Headline Losing the life and soul of the party

Rock on, Tommy. What would the Scottish Parliament be like without Mr Sheridan? It is like asking what small Scottish towns would be like if the Italians had never arrived. They would be about as exciting as watching paint that has already dried gradually flake and fall off.

Picture a wet November night in 1850s Airdrie with the chip papers blowing across the high street like tumbleweed. Do we want Holyrood to be like that?

There are very few memorable characters in our young parliament and we simply cannot afford to lose Sheridan, who is under pressure to step back from public life in the aftermath of an expose of his private life in the News of the World.

If he goes, Sheridan will be missed since he has, with his colleague Rosie Kane, been among a tiny sub-group of MSPs capable of setting the heather alight.

The Scottish Socialist Party has so far been an exception to the rule that proportional representation means dull representation. It usually puts the selection of MSPs firmly in the hands of party apparatchiks. On paper it may be fairer than the old Chariots-of-Fire style race but it tends to mean our elected representatives are people who are better at sucking up to the powerful than being independent-minded

And Tommy has been of a decidely independent mind since he was old enough to leaflet. He has cared enough for his causes to go to prison. During the first of his three spells as a guest of Her Majesty he was elected to Glasgow District Council. He was in the vanguard of the battle to oppose the poll tax and on the peace lines blockading the nuclear submarine base at Faslane. Agruably his greatest achievement has been as an MSP when his campaign to abolish warrant sales inflicted the first defeat on the Scottish Executive.

List MSPs who vote against the party whip, who break out of the cosy consensus in the party or who in any way stick their necks out risk not being on the list next time. Let’s hope Sheridan’s name stays at the top of the SSP list at the next election, although last week his party played Cockney Rebel to his Steve Harley, when it declared it didn’t need the
front-man any more. It could be wrong about that.

Tommy Sheridan has always stood out and the pressure on him and his family must have been enormous this past week. There was obviously huge turmoil in the party before the story appeared. Now it has, there seems to be a great deal of sympathy for the Sheridans outside the party. Perhaps Scotland does not want all of its politicians to be boring,
indistinguishable girlymen.

A footnote to the Sheridan story is that it provides a further indication of how the agendas of Scotland and London are diverging with the London papers making no mention of what was splashed across our front pages this week. It was their loss – they had to content themselves with the tale of Boris Johnson and an inverted pyramid of piffle, which is what he called allegations he had an affair with Petronella Wyatt.

The most worrying thing about the story, which was illustrated with pictures of him in his wacky jogging ensemble, is that it looks as if headbands may be making a comeback. (Johnson, of course, did not write the article in the Spectator about Liverpool which caused him so much opprobrium – in fact, he may not even have seen it before publication but,
as editor, he had to accept responsibility for it.)

On a more serious note, it is worrying for Scotland that the north of England rejected regional assemblies. It was an opportunity to challenge the power balance between the south and the north. The London-based power elite that runs Britain has taken that no vote as a rejection of power and a rejection of regional identity, and has regarded
it as leave to retreat back to its comfort zone.

Two developments showed this earlier in the week – ITV plans to halve its amount of regional programming and the BBC is to keep its flagship television channels in London.
Metropolitan staff will no doubt be pleased at the news they will never again have to venture more than three miles from the Groucho Club, but Britain is the loser. It is crazy that this country is run by and for the inhabitants of one region.

The black hole that is London and the south-east looks set to continue to suck in the best and brightest from elsewhere. Most of Scotland’s high-fliers still have to spend half their time in the British Airways’ executive lounge at Heathrow and there will be no change there. Things may even get worse before they get better.

The Scottish Parliament has a great deal of work to do and it cannot afford to decapitate itself by getting rid of its most gifted members on the basis of small scandals. Tommy Sheridan must stay and he should stay as leader of the Scottish Socialists. Comrades, remember that today’s newspaper lines tomorrow’s cat-litter tray.

The Scottish Herald
November 17th 2004