Frontline volume 2, issue 1.

Crisis Counselling - Choices for the SSP

Bill Bonnar gives a personal view of the current crisis facing the SSP, which broke as Frontline was about to go to press. We plan to have a broader view of the situation in the next issue.

When the history of the SSP is eventually written, the last few weeks will go down as its bleakest period. The order from the courts to hand over internal documents, the jailing of Alan McCombes and a planned legal onslaught against the party in terms of further jailings and fines threatened to completely destroy the SSP. It also meant that the simmering undercurrent around former Convener, Tommy Sheridan, erupted into a full scale battle with party members very publicly tearing lumps out of each other. The purpose of this article is to look at how the SSP got here and what is likely to happen next.

What has emerged is a major conflict between the Executive Committee and Tommy Sheridan with rank and file SSP members lining up on either side. The emergency national council that rejected the Executive’s motion to defy the state and refuse to hand over the controversial EC minutes, also saw some of the party’s platforms swinging behind Tommy Sheridan’s case. The Socialist Workers’ Platform and CWI Scotland played a central role in a co-ordinated and choreographed uproar that many experienced comrades describe as the worst meeting they have ever attended.


The conflict dates from that fateful day in November 04 when Tommy was asked to step down as National Convener due to allegations about his personal life in the News of the World and how those allegation might impact on the party. Like all conflicts there are elements of truth on both sides and before battle lines are irretrievably drawn it is important to discuss what these conflicting truths are.

Tommy now clearly believes that the Executive were wrong to force him to stand down and has stated that he regrets doing so. The Executive argue that the issue was clear cut and points to the near unanimous vote at the executive meeting that night. Although not privy to these discussions for obvious reasons most SSP members backed the EC line. Since then, however, there has been a lingering doubt. To what extent, faced with the belief that far more damaging allegations were out there, did the Executive panic. With hindsight, and with no new allegations, would the vote have been quite as unanimous and, in fact, would Tommy have so readily acquiesced?


Then there is the famous secret minute. As a democratic organisation the SSP has a right and a duty to record official meetings and it was therefore entirely appropriate that a minute of that Executive meeting was taken. Those, in the party, who argue differently, are simply wrong. However, it has never been properly explained why the minute should provide details which might be personally damaging to Tommy. There are many ways to write a minute.

Tommy also argues that a person or persons unknown within the leadership of the party has been leaking details to the press. This is self-evidently true.

He also argues that he has been subject to a smear campaign resulting in damaging rumours about his personal life being circulated in the party as part of a conspiracy to discredit him; this conspiracy originating from a ‘cabal’ of leading women in the party. Is there any truth in this? While some rumours have undoubtedly been circulating there is simply no evidence that these have become common currency within the party nor that an organised conspiracy exists. What is clear is that relationships between Tommy and certain leading members in the party have irretrievably broken down and that this has been the case for some time.

In his open letter to SSP members Tommy clearly harboured a deep sense of grievance at the way he had been treated. Party members will have their own views on the justification for this. What can’t be in any doubt, however, is the degree of frustration and anger felt by many party members as to the way the party has been dragged into Tommy’s personal life and his court case against the News of the World and the damage that this has done and is doing to the party.


However, we are where we are. If the party and Tommy survive the various court cases, what happens next? It appears to me that there are a number of different scenarios.

The first is that the party emerges from the court case damaged and extremely divided. Party members then spend the next few months tearing lumps out of each other and the SSP goes into the elections in May 07 too weak to make an impact and is wiped out. The recriminations and in-fighting continue although there would actually be little left to fight over.

Second, Tommy makes an immediate bid for the leadership. He has already stated that he regrets stepping down as Convener and in his recent letter talked of the need to ‘retake the party’. A Special Conference is called in which Tommy wins the Convenership. Elections to the EC remove opponents and the party unites behind Tommy. However, this would prove a phiric victory as many good people would be driven out the party and a dangerous precedent set on how we handle future conflicts. The great strength of the SSP to date has been the way that differences have been channelled in such a way as to avoid damaging divisions. This is because there has been a recognition that all sides have a vested interest in preserving unity and seeking consensus. This approach would be replaced by which side can mobilise most effectively and inflict defeat on the other and is a recipe for the party to be plagued with damaging splits in the future.

Third, after the court cases, all sides recognise that we are facing an abyss and that unless unity and consensus are reforged the party will never be able to fulfil its historic destiny. It goes without saying that this scenario, although the most difficult to achieve, represents the best option. It would also be the option supported by the overwhelming majority of SSP members and supporters who have been left baffled and bemused by recent events.

The Left has a long and unfortunate history of internal strife although conflict is usually around issues rather than personalities. In its final years the once proud Communist Party literally tore itself apart in internal battles. Perhaps the saddest part of this was the way that people who were comrades in every conceivable meaning of that term became the bitterest of enemies. It destroyed the party and in turn destroyed them. Everyone has a responsibility to ensure that fate does not await the SSP. P