The harsh three-year jail sentence handed to former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan for perjury involving the reactionary News of the World, contrasts with the six months given to sleazy private detective Glen Mulcaire, who was paid by the same paper to illegally tap phones.
Sheridan sued the NoW for defamation in 2006 after they published stories about him; he won £200,000 in damages. The NoW admitted in court that they had exaggerated their story, that allegations about drugs, for example, were made up.
But after Sheridan’s win, police launched a perjury investigation. A former friend and comrade of Sheridan’s, one George McNeilage, went to the NoW with a video purporting to show Sheridan admitting that he had told a meeting of the SSP executive that the newspaper’s story was true. The NoW paid him £200,000 for it.
SSP general secretary Alan McCombe went to jail for contempt when he refused to hand over minutes of that meeting. In the end the minutes were handed over under duress and SSP executive members gave evidence for the prosecution.
The NoW is a despicable anti-union rag, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News International. It was while recklessly socialising with NoW journalist Anver Khan that Sheridan was caught out.
But the NoW had other stories about Sheridan in addition to Khan’s sting. It is not clear how they knew about Sheridan’s relationships, but it appears that his may be one of the phones tapped by Mulcaire.
The Metropolitan Police have consistently refused to fully investigate the phone tapping or to inform people they were targets. Sheridan says he will take action against the paper, joining celebrities and politicians queuing up to sue them.
Former MSP’s Colin Fox and Frances Curran issued a quite cruel statement when the sentence was announced, saying Sheridan had nobody but himself to blame.
The state has certainly chosen to make an example of him. Remember Jonathan Aitken MP, who lied about a story published in the Guardian and was found guilty of perjury? Aitken’s case involved large sums of money in brown envelopes from an arms dealer. He only got 18 months. Sheridan is paying a heavy price for his indiscretions.
And what about the NoW’s lies? They claimed that Mulcaire was hired by a “rogue reporter” and that nobody else at the paper knew what was going on. That tale is now unravelling as news editor Ian Edmondson is suspended and former editor Andy Coulson has been forced to resign from his top job as David Cameron’s press secretary.
This won’t be Sheridan’s first jail term. He was locked up in 1992 for his courageous stand against the poll tax and while in jail was elected MP for Glasgow Pollok.
His descent from that political high point is surely connected with his having been drawn into the wretched reformist electoral politics of the Scottish Parliament, with its well-documented junketing, and equally well-documented failure to improve the lives of the poor, the young, and the unemployed.
Fox finished his statement on Sheridan’s conviction with an an opportunist call for the SSP, which split over the Sheridan case, to reunite. There seems to be no basis for this, other than that there are local and Scottish Parliamentary elections coming up. The other side of the split – known as Solidarity – have already found a replacement populist politician in George Galloway.
Surely there has to be a better way forward than this. We have a real opportunity to get away from the old corrupt electoral machine at Holyrood which is busy implementing the cuts handed down from Westminster while banging the nationalist drum.
Rather than grubbing round for votes, we should build People’s Assemblies where all sections of the community – the poor, the young, the unemployed, trade unionists and students – can unite against the cuts and fight for democratic control and ownership of all Scotland’s resources in an alliance with workers in other parts of Britain.