TWENTY-FIVE years ago today, on February 21, 1999, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) was founded. It was the bright young hope of the radical left in Scotland with its key aims being socialism and independence.

Looking back, its rise was meteoric. It gained, in Tommy Sheridan, its first MSP in the first elections to the Scottish Parliament in May 1999, and followed up four years later by adding another five to its tally in the May 2003 election.

Of these, Caroline Leckie, Colin Fox and Rosie Kane then became the new rising stars at Holyrood.

Most will recall the beginnings of the fratricidal implosion of the party just 18 months later. On November 9, 2004, Sheridan was alleged by the News of the World to be a sex swinger. Following a spectacular libel victory by Sheridan against the paper in the summer of 2006, Sheridan left the SSP to form Solidarity.

Come the May 2007 Holyrood elections, none of the six socialists were re-elected.

The National:

It seemed to be a case of The Joy of Six, as the SSP’s newspaper greeted the 2003 election, being completely wiped out by The Joy of Sex.

As the implosion gathered pace, many left the SSP, rejoining Labour or moving to the SNP and Greens. Sheridan was jailed in 2011 for committing perjury and Solidarity no longer exists, having been wound up, with its fragments entering Alba.

The SSP soldier on but despite the boost in membership after the 2014 independence referendum, the party is a shadow of its former self.

Twenty-five years on, the most useful lessons to be learnt about the SSP are not about how it fell apart but rather about how it came together and grew.

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This is because these lessons may hold the key as to whether a pro-independence socialist party, whether the SSP or not, can rise again in the new developing political situation in Britain of an approaching right-wing Labour Westminster government and an increasingly prostrate SNP.

Necessary but not sufficient in itself was that much of the radical left in Scotland became united through the Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA). The SSA was the first indication that a re-alignment was taking place in left politics in Scotland.

The main force behind it was Scottish Militant Labour (SML), led by Sheridan and Alan McCombes. SML had begun to work with others on the left in a productive and fraternal way.

Stressing the importance of common aims rather than concentrating upon much smaller political differences led a wide array of people from the Labour left, the SNP left, fragments of the Communist Party and community campaigners to come together to work with SML. They formed the SSA in February 1996.

The National: Tommy Sheridan

Sheridan (above) and other socialists had been elected to Glasgow City Council in the early 1990s. And with minds focused by coming return of the Scottish Parliament, it was felt the momentum was great enough to make a serious pitch for representation there.

So, on September 20, 1998, the SSA took the bold step to form a new political party called the SSP. But while necessary, the formation of the SSP was not sufficient in itself to enable it to make the breakthrough.

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The success of the campaign to defeat the hated Tory poll tax continued to provide credibility to the radical left. It was then aided by the SNP undergoing a crisis after Alex Salmond stood down as leader.

John Swinney, as his replacement, made the SNP look rudderless and the party was increasingly divided between the “gradualists” and the “fundamentalists” over the merits of devolution and independence.

Labour under Blair was pushing forward on its “new” Labour, neoliberal course. There was very little in the way of “clear red water” between Scottish Labour and the British Labour Party under Donald Dewar (below right), Henry McLeish (below left) and Jack McConnell.

The National: The then Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar, right, with Devolution Minister Henry McLeish at the

On top of this, Labour were engaged in supporting US imperialism in Iraq and fighting the firefighters. The scene was set for the entry of some new kids on the block. What parallels can we find in the situation today? The SNP are again in the doldrums, Sarwar and Starmer are very much Blair 2.0, and the independence movement not only needs re-invigorating but re-calibrated to concentrate on campaigning to end social and economic inequality.

A new radical left, pro-independence force could then have an opportunity to make headway again in the next few years.

It won’t be easy with the continued dominance of neoliberalism and the retreat of radical left parties – such as Die Linke, Podemos and Syriza – in Europe.

The presence of Alba will only add to the difficulties. But the approach of the May 2026 Scottish Parliament election might just be enough to knock some socialist heads together again.

Gregor Gall is a visiting professor of industrial relations at the University of Leeds and author of Tommy Sheridan: From hero to zero? A political biography (2012)