Statement in response to Tommy Sheridan's defamation case
UNITED LEFT, 04/08/06
This summer has seen slaughter in the Middle East, Blair lurch from crisis to crisis, the world economy hover over the precipice as oil prices rocket and the ruling Labour administration in Scotland admit it may be in decline at the 2007 Scottish elections. Yet, against this backdrop, the Scottish Socialist Party has been incapacitated and distracted by a grotesque circus, watching in horror as our former convener and Glasgow MSP Tommy Sheridan pursued his bogus defamation action in the Court of Session in Edinburgh. His victory today in obtaining £200 000 damages from News International is a hollow one, because of the despicable things he did, in order to achieve this.
For five long weeks the party has been splashed over the front pages of the tabloid press – for all the wrong reasons. Even those initially empathetic to Tommy Sheridan’s fight with the Murdoch press will have been stunned by the events of this case. But this is not a sex scandal, no matter how the tabloid papers sell it. It is an absolute political scandal.
On 31st October 2004 the News of the World printed a story about an unnamed MSP who had an affair with Anvar Khan, a journalist and visited a sex club in Manchester with her and others. This story was based on a chapter of Ms Khan’s book “Pretty Wild”. Members of the EC were aware that Tommy Sheridan had frequented this sex club in the past, Tommy Sheridan was confronted that he was the unnamed MSP. Comrades attempted to meet with Tommy Sheridan in the days after the News of the World article however he refused to meet with them. Some members of the EC met together informally to discuss what action should be taken as there were concerns that there may be follow up stories. There was disappointment at Tommy Sheridan’s reckless behaviour. The National Secretary, Allan Green, and the Co-Chairs – Carolyn Leckie and Catriona Grant - convened an EC meeting for the 9th November 2004. It was made clear to all EC members that this was an emergency EC to deal with a specific crisis in the SSP before attending. Tommy Sheridan attended this meeting and made a statement about visiting Cupid’s sex club on two occasions in 1996 and 2002. He admitted his behaviour was reckless, asked for support but wanted to deal with the events “in his own way” which included denying the visits to the club, and that he would sue the News of the World on the basis that they “could not prove” their allegations.
It was not moral outrage, but his preparedness to pursue a reckless action by lying in court that was the principal factor behind the Executive’s unanimous decision to force Sheridan to resign. The Executive took the view that the consequences of such an action would be disastrous for both Tommy Sheridan and the party. This meeting was minuted as it was an EC meeting, as per the constitution of the party. Barbara Scott, Minute Secretary, was visibly taking notes at the meeting. At no time was there a request for the meeting not to be minuted by anyone in attendance at the meeting (including Tommy Sheridan).
It was agreed that this decision was to be reported, verbally, to a series of aggregate meetings of SSP members in November 2004 by the Regional Organisers and those present at the EC.
The minutes were prepared by Barbara Scott and they were agreed and ratified unanimously at the EC of the 24th November 2004. Tommy Sheridan asked that the minutes of the 9th November 2004 be kept confidential, this was agreed and an emergency motion to keep the minutes confidential was put to the National Council on 27th November 2004. This emergency motion was accepted by the National Council.
Tommy Sheridan resigned on the 10th November 2004. On the 12th November 2004 he disclosed publicly that he had had a relationship with Anvar Khan in 1992 in an article in the Scottish Mirror (this fact had NOT been discussed at the EC). He denied that he was the unnamed politician of the 31st October 2004 story and denied having any affairs since being married in 2000.
On 14th November 2004, there was a follow-up story in the News of the World regarding Fiona Maguire, and another story about Duncan Rowan, North East Regional Organiser, who had gone to the News of the World in the belief he was protecting Fiona Maguire, and he named another comrade to the News of the World, without that comrade's permission. At the EC, Steve Arnott reported that Duncan Rowan had resigned and apologised. Fiona Maguire had not been discussed at any length at the 9th November 2004 meeting except by being alluded to (though not named) by Duncan Rowan, who was in an upset and agitated state.
There was an attempt to move on after the November 2004 events, however the Scottish media were used by Tommy Sheridan to launch attacks on the party and comrades in the party, using terms such as "plotters", "dark arts" etc.
Despite these attacks, no-one could have imagined the lengths that Tommy Sheridan and some of his supporters would go to to rewrite the party’s history.
In the intervening 18 months Tommy Sheridan launched an incredible campaign of disinformation, inside and outside the party, alleging that he was ‘done in’ by those supposedly jealous of his status, or driven by personal and political ambition. This is complete fantasy and nonsense.
In fact, it was Tommy Sheridan’s closest friends and comrades who advised him of the inherent dangers of the kamikaze path that he was preparing to embark on. Their advice has been proven to be 100% correct. Tommy Sheridan would have been wise to have listened. Instead he has used smears, innuendo and outright lies to attack those same comrades and friends – in a vain attempt to save his own vanity and political career. The Scottish Socialist Party has been tortured and tormented by the court case brought by Sheridan. The state has been able to intervene in the internal affairs of the SSP, the party has been heavily fined in the run-up to the court proceedings and comrades called on to testify in the case have been placed in the position where they have been offered a choice of being "either scabs or liars", to cite one saying making the rounds in the SSP during the case. The case has been an unmitigated disaster for the SSP, brought about by the wounded vanity of one man, Mr. Sheridan.
The strategy to defy the courts' pursuit of our minute of the 9th November was agreed at the EC of 21st May 2006 as it was congruent to the democratic decision of 27th November 2004. The minutes of the 9th November 2004 meeting were handed over to the courts after a heated debate at the SSP National Council on May 28, 2006 – a position supported at the time by Tommy Sheridan – and against the wishes of the Executive. At the National Council, Tommy Sheridan appealed to hand the minutes over and at no time suggested that these minutes were fabricated in an elaborate attempt to frame him. At the time of the National Council, the News of the World and their legal team had been handed a set a false minutes that had not been seen, agreed or ratified by the EC at any time. Where these minutes came from remain a mystery, yet Tommy Sheridan during his court case referred to them as correct minutes until the judge, Lord Turnbull, ruled them out of order.
Subsequently, leading members of the SSP have been dragged through the highest civil court in Scotland and had their honesty, integrity and socialist commitment questioned – not by the News of the World, but by one of the party’s own members – Tommy Sheridan.
Once the minutes were in the hands of the court and the defiance strategy defeated, the choice facing SSP members was to tell the truth about the meeting or state that the minutes were fabricated, thus lending support to Tommy Sheridan’s bizarre allegation that he had been framed by the very members he had brought to court.
Some comrades have suggested that those forced into court should have lied to protect Tommy, or at the very least, say that they could not remember what happened at the meeting. That is just not a serious or credible position. How would this have applied to the Minute Secretary, Barbara Scott? Do comrades really think that Barbara Scott should have stood in the witness box and said that she could not remember taking the minutes or that she fabricated them as she was delusional at the time or part of a political plot to undermine Tommy Sheridan? Telling the truth was the only viable option.
SSP members have watched with shock and disgust as their former Convenor and Glasgow MSP accused 11 members of the SSP, including Colin Fox, of framing him. The SSP United Left defends absolutely those members who, under protest, were forced to attend court and tell the truth about the party’s history and to defend their socialist integrity.
To call these people grasses, traitors or scabs, as some of Sheridan’s leading supporters have done is both laughable and outrageous– yet their choice of language gives the game away about who is telling the truth in this sordid affair. If the 11 comrades were lying, then why are they not just called plain liars?
The United Left launched on 11th June 2006 condemns the misguided efforts of those who failed to uphold the truth about our party’s history, our minutes, our democratic decisions and the actions of our elected office bearers. They may have done this from a misguided sense of loyalty, but they helped fuel the myth that Tommy Sheridan had been framed – a myth that they knew not to be the case. They were prepared to shore up one man’s reputation, thereby assisting in the savaging of the reputation of eleven others.
Tommy Sheridan’s supporters have stated that this court case is part of the wider struggle of the labour
movement. To suggest that a bogus campaign to defend a secret life is, in any way whatsoever, part of the class struggle is complete rubbish. Moreover, it is an insult to the integrity of socialist struggle.
This court action had nothing to do with the struggle against capitalism. There is nothing in the history of
the socialist movement which permits you to put a woman that you have had sex with and members of the elected EC (of 2004) in the witness box and castigate them as liars and plotters when they tell the truth – all in a grotesque attempt to preserve the family man facade that have been presented to the public. Moreover, for these women (the comrade and the women who allegedly witnessed him in an hotel with a footballer and a prostitute) to be cross-examined by Tommy Sheridan himself raises serious legal and moral questions which need to be addressed in the socialist and wider movement.
Sadly, many, many people will have seen Tommy Sheridan exposed in the eyes of the public in the last few weeks. He has abused the trust placed in him by tens if not hundreds of thousands of working class women and men who believed him when he said that he was different from all the other politicians, that he deplored dishonesty and hypocrisy, that he was a politician who dared to be different.
From being seen as a principled socialist fighter, he has been rebranded as man desperate to do anything to preserve a false image and prepared to trash his former comrades and friends in the process.
Over the last 20 years Tommy Sheridan gained widespread support for being seen as a man of integrity. That has turned out not to be the case. It is an uncomfortable truth, but not one that can be turned away from. The truth is not what is politically useful.
The SSP must decide now how to hold Tommy Sheridan to account for his destructive acts and his appalling approach to fellow socialists. We call on Tommy Sheridan to begin by giving an uncompromising apology to the party as a whole for putting them through this tortuous process, and to the individual members that he has slandered, castigated and cross- examined in a hostile fashion. It is time he started taking responsibility for his own actions.
The SSP became a model for the left in Europe because it combined a pluralistic, open structure with a pro-active vision for fighting for socialist change at a grassroots level. Never again can the left allow one individual to wreak such mayhem and destruction within a pluralistic socialist party.
The SSP United Left believes we need to re-establish the SSP on this basis. There needs to be an assessment of accountability within party structures through strengthening democracy. Moreover, there needs to be the development of a grassroots leadership across the whole of the country with an emphasis on political education – carried out in a fresh, egalitarian way.
The SSP is NOT the property of any one individual. All members ARE equal and NO-ONE is more equal than others.
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