I thought he was going to pull it off. Thanks to the excellent in-depth coverage by James Doleman and his comrades at the High Court in Glasgow, we know Tommy Sheridan fielded a spirited and convincing defence. In contrast the prosecution's case was shambolic, farcical and at times threatened to come apart at the seams. When Gail Sheridan was acquitted and 12 charges were dropped, anyone would be forgiven for thinking Tommy Sheridan would escape conviction. In fact, you could almost say the prosecution deserved to lose. But that wasn't to be. Despite the amateurish investigation underpinning the charges, despite a cack-handed job of handling the evidence, and despite the rhetorical power of Tommy's defence, the jury of 12 women and two men found him guilty of the six charges remaining on the Crown's indictment.
Very few people who've followed the case since Tommy's sudden and unexpected resignation as the Scottish Socialist Party's convener six years ago would have had their minds changed by the evidence presented. Speaking for myself, I was a member of the Socialist Party at the time of the original defamation case brought by Tommy against News of the World. I originally (and perhaps naively) believed he hadn't done it, but changed my mind after its successful conclusion. And what's more most of my comrades believed he'd done it too. Nevertheless the party, the SWP, and a sizable chunk of the far left stuck with Tommy. The logic of this part-political, part-moral position is set out in this article from The Socialist. Political because Tommy was Scotland's "most iconic post-war socialist" and had pull among the Scottish working class beyond the collective profile of the rest of the far left. Moral because socialists shouldn't look down the noses at comrades' sexual preferences, let alone testify against them in court.
Presented like this the whole affair looks straightforward. If you're in the business of building a left alternative and trying to build the capacity and combativity of a relatively quiescent working class, it was your duty to stand by Tommy as he sued the News of the World and again when the Crown came after him for perjury. It was a case of the working class vs the boss class, played out in a court room.
But this is to violently distort the politics and morality of the case.
Tommy wasn't up on perjury charges as an outcome of a protest, strike, or dispute. It was because he lied in his defamation action. He wasn't featured in the News of the World because of his record of struggle. He was, like many politicians before him and no doubt many more to come, caught with his pants down. And before he was named by the paper as the MSP dilly-dallying with Anvar Khan, he'd held his hands up to the SSP executive and confessed. While some members may have a particular attitude to sex and fidelity, the exec didn't sack Tommy because of his peccadilloes. He was asked to step down because he intended to sue News of the World for defamation, despite admitting the story was substantially true, and because he expected *others* to risk their necks by going along with it. In other words, Tommy asked his comrades, many of whom he'd worked with for 20 years, to buy into a lie so he could trouser a couple of hundred grand in damages.
Surely no socialist in their right mind would go along with such a scheme. But some did, even to the extent of lying in court themselves. I hope they will not find themselves brought up on perjury charges too. However, those SSP members who refused to lie to satisfy one man's vanity were unjustly vilified as scabs and class traitors. Unfortunately, Barbara Scott, Alan McCombes, George McNeilage and others were subsequently so consumed with rage and hate that they were prepared to cross the line. It is understandable why they did what they did, but inexcusable for all that. As long as they play any kind of front line role in the SSP their actions will cast a shadow the organisation cannot shake off.
But every action has its precursor, and none of this would have happened had Tommy listened to counsel wiser than his ego. In some parallel world there exists a united SSP and a stronger Scottish anti-cuts movement because, at some point in 2004, Tommy made the right decision. But here, he didn't. He has destroyed a viable socialist organisation and left behind him a trail of toxic wreckage that will take socialists in Scotland decades to clean up. This is Tommy's doing. His. Against this his previous good works come to nought. What a shame, what a waste.
Tragedy and farce? That about sums it up.