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The Tommy Sheridan court case and the splitting of the Scottish Socialist Party

31 August 2006

Socialist Democracy is at the moment considering the split in the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). We believe the collapse of the party contains serious lessons for the left in Britain and Ireland, but we are unwilling to rush to judgement. The model of the SSP as a unified party with a number of different platforms presenting competing political positions was held up as an exemplar and attempts were made to copy that model in Ireland, so it is important that socialists in Ireland discuss the issue. We note with some cynicism the lack of analysis from the activists who assured the working class, following the SSP formation, that this represented the way forward for socialist and working-class unity. We believe that any study must consider the birth and evolution of the party rather than simply comment on the catastrophic end.

We carry below a statement from a platform in the party (the Republican Communist Network or RCN) because it was submitted to us by the Platform and we have found the current honest and open in its work within the SSP and genuine in its wish to discuss political positions. We carry the statement as a contribution to debate.  We are willing to carry other statements if submitted and we indicate below links to a number of the different positions.

The International Socialist group statement can be found at:

The socialist Workers Party comment at:

The CWI call for a new party at:

The founding statement of the SSP United Left at:

In the interim, while we decide whether to carry out our own analysis or find ourselves in agreement with something already written, we can at least indicate our support for the RCN characterisation of the disgraceful and unprincipled role played by Tommy Sheridan, the CWI (international organ of Ireland’s socialist party) and the Socialist Workers Party in forcing a division that has little to do with genuine disagreement on political programme.

RCN Statement on the Split in the Scottish Socialist Party.

The Scottish Socialist Party has been held up throughout the UK and beyond as a model for socialist unity. It was built on the firm ground of direct action and working class resistance. It included the vast majority of socialist organisations in Scotland and local branch organisations of British trade unions.

The SSP is now fighting for its very existence. In the wake of his battle in the bourgeois courts, Tommy Sheridan, the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) and the Socialist Workers’ Platform have all called for a split and are attempting to form a new party.

The RCN has argued that by taking his libel case to the courts, Tommy Sheridan has not only been doing battle with the News of the World (NotW) but has also used the same court room to conduct another battle - against the SSP. He has in fact been carrying out an anti party agenda.

Tommy’s initiation of legal action against the NotW, against the unanimous advice of the party's executive led to the dragging of eleven SSP Executive members (including 3 MSPs) and office bearers to court against their will. They were not prepared to perjure themselves under oath; to say that the party's official minute was a lie; and that they were part of an anti-Tommy conspiracy. This is what Tommy demanded in order to maintain the fiction of his chosen public image.

Sheridan’s actions since winning the case have confirmed this: He sold his story to the Daily Record, a New Labour tabloid, attacking those comrades who had advised him not to take the case and then were compelled to attend court as “scabs”. He then announced his intention to take back “my {his} party” at the next conference by challenging Colin Fox (who he previously supported) for the party convenorship. He said the SSP required a man of “steel” to see it through the difficult times.

Sheridan has now made a call to split the SSP supported by the CWI & Socialist Worker platforms. We can only assume that he has added up the numbers and is not convinced he can win a conference majority for his return.

The basis for the proposed new party is not very auspicious. The essential founding principle of the new organisation appears to be unquestioned support for Tommy and Gail as President and (unelected) First Lady. The two other main sponsors, the CWI and SWP can not bear to be in the same organisation in England, Wales or Ireland. In England and Wales they each promote their own front organisations, Respect and the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party. Similarly in Ireland, the CWI’s Socialist party stands separately from the Socialist Workers Party. In ‘the Six Counties’, the CWI promotes single-issue candidates and trade union officials in elections to the Assembly, whilst the SWP promote the populist Socialist and Environmental Alliance.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, Tommy Sheridan, a prominent sponsor of the nationalist ‘Independence First’ campaign, and supporter of mandatory sentencing for knife crime, is allied with these two Left unionist organisations, which also strongly disagree with each other over trade union work and the current anti-war movement. Further splits would appear to be likely.

The RCN opposes the cult of the individual which has led in part to this situation. No one individual is above party democracy. Tommy’s ego has led him to ignore the sound advice of his comrades not to take this case to court. Since the case, he has indulged his celebrity through exposure in the media, even posing in white dressing gowns with his wife and child!

The RCN has worked as an open platform, firmly committed to the SSP. We promote socialist republicanism and internationalism from below. We continue to defend the gains represented by the SSP. 

The split in the SSP is a major setback for the socialist and working class movement particularly in Scotland but also by extension, in England, Wales, Ireland and internationally.

The RCN will continue to fight for socialist unity by taking account of the mistakes that have been made.

Democracy, transparency and accountability are essential in a socialist organisation. We argued that the executive minute should have been made available to the party immediately. It could then have been challenged/ corrected/amended or agreed as a correct record. It is worth remembering, that Tommy also asked for the minute to be kept secret.

Socialists should not use the bourgeois courts in this manner – If Tommy had been injured as the result of an article in the gutter press, the political response would have been to mount a mass campaign against the News of the World, involving trade unionists and the working class. 

We are for the unity of the SSP, against splits, witch-hunts and expulsions. Disputes between members or groups must be sorted out via party structures – not via the media or courts. The interests of the working class and the fight against imperialism are much more important than a court case about someone’s sex life. 

The gains made by the SSP in Scotland have been considerable. As well as six MSPs, we have the respect and support of hundreds of thousands of working class people across the country. If we throw away the hard-won, principled unity of the SSP, we are failing our class. We call upon those determined to split to think again!

Republican Communist Network (Platform of the SSP) 27.8.06



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