15 Feb 2010

A republican future for the UK?

I attended the meeting of the Republican Socialist Convention in London at South Bank University on Saturday representing Green Left. The event was attended by about 25 people, representing Socialist Alliance, CPGB, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Commune, Labour Representation Committee, Toby Abse (who may have been representing the Alliance for Green Socialism) and several non-party individuals. Other than Peter T who left early due to other commitments, I was the only Green present. We were also a sponsoring organisation. What I also found interesting was that about 25% of those attending were Scots.

The event has been filmed so at some point it will be available and sent to lists etc. The emphasis of the Convention was on Republicanism and Socialism and it was felt that the former is an issue which the Left seldom addresses.

A problem was that many of the speakers pulled out at the last minute for various reasons including health – Bob Crow sent a message that he was involved in industrial action! The first session was on ‘The Crisis of Democracy and a Republican Programme’ and the two speakers were Peter Tatchell and Colin Fox, Co Leader of the Scottish Socialist Party. Peter Tatchell put forward a list of demands for constitutional reform. These were: A fairer voting system and said that AV as proposed by Brown was worse than the current system, a written constitution and a Bill of Rights, an elected Head of State based on the Irish system, a fully elected second chamber (possibly based on regional lists) recall of MPs, abolition of the Royal prerogative, strengthening the powers of Select Committees, all government appointments to appear before Select Committees, abolition of quangos and a federal Britain.

Colin Fox praised the heroic work of Peter and said that he was an inspiration. He then graphically related some of the things which had happened in Scotland when the SSP were elected to the Scottish Parliament. He said that the state of corruption in the UK Parliament was incredible and that the whole system was rotten even sucking in MPs who he thought of as honourable, like Harry Cohen. This illustrated the need for a workers wage. He quoted James Connolly: “You rise with your class and not out of your class.” He decried the absence of teachers, bricklayers etc in the current parliament and said that it was quite deliberate that they were all lawyers, lecturers etc. Being an MP had become a career and not a cause. He also stated that the total budget for the Scottish parliament was a fraction of that for the banks or oil companies and that effectively they held the real power. He pointed out that in recent opinion polls only 37% of Scots supported independence but a clear majority supported a republic. He predicted great political unrest in Scotland after a Tory election victory.

The second panel was on the national question and had a contribution from Steve Freeman on English nationalism and Alan Armstrong from the SSP on the Scottish and Northern Irish perspective on the national question. Steve Freeman from Socialist Alliance pointed out how the English flag had changed over recent years from Union Jack to St George and also how the terms ‘British’ and ‘English’ differed. He also made the point that the republican issue had almost no support in England whereas in Scotland it was a burning issue because of the national question. Alan Armstrong said that Northern Ireland had demonstrated the determination of the UK state not to allow any part to break away and that Peter Tatchell’s demands would be met by violent state resistance as had happened with the Civil Rights movement in NI in the 60s. He said that the SSP called for an independent socialist Scotland and the end of the British state – he pointed out how Scotland was one of the most militarised states in Europe with submarine bases, arms manufacturing etc.

I was on the final panel with Colin Fox of the SSP. We discussed the general election and I was quite forthright on the Green Party’s republican programme and that it was also now our policy to recall MPs after a local ballot. I also stressed the need to challenge the neo-Liberal programme of cuts being put forward by the three main parties. Colin Fox argued that the SSP was going through one of its best periods and that the war in Afghanistan had led to a real rise in support in Scotland. He and other SSP speakers also pointed out that the SNP were prepared to accept the monarchy, Trident etc and that they were essentially ‘the tartan Tories’. Their recent setbacks in Scotland were due to the fact that these retreats were now becoming obvious to the electorate.

Colin Fox told me later that he had a high regard for Caroline Lucas.

I think it was a useful discussion of topics not often aired. There was, of course, vigorous discussion, some of it consisting of speeches from the floor but that will be on the film. I made the point during my talk about how the Queen’s role could become a very actual topic rather than one for constitutional experts and there is a report on this today http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/14/queen-power-hung-parliament

Joseph Healy


James Mackenzie said...

Gosh, Colin Fox and the real world don't appear to be much in contact nowadays.

I like him - amongst the SSP's former MSPs he's the only one with a sense of humour - but Labour's benches here are full of teachers to no avail. Also, what on earth does "one of their best periods" mean when they're still fighting Tommy's ironically-named Solidarity movement and no longer represented at any level?

Alan G said...

"no longer represented at any level?"

At the 2007 council elections the SSP had one of our councillors re-elected. Solidarity also gained a councillor - who quickly defected to Labour.

James Mackenzie said...

Ah, is this the man you mean?

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