Life for socialists and anti-imperialists is never easy – the bosses, the media and the state ensure that. However, some injuries can be self-inflicted. The current, very public spat inside the SSP highlights the relative weakness of forces with the experience and methods needed to combat what is clearly an orchestrated media attack on the whole party. Whether this attack had its origins in the state, or whether the state is opportunistically using the divisions opened up by a hostile media exploiting naive or self-centred individuals, the recent actions of the Court show that the state has moved to centre stage. Leading SSP office bearer, Alan McCombes, was arrested and jailed, the party offices raided, and grossly inflated sheriff officer charges have been imposed by Judge Lady Smith.
Irish Republicans have had to learn to deal with a whole battery of state assaults, including shoot-to-kill, state collusion with loyalist death squads, as well as journalists prepared to act as conduits for intelligence service misinformation, in attempts to foster divisions amongst Republicans. Republicans have had to develop a culture and the means to help minimise the impact of the UK state and a generally hostile media. Nevertheless, there are no sure-fire guarantees against state penetration and manipulation, as the recent case of Dennis Donaldson highlighted. The exposure of several other British agents has allowed the state to use its media assets to leak the names of people who have devoted themselves to the cause. This has obviously been done to promote rancour and distrust amongst Irish Republicans.
One thing that Irish Republicans have not done, however, is to try and seek justice in the British (or Irish) Courts for media attacks on its personnel! What is quite clear, though, is that Tommy Sheridan’s decision to take The News of the World to Court could not have been more misjudged. The SSP‘s Executive Committee originally decided, unanimously and correctly, to advise Tommy to deal with these attacks in another manner, and not through the Courts. However, once Tommy had unilaterally decided to adopt this course of action, some in the SSP leadership panicked. They did not want to see Tommy face such a scabby paper alone. But, once the Courts have been brought into play, the whole game changes. Using the Courts is a rich man’s game. The SSP is a cash-strapped party, largely dependent on its members for funding. Resort to the Courts has also given the state a legal opportunity to jail a leading member, to conduct its own surveillance operations, and to impose crippling financial penalties upon the party.
Alan McCombes took the brave and principled decision not to hand over the party’s minutes to either The News of the World or to the Courts. Previously, High Court judges had ruled to allow the Scottish Executive to hold back documents and material, even when there was a wider public interest involved. Yet, in total contrast, but surely not unexpectedly, Lady Smith has provided legal sanction for The News of the World to pursue its own vendetta against Tommy Sheridan, at the cost of private confidentiality. In the face of these attacks, a few supporters of Tommy’s Court action called for party minutes to be destroyed. Then, many of the same people suddenly backed down and asked for the minutes to be meekly handed over! This vacillation displays the serious underestimation of the power of the state by most of the British Left. Not surprisingly, some of those who support Tommy’s use of the state’s Courts are the same people who have obstructed moves for the SSP to adopt a principled position on Ireland!
Whatever the final outcome of the current crisis in the SSP, there can now be little doubt that it only has a longer term future if it develops the political robustness to fend off state and corporate attacks. Scotland has strategic NATO nuclear submarine and air bases. US imperialism is not going to let go of these easily. Scotland has valuable North Sea oil. The global corporations want this firmly under their control. Scotland is an integral part of the UK state. US/British imperialism is not going to concede the SSP‘s
independent socialist Scotland without a ferocious fight. We have already seen the lengths the British ruling class will go to hold on to
Republicanism has been growing within the SSP. This year’s SSP Annual Conference came the closest yet to giving its official backing to the annual James Connolly Commemoration march. Since then two excellent articles have appeared in the Scottish Socialist Voice, championing Connolly the socialist republican and highlighting the revolutionary impact of the 1916 Easter Rising. Last week’s issue took an advert for today’s march.
Republicans in the SSP take inspiration from James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army, and from the 1981 Irish Republican Hunger Strikers. We can see that socialist republican principles and methods are needed if the SSP is to achieve its declared aims.