Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tommy Sheridan: hubris and perjury

Tommy Sheridan has been convicted of perjury and in January he is likely to be sentenced to a prison term. This should make no one on the left happy, nobody joyous, nobody smug - indeed it should make all of us on the left very angry that it was ever allowed to get this far.

Cicero said that “Time destroys the speculation of men, but it confirms nature” and what could be more fitting to describe the long and drawn out series of court cases begun not by the police, not by Sheridan's "enemies" on the left or by MI5 but by the Scottish socialist politician Tommy Sheridan himself?

Dave Osler has the tone about right I think when he rightly points to the service Sheridan had done to the left over the years prior to these events but that he then pulled down those achievements around himself over some (largely true) tabloid allegations that he could have simply brushed aside.

That he was a victim of internal rivalries is fanciful. The SSP was at a high point, with six MSPs, the best known of which was Sheridan, when the saga began. To claim that internal foes manouvered him into taking up a court case, when they were openly calling on him not to pursue it, and then lied in court to destroy him, regardless of the catastrophic effect such a course of action would have on their party just goes beyond credible. That he turned allies into enemies through his decsion is beyond question.

To say that Sheridan's decision to try to force fellow party members to lie for him in court about his sexual life was misjudged would be to put it mildly. To say his refusal to back down when they made it clear they would not perjure themselves for his personal ego was suicidal would be spot on. He made a terrible error of judgment that dragged his family, his friends, his colleagues and himself through an extraordinary and damaging process. He is the victim of his own mistakes.

As Sheridan was using the courts to make two hundred thousand pounds in libel damages from the News of the World, he was also using the tabloid press to attack his comrades on the left, using ludicrous accusations like 'scabs' for their refusal to lie. A scab is someone who crosses a democratically agreed picket line, who works during a strike, undermining it, not someone who fights to protect the reputation of a socialist party against the personal ego of one man.

The implication that socialists should tell lies to protect 'one of their own' when the case was neither political nor an attempt to bring that socialist down is wrong headed in my view. The left has to be honest with itself and with others, to do otherwise is to become morally bankrupt and unsupportable. However the lines were drawn up and the feud was as public as it was bitter with bad behaviour on both 'sides'.

The libel case raised the question that someone had to be lying and all sides of the case were investigated. Eventually the roles were reversed and it was Sheridan who was in the dock. Bizarrely in his five hour summing up Sheridan even described systematic lying as part of his political tradition. He claimed that the old Militant tendancy that he was trained in would use a
"defiance strategy" of dishonesty and conspiracies against their enemies. I think that says more about Sheridan than it does the socialists with whom he once held common cause and I'm convinced that had I been on the jury the length and tone of his summing up as well as this admission of the willingness to lie to achieve his ends would have weighed heavily against him.

If this case had gone the other way, it would have been other socialists facing a jail sentence. I'm glad that they are spared this hardship, even if I'm not happy that Sheridan is not. The fact is that Sheridan made it inevitable that someone on the left would go to jail, and there's no reason to think that given that facts it should have been anyone other than the man himself.

That there is a legacy of bitterness on the Scottish hard-left is undeniable. This article by SSY shows both the power of the arguments against Sheridan's suicidal course of action and how emotionally damaging the last years have been. That some of Sheridan's former comrades made mistakes is undeniable, but the fact remains all of them, to a man and woman, had tried to stop the first idiotic case from ever getting off the ground. Once it had begun, everyone's course was set.

However, the left is not there to simply serve itself and the left is far more than those who are members of hard-line parties. The civil war in the Scottish left, in those corners where it still persists, should end, but the truth is that for many it was never more than a distraction from the good work that they continued to crack on with, either because they had never been involved in the SSP or because they did not let the feud pull them down. Those who are unable to move on from this dark period will need no help from opponents in disappearing into obscurity.

The anti-war, anti-privatisation party I'll be supporting in May's elections will be the Scottish Greens, of course, but I wish all of those on the Scottish left inside and outside the SSP all the best. This has been a difficult time, but it is a period that is over and a new chapter is begining.


James O said...

Good article Jim, I agree entirely about Tommy. Socialist Worker is carrying a ridiculous piece of coverage which claims that he was convicted 'because he was a socialist'. I think perjury may have had something to do with it too. Like you I take no joy in his conviction, not least because its a further sad chapter in what at one time seemed like a promising development on the European left. But I think most people can see that the line the SWP took was motivated by little other than opportunism, whatever class struggle clothes they dressed it up in.

On the plus side, I discovered while reading round this whole issue, the rather bizarre but also kind of delightful 'Leftfield magazine', the fanzine of Scottish Socialist Youth. Check it out. My favourite is 'Justin Bieber's North Korean tour diary'...

Jim Jepps said...

Essentially all the organisations that are in Solidarity are claiming he was pursued because he was a socialist conveniently forgetting that it was Sheridan who brought the law into it, no one else.

Solidarity has been a paper organisation for a while now so it's unlikely to keep trading (meaningfully) although my gut tells me that the SSP will need some sort of rebranding to recover too.

This might be a genuine new coalition, but it could also be by making a real splash on the host of issues the left is involved in at the moment, so people start associating them with a 'struggle' rather than a scandal.

James: I never spotted that piece about microfinance btw - is it online?

John Mullen said...

I really would not want to get into a long argument on this (I agree with Socialist Worker). Nevertheless, am I right in thinking thatcooperating with the News of the World against a socialist is not to be rejected *as a matter of principle*?
I live in another country and certainly did not follow blow by blow accounts of this farce, but I have been told that some comrade was paid by the News of the World for their information. If this is the case, it would seem to me to be well beyond unacceptable.

John Mullen said...

I read some of the article by the Scottish Socialist Youth. I think Julie Birchall wrote it for them. How could anyone take them seriously again?