Friday, 24 December 2010

Sheridan convicted of perjury

So at last the circus that passed for a trial is over and - surprise, surprise - Tommy Sheridan has been found guilty of perjury.

This "news" has provided an early Christmas present for many journalists who have feigned shock at the outcome and have, for some unknown reason, been keen to play up the political significance of the verdict.

It's time for some sober judgement. The only person who actually believes Tommy Sheridan to be an important figure in Scottish politics is Tommy Sheridan. This is a man who led a small Socialist Party to its destruction and then, following its implosion, turned on colleagues he now brands "former socialists" and created his own, even smaller and less politically credible party - Solidarity - which lacks any serious ideology and is merely a fan club for its leader. The only big thing about Tommy is his ego. One fellow Lib Dem quipped that he's a bit like David Owen on account of their shared egomania and self-destructive qualities, but that's an unfair comparison. Owen, for all his faults, had gravitas and a strong intellectual grasp of political reality. Sheridan has neither.

I have intentionally refrained from commenting on the "drama" of the Sheridan trial, largely because I considered it to be of peripheral interest at best. Other than to watchers of Big Brother (and there can't be too many who would admit to that) Sheridan - and his party - have been entirely irrelevant during the last few years. Tommy retains his incredible gift for self-publicity but he lacks the ability to put it to effective use and he's become a more detached figure, appearing every now and then to rant about personal injustices and to portray himself and the underdog fighting against the excesses of capitalist empires.

Even after the verdict was announced, Sheridan couldn't resist a dig at Rupert Murdoch and his media empire: "I make no apologies for taking on the might of...Murdoch. Is it not time that [significant] resources were spent investigating the News of the World?" Perhaps he should have known, following Vince Cable's unwise comments, that it isn't particularly clever to declare war on Murdoch. Especially when all it does it to make himself look bitter and shallow.

The Great Tommy would like us to believe that this has been a battle between the working man and a powerful media magnate. He has consistently, and wrongly, portrayed this is a struggle between a fair, ethical and honest socialism and the oppressive nature of international capitalism. His splinter group, Solidarity, issued a statement in which it declared that "Sheridan's only crime has been to speak truth to power...he is a working class fighter who has waged war on poverty and injustice wherever he has found it."

Not only do Sheridan and Solidarity delude themselves as to the nature of socialism, they are clearly mistaken in their analysis of the outcome. Sheridan's crimes are many and even from the point of view of Scottish socialism I would imagine his legacy has been a negative one. While he might argue this trial has been about standing up to the likes of Murdoch - and his detractors would claim this has been about achieving overdue justice - in reality this has been about Tommy Sheridan - his leadership, his charisma, his delusion, his dishonesty, his hubris...

Throughout the trial, Sheridan sought to claim that he was a victim of a vendetta - or, more accurately, a series of vendettas. Conducting his own defence in the style we've all come to expect of him, he looked to undermine, discredit and paint as unreliable several of his former allies and colleagues. Ultimately, the case came down to whether Sheridan or his ex-friends and the police were more plausible. That he actually believed his own spin and self-deceit is one further reason why this man should never again be given opportunities by the electorate to resurrect a political career.

The Scottish Socialist Party, unusually accurate in its interpretation of the events and Sheridan's complex character, asserted that "the verdict would now define his actions over six years, Sheridan has disgraced himself and negated his political contribution to the socialist cause. History will record that he did more harm to [socialism] in Scotland than any good he ever did it."

The most telling analysis, however, comes from today's Herald: "As for Sheridan himself, this case is reminiscent of those against Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken, who both ended up serving jail terms for perjury following defamation cases against newspapers. Here are three able men whose charisma was ultimately their undoing. Self-delusion and a sense of being untouchable proved their Achilles heel. But nobody is above the law. This case was not in the end a contest between a colourful socialist and a powerful newspaper group. It was a matter of lies versus the truth and the jury decided the liar in this case was the man in the dock."

Colourful egomaniacs with scant grasp of political realities can not be the future of Scottish politics; in fact, the media should not have allowed this disgraced relic of pseudo-socialism to dominate political matters from the courtroom. I personally care nothing for Sheridan or his reputation. His claims to be principled were always questionable from the moment in 1999 when the enemy of the tabloid press entered into the pay of the Daily Record, writing a regular column. He remains typically defiant, but either refuses or can not recognise his culpability in his own downfall. Sadly, his lack of insight into his own personality has proved a tragic flaw.

Sheridan's phoney world has finally collapsed and he now looks like a lonely figure, supported only by his wife and the few Solidarity activists who share his regressive and simplistic worldview. I have no doubt that Scottish politics will move on - and move forward - while Sheridan will become more embittered and deluded still.


Anonymous said...

I take it you don't like Tommy then?

Andrew said...

It's not a question of whether I like him or not. It's a question of whether he has a political future (in my view he shouldn't) and whether justice has actually been done and he deserves what he's got (in my view it has, and he does).

Stuart said...

Your right that Tommy looks like a lonely figure now. This is the end not only for Tommy but solidarity and the SSP

Andrew said...

Stuart, I agree this is the end of the road for Solidarity. It has never been electorally relevant, having been reduced to a mere one councillor in 2007, but it retained a disproportionately large public profile as it had closely allied itself with Tommy Sheridan. The game is surely up for Solidarity; anything it had resembling a popular appeal must by now have all but evaporated.

However, it isn't necessarily "the end" either for Tommy Sheridan or the SSP. I agree that it probably is, and both deserve to be consigned to the history books of Scottish politics. However, Sheridan has considerable ability and - lest we forget - a capacity for personal reinvention. A comeback at some point in the future wouldn't be out of the realms of possibility, however unlikely it currently seems.

As for the SSP: well, it faces an uphill challenge to distance itself from this sorry affair and regain its public credibility (which, ironically, once came from Tommy Sheridan!). However, if it can successfully project itself as a forward-looking party and identify itself with a softer ideology than in the past while taking advantage of public dissatisfaction with the main parties, it could do well in the regional list voting at the expense of the SNP, Solidarity, Labour and possibly ourselves. Again, it's an unlikely scenario and it would require cannier political leadership than I would give Colin Fox credit for, but I wouldn't write off the SSP just yet...