16 December 2007

An arresting development

At about 1:10p.m. today, broadcaster - well, he presents a radio show on an Edinburgh station - former MSP and Leader of Solidarity, Tommy Sheridan, was picked up by three plain-clothes police officers and taken away, in connection with in enquiry into perjury allegations.

This is the latest chapter in a very long-running saga.

For those who don't know the story - i.e. have had absolutely no contact with Scotland at all since late 2004 - here is a quick summary. In November 2004, Tommy Sheridan abruptly resigned as Convener of the SSP. Allegations were then made about a rather colourful private life on the permatanned MSP in the News of the World, and it later emerged that the SSP were aware fo these allegations and forced him to resign. Sheridan successfully sued the NOTW for defammation of character, picking up £200,000 in damages, despite key members of the Party testifying against him. Given that the pro-Sheridan and anti-Sheridan camps gave vidence that contradicted each other's testimonies, it was clear as soon as the verdict was reached that one side had committed perjury, and an investigation was launched. This is the latest chapter in that story.

On the political side of things, following the trial, Sheridan subsequently announced his intention to challenge Colin Fox - his successor as Convener - for Leadership of the SSP, but then decided to lead a breakaway party instead. So Solidarity was born, taking Rosemary Byrne (then MSP for the South of Scotland), the SWP and CWI with Tommy. The election campaign was an acrimonious one, with Sheridan branding the SSP 'scabs' who co-operated with Rupert Murdoch, and SSP players such as Carolyn Leckie referring to Sheridan as a liability. The election, inevitably, proved to be a disaster for both: Sheridan narrowly missed out on re-election; Byrne came nowhere near, and the SSP were wiped out completely. It looked as though Sheridan had won.

But was it over? Solidarity won one Council seat in Glasgow - Ruth Black - and the SSP still had Jim Bollan on West Dunbartonshire Council. Forecasts of the SSP's demise have not yet come to fruition, and a recent YouGov poll had the SSP on 3% of the Regional Vote - which by my reckoning, would give them one MSP in Glasgow - to Solidarity's 1% - which would give them nothing. And Sheridan's allies, the SWP, have been drawn into a row in England as Respect, George Galloway's leftist party, which was allied with Solidarity, are splitting following a row between Galloway and the SWP Leadership. Now the police have come for Sheridan.

The SSP must no doubt feel vindicated tonight. But can they ever turn that smug sense fo self-satisfaction at events (which they're entitled to) into actual success? Will we ever see SSP MSPs again? Can SSP Parliamentary candidates hold on to their deposits?

And what of Solidarity? If Sheridan goes down, can the party survive?

It seems the story of the Left in Scotland, which I thought had ended - or at least ceased to be significant - will in fact be carrying on into 2008.

PS Anyone looking for an excellent, detailed tracking of the saga as it unfolded should check out Scott's archive over at Love and Garbage.

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