The one big loser in the Tommy Sheridan versus NOTW libel case has been the Scottish Socialist Party. The folly of dealing with any political attack on a socialist organisation via the courts has been evident for all to see. The enemies of the working class and agents of the state must be sleeping easy in their beds as they have witnessed an internal party struggle carried out in the full glare of the media.
Having been given sound advice from almost every quarter, not to take the case, Tommy Sheridan then put it starkly to the party members that they were either for him or for the Murdoch Empire. For many hard working party members that has been a
no brainer and they have backed Tommy 100%. However, this has not taken account of the position that this case placed other comrades in. It is a bit like those who say,
We are opposed to the war, but now we are there, we have to support our boys.
Regardless of whether or not it should have been kept in such detail, the minute of the infamous November Executive does exist and members of that executive had to answer to it in court. (It is worth stating that members of the RCN were among very few comrades who demanded at a subsequent National Council meeting that the minute not be held secret. If that had been done at the time then its veracity could have been challenged immediately and clarity established)
It was not therefore as simple as Tommy versus NOTW but became Tommy accusing fellow executive members of a political conspiracy against him to the extent where they had presumably convinced a series of women to lie about their relationships with Tommy.
The RCN has no interest in the sexual preferences or behaviour of consenting adults. We will not moralise over someone’s sex life. It is only the business of the party if any form of exploitation has been used or if the comrade is acting hypocritically. The initial charges made by the NOTW had been in the most part forgotten about or were of no interest to the general public.
The animosity, stress and anger felt by both sides in this case have been palpable. Even though in many areas we are still working extremely well on campaigns, particularly against the war, and many working class people regard the case as no more than a lurid circus, the SSP is in turmoil and possibly on the verge of collapse. The collapse of the SSP, for all its imperfections, would be a set back in the struggle to establish a mass socialist party of the working class.
In the RCN we wish to reiterate that the divisions within the SSP and the way these have been fully exploited by the media highlight the relative weakness of forces with the experience and methods needed to combat what is clearly an orchestrated media attack against the whole party. Whether this attack had its origins in the state, or whether the state is opportunistically using the divisions opened up by a hostile media exploiting naive or self-centred individuals, the recent actions of the Court show that the state has moved to centre stage. Leading SSP office bearer, Alan McCombes, was arrested and jailed, the party offices raided, and grossly inflated sheriff officer charges have been imposed by Judge Lady Smith.
Tommy Sheridan’s decision to take the News of the World to court could not have been more misjudged. The SSP‘s Executive Committee originally decided, unanimously and correctly, to advise Tommy to deal with these attacks in another manner, and not through the Courts. However, once Tommy had unilaterally decided to adopt this course of action, some in the SSP leadership panicked. They did not want to see Tommy face such a scabby paper alone. But, once the Courts have been brought into play, the whole game changes. Using the Courts is a rich man’s game. The SSP is a cash-strapped party, largely dependent on its members for funding. Resort to the Courts has also given the state a legal opportunity to jail a leading member, to conduct its own surveillance operations, and to impose crippling financial penalties upon the party.
Alan McCombes took the brave and principled decision not to hand over the party’s minutes to either NOTW or to the Courts. Previously, High Court judges had ruled to allow the Scottish Executive to hold back documents and material, even when there was a wider public interest involved. Yet, in total contrast, but surely not unexpectedly, Lady Smith provided legal sanction for NOTW to pursue its own vendetta against Tommy Sheridan, at the cost of private confidentiality. In the face of these attacks, a few supporters of Tommy’s court action called for party minutes to be destroyed. Then, many of the same people suddenly backed down and asked for the minutes to be meekly handed over! This vacillation displays the serious underestimation of the power of the state by most of the British Left.
In the SSP, there can now be little doubt that it only has a longer term future if it develops the political robustness to fend off state and corporate attacks. Scotland has strategic NATO nuclear submarine and air bases. US imperialism is not going to let go of these easily. Scotland has valuable North Sea oil. The global corporations want this firmly under their control. Scotland is an integral part of the UK state. US/British imperialism is not going to concede the SSP‘s
independent socialist Scotland without a ferocious fight.
The SSP‘s future is now in the balance and while it seems clear that divisions have become so personal that reconciliation may not be possible at the present, we would urge all comrades to learn from the mistakes that have been made.
We oppose any calls for
immediate expulsions of those who gave evidence against Tommy. Such calls are anti democratic, irresponsible and lack political analysis of the situation. It was clear that comrades, given the existence of the minute, would be placed in an impossible position. The use of the term
scab is particularly offensive and inappropriate to use against these comrades. Many found the prospect of perjury in relation to a comrade’s sex life, a step they were unwilling to take. These comrades, forced into the witness box, were subject to intense questioning, for up to two hours, from not one, but two hostile interrogators – one from the bourgeois media, and the other from their own party, Tommy Sheridan. He used his case against the NOTW to conduct an internal political battle in the media spotlight and under these conditions comrades were put under impossible personal and political pressure. They were forced to defend themselves and the SSP in an arena chosen by Tommy Sheridan. This party should never use the courts as a way of conducting an internal struggle or when seeking redress for politically motivated attacks on their behaviour.
In addition any comrade found to have wilfully gone to the press and acted against the interests of the party should face party disciplinary procedures. There should be no whispering campaigns against any comrades. To indulge in such is both cowardly and against the ethos upon which this party is founded. Any complaints regarding the behaviour of comrades must be handled in a democratic, open manner, giving comrades the opportunity to defend themselves.
When SSP members are subjected to politically motivated attacks by the state or media, they should be able to call upon the support of the SSP National Executive to conduct a party campaign including the following tactics, as deemed appropriate: articles in the party’s press, direct appeals to the trade union members in the state bodies and/or the media responsible, calls for boycott actions.
SSP members should not resort to the non-party media when making allegations against other SSP members. Such allegations should be brought initially before the appropriate party body at the level concerned, with the right to appeal to a higher level, the ultimate appeal being to SSP Conference.
The elected press officer should be responsible for day-to-day responses to the outside media, when members are under attack. This press officer is directly responsible, initially to the National Executive, then the National Council, and finally the National Conference.
The RCN has supported the call for a conference in October where these problems must be dealt with politically. Accountability of office bearers in this organisation is essential but so is the ensuring that the democratic rights of all members are up held.
- No to witch hunts, whispering campaigns and sectarianism.
- No to conducting the party’s internal disputes via the bourgeois courts and the media.
- Yes to an accountable EC, an informed participative membership and a party free from state/ media interference.
The working class of this country deserve no less from us all.