OPEN LETTER TO ROBBIE DINWOODIE AND PAUL HUTCHEON (RESPECTIVELY, CHIEF SCOTTISH POLITICAL CORRESPONDANT OF THE HERALD AND SCOTTISH POLITICAL EDITOR OF THE SUNDAY HERALD)
As I queued up to sign the observers’ register for the 12 December 2004 national council of the SSP, I was approached by the party’s national secretary, Allan Green. Allan asked if I would accompany him outside the hall. Having escorted me outside the room, he led me all the way out of the building, appearing quite anxious to see to it that I had no witnesses. Once he had satisfied himself that we were both well out of earshot, Allan asked if I had seen that morning’s Sunday Herald. I told him I had. And I immediately knew what this was about.
That edition carried a factually erroneous report of the previous (top secret) national council, the one that confirmed Tommy’s resignation. This article had patently been lifted from another written by Peter Manson, editor of Weekly Worker. I knew everyone would assume I was the source for this story, given my long established relationship with the Weekly Worker, and my having, in the previous fortnight, supplied it with two substantial articles on our party’s crisis. I had already complained to Peter when he first printed the story, about the mistakes contained in it, and had made up my mind to do so again later that evening, given that the Sunday Herald’s plagiarising of it would cause me further difficulties. Although Peter Manson does not think the error is important, I beg to differ. I had put in a considerable amount of effort in the previous few weeks trying to establish a relationship of trust with Tommy Sheridan, the SW platform and many others in the party highly critical of the party’s executive. To the extent that these comrades assumed I bore any responsibility for this error, to that extent I was having to begin all over again. Thanks a lot Peter.
Everyone needs to appreciate that there was neither a lacklustre nor enthusiastic standing ovation for Tommy at the end of his speech, whether lead by the Socialist Worker platform or anyone else. Had there been one at this point, the SW supporters would have been among the least likely to have joined in (since Tommy’s speech would have deflated them as much as it did me), and it would have been lead by the same members of the executive who had lined up, one by one, to praise Tommy’s speech, having devoted the previous few weeks to stabbing him in the back. This mistake of Peter’s was one of several reasons why I felt inclined to reinstate my years-long boycott of the Weekly Worker, a mere two weeks after writing articles again. The more Peter wrote about the party’s crisis, the more it was obvious (to me but not to Peter) that no socialist paper could satisfactorily accommodate two such divergent analyses, at least not without some attempt on the part of at least one of us (and preferably both) to address the irreconcilable differences between us.
Allan told me that he had spoken on the phone that morning to journalists at the Sunday Herald, who had confirmed that the Herald group was using the Weekly Worker as valuable source material (according to Allan his contact claimed it was their sole source; an obvious exaggeration). I don’t know why this should come as a surprise to Allan, but he told me that, given this ‘revelation’, he was advising me not to contribute to that paper anymore, certainly not about the party’s crisis. Far from feeling intimidated, I found Allan’s request rather amusing. Although I had already, for my own reasons, considered not writing for this paper again, I chose not to tell Allan this. On the contrary, I led him to believe the exact opposite.
I reminded Allan that the party’s press secretary, Eddie Truman, had chosen to censor all my posts to the party’s email discussion list, and had taken advantage of this abuse of power to initiate a disgusting smear campaign against me – for what I had written in the Herald letters’ page, in Weekly Worker, on UKLN and spoken on the Lesley Riddoch Show. While there is much that I would prefer to argue internally, it is our very own Alasdair Campbell who is forcing me to wash all the party’s dirty linen in public. I forcefully explained to our national secretary that I am happy to defend absolutely everything I have said and written publicly, since all of it is true, and I, unlike almost everyone else, had not descended to unattributed off-the-record briefings, stabbing comrades in the back. Furthermore, I felt that morality was 100% on my side. If Allan Green, or the executive, or any other party body, wants to put me on trial for “spreading misinformation,” or “bringing the party into disrepute”, then I look forward to vigorously defending myself. Appearing utterly dejected, Allan said “well, you have been warned”, and walked off. That is the one and only occasion that anyone in the party leadership came close to threatening me for “spreading misinformation” about the party’s crisis. I find this rather strange, since Alan McCombes promised the BBC’s Glenn Campbell that he was preparing to expose a so-called ‘Iago’ in the party’s ranks. He made this promise in his notorious televised interview on ‘Politics Scotland’ the Friday after our MSPs’ disastrous press conference. An attempt to put some flesh on the bones of this mythical Iago was made by a member of the party’s executive at our secret national council. Although no names were forthcoming, I don’t think any party activist is in the slightest doubt that I have been cast as the villain of the piece.
If I am an Iago, I am the most incompetent one that has ever lived, as any objective observer must concede. Consider the following: Peter Manson, not for the first time, strongly recommended that I write under an alias; I could have emailed Lesley Riddoch using a false name; I have been offered off-the-record interviews with the press, but have turned them down; I could have written to the Herald letters’ page using a penname; I could have submitted material to the UKLN and other far left yahoogroups under anonymous email accounts. But I rejected all these options.
I rejected them because a crippling paranoia has descended on a large percentage of the party, ever since Tommy’s resignation. While there is no panacea for liberating so many comrades from our inability to trust one another, part of the solution has to reside in our disciplining ourselves not to say in public the exact opposite of what we say in private. The bitchiness and backstabbing in the SSP at the moment makes this year’s Big Brother house look pretty tame. This two-facedness does not fool our potential voters. The SSP is one Humpty Dumpty that will not be put back together again by the art of spin. The party’s executive can pretend as much as it likes that we remain one big happy family, but the reality is that we are all counting down the seconds to our next opportuity to electorally cull the executive. As a party we are dangerously divided and have to face up to that as a preliminary to getting ourselves back on track.
While Iago crept around in the shadows, I intend to keep doing whatever I can to draw the attention of the SSP’s rank and file to the strengths and weeknesses of individual members of the party’s leadership. The SSP has extremely healthy democratic structures, and a relatively healthy culture. So long as the rank and file are permitted access to the information they need, splits and mass expulsions can be kept at bay.
If I am not Alan McCombes’ so-called Iago, I hope he can spare the time to clarify that any similarity between the portrait he has painted and myself is purely coincidental. If, on the other hand, I am his bete noire (as I have no doubt I am), I trust he will summon the courage to say so openly, so I can have an opportunity to defend myself. What precisely are the charges, Alan?
Whatever Alan McCombes thinks of me now, I find him a rather pathetic shadow of the man I took him to be prior to his interview with Glenn Campbell (although I have not – yet – lost all hope of his rehabilitating himself). It was not until the airing of that interview that Alan McCombes ceased to be my favored candidate to replace Tommy, if he could not be persuaded to return to the helm. Alas, it became a matter of public record from that point on that Alan’s attitude towards Tommy was essentially as rotten as that of Frances Curran, who had already exposed her moral spinelessness in her interview with Gordon Brewer on Newsnight Scotland the evening of our MSPs’ press conference. Like Frances before him, Alan attempted to justify his inability to side with Tommy in his libel action on the basis of inadequate information! How precisely do these two “socialists” explain the willingness of non-SSP comrades to rush messages of support to Tommy?
In his first Scottish Mirror column after he initiated libel proceedings, Tommy mentioned messages from Tony Benn, George Galloway, Mark Serwotka, Bob Crowe and many rank and file socialists outside the SSP. I had myself emailed a message of support and (unsuccessfully) tried to leave a message on Tommy’s telephone answering service. Colin Fox and Rosemary Byrne had already expressed full support in, respectively, a television interview and in the Herald letters’ page. So, why is it that Alan, Frances, and the overwhelming majority of the party’s executive at the time (and, regrettably, still fifty percent of the present executive) found themselves doing a Pontius Pilate?
Let us remind ourselves about the stakes involved here. If Tommy loses this legal action, he will have to pay Rupert Murdoch’s costs, which would in all probability lead to his being bankrupted. If he loses, can we really expect the British state not to pursue Tommy for perjury? I don’t think so. They would relish revenge against the figurehead of the mass movement that defeated the poll tax, and brought down Margaret Thatcher. How sweet it would be for the ruling classes to demonize Tommy Sheridan as the Jeffrey Archer of the left, to throw him in prison for something less heroic this time. Given that Tommy’s demonisation would cause immense demoralistion among those looking forward to future mass extra-parliamentary struggles, we should all take seriously the idea that Tommy is the victim of a state orchestrated witchhunt, just like Arthur Scargill and George Galloway have been.
Tommy Sheridan would have to be reckless to a degree that would have to count as insanity to go to court unless truth was on his side. That is all I need to know, and it is all Alan McCombes and Frances Curran should need to know. It should be an open and shut case for them, just as it is for Colin Fox and Rosemary Byrne. And it should be an open and shut case for all three thousand members of our party. It is certainly the case that no one (absolutely no one) should be elected to next year’s party executive who refuses to make a categorical declaration of support for Tommy in his struggle against Rupert Murdoch’s scummy little rag. And those who agree with me about this need to start debating tactics. Something we should have begun doing long ago is drawing Alan McCombes (and his appologists at Holyrood and on the executive) into open debate, using every forum available to us. Let’s see them attempt to justify their Pontius Pilate act.
Douglas Fraser (The Herald’s Scottish Political Editor), in his interview immediately following Frances Curran’s on Newsnight Scotland, promised that until the press corp received a half-way plausible explanation for the refusal of our MSPs to back Tommy against Rupert Murdoch, they would find themselves continuously hounded. To be frank, I am less than impressed by the stamina of Douglas and his colleagues, inside and outside the Herald Group. I would like to remind Douglas, Robbie Dinwoodie, Paul Hutcheon, every political journalist in Scotland, and all three thousand members of the SSP (and our RMT affiliate) that there are but two reasons why Frances Curran and Alan McCombes might justify their refusal to offer Tommy elementary solidarity in the face of the class enemy.
Conceivably they know for a fact that the News of the World story was substantially correct, and that, therefore, Tommy does not deserve a penny’s compensation for libel. But we know that can’t be the answer. After all, both Alan and Frances claimed that they lacked sufficient information to side with or against Tommy. Since this pair have, rather pompously, striven to portray themselves as congenitally incapable of falsehood (in stark contrast to Tommy Sheridan, who, like the rest of the adult population of planet earth, does admit that, from time to time, on relatively trivial matters, he bends the truth a little), it is a bit late for them to now pretend they knew that the News of the World witch-hunt was factually accurate.
That leaves only one explanation: Alan McCombes and Frances Curran want the world to know that, as far as they are concerned, Tommy Sheridan is capable of risking everything (including his solvency and liberty) in a vain attempt to prove that black is white. Has it really not occurred to the party’s policy coordinator that his only partially successful political assassination has left one of our MSPs gushing blood all over his Holyrood colleagues, and every one of our parliamentary candidates? Does he not realize that until Tommy’s wounds are patched up, and he is reintroduced to our entire membership, and potential voters, as an entirely honourable man, by every sensible definition of that term, that our electoral support will plummet still further? Can Alan McCombes really be that stupid?
It is with great sadness that I note that Alan McCombes has gone out of his way to give his former comrade in arms a hideous makeover. As already mentioned, this character assassination first became evident to me during his exchanges with Glenn Campbell. Just in case his Pontius Pilate impersonation was overly subtle, Alan explicitly contrasted his own attitude to telling the truth with Tommy’s. While he (Alan) tells the truth, Tommy does so only “in his own terms.” In other words, Tommy does not know the meaning of the word! Barely had I recovered from the shock of hearing this nasty little smear when I woke up to the News of the World reporting Alan confirming to them that he had recently said “I will not help Tommy Sheridan construct a tower of lies.” Given the obvious requirements of Rupert Murdoch’s legal team to discredit Tommy’s reputation for honesty, you have to wonder if Alan is simply stupid, merely malicious or a scoundrel in clown costume.
Why on earth could Alan not deny that he said this? Surely he does not value his ghastly self-delusion as the reincarnation of George Washington higher than he does Tommy’s solvency and ability to evade imprisonment and public ridicule. If he is afraid there may be a tape recording of his saying this, then why did he allow himself to get into this position? In other words, why did he think it appropriate to make such a foolish statement in the first place? And why did it not even occur to him to immediately set in motion a damage limitation exercise? Alan could have said that, taken out of context, this quote sounds more serious than it actually was: ‘No, of course I am not alleging that Tommy has ever pressured me into “constructing a tower of lies.” This later __expression was, with hindsight, over-the-top hyperbolae, which I would never have dreamt of resorting to had I known there was a ‘News of the World’ journalist present.’ That would be my opening gambit. I would also have felt compelled to explain, had I been in Alan’s shoes, that I was referring to a mere one or two white lies about matters of absolutely no public interest. By refusing to elaborate along such lines, Alan McCombes has, consciously or otherwise (and I fail to see how it could be the latter), twisted the knife in Tommy Sheridan’s back. Shame on you, comrade McCombes!
Tom (Iago?) Delargy