Saturday, May 05, 2007

Is it a good thing he lost?

Some people have criticised me and said I was sectarian to welcome the fact that Tommy Sheridan lost his seat in the Scottish parliament. (Although it is worth pointing out that I actually said it would only be a bad thing for Tommy to be reelected if no SSP MSPs were elected along side him)

in the comments of a previous post Daphne from new Zealand wrote: “The Scottish Socialist split reminds me very much in how it panned out as the split in the Alliance, New Zealand's left-reformist formation during the 1990's.

"After their leader split, the rump of the Alliance were knocked down to 1.2% in the election. They were determined that, since they had the proper democratic structures, were attractive to "real militant activists" and now that they'd now got rid of the Bad People Who'd Ruined Everything, they would rebuild.

"At the next election, they got 500 votes nationwide. This has lessons for Andy's unfortunate sectarian stance on the Scotland issue. … . Saying that Solidarity is better wiped out so that a socialist party of the type Andy likes can spring up is just sad.”

With regard to the circumstances of the split. I am not convinced that the comparison with the split in the Alliance in New Zealand is an entriely valid one. Two years ago I interviewed Mike Treen, who had played a leading role in Alliance, you can read his account here .

The origin of the split in the Alliance was an entirely political one, as Mike explained; “September 11 produced a de facto split in the Alliance when a majority of the Alliance MP’s opposed the party majority and supported sending SAS troops to Afghanistan in support of the US-led invasion. The faction fight continued publicly for the next year with Anderton and his supporters used their majority in the Alliance caucus in an attempt to control the party. When that failed they defected to form the Progressive Party just prior to the 2002 election. Alliance MP Laila Harre led the party in the election but both the Progressives and the Alliance got less than 2% of the vote. Anderton won his electorate seat and was able to bring one other MP into parliament on the Party List vote under NZ’s proportional system. Laila ran a close second in her electorate but without an electoral seat the Alliance failed to pass the 5% threshold on the party vote for parliamentary representation.

There are indeed constructive lessons to be learned from the subsequent history of the Alliance, and it is worth reading Mike Treen’s interview in full. Daphne does a good service in bring this fairly comparable experience to our attention.

Daphne is correct that the left in Scotland need to regroup, and any narrative that sees Solidarity as entirely bad will be a sectarian obstacle. Many comrades will have joined Solidarity because they misguidedly fell for Sheridan’s lies. There is a political problem with trying to build a party around the electoral charisma of one person, but hey we have to work with the assets we have, and if that was the only problem with Solidarity I would have wanted Sheridan to win, as he is an able exponent of socialism, and a good parliamentary operator.

However, the important thing to understand about the Sheridan affair is that it involved deep political corruption. Sheridan being prepared to destroy the party for his own personal gain, his willingness to enter into a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and perjury that endangered other comrades with being sent to gaol, and opened the party to the possibility of a police investigation. A very good account of the issues was written by Martin Wicks, here .

Sheridan himself, and those comrades who deliberately perjured themselves in Sheridan’s interest acted on the disastrous politics of building a cult of personality around the Great Leader. In so doing they were colluding in creating a fiction to deceive the party, the electorate and the courts. Sheridan was and is a time bomb waiting to explode, and the comrades who lied for him acted with a deeply undemocratic contempt for the membership.

Reconciliation and regroupment in Scotland is now greatly complicated by the fact that Sheridan's supporters can never tell the truth about what happened without endangering their own liberty.


Nick Bird said...

Yes it was sectarian to welcome the fact that Sheridan lost his seat. I still believe that the SSP could have avoided the whole disaster by ensuring that its leading members didn't end up in court giving evidence for the News of the World. However, I'm also wondering now whether the emphasis on independence hasn't been entirely counterproductive. If the main aim is to get Scottish independence, why not vote for the party most likely to achieve it? If the left in Scotland is to be rebuilt, it should concentrate on the real problems in society, not the illusion that everyhting would be better if only Scotland was independent.

Phil said...

I still believe that the SSP could have avoided the whole disaster by ensuring that its leading members didn't end up in court giving evidence for the News of the World.

How? What should they have done differently?

Louisefeminista said...

Phil: "How? What should they have done differently?"

Precisely, Phil.

If you receive a court order telling you to appear as a witness, what are you supposed to? Go to prison for contempt? And you are doing it for what, so that Sheridan upholds the hypocritical image of the "family man"?

If someone was taking the flak for leading a real struggle then you would protect them on a point of principle but not over someone's bloody sex life.

Sheridan can shag for Scotland for all I care and why he couldn't say "f&ck off" to the News of the Screws in the first place is beyond me.

What he did was an utter capitulation to bourgeois morality and something I thought socialists would be highly critical of!

Nick Bird said...

I think you have to look back further and I believe the whole thing was mishandled from the start. The question Sheridan's opponents always seem to ignore is why on earth would the News of the World call members of the SSP leadership to give evidence on its side? You would assume under normal conditions that they would be Sheridan's closest comrades who would not collude in the NotW's attempts to bring down Scotland's leading socialist politician.

The reason is that detailed minutes had been kept and the NotW knew about them. As you imply Louise, Sheridan's sex life is his own business. The SSP should not have become involved, it should have let Sheridan persue his case (even if advising against) and in the unlikely even that leading SSP members had been called by the NotW they should have said precisely that they didn't know or care about his sex life. However, the way they handled things put them in an impossible situation.

So even though Sheridan won his case, the NotW has basically succeeded in bringing him down and the left has been wiped out in the Scottish Parliament in the process.

Louisefeminista said...

But Nick nowhere in your comments are there any suggestion that Sheridan is responsible for all this and there is a real abdication of accountability at the end of the day.

You simply see it as the fault of the SSP yet who dragged comrades through this. Sheridan. I believe Sheridan brought himself down because he couldn't be honest.

I am sick and tired of the "cult of personality" politics that usually revolves around some "charismatic" gobby bloke (perma-tan is optional).

It is undemocratic and it is bound to fail to the detriment of the Left as it is not open or inclusive.

Korakious said...

The reason is that detailed minutes had been kept and the NotW knew about them.

Do you imply that one of the most important decisions the party had ever made should have been kept undocumented? The executive should have used the right of recall and then pretty much kept secrete why?

The mistake was that the executive was too soft on Sheridan on that night. They just "advised" him against taking the case. They should have ordered him no to and taken disciplinary action against if he did. The minutes should have been immediately released to the membership (a terrible decision on the part of the National Council) right then and there. Then everybody would have known and ridiculous conspiracy theories and whispering campaigns would not have bogged the party down for two years.

Sheridan's private life is his own aye. But his public life is not. When you chose to become the face of a party, then you also chose to accept that you cannot do whatever the fuck you want.

The executive made terrible mistakes in the way the whole thing was handled, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

johng said...

whilst i never followed this as closely as i should have, i'm perplexed by people who become obsessed with the issue of 'leadership cults' in the current scene. It usually masks deep political differences (in the case of opponents of Galloway) or on the other hand internal faction fighting (in the case of opponents of Sheridan).

Thats where the real dishonesty and lack of transparency comes in, and we've all paid a high price for this bizarre tendency (which seems more and more to have been a feature of the last decade).

Louisefeminista said...

Johng: It is a kind of bizarre argument you are making. The Left has set itself against cult of personality politics as it is against what the Left is about. A left group shouldn't revolve around one person as this is unhealthy.

It should be about solidarity, team work, treating people equally and NOT venerating some charismatic bloke over everyone else. That's dishonest and lacks transparancy.

And what happens if the leader gets it wrong.....

badmat said...

What has to be said over and over is that the result in Scotland is a disaster and that the Life of Brian divisions are the central reason.

Secondly now that Solidarity has done better than the SSP those comrades who hate Sheridan and have been predicting his (and that of solidarity Scotland) political demise need to take up to the political reality that the forces that go into Solidarity are a genuine and important component of the Scottish left that aren't going to convenniently disappear.

Thirdly those who take comfort from Solidarity doing better than the SSP needed to be reminded of Borges on the Falklands War: two bald men and a comb.

Nick seems to have realised that he has to retreat in argument from the standard Sheridan line about the stab in the back from comrades. The mistake might lie in the taking of such a detailed minute, but Sheridan knew it existed as well when he decided to follow his legal action.

I must take exception to Nick's point about being pro-independence being a mistake: you might as well argue that being pro-withdrawal from Iraq was a mistake as that one of the SNP's popular positions!

And finally, so far as I can understand him (the second paragraph is too obscure for me, what precisely are you referring to?) Johng is wrong and talking in terms of obsessions is misleading. Issues of how we take and implement decisions, how we judge the policies that come out of those decisions and we can keep our politics accountable and democratic is of crucial political importance and certainly plays a role in how we should judge the politics of organisations that seem overwhelmingly top-down and unacccountable. The SWP and Respect do come to mind as both alienate people by their political methods - not only what they stand for. Sadly the (defensible)view that Lenin was a creative political genius, who's political leaps brilliantly took us in the direction of human liberation (defensible, but I'd draw back from it, mind)seems to have bled into a celebration of media-celebrity as the prime indicator of leadership. Barn-storming charisma isn't enough.

AN said...

johng: whilst i never followed this as closely as i should have

Well given just how importnat this issue is (with the possibility of SWP members being sent to prison for perjury and possibly conspiracy, etc), then i am suprised you feel qualified to involve yourself in the debate without checking the facts.

It usually masks deep political differences (in the case of opponents of Galloway) or on the other hand internal faction fighting (in the case of opponents of Sheridan).

So without knowing the facts of the case you assume that it was the opponents of Sheridan who were involved in internal faction fighting!!!

AN said...

Thanks Badmatthew.

yes, the forces within Solidarity are both genuine and significant. (I think privately many of us were expecting the SSP to lose all their MSPs, and also that Sheridan's name would mean Solidarity did get a reaosnab;e vote - (though the SSP's vote was lower than I expected))

The question though is whether (without Sheridan in Hollyrood) there is enough holding Solidaity together.

I still believe that given the nature of Sheridan's behaviour, and the sword of Damocles hanging over his head (NOTW appeal, police investtigation) having him as the figurehead fo Scottish socialism remains disastrous, and for that reason I am pleased we are spared that scenario.

Somehow, out of the wreckage, the activists in Solidarity and the SSP are going to have to find some rapprochement.

Korakious said...

The following is obviously not particularly solid, but it is still interesting.

Korakious said...

The link seems to be broken above.

Click here

johng said...

My only point was that the obsessional dislike of particular figures involved in the attempt to pull togeather electoral alternatives to the left, has been at points demented. And this seems to me particularly true in the case of Galloway and Sheridan. Oh and I always comment on things I know less then everything about. Or I wouldn't say anything.

I would say though, that I have never been able to make head nor tail of the SSP case. I really just don't understand what they're talking about. Possibly this is a personal defect of some kind.

AN said...

But Johng,

wouldn't you dislike someone who insisted in contesting a libel case, after he had admitted the story was substantially true. issued an open letter to the mainstream press describing the leading women comrades as witches, then conducted himslef in court in such a way as to endanger comrades with gaol, then went to the mainstream press and called his former comrades scabs (receiving £20000 for the article, which he admits he has kept for perosonal use), then walks out of the party?

I don't think that is very complicated to follow.