Wednesday 3 June 2015

Jog On, Tommy

It's been a while since this blog last acquainted itself Tommy Sheridan, but the acquittal of Andy Coulson at his perjury trial also means re-dredging his spurious allegations regarding one of the saddest periods in Scottish radical history. It might be worthwhile revisiting the road to today's events.

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 published 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 out 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 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 represented himself, Coulson was called to the witness box. Readers will recall he was Dave's chief spin doctor and was an ex-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.


Gary Elsby said...

Personally, I think MI5 should be applauded for yet another episode of the 'carry on' series.
They've done a good job from Harold to Tommy but hey, who gives a monkeys?
Andy is innocent says MI5.
Whatever you do, don't be fooled into supporting Tommy, George, Harold or anyone else likes to shag around (or not) and especially if they have a good word to say about Saddam or Iraq. That is electoral suicide.
Has Tommy been done? Of course he has.
Did he lean on friends for support? It seems so.
Did they support him in good faith? It seems so.
Did they use their favourite tool to do yet another politico? It seems so.
Is it Tommy today and someone else tomorrow? Of course it is.
It beats me that anyone could ever think that Coulson is anything other than a very upstanding journalist with nothing but an impeccable record of which we should not hang on his every word.
The only question I can't grasp is why all on the further left of our politics are sexually depraved monsters who want to rule over us for their own sexual deviances?
Why even bother with these sorts when we have people like Dave and George to tax us less at night?

Phil said...

As a comrade on Facebook put it:

Except, of course that Tommy has no intention of 'jogging on', Sadly he can still pull a crowd , as was shown in the referendum campaign, and by the 'Hope Over Fear' rallies There are still ebough people out there who see sheridan as some sort of persecuted hero to ensue his continued existence, especially amongst the more lumpen element of disollusioned pro independence, ex Labour supporters.and some of the nore demented supporters of nationalsm to whom he seems evermore to pander.surrounded by his cult follers shows every sign of trying to split the left vote in the 2016 elections. However unsucessful these attempts may ultimately be its a sad fact that Tommy isnt going to be jogging off the scene just yet.

Phil said...

I usually find it helpful not to comment on matters I know nothing about, Gary :)

Anonymous said...

It's lazy research to say that Tommy Sheridan and the court case caused the collapse of the socialist vote in Scotland.

What happened to the Scottish Greens in that election? They went from 7 MSPs to 2 MSPs and the Greens didn't have any negative publicity at all.

The SNP became the largest party in the Scottish Parliament. It seems more likely that the SNP won a lot of support from the SSP, Solidarity and Greens. The SNP stood on the 2007 election on a mandate of opposition to war, opposition to Trident, replacing council tax with income tax, opposition to PFI's. Lots of left wing policies. I think that's why there are no socialist MSPs and only 2 Green MSPs.