Scottish socialist Party (SSP) members were stunned to learn of the resignation of Tommy Sheridan as national convenor of the party on Wednesday 10 November.
His statement to the press said he wanted to step back from frontline politics in order to be a "hands-on father", as his partner is expecting their first child next year.
However, the catalyst for Tommy Sheridan’s resignation was the meeting of the SSP Executive Committee (EC) the day before. This meeting discussed allegations about Tommy’s private life that were expected to appear in Rupert Murdoch’s rag, the News of the World, the following Sunday.
The EC proposed three options to deal with these allegations. One involved refusing to speak about his private life, while the two others involved speaking to the press. When Tommy Sheridan insisted that he intended to deny the allegations and seek legal action, the EC passed a motion threatening to remove him as national convenor unless, by Saturday, he abandoned this strategy.
Sheridan resigned the next day and, following the article in the News of the World alleging a four-year relationship with an SSP member, he has taken out a libel action.
The SSP has been thrown into a serious crisis by the chain of events following the EC meeting that has spiralled out of control and has done significant damage to the reputation of the party.
The CWI in Scotland has worked for and welcomed the impact the SSP has made in the last few years. It has succeeded it attracting a new generation of workers and young people to the idea of socialism. The affiliation of the RMT union to the SSP has underlined the potential that exists to build socialist ideas among the organised trade union movement. Anything that undermines this represents a blow to the socialist movement in general.
Notwithstanding the serious political differences the CWI has with Tommy Sheridan and other leaders of the SSP, we welcome every step forward the SSP makes, and are working hard to build its membership and support. However, the events of the last two weeks have put in jeopardy the future of the SSP.
If the EC had not given Tommy Sheridan an immediate ultimatum to drop his denial and legal action, and made it clear publicly that the right-wing tabloid allegations were an attempt to undermine the SSP and Tommy Sheridan, this situation could potentially have been avoided.
By trying to force Tommy Sheridan to drop his preferred option before even waiting to see the press claims from the News of the World, the SSP leadership made a potentially difficult situation much worse.
It is one thing to consider whether or not to take legal action as a party. That issue, however, should not have immediately been linked to Tommy’s right to take such action or his position in the party.
Of course, the personal conduct of a leading member of a political party can damage, sometimes severely, the reputation of that party. The tabloid allegations, completely unproven, made against Tommy Sheridan do not fall into that category.
These events have been a gift to a brutal anti-working class scandal sheet with a long track record of attempting to undermine socialists and trade unionists, including through the use of ’sex scandals’.
The crisis has been made worse by repeated statements from leading SSP members to the press that the party would not back Tommy Sheridan in his legal action against the News of the World. There were also claims by leading EC members that he wanted the party to lie to protect him.
All of this has acted to fuel the impression that Tommy Sheridan was sacrificed in order to avoid bad publicity or the accusation of colluding in a "lie" about personal matters.
This has played into the hands of the capitalist media who have produced acres of newsprint over how the SSP has lost its best asset and is tearing itself apart over the issue.
The EC carries significant responsibilty for that situation developing in the way that it has.
The CWI has serious political differences with Tommy Sheridan. But we recognise that he has retained significant authority among working class people in Scotland. It is through Tommy Sheridan that many workers identify with the SSP.
Much of this authority was built when he was the figurehead of the anti-poll tax struggle in Scotland. At that time he and other leaders of the SSP were still members of the CWI.
The SSP has largely built its support up until now on its opposition to poverty and inequality; an implacable stand against the imperialist occupation of Iraq and through its support for workers in struggle such as the PCS members and Scotland’s nursery nurses.
It is only by basing itself on these principles, while advancing a clear socialist and class programme, that the SSP can recover and move forward. It is that course that the CWI in Scotland is advocating the SSP should now take.