Between 1998 and 2004 the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) went from little more than a left-wing protest movement to Europe’s most successful socialist political party.
Building from one MSP elected in 1999 – just a year after the party was formed – the SSP surged into Holyrood in 2003 with six members, having received the support of over 150,000 people at the ballot box.
To many of the general public the SSP was Tommy Sheridan, the party’s charismatic convener, but the reality was five other extremely hard-working MSPs, their equally committed staff and thousands of party members the length and breadth of Scotland. Tommy was undoubtedly the high-profile frontman of the cause, but the SSP’s success was built on foundations created by so many other members who worked in the background, away from the limelight.
In reality, though, Tommy Sheridan’s impact on the SSP and on the public perception of the party was such that, were he to fall, the resultant crash would be of sufficient strength to severely weaken even the strongest foundations.
Of course, Tommy did fall, in spectacular fashion, and the resultant damage to the SSP was almost fatal.
Much has been written about the ‘Sheridan trials’ – first when Tommy sued the News of the World, then when he was prosecuted for perjury arising from the first trial – and most people will have formed an opinion as to who was right and who was wrong. Was Tommy right to take on the News of the World and the Murdoch empire over their salacious stories about his private life? Were members of the SSP leadership right to refuse to lie in court? Ultimately, who was responsible for actions that seriously damaged the cause of socialism?
One man who was at the centre of the devastation that befell the SSP in 2004 was Alan McCombes, a friend and political ally of Tommy Sheridan for twenty-years and formerly the party’s national policy and press co-ordinator. In ‘Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story’, Alan McCombes sets out in detail what happened at SSP meetings and describes the two trials and their impact on those involved and on the socialist movement in Scotland. It’s a fascinating story.
I was an MSP through much of the time described in ‘Downfall’ and was relatively close to SSP MSPs on both sides of the divide that emerged in the party. I, too, had formed opinions about what happened, but Alan McCombes’ book reveals just how little I actually knew.
It’s well worth a read.
Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story