For readers who weren't around or have long filed the Sheridan saga under 'do not re-open', here's a wee re-cap. On a winter's evening back in 2004, the executive of the Scottish Socialist Party met with Tommy Sheridan who, at that time, had been an MSP since 1999 (he was joined by five more in 2003) and was the party's convener/main speaker. He confirmed to the meeting that the story circulating in the News of the World about an anonymous married MSP having an affair was about him. Tommy also admitted to the committee that the story was substantially true - he'd visited swingers' clubs - but still intended to sue the paper for defamation, believing the NOTW had no hard evidence and that he'd easily win. Understandably, a number of the comrades were reticent to go along with this. Yes, it was the Murdoch press, then as now one of the bitterest foes of the labour movement. Yet Tommy was asking his comrades, some of whom had been his closest allies and friends for 20-odd years, to keep schtum while he took News International to the cleaners. Believing this wouldn't end well, the EC tried dissuading him, and when that didn't succeed they asked for his resignation as they would refuse to go along with the deception. Tommy duly did, publicly stating his step out of the spotlight was for "family reasons".
When 2006 rolled round, it all exploded. Tommy's defamation case against News International was heard. By this time, the story had come pout and the SSP divided into pro- and anti-Sheridan factions. The latter had the majority of the membership and MSPs. The former were backed by the SWP and my erstwhile comrades in the CWI (both organisations maintained platforms in the SSP of officially recognised factions). The pro-Tommy faction argued that the trial was a straight fight between one of the most reactionary members of the ruling class, and 'Scotland's most iconic post-war socialist'. Stated like that, the truth was immaterial and subordinated to the needs to score one on Murdoch. Members of the SSP exec present at the November meeting were called to the witness stand under protest and related the events of that night. Tommy's argument was that a cabal of MSPs - 'coven of witches' was the chosen phrase, I believe - arrayed against him out of pure spite and jealousy, so much so they were prepared to conspire with NOTW to get him. By way of contrast, he was a squeaky clean family man who "misbehaved" when he was single but whose only vice now was ... Scrabble.
Tommy won. The Court of Sessions in Edinburgh awarded him £200,000. He trousered tens of thousands more by vowing he'd "destroy the scabs who tried to get me" in the pages of the Daily Record. All he managed was mutually assured destruction. The SSP split, with the pro-Tommy wing forming Solidarity and both were promptly wiped out in 2007. One group felt vindicated, and the comrades who'd had their reputations dragged through the gutter were understandably bitter. In the meantime, the stories about Tommy and his extra-marital adventures refused to die. Things came to a head when George McNeilage, an old friend and ally secretly recorded Tommy discussing the case. This tape, which Sheridanistas laughably tried to pooh pooh as a fake, was sold to News International who promptly put it on their Scottish edition of NOTW. Looking back, it was dynamite. Tommy admitted that he had visited the swingers' club and that the account given by witnesses of the SSP exec meeting was true. He also was exasperated that his erstwhile comrades had refused to back his legal action. This, combined with growing testimony from individuals not called to the defamation trial eventually saw Sheridan and several friends and family members, including his wife, charged with perjury.
After a 10 week trial in which all of this was aired in court again, after all the original witnesses reappeared and reaffirmed the story, the weight of testimony as well as the tape saw Tommy this time convicted and set down for three years. The charges against Gail Sheridan were dropped, and none of his comrades came to trial. Tommy for his part continues to protest his innocence and claims to be part of an almighty frame-up uniting Murdoch, Lothian and Borders Police, former friends and comrades, and a bent recording studio.
This is where Andy Coulson comes in. During the trial, in which Tommy ably represented himself, Coulson was called to the witness box. Readers will recall he was Dave's chief spin doctor and was previously editor of NOTW. On previous occasions, Tommy had told the media he was subject to low-level surveillance/harassment, claiming his phone had been hacked and producing a bug he'd found in his car. Summoning Coulson to court was more than just a piece of legal theatre. On the one hand, he wished to force a chief political ally of the Prime Minister and Murdoch stooge into perjuring himself, and dwell upon the dark methods by which News International journalists acquired their stories. By casting some light on this, Tommy hoped that his conspiracy theory might gain credence with the jurors. It did not, but when Coulson was eventually banged up on phone hacking charges this episode, as per Tommy's design, came back to haunt him.
The problem was, as today's verdict makes explicit, is that perjury under Scottish law has only been committed in a trial if the evidence given was material to the outcome. While readers can make their own minds up, going over the old reports on his testimony here, here, and here, on the technicalities of the law Lord Burns reached the right decision. Coulson lied when he took that stand, but those lies were irrelevant to the conviction the jury handed down during the 2010 trial, however much his supporters doth protest.
Finally then, perhaps after today the Sheridan myth can be laid to rest. Here was a man gifted with charisma and oratorical talents who was a powerful advocate for socialist politics. Unfortunately, as the movement lifted him up he thought he was bigger than it. So rather than deny and/or ignore the stories about his sexual peccadilloes, which would have ensured they'd gone away sooner, he expected his comrades to lie in court and place their own liberty in jeopardy just so he could touch Murdoch for some lousy money. That isn't comradeship, that's the behaviour of a would-be cult leader demanding his flock to follow his every whim. Tommy was found out, justice was finally done, and today's verdict has further rubbed his nose in it. The thing is, it could have all been very different. The SSP could still have been a going concern. It could have profited greatly from the post-referendum surge, but the courtroom dramas and egotistical behaviour of its best known representative destroyed all that.
Jog on, Tommy.