The candidates have been officially confirmed for the Rutherglen and Hamilton West UK parliamentary by-election being held on October 5th. Against the backdrop of a continuing trade union fightback against the cost-of-living crisis, the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition are standing local union leader Chris Sermanni.
Although a new offer has now been tabled by the employers, the present situation is that more than three-quarters of Scotland’s schools will face closure just a week before the by-election, as over 21,000 members of UNISON plan strike action over three days from 26th-28th September. In a separate dispute, UNISON members at South Lanarkshire and City of Glasgow Colleges will be taking part in rolling strike action during the by-election period.
Chris Sermanni, a resident of Cambuslang, one of the biggest population centres in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West constituency, is also a UNISON shop stewards convener at Glasgow City Council. He is ideally placed to be the voice of workers’ protest in the by-election contest against the establishment parties; from the SNP and their allies in the Scottish government, the Scottish Greens, to the Tories, Lib Dems and Scottish Labour.
It is unfortunate, therefore, that despite efforts to achieve a single socialist candidate in the by-election, there will also be a candidate on the ballot paper on October 5th from the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). We print below a statement from the Scottish TUSC steering committee explaining how, on this occasion, it was not possible to reach an agreement with the SSP.
Donations to Chris Sermanni’s campaign can be made via the TUSC website at https://www.tusc.org.uk/donations/by-election/ ■
Scottish TUSC statement after meeting with the SSP concerning the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election
Representatives of the Scottish TUSC steering committee met with members of the SSP on August 25th to discuss the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election. This followed two letters from Scottish TUSC – on July 3rd (see https://www.tusc.org.uk/19438/06-07-2023/for-a-single-socialist-candidate-in-the-rutherglen-and-hamilton-west-by-election/) and August 14th – in which we asked for a meeting to discuss the possibility of achieving an agreement for a single socialist candidate in the forthcoming by-election.
The background to this was the announcement by the SSP on June 25th that they intended to contest the by-election and had selected Bill Bonnar as the SSP candidate.
Scottish TUSC had made a decision at our steering committee on May 25th to stand and had selected Chris Sermanni as our candidate.
Prior to this, Scottish TUSC organised a public meeting on May 17th in Rutherglen on the need for a workers’ candidate (which three members of the SSP attended). At that meeting we made clear our preparedness to discuss with the SSP if they were thinking of standing.
This was explained both during the public meeting and after the meeting had finished. The SSP members in attendance gave no indication that they were discussing standing. Despite the invitation, we heard nothing again from the SSP.
Five weeks after Scottish TUSC declared our candidate, we saw in a press report that the SSP intended to stand. It was then that we wrote our first letter asking for a meeting. When there was no response to this, we wrote again on August 14th. The meeting took place on August 25th.
The meeting was friendly and comradely. Scottish TUSC explained our view that a single socialist candidate would be the ideal outcome.
We argued that while we respected the right of the SSP to stand, Chris Sermanni would be an excellent candidate. Chris lives in the constituency and is a shop stewards convener for UNISON and has an outstanding record as a fighting trade unionist.
In the wake of the strike wave and now in the midst of a resurging of trade union action – with, most recently, UNISON in Scotland voting massively in favour of strike action in schools, including Chris’s own branch – the idea of a trade union and workers’ candidate can gain significant traction. Scottish TUSC also has affiliated to it two branches of the CWU in Scotland.
We reiterated our invitation for the SSP to be part of the Scottish TUSC coalition and to be involved in Chris’s campaign. This would include the right to produce campaign material in their own name if they wished and to organise their own public events.
The SSP argued that they have an active branch in the area and had stood in the Rutherglen Westminster seat before (in 2005) with Bill Bonnar as their candidate then and a council seat in Blantyre with a different candidate. We pointed out that in recent years Bill has only stood for election in Govan council ward in Glasgow and the Glasgow South West Westminster parliamentary seat and not in Rutherglen or South Lanarkshire.
Indeed the last socialist organisation to stand in Rutherglen in a parliamentary election was Scottish TUSC in 2021 when we stood on the Glasgow regional list, which includes the Rutherglen constituency (Rutherglen, Cambuslang, and a bit of Blantyre). In the SSP’s view, Scottish TUSC should agree to not field a candidate in the election.
New workers’ party
As the discussion developed it was clear that there was a significant political difference on an issue that Scottish TUSC would seek to make central in the by-election: the need for the trade unions – or a significant section of them – to move to build a new workers’ party.
The lack of working class political representation is acute. With Starmer dragging Labour to the right at light speed and surgically removing all vestiges of Corbynism, alongside the withering working class base of the SNP, a new workers’ party is essential.
At this stage, it is clear the SSP do not share this conception. They do not argue for the building of a new mass workers’ party, or call on the trade unions to take that step.
TUSC only exists – formed in 2010 by the then general secretary of the RMT Bob Crow, the Socialist Party/Socialist Party Scotland, and other leading trade unionists and anti-austerity campaigners – because of the lack of a mass working class alternative.
Scottish TUSC does not pretend to be a new mass party – but it is a vehicle for trade unionists, socialists and anti-cuts fighters to stand to offer an alternative in elections.
We see the election as a very important platform to advocate the building of such a party by the trade unions, involving of course socialists and other campaigners. This is not a policy that the SSP shares at this stage.
Disappointingly therefore, it seems there will be two socialist candidates at the by-election. We understand that this is a high profile election and the SSP want to stand to make its case, which we respect.
The invitation for the SSP to be part of Scottish TUSC remains on the table. While primarily policy differences mean it is not possible to get an agreement for one socialist candidate, from Scottish TUSC’s point of view we hope to be able to continue dialogue in the future.
The Scottish TUSC steering committee, 1st September 2023