The official petition to recall the Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP, Margaret Ferrier, opened for signatures on June 20, and will close at 5pm on July 31. If ten percent of the registered electors in the constituency sign the petition – 8,113 voters – a by-election will be held, probably in early October. This follows the suspension of Ferrier from the House of Commons on June 6, resulting from her conviction for breaking Covid regulations in September 2020 at the height of the pandemic.
If the Recall Petition is successful Ferrier, elected as a Scottish National Party (SNP) MP in 2019 but sitting as an independent since 2020, will have the right to stand in the by-election. But the SNP is contesting the by-election even if Ferrier stands again, and the Scottish Labour Party have selected their candidate, Michael Shanks, who left the Labour Party in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in 2019 but is now their chosen representative. What better opportunity could there be for a socialist candidate to make an impactful statement for working class interests and socialism as an alternative to pro-capitalist politicians in their various hues?
To that end the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition hosted a public meeting in Rutherglen on May 17, appealing to local socialists and trade unionists to participate in a discussion on how to get a workers’ candidate for the probable by-election. After further consultations, Chris Sermanni, a leading trade unionist who lives in the constituency, was selected as the Scottish TUSC candidate and announced to the media on May 26 (see https://www.tusc.org.uk/19288/29-05-2023/scottish-tusc-to-stand-in-rutherglen-and-hamilton-west/). Unfortunately, a month later, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) declared that it too has selected a candidate for the seat.
But with the by-election not likely to take place until the autumn there is still time to engage in constructive dialogue on agreeing a single socialist candidate in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West contest. The Scottish TUSC steering committee has written to this effect to the SSP, in a letter which we are publishing below. ■
To the Scottish Socialist Party
For a single socialist candidate at the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election
The likely by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West is an important opportunity to build support for a socialist and pro-worker platform. With the SNP being undermined by its attachment to cuts and pro-capitalist policies, and Labour stampeding to the right under Starmer, the need for the working class to have its own political voice in the battle against Tory mis-rule is acute.
The by-election will therefore be an opportunity to make the case for policies like socialist nationalisation of the economy, a £15 minimum wage without exemptions, inflation-proof pay rises for all workers, for the scrapping of all anti-union laws, a mass working-class campaign for indyref2, a socialist MP on a worker’s wage, and an independent socialist Scotland.
Scottish TUSC believes that such a socialist election campaign should make the need for a new mass working-class party to be created by the trade unions a central issue.
To that end the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition organised a public meeting in Rutherglen on May 17, 2023 on the need for a workers’ candidate for the probable by-election. Chris Sermanni, a leading trade unionist who lives in the constituency, addressed the meeting.
Members of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) attended and asked if Scottish TUSC were planning to stand. Both Chris and the chair of the meeting said Scottish TUSC was prepared to stand but were more than happy to discuss with others on the left, including the SSP; an approach we have taken in previous elections.
At the conclusion of the meeting the secretary of the Scottish TUSC steering committee, Philip Stott, spoke to one of the SSP members, Bill Bonnar, and again offered to meet to discuss the by election if the SSP were considering standing. Bill said he would pass that offer on to others in the SSP. To date there has been no contact from the SSP.
On Thursday May 25, a meeting of the Scottish TUSC steering committee was held which discussed the issue of the by-election. It was unanimously agreed to select Chris Sermanni as our candidate. The Scottish TUSC steering committee is made up of its affiliated organisations, which includes two branches of the Communication Workers Union (Scotland No.2 branch and Highland AMAL), Socialist Party Scotland, and also leading trade unionists in an individual capacity.
Scottish TUSC made a public statement on May 26 announcing our intention to stand. This was also covered in the local press and the Morning Star newspaper.
Why a workers’ and trade union candidate?
Chris lives in Cambuslang and is the social work shop stewards convener for the UNISON trade union at Glasgow City Council. The Glasgow City UNISON branch has an unrivalled record of struggle, including the equal pay battle which has won significant gains for thousands of low paid women workers. Scottish TUSC supporters play a major role in the leadership of that branch which has a long-held policy of advocating no cuts budgets and fully-funded public services. We believe that in the context of the recent strike wave having a prominent active trade unionist who lives in the constituency with a record of struggle will be an important asset for the campaign.
We were therefore surprised to hear, on June 27, through a press release, that the SSP intended to stand a candidate in the by-election.
The Scottish TUSC steering committee has agreed to write an open letter to repeat our offer for a discussion on the issue of the by-election. Specifically, we would like to propose a meeting between representatives of the Scottish TUSC steering committee and the SSP to try to seek agreement for a single socialist candidate to contest the likely by-election. With the by-election not likely to take place until October there is still time to engage in constructive dialogue on this issue.
We would also like to invite the SSP to be a participating organisation in Scottish TUSC, including representation on the steering committee – observer status is also possible before making a final decision. All participating organisations are entitled to two delegates. Decisions are made by consensus, a safeguard that means that no committee member can be ‘bounced’ into lending their or their organisation’s name to an action taking place under the Scottish TUSC banner if they feel strongly about a particular matter.
Obviously we recognise that there may be important political differences between the SSP and the current policy positions of Scottish TUSC as agreed by the different participants within it. As mentioned above, Scottish TUSC advocates that the trade unions, or sections of the movement, should play a central role in the building of a new mass workers’ party as an urgent task.
Chris and Scottish TUSC would make this a central issue of our election campaign. The recent strike wave has underlined that even more clearly. But we are confident that we can through discussion clarify any differences and explore concretely the basis for a hopeful agreement.
Yours in comradeship
Scottish TUSC steering committee
July 3 2023