Jul 16 2019

BRIAN HIGGINS – A PERSONAL AND POLITICAL TRIBUTE

 

 

Communist, Republican, Trade Union Militant,

Scottish Internationalist, Glasgow Bear

 9th February 1941 – 2nd June 2019

 

__________

BRIAN HIGGINS

A PERSONAL AND POLITICAL TRIBUTE

Brian made a big impression upon whomever he met. Nigel Jeffrey, who encountered him on the picket line during the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike wrote, “Brian Higgins stands out because he was 6′ 6″ plus… He was a big lad as broad as he was tall… There must have been half a dozen police went for this Brian Higgins and snatched him… He was shoving them off left, right and centre.” [1]

Or, as Dave Smith, co-author of Blacklisted, The Secret War Between Big Business and Union, [2] has written,  “Anyone who has heard Brian speak will remember his booming Glaswegian voice, disdain for union bureaucracy and his liberal use of industrial language.” [3]

And when I first met Brian, it seemed that my hand was numb for hours after his handshake!

It was as a trade union militant that Brian is best known. Dave states that, “It is undeniable that Brian was one of the leading rank and file industrial militants of his generation, who had a significant impact on trade unionism in the construction industry.” [4] This came at a high personal cost to Brian and his family. Following the exposure of the employer financed organisation, the Consulting Association, [5] responsible for blacklisting, Brian was found to be the most blacklisted worker in the UK construction industry. Brian called the blacklist “an economic, social and political prison”. [6] He very much features in Blacklisted.

Brian was targeted by the employers, particularly Laings; by gangsters hired by sub-contactors; by the state, including undercover police agent provocateur, Mark Jenner; [7] and by trade union bureaucrats, especially UCATT official, Dominic Hehir, in his infamous, but failed attempt to silence Brian through a High Court injunction.[8] Brian, once a member of the International Socialists, then SWP, also exposed the revolutionary pretensions of this organisation, the CPGB, Militant and the one-time Workers’ Revolutionary Party.

Brian wasn’t the first to write about the activities of the UK state, the trade union bureaucracy, and the failings of self-proclaimed revolutionary parties. One of Brian’s favourite books was The Key to My Cell[9] written by Des Warren, jailed for three years for his part in the 1972 Building Workers Strike. Des was to die early in 2004 at the age of 67, after contracting Parkinson’s Disease, following the use of the ‘liquid cosh’, which the authorities administered, whilst he was in prison on trumped up conspiracy charges. He was attacked by the state, abandoned by the incoming Labour government in 1974, and badly let down by UCATT trade union officials, who were still backed by the CPGB.

It was in the aftermath of this strike that Brian, who had to leave Glasgow for England to find employment in 1972, eventually moving to Northampton. He became a hod carrier, then a bricklayer. He joined UCATT, later becoming branch secretary. He also joined the rank and file Building Worker Group (BWG) and the International Socialists, predecessor to the SWP. Brian’s classic, Rank and File or Broad Left? A Short History of the Building Worker Group, describes the many militant struggles the BWG became involved in. [10] Brian was the BWG’s secretary. Although it was in another SWP context that I first met Brian in 1978, we immediately hit it off because of our shared rank and file activities. I was convenor of the Scottish Rank and File Teachers (SR&FT) at the time.

Brian’s forte was on the picket line. I had been the SR&F-led East of Scotland Action Committee’s ‘flying picker’ organiser during the mass unofficial strike of Scottish teachers from 1974-5. Significantly, we adopted the term ‘flying picket’ from the building workers’ actions of 1972, which had made a big public impact. However, the social difference between building workers and teachers is considerable, and Brian and I used to joke over our different approaches to picketing.

The BWG resorted to picketing, confident that any picket line would almost always be automatically honoured. And that was certainly the case when Brian was involved. There was no such historical respect for picketing amongst teachers, who had rarely ever been on strike before the 1970s, and there was the added issue that teachers are understandably unwilling to walk out on their students. So the reality of our teacher ‘flying pickets’, at the school gates during the 1974-5 unofficial action, was to persuade teachers going to work in the morning to organise school meetings later that day, then to take a vote on taking action, either after lunch or the following day, so arrangements could be made for the students. Our picket lines were usually quite genteel affairs!

But, although the BWG could fall back upon decades of working class solidarity amongst building workers, they faced other obstacles completely unknown to teachers. Cowboy sub-contractors would sometimes resort to gangsters to intimidate workers.[11] Brian told me of one workplace meeting where they had to physically throw out a paid disrupter, a decision he hastened to add that was taken after he moved a democratic vote to do so! In contrast, although teachers taking action sometimes faced parent hostility, the one group we always had almost 100% support from was the students, ever eager for a day off school!

Brian and I became much closer during the SWP leadership’s attempt to close down all Rank and File groups in 1982. In the majority of these groups, they had long pushed for party members to treat these as party fronts. However, the BWG and SR&FT had been built on open democratic and united front principles. Therefore, Brian and I both took a prominent part in resisting the attempt by SWP central committee to close us down. The majority of SR&FT were not in the SWP. Its spurious ‘Downturn Theory’ failed to persuade any of these members. This theory was, in effect, merely the left face of the ‘Dented Shield’ strategy. That was Labour’s accommodating response to the on-going employers’ offensive under Thatcher. Furthermore, the wider school organisation, which SR&FT had built, was central both to defending what had already been gained and to prevent the possible victimisation of union militants.

Those in SR&FT (by now including quite a number of SWP teachers, like myself, forced to resign from the party rather than submit to central committee orders) only had to face up to our former party comrades and a full-timer, who lurked about outside the meeting. However, Tony Cliff, the SWP leader, attended the BWG meeting in person. But BWG supporters were also not very impressed by the ‘Downturn Theory’. Cliff “was told the way to respond when the going got tough was not to sound the retreat, as there is absolutely no credibility in this. Rather, political and R&F Organisations should strive all the harder to strengthen their organisation and resolve and give a positive and definite alternative lead, with policies, to that of the craven capitulation and collaboration of the official trade union and labour movement. Otherwise you become part of this dungheap.” [12] Brian didn’t mince his words! Cliff only gained one (an SWP) vote at the BWG meeting. Brian was expelled from the SWP, but the BWG continued, soon to be thrown into a whole series of disputes, culminating in the 1985-6 Laings’ Lock-Out. [13]

However, I first met Brian in a very different context. In the later 1970s, there was a debate going on inside the SWP about how to react to the political issue of Scottish Devolution, now that the Labour government was committed to a referendum on the issue. The Glasgow branch politically dominated the SWP in Scotland. This branch, with its influential industrial shop stewards, was very firmly in the ‘No’ camp. They placed an economistic emphasis on all-British working class trade union solidarity. Cliff, though, was for ‘Yes’, on the grounds of another key aspect of SWP politics – anti-Toryism. Thatcher had become the Tory leader and was opposed to Scottish devolution. Cliff knew that he had a tough sell in Glasgow, and bought in the late Harry McShane, who had worked with the legendary John Maclean, to help him at a specially convened Scottish aggregate meeting – although to no avail. The Glasgow SWP shop stewards’ ‘No’ became the official line.

I was struggling to find a different approach. I eventually found this by seeing Scottish Devolution as a democratic demand for greater national self-determination in the context of the unionist, imperialist, monarchical and bureaucratic UK state. Furthermore, a republican approach would relate to, and politically connect the struggles for national self-determination in Scotland, Wales, and particularly Ireland, the cutting edge of opposition to the UK state. These politics formed the basis of the Republican Faction (RF) in the SWP.

And it was at an RF meeting in London where I first met Brian. Whilst he was not alone on the Left from Scotland in seeing the political importance of Ireland, he was almost unique for somebody from his Irish-Scots background, in linking the situation in Ireland to Scotland. Many Irish-Scots thought, at the time, that Scottish devolution would bring about a second Stormont!

As anybody with any experience of the SWP knows, the formation of a faction, officially allowable only for a short period before the annual conference, is not designed to encourage meaningful debate, but is an indication to the leadership of a threat to be removed. Once a faction has been declared, the central committee moves quickly to ensure that its unelected full-timers work overtime to minimise any faction’s influence. Primarily this means obstructing, as far as possible, faction delegates getting to the annual conference. This involves a lot of behind-the-scenes wire-pulling and rumour mongering.

However, in the wider SWP meetings, Brian was a not only a formidable figure but also the very epitome of the type of rank and file militant the SWP leadership claimed to promote. (Indeed not a few members thought that some of the late Phil Evans’ Socialist Worker cartoons used Brian as an inspiration!) Whilst the official line easily held within the party, it was harder for the central committee and full-timers to dismiss supporters of the RF, since some members had a wider base than the party, particularly in the Rank and File groups.

When three years later in 1982, Brian found himself once more in opposition to the SWP central committee, this time over the defence of Rank and File organisations, republicanism formed the political basis of his politics, “My experience has now led me to conclude that workers will have to adopt a ‘republican’ approach [i.e. act as free citizens and not loyal subjects] to succeed in an all out struggle, including building workers if they go into this, against the very British, Loyal and Bureaucratic Popular Front.” [14] Brian saw union sovereignty residing with the workplace members, and any action they took as being independent, not ‘unofficial’. Trade union full-timers use the ‘unofficial’ label to police their members. Brian promoted independent working class action, coupled to the most thoroughgoing democracy within the unions. This industrial republicanism formed the basis of his Rank and File politics.

In his pamphlet, Brian contrasted Rank and File to Broad Left politics. The latter mirrors the politics of the UK state. It claims union sovereignty lies in the annual general meeting, just as the UK state claims sovereignty lies in parliament. In reality, in trade unions, control lies in the hands of the general secretary and the union HQ, just as control in the UK state lies in the hands of the prime minister and his/her inner cabinet. And Broad Left politics looks to replace right wing union officials with left wing officials, just as the Labour Party seeks to replace right wing MPs with left wing MPs, both without any real challenge to the locus of real control.

Brian’s pamphlet provides abundant evidence to highlight the effect of the Broad Left approach within UCATT, where leading officials were backed by the CPGB/CPB. Indeed the corruption became so acute in UCATT there was even an internal investigation, the Hand Report (which Brian characteristically dismissed as the ‘Hand Job’!). [15] Despite the investigators being carefully selected (as with the UK government’s Widgery and Chilcot enquiries), its findings were still kept secret from the members such was the appalling story of corruption that was uncovered.

Another strong feature of Brian’s politics, which he emphasised, was that serious Rank and File organisation “will also take on board some of the more difficult social and political issues and adopt a principled working class united front position on these.” [16] Brian never held to the shallower economism, which informed the IS/SWP’s earlier support for Rank and File groups.

As a powerful example of this, Brian devotes a whole chapter of his pamphlet to the UCATT National Delegate Conference in Killarney from June 5th-9th 2000. Brian’s own Northampton branch had managed to get a motion to the conference supporting a united Irish Republic completely independent from the British state. The fact the conference was being held in Ireland for the first time (UCATT was an all-islands union) made it more difficult for the motion to be binned beforehand. But massive pressure was exerted behind-the-scenes to get the branch to remit the motion. Peter Cassels, the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, was also brought in to divert delegates’ support to another anodyne motion on Ireland. Helen Jackson, Labour Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was flown in just before the debate for the same purpose – a very overt piece of state interference.

The debate went ahead. BWG member, John Jones, a close comrade and friend of Brian’s, moved the republican motion. After a good discussion, which included the UCATT convenor from Belfast’s Harland and Wolff (opposing naturally!) the motion received between 20-25% of the vote. Brian was very pleased and felt the holding of such a debate was in itself a considerable political breakthrough. He stated that the BWG would continue to champion “important political issues like ‘Ireland’ and do our best to support those struggling against state oppression.” [17]

By the time the commune organised the ‘Trade Unions – Are They Fit for Purpose?’ event in Edinburgh in January 2011, [18] Brian was much less mobile. He had to decline an invite to put the Rank and File argument, and I stood in, using my experience in SR&FT. However, the last part of my contribution was based, after we discussed it, upon Brian’s thinking in the BWG.  When I gave an account to Brian of this event, he was keen to know more about the social union approach advocated by Tommy McKearney, a former Irish republican hunger striker, speaking for the Independent Workers Union. Brian also supported the combined official and independent union approach, advocated by Alberto Durango, of the Latin American Workers Association, centrally involved in the Justice for Cleaners campaign in London. They had to do this when the UNITE officials, with the backing of the local Broad Left, turned on these workers, once their actions took on a more militant (and successful) character.  Those cleaners without papers, the ‘illegals’, were threatened with deportation. [19]

Although Brian was most at home in workplaces and in his local community, political arenas far removed from these did not at all faze him. On the strength of Brian’s campaigning against the blacklist, he was invited to the European Parliament as one of two Blacklist Support Group representatives. In this he also received the support of Aberdeen branch of the Oil Industry Liaison Committee. [20] He had contact with one of its leading members during its heyday.[21]

“The European parliament voted in favour of an amendment to the draft data protection regulation that would make blacklisting on the basis of trade union activity a breach of EU law.” Not surprisingly, though, “The Council of Ministers {the real locus of EU power} has still to address the proposal.” [22] And, in the event of this ever having been passed, Brian would have treated such a law, in the same manner as he treated the health and safety laws. Building site safety was one of Brian’s prime concerns,[23] and he always knew that dependence on the law alone would never deter the employers. Industrial action would still have to taken to force them to comply.

Despite eventually receiving a modest financial compensation for the decades Brian and his family had faced as the consequences of the blacklist, he was still involved in the last months of his life in exposing trade union officials’ complicity in blacklisting. UCATT officials had desperately tried to prevent the issue going to court. This would expose this practice. So, unless blacklisted UCATT members accepted the compensation package agreed behind-the-scenes by the union and employers, they would no longer receive any legal backing. For Brian the issue was never mainly about the money lost, but about ending blacklisting altogether. For this to happen the cancer of union officials’ collusion would need to be ended.

“Brian found strong evidence of collaboration between the employers and a UCATT official in his own blacklisting. That official cited in a redacted document was Jerry Swain. Subsequently, Len McCluskey arranged for UCATT to be taken over by UNITE. In the process, Swain was appointed as a full-timer. Brian, the rank and file Building Worker Group and other union members have tried to raise this issue with McCluskey. McCluskey continually brushes the issue under the carpet.” [24]

In his obituary, Dave Smith wrote that, “Brian was one of the blacklisted construction workers who signed the Open Letter to Unite calling for an investigation to be set up. It is now too late for Brian, but we hope that the UNITE EC will set up the investigation into possible collusion ASAP.” [25] But McCluskey is one of those left-talking, right walking, Broad Left officials who Brian had no confidence in. He did not see McCluskey’s trade union empire building as any step towards ‘One Big Union’, more towards “one big fat pay cheque” for the already highest paid union bureaucrat in these islands.

And if there is indeed to be any enquiry, Brian highlighted the terms on which it would need to be set up. No dependence on “the dreadful performances of union legal firms,” which do exactly what is required of them by the union bureaucrat paymasters. UCATT general secretaries were past masters in this, as Brian had found out personally whilst facing a High Court injunction. Instead, “To have any credibility these will have to be done by independent legal experts and blacklisted members must also have a say in this.” [26]

Brian and I continued to work together, politically and industrially, until the end of his life. After the successful defence of the SR&FT and BWG in 1982, I was invited to speak at some of their meetings in London. These were usually followed by lively socials, on one occasion upstairs in a bar near Kings Cross, with a full Irish republican band! I was able to reciprocate in 1996, by bringing Brian to Edinburgh, following my participation in the local Liverpool Dockers Supporters’ Group. A large and packed meeting was organised in Edinburgh’s grandiose Assembly Rooms. Brian was one of the platform party, along with a Liverpool docker, Women on the Waterfront (WotW) speakers and others. Brian made a bravura contribution, especially appreciated by the WotW speakers.

The initially Broad Left backed, T&GWU general secretary, Bill Morris would have had flea the flea in his ear after Brian’s withering criticism. Morris constantly tried to undermine the Liverpool dockers. The T&GWU, with its 500 Liverpool docker members, was the only union in the International Dockers Alliance not to provide official support. [27] Despite Morris’s Jamaican background, Brian held no illusions that having a black general secretary would make much difference to union members, and that would have gone for women or gay general secretaries too. The issue wasn’t who was at the top, but who controlled the union – the officials or the members. Once New Labour had been elected in 1997 Morris stepped up his attempts to isolate the dockers.  He got his reward, being knighted in 2003 and made a lord in 2006. [28]

With Brian living in Northampton and myself in Edinburgh, there were few chances to become involved in shared actions. I did join Brian on an evening picket line at Wapping in July 1986. However this turned out to be one of the quiet nights! In 1999, on one of Brian’s visits to Glasgow, he came across to Edinburgh to distribute leaflets on the new building site for the Scottish parliament at Holyrood. This job was being run by Bovis, which had backed the blacklisting Consulting Association. Brian had also come into conflict with Bovis over the lack of construction site safety in Milton Keynes in 1997. [29]

The Holyrood building site had a fenced off section with portakabins, where a largely migrant workforce, many from Eastern Europe, stayed. We were able to get into the canteen. Brian spoke to the two workers present, one whom told us there was a union, but most site members did not know they were members! The union had signed a subscription check-off deal with the employer in return for the union’s assistance in keeping the site dispute free! Brian’s leaflet made the case for site self-organisation and how to deal with health and safety concerns. He realised, though, that new leaflets would need to be produced in other languages.

Brian had some sharp words for those self-proclaimed revolutionary parties with their ‘internationals’, and well-financed unions like the T&GWU (the forerunner of UNITE) affiliated to international federations (the ITWF and IUF). They could easily have produced leaflets in several languages. But serious organising amongst migrant workers, with and without papers, would have meant defying both the anti-trade union and anti-immigration laws.

The political chasm between Brian’s approach and those of the Right and Broad Left became clear during the Lindsey Refinery dispute in Lincolnshire in 2009. Here the employers resorted to an imported labour force, entirely made up of Italian workers, who were kept in isolation. There were wildcat strikes by resident oil workers to get more jobs, but no real attempt was made to link with the migrant workers. They were increasingly seen as the ‘enemy’. Strikers, encouraged by then UNITE general secretary, Derek Simpson, resorted to the slogan, ‘British jobs for British workers’. The Labour Chancellor, Gordon Brown, had made this old fascist slogan ‘respectable’. [30] The disgusting term ‘social dumping’ was also used to attack the migrant workers, as if they were garbage.

Back in June 1981, prominent members of the French Communist Party had led a physical attack on a migrant worker sanctuary in Paris. This provided the initial breakthrough for the far right in the city’s Red Belt. [31] Similarly, there has been a continuous political descent, involving a section of the British Left, some of whom became involved in No2EU, and union officials, including those from UNITE, which has contributed to the growth of the right populism of UKIP, the Brexit Party and Tory Right. ‘British jobs for British workers’ remains the underlying theme for many Left Brexiters.  A UNITE member has recently taken the shameful ‘social dumping’ slur into the Labour Party.[32]

Brian, although by now largely immobile, took great heart from the rank and file, Grassroots Left candidate, Ian Allinson standing against Len McCluskey in the UNITE general secretary election in 2018. Ian had issued a statement attacking McCluskey and the right wing candidate, Gerard Coyne, for their capitulation to anti-migrant politics. [33] When I told Brian, that amongst the founders of the First International in 1864 was bricklayer, George Howell, [34] who had joined to organise workers internationally, and to prevent cross-border scabbing, he was very pleased that his own approach solidarity action had such august beginnings!

Brian was also more sanguine than most about the role of the Labour Left, following Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership election victory. He thought as long as prominent trade union officials, like McCluskey, played a central role, then such bureaucrats would limit any potential. This could already be seen in their support for Trident. In return, McCluskey would police his members to enable Labour to hold on to office, in the face of any challenges from below. This was the pattern, during the 1974-9 Labour government, when two major Broad Left-backed general secretaries, Hugh Scanlon of the AEU, and Jack Jones of the T&GWU, used their influence to promote the Social Contract and to break independent working class resistance.

Today, Broad Left, Len McCluskey and the more right wing, Tim Roache (GMB general secretary) are looking for a Labour government to at last bring union officials in from the cold. They want a return, not so much to beer and sandwiches at ‘No. 10’, as in the 1970s, but today more foe canapes and prosecco. Their current infighting is as much to see who would have the greater influence in any future Labour government, than any real Left/Right divide. And McCluskey’s current commitment to a Left Labour leadership could be dropped as easily as it was taken up, if that is what us needed to enhance his influence. Jerry Hicks, an earlier rank and file UNITE general secretary candidate, reminded us that McCluskey once backed Ed Miliband (ensuring his election) over John McDonnell for party leader. [35]

However, Brian did not confine his continued campaigning just to industrial concerns, after he had been incapacitated by the effect of injuries and botched operations. Events in Ireland and Scotland continued to inspire him. He had only once been to Ireland (to the UCATT conference in Killarney), but he been a regular returnee to Glasgow both to see his wider family, and to attend major Celtic games (having Tony Higgins, former secretary of the Scottish Professional Footballers’ Association as his brother, helped!). This was before the fall-off in his visits to the city, due to an inability to travel through growing ill health.

We met up in Glasgow, and sometimes Edinburgh, until Brian could no longer travel. But I continued to visit and stay with Brian and his wife Helen at his home in Northampton. Helen’s hospitality was prodigious, and I rarely needed to have a meal on my drive back to Edinburgh after Helen’s formidable breakfasts, although I was always given a pack lunch anyway! Brian and I also regularly corresponded. He contributed to the Republican Communist Network’s  Emancipation & Liberation blog. [36]

In the early 1990s, whilst still mobile, Brian was involved with others, including myself, in the Scottish Republican Forum (SRF). The SRF was organised to take the republican case for Scottish independence to the Left, at a time when, whatever its political affiliation, it was still overwhelmingly committed to a ‘British road to socialism’. We organised meetings and published pamphlets to promote discussion. Brian wrote an article Settled in England, [37] which is the only piece of writing in which he provides any wider autobiographical information. Unfortunately, Brian never got to write his full story, unlike Dave Douglass, a leading militant in the NUM. Dave has written his own superb three volumes autobiography, a classic piece of working class writing. [38] Brian’s autobiography would have been another.

However, Brian’s involvement in the SRF also followed the major contribution he made in shifting my own politics over the ‘National Question’. In the SWP’s Republican Faction, we had both supported a Federal Republic of England, Scotland and Wales and an independent United Ireland. However, it had become clear that federalism had a long pedigree in the UK and British Empire, and that was as a last ditch option to keep the state together. Gordon Brown provides only the most recent example, in the face of the Scottish independence challenge, with his “federal {UK} state” vow in 2014, [39]. This was soon shown up as another hollow promise.

My own experience as chair of the Lothians Anti-Poll Tax Federation, between 1987-91, had shown me the success of working on ‘internationalism from below’ principles. Independent action was organised first in Scotland, and then taken to England and Wales. (The Tories were smart enough not to try to impose the poll tax in Northern Ireland, in the context of on-going resistance to British repression.)    The anti-poll tax unions defied the state, the Labour Party and trade union officials. Such an approach was not a reflection of the organisational nature of the top down unionist and bureaucratic British state, accepted by the Brit Left, the Labour Party and most trade unions. This new challenge from below was the beginning of the shift of the majority of the Left in Scotland, away from the British road to nowhere. Amazingly, even after the 2016 Brexit vote, and Trump’s ‘Brexit plus, plus, plus’ presidential electoral victory, many of the Brit Left now tail Right populism.

Back in 1989 though, Brian raised another point, which affected my thinking. He said that the Irish experience of oppression and repression, at the hands of the UK state, was not necessarily something unique, justifying socialist support only for Irish independence and national unity. The suppression of democracy, by whatever means the British ruling class and state deemed necessary, was something that people in Scotland and Wales could well face, if their demands for greater self-determination became more serious. With the Brexit vote in the subsequent gallop to the Right, and with reactionary unionism on the rise, [40] highlighted by the Tory/DUP alliance, such a prospect is daily becoming more real.

It was my anti-poll tax campaigning and Brian’s arguments that persuaded me to see the greater relevance of James Connolly’s socialist republican ‘break up of the UK and British Empire’ strategy, and of John Maclean’s early appreciation of this political approach. Brian, with his Irish-Scots (like James Connolly) and Glasgow (like John Maclean) background found this a very easy political step to make.

When I published From Davitt to Connolly in 2010 to provide the historical evidence for this distinct political approach, I wrote a dedication to Brian Higgins – “A Glasgow bear, Celtic mad, Irish-Scottish migrant worker, bolshie brickie, blacklisted militant, republican, internationalist and communist, whose political activity has followed the great tradition of ‘internationalism from below’ established by Michael Davitt, James Connolly and John Maclean.” [40] Brian thanked me. I only wish he had lived to see my second planned volume, From Connolly to Maclean.

Brian took great heart from the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign from 2012-4, and was constantly asking me to update him on the activities of the Radical Independence Campaign, which I became very involved in. [42] He was particularly pleased that working class Glasgow voted for Scottish independence, and the major contribution, the Irish-Scots, once very opposed, had made to this.

Thus it was through rank and file and republican politics that I got to know Brian well and we worked together for forty years. However, when I attended his funeral in Northampton on June 21st, I realised that I had only fully appreciated these two aspects of his life, but there was considerably more to Brian.  Brian’s close family – his wife, Helen, his daughters Monica and Noelle, and his grandchildren Connor, Dylan and Iris – and his wider extended family, were very important in each others’ lives, whether they still live in Glasgow or now in England.

Those of the Higgins family born in Glasgow, even if they have now long lived in England, are still very much Glaswegians, but fully integrated into their communities.  Although their children born in England have local English accents, the reception, held in a Northampton social club, after Brian’s funeral, echoed to Scottish, Irish (and, of course, Celtic) songs, sung by all family members, wherever they were born. And those English neighbours (white and Asian) who attended, lapped up this ‘little bit of Glasgow’ in Northampton. And several of these neighbours, now in their thirties or forties, told us of Brian taking them fishing or other exploits when they were children – ‘the pied piper of Northampton’!

The music chosen for the funeral very much conveyed Brian’s Irish and Scottish roots – The Fields of Athenry by the Dubliners and Robert Burns’ A Man’s A Man by the Corries; his wider internationalism – Three Little Birds by Bob Marley; and finally his world vision – Revolution by the Beatles.

Kenny Irvine, another close BWG comrade and mad Celtic supporter, made us all laugh, at the reception, when he pointed out that the funeral had been held in Wellingborough. Brian had finally defied his ban from the town, imposed by the police and courts, following the picket described by Nigel Jeffrey! [43]

Brian was somebody who linked family, community, trade unionism and his wider politics together. He was a living example of all that is best in the working class and will be sorely missed.

Allan Armstrong, 14.7.19

 

 

References

[1]     David Bell, The Dirty Thirty – Heroes of the Miners’ Strike, pp. 78-9 (Five Leaves, 2009, Nottingham)

 2]     Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, Blacklisted, The Secret War Between Big Business and Union  (New Internationalist Publications, 2015, Oxford) and Brian          Higgins, Blacklisted (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/04/09/blacklisted/)

[3]     https://www.union-news.co.uk/bsg-pays-tribute-to-the-late-brian-higgins-the-most-blacklisted-building-worker-in-the-uk/

[4]     ibid.

[5]     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consulting_Association

[6]     http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/08/19/major-gains-for-low-paid-at-heron-tower-dispute/ – Brian Higgins and the Anti-Blacklist Success at Brussels

[7]   http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/03/24/undercover-but-within-sites-police-infiltration-of-trade-unions/

[8]     https://libcom.org/library/chapter-5-high-court-writ-served-injunction-threatened

[9]     Des Warren, The Key To My Cell (Living History Library, 2007, Liverpool)

[10]  http://marx.libcom.org/library/rank-file-or-broad-left 

 

[11] http://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction–  Tony Cliff told to F*** Off!

[12] http://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction – Tony Cliff told to F*** Off!

[13] http://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction –   Laings Lock Out Committee

[14] https://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction – Republican

[15] https://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction – Capital R&F, United Front Independence

[17] http://libcom.org/library/chapter-7-ucatt-national-delegate-conference-killarney-june-5th-–-9th-2000

[18] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/02/11/report-of-the-third-global-commune-event/

 [19] ibid.

 [20] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/09/06/brian-higgins-anti-blacklist-campaign/ – Motion passed by Aberdeen branch of the Oil Industry Liaison Committee

[21] http://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction  –   Offshore Industry Liaison Committee OILC)

[22] Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, op. cit. p. 178

[23]   https://libcom.org/library/chapter-3-broad-left-construction-popular-front – Construction Safety Campaign

[24]   http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2019/02/08/a-statement-on-behalf-of-brian-higgins-blacklisted-building-worker/

[25] https://www.union-news.co.uk/bsg-pays-tribute-to-the-late-brian-higgins-the-most-blacklisted-building-worker-in-the-uk/

[26] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/01/01/collusion-and-betrayal/

[27] Pauline Bradley, A Brief History of the London Support Group in Another World Is Possible – How the Liverpool  Dockers Launched a Global Movement, edited by Pauline Bradley and Chris Knight p27 (Radical Anthropology Group, 2004, London)

[28] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Morris,_Baron_Morris_of_Handsworth# House_of_Lords

[29] http://libcom.org/library/chapter-6-struggle-continues – 1997 UCATT PAYE campaign

[30] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2009/03/20/browns-appeal-to-british-chauvinism/

[31] https://thecommune.wordpress.com/2009/07/21/frances-cgt-union-doing-the-immigration-polices-dirty-work/

[32] https://www.theredroar.com/2018/01/unite-at-odds-with-labour-leader-over-single-market-membership/

[33] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/01/03/grassroots-unite-leadership-candidate-attacks-mccluskeys-and-coynes-capitulation-to-anti-migrant-politics/

[34] https://spartacus-educational.com/TUhowell.htm

[35] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/23/union-leader-slams-ed-miliband-but-who-put-him-there-in-the-first-place/

[36] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/

[37] Brian Higgins, Settled in England in White Setters or Jockbrits – Who is to Blame? (Scottish Republican Forum, 1995, Edinburgh)

[38] Dave Douglass, Vol. 1 – Gordies Wa Mental, Vol. 2. The Wheels Still in a Spin, Vol. 3 – Ghost Dancers (Christie Books, 2008, 2009, 2010, online)

[39] https://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/gordon-brown-backs-federalism-in-event-of-no-vote-1-3511291

[40] https://allanarmstrong831930095.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/national-populism.pdf. pp. 67-75

[41] Allan Armstrong, From Davitt to Connolly – ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the challenge to the UK state and British Empire from 1879 – 1895 (Intfrobel Publications, 2010, Edinburgh)

[42] https://radicalindyedinburgh.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-story-of-edinburgh-ric.html

[43] see reference 1

 

____________

Brian’s last political statement, 8.2.19

Brian Higgins, a militant in the building industry, first in UCATT and later in UNITE, has been taken into hospital. Brian has been the most blacklisted worker in the UK. For many years before he would have retired, he was unable to get work. This put immense pressure both on Brian and his family, particularly his ever-supportive wife, Helen. Following the public exposure of the blacklist in the building industry, Brian found strong evidence of collaboration between the employers and a UCATT official in his blacklisting. That official cited in a redacted document was Jerry Swain.

Subsequently, Len McCluskey arranged for UCATT to be taken over by UNITE. In the process, Swain was appointed as a full-timer. Brian, the rank and file Building Worker Group and other union members have tried to raise this issue with McCluskey. McCluskey continually brushes the issue under the carpet.

Brian thanks all those who have supported his cause, and the cause of other blacklisted workers. This support has come from many including the Building Worker Group, activists in Grassroots Unite, the Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers {successor to SR&FT} and the Emancipation & Liberation blog. Until our trade unions have kicked out all those who collaborate with the employers, then our fight for justice, improved pay and conditions and safety at work will be undermined. Despite Brian’s current incapacitation the struggle goes on, and Brian’s supporters will continue to raise these issues.

(http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2019/02/08/a-statement-on-behalf-of-brian-higgins-blacklisted-building-worker/)

________

Other contributions from Brian on the

Emancipation & Liberation blog

See sections 7, 8 and 10 of

FROM FARAGE’S BREXIT TO TRUMP’S “BREXIT PLUS, PLUS, PLUS”, AND ON TO ‘MADAME FREXIT’?

 

WHY NO PITCHFORD ENQUIRY IN SCOTLAND?

 

A STATEMENT FROM BRIAN HIGGINS, SECRETARY OF THE BUILDING WORKERS’ GROUP, ABOUT THE DEATHS IN QATAR

 

BLACKLISTED

 

DAVE WILLIAMS – A TRIBUTE

 

UNDERCOVER BUT WITHIN SITES – POLICE INFILTRATION OF TRADE UNIONS

 

COLLUSION AND BETRAYAL

 

The First Shoots of a New Industrial Fightback?

 

Brian Higgins Anti-Blacklist Campaign

 

Campaign To Fight The Blacklist And To Support Brian Higgins

Rank and File or Broad Left

___________

Other obituaries

Dave Smith, the Blacklist Support Group

https://www.union-news.co.uk/bsg-pays-tribute-to-the-late-brian-higgins-the-most-blacklisted-building-worker-in-the-uk/

Paul Lynch, Northampton Chronicle

https://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/news/people/northampton-bricklayer-who-became-most-blacklisted-construction-worker-in-britain-dies-1-8955980

Marcus Barnett, Morning Star

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/progressives-play-tribute-to-britains-most-blacklisted-construction-worker

 

 

 

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Jul 08 2017

DURHAM MINERS’ GALA – BIG MEETING GETS BIGGER

The 133rd Durham Miners’ Gala on Saturday 8th July will see some 150,000 march through the ancient city. Dave Douglass, ex-miner and author of Stardust and Coaldust autobiographical trilogy looks at its  history and the ongoing significance.

 

BIG MEETING GETS BIGGER

 

 

A day of looking back and looking forward

Crowds are now back to the size they were in the immediate post-war years following nationalisation, when they celebrated the defeat of the hated private coal-owners. This mother of all miners’ galas, featuring both picnics and demonstrations, was the labour movement’s most prestigious public platform. The miners formed the bedrock among the proletarian, trade union and socialist ranks; they made up an army of labour that was strategically placed in terms of their bargaining power and influence – the politics of coal dictated much of politics per se. The position of the miners in the class war sent waves across the broad labour movement. Continue reading “DURHAM MINERS’ GALA – BIG MEETING GETS BIGGER”

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Aug 03 2016

DAVID HOPPER AND THE DURHAM MINERS GALA

David Hopper died on July 16th. He was the General Secretary of the Durham Miners Association and last spoke on Saturday July 9th at the Durham Miners Gala. This was attended by 150,000 people. David Hopper was central to the revival of this major working class political and social event, after the defeat of the heroic miners struggle in 1985. Dave Douglass, an ex-miner from County Durham and a member of the IWW and NUM has written the first piece posted here about David Hopper. This is followed by David Hopper’s own last speech given at the Gala.

 

1. DAVEY HOPPER , 1944-2016

Davey Hopper addressing Durham Miners Gala

Davey Hopper addressing Durham Miners Gala

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the role played by the ‘two Davies’ – Davie Guy and Davey Hopper, respectively the late president and general secretary of the North-East area of the NUM and Durham Miners Association.
Continue reading “DAVID HOPPER AND THE DURHAM MINERS GALA”

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Jan 21 2015

THE RCN AND THE CAMPAIGN FOR SCOTTISH SELF-DETERMINATION

THE REPUBLICAN COMMUNIST NETWORK, THE RADICAL INDEPENDENCE CAMPAIGN,

AND THE CAMPAIGN FOR SCOTTISH SELF-DETERMINATION

Photo of RCN banner – Patricia Kirk & John Lannigan

Contents

A) The emergence and clash of Left British unionism and Left Scottish nationalism

B) The politics of the Scottish independence referendum campaign

C) How the Left responded to the demand for greater national self-determination in Scotland

D) Carrying over lessons learned from the SSP experience

           i)   the need for political platforms

           ii)  the need for a revolutionary pole of attraction

           iii) the need for political balance sheets to avoid repeating earlier mistakes

E) Promoting socialist republicanism and ‘internationalism from below’

           i) The political legacy of the Republican Socialist Conventions and the Global Commune events

           ii) Debating with other socialists during the Scottish independence referendum campaign

           iii) promoting socialist republicanism and ‘internationalism from below’ in RIC

           iv) the debate over secularism

           v) the debate over Ireland

F) Debates and differences within the RCN

          i) in the lead up and during the referendum campaign

          ii) since the September 18th referendum

          iii) the future for RIC, the all-islands Republican Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Left Project

Appendix

 

___________________

 

Continue reading “THE RCN AND THE CAMPAIGN FOR SCOTTISH SELF-DETERMINATION”

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Mar 30 2013

David Douglass reviews – Adrian Kerr, ‘Free Derry: protest and resistance’.

Adrian Kerr, Free Derry – protest and resistance, Guildhall Press, 2013, pp. 224, £11.95

 

th-2From the declaration of ‘Free Derry’ on August 9 1971, when the solidly working class and republican community seized control of their own area of the city of Londonderry, to the time of the Provisional Irish Republican Army ceasefire in 1994, the price paid and the degree of resistance mounted within it was hugely inordinate, by comparison with occupied Ulster as a whole.

One hundred and twenty-two people lost their lives in and around the Free Derry area, including 73 civilians and republican volunteers, and 49 members of the security forces or civilians working for them. Over 3% of the total deaths for the whole of the conflict occurred in an area containing less than 1% of the population of the north of Ireland. The largest number of killings were committed by the ‘security forces’ – 46 died at the hands of either the British army or the Royal Ulster Constabulary, 33 of whom were civilian non-combatants.

Continue reading “David Douglass reviews – Adrian Kerr, ‘Free Derry: protest and resistance’.”

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Jun 18 2012

DAVE DOUGLASS REVIEWS GREGOR GALL’S ‘TOMMY SHERIDAN, FROM HERO TO ZERO?’

Category: SSP and SWP,The crisis on the LeftRCN @ 6:45 pm

 

TOMMY SHERIDAN, FROM HERO TO ZERO? – A POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY 

Welsh Academic Press, 2012, pp384, £25

 

Tommy and Gail Sheridan: a giant conspiracy?

Given the still raw emotions, ongoing political bitterness and entrenched sectarian positions around Tommy Sheridan, this is a remarkably objective and balanced work. It is also extremely well written and presented.

The forces that would come to be centred on this rising star and his almost archetypal west Scottish working class persona could perhaps never have developed at   all, had it not been for an ideological shift in perceptions towards the independence process by far-left groupings north of the border. This is, of course, a vexed question, however, and this review is not the place to restage the contesting positions.

Tommy’s roots and political apprenticeship had been with the Militant Tendency, which developed his emerging talent for public speaking. Before the poll tax campaign – which really put Tommy in the right place with the right skills at just the right time – were a number of disputes, strikes and protests, which fine-tuned his talents for organisation, leadership and oratory. The poll tax gave rise to a truly mass community resistance movement of non-payment in the solid working class communities, and in 1990 there were huge demonstrations, with 40,000 marching in Glasgow and 200,000 in London.

It was the London demonstration rather than the mass community resistance which became the enduring memory of the campaign. Pitched battles raged in the centre of London – probably even more ferocious than anything the miners’ strike of five years earlier had involved. It was following this demonstration that Tommy became notorious for his condemnation of protestors’ violence and the implication that he would ‘name names’ – earning him the undying title of ‘grass’ among the anarchist left. Unhindered by such trifles in his Scottish base, he had become more and more publicly associated with resistance to warrant sales and bailiff actions and it was during this time that he was drawn towards left nationalism, and some of the people who would become his most reliable comrades.

Tommy’s high media profile and identity with Militant had soon marked him out for expulsion from the Labour Party. He was expelled in October 1989 – all members of the large Pollock constituency party were suspended. The general witch-hunt and widespread expulsion of Militant leaders from Labour, together with general unease with the whole clandestine entrist tactic, led to the break from the party and the establishment of Militant Labour – later to become the Socialist Party (in England and Wales).

Tommy’s star was rising. He was tireless and dynamic, a working class ‘man of the people’ filled with passion and charisma; instantly recognisable – groomed, tanned, always ‘on’. Having been jailed for ‘deforcement’ and breach of the peace, as well as contravening the terms of an interdict, he had used in classic style the court as a platform for class denunciation of the ‘war on the poor’.

In 1992 Sheridan stood twice for election while still in prison. In the April general election he came second to Labour, winning 19% of the votes cast (6,287) – on a platform that “Labour used to campaign on before its heart and soul were ripped out”. The following month he achieved a first by winning Pollok ward from his prison cell and becoming a Glasgow councillor.

In 1995 Alan McCombes, Tommy’s close friend and comrade, floated the idea of a Scottish Socialist Alliance, which would bring together all the existing socialist groups and be able to contest the forthcoming Scottish parliamentary elections. They also appealed to the Communist Party, Labour left and even the Liberation group of the Scottish National Party. It is perhaps telling that this initiative came about because of the monolithic centralism of Arthur Scargill and his newly formed Socialist Labour Party.

The emergent SLP had been seen as a catalyst which could act as a serious political pole to the left of the right-moving New Labour project. For a brief moment the SLP looked as though it might actually achieve something lasting and important, but it was not to be: it was conceived in the image of Scargill, and factions, rank-and-file control and democracy were not part of that image.

Tommy had brought SML and many others to the table, but Scargill refused any idea of an autonomous Scottish section, self-determination for Scotland or recognition of political factions within the SLP. Tommy had commented: “When Scargill threw down the gauntlet of a new socialist Labour Party we were excited. We wore Scottish socialist spectacles, but we took them off to see the broader picture and were keen to be involved with Arthur.” It was in Tommy’s words a “lost opportunity” – and not just for the Scottish working class.

But Scargill’s bureaucratic myopicism led to the foundation of the SSA, which in turn led to the creation of the Scottish Socialist Party. Had the SLP not been so afflicted, its Scottish section would have boasted a united platform, with Tommy at its head. Maybe it would have also kept Tommy’s feet more firmly on the ground. The total of 101,867 votes for the SLP and SSP in the 1999 Scottish parliamentary election ought to have produced two more MSPs in addition to Tommy.

The decision of SML to more or less wind up and transfer its resources over to the SSA was a bold and principled move, and marked for a time a healthy alternative to the SLP, already fully operating its regime of witch-hunts and membership ‘voiding’.

Tommy’s significance to the SSA was that he was a well known public figurehead, around which much of the Scottish left could unite in the same manner as the left might have been able to rally around Arthur Britain-wide. The SSA resolved that its candidates would not stand against other socialists or in marginal seats against Labour, where they could allow in the Tory. From the word ‘go’ it would recognise political tendencies and factions. The Scottish Socialist Alliance was formally launched on April 20 1996, with The Scotsman predicting that “such a rainbow coalition could dissolve in the sunlight”.

1999-2003 marked a great revival of radical socialist politics and growth in Scotland; it began with the election of Sheridan and concluded with him being joined by another five other Scottish Socialist Party MSPs. Election results and MSPs are not the only criteria of judgment, of course, but on any other yardstick too this period marked a high tide, and Tommy was central within it. He fully came of age when he was elected to the Scottish parliament. The iconic image which went across Scotland was of Tommy, fist clenched, taking the oath of allegiance under protest and duress.

Tommy saw himself as the mouthpiece of the movement. He used parliament to raise questions on particular strikes, and even the wages of parliamentary workers, and was a welcome guest at innumerable strike rallies and picket lines – often in the teeth of hostility from the union leadership.

The attitude of the press to Tommy started to sour around 2000 with his further arrest at Faslane during anti-Trident protests – the Daily Record labelled him “pillock no1” and first coined the phrase “working class zero” in relation to the SSP policy for the legalisation of cannabis. It was around this time too that the press started to dub him the “sun-tanned designer MSP”. He was, though, still writing articles for The Sunday Times, the Record and Evening Times, as well as for the Morning Star.

But it was becoming clear Tommy liked being centre stage. According to Felicity Garvie, Sheridan’s parliamentary office manager from 1999-2006 and a member of the SSP executive, “A fundamental weakness is that he is not a team player … when the other five were elected, I think it was a severe dent to his personal profile and position as leader of the party – the only SSP MSP and so on. You can call it personal pride or vanity, but I think he enjoyed being in that position” (p140).

 

‘Defamation’

Where did it all go wrong? It was a question of personal morality, tactics and judgment of principle. Tommy won a spectacular victory against the News of the World and News International for defamation in 2006, and probably became the most famous Scot in the world after Sean Connery. The whole ‘Tommygate’ affair ran from November 2004 to January 2011, ending with the demise of the champion of the underdog and the collapse of the SSP.

Essentially the NOTW had ‘exposed’ Tommy’s attendance at sex clubs – something he swore had not happened. He decided to play a huge game of bluff in the courts, believing “they’ve got fuck all on me” in the way of hard evidence. He had a choice – either face it down (‘So what? That’s my business’ being one possible response. This was a private matter for himself and his partner to sort out) or go for broke. And, because he believed the revelations, left unchallenged, would destroy him, he went for option two.

The biggest flaw in this strategy was that it was not just himself who stood to be broke if someone called his bluff or broke ranks. He obviously had not been alone in the ‘swingers’ clubs – loads of other punters had been there, people who recognised him and saw him on more than one occasion. The EC of the SSP, as soon the accusations surface, calls a special meeting to discuss the crisis on November 9 2004. Since members of the EC know he is a regular attender at the Cupids club in Manchester, he comes clean and owns up to them, while announcing his belief that the NOTW has no evidence and they will settle at the door of the court. Very reluctantly the EC goes along with this and agrees to stay shtum, on the grounds that Tommy resigns his post as SSP convenor for “personal reasons”. The meeting is, of course, minuted.

In late 2001 Tommy had attended Cupids with a freelance journalist, who went on to try and sell what looked like an ace scoop. News of this got back to the EC and Alan McCombes confronted him over it. Although at first he denied it, he later confirmed within the organisation that it was true. Stories also started to circulate about an orgy at the Moat House Hotel in Glasgow.

The advice of the NEC was to admit it and fight the attacks on him as a private matter rather than an issue of personal morality. Tommy disagreed, but 21 members of the SSP EC had attended the four-hour meeting, where he recited all the facts. Then there was George McNeilage, who just for the record makes a secret tape of what is essentially a confession. When the full minutes were written up they read:

“… The meeting began with an introduction by Tommy Sheridan, He responded to a recent article in the News of the World which alleged a married MSP had visited a swingers/sex club in Manchester in company of a female journalist who had now written a book about her lifestyle. Tommy admitted to the meeting that he had in fact visited the club on two occasions, in 1996 and 2002, with close friends … He reported that he had met with Keith B and Alan Mc and asked them for the opportunity to fight this on his own and for other party members if questioned about it to either give no comment or refer all questions to himself. He said he was confident there was no proof in existence he had visited the club, Tommy said he was not prepared to resign as convenor unless proof was revealed to exist. His strategy was to deny the allegations and in this regard he had already taken advice from NUJ solicitors …”

The minutes record without exception (other than Tommy, who left the meeting before any votes were taken) that all contributors disagreed with the strategy of denying the allegations: “All felt this would be most damaging for the party… All agreed it would be better if Tommy changed his mind about denying the allegations.”

Tommy then resigns as convenor of the party after further deputations from the EC failed to persuade him against fighting a defamation action. In a press statement the SSP comments: “We understand that recent allegations in a Murdoch newspaper may be the subject of a future libel action by Tommy Sheridan and consequently the Scottish Socialist Party does not wish to comment on matters concerning the allegation.” Tommy requests that the minutes of the EC meeting at which he admits the visits should not be distributed. This was agreed.

From here on in Tommy begins to play out the perfectly aggrieved and outraged innocent, fighting the anti-union, anti-socialist press monolith. The subterfuge could never be publicly admitted despite it being almost widespread knowledge within the SSP. What also clearly starts to happen is Tommy and later his supporters get so deeply into the role that they clearly forget they are playing a bluff and that the allegations are actually true. As things turned out, regardless of Sheridan’s victory in the defamation action, the SSP was split. Many thought it unprincipled in the extreme to risk the political reputation of the organisation to effectively save the political skin of one its MSPs. The majority of the EC decided to tell the truth when forced by the NOTW to give evidence.

 

Rewriting history

The author comments: “It seems Tommy subscribed to the principle that the truth is what you make it and that one of the spoils of victory is to write its history” (p173). Many individuals as well as parts of the organised left gave legitimacy to Tommy’s methods – including the distortions, lies and character assassination employed against those who would not play the game. He believed that if he dropped the court case, his guilt and misjudgement would be established and he would have no chance of coming back to lead the party and regain his old stardom. So he determined to prove that black was white and those who said otherwise were traitors.

But first he had a lot of knitting to undo – not least because he had told a whole room of people at the November 9 2004 EC that he had visited Cupids and then resigned because of that admission. He even claimed that the EC minutes, which the SSP had agreed to withhold from the NOTW, had been fake. McCombes, who had strongly advised Tommy against his course of action, was actually jailed for contempt for refusing to hand over the minutes, but this did not save him from the designation of traitor by Tommy and his supporters.

In numerous TV, radio and press interviews he did indeed argue that black was white. In order to do this he was forced to charge all his former comrades who had decided to tell the truth with conspiring with the NOTW and the state against him. “In the 2006 case, Tommy constructed the fabrication that the 11 SSP members [who gave evidence against him] were guilty of ‘the mother of all stitch-ups’ against him and of perjuring themselves in court to do so.” Meantime the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party in England and Wales condemned the SSP for forcing Tommy to resign as convenor before the case.

The News of the World did not, however, cave in, as Tommy had expected, claiming that its story was “substantially true”. So the defamation case started in Edinburgh Court of Session on July 4 2006 and ended after 23 days on August 4. Tommy was suing for £200,000. His rationale was that the case was not about truth or lies, but what could and could not be proved. His strategy was not so much to cast doubt on the evidence, but on the process by which the evidence was accumulated and upon the character of the witnesses. The trial saw News International call 24 witnesses, including the 11 SSP EC members who had attended the November 2004 ‘admission’ meeting. Among them were some who had been Tommy’s closest comrades and friends. It is perhaps worth reminding readers, in light of the accusations of ‘grass’ and ‘scab’, that all of them were there against their will: they could not legally refuse to be indicted and once on the stand under oath, their options were either to lie and perjure themselves, and so risk legal sanction and other consequences, or simply tell the truth. That they were in that position was entirely due to Tommy’s ill-advised choice of action rather than their own universal view to let the charge ride and face it down as an attack on his private life.

Calling his own wife, Gail, to the stand to give evidence on his behalf was a master stroke: “What is clear is that Gail played a key and starring – almost theatrical – role, when cross-examined by Tommy … saying with tears that if the allegations were true ‘You would be in the … Clyde with a piece of concrete tied around you and I would be in court for your murder’” (p182). He was also supported by Steve Arnott of the Highlands and Islands Branch SSP; he suggested that it had been “mass delusion” which had caused 11 fellow EC members to recollect Tommy admitting the Cupids visits.

The media reported Tommy’s 85-minute submission as “spellbinding” and “barnstorming”. One said it was “the best speech of his career”. After 160 minutes of deliberation the jury found seven to four in favour of Tommy and awarded him the maximum damages of £200,000. The author speculates, soundly in my view, as to whether the jury actually believed Tommy or just did not want him to lose at the hands of the hated News of the World.

Having won an outstanding victory (and pulled off what was effectively a massive con), perhaps he would then try to repair the damage done to the party he had previously given so much to? Not at all. Instead he negotiates an exclusive deal with NOTW’s main rival, the Daily Record, for £20,000 plus expenses. His story is serialised day by day for a week. Gregor Gall comments that Tommy seemed to forget the relish the paper would have “in printing stories which helped further undermine the SSP” (p186). In the process he continues to attack the SSP EC as scabs, perjurers and collaborators with the enemy. This nailed any hope of ever reconciling the organisational division.

Worse, having being so accused, those reluctant witnesses for the NOTW now had a vested interest in clearing their names and reputations and went onto the counteroffensive. Barbara Scott, the EC’s minute-taker, hands over to Lothian and Borders police her hand-written original minutes of the November 2004 meeting. This sets in chain a perjury enquiry and the NOTW, which now also had access to George McNeilage’s video recording of Tommy admitting to his attendance at sex parties, smells revenge. The whole mess is thrown back into the public arena. Tommy was charged with perjury on December 16 2007.

He had by then set up a new political grouping, Solidarity. It too was based on no more than the desire to turn an elaborate lie into the truth: Tommy is an honest advocate of principle, while the SSP is full of traitors and grasses. Solidarity’s reaction was that this was all “a colossal vendetta by the Rupert Murdoch empire … which is rooted in [Tommy’s] role of leader of the anti-poll tax movement”. His hope was that only he of the six SSP MSPs would be returned to the Scottish parliament following the scandal and split. Thus he and Solidarity would now be able to claim the SSP’s former mantle and start to retake its ground. In reality that election night in 2007 saw all vestiges of radical socialist presence wiped out. The combined SSP-Solidarity vote only achieved a third of what the SSP had polled in 2003. But Tommy claimed the vote had not been affected by either the court case or the split.

When in November 2009 Tommy stands for the Glasgow North Westminster by-election, he is fifth, beaten even by the British National Party – the least ‘Scottish’ and least ‘socialist’ party standing – and he loses his deposit. His vote in the June 2009 European election, where he runs on the No2EU ticket, is worse – he does not hit 1%. Later calls for both Solidarity and SSP to cooperate within a Scottish version of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition were always going to fall on deaf ears, given the bad blood.

The perjury case begins at the end of 2010. After six hours of deliberation on December 23 the jury found Tommy guilty of wilfully and knowingly making false statements under oath. It judged him to be the MSP in the News of the World story of October 2004, that he had visited Cupids, had admitted this to the SSP EC and had had sexual relations with Katrine Trolle – another NOTW allegation he had denied. The split decision of eight against six shows he nearly – just nearly – pulled it off again, one might say regardless of the evidence (the author calls his case “thin and threadbare”).

Despite the verdict Tommy acknowledged nothing, admitted nothing. He remained defiant, claiming that his downfall was related to the News International phone-hacking scandal in some unspecified way.

 

Moralising

The book is minutely researched and, given its scope, decidedly easy to read and follow. However, if I have any criticism it would be of the chapter on Tommy’s alleged sexual predilection (beginning roughly on p264). From a discussion of facts and real events, suddenly we are catapulted into a priori reasoning based upon highly dubious value judgments about what is and what is not acceptable sexual morality.

I should clarify perhaps that I am not talking here of the criticism of Tommy’s disastrous sex club visits and semi-public orgies, nor his absurd decision to turn reality on its head by denying them. These are disastrous from a political point of view, given his position in the movement. No, those criticisms are well made and I would agree with them.

Rather this chapter goes beyond political considerations. It contains massively patronising assumptions about the ability of “young women” – or rather their inability – to decide for themselves whether they engage in sexual activity and with whom. Consent is not actual consent because of Tommy’s apparent “authority” and “power” over them. Tommy is asked by one of the comrades after a one-night stand with a young (consensual ) member, “What are your expectations here?” Eh? Tommy might well have answered, ‘What the fuck has that got to do with you?’ and he would have been right. The idea that a brief sexual encounter requires some ongoing commitment or ‘meaningful relationship’ is just so much bourgeois moralist shite.

Similarly the use of the prefix “vulnerable” before “women” at once renders the woman childlike: a victim, unable to actually know what she is actually consenting to. What is it that makes her “vulnerable”? It seems simply her youth – there is no need for any evidence. In other words, a social workers’ charter to interfere in everyone’s lives on the basis of their own, very narrow judgmental yardstick. “Vulnerable” applies to anyone doing something our betters think they should not do.

SSP Glasgow organiser Richie Venton is given reign to ‘out’ Tommy’s sexual practices and offer a psychological analysis of the man with no authority other than this is what he thinks: that is, it is nothing more than his own (probably very jealous, hypocritical and moralising) opinion. This then becomes a springboard for a whole construct of historical patterns and sexual behavioural dysfunction – again with nothing more than the a priori social-worker reasoning mentioned earlier. Tommy’s assertion that “sex was a form of recreation” is quoted as some huge admission of guilt. It is a quote I suspect most of us would have subscribed to in happier moments of our lives – and why not? Many of Tommy’s sexual exploits detailed in the chapter on the subject could be those of almost any young working class lad.

Behind this reasoning is the sort of rationale which takes as its starting point that heterosexuality is basically a ‘bloke thing’, that it is essentially exploitative by its very nature. The reactionary bourgeois feminist notion that men are the enemy and heterosex is something women are subjected to. Men flaunting their sexuality in the way Tommy had ought never under these criteria to be accepted, as would, say, homosexual men behaving in the same way. This chapter is by far the weakest in the whole book and represents a sharp diversion from the rest of the exposition; it would have been far stronger without it. But I mention that very much as an irritating aside which does not in any way characterise the book as a whole.

 

Contribution

Tommy’s contribution to the development of a new wave of radical socialist organisation and aspiration in Scotland is beyond question. He was a somebody in the fight for socialism; his work on the streets, on the picket line and in organising a mass fightback was invaluable. He took parliament seriously and was a highly effective parliamentarian. He was also a champion organiser and party-builder, especially between 1999 and 2003.

What makes this whole story a tragedy is that all of this was brought to a crashing end by Tommy’s own catastrophic errors of judgment – one has to ask if his grip on reality slipped to the point where he no longer knew fact from fiction. Tommy’s impact on the working class struggle is called into question by the extent to which we think his latter failings destroyed his early positive contribution – a question often asked in relation to Arthur Scargill (and indeed, on a rather grander scale, in relation to the Soviet Union). Has the damage done during their degeneration made the overall situation for our class worse now than it would have been without them? Such is pure speculation and history cannot be wound back and replayed.

Tommy Sheridan gambled away his most precious achievements – his name, his credibility, the trust and respect of large swathes of the Scottish working class. The crazy thing is that none of the subsequent loss was due actually to his sexual behaviour: it was all down to the very public elaboration of a huge lie. He was jailed not for being a red or because of his sexual appetite, but for being a liar and a fabricator; in the court of public opinion he was convicted of being a hypocrite.

What sparked his bizarre road to destruction? One can only conclude it was his vanity and love of power and the limelight, and a fear of being confronted with a reality of himself which did not fit the carefully manufactured public image that he – and the SSP leadership – had worked so long to create. Tommy is still a highly public figure and still wishes to make a contribution, it seems. But one feels that without a totally public and honest, critical assessment of past mistakes, facing up to the disastrous road of falsehood and distortion he embarked upon in order to save his political skin, that contribution will be permanently crippled. It is in recognition of the need to assess the past in order to move forward that the old communist principle of self-criticism still holds good.

But the evidence seems to suggest that, rather than confront the past and come clean in order to make an honest reassessment of his life and move forward, he still persists with the lie. In the wake of the NOTW scandal Tommy’s phone was found to have been hacked too. Undoubtedly this was more to do with the racket to expose celebs’ private sexual lives in order to sell newspapers than a political conspiracy to frame a socialist activist. That the NOTW hated Tommy’s politics is beyond doubt; that this made any difference whatever to the unrolling of events is, however, highly unlikely. It was Tommy’s refusal to listen to the sound advice of comrades and friends which was the cause of his downfall, not any actions by the NOTW or sections of the state out to get him. That Tommy’s supporters and he himself have clutched at this straw of new evidence against the NOTW is proof that they still do not get it and as such will be unable to move on. Prospects for re-uniting the two SSP and Solidarity factions are nil, but frankly even if they come back together it is now too late to regain the SSP’s earlier reputation and standing in the class. Both are now like deflated balloons, abandoned after a wedding from which the guests have all departed.

There are sadly other comparisons one could draw with this case – not only Scargill, but Derek Hatton comes to mind – where there has been a tendency by a shrinking band of followers to say ‘My leader, right or wrong’ and to forgive or excuse even the biggest deviation from socialist practice and honesty in some misguided ‘loyalty’ that conflates the leader with the cause. There is a sound anarchist slogan, ‘Too many chiefs, not enough anarchists’ – in fact in the case of the SSP and SML mass involvement, mass leadership and mass democracy were not practised. A small, tightly knit cabal of individuals practically ran the whole show, with Tommy increasingly at its centre. Tommy became the basket in which the SSP put all its political eggs and its total reputation.

That he was aware of his crucial strategic position within the organisation and the class at large in Scotland, yet still behaved in a way which would lay them wide open to devastating attack marks crass irresponsibility. That he compounded all of this by playing a huge game of poker with nothing but bluff and blather, knowing the entire SSP survival depended on it, and against the universal advice of his comrades, throws into doubt his values, certainly his judgment. But the SSP itself, had it been built as a revolutionary organisation, would have recognised this and taken measures early on to stop it happening.

The left and labour movement has to learn the lesson brought at such cost by Tommy Sheridan’s actions – not least to stop defending the politically irresponsible actions of our leaders.

 

(This review was first posted on the Weekly Worker website at:- http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004849)

* Dave Douglass was a leading militant in South Yorkshire NUM. He is currently a member of the IWW. He has written a three part autobiography, Geordies – Wa Mental, The Wheel’s Still in Spin and Ghost Dancers. He made an earlier contribution to Emancipation & Liberation in issue no. 7 (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2004/03/02/the-debate-continues-the-jacobites-strike-back/)

Gregor Gall also has an article on our website – The End of the Union? – The opportunities and problems facing the SNP government. This can be found at:- 

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/05/27/after-may-5th-a-looming-constitutional-crisis/

_______________________

 

We have posted the RCN sources used in Gregor’s book. They can be found at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/02/11/gregor-gall-tommy-sheridan-biography-sources/ 

 

Mary MacGregor’s  review of Alan McCombe’s book, Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story can be found at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/10/23/mary-macgregor-reviews-downfall-the-tommy-sheridan-story-by-alan-mccombes/

 

Allan Armstrong’s The Sheridan Perjury Trial can be found at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/01/10/the-sheridan-perjury-trial/

 

The RCN statement after the Sheridan Perjury Trial can be found at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/02/03/rcn-statement-following-the-tommy-sheridan-perjury-trial/

 

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Mar 02 2004

The debate continues: The Jacobites strike back

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 07RCN @ 3:44 pm

Below we publish a contributions to the debate on the Scottish revolution from Dave Douglass (NUM, South Yorks.) This will be followed by another from and Donald Anderson (SRSM platform in the SSP) defend Jacobitism. In our next issue Neil Davidson (Socialist Worker Platform) will be making a further contribution to the debate.

Provocative and insulting

In this response to Neil Davidson, Dave Douglass argues there was nothing remotely progressive in the defeat of Jacobitism.

I hope you will allow me a belated response to Neil Davidson’s ‘taking apart’ of what commonly passes for Scottish history (Weekly Worker, October 16). I hear what you say: that we are being addressed by a Marxist expert on Scottish (so-called, I presume) history. Why does this make me feel no easier about ‘inevitable’ genocide and the most brutal anti-human activity being passed off as “progressive”? Perhaps this extreme historic determinism is what passes for a communist vision of the past and what it all means?

Davidson’s, to my mind, absurd designation of King George Hanover as progressive, while Charles Edward Stuart (would-be king) and his Jacobites represented the reactionaries – indeed counter-revolutionaries” – takes some understanding. George, it seems, represented the progress of capitalism, while the bonny lad represented feudalism and even aspects of tribalism. This is the logic that tells us the massacre of the North American ‘Indians’ was inevitable, even progressive. By the same terms Custer would be the bold progressive, dying in the cause of mankind’s progress (in an attempted massacre of a whole Indian village), while Sitting Bull was fighting for a social system even more reactionary than the Highlanders.

The future is on our own hands

Following this hoary road would lead us to defend the massacre and social rape of native peoples across the world in the inevitable cause of ‘progress’ and sadly the iron school of Stalin determinism has led some to do so, justifying en route the most atrocious periods of human history. That this comes from a member of the Socialist Workers Party just shows how deep that mental deformation runs in the Marxist-Leninist breed. Allow me to object. Uneven and combined development seems to have escaped our expert. Sitting Bull’s fighters were using the most modern repeating rifles, without having to have forged an industrial revolution from their tepees. History should teach us, communists in particular, that the future is in our own hands. Certainly the mode of production will limit initially how far social aspirations can evolve, but not the basic mode of social relations and humanity. Are we seriously being told that, had Charlie handled things differently and actually succeeded in toppling George from the throne, that capitalism in Britain would have been uninvented? That the extensive mining, engineering, shipping, manufacturing revolution already well in spin would have halted and reversed?

Sorry, mate – expert or no, that is nonsense. The tapestry of capitalism evolving in Britain would have continued to have been woven, simply with a few more Celtic and ‘northernocentric’ hues perhaps, but the frame and weave would have been much the same. Social history and social relations are at base not so much about iron laws, but human aspiration. Davidson’s analysis of what the Jacobites were (in his modern Marxist – I dare bet ‘southernocentric’ – middle class view) misses the very real point of how they were perceived at the time. What did folk think they were fighting for? I can’t see anywhere in Neil’s text where he addresses the question of what the people, the masses, the folk, thought about it all. Isn’t that odd for a socialist? Certainly he cannot take the size of the force actually mustered south of the border, guns in hands, as being an indication of the widespread support they enjoyed, in the north especially. The Manchester Regiment were the only ones raised, but there is strong evidence that at least an equally strong force could have been raised from the pitmen and keelmen and sailors of Tyneside and Northumbria in general (you well know the fate of the Northumbrian Earls of Derwentwater in both major rebellions). I have strong suspicions that Liverpool too, if given half a chance, would have marched to the pipes. The truth is, nobody bothered to sign them on.

So why did people join this rebellion and what did they think this Jacobite cause was about? Like the Irish rebellion of 1916 and its subsequent wilful repression, the defeat of ’74 and the genocide which followed coloured the sympathies of Scots and northern England folk afterwards, to the point where the Jacobites might have become a popular cause a little later, even if few would put their money where their mouths were at the time in either rebellion.Robert Burns, a man many have described as a communist of sorts, a popular poet of the people and no lover of folk in crowns, left few in doubt as to his sympathy for the Jacobite cause. For some it was about securing a more sympathetic acceptance of catholicism, for non-catholic tolerant protestant Jacobites a more sympathetic non-proscription on how they worshipped. For others it was about nationality: Charles, for all his French-Italian manners, was seen as a Scottish king, not a German, and this made more sense to the highlanders. Certainly some saw this as a battle against the Act of Union, a deal which deeply rankled many of the clan chiefs and had been seen as an utterly humiliating betrayal joining England and Scotland under one parliament.

Relief from poverty

While John Prebble says of the clansmen:

They came out through no particular attachment to the Stuart cause, and their approval for the prince, when he put himself ahead of them in trews and plaid, was personal rather than political (Culloden),

Davidson himself quotes from a captured clansman in his prison cell prior to being beheaded:

My lord, for the two kings [that is, James and George] and their right, I care not a farthing. But I was starving. And, by god, if Mohammed had set up a standard in the highlands I would have been a good muslim for bread and stuck close to the Jacobite party, for I must eat.

The condemned highlander is surely not saying here that he joined the Jacobite army because they were offering some lavish fare en route to the battle, because we know the poor sods didn’t get fed at all, but rather that they were seen to promise a better state of affairs and relief from poverty should they succeed, and that seems to have been a common belief. The indentured servants and convicted criminals destined for the plantations who rose to seize the ship, Gordon, in an effort to join the rebellion (too late as it turned out) were Scots and Irish who clearly saw the promise of a better life, perhaps even a better system. What of the troops of the British army who deserted to join the rebellion? Some were Scottish and clearly felt this was a Scottish rebellion, in which they should take a stand. Some were Irish and felt the cause of Ireland and the cause of Scotland conjoined, but what of the English mutineers from the British army? What did they think they were joining? They could have just run away, absconded, melted into the mass of the great unwashed. Instead they joined a side which they deemed was worth fighting for, to the point of knowing their gruesome fate should they lose. They did not don kilt or trews, but fought on incongruously in their red coats and white gaiters. Did they simply hate everything the British army stood for and see in this as good a chance for pay-back time as any? Or did they see in the Jacobite forces, if not its leaders, a chance to have a go, to change something, to challenge something?

I think understanding the nature of the Jacobites requires the kind of empathy only working class fighters can fathom and, pardon me, but Neil Davidson whom I have never met, strikes me, in this article anyway, as a cynical, middle class academic, with the kind of allegiance to ‘Britishness’ and all that I have always found to be a red rag to a bull.

A Scottish king in battle with a German, London-based king also struck a chord with folk in northern England and, together with the Celtic and catholic connection, probably explains the presence of the Manchester men. There was perceived to be a north v south battle here, a continuation perhaps of numerous earlier battles going back before the Norman invasion, when Scotland and Northumbria challenged the south for control and sovereignty. Later, when well armed colliers and sailors marched around Newcastle with small pipes blaring, declaring Newcastle and Northumberland for Charles and Scotland in 1748, it might have been in disgust and outrage at the stories filtering down from the glens of unspeakable outrage and murder. But why should such men join this cause? These are the same men described by the home office at the time as the forces of atheism and anarchism – they were to be the backbone of the physical-force wing of the Chartists a few years later. We would not expect that they would be easily won to the side of the lisping, foreign accented, posh kid in a lang wig, so they obviously perceived something more.

Of those won to the Jacobites of course we must add those who simply believed Charles was morally and legally right, while George, they concluded, was a fake and in the wrong. They came to this conclusion without any vested interest on taking that side, perhaps even in spite of the odds stacked against them. Neil has that horrible News of the World tendency to see everything in terms of social interest, and of basically scratching the best back to scratch yours. People, even rich bastards, don’t always think like that: sometimes people will fight a corner despite their best financial interests.

Neil has chosen to describe the rebellion as a civil war, suggesting that Scotland was split, that it wasn’t a Scotland v England (or vaguely ‘the sooth’). I cannot agree: a few scab loyalist forces, ferocious though they were, did not characterise Scotland and especially not the highlands. (Neil says that the rebellion wasn’t a highland affair anyway. My point is there was more to it than that, but let’s not understate the highland connection. Reading the list of the men who stood at Culloden couldn’t leave you in much doubt as to who represented the bulk of the highlands in that field, and where the biggest force came from).

Collaboration

The native American tribes who joined with the United States in their Indian wars to kill their fellow ‘Indians’ and the cause they aspired to, the values they tried to defend, does not stop that being an anti-‘Indian’ war of conquest, plunder and genocide. The collaboration of the majority of Nottingham miners with the state during the miners’ strike of 1984- 85 doesn’t mean that the state wasn’t intending to wage war on the miners per se and wipe them out socially and economically. A small percentage of scabs was never a ‘split’. The collaboration of those loyalist Indians, Scots and miners didn’t prevent the cultures of those peoples being virtually wiped out, including the ‘scab’ forces themselves.

How did the other side view the conflict? Did they see the Scottish collaborators as demonstrating this was not a war against Scotland and Scottish interests? The victory of George was hailed by the protestant English churches, ‘peaceful’ Quakers too:

As none of all thy protestant subjects exceed us, in aversion to the tyranny, idolatry and superstition of the church of Rome, so none is under more just apprehension of immediate danger from their destructive consequences, or have greater cause to be thankful to the almighty for the interposition of his providence and our preservation” (quoted in Prebble).

To the forces of George – raping, looting, burning and killing every man, women, child and animal they encountered – was there some moderation shown to the non-combatants? To the non-Jacobites? To the anti-Jacobites? There was none. If it was Scottish, it was slaughtered and often cruelly tortured beforehand. The occupying forces were openly aiming at the extermination of the clans, and the genocide of all the highlands peoples. Systematic rounding up of all livestock, destruction of all shelter, confiscation of all food stores, deportations, etc. Rebellion was to be rooted out of the land of Scotland.

Davidson comments of the ongoing genocide: I think the clearances are a red herring because they took place much later. John Prebble sees it this way:

The clearances, the removal of man in favour of sheep, were the most tragic consequence of the changes begun at Culloden. The battle had demonstrated that a people held in contempt may be treated contemptibly. Even the landowners who still clung to the mystic nature of their role as ceann-cinnidh eventually accepted the arguable truth that their land and their way of life could be maintained only by rent from Northumbrian graziers, after the eviction and scattering of their one-time warrior rent roll.

Surely it is obvious that the clearances could not have happened without Culloden and the removal of the means of life which preceded them. This was the selfsame plan of the United States in driving the Indians from the plains, the wiping out of the buffalo, the infection of a defenceless people with disease from which they had no immunity – the first biological warfare actually. The actions in Scotland prior to the clearance were a necessary physical precursor to them. You can’t sensibly separate them.

This is not to say protestant loyalist mobs in Edinburgh didn’t do the same as their counterparts in London – rounding up catholics, Jacobites, non-jurant protestants for the gallows or a good public burning in the aftermath of the defeat. They did. In London, however, they rounded up anyone who was Scottish – Scottish meant Jacobite – and then non-Scottish catholics for a lynching and burning of houses. Loyalist clans went on the rampage in the heartlands of the Jacobites, although perhaps less bloodcurdlingly than the English troops.

The difference being in a few years those clans too would be swept aside by the aftermath of the defeat of the rebellion: they had simply been too short-sighted to see it. So, to conclude, the Jacobites were seen as progressive. To call them a counter-revolutionary movement is shameful. They attracted forces from many dissident quarters, who, if they weren’t sure what they were fighting for, sure as hell knew what they were fighting against. That this struggle strongly took on the character of a Scottish – and maybe to a smaller extent northern rebellion is clear, to me anyway.

Insulting & ill-observed

Support for the rebellion – odd though it might seem, standing where we are now – didn’t necessarily mean you were a royalist as such and to some extent Charles was as good a reason for a row as any. There were features in this struggle which go back to much earlier fights – about nationality, ethnicity, religion and culture, and who as well as whereabouts will the people be ruled by and from. Those questions, believe it or not, are still being asked – and largely in the same places of the same people. I do not think in any way this was a struggle characterising reactionary, feudalistic tribalism against progressive, thrusting capitalism and a new age. I certainly do not think any of this demonstrates that there is no Scotland, that there is no Scottish identity and that a different Scottish revolutionary road might not emerge. I can, however, see how this article is highly provocative – and not in a constructive sense. It is insulting and ill-observed, to say the least. The Jacobite rebellion, and Scottish history, deserve a deeper understanding and analysis than the one given by Neil Davidson – expert or no. A cynic, as Wilde said, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Dave Douglass

(This article was first printed in the Weekly Worker No. 507.)

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