Thursday, 30 July 2015

Sheridan and the Left

I found Mark Scott's article on the Left's chances of progress in May's general election intriguing, well-written, well-meaning, and entirely wrong in terms of Realpolitik and on matters of fact. 

I was involved at the heart of Socialist politics in Scotland for some years, serving in the collective leadership of the Scottish Socialist party between 2014 and 2015, and standing for election as a Socialist candidate in the East End of Glasgow, so perhaps I can be of some assistance in clarifying some of Mark's conclusions which, as he says, have been gleaned through watching from afar. 

Firstly, he correctly observes that any electoral alliance with the Scottish Green party is a non-starter. This is not because such an alliance would be electorally unsuccessful, but because the Greens have calculated that their chances of success are better without the baggage of Scotland's socialist parties.

Furthermore, while the Greens, as a party, support independence and were a valued part of the Yes campaign, there is a strong Unionist undercurrent in the party. Former leader, Robin Harper campaigned actively for a No vote, while between a third and 40% of the membership backed the Unionists. In many constituencies, the local Greeens refused to campaign for a Yes vote.

In the run-up to the 2014 European election, the Greens and Socialists had talks about a Red-Green alliance. The Greens vision of this was a Green party candidate, with Socialists delivering their leaflets. There was no consideration, on their side, given to any sort of candidate selection process. It is my opinion that the Greens negotiated in bad faith, stringing the Socialist party along to ensure that it would be too late for the Socialists to get their act together and stand a candidate. Ultimately, the Greens, without Socialist support, fell short, resulting in the election of a fascist MEP in the final slot. 

However, that is water under the bridge, albeit that my understanding is now that the Socialist leadership would be wary in the extreme of conducting such negotiations with the Greens again. And in the short term, the Greens don't need it - opinion polling has them winning up to ten MSPs in May and potentially becoming at least the fourth, and possibly the third, party.

Should the SNP fall short of a majority, they would be the likeliest candidate for a coalition partner, with excellent, dedicated minds in Government. This dilution of SNP hegemony would be a most positive development in Scottish politics - majority government invariably produces poor government, and insular decision-making. 

Much more important, though, is the latest in a series of siren calls for the inclusion of "Solidarity" in any Left electoral alliance. 

Mark states that if the party was excluded from the alliance, there will be the same old vote split. Let us be clear on the understanding, here. Solidarity does not need to stand in this election. If it wanted to avoid splitting the Left vote, it is at perfect liberty to stand down. It is completely at liberty to seek an agreement on standing in some areas in return for standing down in others. 

But Solidarity is not interested in that. Why? Because their raison d'ĂȘtre is to split the Socialist vote. Tommy Sheridan, the perjurer and misogynist who rules the party, was quite explicit - on the front page of that renowned friend of Independence and the Workers, the Daily Record - that his political motivation was to "destroy" the "scabs" of the Socialist party. 

The exclusion of Tommy Sheridan from the mainstream radical Left is not a "personal vendetta". It is because the guiding force of Socialism in Scotland must be to treat all of the children of the nation with equal dignity and respect. If that is not our crusade, then what is? 

The Socialist movement in Scotland is responsible for, and has been left badly wanting in the past in, providing a safe space for women to take part in politics. It is not enough to tolerate women. 

We must be a progressive, feminist movement, not just grudgingly open to, but actively seeking to promote, women in politics. 

A space in which Tommy Sheridan is present cannot be a safe space for women. Because of Tommy Sheridan's actions in using his position of leadership to achieve sexual dominance over young women for his gratification; because of the behaviour of Tommy Sheridan in causing a situation in which a woman was cross-examined about her most intimate relationships in the High Court in front of the global media, Mr Sheridan disqualified himself from access to any movement or organisation which seems to be a safe space for women. 

I bow to none in my admiration for Tommy Sheridan's oratorical skills. He is a fine public speaker. He can rouse a crowd like no other man in Scottish politics. But if we, as a movement, disregard his treatment of women because of his talent as a speaker, then what we do is to prioritise what he can do for us over the damage that his presence will cause those who have suffered at his hands. 

Mr Sheridan has divided every movement of which he has been a part. He took the most successful Socialist movement in Scotland in generations to a husk. He divided the anti-Bedroom Tax movement, inveigling himself into it and splitting it. On being refused access to the Yes campaign, he sought to split that by launching his own rival pro-Independence campaign, Hope Over Fear. 

When the SNP won't give him a platform, when the Left Project, Radical Independence, Yes Scotland and the Scottish Socialists won't countenance his involvement, isn't that a clue that the cordon sanitaire isn't a failure on the part of 99% of the mainstream, but of failures of Mr Sheridan's bevahiour?

The Left in Scotland has many structural and systemic problems which stop us from gaining the influence Scotland's working class needs us to have. A lack of money, a lack of direction and leadership, a lack of trust internally, and a carefully-forstered division by the enemies of the working-class in infiltrating Socialist movements in Scotland with the intent - successfully - that we speak within ourselves rather than to those who have no voice and desperately need us to be their voice are all amongst them. 

The inclusion of a misogynist and criminal who leads a tiny party which has never won a seat in any election ever is not a reason, much less the reason, for our continued failure and irrelevance. 

We have much to discuss, and we must discuss our future in a comradely fashion, always with the goal of representing our communities and rising with our class out of penury and poverty.

But Tommy Sheridan cannot be party to that discussion. We can have unity, or Mr Sheridan. We can provide a safe space for all members of our society, or we can have Mr Sheridan. But we cannot have both. The circle cannot be squared.

If Mr Sheridan wishes to assist the workers of Scotland in throwing off our shackles, the best thing he could do would be to absent himself from the public discouse and the public consciousness. His time has been and gone. 

His treatment of women renders him unsuitable to participate in our great class struggle. He is a distraction. A fine orator, and a wasted talent. But the fault is Mr Sheridan's. 

He must recognise the damage he has done, and he should atone for it. 

And for those who will inevitably talk about forgiveness and second chances: its not for me, or for anyone else other than those he abused and traduced, to forgive the man. But surely, to win that forgiveness, he must first show at least the smallest degree of contrition for his actions. 


  1. Thanks for your kind words about the written aspect of my piece and your response. As you say, I am an outsider looking in and therefore I have a different perspective to those in the cut and thrust of it all. All the best, Mark

  2. You don't have to be an insider in the Scottish independence movement to say "I will stand against misogyny in all its forms". You just have to be a decent human being.

  3. Thank you very much for this informative article. I am a foreigner who has been living in Scotland for a few years now, but still finding out about this topic. Those involved are not always willing to remember what happened and discuss, and therefore I often had difficulties to get any meaningful information when I asked people in the past. I had to rely on whatever I could find on the internet, which is questionable sometimes. I read Mark Scott's article very carefully, as I am very interested in the topic of the unity/convergence of left forces, not only in Scotland, but also in Greece (my own country), Europe and the globe more generally. I advocate the importance of understanding that the differences we have between different groups in the Left are always smaller than those we all have with the main enemy, the neo-liberal/conservative/capitalist forces that unfortunately continue to rule the world and destroy the planet. Yet, what is important to remember is the QUALITY of the political fight that the Left is in a position to undetake. To think of Tommy Sheridan's supporters as voters who will help the Scottish socialist forces to get back in Holyrood is philosophically and ideoogically wrong. The socialist forces in Scotland cannot and should not rely on this type of electoral basis. It is a problem to continue to see rhetorical skill as a top skill of political leaders at the expense of everything else. (I could go as far as saying that, in my opinion, rheotic is just dangerous manipulation, and deeply down I would like to see a mature socialist community in which rheorical skills are not necessary to engage people... but I am aware that it might be too early for such 'purist' approaches :-)....). To think of Tommy Sheridan's supporters as key voters who will help us achieve stronger socialist representation in Holyrood is, in my opinion, cheap electoral arithmetics that lead to nothing long-term, if not create confusion and harm. We need informed/educated voters and the Scottish referendum experience showed us that it is possible to develop truly informed communities in a short period of time. Of course not all of the 45% consists of truly informed communities, people who really know why Scottish indepedence is better than not outside nationalistic tendencies, but a large part of it does, and in my opinion it is much larger than some of us would have expected. Organisations such as Common Weal and Radical Independence are to be credited for this achievement, and this gives me faith that their approaches are based on successfully tested methods, which should continue to be used for this very reason. So, what we need to do now is to find ways to turn the ecstatic Tommy Sheridan fans into into properly informed socialist voters. We won't manage to do this with everybody, but long-term it is better to have fewer voters now (but well informed and fully aware of their choices), than lower our criteria in order to get a seat or two in Holyrood. We need to build a different Scotland very solidly, otherwise it won't last. (I am aware though all this is the humble opinion of an outsider slowly becoming an informed insider in Scottish politics, so there might be more things I should learn too).

    1. Read "Downfall" by Alan McCombes - it explains the whole sorry saga.

    2. Thanks a lot for letting me know about this.

  4. sorry for my typo: *ideologically*

  5. I thought I'll illustrate my points above with a section from a video. If you go to and scroll the player to 01:46:00, you can watch Tommy Sheridan delivering his speech in today's March for Independence in Glasgow. What does this speech have to do with a socialist Scotland, in the faintest sense? and how does this speech contribute to building communities which are truly empowered, communities that know why they claim their independence and what they should expect if it was possible to have it tomorrow?

  6. The left cannot rely on outdated definitions of "working class". Marx was clear that the working class are those who do not own or control their own means of production. This is most of the population. There is a real danger of stratification of politics with the SNP becoming the party of working people and the SSP the party of claimants. That is why building a movement is the key. This can't be around one issue though, whether that is the poll tax or independence, we have seen that this only brings short term gains. There needs to be engagement with people followed by political education. It is going to be a hard slog, but I can see more hope than at any time in my lifetime.