[Marxism] New Scottish Socialist Formation

Patrick Scott redpatrick1960-marxism at yahoo.co.uk
Wed Aug 30 20:48:44 MDT 2006


A lot of rubbish has been put on this list by
supporters of Tommy Sheridan's proposed new party/fan
club. I would advise subscribers to the list to read
the following statement by the editorial board of
Socialist Resistance newspaper. I must admit to a
certain bias as a supporter of as well as an
occasional writer of articles for the paper.
Nevertheless whilst I do not agree with every last dot
and comma of the statement it more or less gets it
right and clearly comes down on the right side
concerning the split in the SSP.

NB The statement refers to various people being cited
to appear in court. Being cited is Britspeak for being
subpoenaed for the benefit of anyone who might not
know this.

http://www.socialistresistance.net/srssp.htm

The SSP Is Split By Sheridan: 
Socialist Resistance Statement

Socialist Resistance statement August 27 2006

Tommy Sheridan won the first round of his defamation
action against the News of the World (NoTW) in the
Scottish Court of Session (Scotland's highest court)
on a majority (7- 4) decision of the jury. He was
awarded his claimed £200,000 in damages. The NoTW has
said it intends to appeal and an investigation by the
Lothian and Borders police has begun into allegations
of perjury committed during the trial which is
expected to last six months or more. 

Since then Sheridan has moved quickly to split the
SSP. He has called a rally for Sunday September 3 to
form a new party in opposition to the SSP. Though he
told The Herald of August 20 that this was only one of
two options he was considering – the other being to go
out of politics and become a barrister – the new party
option seems to have won out. Now both the SWP and CWI
platforms have met, declared support for his call, and
are building for the September 3 rally.

Socialist Resistance is opposed to this split and
supports the United Left and others who are appealing
to the members to stay in the SSP and continue to
build it. The unity of the Scottish left, on which the
SSP was built has to be defended.

The jury majority may have been more than happy to see
a reactionary rag like the NoTW given a bloody nose –
a sentiment we can all share. But it was not just
Tommy Sheridan and the NoTW who were involved in this
trial. Others were drawn into it whose integrity has
been trashed. There were the 18 witnesses for the
NoTW, including 11 members of the SSP EC, who were
dragged into court under citation against their will.
These SSP members have been branded as liars by their
decision to tell the truth to the court. They now face
the possibility of perjury charges against them.

Both the SWP and the CWI immediately lauded the
decision of the court as a "fantastic victory". No
doubt for Sheridan, who must have expected to lose, it
was a fantastic victory. But for the Scottish left the
whole thing is a disaster. It is also a setback for
the British and European left, given the positive
influence the SSP has had on the development of the
European left since its foundation eight years ago

It was Sheridan's decision to take the NoTW to court,
and his repeated refusal to consider any other course
of action, which was the cause of this disaster. Once
he went down that road, under the circumstances he
did, the SSP was certain be dragged in, and the
outcome disastrous – whatever the decision the jury
had taken. 

Mistakes were no doubt made by the EC, who were
desperately trying to deal with the crisis Sheridan
created, but the responsibility was his. For him to
turn reality on its head and blame the EC majority for
the crisis is like the arsonist blaming the victim for
failing to put out the fire.

Sheridan’s unilateralism reflects one of the political
factors behind this crisis – the “Great unaccountable
Leader” syndrome i.e. the idea that a party is built
around a central charismatic leader, who in the end
regards his or her self as bigger than the party, and
unaccountable to it. It is one of the dangers which
small mass parties like the SSP face. There are other
such examples around as Alan McCombes points out in
his statement in the SSP bulletin issued on August 7.

Sheridan was originally part of a team. He was the
most visible member, the one in the media spotlight,
and perceived as the party leader, but he worked with
others and depended on others who made contributions
which were more hidden even inside the party. The team
was under strain before this issue exploded and could
not withstand the impact of this crisis.

This crisis was triggered by two articles published in
the NoTW in November 2004. These claimed that Sheridan
had had extra-martial affairs, engaged in group sex at
a Glasgow hotel, and had visited Cupids (a sex club in
Manchester) with NoTW journalist Anvar Khan and
others. 

Eighteen months later, in response to defamation
charges filed by Sheridan, the NoTW defended the
articles as "substantially true". They cited five
women witnesses who claimed to have either had affairs
with Sheridan, or had seen him at Cupids or having
group sex in the Moat House hotel in Glasgow. The
evidence of two of these as witnesses was tainted in
that they had sold their stories to the NoTW. This is
sordid journalism typical of the NoTW but not proof
that they were telling lies. 

The NoTW also cited evidence from within the SSP
Executive Committee (EC) itself. This concerned
statements Sheridan had made, at a meeting of the EC
on November 9 2004, called to consider allegations
published in the first of the two NoTW articles. These
allegations referred only to a "married MSP", but it
was clear from the context that it was Sheridan. He
admitted to the meeting that he had indeed visited
Cupids in Manchester on two occasions. He had told
this to two of those present previously.

The minutes put it this way: "Tommy admitted to the
meeting that he had in fact visited the club on two
occasions, in 1996 and 2002 with close friends. He
acknowledged that this had been reckless behaviour and
had, with hindsight, been a mistake.

At the same time he made it clear that if he was named
in this regard by the NoTW the following Sunday (which
was the expectation) he would sue them for defamation,
despite the truth of the matter. It was on the basis
of the stance – that he would sue over allegations
which were none-the-less true –that he was asked to
resign as SSP convenor by a unanimous vote of those
present. It was his stance which created the depth of
crisis in the SSP. 

The minutes record the opposition to this which
existed in the meeting: "Without exception all
contributors disagreed with the strategy of denying
the allegations. All felt that this would be the most
damaging strategy for the party. The general feeling
was that this was a bad situation and that the "least
worst" option should be found". Had Sheridan been
insisting on suing over false allegations would have
been a different matter altogether.

And there were other options he could have taken. He
could have ignored the allegations, come clean, or
denounced them and they would have blown over. The
idea that the only way he could survive politically
was to take the NoTW to court was nonsense.

The NoTW obtained a citation that the minutes of this
meeting – which they had controversially extracted
from the SSP through the powers of the court after
Alan McCombes went to prison in an attempt to keep
them confidential – be used as evidence at the trial. 

Central to the process of splitting the SSP was the
open letter Sheridan circulated at the emergency SSP
National Council (NC) meeting on May 28 2006, called
to discuss the situation and held whilst Alan McCombes
was in prison. The letter had been issued to the media
prior to the meeting 

In its first paragraph it says: "Today there exists an
unsavoury cabal of comrades at the core of the
leadership, their hands on the apparatus, who are more
interested in pursuing personal vendettas, through
vile lies and slander, than conducting the class
struggle". It goes on to describe them as: "akin to
the dark days of Stalinism"; "McCarthyite" and
"effectively acting for the state". The letter was
designed to either stampede a majority into supporting
him at that meeting, which is what happened, or
provide the basis to lead a minority out of the SSP at
the end of the meeting or soon after. 

At the heart of the open letter was a major political
attack on women in the SSP and a dangerous attempt to
claim that feminism is alien to class politics. The
letter attacked the SSP’s 50-50 policy which ensures
equal numbers of women and men in elected positions
and insisted that: "We are a class-based socialist
party. Not a gender-obsessed discussion group. Our
socialist principles and class identity define us
first. Not our gender or sexual orientation". 

Catriona Grant argued in Julia Bindel's article "a win
for machismo" in the Guardian of August 8 that the
trial was not about class but about gender. There has
indeed been a problem of male power relationships
involved. With the exception of Gail Sheridan, who
achieved celebrity status, all the women involved in
the case came off badly. 

As Julie Bindel observed all but two of the witnesses
on Sheridan’s side were men and most of the witnesses
against him were women. Sheridan has referred to
fellow MSP's Frances Curran, Rosie Kane, and Caroline
Leckie as the three witches in a misogynistic attempt
to undermine three strong women who disagreed with the
reckless way he was threatening the party.

In court Sheridan claimed that there were two separate
conspiracies against him. The first by the NoTW, which
he said had been out to get him for a long time, the
other by a faction inside the SSP leadership who were
out to oust him as part of a political take-over. This
was nonsense but it neatly diverted the proceedings
way from eye-witness accounts of sexual activities,
some of which were difficult to rebut, to political
conspiracy theories which the jury were hardly in a
position to assess. There had certainly been political
tension in the SSP, but that is very different to a
factional conspiracy. The SSP has had sharp political
debates before without factionalism.

The NoTW cited 11 of the 19 SSP members who had been
present at the November 9 2004 EC meeting as witnesses
at the trial. These were MSPs Rosie Kane, Carolyn
Leckie and Colin Fox, plus Allan Green (national
secretary) Richie Venton (Glasgow organiser), Alan
McCombes, Keith Baldassara (Glasgow councillor),
Catriona Grant (EC member), Jo Harvie (editor SSV),
Allison Kane (treasurer), and Barbara Scott (minutes
secretary). 

Remarkably they were able to make these citations
because of a fabricated set of minutes of the meeting
(as opposed to the official minutes) which had been
sent to the NoTW anonymously, presumably by Sheridan
or one of his supporters. Who else would fabricate
minutes to his advantage? These contained Sheridan,s
version of proceedings and included an incomplete list
of those present. At this stage the SSP had not given
the minutes to the court and the names for citation
were taken by the NoTW from the fabricated minutes.

These witnesses attended court under the strongest
protest and were each asked, under oath, if the
(official) minutes were accurate, and if Sheridan had
admitted that he had visited Cupids in Manchester.
They each confirmed that both were the case. Sheridan
promptly denounced them in front of the court as liars
and perjurers and the minutes as a fabrication. It was
he said "the mother of all stitch-ups". It was not
just the NoTW that Sheridan had put on trial – it was
the SSP as well. 

In fact of the 19 present at the EC meeting of
November 9, 15 have confirmed the accuracy of the
minutes – the 11 who appeared in court under citation
plus four more who were not cited but who have issued
a statement since to that effect. The 11 include Allan
Green and Colin Fox, neither of whom are members of
the United Left and who strove hard to persuade
Sheridan against his defamation case. 

The other four EC members appeared as witnesses for
Sheridan and said exactly the opposite to the 15. They
agreed with him that what he had actually said at the
meeting was that he had never visited Cupids, and that
the minutes had been fabricated. Only one set of
witnesses could be telling the truth –hence the
perjury investigation.

The rights and wrongs of these statements and
Sheridan’s denunciation of the 11 are at the core of
this issue and the crisis it has created. Alan
McCombes has said of Sheridan’s allegations: "this was
to accuse the 11 of a monstrous political frame-up
including the forgery of documents, a criminal
conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and
systematic perjury". Indeed it was. It was, as Richie
Venton says in his letter to SSP members, "the mother
of all inventions". 

The conclusion is inescapable. Tommy Sheridan lied his
way thought the case and in the course of this
repeatedly accused others of lying whilst knowing they
were telling the truth. He had expected the entire EC,
who had urged him not to take court action, to lie in
court in order to back up his case. He then regarded
them as traitors because they refused to do so. The
message was loud and clear. Sheridan was prepared to
go to any lengths to the defend the moralistic
reputation he had cultivated as a clean living
sexually loyal husband and if that meant smashing up
the SSP then so be it.

Right up until the momentous NC meeting on May 28 –
when everything changed in the SSP, when the framework
was set for the trial and the split, and when the SWP
and CWI platforms swung behind Sheridan – the validity
of the minutes of November 9 2004 had not been in
question. Now Sheridan’s open letter proposed, on the
one hand, that the minutes be handed to the court, and
on the other questioned their authenticity – claiming
that they were falsified as part of a conspiracy to
remove him from office. 

This made sense from his point of view. Once he had
proposed handing the minutes to the court he had to
either drop his defamation action or discredit the
minutes. If he accepted that they were true that would
be the end of his case. Up till then no one had
questioned the minutes, which had been known to those
who were at the November 9 meeting for the last year
and a half. There had been questions raised as to
whether they should have been kept confidential to the
EC, but not about their accuracy

As an alternative to the publication of the minutes to
SSP members aggregate meetings had been held up and
down Scotland in order for EC members to give verbal
accounts of the circumstances under which Sheridan was
asked to resign. There is plenty of evidence that
members were told details of what happened at the
November 9 2004 EC meeting at these meetings.

Sheridan also claimed, in his open letter, that he had
never read the minutes. This is flatly contradicted by
Alan McCombes who insists that the minutes were
discussed in a meeting between Allan Green, Colin Fox
and Sheridan on May 12 2006 soon after they had been
cited by the NoTW. If he had not read them before then
it was because he had not bothered to read them. At
that meeting, McCombes reveals, it was Sheridan
himself who proposed the adoption of the policy of
refusing to hand the minutes to the court. His
proposal only made sense if he accepted that the
minutes were accurate in the first place.

Sheridan, the CWI, the SWP and others tell us that it
is scandalous that 11 SSP EC members appeared in court
as witnesses for the defence. But what were they
supposed to do? If they had refused to appear they
would have been arrested and charged with contempt of
court. If they refuted the minutes and lied they would
risk perjury, which carries a heavy prison sentence.
But more than that were they to deny something in
court which they knew to be the truth in order to
protect Sheridan’s image as a respectable married man?

There are certainly times when socialists would do
otherwise, but this would be in situations where what
is at stake was the defence of collective action or an
issue of principle. This was not an issue of
principle. These comrades were being asked to put the
interests of one man above the collective interests of
the SSP. They were right to say no. 

Others have argued that the 11 should have had a bout
of collective amnesia. It would have been extremely
difficult, however, for 11 people to all say that they
could not remember what happened at a meeting as
unforgettable as that one. It was held in the glare of
publicity, and has had a profound effect on the SSP.
It would have been even more difficult for the minutes
secretary, who was one of the 11, to have argued that
she could not remember what she had recorded.

The dilemma faced by the 11 was understood in advance
and was discussed at a meeting of the EC two weeks
before the trial started. That meeting voted 17 for, 2
against, and 1 abstention, that if witnesses were
asked a direct question in court they should not lie
or commit contempt of court. Those who voted for this
included Graeme McIver and Jock Penman, who were two
of Sheridan’s witnesses in court, and Sinead Daly of
the CWI. This restated a position which had been taken
at the NC itself. No one proposed any alternative. 

The scandalous allegations of scab (i.e. crossing
class lines) and liar against the EC majority
escalated after the trial finished. The Daily Record
carried an interview with Sheridan on August 7 with
the headline "I’ll destroy the scabs who tried to ruin
me". There are photos of MSPs Frances Curran, Rosie
Kane, Carolyn Leckie and Colin Fox with the word
"scab" stamped over them. Frances Curran was not even
a witness! Colin Fox issued a statement the same day
which called on "all SSP members, regardless of their
views during the court case, to immediately
disassociate themselves from Tommy Sheridan's
scurrilous smear".

This is the same Daily Record which paid Sheridan
£30,000 for his story! Sheridan takes action against
one section of the capitalist media and then sells his
story about it to another. He calls the media "scum"
on the one hand and uses it to attack fellow SSP
members on the other.

The charge of scab relates to Sheridan's demagogic
claims – taken up with relish by the SWP and the CWI –
that the trial was a battle between capital and labour
in the form of a battle between Tommy Sheridan and
Rupert Murdoch. Socialists have to know which side
they are on in such a battle, they have repeatedly
claimed. It is simplistic nonsense. The idea that
socialists are committed, as a matter of principle, to
support any case, however reckless, simply because it
is between a leading socialist and the likes of Rupert
Murdoch, irrespective of the facts or the consequences
for others (including other socialists), is
preposterous. It reduces politics to crude
sloganising. 

The treatment of some of the women witnesses by
Sheridan was demeaning to say the least. After sacking
his legal team in order to bring his own considerable
persuasive powers directly on the jury Sheridan
cross-examined them himself. Katrine Trolle broke down
after three hours in the witness box. She had at first
denied that she had had a four-year affair with
Sheridan but accepted it was true after being cited to
appear in court as a witness for the NoTW. Her story
was backed up by evidence from her flatmates and phone
records of Sheridan's phone calls to her. Sheridan put
it to her in court that she had invented the whole
thing to undermine his position in the SSP. Far from
seeking publicity, or anything else, she had done all
she could to keep out of the whole issue. 

In terms of mistakes made by the EC the minutes of the
meeting of November 9 2004 should, in our view, never
have been taken in the way they were. The various
explanations for taking them with the details involved
are unconvincing. But in the end it was not the
minutes which were the problem for Sheridan. It was
what happened at the meeting, and that existed as the
truth whether it was minuted or not. Without the
minutes EC members could still have been cited to
appear and asked to explain what happened at the
meeting and exactly why Tommy Sheridan had been asked
to resign in the way he was.

It is also hard to see where the policy of withholding
the minutes from court was going to go after the NC on
May 28. The policy that the EC was putting to that NC
was not sustainable. It was the non-viability of that
policy which – although he had proposed it himself –
gave Sheridan the opening in that meeting which he
seized upon. 

The issue is not over, however. Unusually the judge
did not put a restraining order on the NoTW to stop
them repeating the allegation. They are consequently
keeping the story running around lie detector tests
which have been taken by some of their witnesses (not
the SSP ones) and challenges to Sheridan to take such
a test himself. The issue is still selling newspapers
for them. Perjury charges at the end of the police
investigation are unlikely but possible. Some of the
witnesses, SSP and non-SSP, are strongly demanding
perjury charges in order to clear their names. The
NoTW is appealing on the basis that the outcome of the
trial was perverse and are seeking a retrial. Anything
could happen.

This damaging split in the SSP does not in any way
devalue the importance of building broad pluralist
parties of the working class. Such parties are the
product of objective political developments – the
collapse (or semi-collapse) of the CP’s, the march to
the right of social democracy, the decline of the
Labour left, and the emergence of mass resistance in
the form of the global justice and anti-war movements.
The need for such parties is not about to go away.
What has the be re-emphasised, however, is that
genuine pluralism, gender equality, democracy,
accountability, including the accountability of the
most prominent members is not an options extra for
such parties. It has to be built into their culture
and their practice if they are to have a long-term
role. 

What are the prospects for Sheridan's new party, which
will be based, presumably, on a slightly different
version of the SSP manifesto? Its starting point is
not good, based as it is on a wrecking action against
the SSP over the refusal of SSP members to lie in
court in order to protect his personal reputation. It
could well be engulfed in a battle with the NoTW again
before it has existed very long where all this will
dragged out again. It will be an alliance – and
probably called and alliance or a movement rather than
a party – between Sheridan and the SWP not unlike the
alliance between George Galloway and the SWP which
forms the basis of Respect. It would be a huge step
back from the democratic unity on which the SSP was
constructed. 

There is also likely to be sharp difference between it
main components. The SWP have regarded Sheridan as a
nationalist in the past, but maybe this is something
else which will be reassessed. 

Then there is the CWI, which will be in an awkward
situation in this alliance given their hostile
relationship with the SWP in England and Wales and the
model they are pushing for their new mass workers
party. They regard Sheridan as an ultra-nationalist
and a parliamentary reformist. These are all forces
which were held together inside the SSP by the
existence of the ISM which formed the core of the
organisation from its inception.

These developments are a defeat for the radical left
in Scotland and internationally. This is a defeat
brought about by the determination of one man to put
his ego, his desire to create an image of a
respectable family man, before the interests of the
party he and others had worked for nearly a decade to
build. 

The only winners from a split in the SSP will be the
pro-market forces in Scotland, the nationalists, and
the Blarites. Socialist Resistance will stand with the
comrades of the SSP in their determination to rebuild
their party out of the debris.

Useful links:

Minutes of the November 9 2004 EC:
http://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/Minutes/mins091104.rtf

Statment from the United Left on the defamation case:
http://www.ssp-ul.org/defstat.html

All Members Bulletin published after the end of the
court case:
http://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/pdfs/Bulletinsummer06pdf.pdf

Statement of the SSP EC on Sheridan’s new party:
http://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/pages/ec_statement.htm

Letter from Richie Venton to SSP trade unionists:
http://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/pdfs/SSP-TU%20Letter.pdf







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