the sheridan perjury trial

3 01 2011

The split on the Scottish Left between celebrity populist and genuine socialist politics

On May 1st, 2003 six Scottish Socialist Party members were elected to Holyrood. From December 23rd, 2010, by far the best-known (former) member of the SSP, Tommy Sheridan, faces a jail sentence for committing perjury, following in the footsteps of Lord Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken. At a time of unprecedented attacks on the working class, led by a Tory-Lib-Dem government at Westminster, transmitted by an SNP government in Holyrood, and taken up by Labour, SNP, Lib-Dem and Tory councillors throughout Scotland, there is only one remaining socialist (SSP) representative – Jim Bollan, the councillor for the Leven ward in West Dunbartonshire.

How has this sad state of affairs come to pass, and is there anything socialists can usefully learn from all this?  Perhaps the most immediate lesson is the incompatibility of trying to build a socialist organisation through promoting a celebrity leader. Furthermore, this has been highlighted, in the UK, not only by the example of Tommy Sheridan, but also of Derek Hatton (CWI/Militant), Arthur Scargill (Socialist Labour Party) Ken Livingstone (one-time Left independent) and George Galloway (Respect).

However, the fact that the same mistake keeps repeating itself shows that a significant section of the Left in the UK is more attracted to populist politics, than to genuine socialist politics, where all members are treated as equals and are encouraged to think for themselves.

Sexual prudery or simple hypocrisy

Another shortcoming has been the failure of much of the Left in Scotland, following from Tommy Sheridan’s lead, to be able to deal with sexual politics. In the face of salacious newspaper attacks regarding their sex lives, Bertie Ahern and John Prescott, to name but two prominent politicians, have managed to handle the press far better. “So what?” or, “People’s sexual lives are a private matter”, should have been the obvious response by any socialist to the News of the World accusations.

Tommy could not do this because his populist politics had led him, at every media opportunity, to cultivate his own celebrity image. He portrayed himself as being part of ‘the perfect family’ – Tommy, Gail and “my little princess”, Gabrielle (which perhaps revealingly puts Tommy and Gail in the position of king and queen!)

This highlights how deeply bourgeois ideology, including their hypocritical ‘morality’, is embedded in our class.  It points to the urgent need for a discussion amongst socialists as to what attitudes and practice, regarding personal sexual and emotional relations, we might positively promote.  At the moment we appear to have few answers to such questions and it offers our enemies a permanent Achilles heel to wound us.

Socialists are not sexual prudes and should defend a person’s right to engage in any consensual sexual activity of their choice. They should not be drawn into the sleeze mongering of the tabloid press, whether it be the News of the World or the Daily Record. However, any socialist makes him or herself a hostage to fortune, if they demonstrate hypocrisy in their attitudes and behaviour in this particular arena. John Major’s public support for ‘family values’, whilst personally leading a somewhat different private life, had already demonstrated how the media would deal with such hypocrisy.

In both Sheridan’s ill-considered court case against the News of the World and the subsequent perjury trial, he attempted to appeal to the jury as a guiltless Daniel O’Donnell-type figure, whilst hitting out at the ‘sexual misdemeanors’, mental health and socialist factionalism of the other witnesses. Having abandoned any possible socialist grounds for fending off attacks by the gutter press or the state, Sheridan demonstrated the depths to which he was prepared to go to protect only himself – something his remaining political allies, and even friends and family would be well advised to take note of.

A populist Solidarity and a socialist SSP

The Left in Scotland is now clearly divided. It included those who promote populist celebrity politics. The majority of populist celebrity supporters are to be found in Solidarity, the Scottish Socialist Movement, which constitutes the Tommy Sheridan Fan club. Indeed that is about the only thing that unites this unprincipled political ‘marriage of convenience’. Sheridan also enjoys the support of a number of jaundiced journalists, sometimes former Left supporters, who are now bitterly hostile to organised socialist politics, but are quite happy with individual colourful celebrity politicians, who provide good press copy.

How much longer, he will enjoy this support is another question. Sheridan’s adulatory celebrity soulmate, George Galloway, is now rapidly back peddling, probably having calculated that the Sheridan connection will not help him win support amongst Glasgow’s Muslim community in the forthcoming Holyrood election. He is probably also positioning himself for a return to the Labour Party, if he can show he still has some electoral weight, a la Livingstone.

Opposing such populist celebrity politics are those, primarily in the SSP, who have learned from their earlier mistake of tolerating Tommy Sheridan as he transformed himself into an increasingly self-promotional celebrity figure, no longer reigned in by platform discipline, with the collapse of the International Socialist Movement, he was a member of, along with the majority amongst the SSP leadership.

Still a lack of clarity on the use of bourgeois courts on both sides

Unfortunately, though, despite there being a now deep divide amongst the Left in Scotland, there are still some remaining shared political characteristics, held at the two leadership levels. If these aren’t also dealt with firmly in the aftermath of the perjury trial, this will prevent any political recovery by the SSP.

In particular, neither Sheridan’s supporters, nor the majority of the SSP leadership, have learned one particular fundamental lesson when it comes to the advance of principled socialist politics. You do not go to the bourgeois courts for rulings on how socialists conduct themselves. Such appeals should only be made to the democratic institutions of our class. What chance have socialists got of bringing about socialism in the face of capitalist economic and state power, if we have to run to their courts to sort out our problems in the here and now?

The original unanimous SSP Executive Committee (EC) decision of November 9th, 2004, to advise Tommy not to proceed with his court case, was not taken on the grounds of principle, but on the tactical grounds that the truth behind the sexual allegations would likely surface at some time. Instead of Tommy being instructed to stand down because he was not prepared to take unanimous party advice, a deal was cobbled together, which allowed him to pursue his case as ‘private matter’. The consequences of this misguided decision (as if the media and state were ever going to treat Tommy Sheridan as a non-political private individual) soon became apparent.

Some among the populist wing of the SSP, which could not imagine the party’s existence without Tommy as leader, started to make their guilty annoyance known in leaks to the bourgeois press, before the November 27th National Council (NC) meeting. Later, Alan McCombes, now trying to disentangle an SSP leadership from its previous unquestioning public support for Tommy, responded to this provocation by providing an affadavit to the press, which explained the SSP leadership majority’s actions.

The people, who were effectively bypassed by both sides, were the ordinary SSP members. With the agreement of both sets of protagonists, members had been denied access at the November 27th NC meeting to the minutes of the 9th November EC meeting. Further down the line, the consequences of this became clear. On May 16th, 2006, the state stepped in.  Lady Smith decided, at the Edinburgh Court of Session, to help the News of the World, by demanding the SSP hand over the minutes. Alan McCombes quite correctly refused to hand over the minutes. He ended up in Saughton Jail on May 26th as a consequence – a high price to pay for this earlier mistake.

Sheridan pulls the populists and the CWI and SWP behind his strategy of deceit, and his calls for members to sacrifice themselves for the ‘great leader’

This should have been the point at which Tommy stepped in and said that enough was enough. He should have dropped his court case, now that the full consequences of his course of action had become apparent. Some of his remaining supporters, including the recently elected Convenor, Colin Fox, did realise that Tommy’s ‘game was now up’. To their credit, they moved over to the camp of those in the SSP leadership majority who were trying to disentangle themselves from a situation of the party’s own making, in the best possible manner considering the difficult circumstances they now found themselves in.

However, Tommy decided to adopt another course of action and began to group an unholy alliance around himself. This group consisted of the Sheridanistas (his unquestioning supporters in the party) and the hard-wired sectarians amongst the SWP and CWI (who had quite different and mutually antagonistic political agendas). With a jailed Alan McCombes now the centre of members’ and wider media attraction, Tommy helped to devise a scheme, which would put him back in the media limelight.

His supporters, now calling themselves the SSP Majority, decided to push for an emergency National Council meeting on May 28th 2006, which they packed. Here Tommy produced his hate-mongering ‘Open Letter’, which encouraged his supporters to reduce the meeting to a bear garden, in a marked break from previous SSP practice.

As a result, they won a National Council majority calling for Alan McCombes to hand over the minutes to the courts. However, Tommy’s allies had written up a false set of minutes, which they had already handed over to the courts. This action provided the state with the list of people who would be dragged before court to testify, whilst missing out the names of Tommy’s supporters, who had also given their backing to the original genuine set of minutes. From this point onwards, Tommy was able to publicly entangle his supporters in his own continued deceptions. These involved the concoction of an ever more bizarre set of lies.

The biggest of these lies was that it was the SSP leadership majority who were themselves lying over his revelations at the original EC meeting. Here there had been unanimous agreement for the course of action adopted.

Thus the heart of Tommy’s court case against the News of the World was to be the presentation of a completely false story, which involved the sacrifice of the SSP Secretary, Barbara Scott for doing her job, and of those leading SSP members, including four MSPs, Frances Curran, Colin Fox (until recently Sheridan’s ally), Rosie Kane, Carolyn Leckie, who refused to perjure themselves so that he could use his own political position and celebrity status to extract a substantial sum of money from the News of the World for his wife, Gail. The fruits of the politics of populism were made starkly clear. ‘Lesser’ members had to sacrifice themselves for the ‘great leader’.

The real role of SSP platforms and Sheridan’s playing to anti-socialist prejudice

Tommy also decided to appeal to the anti-socialist prejudice of the media, and hopefully, for him, of the majority of the jurors. This meant he conjured up a secret faction, which had always been out to get him. He called this previously non-existent organisation the ‘United Left’. The real United Left only formed, on June 11th, 2006, as a temporary platform, in self defence, after the antics of Tommy’s supporters in the SSP Majority platform, at the May 28th NC meeting.

Tommy’s own supporters did include the longstanding factionalists of the SWP and CWI, but even they had been forced to moderate their sectarian practices at earlier SSP gatherings, when a united SSP membership showed low toleration for such behaviour.

Back in November 2004, though, Tommy and some of his later supporters, such as Steve Arnott and Jock Penman, were in the same platform, the International Socialist Movement, as Keith Baldassara, Frances Curran, Catriona Grant, Alan McCombes, Richie Venton and others, who ended up on the opposite sides as the internal dispute developed.

However, many people, who came to oppose Tommy’s utterly wrong-headed course of action, were never members of the ISM, or the SSP Womens Network in 2004, and didn’t become members of the United Left in 2006. The accusation of a ‘faction-ridden’ party was a central component in Tommy’s case. The SSP could therefore be denigrated by cynical journalists and pilloried in front of the jurors. Such anti-socialist baiting may well have contributed to Tommy’s victory in his first court case. He certainly thought so, because he resorted to the same tactic in the perjury trial, where he made barbed comments about the CWI, some of whom were now his allies and supporting courtroom witnesses!

Sheridan, as a celebrity populist politician, does not want to be held accountable to any political organisation, whether it be a platform, party or ‘movement’. Appeals to a celebrity promoting media, or being seen publicly in the company of other celebrities, are the ways by which he now gains much of his political support.  A backing party or ‘movement’ may provide additional help, but only if it is constituted as a ‘Tommy Sheridan Fan Club’, which never questions the ‘great leader’.

Sheridan and his allies make up excuses to avoid real accountability for their anti-party actions

When Tommy’s court case came, the jurors quite rightly dismissed the evidence of all those who had been paid by the News of the World. However, despite Tommy’s shameful personalised attacks, and the hyped-up accusations of factionalising, to appeal to anti-socialist prejudice, other SSP witnesses held back, not wishing to provide aid to the News of the World. (Sheridan was to shamelessly use the fact that SSP witnesses did not reveal his full duplicity at this trial, in his attempt to undermine them in the subsequent perjury trial; whilst also continuing with his anti-socialist diatribes in court). These witnesses had absolutely nothing to gain except their self-respect. They were looking to a post-trial SSP conference to hold Tommy to account.

When Tommy was acquitted on 4th August, 2006, SSP Convenor, Colin Fox welcomed his victory over the News of the World. Tommy’s wrecking anti-party actions could now be debated, along with any criticisms of the leadership majority’s handling of the case, where they always should have been – within the party itself. Tommy announced that he was standing for Convenor against Colin.

So members were now provided with a clear choice. On one hand were those who supported populist celebrity politics, and who thought that some party leaders held a privileged position, which it was the duty of others to uphold at whatever personal cost; and in which political sects could behave as they liked. On the other hand were those who wanted to build a principled socialist organisation, where all members were treated as equal, and where platforms worked for the greater good of the party, by using their different political experiences to lift party debate and action to a higher level.

However, this choice was such an obvious ‘no-brainer’ that Tommy and his allies, had to devise another course of action to avoid the immediate consequences of their actions, just as in the aftermath of the release of Alan McCombes from jail.  On no account would Tommy face the accountability of the wider SSP membership.

Tommy was now confident that his own political supporters would never attempt to bring him to account. So he upped the ante, and wrote a disgusting and well-paid article in the Daily Record, attacking those SSP members who had opposed him, showing particular vehemence for the women involved. Just as the two sets of court proceedings have revealed a massive gap between Tommy, ‘the perfect family man’, and his secret sexual alter ego; so his press and courtroom attacks on women have highlighted the massive gap between Tommy, ‘the charmer of the ladies’, and his underlying misogynism. Some of his supporters quickly jumped to order.

However, the prime purpose of Sheridan’s ‘scab’ attack in the Daily Record was to create a smokescreen to justify not being held to account at the planned special SSP Conference. Instead, a new party, Solidarity, would be formed.  The condition for membership was unquestioning public support for Tommy, right or wrong. The ‘great leader’ was effectively ‘annointed’ at Solidarity’s founding conference, to the accompaniment of his mother Alice Sheridan singing The Impossible Dream! The leaderships of the CWI and SWP had already signed up. They demanded only that they be allowed to behave in an equally unaccountable way; but in their cases, not to promote any personal celebrity status, but their own sectarian ends.

Sheridan leads his followers into the political desert

Some claim that Sheridan has become such a victim of his own ego that he has started to believe all his own fabrications. If this is the case, then Solidarity’s  leaders also entered Sheridan’s fantasy world. They publicly claimed that Solidarity would overtake the six MSPs gained by the SSP in 2003, at the next Holyrood election in 2007. And his political advisors in the CWI and SWP were meant to be sharp Marxist politicians, able to see the balance of class and political forces! In the end, although every Solidarity candidate, whether at Holyrood or council level, stood under the ‘Tommy Sheridan’ brand label; but not even Sheridan was able to hold on to his Holyrood seat.

However, one Solidarity member, Ruth Brown, had been indeed persuaded that Solidarity offered the best new political opportunities. She was elected in Glasgow as their sole councillor (in the same election as the very different and principled socialist, Jim Bollan in West Dunbartonshire). However, she soon came to realise that joining Solidarity was not her best career move. So she joined the Labour Party, quickly throwing her lot in with its corrupt leader, the now sacked Stephen Purcell!

The perjury investigations provide a cover for the state to conduct a massive intelligence-gathering exercise and to organise a socialist-baiting trial

The clearest indication that some Solidarity members had lost all sense of reality, and were ‘tripping out’ on a hyped-up sectarian triumphalism, was a new call made by certain of their supporters in the media. An article in the Edinburgh Evening News suggested that those SSP members, who had failed to back Sheridan in court, should face perjury charges, now that he had won his court case. This was not a smart move!  Quite clearly, the state, having already been provided with the opportunity to intervene in the internal affairs of the SSP, through Sheridan’s earlier actions, quickly took up this invitation. Furthermore, their perjury investigations weren’t confined to the SSP witnesses.

It was certainly the case that either one side or another had perjured itself in court. Perjury in court is an everyday event, which is normally ignored. However, when it involves elected public figures, who misuse their position for personal gain (or to publicly discredit and undermine another elected representative, if Sheridan’s accusations had been true), then the state is much more likely to step in. This is true whatever the politics of the accused, as the case of the Archer and Aitken, two Tories, had already shown.

However, there was an additional reason why the state was eager to finance this particular perjury case. The police investigation would be useful cover for a massive intelligence-gathering exercise on the Left; whilst the ensuing court case would provide the opportunity to set-up a piece of political theatre, in which socialists would publicly tear each other to pieces. The key SSP witnesses, and even a few of the Solidarity witnesses, tried to avoid falling into this particular trap in court, but Sheridan himself played to the anti-socialist and populist prejudices with great gusto. Therefore, from the state’s point of view, the £4M on the police investigation and the court case was well spent.

Politically responsible and politically irresponsible defensive actions from the SSP leadership

To their great credit, leading SSP and former SSP activists – including Barbara Scott, Alan McCombes, Richie Venton, Keith Baldassara, Frances Curran, Rosie Kane, Carolyn Leckie and Colin Fox, spoke truthfully and without personal animosity in court. It was their evidence, coupled to that of a number of completely independent witnesses, which vindicated the SSP in the eyes of the jury.

However, Sheridan’s provocative and calculated Daily Record attack on August 7th, 2006, had pushed some SSP members to politically indefensible actions, despite the SSP’s own 2006 post-trial Conference decisions. These made it clear that any resort to bourgeois courts or media to settle political grievances was unacceptable.

George McNeilage’s decision to take £200,000 from the News of the World for Tommy’s taped ‘confession’ completely undermined his credibility before any serious jury member, who would discount paid-for ‘evidence’.  Worse still, it threatened to undermine those SSP members trying to clear their name with no personal gain, other than upholding their commitment to truth and integrity.  Once the party conference had taken a decision on how members should conduct themselves, McNeilage’s actions should have been publicly disowned.

Sheridan’s Daily Record attack also provoked an understandably irate Frances Curran, now the SSP party co-spokesperson, to go to the court for a ruling against his completely false accusation of ‘scabbing’. Once again, this was against the 2006 SSP post-split conference decision opposing any such course of action.  The hold of old CWI politics over otherwise very critical former members was surely demonstrated in Frances’ belief that a bourgeois court would find any accusation of ‘scabbing’ reprehensible. Scabbing is something that is actively encouraged under the law. The decision of the SSP leadership to let Frances go ahead, not with official party backing, but as a private individual, just repeated the earlier mistake made with Sheridan at the November 26th 2004 EC. But, at least, Sheridan was asked to stand down whilst he did so!

Furthermore, other leading members’ resort to grandstanding to prevent any meaningful discussion at Conference, EC or NC meetings on socialist unity, whilst the perjury case was proceeding, left many existing and former members, as well as supporters, wondering whether the SSP leadership is really serious about socialist unity. Or, did they want this to take second place to a permanent war with Sheridan and Solidarity. Once again, such a dead-end approach is in complete opposition to the unanimously adopted motion on socialist unity, taken at the 2006 conference.

Socialist unity can not be rebuilt through triumphalist posturing

Since the Sheridan perjury trial verdict on December 23rd, some SSP members’ contributions have taken a similar triumphalist tone to that of leading Solidarity members after Sheridan’s court victory on August 4th, 2006.

Sheridan now faces a jail sentence, which will have a devastating effect, particularly on his family. Although the misuse of an elected representative’s position for personal gain should indeed be recognised as an offence (just as socialists condemn MP’s financial corruption at Westminster), the SSP should publicly declare its opposition to Sheridan’s imprisonment. Socialists are against jailing for non-violent offences.

The recent Scottish Socialist Youth post-perjury trial statement displays some unwelcome triumphalist features, but is at least clear on opposing Sheridan’s jailing and the need for restorative justice. Sheridan and Solidarity leaders’ actions have wrecked the hard fought for socialist unity, which had shown its greatest strength in 2003. Neither the state nor the bourgeois courts have any interest in defending this legacy – indeed quite the opposite. It is for these crimes that Sheridan should face real accountability for his actions in democratic socialist and working class arenas. This is what he so assiduously avoided when he ran away from the planned 2006 post-trial SSP Conference.

Some people, though, ended joining up Solidarity for misguided reasons. This included lack of understanding of what was really going on (not helped by the SSP leadership majority’s later regretted, own ‘private deal’ with Sheridan), prior political allegiances and personal friendships. Many will now see the complete failure of the course of action pursued by Solidarity’s  leadership, with the aid of the leaderships of both the CWI and SWP. This is why the SSP needs to re-emphasise its 2006 post-split Conference decision to welcome such members back without recriminations.

Rebuilding socialist unity on sound principles

However, all members, whether already in the party, rejoining again, or coming in as completely new members, should be informed that the organisation they are in, or coming to, completely rejects celebrity populist politics, treats everybody equally, and encourages independent thinking. It also refuses to resort to bourgeois courts or the media for rulings on how it, or any of its members, conduct their political lives. If these lessons are indeed leaned and taken on board, then socialists in Scotland (and hopefully elsewhere too) will be in a much better position to develop the sort of organisation, which still needs to be built. This is so we can begin to confront the rulers of the current crisis-ridden corporate imperial global order and UK state, and all those political parties, which continue to defend the completely indefensible. This would make a major contribution to rebuilding socialist unity.

Allan Armstrong, Republican Communist Network and SSP member,  2.1.11

The article above is Allan Armstrong’s follow-up to the article he originally wrote for Emancipation & Liberation, no. 13.which can be found at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2006/10/03/a-critique-and-exposure-of-tommy-sheridan/

The official SSP statement in response to the jury’s decision in the perjury trial can be found below. The RCN welcomes and broadly endorses this statement.

There is undoubtedly much more to be said, and the SSP has already arranged that all matters arising
 from the trial will be addressed at a special post-trial Conference. Here the RCN will be following up the motions it supported at the post-split Conference. Some of the background and the issues raised can be found at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/category/publications/emancipation-liberation/issue-13/

The motions supported by the RCN at the 2006 post-split Conference can also be found after the official SSP statement.

Kevin McVey
SSP National Secretary

Tommy Sheridan’s conviction today for perjury was inevitable.

Six years ago, as leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, he proposed to sue a tabloid newspaper over stories he knew to be true and demanded that our party went along with his lies. All his closest friends and political allies of 20 years urged him not to take such a
reckless course of action.

He will now be dealt with by the judge. We have no desire for vengeance.

What is more important is that all those who have been falsely denounced by him and his allies as liars, plotters, perjurers and forgers have been cleared.

The idea that there was a conspiracy involving Rupert Murdoch, Lothian and Borders Police and the SSP is nonsense and yet this is the narrative that Tommy Sheridan’s supporters publicly promoted for the past 4 years.

By his actions over six years, Tommy Sheridan has disgraced himself and negated his political contribution to the socialist cause over 25 years. History will now record that he did more harm to the socialist cause in Scotland than any good he ever did it.

That astonishing conclusion would not have been thought possible at the height of the poll tax struggle he led so well, or during his early period in the Scottish Socialist Party and Scottish Parliament.

The SSP reaffirms that its aim is to defend the interests of working people, the millions against the millionaires and to fight for a socialist transformation of society in the interests of the majority.

We now draw a line under this sorry saga and move on. The Scottish Socialist Party has been tested to the limit over the past six years and has proven it is a party of principles and integrity.

In this time of savage attacks by the rich against the poor, Scotland more than ever needs a strong left wing socialist party that can be trusted.

OCTOBER 20th, 2006 (POST-SPLIT) SSP CONFERENCE

Motion 1 put forward by the National Executive and Anniesland branch

Socialist Unity

This National Conference salutes the courageous, principled defence of the SSP and the interests of socialism by all those who have remained as SSP members during the recent crisis. We emerge stronger in our determination to sustain and build a united, democratic, party of solidarity and socialism, committed to fighting for an independent socialist Scotland.

Conference reaffirms our founding aims of building a broad, inclusive, united socialist party, based on class struggle politics, which simultaneously stands up against inequality and discrimination on grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age.

We are proud to have developed policies that engage with the everyday needs, desires and struggles of working class people and others moving into action against the poverty, inequalities, injustices, racism, sectarianism, sexism, environmental destruction and war that are the offspring of capitalism – and which link these fighting demands with our broader goals of an independent socialist Scotland and international socialism.

We recognise that the project of socialist unity launched in 1998, with phenomenal growth since, has raised the hopes of hundreds of thousands in Scotland and of the left internationally. The wrecking tactics of a minority has damaged that project and those hopes, but we are confident that our unblemished principles, our unrivalled track record, our fighting socialist policies, and our dedicated, genuine socialist membership will rebuild the strength of the SSP around those founding principles.

We resolve to build the SSP as a pluralist party that respects different shades of socialist opinion within its ranks, with open democratic debate but which then aims for public unity in action around democratically agreed policies and campaigns.

This conference notes with regret the formation of an alternative socialist organisation in Scotland, with a political platform indistinguishable from that of the SSP.

Conference further notes that this organisation appears to be founded not on the basis of political difference with the SSP, but rather as the culmination of recent attacks on the SSP.

Conference further notes that some of the comrades have left the SSP for this new formation for different reasons, such as personal loyalty to individuals or platforms.

Conference believes that the interests of the working class in Scotland and internationally are best served by a united movement,

Conference therefore affirms that, despite the misguided actions of some, any individual who has left the SSP will, at any time in the future, be welcomed back as full members of the party without recriminations.

Principled unity is our strength. We have a duty to the working class and the cause of socialism to maintain socialist unity and to conduct ourselves in a combative, determined, confident, but friendly manner aimed at convincing thousands that the SSP’s principles and policies coincide with their interests. The future is ours, provided we collectively seize it.

(passed overwhelmingly)

Motion 2 put forward by Midlothian branch

Use of the courts and the media

This SSP National Conference agrees to adopt the following policies:-

a) SSP members should avoid resort to the state’s courts when seeking redress for politically motivated attacks on their behaviour

b) When SSP members are subjected to politically motivated attacks by the state or media, they should be able to call upon the support of the SSP National Executive to conduct a party campaign including the following tactics as deemed appropriate:-

i) articles in the party’s press
ii) direct appeals to the trade union members in the state bodies and/or media responsible
iii) calls for boycott actions

c) SSP members should not resort to the non-party media when making allegations against other SSP members. Such allegations should be brought initially before the appropriate party body at the level concerned with the right to appeal to a higher level, the ultimate appeal being the SSP Conference.

d) The elected press officer should be responsible for day to day responses to the outside media, when members are under attack. The press officer is directly responsible, initially to the National Executive, then to the National Council, and finally to the National Conference.

(passed overwhelmingly)

Motion 45 put forward by Dundee branches

Adopting standard practice for SSP minutes

The SSP Conference agrees to adopt the following practice for minute taking at National Conference, National Council and National Executive meetings, and all sub-committees where minutes are usually taken.

a) These minutes should confine themselves to:-
* names/initials of apologies, members present and who leaves the meeting
* key political arguments made
* decisions taken
* matters of a personal nature should be omitted, unless with the agreement of the person/s concerned

b) Individuals or groups can submit position papers in their own name providing greater information if they feel it is required

c) When a minute has been agreed by the next appropriate meeting of that body, it becomes part of the SSP’s historical record and should not be further altered (although bodies they are accountable to may disagree and make their own views clear in their own minutes)

(defeated in favour of an Edinburgh Central motion upholding existing practice)

Motion 15 put forward by the RCN platform

Citizens not Subjects

This Conference agrees to supplement the SSP’s economic and social manifesto and campaign for the 2007 Holyrood election, People not Profit, with a political and democratic manifesto and campaign, Citizens not Subjects.

Conference further agrees to include the following demands (which can be reworded or fine-tuned for agitational purposes) under this rubric, along with other appropriate demands agreed by subsequent National Council meetings:-

1. Defend our civil rights – Oppose state ID cards
2. Defend communities under attack – Support asylum seekers and migrant workers in the face of racist laws and attacks
3. Support workers’ freedom to organise – Oppose the Anti-Trade Union laws
4. Support people’s freedom to demonstrate – Oppose the Criminal Justice Act
5. Extend the franchise – Votes for over 16’s
6. Support the Calton Hill Declaration – Oppose the state’s Crown Powers
7. Support popular resistance to US and British imperial wars – Close down NATO’s military bases in Scotland
8. For a democratic and secular Scottish republic

(passed by a large majority)

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21 responses

3 01 2011
Barry

Will the working class in scotland regard the SSP as a party that can be trusted or a party with principles and integrity? Does the party have a future in other words? There does not seem to be an assement of this central question.

If George mcneilage is a member it is not simply a question of public disowning but expulsion,surely the call for his expulsion should have been made or supported? But given the widespread lack of elementary socialist principles in the SSP Regarding the media and the state, how many party leaders would be left if expulsions for the refusal or failure to repect basic socialst values were put into place.

The modest demand in motion 15 for a democratic or democratic bourgeois republic was passed. But was this restriction to democratic demands due to the low level of political culture in the SSP ?

4 01 2011
sandy

The RCN refused to support a motion put forward by Workers Unity tendency members at SSP conference in 2006 condemning the actions of George McNeilage in selling his tape to the NOTW.

The fact is that the SSP leadership called for a perjury investigation by the police into Sheridan and his associates. This was a break from any socialist principle. Leading members of the SSP went to a police station with SSP minutes and to inform the police that they had evidence of a crime.

Leading SSP members have volunteered information re private conversation they have had with TS and have supported the actions of McNeilage

The RCN have either supported or kept silent re all these anti socialist actions by the SSP leadership

strange type of communists indeed these RCN supporters

Anyway the SSP is finished. Their adoption of anti working class nationalism has eventually resulted in them breaking from even the most basic of working class principles

4 01 2011
Anonymous

Spare us from more talk about principles! The Sheridan saga has been a total disaster for the British left. The pissing competition over who was more or less principled suggests how abstracted from everyday reality debate about this whole business has been.I appreciate this nuanced assessment here and think it is more even handed and at the coal face than most others on the left which have been prone to arrogance.

Who gives a toss about blame at this late stage? The terrible damage has been done. Recovery is in order. (Unless you want the consequences even worse.)The present online discourse about Sheridan and the SSP is symptomatic of how stuffed the English left is. It cannot focus on the big historical picture — its supposed collective strategy — as it drowns in its own venom.

There are two key imperatives I think. The first has to be the continuing recovery of the SSP from the political fallout. The second is for the CWI , the SWP and George Galloway/Respect to step back from itheir long term spin doctoring about the whole business and their cynical manoevreing and sabotage in Scotland so that the the Scottish left can rebuild itself on its own terms. Any future left aggregation in Scotland will have to include the SSP. It is sectarian madness to entertain any alternative perspective.

To aspire instead at this stage to settle accounts is infantile.

4 01 2011
Barry

Yes how dare we criticise the SSP. We should shut up. Its not the SSP which is stuffed but the English left. What was that about venom and nationalist arrogance? Why shamfaced and anoymous?

4 01 2011
sandy

There would never have been a perjury trial if the SSP leadership had not pushed for it and provided the ammo for the crown. After TS won the defamation case the SSP leadership went all out to have TS and his associates jailed by providing all the info they could for the prosecution. The hand written minute- the tape-and information re personal conversations with TS. These actions – in effect calling on the state to prosecute a rival left organization- puts them outside the socialist tradition

Raphie a leading member of the SSP has claimed that the leadership of the SSP did not call for a perjury investigation. This is not true as the following quotes show

One, MSP Carolyn Leckie, said last night: “I have effectively been called a liar
by the court and I want the chance to fight for my reputation. Along with
others, I am considering the option of a complaint against him. I know people
lied in court, but I did not tell lies in court.”

Another senior figure within the faction said: “We are actively considering
going to the police to lodge a complaint. We have the evidence that we didn’t
commit perjury.”

As commentator Magnus Linklater reminds us in an article in Scotland on Sunday,
Scottish hero Robert Louis Stevenson thought there was nothing uglier than a
court of law: `Hither come envy, malice, and all uncharitableness to wrestle it
out in public tourney.’ To add insult to injury, some members of the SSP are
apparently considering legal action against Sheridan over comments he made
following his victory. Also, MSP Carolyn Leckie says that those whose
reputations had been tarnished would welcome perjury charges as a chance to
clear their names. Lothian and Borders Police yesterday confirmed they are
considering whether to launch a perjury investigation.

“Yesterday, witnesses who gave evidence against Mr Sheridan welcomed news of the
Crown Office investigation, expected to take several weeks.

A spokesman for Carolyn Leckie, an SSP MSP, said that she stood by her testimony
to the jury and was keen to see such an investigation.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1527021/Witnesses-in-Tommy-Sheridan-case-face-pe\
rjury-inquiry.html

6 01 2011
ajohnstone

Yet once more i find myself reading an analysis of this sad and sordid affair that in no way really engages with the real problem – secret EC meetings and secret EC minutes.

8 01 2011
Barry

Yes I agree. The RCN statement is more a comentary by SSP loyalists rather than a communist opposition. The issue is not simply a celebrity leader or the promotion of a celebrity leader. How can communists fight the rulers of the global order with SSP leaders who colaborate with and utilise the capitalist state, including the police and courts.

The fact that the leaders of the SSP lack elementary socialist or communist values raises issues about the nature of the SSP. What role has scottish nationalism played in all this? For leaders to behave in this way indicates a profound lack of democracy in the SSP or a low level of socialist culture in the SSP. The RCN seem remarkably tolerant of the undemocratic methods of the leadership. We are informed that some leaders blocked meaningful debate in leading committees. But they are not even named. A very mild question is raised that if these undemocratic methods continue then unity is threatened. The RCN claims to stand in the tradition of John Maclean. Can you imagine John Maclean saying: if willie Gallagher does not learn some democratic methods and we hope he does, it will threaten our unity with him! There is a very generous view of the SSP leaders in court. It seems they spoke with truth and inegrity. Pity they did not do so previously which is what was decisive.

Indeed it is claimed the SSP was vindicated to the jury. Outside this party patriotism, although the Jury were not convinced by sheridan, the SSP has been widely discredited by the disclosures of of all low unprincipled behavour in the SSP. The question is what future for the SSP?

12 01 2011
Allan Armstrong

We don’t know whether or not the SSP will revive. That will depend on whether it is able to move beyond the correct criticisms of Sheridan, Solidarity, the SWP and CWI, and also take on board the criticisms which RCN have raised, not just now, but throughout the case (see the documentation provided). The forthcoming conference will be one indicator.

However, whether it is shown that the SSP can learn the lessons, or whether a completely new organisation is required, existing SSP members will be a part of either of these possible futures. Nobody, has shown us any other political forces where even the beginnings of a meaningful debate is taking place in Scotland at present.

It is good to see that Sandy has emerged from the mud-wrestling of the Socialist Unity site. He rightly points out that some of those SSP members vilified by Sheridan in his ‘News of the World’ challenge also called for a court case. However, anybody reading my article can clearly see that I had already made the case against the actions of those leading SSP members who have continuing illusions in the state and bourgeois media.

The particular point I would make, in response to Sandy’s observations, is that Carloyn Leckie’s and Barbara Scott’s call for a perjury enquiry was understandable (they make no claim to be revolutionary socialists) in the light of how they had been treated by Sheridan in court. However, it was plain stupidity for Sheridan and some his supporters also to make such a call, given that they had committed perjury (whether or not you agree with this course of action).

Sandy also makes a somewhat tendentious criticism of the RCN over George McNeilage. The only motion at the 2006 SSP post-split Conference, which addressed the issue of socialist handling of the courts and media, was that initiated by the RCN and put forward by the Midlothian Branch (see documentation provided). Furthermore, the proposer Mary McGregor (also RCN), specifically mentioned, indicating her disgust, the George McNeilage tape. There was no public support emanating from Sandy (or anyone else from the Workers Unity platform he was a member of) when the motions from Midlothian or Dundee were debated.

Sandy, whose project had/s always been to break-up the SSP, in favour of his ideal British Socialist Party, obviously relished the post-split difficulties the SSP found itself in. After the RCN initiated motion was passed, against expectations, Sandy then rushed around with his petition calling for an emergency motion specifically on George McNeilage. RCN members discussed it, and thought that the point had already been made by the motion now passed, which pointed to the general lessons to be learned.

It was a judgement call, whether to sign Sandy’s petition or not. We may have been right, we may have been wrong. We decided not to sign Sandy’s petition, given that neither Sandy nor the Workers Unity Platform had anything constructive to offer to take the SSP forward, and certainly had made no offer of support to our motions prior to this.

Subsequent events shown that we were probably correct. Far from the Worker Unity Platform being able to use the crisis in the SSP to draw any significant body of people away to their British Socialist Party perspective, it soon itself fell apart.

This Workers Unity Platform united some of the Left unionists (the CPGB, RDG, AWL and the Glasgow University Critique Group) in the SSP. Some of its former members later involved themselves in another British Left unity initiative – the CPGB’s ‘Campaign for Marxist Party’. David Spencer of ‘the commune’ has provided one of the best and most entertaining analyses of that particular fiasco.

The RCN has continually fought for democracy within the SSP and for a republican socialist ‘internationalism from below’ perspective to counter the Left nationalism of the majority of the SSP leadership and its allies on one hand, and the Left unionism of the SWP, CWI and the Workers Unity Platform on the other.

Of course Sandy’s own Left unionist politics make him view anybody else who opposes him as Left nationalist, despite the continued and public debates between the socialist republicans and real Left nationalists. What Sandy is unable to see is that Left nationalism is but the mirror image of Left unionism and indeed shares many of its features (some Left nationalists are themselves former Left unionists – a pattern to be found in the former USSR and Yugoslavia too).

Sandy himself has not been too scrupulous about his allies, who have drawn upon the very worst aspects of both unionism and nationalism.. The Loyalist and Zionist apologising AWL were part of Workers Unity. The CPGB were also part. They share the same understanding of who constitutes a Scot as the ultra chauvinist Soil nan Gaidheal, The CPGB though can not see the contradiction between their support for Scottish territorial self-determination, when they deny there is a Scottish nation – only a Scottish nationality (ethnic identity). The obvious reactionary logic of such a viewpoint is that any self-determination referendum should be confined to ‘ethnic Scots’ For the CPGB, Northern Irish Loyalists have a much higher claim to being a nation – they are 75% of the way there!

Let’s finish with a point of agreement with Barry though- “The question is what future for the SSP?”

But there is no such question over the future of any British Socialist Party – there isn’t one.

12 01 2011
Barry

i must say that I thought the unprincipled and shabby shambles of the SSP would put a severe dent in Allans Scottish pride. No more talk of the scottish workers being in advance of English workers in the poll tax or collections and agitations for the Liverpool dockers being better in scotland and so on.

But no he ends on a high note of scotish pride. What future for the SSP! What kind of English Question is that? For allan there is no question of a BritIsh Socialist party. There isn’t one. Well is there a scottish socialist party? Thats the point. The convoluted excuses for failing to call for the expulsion of george Mcneilageis not convincing.

My own point of view is this.What would John Maclean have thought? Can you imagine. John Maclean did not join the CPGB. one of the many reasons was because he was against Russian subsidies to the CPGB. A communist party should raise its own finances. It was not a question of individual enrichment or selling comrades to the media or police. Could you imagine what Maclean would have done if Gallagher or some other individual had taken the thirty pieces of silver? Well he will have to learn the lesson!!

Allan still does not name the individuals who blocked democracy in the leading committees or what action the RCN is proposing to prevent further anti democratic action or what action against the individuals who acted against democray in the first place.

As for Leckie actions in calling for purgury action by the police and the bourgeois courts. Well again what would the great John Maclean have said about such a comrade? Well lets face it she is a leader of my party, but she is not as revolutionary as me, so its understandable, it happens!! Probably not!

What future for the SSP?

12 01 2011
sandy

Allan-the RCN refused to support an emergency motion at SSP conference condemning the actions of George McNeilage in selling his tape to the NOTW. The leadership did all it could to stop the matter being debated at conference At the time conference was meeting McNeilage was on TV justifying his actions I had been told by the conference organizing committee that we needed 10 delegate signature to have any chance of the matter being debated. I approached RCN members who refused to sign the motion or support a debate on the matter at conference. when i got the 10 signatures from other delegates ( mostly workers unity but also others) the SSP leadership told me that there was no way this matter was being debated. The RCN sponsored motion said nothing about McNeilages actions. When later disciplinary action was taken against me for raising the Mcneilage question and the other anti working class actions of the SSP leadership on SSP discuss the RCN did not offer me any support to say the least. Indeed one of your members Steve K was very supportive of the actions of Mcneilage in making and selling the tape.

I think it is fair to say that the RCN has done very little to call the SSP leadership to account for its anti working class actions over the McNeilage tape and their call for a perjury trial. Rather it would seem that you have tried to provide cover and excuses for the SSP leadership’s scabby actions

As far as I am concerned the left in britain has never fallen so low as it has
re the actions of the SSP leadership. I have been active for forty years on the
marxist left and none of the groups i have come across would have acted like the
SSP leadership re selling the tape and informing. It is not a small matter. How
can we work with people in the future who have acted in that matter and continue
to justify the actions of McNeilage and co. So I think it is quite right to ask
anyone who comments on the whole affair- do they condemn the scabbing of the SSP
leadership. we should discuss how a section of the
left managed to produce a leadership that supports such scabbing actions. How
did it come to this?

The SSP was not a positive transcendence of the left sects- it had at its
core a rejection of the marxist tradition and an opportunist adaptation to
scottish nationalism. I know many people had illusions in the SSP but we can now
see clearly the result- a scab leadership working for the crown and helping destroying solidarity among socialists

Even at this very late stage it is still be possible for the SSP membership to take
steps to repair the damage their leadership has inflicted on the socialist
movement in Scotland re SSP actions in respect of the trial of TS

1) Fully investigate the circumstances surrounding the making and the selling of
the tape by George mcNeilage to the NOTW. Expel those responsible from the SSP

2) Condemn the handing in of SSP “minutes” to the police station and the call by
some SSP leaders for a perjury investigation by the police. take action against
those members responsible

3) expel Alan maCoombes for secretly providing the signed affidavit to the herald newspaper re the executive meeting of Nov 2004

sandy

13 01 2011
Chris

Sandy has very little to say about the role of the rogues in the SWP and CWI and their role in the whole Sheridan disaster. This episode is instead utilised to attempt to confirm a Brit left perspective along the lines of a straw man that the real underlying cause of what happened is Scottish nationalism. Barry follows the same track, though in Barry’s case I find it rather odd that these points above were never made prior to the recent Court decision when all the same facts were known. I think perhaps all this is a convenient excuse to attack the RCN with the bogey of nationalism.

The link to Scottish nationalism, which is used as a derogatory name tag for anyone who advocates Scottish independence or the slightest expression of the vernacular revolutionary tradition, to the Sheridan events is without any basis. Why then did the MacLean not go the same way, why did the old Scottish Socialist Party not go that way, and many other bodies. (Including the IMG’s own flirtations with pro-independence organisations).

Those who so easily condemn as Scottish nationalists anyone who advocates independence so easily ignore how their own stance can be imbued by nationalism itself – British nationalism.

Why is it the Chartist movement had no problem with Scottish self-organisation but by the time of the First International Marx had to confront intolerance of British Trade Union and left leaders toward self-organisation such as in the case of the Irish? It was the growing impact of British imperialism on the left itself. The association of working class unity with the territorial integrity of the UK state, the fetish for centralised states like the UK, Austro-Hungary, Russian Empire has been a negative feature which characterises the left that has developed in dominant, imperialist countries. Who also show an intolerance to challenges to the integrity with a typical dismissiveness of the kind we have seen above.

The British left can very conveniently agree with criticism of the Austro-Marxists, or of imperialist economism yet never see it as a problem with itself. It can dismiss the national question a diversion adopt a neo-Luxemburg view, but blind itself to the historic failings of her position when ever it was implemented in an actual communist revolution. Whilst simultaneously giving back handed defence of the existing unionist state.

What would MacLean say, he said the Scottish working class and Scottish communists should strike out for independence. Whilst Sandy and Barry imperiously declare nationalist!

13 01 2011
Allan Armstrong

If Barry could get beyond his constant indignation a possibly useful debate could be advanced here. It seems that Barry thinks that socialists should only be in revolutionary socialist political organisations, where nobody makes mistakes (or is soon chucked out if they do). That seems to me to be a possible argument you could make. Barry should develop it further.

However, it would not be one that was supported by John Maclean. For much of his political life Maclean was in Hyndman’s British Socialist Party. Hyndman held some pretty chauvinist and racist ideas. He had also taken ‘Tory gold’. The period of the later SDF/BSP coincided with the period of ‘High Imperialism’, when it was very difficult to build any revolutionary party, except in countries with archaic political systems, which generated frequent political crises, such as Tsarist Russia.

This was one reason why Maclean didn’t join the breakaway and ostensibly more revolutionary SLP, which was strongest in Scotland. James Connolly did join the SLP, but found that its sectarianism (partly a product of revolutionary impotence in a non-revolutionary situation) acted as a barrier to linking with wider sections of the working class. He developed other forms of organisation to advance social emancipation and national liberation. He had to return to the Irish workers republican ‘internationalism from below’ stance he had first begun to develop in the IRSP. In the process, Connolly tried to build the hybrid Irish Socialist Party (in which he put forward his own more advanced socialist republican ideas), the (revolutionary syndicalist influenced) ITGWU, and the Irish Citizen Army (the first and only workers militia formed in these islands). This approach enabled Connolly to take a prominent part in the 1916 Rising, which Lenin considered the spark which ended the High Imperialist offensive and initiated the International Revolutionary Wave.

Maclean only broke from the hybrid revolutionary/reformist BSP, along with others, in the context of the developing 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave. This provided communists everywhere with greatly expanded political opportunities. It was also in this context that Maclean moved from his previous ‘British road to socialism’ to a Scottish workers republican ‘internationalism from below approach’ – influenced both by events in Russia and the national democratic struggle in Ireland.

Yes, Maclean now directly involved in trying to build an independent working class revolutionary organisation, certainly now criticised ‘revolutionary’ Willie Gallacher for taking ‘Moscow gold (the RCN have done the same with regard to all witnesses in the two trials, including those in the SSP). However, Maclean put a higher priority in attacking Gallacher’s support for a specifically British communist organisation, since, following Connolly, he had by now adopted ‘a break-up of the British Union and Empire’ approach.

We are not currently living in a revolutionary or obviously pre-revolutionary situation. The SSP is not a revolutionary party, but another hybrid party, in which revolutionary socialists can put forward their politics, alongside others. Like the old BSP, it is operating in the context of a continuing imperialist and employers’ offensive. As a result it has and perhaps will continue to attract workers who still carry a lot of Labourist or Scottish (social democratic) nationalist baggage, but who are nonetheless willing to fight back in the here and now. You can choose to ignore this, or stand on the sidelines and shout out your anathemas whenever wrong directions are taken, or other mistakes made. However, Barry will have to provide evidence, to show where in a non-revolutionary situation, this approach has helped to advance revolutionary social democrats (before 1918) or communists.

In contrast, I think that an important feature of communist working in the current situation is a preparedness to join with others in struggle, even though they are not revolutionary socialists/communists. This means though consistently advocating independent working class politics and action (as opposed to populism and popular frontism), upholding democratic (as opposed to bureaucrtic and sectarian) means of organising and developing a communist (as opposed to a neo-Keynsian or state capitalist) vision which points the way beyond an increasingly crisis-prone capitalism and offers genuine human emancipation and liberation. I think that many in ‘the commune’ are thinking along similar lines in regard to this approach, despite differences on other matters (which we have been very open in debating).

P. S. On a factual point, I don’t know whether either George McNeilage or Carolyn Leckie remain SSP members. Neither holds any party position that I am aware of, and certainly hasn’t been active at national party level since the end of the first trial. I would certainly be unhappy if McNeilage was to re-emerge again in the SSP. However, Carolyn breached no party policy prior to the split. It was only then that a clearer policy was passed (initiated by the RCN) which upheld an independent working class position towards the courts and media. Unfortunately the prior lack of clarity over this issue was brought into the SSP by those from an old Militant background (a self-declared revolutionary socialist and Marxist organisation) which regularly resorts to the bourgeois courts to settle such matters. Militant have not been alone in this – the old WRP had a penchant for taking socialists to the courts. Perhaps significantly both these organisations were part of the British Left. Prior to the experience of the first trial, any minority support the RCN enjoyed over an independent class stance, with regard to the courts, came mainly from those with an Irish or Scottish republican background. The SWP could once be relied on for such support, but after they became entangled with Galloway (a SCOTTISH Left British unionist) they lost their previous clarity on this issue.

13 01 2011
sandy

The Scottish independence project, led by the SNP and supported by a section of the Scottish establishment, is an anti working class neo liberal project which aims to weaken the working class in Scotland by dividing the working class in britain along nationalist lines. The working class in britain is a real entity created by at least 200 years of joint struggle against the British capitalist class and its state. Scotland is not an oppressed nation and only the most ridiculous nationalist numpties claim that it is. Any attempt at nationalist fragmentation of the working class in britain in order to give succor to a project of a section of the Scottish establishment plays into the hands of capital and weakens the working class. The independence project was an attempt to promote Scotland as a base for finance capital and as part of the “arc of prosperity” with Ireland and Iceland etc The project was based on a large cut in business taxation and scotland being a safe haven for finance capital. The financial crisis has taken the shine off this project and the wheels have come off the nationalist bandwagon. The attempt by the SSP ( and RCN) to sell this project to workers in Scotland is entirely reactionary and an attempted con job. That Scottish independence is promoted by an organization called The Commune is darkly humorous since the struggle for Scottish independence is based on fragmenting the working class on national lines and promoting the subservience of workers in Scotland to their bosses and the institutions of the capitalist state. It is also humorous to attempt to blame the present SSP debacle on the “brit left” The brit left is to blame only in so far as it promoted and supported the left nationalist SSP project. It would seem that the commune still supports that project despite the fact that leadership of the SSP has been exposed to workers in Scotland by the TS trial as a bunch of anti working class scabs and backstabbers- see here for a useful report-

http://wsws.org/articles/2011/jan2011/sher-j13.shtml

Scottish Socialist Party ensures conviction of former leader Tommy Sheridan
By Chris Marsden
13 January 2011

The conviction of Tommy Sheridan for perjury is the result of a political vendetta, waged by Rupert Murdoch’s News International in a de facto alliance with the Lothian and Borders Police and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).

It leaves Sheridan facing a prison sentence of several years, threats of prosecution by News International to seek costs, and a number of Sheridan’s supporters facing possible charges of perjury.

13 01 2011
Chris

Sandy has on numerous occasions been central to your own analysis of the that there is direct link between support for Scottish independence and the Sheridan affair.

It is a link I contend has no basis in fact and has no historical basis as evidenced by a long tradition in the Scottish workers movement of a current which advocates independence where we see no similar outcomes.

You and others whole approach to the Scottish question seems to me very mechanical. The possibility of non-nationalist projection of Scottish independence, which challenges Scottish nationalism and the British ruling class just cannot exist in these computations. Whenever independence for the workers instead of the workers for independence, is advanced the Brit left mind set simply cannot compute and can only react in the way its software tell its to – like some McAffee Marxism (pardon the Scottish name) it reacts with the usual denunciation of nasty nationalists. Even when the actual reality is different.

13 01 2011
Dave Black

Sandy, I don’t think the court cases came about because of Left Nationalism. The SSP was from the beginning the creature of T Sheridan and his ex-CWI cadre. But was Sheridan or his cadre ever really serious about “Scottish Independence”? What was their program for that? Did they ever discuss Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program? (Yes, I’m such a naive Marxist that I think other people who call themselves “Marxists” should do precisely that, AND follow John Maclean in holding classes on Marx’s Capital). What progress on the national question was made under Sheridan’s leadership? Maybe AA can enlighten.

The Sheridan scandal was a symptom of the political gangsterism that Sheridan thought his ex-CWI cadre had signed up for, which they hadn’t (mostly); but they didth not protest too much when the SSP MSPs were spending their parliamentary financial resources like there was no tomorrow (and without consulting the membership); feeding their hunger for publicity with stunts and parliamentary cretinism; adopting various tenets of New Leftism such as Cuba-mania and calls for police repression of the sex industry; and protecting themselves from membership scrutiny through a gang-like secrecy.

Whether or not the SSP has any future, depends on lessons learned. I see no good coming out of putting the old leadership on trial for doing what their lawyers advised them to (and no one should have to perjure themselves to enable the Great Helmsman to prosecute a libel case). Also I see no good in “going after” McNeilage, who maybe thinks he deserves compensation for his life having been ruined and his socialist hopes destroyed by the actions of the Helmsman. Who knows, or maybe he gave the money to a good cause.

The court cases are done business – done because the Scottish Left has suffered a catastrophe. It may well be, as Allan says, that the SSP is the only real Left forum remaining in Scotland. But I fear the SSP, in its present centrist form, is dead, a monument to opportunist illusions.

13 01 2011
Barry

It does concern me, and I am not alone in this, that the commune is associated with the left nationalist project of the SSP via Chris fords political friendship with his old comrade from the RDG, Allan Armstrong. My experience and knowledge of the views of commune members is that we are post fordist in relation to the RCN and the SSP.Chris is in an ideological minority, to say the least. Or I hope my impression is correct otherwise a rethink would be due.

John Maclean did not stand for a democratic bourgoeis republic, as do the RCN or rather specifically Allan. John Maclean stood rightly or wrongly for a workers republic in scotland.He would not have agreed to a left nationalist perspective of a capitalist republic without a monarch as a stage to socialism Nor would he have been a member of a party who’s leader’s collaborated with the media or police and the capitalist state, and he would ceratainly not have sought unity above all else with them.

The issue is not British nationalism or the Brit left but Scottish nationalism.No leadership of the Brit left to use Allans nationalist phrase is guilty of providing evidence to the police and the courts. Allan wants unity with leaders who have informed and encouraged the police and courts to take action . The electorate and the workers in struggle against the state will not trust SSP leaders or those associated with them.

13 01 2011
Chris

Barry’s rather personal comments reveal a great deal about the nature of The Commune, its Platform and claim to be a pluralist network.

But I am rather honoured by the new definition of post-Fordism, I never thought I was so important. Which now means a rather demeaning consideration of other points of view. Which appears to mean those members of The Commune north of the Border, if they are even recognised as members, with their awkward opinions on the national question.

14 01 2011
Barry

The commune network does not support scottish independence. Ony two members of the commune are RCN members and and as far as I am aware only one Allan Armstrtong promotes a left nationalists perspective. Allans aim of a democratised capitalist scottish state is clearly at odds with the platform of the commune which is anti state and based on the Critique of the Gothta progaramme rightly regarded by Dave Black as a litmus test for communists.

Allans position is not based on the politics of John Maclean but kautsky via steve Freeman( the politics of the RDG)The aim to take bourgeois democracy as far as it will go was the startegy of German social democracy. The strategy of Marx was socialism/communism from below against the state. The politics of the Paris commune.Hence the name of our network.

At the summer 2010 commune aggregate David Broader tabled a motion on the national question to clarify our position of nationalism in general which entailed the issue of scottish nationalism. Allan tabled a number of amendments one of which was obviously nationalist. But by a slim majority comrades wanted to avoid a clash and voted not to have the debate and a decision . This was a serious error which needs to be corrected. At some point the issue would explode which it has.

There was no indignation at the meeting which again was probably a mistake.Early in the same year on the iniative of Chris ford comrades went up to Scotland for a weekend school with the RCN. Scottish nationalism and the national question was not discussed which was again a mistake. we should have discussed our differences. However we have been discussing differences with Allan Armstrong and will continue to do so.

Sandy is correct to say that the problem is not the Brit left blamed by those influenced by scottish nationalism. How can the aim for a scottish Bourgeois rdemocratic republic be independent working class politics?

16 01 2011
Barry

Chris – Does the RCN challenge scottish nationalism or does it incorporate nationalism into its politics?

Allan considers nationalism to have a lower orders or plebian content. This is the basis for the fusion of nationalism and socialism in the politics of the RCN. This fudges the bourgeois character of nationalism. The united Irishmen,the levellers and the Chartists all lumped together in the international struggle from below Thats why he thinks nationalism is too important to leave to the nationalists such as Pilsudski or the SNP. Therefore the RCN do not condemn scottish nationalism, but positively engage with it.

Allan agrues that working class unity in scotland will take place outside the British State but, assumes this this working class unity will be scottish nationalist. He draws an anolgy between nationalism and trade unionism in the workplace, as if nationalism is as objective as class exploitation. so you can have a combination of economic demands and national democratic demands. The separation of economics and politics is accepted, The unity is reformism. Democratising the capitalist state on the one hand fighting for immediate economic demands on the other hand. This is internationalism from below.

The democratic republican struggle which includes economic struggles such as the poll Tax, which is assumed to be in essence republican, is internationalism from below and shows the national question has played a leading role in the struggle. Again nationalism is projected onto class struggles as if it is not simply bourgeois to be faught against.

Alan has argued from an analogy that a break up of British state by an independent Bourgeois democratic republic in Scotland would undermine the USA and its junior partner England in the same way Marx and Engels used nationalist tactics to undermine trarist Russia and the Habsburg dynasty.But support for nationalism of So called historic peoples was at the beginnings of capitalsit development and the establishment of the capitalsit nation state and with it the growth of the working class. Its a false analogy .

Marx and engels often had differnt view and their position on the national qustion was not always consistent coherent or correct. The czeches were deemed to be unhistorical for instance! The tactical focus on undermining Russia by national tactics missed the importance of the antagonism between Germany and Britain which resultd in the first world war. And Russia was undermined from within by class struggle.

31 01 2011
Allan Armstrong

This appears to be going round in circles. I have answered Barry’s particular criticisms over the RCN’s position on the ‘National Question’ already. These are available on the RCN website. A much fuller discussion on the issue has also been distributed involving commune member, Joe Thorne and the RCN.

However, Barry continues to conflate addressing the ‘National Question’ with Nationalism. This is analogous to conflating the ‘Women Question’ (now more commonly called Sexism) with Feminism. This, and several other questions, have already been raised with Barry, but he deigns not to answer these.

The commune is organising an interesting looking discussion in London on Socialist Feminism in February. Can we anticipate a Barry commune position-establishing motion, following this event? The organisers’ introductory comments seem to suggest though that it isn’t the commune’s intention to go down the road suggested by Barry road for establishing commune orthodoxy on this issue.

I have stated that Barry’s own stance over the ‘National Question’ seems to reflect neo-Luxemburgism. Barry took offence when I suggested this at the September commune meeting. Now Barry goes on to say I follow Steve Freeman of the RDG and Kautsky. I, at least, have stated what I mean by a neo-Luxemburgist position on the ‘National Question’ – a belief that there can be no national democratic gains under Imperialism. If Barry does indeed take offense at being so characterised, he should tell us why. Unfortunately, I can not reply to Barry’s own accusations against me, because he doesn’t state what he means by invoking Freeman and Kautsky – it’s just name-calling.

The only shared experience Barry and I have of Steve Freeman, was my defence of Barry against Freeman’s scurrilous attacks in the old Republican Communist Network. This was before its wider Scottish, English, Welsh and, by intention, Irish ‘internationalism form below’ organisational framework was sabotaged by the CPGB-WW and Freeman’s RDG. This support was given to Barry, despite the majority of RCN members in Scotland appreciating that he didn’t share an ‘internationalism from below’ politics.

I have also written a critique of Kautsky’s approach to the National Question’, which I will send by e-mail to anyone who is interested. However, I do have one approving comment about Kautsky in this. “Nevertheless, Kautsky did partly retrieve a central concept of the future communist order, which Marx and Engels had envisaged. The full flowering of socialism/communism would be a global affair, with worldwide planned economic integration of production and distribution. This new social order would initially make use of the prior international division of labour achieved under the capitalist world market”. Does Barry disagree with this?

Barry is also very misleading in suggesting that the RCN hasn’t been prepared to discuss the ‘National Question’ with members of ‘the commune’. The first Global Commune event, co-sponsored by the commune, like all three of these events, discussed the issue of Communism – What It Isn’t, What it Might Look Like, and How Communists Organise. Barry attended and was so enthused he proposed that the second Global Commune event should also be organised in Edinburgh. Here a whole session was devoted to the ‘National Question’ and ‘Internationalism from Below’, with David Broder (whom Barry supports on this issue) and myself as introductory speakers. Barry could not come. However, the debate and discussion has continued in both ‘the commune’ and ‘Emancipation & Liberation’.

What is more worrying is Barry’s suggestion that David’s motion on Nationalism should have been discussed at the September meeting to establish commune orthodoxy. I originally, maybe naively, thought that David’s motion was to contribute to a Discussion Document for one of the proposed Working Groups. I volunteered to join the Working Group on Nationalism. These Working Groups were being suggested as an alternative to Chris Ford’s proposal that the commune become actively involved in communist regroupment, involving other interested organisations and individuals with the purpose of forming a Communist League. The RCN supported Chris over this. However, the majority of the commune members opted not to go beyond the existing essentially Communist Corresponding Society form. Indeed since Chris has been seriously ill, his own proposals couldn’t be discussed at the September commune meeting and were shelved. Instead, the meeting decided to give the existing Corresponding Society form a little more structure with elected office bearers – still a step forward. Discussions and debates were to be organised in Working Groups.

If I was to believe in conspiracies, I would have to conclude that the decision to hold the commune aggregate on a Sunday, when it was very difficult for people from Scotland to attend, was made to exclude us. I had already stated that I could only make the Saturday commune sponsored event (I managed at the last minute to change this, so I was indeed able to attend the aggregate). Angela Gorrie, who had also originally stated her intention of coming, sent her apologies, when it became clear that the aggregate wouldn’t be held on the Saturday, which meant she couldn’t attend because of work demands. Even Matthew Jones had to leave the commune aggregate early on Sunday to catch his train. Matthew, a non-RCN commune member from Glasgow holds a position closer to neo-Luxemburgism, although he would be aware of the nature of the debate in Scotland. And, of course, Chris Ford, who was ill, and has an understanding of the issue, could also not be there.

I don’t believe there was any conspiracy, just a lack of foresight. The commune chair, Mark Ellinson, could clearly see that a debate on a contentious motion, held under such circumstances, would have been a travesty. The majority agreed. Barry feels he was wrong not to show his indignation at this decision- his seemingly preferred method of debating on discussion lists!

However, we can get a flavour of what he was perhaps hoping should happen when he describes the current commune as ‘post-Fordist’ – something that he seems to think has been established despite Chris not being able to attend meetings because of his illness! Maybe Barry wants the commune to be post-RCNist too. There is an awful sense of CPGB/Freeman déjà vu here.

I welcomed David Broder’s proposed ‘motion’, seeing it not as being something to establish a new commune orthodoxy, but as an initial attempt to outline what he thought had been agreed in the discussions so far. This would be aimed at those participating in the proposed Working Group on Nationalism, where we could all make contributions. It was with this in mind that I wrote quick some off the ‘top-of-my head comments’, the majority, or perhaps all, of which, I thought David might agree with. If there were remaining differences then the proposed Working Group could organise the write-up of all the contributions in a Discussion Paper, which would then be circulated to the full commune membership.

Barry finishes off with some cryptic comments on Marx not always being correct on the ‘National Question’ He is right, although he provides no explanation. Marx changed his position over time from a cosmopolitan, to a privileging of ‘historic nations’, to an ‘internationalism from below’ approach. I showed this in my original paper – ‘The Communist Case for ‘Internationalism from Below’’. If Barry, or anyone else, is seriously interested in a fuller discussion on this, just e-mail me, and I will send them an electronic copy of volume 2 of ‘Internationalism from Below’ which makes this case more thoroughly.

Barry also claims to be drawing on the tradition of John Maclean. There is nothing he has written so far which convinces me of this. I am waiting for Barry, not only to provide evidence of what he means by the sins of Freemanism and Kautskyism, with regard to the RCN’s internationalism from below’ approach, but also for his detailed presentation of Maclean as a neo-Luxemburgist(?).. British/UK roader (?)… or is it just a Biddulphist before his time (?)!

28 02 2011



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