportional
representation, that could be enough to give the SSP up to seven seats
in the 129-member Scottish assembly in next May's elections. So what is
driving this socialist revolution?
"The Labour party's very firm move towards the centre of British
politics has left core left-of-centre Labour voters with a stark choice:
Do they vote for Labour or do they not?" says Malcolm Dickson, a
politics professor at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. "Those
that have decided they're not going to back New Labour have to find an
alternative way to express their opinion. And in Scotland, especially in
urban areas, that has meant the SSP."
The SSP has also proved remarkably skilled at championing a handful of
populist political issues that get it noticed.
One of Mr. Sheridan's first acts after being elected was to introduce a
private member's bill to scrap warrant sales, long-hated legislation
that enabled sheriffs to seize debtors' property in lieu of payment. The
emotional issue immediately caught the attention of voters and the media
-- and the government was forced to support the legislation. The SSP has
called on the government to provide free school meals for all Scottish
children, another popular position.
"Tommy Sheridan is very adept at getting publicity for himself and his
party," Mr. Dickson says. "They have done so very successfully with
The SSP has also benefited from the growing "tartanization" of Scottish
politics, as voters increasingly turn to homegrown political movements.
"Voters of all persuasions now look at parties' performance very much in
terms of what they offer Scotland and Scots," says Mr. Dickson. "The SSP
isn't only about standing up for some left-of-centre values, but also
about standing up for Scotland as well. And that is a vote winner."
That is one reason why the Tories, who opposed Scottish devolution, have
fared so poorly north of the Tweed. It has also made the SNP, which also
supports independence, into the second-largest party in parliament.
Scottish voters have always been more more left-wing than their English
neighbours. The three biggest parties -- Labour, the SNP and the Liberal
Democrats -- are all left-of-centre.
Many of the first pieces of Scottish legislation were distinctly
left-wing, including more funding for health care and a ban on fox
hunting, despite the fact there is almost no fox hunting in Scotland.
The SSP also benefits from the dashing figure of its leader.
"Tommy Sheridan is quite an attractive personality," says Bill Miller, a
professor of politics at the University of Glasgow. "His dress code is
very sharp, very glamorous. You're not likely to see him in an open-neck
shirt and jeans."
Though he may look like a stockbroker, his rhetoric is more inspired by
Lenin and Marx.
"We reject the increasing anarchy of the free market in favour of a more
equitably controlled and sane economic situation where our country's
vast wealth and resources are democratically owned and controlled by the
people of Scotland and not the profiteers," he says. "We're socialists
in this world of grey politics where everyone seems to be saying
virtually the same thing."
The SSP wants to re-nationalize all the industries privatized during the
Thatcher years, including such sectors as telecommunications, natural
gas and electricity.
"But we don't want to just take back what we used to run," Mr. Sheridan
explains. "We want to look at oil. We want to look at the financial
sector, the banks, the insurance companies. If these services were run
for need rather than greed, we would live in a much better society."
And if companies tried to flee?
According to the manifesto, an SSP government would "confiscate the
assets [of] any company that pulls out of Scotland in search of more
The party would eliminate taxes for the poor and working classes, while
dramatically increasing them on the rich -- any income above £250,000
($600,000) would be taxed at a rate of 100%.
"I don't think there are that many people that would actually like his
policies enacted," says Mr. Miller. "But on the romantic, emotional
level, there is quite an attraction."
The University of Glasgow professor doubts Mr. Sheridan and the SSP will
be able to win much more support than their current 8%. But in a way,
that gives voters the freedom to put more SSP members in parliament.
"Voters know he is not going to be a decisive factor," he says.
"And therefore, they don't have to worry too much about what his
policies are. They can use him to send a message."
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