Karen Greensheild, a reporter with STV News at Tommy Sheridan's sentencing this morning tweeted "Scent of blood, anticipation in the air, wonder if this is what it's like at a Public Hanging?" How could the atmosphere be otherwise? Since being found guilty of perjury charges on December 23rd the presiding judge Lord Bracadale told Tommy he could expect a prison sentence.
In a 45 minute long mitigation speech to the judge, Tommy refused to admit his guilt, but talked about his low risk of reoffending, the length of perjury sentences, his and Gail Sheridan's health, and his caring responsibilities toward his Dad. Sentencing, Lord Bracadale said he thought Tommy was a "hard-working and effective politician" but that he "brought the walls of the temple crashing down on your own head", before imprisoning Tommy for three years. What a shame. What a waste.
No doubt this sentence will lead to another round of bilious infighting and denunciation. There will be more than a few people shopping around the far left for an organisation that suits them who stumble across what passes for the Sheridan "debate" and decide to take their time and effort elsewhere. And I can't blame them.
The whole process of the trial from the notorious SSP executive meeting on a November evening in 2004 to its denoument today has exposed an ugliness at the heart of the far left, an ugliness you wouldn't expect to find not in a movement built on solidarity and socialist values. Tommy's expectation that his comrades should lie for him so he could trouser £200k from the News of the World was contemptible, as were the shrill attacks on those who refused to risk perjury charges and told the truth in court. But equally appalling were the pre-and-post defamation trial actions by those SSP members who ensured Tommy's confession was leaked to the press, went out their way to collaborate with the police, and of course, have done nothing to disavow the actions of George McNeilage - the former best man who taped his admissions.
But what I find most disturbing is the frenzied attacks by those who reside in England and have absolutely no connection to the trial whatsoever. This hatred - for that is what it is - by members of nominally Trotskyist outfits closely resembles what you'd expect from a cult. When Scientologists are criticised, no one is surprised they intimidate and denounce opponents. That is, after all, what cults are all about. But for socialists to ape this behaviour? It speaks volumes of the fundamentally unhealthy organisational practices of self-described Leninist groups. Democratic centralism - a principle of organisation Lenin thought appropriate to mass parties, not tiny groups of a couple of thousand - tends not to be exercised around action, but rather is a principle for regulating the boundaries of permissible thought. Freedom of discussion becomes circumscribed discussion. Unity in action is, in practice, unity behind the positions formulated by the opaque and unaccountable executive/central committee. This is no recipe for generating critically minded working class politicians and Marxist cadre. But it does create a small following happy to swallow it all and regurgitate it when occasion demands. Such as when one of their key allies gets in a spot of bother with the law.
If there are political lessons to be drawn from this episode, they have to centre on the far left's culture, on its promotion of and slavishness toward charismatic leaders, its pronounced tendency toward group think, and its inability to handle disputes in anything but a mature fashion. If some good is to come from the tragic and shameful waste of Tommy Sheridan's fate, a thorough rethink of all this would be it.