Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Monday, 5 April 2010 11:40 UK

Profile: Scottish Socialist Party

By Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Colin Fox
Colin Fox took over the SSP leadership after Tommy Sheridan

Scotland's association with left-wing politics has been strong and historic and for several years the Scottish Socialist Party used this link to make its mark on a range of issues.

The party's Scottish Parliament group was wiped out in the 2007 Holyrood election, but has continued to fight on a range of issues, contesting elections across Scotland.

The Scottish Socialist Party, created shortly before the 1999 elections, advocated, as its main policies, proportional representation, abolition of the monarchy and an end to the Union through the creation of an independent, Scottish republic.

It also strongly opposed the Iraq war.

If the party needed a figurehead as it went into the first Scottish Parliament election, it was found in the shape of firebrand politician Tommy Sheridan.

The left-winger, who had been expelled from the Labour Party over his high-profile, anti-Poll Tax stance, had come to wide public attention when he was elected as a Glasgow councillor while serving a jail term in 1992 after warrant sale protests.

'Three amigos'

Mr Sheridan and fellow socialists also became involved in other action, such as taking part in blockades at Faslane nuclear submarine base on the River Clyde.

After the SSP was founded, he was elected as a Glasgow list MSP in 1999 as the sole representative of his party and, staying true to his principles, managed to get legislation abolishing poindings and warrant sales passed.

But MSPs agreed to delay its implementation until 2002 so alternative means of debt recovery could be devised, and was made effectively redundant by a subsequent Scottish government bill to bring in a new system of debt collection.

Mr Sheridan said the Debt Arrangement and Attachment Bill, which included incentives to negotiate settlements, would bring in warrant sales by another name.

In true Sheridan style, he was dubbed, in the first parliament, one of the "three amigos", along with Green MSP Robon Harper and independent Dennis Canavan, after they resisted attempts to move them to the back of the Holyrood chamber - even threatening a sit-in.

Tommy Sheridan
Tommy Sheridan was a well-known activist before becoming an MSP

He joked at the time: "We might be 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly' but I wouldn't like to say which is which."

As the 2003 Holyrood election came, the Scottish Socialists boosted their tally of MSPs from one to six, in a year when Scots voters returned an increased number of independent candidates, as well as those from smaller parties.

As part of the new "rainbow parliament", the SSP fought for policies such as free school meals and an end to prescription charges - both of which would later be brought in by the SNP in government.

The party had also campaigned hard against Home Office dawn raids to remove failed asylum seekers, described at the time by Scottish Labour minister Malcolm Chisholm, as "totally unnecessary, heavy-handed and over the top".

But all was not well. Socialist MSP Rosie Kane - known in parliament for her colourful dress sense and support for Cuban leader Fidel Castro - took time out to cope with depression, a story which MSPs used to raise public awareness of the condition.

In November 2004, Mr Sheridan announced his resignation as SSP leader. Not only were he and his wife expecting their first child, but Mr Sheridan was also keen to shed the image of the party as a one-man band.

It was also reported the party was expected to go £200,000 into the red.

Long-time supporter Colin Fox, who had been elected as a Socialist MSP in 2003, took over.

In parliament, the Socialist group continued to stand up for its beliefs, and, in one of the most lively sessions of first minister's questions, four of their number were banned from Holyrood for a month after marching to the front of the chamber brandishing placards and demanding the right to protest at the 2005 G8 summit, in Gleneagles.

Scottish parliament chamber
The SSP Holyrood protest earned the MSPs a suspension

Mr Fox, along with Frances Curran, Ms Kane and Carolyn Leckie also lost their salaries and allowances during the exclusion.

After that, things turned sour for the party.

Mr Sheridan, who had won a £200,000 defamation action against the News of the World newspaper, announced he was seeking a split in the party, and went onto set up a new left-wing party, Solidarity.

Eleven party figures, including Mr Fox, Ms Kane and Ms Leckie, gave evidence against Mr Sheridan during the case, while only one of the parliamentary group, Rosemary Byrne, supported him.

Mr Fox claimed the move was an indication Mr Sheridan was abandoning his commitment to an independent Scotland.

Then came the 2007 Holyrood election, in which both the SSP and Solidarity were wiped out in Holyrood terms.

One of the main factors was the voting squeeze between Labour and the SNP, but the party's split did not help its cause.

Nevertheless, it has continued to contest elections in the hope of once again winning seats.



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