Monday, October 02, 2006
Sheridan's web of deceit
Yesterday’s release by the News of the World of an audio tape of Tommy Sheridan admitting that he told the SSP executive on 9th November 2004 that the allegations against him by NOTW were substantially true comes as a bombshell, not only for Sheridan but also for his supporters in the SWP and CWI. The denials by Sheridan and claims that the tape is a forgery seem far fetched.
Of course it is regrettable that this tape has ended up in the hands of the NOTW, and questions need to be asked about how this happened. But we must resist attempts to blow smoke around the political issues, as the questions of whether the tape is genuine, and how it ended up with the NOTW are side shows.
The real issue is that the tape confirms the evidence given by the 11 SSP witnesses who reluctantly testified at Sheridan’s libel action. Sheridan also confirms in the tape that he stated his intention to deny the allegations, because he believed the NOTW had no proof.
This is at the heart of the dispute that has led to the split in the SSP. The party recommended that Sheridan ride out the storm, but instead he was determined to sue the NOTW, despite the fact that this would involve perjury. The Executive Committee meeting on 9th November unanimously voted to ask Sheridan to step down as convenor, because this was a disastrously risky course of action for the party. The only SWP member at the meeting, Pat Smith, voted for the decision to ask for Sheridan’s resignation, but has subsequently changed her mind.
The SWP admits in the latest IST document (PDF) to concerns by the SSP leadership about "the way in which Sheridan intended to defend himself in court could have had damaging implications for the party as a whole.". Which gives further credence that the SWP do not substantially challenge the facts.
Instead the SWP argue that the comrades had a class duty to back Sheridan in court. But this was a very risky strategy, not least because it would forever hold the party hostage. On the Sunday 18 June 2006 the EC voted that those SSP members now cited as witnesses in the libel action should go to court under protest but neither perjure themselves nor place themselves in contempt of court. These were witnesses that had opposed the libel action being commenced, and were being reluctantly called by the NOTW. Two SWP EC members voted against this policy on 18th June, but offered no alternative strategy. Let us run that by again. The SWP EC members voted against telling the truth in court! Of course they didn't propose an alternative strategy, as this would have been a prejudicial admission that they might be intending to commit a criminal offence – of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
What is more, in order to contradict the evidence of the 11 SSP witnesses who told the truth about what was said on 9th November, Sheridan and his supporters have been required to invent the political slander of a “conspiracy” against Sheridan.
As we now hear on the tape, Sheridan admits “I then make the biggest mistake of my life by confessing something in front of 19 f ***** g, what am I doing confessing in front of these c **** ?”
But this is what SWP member, Pat Smith, who was at the 2004 meeting testified in court. When asked by Sheridan (representing himself in court) whether he had denied visiting the Cupids night club, Pat Smith, said: "You were very, very clear about that." When asked why 11 other witnesses remembered Sheridan saying it, Smith replied "I can only think it was done for negative reasons."
Why am I concentrating only on the SWP witness, and not on the other 3 witnesses who backed Sheridan’s account of the meeting? Well, because of the issue of democratic accountability, Pat Smith would not have been acting alone, her decision to testify in the way she did will have been made by the SWP leadership. Indeed, why else call upon A-list SWP cadre Mike Gonzales to testify in support of Sheridan – when he hadn’t even been at the November meeting. Because Gonzales was not at the 9th November meeting he probably did not perjure himself, and his testimony was largely irrelevant, but he did give moral and political support to Pat Smith by testifying.
A political decision was made by the SWP to back Sheridan’s court action, against the interests and expressed wishes of the SSP. What is more, the political basis of the court action was entirely reactionary. It was not a defence of Sheridan’s privacy, but an attempt to defend a false image of Sheridan as a perfect family man – Victorian double standards.
Having decided that they would continue with that position up to the point of perjury, the SWP supported the claim of a conspiracy. In contrast, one other pro-Sheridan witness, Rosemary Byrne MSP, when asked in the Witness box whether MSPs Colin Fox, Carolyn Leckie and Rosie Kane — were lying, she replied: "I'm very, very wary of calling people liars.". She stepped back from accusing them in court of perjury, but Pat Smith had no reluctance to say in court that the 11 witnesses were lying, recklessly exposing the 11 to prosecution for perjury and a potential prison term. (In answer to the question, aren’t I dong the same thing – well the established fact is that 11 witnesses gave evidence on way, 4 gave evidence the other, so the fact of perjury is undeniable and already in the public domain, the responsibility for which lies with Sheridan and his supporters who did not need to go to court in the first place. There can be no progress without truth, so there does need to be a serious discussion about the politics behind the decision to lie in court.)
Having embarked on a course of perjury and false accusations of conspiracy against the SSP leadership, the SWP and CWI are hoist by their own petard. They can never admit the truth, either publicly or to their own members, without further exposing their own comrades to criminal prosecution. This disregard for the truth is morally and politically corrupting. This trap could have been avoided, and the leaderships of the SWP and CWI were reckless in exposing not only their opponents in the SSP, but also themselves and their own organisation.
On a more encouraging note, it seems that the RMT affiliation is staying with the SSP, and not going to Solidarity.