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Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Arthur Scargill quizzed

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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Arthur Scargill, the leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, set up the Socialist Labour Party in May 1996 in protest at many of the reforms carried out by New Labour.

The Socialist Labour Party, under Arthur Scargill is campaigning for full-employment, a four day working week, and voluntary retirement at 55. It supports withdrawal from the European Union, it opposes the euro and will campaign for abolition of the monarchy and an end to what they say is the "British slavish support" of US foreign policy.

Arthur Scargill of the Socialist Labour Party answered your questions on 29 May in a live forum.


Below is a transcript of the interview

News Online Host:

Hello, and here to answer your e-mails today is Arthur Scargill, who founded the Socialist Labour party in 1996. The party campaigns for full employment, a four-day working week and voluntary retirement at the age of 55. The party supports withdrawal from the European Union and opposes the euro. It's also pledged to abolish the monarchy and put an end to what it describes as Britain's slavish support of US foreign policy. Mr Scargill, welcome. Can I start with our first e-mail which is on the question of your party's relations with other socialist groups. Mike from Glasgow asks this, when socialist groups around the UK are uniting why does the SLP remain separate? What makes the SLP different from the SSP, or the socialist alliances?

Arthur Scargill:

The question would be better addressed to those organisations rather than me. In 1995 following the New Labour party's abandonment of Clause 4 and the complete change in its constitution, we held discussions with a whole range of organisations, including militant tendency, including the Socialist Workers party, and all those organisations who now claim to form the Socialist Alliance, which is a grouping of Trotskyist organisations. We said we wanted to form one new political party of the left, committed to policies which would win the heart and mind of every British citizen. Unfortunately they chose not to join our political organisation. And they didn't get actually founded until about 12 months ago, so the question is, why didn't they join the Socialist Labour party which is a clear cut policy which was endorsed by all those organisations between 1995 and 1996.

News Online Host:

Moving on to a similar question from Tony Brown in London, he says your policies are close to those of the Socialist Alliance, would you not stand a better chance if you all united on one left front?

Arthur Scargill:

Well, the policies of the Alliance are close to our policies which was founded five years before they even thought about coming together. But they are not altogether in tune. First of all, the Socialist Workers party, for example, in 1997, urged voters in Britain to vote for the New Labour party. Something which we couldn't understand, and also argue that you shouldn't be standing in the elections. Secondly, we've got one of their member organisations wanting to join or remain in the European Union and another organisation wanting to come out. It seems to me they've got a problem and a conflict of interest there and thirdly and you've got a problem with some of their political organisations who want independence for Scotland, or independence for Wales and some who don't want that. Now at least the Socialist Labour party has got a clear cut policy, determined by its members and one which I believe appeals to the vast majority not only of the left-thinking people of Britain but to the majority of people in Britain who take notice of the policies that we've put forward.

News Online Host:

Well, moving on from the various socialist groupings, a question here from Gary Dillon in Harlow about your party's relations with the Labour party. He says although I appreciate that many people vote for Socialist Labour, do you not think that you could do more good back within the Labour party? I feel that debate and constructive opposition within the party are somewhat lacking. Do you not feel that the most effective way to make a difference would be from within?

Arthur Scargill:

No, I don't. It's similar to saying we'd be better off joining the Conservative party and trying to change it from within. There is now no difference between the Conservative party, New Labour and the Liberal Democrats. They're constitutions all support capitalism and the free market. The Socialist Labour party on the other hand clearly identifies with those people who are taking direct action on the streets of Seattle or Prague or Nice or London, who are opposed to global capitalism and who want an end to the present system. What we say is that there's only one way to deal with the problems facing the British working class and that is to change the system of society from a capitalist system to a socialist system. You can't do that within the New Labour party because they changed the constitution in such a way as to commit it to the policies of capitalism and the free market.

News Online Host:

So you feel then that you are completely incompatible with New Labour?

Arthur Scargill:

It's not a question of whether I feel I'm incompatible with New Labour, it's a question of whether their constitution appeals or does not appeal to people who hold similar views to myself. For example, if you're a Christian, or indeed a member of any faith, and you go to your religious order and say what are we doing next Saturday or Sunday, and they say, well, we've abandoned our faith and we'll have an acid party and a rave-up, instead of our normal procedure. You'd think that you'd lost faith with that organisation and they in turn their commitment to their basic faith. That's what's happened to New Labour. It's abandoned its position. It's now totally committed to that which it previously was opposed to. And there's no way of taking it back. It is now totally indistinguishable from the Liberal Democrats and to the Conservative party. In fact probably the Lib Dems are to the left of the Labour party.

News Online Host:

OK, moving on now to European policy. Richard Carter asks this question: why withdraw from the EU when it's broadly socialist agenda supports your policies much more than any mainstream British party?

Arthur Scargill:

Well, the European Union's agenda is anti-socialist, it's anti-working class and it's design, and it always has been, it's design is to maintain capitalism. I don't know whether the person who sent in this e-mail realises that the original concept for a European Union and a European army was that of Adolf Hitler, who wanted to see that kind of European Union created. It's not an economic union, it's a political union and we're just committed to capitalism and to the free market. I want to see Britain get out of the European Union and back into the world. I want to see Britain begin to trade with countries like Cuba, which has been blockaded for over 30 years by the United States. I want to see Britain begin to trade in a real and positive way with countries like Australia, or Canada, or New Zealand, Africa, the Middle East, and if we did that, not only would we save 10 billion in affiliation fees, which we could use to pay pensioners the restoration of the link that was taken away by Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and thereby give them an immediate 30 a week increase, but more important, we could make Britain a much stronger economic base. At the moment we've only got 19 per cent of our economy in manufacturing. Twenty five years ago we had 80 per cent.

News Online Host:

Another question on Europe from Kay Rogers in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. If you want to end to the UK's slavish dependence upon the United States, surely the European Union would be a good counter balance both in a military and economic capacity. Isn't your stance on withdrawal from the European Union contrary to your position regarding the United States and does it now show a blatant isolationist position?

Arthur Scargill:

On the contrary, it shows that we are an international party with true international traditions. What we want to do is to withdraw from the European Union, which is an exclusive capitalist European club, and get back into the world. Now that's an international policy. It means that we want to start trading both economically, socially and politically with countries throughout the world. That would mean that our own manufacturing industry could be rebuilt. Don't forget our infrastructure, such as coal and steel and shipbuilding, engineering and motorcar industries, have all been destroyed on the altar of the European Union. For instance you are not able in this day and age to give subsidies to those industries because of the European Union regulations. It's ironic that only a few years ago Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative government were aiming to take Rolls Royce into nationalisation whilst only this year Stephen Byers and Tony Blair were unable to do anything, so they said, to help Rover or to help Ford when BMW and Ford said they were stopping car production in Britain. I would have thought the obvious answer was to take those industries and indeed all the privatised industries back into public ownership.

News Online Host:

Well, moving on to spending and taxation, Ben Roberts from Eastbourne has e-mailed this question, how would you fund the pledges in your manifesto? The doubling of the pension, 7.40 minimum wage and other such measures would surely prove very costly?

Arthur Scargill:

Well, they would but those are policies not from our manifesto but probably from somebody else's manifesto. We argue for a minimum wage of 7 an hour, based on a 35-hour, four-day week. Secondly, we want to see a taxation policy that makes sense. We would end the indirect taxation policy, the VAT, which currently accounts for 30 per cent of our taxation and we would transfer that on to direct taxation. If we did that and we had a taxation band that would give for example everybody earning below 75,000 at least the same tax or less tax than they are paying at the present time, at least 80 per cent of the British people would be better off.

News Online Host:

Alright, manufacturing now. Matt Cook from London: do you think that this country would be able to return to a manufacturing economy during the next parliamentary term with or without you as prime minister?

Arthur Scargill:

It would certainly be possible to return to a manufacturing nation provided policies such as those advanced by the Socialist Labour party were put into operation. But to do that you would need a complete reversal of policy. For example, whoever is prime minister is immaterial. What you need are economic policies that say we will re-open coal mines, we will open new coal mines, we will develop and re-develop the shipbuilding industry, heavy and light engineering. We will also begin to develop and redevelop our own steel industry. And in doing so we will stop the stupid policy of importing coal and steel and manufacturing goods. Let me give you two examples. At the present time we are importing 20 million tonnes of foreign coal when if we produced that coal here in Britain, using British labour, both directly in the coal industry and in associated industries, we would save 1 billion a year. We're also importing something like 60 per cent of our steel when if we produced it here in Britain instead of closing Clanwyrn and throwing about 6,000 steelworkers' jobs on the scrap heap, we would be saving something like 1.5 billion in our balance of payments. Now that's an enormous saving that would go some way to paying pensioners the link that was robbed by both New Labour and the Conservative governments.

News Online Host:

And you feel it's not too late to resurrect some of these industries?

Arthur Scargill:

Not at all. In fact, quite the opposite. There's no reason on earth why we can't begin immediately. We've got a colliery, for example, in South Yorkshire, called Thorn, which has been ready for commencement of production for about ten years and it would be the biggest colliery in the whole of Europe. The reason it doesn't go ahead is because of policies which tie us to the European Union. If our manufacturing base was redeveloped, as it should be, we would change around that pyramid that I've often talked about. Instead of having something like a 20 per cent economic base in manufacturing, supporting 80 per cent in the service sector, if we turned that around to what it used to be, with an 80 per cent base in manufacturing industries, supporting a 20 per cent top tier of service industries, then we would be doing something that was positive, not only for the British people but for the British economy in the long term and that means for the health service, where we need 15 billion now, it means education, where we need 5 billion now, and it means for pensioners that they would get the restoration of the link.

News Online Host:

Well, you mentioned the health service, we've got a question from Mark Davis. He says what is your position on NHS reforms? Do you agree with abolition of private work for consultants?

Arthur Scargill:

Yes, I do. We believe that all private medicine should be abolished and we believe that we need an immediate increase in expenditure on our national health service of 15 billion. We would fund that by cutting the defence budget by two-thirds, thereby releasing 16 billion. And I put it to people. Would you rather spend that money on death and destruction in an arms industry or on maintaining and improving the quality of human life in the national health service and the welfare and care of our people? I know that I would rather spend it on health and welfare.

News Online Host:

A question now relating to one of your specific policies, from Adam Boynes in Leamington. How does Socialist Labour propose to abolish the monarchy and will the resulting republic be a constitutional one?

Arthur Scargill:

What we would do is to abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords and any unelected and undemocratic institution. I believe all institutions in Britain should be accountable and should be elected. If it's right to elect Arthur Scargill and say that you must subscribe to a democratic procedure, then it must be right that we also elect the monarchy and we also elect the institutions in our country. That means the abolition of the monarchy and the abolition of the House of Lords.

News Online Host:

Just time for one final question, if we can be reasonably brief. Robin Miller from East Kilbride, what does Mr Scargill say to the criticism that his party and his politics are stuck in the 70s? The policies and directions then were out of touch, they're even more so in the 21st century.

Arthur Scargill:

I say that the question's completely out of touch, out of touch. Our policies are for the 21st century. A policy that claims full employment, a policy that claims a decent health service, available upon demand at the time of need and free of charge, is surely a policy for the 21st century and I would recommend everybody to support the Socialist Labour party.

News Online Host:

Thank you very much indeed, Arthur Scargill.

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