Current Issue
Next Issue
Back Issues
Marxist Theory
Socialist History
Left Politics
Left Groups
New Interventions
Islamophobia Watch

Open Letter to SSP Members

Tommy Sheridan

YES to class solidarity and socialist unity;
NO to political witch-hunts and personal character assassinations.

Comrades I write this letter with a very heavy heart.

The Party I have invested so much time and energy to build from scratch has displayed serious signs of internal decay over the last 18 months. Alongside many other comrades we sought to build a class based socialist party, able to appeal to the broad masses of Scotland around the political principals of struggle, solidarity and socialism. Today there exists an unsavoury cabal of comrades at the core of the leadership, their hands on the apparatus, who are more interested in pursuing personal vendettas, through vile lies and slander, than conducting the class struggle. Over the last two weeks I have resisted any public comment, despite the clear and consistent strategy of politically isolating me in the press, and attempting to implicate me as the culprit for the current News Of The World and bourgeois court led attempts to destroy us. Yet who is responsible for the mess we are in?

Who decided that our party should examine and discuss the private lives of comrades at meetings? Who decided that any such confidential discussions should be recorded? Who decided to keep secret copies of such private and confidential discussions? Who decided to deliberately leak to the press and media that such a document existed? Who decided to appear in court and admit to the existence of such a secret document? The section of our EC who promoted and executed this strategy are clearly to blame for the political crisis we now find ourselves in. It has been a strategy alien to the socialist and trade union movement and more akin to the dark days of Stalinism. Apparently the secret document contains personal information about myself.

Imagine an employer held such a document about an employee. The employee would have the basic human right to see such a document, challenge the content of such a document and demand a copy of such a document. Up until two weeks ago I had never seen the document. I have still never read it and I am denied the right to challenge it or hold a copy. We have acted like a bad employer and breeched basic human rights and trade union principals.

Let me state clearly. There should never have been a meeting convened to discuss a members private life, which was the secretly recorded and documented without the knowledge of the individual, their cooperation or their right to challenge the accuracy of such a document being denied. It is simply an outrageous practice, out with the spirit and principals on which we were founded. However, now that such a disputable document has been constructed, concealed from the individual concerned, constantly leaked to the media and admitted to in court, I believe it should be handed to the court to trigger the release of Alan McCoombes.

I believe that Alan and a core group of 7 or 8 other leading comrades have misled the party into their current quandary, but I salute his courage and determination to resist the undemocratic power of unelected judges to interfere in the internal affairs of democratic political parties. The problem is that we cooperated with the courts in the first place. I t is none of their business whether we possess recordings of meetings or not.

They should have been properly defied in the first place and the party removed from a personal libel action against the most reactionary scab outfit in the world. Instead we have been dragged into that case because of the mis-leadership and the desperate attempts of the scum of the world to salvage a case which had all but disintegrated due to their downright lies. Now a comrade is in jail and our resistance to the disgraceful and undemocratic interference of unelected judges has been displayed. He must languish in jail no longer. The document in question should be handed to the court under protest, submitted to the court in a sealed envelope and debated over under protest or handed to the court via my legal team under protest. Further resistance at the expense of a comrade’s personal freedom is not acceptable.

Make no mistake, The Scum of the World’s attack on me and our party is an extension of the class struggle. They are our mortal enemy. They want to destroy me, the party, and more importantly, what we stand for. They are bullies of the gigantic type. They seek to destroy trade unions, socialist ideas, class solidarity and individuals through callous lies and distortion. I refuse to bend the knee to their assault on me. They have spread cruel lies knowingly and in a fashion calculated to discredit me as an individual and as a socialist. The four year affair they have accused me of is a complete fabrication. I expect such slander from these organs of the state because they are the scum of the planet. But what about the political witch-hunt conducted via vile personal lies promoted by leading SSP members?

Over the last 18 months I have been accused of heinous crimes in a co-ordinated fashion by a group of comrades so blinded by their personal hatred and spite towards me that they have failed to see the enormous damage to the party. In the Brel Bar in Ashton Lane just over 12 months ago one of the three female MSP comrades who have consistently sought to undermine me and discredit me, accused me of "being involved in woman trafficking". "Eastern European women" to be precise. Here devastating lies were witnessed by three individuals, one of whom is a journalist in a Sunday newspaper.

At a youth event last year, several members spread poison to the effect that I "regularly used prostitutes". According to comrades picking up stories on the pub/club and party circuit I "regularly go to lap-dancing bars". I am also apparently involved in "drug dealing". All of these stories have been checked by me through several sources, not all friends or supporters of mine. My name, political credibility and status within our party has been consciously attacked. Talk of how to "get rid of me", "arrange my deselection" and "isolate him completely" is commonplace and coordinated.

Over the last 18 months I have sought to build unity in our party, internally and externally. Others have sought to destroy me and build their own empires. Those with their hands on communications within and outside the party have acted as an undeclared faction. Certain individuals are promoted while others are ignored or discredited. I am not the only one.

Comrade Hugh Kerr was guilty of giving up six years of his time to build our party, 4 years as my unpaid press officer, his face didn’t fit. He was rounded on and removed. Comrade Rosemary Byrne thought her election in 2003 would herald a new dawn for socialist politics. She was not "on message". She didn’t support the 50:50 campaign. She believes class politics and identity are more of a priority than gender politics. She was ignored, cold shouldered and isolated for months. She was forced to consider quitting. Now she’s fighting back!

Comrade Mick Daly, the West of Scotland organiser, was guilty of inexperience, and not being part of the "Stanley St. grouping". He was isolated and undermined, his face didn’t fit. His resignation was sought after and keenly encouraged. I should have done more to defend all these comrades. I let them down. I myself was faced with a stark ultimatum 18 months ago. Accept and support the EC position that I should step down or be responsible for an internal civil war. I chose the unity option.

I was wrong. Sections of the EC saw it as a sign of weakness and have sought to undermine me ever since. From the day a group of socialists were asked if they backed me in my court battle with the reactionary, rabid and anti-trade union Scum of the World, and publicly declined, to the recent public undermining of my case through issuing a public call for me to drop my case, this party has shamefully failed a basic socialist test. Whose side are you on when a socialist takes on the Murdoch empire? Sections of the EC are clearly batting for the wrong side. That is unforgivable in the eyes of large sections of our class and the left across the world.

Recently things have got even worse. Comrades, yes comrades have been phoning around Cardonald branch members to gather information about who attended the recent meetings, who spoke on the recent motion that was passed, who voted in the meeting? WHY? For who is such information being gathered? It is to assist the State in ant action against the branch for daring to suggest that no records of private and confidential discussions should exist. Who told the Herald newspaper that Alice Sheridan was a "member of the Cardonald branch". She has only recently moved to Cardonald in the last three months. She has only been well enough to attend meetings recently after 10 days in hospital with a blood clot. Most comrades would recall her as a Pollock branch member from recent conferences. So who "stuck her in"?

Members of this party are effectively acting for the state. That is a disgrace.

Despite the motivations of those in the undeclared faction who want me out of the SSP and deselected as a Glasgow MSP, I refuse to leave. The SSP is my party. Its internal regime should be warm, friendly and trusting. Not revolve around personal spite, secret documents and personal character assassinations.

Its outward appearance should be to the broad mass seeking solutions to the horrible insecurities, grotesque inequalities, grinding poverty and bloody wars of capitalism. We are a class based socialist party. Not a gender obsessed discussion group. Our socialist principals and class identity defines us first. Not our gender or sexual orientation. Engaging with the broad mass of Scotland around real issues of concern has to be our strategy. From council tax abolition to free school meals. Scrapping prescription charges to promoting public ownership. Anti-war and defending asylum seeker campaigns to solidarity with all workers in struggle and independence. This is the future strategy and orientation of the real SSP. Not the McCarthyite obsession with members private lives and circles of friends. Lets build a united SSP, yes. But on solid foundations, not the bile and decay around those who promote personal dislikes before politics. The battle to reclaim the SSP to class politics begins today.

Editorial Comment

From Scottish Socialist Voice, 1 June 2006

The events of the last week have left what should be internal, democratic discussions of the SSP under microscopic, very public scrutiny.

The Voice editorial team wish to state very clearly that the party’s newspaper has always remained an outward-looking, campaigning paper, as we believe the SSP has always been an outward-looking, campaigning party.

We have striven, to the very best of our ability, to present a balanced account of the work of all parts of the SSP, across Scotland, inside the parliament and council chambers, and on the streets of our communities.

We insist that when the internal matters of the SSP have demanded comment in the pages of this public face of the party, we have done so fairly, without malice or bias.

In the wake of Tommy Sheridan’s resignation, in an editorial which went to press with the agreement of the party’s EC and Tommy, we wrote:

"In all the jumble of stories that people might have heard, it has to be made absolutely clear that [a Daily Record story of infighting and a leadership coup which had pushed Tommy out] was not the case. There is not one particle of truth in any of the allegations of internecine battles or political manoeuvring running behind what’s happened.

"Other SSP MSPs have been viciously attacked and smeared in the press over the last week."

We continued:

"Whether on striking workers’ picket lines or in championing the abolition of the Council Tax, Tommy has brought to Scottish politics a unique voice that speaks up for those who could not make themselves heard in the elitist world of establishment politics.

"And that’s something he will continue to do as an SSP MSP for Glasgow, as an integral part of our group of six MSPs, and our party as a whole."

We continue to cover the campaigning work of all our party representatives, defend the Voice as a forum for raising the radical ideas and actions of the Scottish Socialist Party and echo Colin Fox’s call for unity.

We applaud the SSP membership, who, since the birth of the party, have fought day in, day out to build a grass-roots led, vibrant, democratic force for change.

For socialism, independence and internationalism.

Feelings Run High At National Council

From Scottish Socialist Voice, 1 June 2006

On Sunday 28 May, delegates convened at Glasgow’s Caledonian University for an emergency National Council (NC), called in response to the crisis precipitated by former convenor Tommy Sheridan’s legal action against News International.

By then, a number of SSP comrades had been summonsed to appear before a court, the party’s headquarters in Glasgow and its Edinburgh office had been searched by sheriff’s officers and Alan McCombes was in Saughton Prison for refusing to hand over confidential party documents. His home had also been searched.

The packed meeting was chaired by SSP co-chair Morag Balfour and SSP National Secretary Allan Green. It was a difficult meeting from the outset, with feelings running extremely high.

The set agenda was derailed before it began to take an emergency motion from Inverness branch written in response to an article printed in that morning’s Sunday Herald.

The motion called for the "immediate resignation of the senior party member" who, according to the Sunday Herald, provided details pertaining to Tommy Sheridan’s resignation in November 2004. It also called for “disciplinary action” against anyone who knew about this leak to the press. The motion was passed by NC on a show of hands.

Two hours after the NC was due to begin, Colin Fox, SSP convenor, moved the Executive Committee (EC) motion to support the stance of defiance that led to Alan McCombes’ imprisonment, and which Alan himself supported.

Opinion was highly divided. Tommy Sheridan was amongst those opposing the EC motion and calling for the minutes to be handed over in compliance with the courts.

The opposition vote won, by 82 to 67, on a card vote.

Because this motion fell, so too did motions 2-5 from local branches, which variously supported the policy of defiance.

With the meeting nearly at a close, there were loud calls from some to move straight to Motion 6, which offered Tommy Sheridan "our full political support in his battle" against News International.

NC demanded a vote without any debate. The motion was carried, by 81 to 60, on a card vote.

‘Put party’s best interests before all else’

by Colin Fox MSP, SSP Convenor

From Scottish Socialist Voice, 1 June 2006

Last weekend our National Council decided to trigger the immediate release of Alan McCombes from Saughton Prison. Alan’s courage and determination to go to jail in defence of the principal that the SSP documents were our property, not that of the Court of Session, was unanimously and warmly applauded throughout the party. The will of the NC was immediately implemented.

After helping secure Alan’s freedom and greeting him outside the gates of Saughton Prison I went on to meet with Tommy Sheridan.

We had a full and frank discussion where I explained that although I had not supported the position adopted by the National Council, as a democrat I fully recognised my obligation was to implement their wishes. I did so.

However I felt I was entitled to add that I believed it was a great pity and indeed a mistake for him to circulate his ‘Open Letter to SSP Members’ to the world’s media. It is one thing for it to be circulated inside the party but quite another for it to go beyond our ranks.

I understand entirely that Tommy is angry about the rumours he believes are circulating about him. As National Convenor of this party I abhor ALL remarks which undermine fellow comrades, wherever they come from.

In so far as there being any plot to ‘do Tommy Sheridan in’, which has been suggested in the media, I reject the claim.

In fact I believe that, on the contrary, the party sees Tommy as a hugely important, integral part of the leadership, both now and in future.

My immediate concern now is to insist there is an end to all the back biting and utterly damaging divisions. I urge all comrades to remember and renew the spirit that built Scotland’s united socialist force in the first place.

As the National Convenor of the SSP, I call on the whole party to unite behind me.

I am determined to do all I can to help heal the deep wounds inflicted on each other here and although I am under no illusions at the difficulties in doing so, nonetheless see it as the only way forward. I ask all SSP members to help me put the party’s best interests before all else.

We all need to refocus on our democratic socialist principles, fighting against inequality, poverty and illegal wars and remember what we endanger by continued divisions.

Motions voted on at SSP Special National Council, Sunday 28 May 2006, Glasgow

Emergency Motion

Inverness Branch

[Inverness branch reported that they had convened a meeting on the Sunday morning of the NC, met and agreed this Emergency Motion. The NC voted to hear this motion and it was passed on a show of hands.]

This meeting notes the revelations in today's Sunday Herald that a senior SSP official handed over a sworn affidavit to that newspaper in November 2004 giving full details of the EC meeting at which Tommy Sheridan was forced to resign as convener.

This meeting expresses anger and astonishment that at a time when Alan McCombes is in prison for refusing to make confidential SSP minutes available to the state or the News of the World, one or more leading members of the party were aware that the contents of the minutes were already in the possession of the bourgeois press as a result of their actions. This shows a level of cynicism and contempt for party members which is beyond belief.

This meeting therefore calls for the immediate resignation of the senior party member involved and of any other leading members who were involved in and/or aware of this information. In addition, the NC calls for disciplinary action to be considered against al those who were involved in and/or aware of this situation but kept it from party members.

Motion 1

Executive Committee

[This was lost on a card vote – 67 for and 82 against.]

This National Council

*  Notes and confirms the decision of the NC in November 2004 that the minutes of the 9th November 2004 EC meeting should be kept confidential.

*  Believes that we should have the right to keep our records confidential if we chose to.

We resolve

1.  To maintain the confidentiality of the 9th November 2004 EC minutes by keeping the sole copy of these minutes with Alan McCombes.

2.  To support the stance of Alan McCombes in keeping these minutes confidential.

Motion 6

Aberdeen South, Aberdeen North/Central, Stirling and Buchan branches

[This motion was formally moved and then, at the wish of the majority at the meeting, put to the vote without any discussion – it was passed on a card vote 81 votes for and 60 votes against.]

1.  This meeting recognises that the excellent vote achieved by the Scottish Socialist Party in the 2003 Scottish Parliamentary elections was due in no small part to the role played by comrade Tommy Sheridan both as sole MSP and as a campaigner for the working class in Scotland and internationally over the previous decade and a half.

2.  This meeting recognises that the perceived failure by sections of the SSP leadership to support Tommy when he was attacked by the News of the World in 2004 and the subsequent perception of the Party as divided has been a major factor in the decline in support for the Party since then.

3.  This meeting recognises and applauds the very positive role played by Colin Fox in trying to heal the Party's wounds and restore members' confidence since taking over as Convenor in 2005.

4.  As a matter of socialist principle, this meeting fully supports Tommy's right to defend himself against the News of the World and the Murdoch press. Whilst Tommy Sheridan is pursuing his libel case as an individual, we offer him our full political support in his battle against one of the most vicious and anti-working class organs of the ruling class.

5.  It also recognises that in re-building our electoral base, Tommy Sheridan must play a leading role in the 2007 election campaign.

Don’t Listen to the Lies Tommy

By Rosie Kane MSP

From The Scotsman, 4 June 2006

A member banged up in jail, party offices and members' flats raided, a fortune spent on lawyers and mega media attention. It's been an interesting fortnight for the Scottish Socialist Party. We have adorned the pages of more papers than Posh and Becks and Big Brother put together.

Then we got former convener Tommy Sheridan's "shock and awe" tantrum as he threw his toys out his pram. No one was more gobsmacked than those who have known Tommy over the years in battles such as the fight against poll tax. He distributed a letter slamming the SSP's leadership to party members and released it to the media at the same time. Some journalists thought the diatribe was so off-the-wall that it must be a hoax. Unfortunately not.

He made pretty sweeping digs at folk based not on fact but on tittle tattle. Ironic given his complaints about rumours surrounding his personal life. Despite what Tommy claims, nobody is out to do him in and he really needs to try to get a grip. There is no excuse for distributing such lurid claims and downright untruths.

Tommy talked of a witch hunt and I'm guessing he is including me among the witches. He did have a go at a few men but the majority of his anger fell on the women in the party, with most of his vitriol aimed at the women in our leadership. Why some men – including, it seems, Tommy – feel so threatened by women beats me. What this amounts to can only be called sexism.

But the big question, of course, is will this mother of all strops kill the SSP?

There is no denying we have taken a bit of a beating in recent days. I'd like nothing better than for none of this to be happening. We could all do without it.

And, just when we seemed to be slipping out of the headlines, actor Peter Mullan strode into parliament to throw in his tuppence worth. He is no stranger to the cameras and was instantly in front of a TV crew pouring more fuel on the flames.

This time at least the target was a man. He had a go at SSP convenor Colin Fox, calling for him to step down and accusing him of being weak. Peter certainly seemed all fired up after sharing his lunch table with Tommy in the Holyrood canteen but he is ill informed if he thinks SSP members want to ditch Colin. The last thing the party needs is socialist celebs turning into political pundits before disappearing back into the green room.

Colin Fox is the elected convenor of our party and has been handed a poisoned chalice by the rumour merchants. It's not an easy task and isn't made easier by armchair critics armed only with distortions, half-truths and downright lies. It's been a bumpy ride but he has coped and that should be recognised, supported and congratulated. Maybe those who want to take a pop at Colin have their own alternative agendas. They ought to try to engage their brains before sounding off.

So what is next? I don't know exactly but I do know that the SSP is not about any one person. We are a strong party with a diverse and active membership. Lets leave the feuding and backbiting to Brown and Blair. We need to keep our passion for the issues that really matter – and the people we are fighting for.

'Biased' Voice is 'tool for undeclared faction'

Letter from Tommy Sheridan in Scottish Socialist Voice, 8 June 2006

Your editorial about fair reporting of internal SSP matters "without malice or bias" would be hilarious if it wasn't so seriously deceptive (see Voice 267). Don't you read your own paper? Immediately to the right of your editorial with it's "without bias" claim is a National Council report laced with precisely the "bias" and lack of "balance" the Voice has become notorious for.

The first paragraph of any report is always the most important. It sets the scene. Yours claims the emergency NC was "called in response to the crisis precipitated by former convenor Tommy Sheridan's legal action against News International".

Is that so? Pretty straightforward then. It's Tommy's fault! Pure balance and no bias!!

Those who took, kept and alerted the press to the existence of a dodgy record or minute of a private and confidential discussion are in the clear. I mean it's the normal thing to do in the labour movement. Recording confidential discussions isn't just a boss class practice after all. It's what socialists do as well. My arse!!

You obviously promote the cabal line that it's all Tommy's fault but I think you'll find a large, probably majority, number of comrades believe the mess we are in is the responsibility of those "comrades" who arranged to keep a secret record of a private meeting and make sure the media was aware of it's existence. They have dragged the Party into a court case they should not be part of and their desire to do in Tommy Sheridan has blinded them and you to the damage being done. You are acting as the organ of the undeclared faction in the Party.

The current crisis is not "precipitated" by Tommy Sheridan but by a group of individuals who have acted in a duplicitous, anti-democratic and anti-socialist fashion. No secret and appropriately cooked minute, no Party involvement in an individual's private court case! You will find this opinion widely held within the Party rank and file but not reflected in the factional pages of the Voice.

By the way your major page 8 Holyrood News piece on the Bankruptcy Bill managed to avoid mentioning the only SSP MSP who participated in the debate. Never mind the rest of the bourgeois press ignored me as well. My contribution on the dangers inherent in the land attachment section and the serious failure to protect benefits from bank arrestments inspired recognition and praise from Citizens Advice Scotland, Shelter and The Scottish Association of Law Centres. What a pity it was overlooked in my Party paper. Too busy conducting the factional war no doubt!

Myself and comrade Rosemary Byrne have grown accustomed to such marginalisation in the Voice but that doesn't make it right. The Voice has been a tool of the undeclared faction over the last 18 months and your alleged commitment to "fairness" and "balance" is increasingly cutting no ice with rank and file members.

Tommy Sheridan, Glasgow