ON 29 May Scottish Socialist Party leader Alan McCombes was freed from jail, where a judge had sent him after he refused to hand over SSP Executive minutes called for by the News of the World in the libel case brought by former SSP Convenor Tommy Sheridan.
On 28 May, the SSP National Council had voted down the SSP Executive’s call on Sheridan to abandon the libel case, and decided to release the minutes. Sheridan had issued an open letter accusing fellow SSP members of the Scottish Parliament Rosie Kane, Carolyn Leckie, and Frances Curran of being “an unsavoury cabal of comrades at the core of the leadership, who are more interested in pursuing personal vendetta through vile lies and slander than conducting the class struggle... [They are] alien to the socialist and trade union movement and more akin to the dark days of Stalinism”.
The following article was sent to us from Scotland and was written before 28 May.
Sheridan, the former Convenor of the SSP, is suing the News of the World after they printed an article in November 2004, claiming he had an affair.
Earlier that month he was asked to resign as Party Convenor by the Party’s Executive Committee. It is understood that this was due to how the Glasgow MSP was willing to handle allegations about his private life.
Later the Party’s National Council voted that the minutes of that meeting should remain confidential.
Sheriff’s Officers served citations upon McCombes, Frances Curran MSP, Eddie Truman (the Party’s Press Officer), and the present Convenor, Colin Fox MSP, to appear in court with the minutes. In court, three of the four — Fox, Curran and Truman – said that the minutes of the Executive Committee were in the custody of Alan McCombes.
McCombes confirmed that, and declared that the SSP had a right to hold confidential minutes: “I’ve said all along it is matter of principle, a matter of conscience”.
The Judge, Lady Smith, claimed that McCombes was “flouting the law” and sent him into custody.
The Party’s National Council had voted that these minutes should not be disclosed and Alan McCombes was willing to go to jail to uphold that decision. For this he should be applauded.
On the jailing, SSP Convenor Colin Fox had the following to say: “Our colleague, comrade and friend, Alan McCombes, has been sent to jail for defending a fundamental principle — the private and confidential documents of the SSP should remain the property of the party.”
Judge Lady Smith made one very accurate assessment of the situation: “Mr McCombes, you have placed your loyalty to the Scottish Socialist Party above your duty to this Court.”
The party faces a full-on assault by the state that could threaten its very existence. In addition to the custodial sentence issued to McCombes, he has been ordered to pay costs and a £10,000 fine.
Search warrants have been issued in order to recover the documents. This has lead to police raids on the SSP headquarters in Glasgow. Members’ homes will almost certainly be raided by police officers. Party computers and sensitive information have been seized as a result.
It is clear that when presented with the opportunity the Scottish state has moved to do as much as possible to weaken, and perhaps destroy, the Scottish Socialist Party.
The Scottish media have been quick to speculate as to whether the libel case could trigger the collapse of the SSP.
The achievements of the organisation are numerous. The development of a broad, multi-tendency, direct-action-based class-struggle party in Scotland has lead the Scottish left into an enviable position.
The SSP has well over 3,000 members (an equivalent organisation in England would have over 30,000). It also has affiliations from the the RMT and some CWU branches, and attracted 7% of the vote nationally in 2003, winning six MSPs. In Glasgow alone the party has polled over 15% of the vote and come within a percentage point of the SNP.
Most notably it has united virtually the whole of the left in Scotland. The end of the SSP in Scotland would be a massive blow for the cause of the left across Europe.
The party is facing many great difficulties. The current libel actions will take a considerable financial toll on the already broke SSP. And the handling of the libel case, and the resignation, is understood to be causing considerable tensions internally.
The most important question for the party must surely concern how to resist and avert this attack upon them by the state.
And it would seem clear that the easiest option is for Tommy Sheridan to drop his libel case.
It is important to consider that it was not the Establishment that took the SSP to court. It was Tommy Sheridan who chose to bring about the libel action.
If Sheridan were to withdraw the case now, the comrades would be freed and the raids on SSP premises would certainly not continue.
With this libel action threatening to gravely weaken the left in Scotland, Sheridan appears to have no other choice than to drop it.