Wednesday 26 January 2011

Tommy Sheridan Sentenced To Three Years

Karen Greensheild, a reporter with STV News at Tommy Sheridan's sentencing this morning tweeted "Scent of blood, anticipation in the air, wonder if this is what it's like at a Public Hanging?" How could the atmosphere be otherwise? Since being found guilty of perjury charges on December 23rd the presiding judge Lord Bracadale told Tommy he could expect a prison sentence.

In a 45 minute long mitigation speech to the judge,
Tommy refused to admit his guilt, but talked about his low risk of reoffending, the length of perjury sentences, his and Gail Sheridan's health, and his caring responsibilities toward his Dad. Sentencing, Lord Bracadale said he thought Tommy was a "hard-working and effective politician" but that he "brought the walls of the temple crashing down on your own head", before imprisoning Tommy for three years. What a shame. What a waste.

No doubt this sentence will lead to another round of
bilious infighting and denunciation. There will be more than a few people shopping around the far left for an organisation that suits them who stumble across what passes for the Sheridan "debate" and decide to take their time and effort elsewhere. And I can't blame them.

The whole process of the trial from the notorious SSP executive meeting on a November evening in 2004 to its denoument today has exposed an ugliness at the heart of the far left, an ugliness you wouldn't expect to find not in a movement built on solidarity and socialist values. Tommy's expectation that his comrades should lie for him so he could trouser £200k from the
News of the World was contemptible, as were the shrill attacks on those who refused to risk perjury charges and told the truth in court. But equally appalling were the pre-and-post defamation trial actions by those SSP members who ensured Tommy's confession was leaked to the press, went out their way to collaborate with the police, and of course, have done nothing to disavow the actions of George McNeilage - the former best man who taped his admissions.

But what I find most disturbing is the frenzied attacks by those who reside in England and have absolutely no connection to the trial whatsoever. This hatred - for that is what it is - by members of nominally Trotskyist outfits closely resembles what you'd expect from a cult. When Scientologists are criticised, no one is surprised they intimidate and denounce opponents. That is, after all, what cults are all about. But for socialists to ape this behaviour? It speaks volumes of the fundamentally unhealthy organisational practices of self-described Leninist groups. Democratic centralism - a principle of organisation Lenin thought appropriate to mass parties, not tiny groups of a couple of thousand - tends not to be exercised around action, but rather is a principle for regulating the boundaries of permissible thought. Freedom of discussion becomes circumscribed discussion. Unity in action is, in practice, unity behind the positions formulated by the opaque and unaccountable executive/central committee. This is no recipe for generating critically minded working class politicians and Marxist cadre. But it does create a small following happy to swallow it all and regurgitate it when occasion demands. Such as when one of their key allies gets in a spot of bother with the law.

If there are political lessons to be drawn from this episode, they have to centre on the far left's culture, on its promotion of and slavishness toward charismatic leaders, its pronounced tendency toward group think, and its inability to handle disputes in anything but a mature fashion. If some good is to come from the tragic and shameful waste of Tommy Sheridan's fate, a thorough rethink of all this would be it.


Phil said...

SSP statement. Will put up Solidarity's when I get it:

Today's proceedings at Glasgow High Court finally end the ill advised action Tommy Sheridan initiated 6 years ago in suing a tabloid over allegations he knew to be true. The jury found him guilty and the court has now passed sentence.

He alone is responsible for where he sleeps tonight, no one else.

He pursued legal action full in the knowledge he would lie in court. He asked his closest political allies and friends to join him in that crazy strategy and then turned on us because we refused. He still shows no sign of taking responsibility for his own actions.

More widely this affair is a stark warning of the dangers of allowing personal celebrity to displace political principles.

The economic and social challenge faced by the people in Scotland are however much more important.

The political injustices they face day in day out is of greater concern to us and can only be solved with socialist policies on jobs, wages, homes and wealth redistribution.

The SSP fully intends to put such policies to the public across Scotland as part of our Holyrood election campaign for a democratic Scottish socialist republic.

Now as never before Scotland needs a party of integrity and clear socialist principles. Holyrood needs socialist MSP's offering socialist policies more than ever as a clear alternative to the cuts and sackings agenda being pursued by the current gang of complacent, out of touch politicians.

Lallands Peat Worrier said...


You might also be interested in the text of Lord Bracadale's full (but short) sentencing statement, including its rather unexpected tribute to Scottish socialist politics, references to the poll tax and even a Samson comparison.

I've reproduced his remarks here:

luna17 said...

Whatever people may make of Sheridan and his behaviour, it is wrong and regrettable that he's been jailed. Perjury, like many non-violent offences, isn't one that should lead to even a brief imprisonment, never mind 3 years.

While I sympathise with much of what you write - including your balanced criticism of actions by people on both sides of the dispute on the Scottish far left - I don't think this is a symptom of something rotten about Leninist organisations. It can reasonably be argued there are severe problems with much of the actually existing far left in the UK as a whole, but that shouldn't be generalised into blaming democratic centralism or Leninism.

One of the issues here is that the far left remains small and weak. There's a tendency to convince ourselves we're not, but that's the way it is. There's a number of good reasons for it - and its an international phenomenon - but it causes difficulties.

Isolation can breed in-fighting, a lack of perspective on reality, etc. Defeats and weakness breed recriminations, blame, demoralisation etc. In many ways the various current or recent problems - from the SSP and Respect splits to the spat inside NSSN - are symptomatic of a far left that is weak, small, isolated and which has struggled to make breakthroughs.

They are also mostly influenced by political and strategic misjudgements. Just as it is also possible to make good judgements. But they aren't somehow inherent in a particular form of organisation or strand of politics. You will always be able to find counter-examples and exceptions, and remember that the SSP was for a period successful (how is that explained if you adopt a universalising view like that above?).

Also, the different sections of the far left don't all subscribe to a single model of organisation anyway, making generalisations impossible. The SSP was never a classic Leninist organisation - it was an alliance of existing groups combined with some independents, in which one group (the former Militant) was dominant for a long while. Respect was a different kind of formation again.

Even within one Leninist organisation there are sometimes radical changes over time - the SWP of recent years is hugely different from the IS (its forerunner) of the 1960s.

As for 'cult of leadership' theories... I always treat these with great distrust. Even where there's some truth in this being relevant, it is only one factor among many (and you still need to explain what's given rise to that tendency - it is definitely not innate). Yes, it is to some extent relevant in Sheridan's case, but an explanation is needed of WHY that's happened (and also of why there's been such vitriolic denunciation of him by his former allies).

But this really isn't some major recurring theme. Healy - yes, obviously. Galloway - to some extent there was a problem, during the Respect crisis, of many people being too uncritical of him. Beyond that I'm struggling for examples.

Genuinely democratic centralist organisations are profoundly democratic, with high levels of participation and active membership. In this they are distinct from Labour and other social-democratic parties, which are more passive and tend to have a hollowed out democracy, with leaders treating members as a mere 'stage army'. When things go wrong it is because of particular problems of politics or orientation.

As someone formerly expelled by a Leninist party, I might be expected to share some people's indignation at 'democratic centralism'. But I don't. I was always clear about 2 things in my own case: 1. the political problems came first, and the degeneration in internal culture came after, 2. the recourse to vilification, disciplinary procedures etc was a symptom of deviating from authentic democratic centralism rather than an expression of it.

That's probably enough!

Phil said...

Cheers for that, Lallands. Here's Solidarity's statement:

Solidarity condemns as barbaric and draconian the sentence imposed today on Tommy Sheridan.

We believe the lengthy jail term imposed by the judge is vindictive. It will reinforce the widespread view that this is the culmination of a brutal vendetta carried out by the rich and powerful against Scotland ’ most prominent socialist. A socialist who has earned their hatred for his uncompromising defence of working class people for the last 25 years.

As such this sentence will be met with anger by tens of thousands of working class people across Scotland and beyond. Solidarity shares that anger.

At a time when Britain ’s rich bankers are raking in billions in bonuses while working class communities and trade unionists are facing the most savage attacks in generations, the millions of pounds spent on the persecution of Tommy Sheridan is a disgrace.

Solidarity regards as outrageous the continued cover-up of News International and the News of the World’s illegal activities by the police and the legal establishment. What a contrast to the lengths that Lothian and Borders police and the Scottish Crown have been prepared to go to try to ruin a working class socialist.

They will not succeed. Solidarity appeals to all those angered today by this action to join us today and help us build a socialist party worthy of the name.

Solidarity will continue to give our full support and backing to Tommy and in particular to Gail Sheridan and the family at this difficult time.

We also send out this guarantee today. Neither Tommy Sheridan nor Solidarity will be broken. We will continue to build our party, offering a real alternative to the despair and brutality offered up by the ConDem government and the other parties of the rich and big business.

Anonymous said...

What a disgusting piece and shame on you for using the jailing of a leading socialist to attack the 'far left'. My thoughts are very much with Tommy's family at this moment and hope he comes out stronger and more determined to fight.

Phil said...

If now is not an appropriate time to reflect on *why* and *how* debacles such as this can come about, when is?

Mark P said...

The issue isn't whether it's an appropriate time to "reflect". It's whether it's an appropriate time for you to use the jailing of a prominent socialist activist to put the boot into the socialist left with sneering remarks about "cults".

This may come as a shock to you, Phil. But many people on the English (and Welsh and Irish) left actually know many of the central figures in this drama personally. They don't in fact have "absolutely no connection to the trial whatsoever". Most of the key figures on both sides were members of Militant Labour, some of them very prominent members. There is at least one prominent SWP member facing another perjury trial.

You may have "absolutely no connection" to the trial, comfortably esconced as you are in the New Labour party handing out election leaflets for Tristram Hunt, posting on the internet about the great improvement Ed Balls represents over some other neoliberal shitbag, and sneering at the socialist left. But perhaps you should consider whether everyone else is similarly situated

As for your remarks on "democratic centralist" organisations in general, they are so dull as to only be worth noting as yet further evidence of your politics changing with your milieu.

Anonymous said...

It's hardly a debacle - Tommy has paid a heavy price for his role in the anti poll tax campaign and being a committed socialist fighter and the SSP colaborated in this. Yes ok, maybe he's made some mistakes and it wasn't the best thing to do to take to the case on in the first place but your piece sounds very gloating - like your using it as an excuse to attack the left. I don't see how you can compare it to other 'debacles' as you call as Aitken got 18 months and served 7 - hardly the same thing is it?

modernity said...

Good post Phil,

You are asking the questions that others *should* have asked themselves ages back concerning political cults/faux Leninism in Britain, but couldn't.

Alex Dawson said...

Phil is basically correct that "with us or against us" cultish behaviour is behind the vicious animosity in this case, and is also the biggest barrier to the left making any progress in general.

It's very sad and very destructive. I don't wish a prison term on anyone, but at the end of the day if you play the legal game, you take this risk. Let's not fall over ourselves in some prolier-than-thou fit of moral indignation about poor old working class hero Tommy being the martyr all over again.

The best thing the left can do is move on and try to build bridges again, and those that want to help Tommy can do so if they wish. Admit everyone made a bit of a mistake and, heaven forbid, apologise.

But I fear the faultlines are now far too deep to repair.

Slag off what Phil says as much as you want, but I'd wager that in 10 years time, the current left sects in Scotland and the UK in general will be at least as irrelevant as they are now, if not smaller and more nutty as they become more and more ideologically purist and absolutist as they are proving to be.

They will end up being replaced by different currents and movements, as we are already largely seeing, but not before many more good activists are laid to waste.

And thanks for proving my point Mark - you have to go into a personal attack on Phil, again, because you don't like what he says and go into a fit of that maybe because you know it is true deep down and it is uncomfortable for you?

Aunty Sen Trist said...

Good piece.

As a member of the SSP since 2000, I cannot fault this piece. All of what you say are issues the left must deal with. For the SSP's part, I know over the past four years they have been moving away from a centralist structure, in fact were anyone who left the party at the time of the split to go to a conference nowadays they would find the organisation of such as nearly totally different. The EC is now subservient to branches, regional councils, national councils and national conferences. As should be.

Having in the past attended some of Solidarity's meetings, they have the furthest to travel at the moment. They, as demonstrated by Stott being their spokesperson on BBC Newsnight last night, have not moved from the "we at the top hold all of the secrets to the citadel of socialism" model yet. I don't know of any left organisation that should hold the title "cult" more than the Stott/London controlled CWI (SWP comes a very close second).

The left in Scotland has to take time to reflect and put the Sheridan debacle behind it. Sheridan is no longer someone the whole of the left in Scotland can focus around and anyone suggesting such in my opinion, is suspect. I say this not because I hold a particular opinion on Sheridan, but as someone who knows we must put politics first, and those who want to construct a "Free Tommy" group should take this fully outside politics. When they do, good luck to them, and the rest of us wanting to fight for a Scottish Socialist Republic can get on with it.

Tommy did do a lot of good for the left, we cannot and should not forget that. And perhaps sometime in the future, the left as a whole will be comfortable enough to welcome him back as someone who FORGED A SCOTTISH LINK, broke it, but in doing so, led the way for the left to rid itself of old ways of doing things, IN THE

Let's start separating Tommy the man from Socialism. He wasn't and isn't socialism personified. He may well be a socialist, but he isn't THE socialist.

Dave Riley said...

I’m not an opponent of what’s called ‘democratic centralism’ because it makes democratic good sense.

If you deconstruct all the pseudo debate, I believe it comprises these elements which cannot be achieved by organisational feint or fetish. It is not a ‘form’ but an aspiration, that , more or less is in the ‘cultural’ spirit rather than in the letter:

(1) accountable leadership
(2) real rather than formal leadership. Without that the membership cannot have the confidence that what was democratically decided will be put into pursued.
(3) team leadership
(4) open and accessible decision making
(5) majority rule by voting when a working consensus cannot be achieved
(6) the majority rule of what the party does.This is why it is “centralist’ — because what’s the point of deciding if you cannot collectively proceed to do.
(7) a collective, democratically arrived at perspective rather than refusing to deal with issues as they arise (such as what happens when consensual rules apply which enable minorities to thwart debate and decision making often to ‘no decision’)
(8)the right of recall of leaderships

Multi tendency rights is not the same as obstructing the party’s work. The majority decision has to be respected and the majority have the right to expect that.But no one is asking anyone else to change their minds or to stop advocating their point of view.

If you want to rail against these elements then do so, but I think it is a false debate to throw around the spectre of some ‘democratic centralist’ bogey and reduce so much of the far left woes to this straw man.

Better to deal with specifics or argue why you think the capitalist Labour Party is -- your party -- more democratic than anything else...

David Ellis said...

Here is an extract from The Third International After Lenin in which Trotsky looks at the Stalinist degeneration of the CP:

`11. The Question of the Internal Party Regime

The organizational questions of Bolshevism are inseparably bound up with questions of program and tactics. The draft program touches this subject only in passing by referring to the necessity of “maintaining the strictest revolutionary order of democratic centralism.” This is the sole formula defining the internal party regime, and, besides, it is quite a new formula. We were aware that the party regime rests upon the principles of democratic centralism. This presupposed in theory (and was also carried out in practice) that the regime of democratic centralism implied a full opportunity for the party to discuss, criticize, express dissatisfaction, elect, and depose, just as it involved an iron discipline in action under the fully empowered leadership of the elective and removable directing organs. If, by democracy was understood the sovereignty of the party over all its organs, then centralism meant a correctly established, conscious discipline that guaranteed the fighting ability of the party. Now, however, to this formula of the internal party regime which has stood the tests in the whole past, an entirely new criterion has been added, that of “the strictest revolutionary order.” It appears that mere democratic centralism no longer suffices for the party but that it now requires a certain revolutionary order of democratic centralism. This formula simply puts the new self-sufficing idea of “revolutionary order” above democratic centralism, i.e., above the party...'

Mark P said...


It's not at all surprising that you stick to the "look, look, I'm being persecuted" style of argument that yourself and Phil have adopted when arguing with the socialist left in recent times here. Even though this discussion starts with Phil throwing around insinuations that those who disagree with him or who take a strong line on the Scottish debacle from outside Scotland are "cultists".

It's a spurious line of argument I've heard from ex-revolutionaries on many occasions - quite a few of you feel free to dish out whatever invective you like, but if anyone should say a cross word in return it's all yelps about being persecuted.

Phil wrote an entirely inappropriate piece, which attempts in a weaselish manner to portray itself as "even handed" while actually seizing the opportunity to put the boot into the socialist left on the occasion of a socialist being jailed. I find that contemptible.

Feel free to respond with some more "help, the mean boys are persecuting me" guff if you like.

Alex Dawson said...

No, no - please carry on, this is one of the best laughs I've had.

Just on one point, I dispute the tag ex-revolutionary - could you stick to the brilliant 'good social democrat'? I like pretending I'm in a sort of ultra-left Third Period farce where it's the equivalent of calling someone a nonce.

Phil said...

Re: Gail Sheridan standing for Solidarity, this statement was put out earlier. IMO she's made a wise decision:

Solidarity Media Statement 27th January 2011

After a period of deliberation, Solidarity member Gail Sheridan has today announced that she does not want to be considered as a candidate for the party at the forthcoming Scottish Parliamentary Elections.

We offer our full support and Solidarity to Gail and her family at this difficult time.

Solidarity continues to be involved in talks with possible coalition partners for the Holyrood poll and following the conclusion of these discussions we will meet as a party on February 19th to make final decisions on our plans and election strategy.

Whether we stand on our own, or as part of a wider coalition, Solidarity members will put at the heart of the campaign our opposition to the scandalous cuts proposed by the main parties that ensure ordinary people have to pay the price for the bail out of the banks.

Ms Chief said...

Very sober post Phil.

As a witness in the trial called by the Crown my own position is I think the words of Lord Brackindale are the justice. sadly it should have been the SSP that held Tommy to account not a Law Lord in the High Court of Justiciary. His sentence reflects the seriousness of the crime which should be noted was less that Archer's. I don't care if he got a 10p fine or life in prison to tell the truth.

Tommy will be out before the end of the year on Home Detention as he will be a low risk offender.

Tommy went outwith the SSP despite advise to him, he should not have been egged on by others. Those that supported him did him and the left in Scotland a great diservice.

Tommy has made his contribution to political history that cannot be undone but he took a knife across its face and left a scar so deep that it will take years to heal.

Those on the left will have to work together against the cuts etc we can't avoid it but to unite together tying our political aspirations together can only happen when Tommy is set aside and the vitriol has gone.

I refuse to be called a liar or be seen to be part of a plot or anything like it. What has happened to me and others like me is wrong and brutal. I and my other comrades held Tommy accountable and responsible for his behaviour. We pointed out his folly, he did not give a damn about us, the party, his friends or family. He tried to hold us hostage to his fortune.

His sexism and his supporters attitudes particularly to the women involved is unforgiveable. I have been called a liar, devious, cunning, witch, a bitch and a cunt. Tommy himself accused me of trying to kill his unborn baby and Gail just because I said she should know what happened.

However should all this be set aside, trully set aside and a true acceptance of what hapened then maybe a path for the left in Scotland could be made but it appears that the Leninists/Trotskyists based in London don't see this in their interests. The dafties will fade away but the democratically centralists will keep the sore open forever and a day.....why? Because if they can't control something, if they don't get their own way they must destroy it.

Perhaps in the future it'll calm down but no for a wee while I would imagine

ModernityBlog said...

A sense of history is always useful for socialists.

We've been here before, concerning many supposed leaders

ModernityBlog said...

PS: I forgot, this is problem more relevant

andy newman said...


"Galloway - to some extent there was a problem, during the Respect crisis, of many people being too uncritical of him. Beyond that I'm struggling for examples."

Really??? I have never noticed there being a culture of deference and unwillingness to criticise George on the left.

You might want to look in the mirror over where the uncritical agreement with leaders really was in that dispute.

Jacob Richter said...

Permit me to dabble briefly here into this sad celebrity affair.

A pox is in order for both sides. The idea of committing perjury to get nonetheless reasonable compensation for NOTW slander could have been made into a civil disobedience matter in defense of party image. The party would go along with the perjury, on the condition that all the proceeds would go to the party coffers.

Phil said...

Sorry for not replying sooner, Alex. I'm currently in the process of going back through the last week's threads. I do accept some of your points and I agree with the problems arising from political isolation, but I would also offer the (materialist) observation that self-described Leninist organisations in Britain have a tendency toward stultifying internal lives, an immovable leadership, a remarkable ability to split, and a practice of putting themselves before the needs of the working class.

I do accept Counterfire has avoided these problems so far. And I hope you continue to do so. But the record of the British far left isn't good ...

I want to return to this issue again in a blog post. I intend to restart my series on Gramsci, beginning with 'The Modern Prince Today'. Hopefully should appear over the next few days, work willing!

Phil said...

Mark, nice attempt at deflection.

I had in mind comrades of my acquaintance who do not have any connection with Sheridan or Scotland who've whipped themselves into a fury over this whole sorry episode. Don't you find it a mite bit disturbing such behaviour is not only happening in a supposedly serious working class organisation, but is being positively encouraged?

Phil said...

Anonymous, is this revenge for the Poll Tax, or the outcome of a court case involving members of the Scottish parliament giving opposing evidence in a defamation case brought by an MSP?

The jury had the evidence before them. And they convicted. It wasn't a bourgeois court that found Sheridan guilty. It was a small group of his peers.