Given the nature of the subject, the still raw emotions and ongoing political bitterness, entrenched sectarian and partisan positions around Tommy Sheridan, this is a remarkably objective and balanced work. It is too, extremely well written and presented.
Something of the Sheridan phenomena is deeply rooted in the nature of the Scottish working class as a self identified entity, with its internalized sense of class history and working class political culture. The Scottish working class sees itself as both, working class and Scottish. The modern left forces in the political landscape of Scotland pre Sheridan and pre SSP however whose identities were themselves formed elsewhere seen by enlarge, the class as the class and the struggle as the same struggle no more or less either side of the border. For this reason they could easily have been left behind by a rising trend of left nationalism and widespread disillusionment with Westminster. This was seen inter alia by the rising political fortunes of the independence movement, driven not least by the Thatcher assault and total alienation from southern English political trends with its dominant middle class aspiration.
The forces that would come to be centred on the rising star of Tommy, his almost archetypal west Scottish working class persona, could perhaps never have risen at all, had it not been for an ideological sea change shift in perceptions towards the independence process by far left groupings north of the border. This is of course a vexed question still among far left organizations in Britain, and this review is not the place to restage the contesting positions save to say, without this, change, whether it was an opportunist accommodation, or genuine embrace of left nationalism, the movement Tommy came to represent probably wouldn’t have been born and the far left would have remained as isolated and out of step with the class in Scotland as it has done in England.
His belief in internationalism lay at the very heart of his concept of Socialism although he seen this as on the basis of relationships between nations rather than an amorphous world humanity. “I do not want to assume a British identity as those who reject a Scottish identity do..that’s not the way I want to relate internationally to brothers and sisters elsewhere..” (pg 301)
Tommy’s roots and political apprenticeship had been with The Militant which developed his emerging talent for public speaking. Pre the Poll Tax campaign which really put Tommy in the right place with the right skills at just the right time were a number of
disputes, strikes and protest which fine tuned his talents for organization, leadership and oratory. The Poll Tax Campaign was though, something he developed alongside being too young and too soon in the movement to have devised or organized at its inception. Alongside a truly mass community resistance movement of non payment in the solid working class communities, came high point national demonstrations, in Glasgow 40,000 marched and in London 200,000. It was this London demonstration which became the enduring memory of the campaign rather than the mass community resistance. Pitched unrestrained battles raged in the centre of London, probably even more ferocious than anything the Miners Strike of four years earlier had involved. It was at this demonstration also that Tommy became notorious among Class War and other anarchist militants for his condemnation of protesters violence and implication that he would ‘name names’ earning him the undying title of “grass” among the anarchist left. Unhindered by such trifles in his Scottish base he becomes more and more publicly associated with resistance to the tax and warrant sales and bailiff actions. It was during joint resistance to the tax and the Tories that he establishes relations with left nationalism, and some of the people who would become his most reliable comrades. Tommy’s high media profile and high identity with Militant soon marked him out for expulsion from the Labour Party. He was expelled in Oct 1989 and all members of the mass Pollock LP branch suspended. This and the general witch hunt and widespread expulsion of Militant leaders from the LP and LPYS together with general unease with the whole clandestine entrist tactic of Militant became grist to the mill which would push Militant in Scotland to strike out as an independent political party.
Tommy’s star and performances were rising, tireless, dynamic, driven, he was becoming a working class star, a ‘man of the people’ filled with passion and charisma, instantly recognizable, groomed, tanned, ‘always on’. Jailed for ‘deforcement’ in the period and breach of the peace as well as breaching the terms of an interdict, he had used in classic style the court as a platform for class denunciation of the ‘war on the poor’. It was around this time moves were developing to toward the founding of Scottish Militant Labour as an independent political party which was publicly launched on 30th Jan 1992. Among many rationales for the founding was the perception of a huge vacancy for just such a force left by the rapid decline of both the Communist Party and the Labour Left at a time of heightened political awareness and class consciousness among the general mass. He first comes to run against the sitting Labour MP whilst a prisoner, he comes second and secures 19% of votes cast (6,287 votes) he publicly campaigns on a platform “Labour used to campaign on before its heart and soul were ripped out”. He stands again from prison for Glasgow Council and achieves a first by being elected (with 52% of the votes cast) outstripping Labour. Scottish Militant Labour wins four Council seats and the party is on its way. They go on to win 35% of the vote in Dundee (Jan 93) in the Council elections there.
Across the various Socialist forums in 1995 Alan Combes, Tommy’s closest friend and comrade floated the idea of a Scottish Socialist Alliance, which would bring together all the existing socialist groups and produce a united challenge to the forthcoming Scottish Parliament. This was a genuine non sectarian appeal to the Communist Party and Labour Left and Liberation Group of SNP. It is perhaps telling that this initiative came about because of the monolithic centralism of Arthur Scargill and his newly formed Socialist Labour Party. The Scottish left per sae, with the bulk of the British left and many senior Trade Union leftist militant Union leaders and Union executives in strategic unions, seen Scargill and the emergent SLP as a catalyst which could pose a serious political pole to the left of the right moving New Labour project. For a brief moment the SLP looked like it might actually achieve something lasting and important, it was not to be as we all know, the SLP would be conceived in the image and likeness of Scargill, factions, rank and file control, sections, democracy were not part of the vision. Tommy had brought SML and many others to the table but Scargill refused any idea of an autonomous Scottish section, self determination for Scotland, or recognition of political factions within the organization. Tommy had commented “When Scargill threw down the gauntlet of a new socialist labour party we were excited, we wore Scottish socialist spectacles but we took them off to see the broader picture and were keen to be involved with Arthur.” It was in Tommy’s words a “lost opportunity” and not just for the Scottish working class.
For him though he became a fortunate victim of historic circumstances, Scargill's bureaucratic myopicism led to the foundation of the SSA which led to the creation of the Scottish Socialist Party. Had the SLP not been so afflicted its Scottish section would have boasted a united platform, with Tommy at its head, alongside an all British platform with Arthur Scargill and Bob Crow and many more. It would too have held onto Tommy’s feet and kept them more firmly on the ground. The collective SLP/SSP vote in the Scottish 1999 parliamentary election would have given them 101,867 votes, it would have secured two additional (along with Tommy) MSPs and secured from the start the party as a serious political player and voice of the class. As it was the year’s 1999 to 2003 beginning with Tommy’s election by the end of the period seen him joined by a further five other SSP MSP even without the strength such a united body could have achieved.
In the General Election of 2001 which gave New Labour and Tony Blair its landslide victory, SSP polled 72,516 across the 72 constituencies which compared to previous Socialist Alliance and SLP votes was significant but only represented 0.3% of the vote.
The decision of SML to more or less wind up and transfer its resources over to a SSA was a bold and principled move, and marked for a time a healthy alternative to the SLP
already starting on its regime of witch hunts and membership ‘voiding’.
Tommy's significance to the SSA was that he was a well known public figurehead around which much of the Scottish left could unite in the same manner that Arthur had appeared to do Britain wide. They resolved that they would not stand against other Socialists or in marginal seats against Labour where their candidature could allow in the Tory. From word ‘go’ it would recognize political tendencies and factions. The Scottish Socialist Alliance was formally launched on April 20th 1996. The Scotsman predicted ‘such a rainbow coalition could dissolve in the sunlight’. Fusing socialism, and national identity the first election results were encouraging despite derision from New Labour and the media. Truth was Socialism was put back firmly on the public agenda and no one at this time could now ignore it.
The years between 99 and 2003 marked a great revival of radical socialist politics and growth in Scotland; it began with the election of Sheridan and concluded with him being joined by another five Scottish Socialist Party MSP. Election results and MSP are not the only criteria of judgment of course, but on any other yardstick too this period marked a high tide, and Tommy was central within it. He fully came of age when he was elected to the Scottish parliament. “He became the commonly acclaimed stand out MSP and parliamentary performer despite also being the hardest working elected politician outside the Parliament…he laid down a slew of bills: and he put the SSP in a position of lift-off as a mainstream socialist political party.” The iconic image which went across Scotland of the first Scottish parliament was of Tommy, fist clenched, taking the oath of allegiance under protest and duress. “The Herald believed the image became a ‘legend’. Tommy describes the years 99 to 2003 as ‘a rollercoaster’ a constant speaking tour to places he had only ever heard of before. He consciously sees himself as ‘the mouthpiece’ of the movement which stood behind him. He raises questions of particular strikes in the floor of parliament, the wages of the workers in parliament themselves, was a guest at innumerable strike rallies and picket lines often in the teeth of hostility from National Union leaderships.
The press relationship with Tommy starts to sour around 2000 with his further arrest at Faslane in anti Trident protests, the Record labeled him Pillock no 1 and first coined the title Working Class Zero over SSP policy for legalization of Cannabis. It was around this time too that the press started to notice him as “sun tanned designer MSP” .
At the same time he was still writing articles for The Sunday Times, Morning Star, the Mirror and Evening Times. He began a weekly page in Daily Mirror in Jan 2003. But it was becoming clear Tommy liked centre stage:-
“A fundamental weakness is that he is not a team player… (so) when the other five were elected, I think it was a severe dent to his personal profile and position as leader of the party, the only SSP MSP and so on. You can call it personal pride or vanity but I think he enjoyed being in that position...it was a shock to him and I don’t think he ever accepted that...or that the other five were talented individuals …He’s been used to being top dog, well before 2003..so his nose was out of joint.” Felicity Garvie (pg 140) parliamentary office manager for Tommy Sheridan 1999-2006. EC SSP.
Where It All Goes Wrong, is probably a question of personal morality, tactics, and principle judgment. Tommy wins a spectacular victory against the News of the World for defamation. Tommy becomes the most famous Scot in the world next to Sean Connery. Essentially to the public News of the World set up and attacked Tommy because he was a working class hero and enemy of the system. “Tommygate” would run from 9th November 2004 to 26 January 2011 beginning with his great victory, as a champion of the underdog which ends in the process of the whole SSP initiative and the hopes of millions coming to a crashing end.
Essentially the NOTW had ‘exposed’ Tommy’s attendance at sex clubs, something he swore was untrue. The trouble starts, either with attendance at Cupids sex club in Manchester, or his decision to fight it out in the courts playing a huge game of bluff believing “they’ve got fuck all’. His choice was to either face it down, ‘so what? That’s my business’ being one possible response, it being a private matter between himself and his partner to sort out. Or as he chose, believing the revelation unchallenged would destroy him, he went for broke.
The biggest flaw in this strategy was it wasn’t just him who stood to be broke if someone called the bluff or broke ranks. He wasn’t on his own in the club, loads of other punters had been there, people knew who he was, he hadn’t just been on one occasion. He chanced on the other side letting out that they had either indisputable photographic evidence or some other smoking gun, in which case he would drop the defamation action or if they couldn’t substantiate the allegation he would bounce them through the courts. The EC of the SSP as soon as the accusations break have him into a special meeting to discuss the crisis, since members of the EC who are his close friends know he is a regular attendee at the club, he comes clean and owns up to them, while announcing his belief that NOTW has no evidence and they will settle at the door of the court. Very reluctantly the EC goes along with this strategy and agrees to stay stum, but essentially on the basis the case isn’t going to go to court because he is in grave danger of loosing and making a not very good situation catastrophic. The meeting is of course minuted.
The bones of the facts are that in late 2001 Tommy attended Cupids with a freelance journalist who went on to try and sell what looked like an ace scoop. News got back to the SSP EC and Alan Coombes Tommy’s closest comrade and confidant confronted him over it. At this stage he denied it. The story still circulated, and when next confronted within the organization he accepted it was true. But it carried on, stories started to circulate about an orgy at Moat House Hotel, some of Tommy’s friends had been there and weren’t being quiet about the wild goings on later the same year (2002) Tommy returned to Cupids but the media had been alerted to it. In Oct 2004 the story broke that an unnamed MSP ‘was swinging’ Tommy again owned up internally that it was him again. The advice of the NEC was to admit it and fight it as a personal morality issue.
Tommy disagreed and at subsequent SSP EC meetings argued his intention to “fight the allegations”. 21 members of the SSP EC attended the four hour meeting including Barbara Scott the minute taker. To make matters worse, Tommy recites all the facts of this meeting, his coming clean that it was all true etc to McNeilage, who just for the record makes a secret tape of what is essentially a confession. When the full minutes were written up they read:-
Tommy Sheridan’s contribution: The meeting began with an introduction by Tommy Sheridan, He responded to a recent article in the News Of The World which alleged a married MSP had visited a swingers/sex club in Manchester in company of a female journalist who had now written a book about her lifestyle. Tommy admitted to the meeting that he had in fact visited the club on two occasions, in 1996 and 2002 with close friends……He reported that he had met with Keith B and Alan Mc and asked them for the opportunity to fight this on his own and for other party members if questioned about it to either give no comment or refer all questions to himself. He said he was confident there was no proof in existence he had visited the club, Tommy said he was not prepared to resign as Convenor unless proof was revealed to exist. His strategy was to deny the allegations and in this regard he had already taken advice from NUJ solicitors…”
The minutes record without exception (other than Tommy) all contributors disagreed with the strategy of denying the allegations. “All felt this would be most damaging for the party. ...All agreed it would be better if Tommy changed his mind about denying the allegations.”
Tommy then resigns as Convenor of the party after further deputations from the EC and his insistence on fighting a defamation action against the Party’s view.
In a press statement SSP comments “We understand that recent allegations in a Murdock newspaper may be the subject of a future libel action by Tommy Sheridan and consequently the Scottish Socialist Party does not wish to comment on matters concerning the allegation.” On 24 November 2004 Tommy requests the EC not to distribute the minutes of the previous meeting at which he admits the visits. This was agreed.
From here on in Tommy begins to play out the perfectly aggrieved and outraged innocent, fighting the anti union anti socialist press monolith. The subterfuge could never be publicly admitted despite it being almost widespread knowledge within the SSP. What also clearly starts to happen is Tommy and later his supporters get so deeply into the role, that they clearly forget they are playing a bluff and the allegations are actually true. As things turned out regardless of winning the defamation action against the newspaper the SSP was split, many thought it unprincipled in the extreme to risk the political reputation of the organization and its mission to effectively save the political skin of one its MSP’s.
On the 26th May 2006 he won a National Conference resolution calling for his political defence and for withholding of the explosive minute. “It seems Tommy subscribed to the principle that the truth is what you make it and that one of the spoils of victory is to write its history” (pg 173) Many individuals as well as the organized left gave legitimacy to Tommy’s methods including distortions, lies and character assassination of those who wouldn’t play the game. He believed that if he dropped the court case, his guilt and misjudgment would be proved and he would have no chance of coming back to lead the party and regain his old stardom. In the process he determined to prove that black was white and those who said otherwise were traitors. But first he had a lot of knitting to undo, not least having told a whole room of people at the 9th Nov 2004 EC that he had visited Cupids and then resigned because of that admission. To cover this had been the production of a fake minute to substitute for the actual minute which SSP had agreed to withhold from NOTW in his defence. Alan Combes who had strongly advised Tommy against his course of action was actually jailed for refusing to hand over the minute but this didn’t save him from the designation of traitor. The subsequent production of the fake minute, the author presumes by Tommy or his supporters, was to stop a charge of ‘perverting the course of justice’ when the real minute was destroyed. In the face of his own taped admission in conversation with McNeilage he then charges that the tape is an invention by NOTW and SSP using firstly a spliced tape, then later an actor to imitate Tommy’s voice. Throughout numerous TV and radio and press interviews he argued indeed black was white and his total innocence, in order to do this he was forced to charge all his former comrades who had decided by then to tell the truth, with lying and being in a conspiracy with the NOTW and the state. “In the 2006 case, Tommy constructed the fabrication that the 11 SSP members were guilty of “the mother of all stitch ups” against him and of perjuring themselves in court to do so.” Meantime the SWP and Socialist Party England all condemned the SSP in forcing Tommy to resign as convenor before the case.
The News Of The World did not however cave in as Tommy had expected, they charged that their story was “substantially true”. The Defamation case starts in Edinburgh Court of Session 4th July 2006 and ended 4 August, 23 days. Tommy was suing for £200,000. Tommy’s rational was that the case was not about truth or lies, but what could and could not be proved. His strategy was not to cast doubt on the evidence, but on the process by which the evidence was accumulated and upon the character of the witnesses. The trial saw News call 24 witnesses of them 11 were SSP EC members who attended the 9th Nov 2004 ‘admission’ meeting. Among them were some of Tommy closest comrades and friends. It is perhaps, in light of subsequent charges of ‘grasses and scabs’ that all of them were there against their will, they could not legally refuse to be indicted or called, and once on the stand under oath, their options were to lie and perjure themselves and so risk legal sanction and much else, or simply tell the truth. That they were in that position was entirely due to Tommy’s ill advised choice of action rather than their own universal view to let the charge ride and face it down as an attack on his private life and personal morals.
Calling his own wife Gail to the stand to give evidence on his behalf was a master stroke.
“What is clear is that Gail played a key and starring- almost theatrical-role when cross-examined by Tommy…saying with tears that if the allegations were true “You would be in the (river) Clyde with a piece of concrete tied around you and I would be in court for your murder” (page 182). He was also supported by Steve Arnott of the Highlands and Islands Branch SSP; he offered that it had been “mass delusion” which had caused 11 fellow EC members to recollect Tommy admitting the Cupids visits. Tommy challenged the (reinvented) minute for the meeting, as “dodgy” as it had only surfaced in May 2006. The media reported Tommy’s 85 minute submission as “Spellbinding” and “Barnstorming”. One said it was “the best speech of his career”. After 160 minutes of deliberation the jury found 7:4 in favour of Tommy and awarded him the maximum damages of £200,000. The author speculates, soundly in my view, as to whether the jury actually believed Tommy or just didn’t want him to loose at the hands of the hated News Of The World.
Having won an outstanding victory (and pulled of what was effectively a massive con) one might have thought he would try then and repair the damage done to the party he had
previously given so much to and for. Instead he negotiates an exclusive deal with the News main rival the Daily record for £20,000 and expenses. His story is serialized day by day for a week. The author comments that Tommy seemed to forget the relish the paper would have “...as a Labour supporting paper-in printing stories which helped further undermine the SSP” (pg 186) In the process he continues to attack the SSP EC as scabs liars and perjurers collaborators with the enemy. This nailed any hope of ever reconciling the organizational division and bringing him back to its leadership. Worse, having being so accused those reluctant witnesses for NOTW and deliberately having to fight with one hand behind its back, now had a vested political and principled interest in clearing their names and reputations and went into a counter offensive. Barbara Scott handed into Lothian and Borders police her hand written original minutes of the 9th November 2004 SSP EC meeting. This sets in chain a further Perjury enquiry and the NOTW smells revenge and the whole mess is thrown back into the public arena. Tommy was then charged with Perjury on 16th Dec 2007 (and Gail on 16th Dec 2008 though this was later dropped) meantime.
Tommy had by then set up a new political party, Solidarity eight months before the next round of Parliamentary elections it will be build on a belief that the elaborate lie is truth, Tommy is an honest advocate of principle and worth and SSP is full of traitors and grasses. Solidarity’s reaction was that this was all “a colossal vendetta by the Rupert Murdoch empire…which is rooted in (Tommy’s) role of leader of the anti-poll tax movement” His strategy is that only he of the six SSP MSP will be returned following the break up and scandal. Thus he and Solidarity will be now claim the former mantel and start to retake their old ground back. Actually that election night seen all vestiges of radical socialist presence in Parliament and in the heartlands all but wiped out. The combined SSP Solidarity vote only achieved a third of what SSP had polled in 2003. Despite this Tommy claimed neither the court case nor split had any effect on the results.
When in November 2009 Tommy stands for the Glasgow North Westminster by-election he is fifth, beaten even by the British National Party the least ‘Scottish’ or socialist party in the election and he looses his deposit. His vote in the June 2009 European election where he runs on the No2EU ticket is worse and doesn’t hit 1%. Later calls for both Solidarity and SSP to dissolve into a united Scottish Trade Union and Socialist Coalition were always going to fall on deaf ears given the bad blood.
The Perjury case begins at the end of 2009. Over the course of the trial far too wordy and complex to play back blow by blow in a review, a number of key charges against Tommy are dropped, and by 17th Dec 2010 all charges against Gail are dropped. (the Crown said they were dropped for reasons of public interest and taking into account her personal situation , as the mother of a young child) By 20th Dec six major charges remain against Tommy. After six hours deliberation on 23rd Dec 2010 the jury found Tommy guilty and willfully and knowingly making false statements under oath. It judged him to be the MSP in the News Of the World Story of Oct 31 2004 that he had visited Cupids, had admitted this to SSP EC on 9th Nov 2004 and had had sexual relations with Katrine Trolle. Despite this verdict the jury split decision of 8:6 shows he nearly just nearly pulled it off again, one might say regardless of the evidence (the author calls his case “thin and threadbare”).
Despite the verdict Tommy acknowledged nothing admitted nothing remained defiant in attempting to use the NOTW phone hacking scandal and collapse of the paper subsequently as some kind of proof that his fate was due to this in some unspecified way. There is no evidence (at least so far) that Tommy’s phone is one of the many Celebes phones to be hacked, if there had been one would expect he and his team to have been off like a rocket to claim financial and public recompense.
Tommy enters Barlinnie prison in 2011 with a three year sentence. He appeals on 19 May 2011 claiming he had been denied a fair trial under the European Convention of Human Rights. This was rejected a month later as not having “arguable grounds of appeal”. He appealed this decision too and on Aug 11 2011 the Court of Criminal Appeal dismissed the application for appeal as “not arguable”.
The book is minutely researched and given its scope it is decidedly easy to read and follow. However if I have any criticism it would be of the chapter on Tommy’s alleged sexual predilection (beginning roughly page 264) from facts and real events suddenly we are catapulted into a-priori reasoning based upon highly dubious value judgments about what is and isn’t acceptable sexual morality. I should clarify perhaps that I am not talking here of criticism of Tommy’s disastrous sex club visits and semi public orgies, nor his absurd decision to turn reality on its head by denying them. These are disastrous from a political point of view and from the position he represented for the whole movement and how public judgments of that were represented by public judgments of him. No; those criticisms are well made and I would agree with them, rather this chapter goes beyond PR and tactical or political considerations here. The chapter contains massively patronizing assumptions about the ability of “young women” or rather the inability of “young women” to decide for themselves whether they engage in sexual activity and with whom. Consent isn’t actual consent because Tommy’s apparent “Authority” and “Power” over them renders it not real consent. Tommy is asked by one of the comrades after a one night stand with a young (consensual ) member, “what are your expectations here ?” Eh ? Tommy might well have answered ‘What the fuck has that got to do with you ?’ and he would have been right. The idea that a brief sexual encounter requires some ongoing commitment or ‘meaningful relationship’ is just so much bourgeois moralist shite. Similarly the use of the prefix ‘vulnerable’ before, women, will at once render the women child like, a victim, unable to actually know what she is actually consenting to. What is it that makes her ‘vulnerable’ ? It seems simply being young ipso facto renders one vulnerable without any further need of evidence, the social workers charter to interfere in everyone’s lives on the basis of their own very narrow judgmental yardstick. “vulnerable” is anyone doing anything our betters think they shouldn’t do. Richie Venton
(SSP Glasgow organizer) is given reign to ‘out’ Tommy’s sexual predilections and offer a psychological analysis of the man with no authority other than this is what he thinks, that is it is nothing more than (probably a very jealous and hypocritical moralizing ) opinion. Despite this it is then becomes a jumping off board for a whole construct of historic patterns and sexual behavioural dysfunction, again with nothing more than the –a-priori social worker reasoning mentioned earlier. Tommy’s assertion that “sex was a form of recreation” is quoted as some huge admission of some undisclosed guilt. It is a quote I suspect most of us would have subscribed to in happier moments of our lives, and incidentally why not ? This whole chapter on Tommy’s sexual exploits could be almost any young working class lad’s experience, but here it is quoted as evidence of some guilt. Behind this reasoning is the sort of rational which takes as its starting point that heterosexuality is basically a bloke thing, that it is essentially exploitative by its very nature. The reactionary bourgeois feminist notion that men are the enemy and hetrosex is something women are subjected to. Men hailing their heterosexuality in the way Tommy had, would never under this criteria ever be accepted as say homosexual men doing the same thing. This chapter is by far the weakest in the whole book and represents a sharp diversion from the rest of the exposition; it would have been far stronger without it. But I mention that very much as an irritating aside which doesn’t in any way characterizes the book as such.
Tommy’s contribution to the development of a new wave of radical socialist organization and aspiration in Scotland is beyond question, he was a somebody in the fight for socialism, his work on the streets, and on the picket line and in organizing a mass fight back was invaluable. He took Parliament seriously and was a highly effective parliamentarian. He was also a champion organizer and party builder especially between 1999 and 2003. What makes this whole story, a tragedy is that all of this was brought to a crashing end by Tommy’s own serious errors of judgment and one has to ask if his grip on reality slipped to the point where he no longer knew fact from fiction. Tommy’s impact on the ‘movement’ and working class struggle is coloured by to what extent we think his latter failings destroyed his early positive contribution, this question is often asked in relation to Arthur Scargill and indeed the Soviet Union . Has the overall damage done in their final degenerations made the overall situation for socialism worse now than it would have been without them ? Such is pure speculation and history cannot be unwound and replayed, the event happened. He gambled his most precious achievements his name, his credibility, trust and the respect of large swathes of the Scottish working class. The crazy thing is that none of the subsequent loss was due actually to his sexual behaviour; it was all down to the very public elaboration of a huge lie. He was jailed not for being a red or because of sexual appetites but for being a liar and a fabricator, in the court of public opinion he was convicted of being a hypocrite. What prompted his bizarre and destructive road to hell one can only conclude was due to his vanity and love of power and the limelight, and a fear of being confronted with a reality of him which didn’t fit the carefully manufactured public image of him he had worked so long to create. It is recognizing the need to balance the past in order to come forward that the old Communist principle of self criticism was practiced. Tommy is still a highly public figure, Tommy still wishes to make a contribution, but one feels without a totally public and honest self critical assessment of past mistakes by him , facing up to the disastrous road of falsehood and distortion he wrought in order to save his political skin, that contribution will be permanently crippled. Evidence seems to suggest rather than confront the past and come clean in order to make an honest reassessment of his life and move forward he still persists with the lie. Following the phone hacking revelations by NOTW Tommy’s phone was found to have been hacked too. Undoubtedly this was part of their racket to expose celleb’s private sexual lives to sell newspapers, rather than a political conspiracy to frame a socialist activist as such. That the NOTW hated Tommy’s politics is beyond doubt, that this made any difference whatever to the unrolling of events is however highly unlikely. It was Tommy’s refusal to listen to sound advice of comrades and friends and face the allegations full on and not elaborate the whole defence fabrication which was the cause of his downfall not any actions by NOTW or the police out to get him. That Tommy’s supporters and he himself have clutched out at this straw of new evidence against the NOTW is evidence that they still don’t get it and as such will be unable to move on. Prospects for re-uniting the two SSP and Solidarity factions are nil but frankly even if they did is too late to regain their earlier reputations and standing in the class , both are now wizened and deflated balloons from a long gone wedding from which the guests left long ago.
There are sadly other comparisons one could draw with this case, Derek Hatton and Arthur Scargill come to mind , and especially in the latter case the same blind unflinching loyalty that says “my leader right or wrong” and forgives even the biggest deviations from socialist practice and honesty in some misguided ‘loyalty’ that conflates the leader with the cause. There is a sound anarchist slogan “Too many chiefs not enough anarchists” in fact in the case of the SSP and SML mass involvement mass leadership mass democracy were not practiced. A small tight knit cabal of individuals practically ran the whole show with Tommy increasingly at its centre. Tommy became the basket in which the SSP put all its political eggs and its total reputation. That he was aware of his crucial strategic position to the organization and the class at large in Scotland, and still behaved in a way which would lay the organization wide open to just such an attack marks crass irresponsibility. That he compounded all of this by playing a huge game of poker with nothing with bluff and blather knowing the entire SSP survival depended on it, and against the universal advice of his comrades throws into doubt his values certainly his judgment. But the organization itself, had it been build as a revolutionary organization would have recognized this and taken measures early on to stop this happening. The left and labour movement has to learn the lesson bought so dearly by Tommy, very minimally stop defending the politically irresponsible actions of our leaders.