Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/449/5371
Tommy Sheridan court case
Serious crisis for Scottish Socialist Party
THE PRESS in Scotland have dubbed it the libel trial of the decade. A case that has already resulted in saturation coverage in the Scottish media. Tommy Sheridan, Scottish Socialist Party MSP and former leader of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) versus the News of the World (NoW) - part of Rupert Murdoch's News International empire.
Philip Stott, International Socialists
Tommy Sheridan took a libel action following a story printed in the NoW in November 2004 that claimed he had a five year affair with a woman who was a SSP member.
It was the issue of Tommy Sheridan's private life that led the SSP executive committee to call for his resignation in November 2004. A decision that the International Socialists (the Socialist Party's sister organisation in Scotland) opposed and which has now split the SSP and has done the party great public damage since then. (see the socialist, 442)
In defending its story NoW is aiming to prove their claims were not true but "substantially true." Their strategy has been to throw as much mud at Tommy Sheridan regarding his personal life, thereby hoping then to convince the jury that at least enough of it can be believed to undermine the libel action.
We have heard claims that Tommy Sheridan took drugs and alcohol at sex parties, visited a swingers' club in Manchester, took part in group sex as well as having an affair with Fiona McGuire, the woman in the original NoW story. Most of the 'witnesses', so far, have either been current or former NoW journalists or have been paid money by the paper for their stories. In the case of Fiona McGuire, £20,000.
These claims have been reprinted in lurid and sensational detail in all the Scottish media. It will be interesting to see if the press report as extensively when Tommy Sheridan puts his side of the case.
The stakes were heightened last Thursday when Tommy Sheridan sacked his legal counsel. This followed a major blunder by one of his legal team who accused a witness of having spent 18 months in jail for fraud, which was not true.
Tommy Sheridan has now decided to represent himself and will cross-examine witnesses as well as making a statement.
Role of SSP witnesses
So far there have been three SSP members who have been called to give evidence by the NoW. National Treasurer Allison Kane, Alan McCombes, and SSP councillor Keith Baldassara.
Both Alan McCombes and Keith Baldassara gave testimony that Tommy Sheridan had admitted in a private discussion attending a swingers club in Manchester.
The EC minutes of 9 November 2004, at which a vote was taken to ask Tommy Sheridan to resign, have also been handed to the court. Many SSP members have been outraged to discover that these 'minutes' contained personal information about Tommy Sheridan which is now being used by the NoW.
This has meant that some leading figures in the SSP are forming a crucial plank of the NoW's defence against the libel action. Many SSP members and supporters are disgusted by their actions.
The consequences of this are extremely serious for the SSP. The national conference of the party has now been brought forward from early 2007 to October 2006 and will be dominated by the case, the actions of leading SSP EC members and the impact of this on the SSP as a whole. The conference will also re-elect a leadership for the party.
Of course the personal conduct of a leading figure of the socialist movement is important. We would never defend behaviour, for example, that involved the coercion of women or anything other than consensual personal relationships. However, we don't believe that someone's personal life can justify the hypocritical attacks of the sexist tabloid media, or the actions of those in the SSP who are seeking to undermine Tommy Sheridan
The best possible outcome for the socialist movement in Scotland would be for Tommy Sheridan to inflict a defeat on the NoW - a brutal anti-working class and anti-socialist rag. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the view of some sections of the SSP, especially those grouped around the so-called 'United Left' platform.
This grouping has defended the carrying out of unacceptable methods that have included; the keeping of personal information in SSP documents, the leaking of such material to the press and a personal campaign against Tommy Sheridan inside the SSP. It is these methods and conduct that the International Socialists is standing against. Despite our ongoing political differences with him, if Tommy Sheridan wins his libel case and continues to play a leading role in the SSP it may be possible for the SSP to recover from this crisis.
In The Socialist 20 July 2006:
War and occupation
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis
Scottish Socialist Party
Campaign for a New Workers Party