2003: Shades of Daniel Defoe – The rise and fall of Tommy Sheridan and the Scottish Socialist Party
Tommy Sheridan, Colin Fox and other left wing activists had started making significant in-roads into Scottish politics causing concern in London, triggering long established controlling mechanisms implementation of which would be charged to the British Secret Service (MI5).
Politically active Tomkins established strong links with senior members of a rapidly expanding SSP through the common cause of republicanism.
In the 2003 Holyrood election the SSP increased their MSP representation from one to six and a number of independent MSP’s also entered the new “rainbow parliament”.
In the first year of the new parliament the SSP fought for policies such as free school meals and an end to prescription charges (both introduced in a later parliament by SNP) and campaigned against Home Office dawn raids to remove failed asylum seekers.
But the outward show of unity was deceiving, all was not well, the party was reported to be heavily in debt and in November 2004, its leader, Tommy Sheridan announced his resignation.
A Sheridan supporter of long standing, Colin Fox, who had been elected as a Socialist MSP in 2003, took over and in parliament under his leadership, the SSP continued to pursue its socialist policies, albeit frequently disrupting parliamentary business by way of volatile protest.
Not long after Rupert Murdoch’s, News of the World exposed and destroyed Sheridan’s political career alleging sexual misconduct in office, using information largely gathered through illegal phone tapping of Sheridan and SSP officers.
The editor was Bob Bird, then husband of BBC news-reader Jackie Bird.
Sheridan won a £200,000 defamation action and costs, despite eleven party figures, including Fox, Kane and Leckie, giving evidence against him and later announced he had left the Party.
He went on to set up a new left-wing party, “Solidarity.”
The News of the World refused to give up its attacks on Sheridan and the SSP and the case rumbled on between 2004 – 2016 triggering “Operation Rubicon” which was set up by Strathclyde Police in parallel to a wider inquiry into alleged criminality at the News of the World in London.
The fall out included: A jail sentence for Sheridan. The closure of the News of the World in Scotland then later in England and many charges of illegal phone tapping and fraud being lodged by legal authorities against Sheridan, Bob Bird and Andy Coulson.
A classic MI5 operation possibly never to be proved but the SSP and Solidarity was rejected by the electorate in the 2007 Scottish election and has never recovered its former status.
After closing arguments and before the jury retired to consider its verdict, Lord Turnbull said the conflicting evidence given to the court may have meant some people had been perjuring themselves – an offence which could lead to a prison sentence.
Tommy Sheridan won his defamation case against the News of the World and the tabloid was ordered to pay him £200,000 damages.
Bob Bird, (husband of BBC news presenter Jackie Bird) then editor in Scotland of the News of the World, said he was “absolutely astonished” at the outcome and indicated he would appeal the verdict.
Days after the closing of the case Lord Turnbull, registered a formal complaint against the conduct of Tommy Sheridan’s legal team, voicing concerns about allegations that had been put to a witness, that she had a conviction for credit card fraud and had served a prison sentence.
These turned out to be false and Sheridan sacked his legal team.
Two months later the Procurator Fiscal ordered police to carry out a criminal investigation into allegations of perjury during the case.
A Crown Office spokesman said it was not possible to speculate on the timescale for the investigation. Tommy Sheridan, dismissed the launch of the formal inquiry as “nothing new”.
In January 2011 Sheridan was found guilty of lying in order to win the £200,000 libel action against the News of the World tabloid, after the longest perjury trial in Scottish legal history.
Lord Bracadale said Sheridan had deliberately committed perjury after ignoring a series of warnings from friends not to sue the News of the World over its allegations about his sex life. He was jailed for three years. He served one year.
Sheridan who was denied the right of appeal, claimed he was the victim of a “conspiracy” involving the News of the World and other unspecified individuals.
Sheridan’s lawyer, Aamer Anwar, announced he would appeal and would start legal proceedings against News International, the owner of the tabloid, as well as the Metropolitan police and Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator jailed for hacking mobile phones for the paper.
The trial had been told that Sheridan’s home address, phone number and pin code appeared in Mulcaire’s notebooks when the paper was preparing its exposés of Sheridan’s sex life.
A senior Metropolitan Police detective, admitted at the trial that the force never investigated why Sheridan’s name and details appeared in Mulcaire’s notebook.
Andy Coulson, until early January 2011 David Cameron’s chief media adviser had given evidence during Sheridan’s trial about the hacking scandal – he had been the paper’s London editor when the stories of Sheridan’s sex life were published and it lost the defamation action.
Referring to Coulson’s very recent resignation as David Cameron’s head of communications, because of an escalating hacking controversy, Sheridan said Coulson should face “real justice” and be prosecuted for the alleged hacking.
The paper’s legal team confirmed it would be appealing against Sheridan’s libel victory and would demand that Sheridan pay all its legal costs if it wins, potentially bankrupting him. Under electoral law, Sheridan would be barred from standing again for parliament if he became an undischarged bankrupt.
The case rambled on for years and finally ended in 2018 with Sheridan retaining the £200k and costs awarded to him in the defamaton case. The News of the World closed.
About Andy Coulson:
Coulson became the Conservative Party’s director of communications in July 2007 and following the 2010 general election, he was appointed by David Cameron to the post of Communications Director at 10 Downing Street.
It is alleged Cameron was persuaded by Rebekah Wade to appoint Coulson. The paper quoted: “an individual intimately involved in Mr Coulson’s recruitment” as saying “Rebekah indicated the job should go to Andy.
Cameron was told it should be someone acceptable to News International. The company was also desperate to find something for Andy after he took the rap when the phone hacking first became an issue. The approach was along the lines of, ‘If you find something for Andy we will return the favour”
About a year later, he was arrested over phone-hacking allegations. He was charged with conspiracy to illegally intercept communications and, in 2014, was sentenced to 18 months in prison, eventually serving just under five.
His arrest and subsequent conviction led some to question the prime minister’s judgment.
Coulson was also charged with having committed perjury during the trial in 2010 of Tommy and Gail Sheridan. He was scheduled to stand trial in April 2015 but the trial was postponed to 11 May 2015 because of the general election.
On 1 June 2015, Lord Burns, acquitted Coulson. Explaining his ruling, Lord Burns said that for Coulson to be found guilty it was necessary for the Crown to prove that the allegedly untrue evidence he had given at the 2010 Sheridan trial had been relevant to the issues in it.
Weird this!!! Surely the Crown needed only to prove Coulson to be a liar.
The judge added that it was for him, and not the jury, to decide on this aspect of the case and that the Crown’s legal submissions had failed to satisfy him that Coulson’s evidence had been sufficiently relevant to the Sheridan trial. (So the state intervened and closed all avenues of investigation)
Coulson was defended by the most senior judge in Scotland Richard Keen QC (an old friend of whom there is much more to come)
Oct 2004: The Calton Hill Independence Rally
On the day her majesty, Queen Elizabeth officially opened the new £431 million Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood it was revealed that no one would face criminal charges over the fiasco of overcharging.
As expected the Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal declared there was no grounds for complaint after a probe into the awarding of contracts for the Holyrood site.
The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) co-ordinated a rally for independence at Calton Hill in October 2004 at which the “Declaration of Calton Hill”, setting out a vision of an inclusive and outward-looking Scottish republic was presented.
The case was advanced for a Scottish socialist republic without a monarchy or nuclear weapons, with a currency independent of England, a much reduced level of military spending and a relationship with the European Union safeguarding Scotland’s independence.
Addressing a cheering crowd, Law Professor, Adam Tompkins of Glasgow University, reminded them of the Queen’s previous reluctance to pay tax despite her massive income.
He said that the queen had special powers or `prerogatives`, which included being able to appoint anyone she liked as Prime Minister.
You cannot sue the monarchy. He said Tony Blair used these special powers to attack Iraq and there would have no Iraq war without the crown.
In a democracy it is the people who are sovereign and not the crown! He urged the abolition of the monarchy preaching, “If you want democracy down with the crown!”
Adam Tomkins addressing the rally
Oct 2004: The Declaration of Independence was presented to the rally – Did Professor Adam Tomkins Co- Write It With the SSP?
We the undersigned call for an independent Scottish republic built on the principles of liberty, equality, diversity and solidarity.
These principles can never be put into practice while Scotland remains subordinate to the hierarchical and anti-democratic institutions of the British State.
We believe these principles can be brought about by a freely elected Scottish Government with full control of Scotland’s revenues.
We believe that the right to self-determination is an inherent right, and not a boon or a favour to be granted to us whether by the Crown or the British State.
We believe that sovereignty rests in the people and vow to fight for the right to govern ourselves for the benefit of all those living in Scotland today, tomorrow and in future times.
The Government of a country is servant to the people, not master of the people.
We believe that a written Constitution will guarantee, under law, everyone’s right to freely vote, speak and assemble; and will guarantee the people’s right to privacy and protection, and access to information on all its Government’s doings.
We vow to fight for the power to refuse to send our sons and daughters to kill and die in unjust wars in foreign lands.
We vow to fight for the power to banish nuclear weapons of mass destruction from our land.
We vow to fight for the power to acquire and restrict the use of property or lands controlled by individuals, corporations or governments from beyond Scotland’s borders.
We vow to fight for the power to turn our depopulated land into a haven for those fleeing famine and persecution.
We vow to fight for the power to build a more equal society, free of poverty, through the redistribution of our vast wealth.
We vow to fight for the power to protect our soil, seas and rivers for our children and for the generations to come.
We swear to oppose all forms of national chauvinism, imperialism and racism.
We swear to oppose all forms of discrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnic origin, religion, place of birth, age, disability, sexuality or language.
We aim for an independent Scottish Republic in which people may live with dignity and with self-respect, free from exploitation, assuming the responsibilities of free women and men.
An independent Scottish republic will negotiate freely and as an equal with governments of other lands.
Our aim is not to erect walls of separation, but to build an outward looking, Scotland that will extend the hand of friendship to all the peoples of the world.
We vow to continue the struggle for a free, democratic Scottish republic for as long as it may take. The fight is for freedom.
Calton Hill rally
2005: Pamphlet, “How we Should Rule Ourselves” praising the benefits of a republic over the monarchy co-authored and produced by Prof Adam Tomkins and Alisdair Gray
Rafael Behr of the Observer reviewed the work and said.
Authors, Alisdair Gray and Tomkins make a strong case for establishing a Republican nation writing:
“Courtesy of Queen Elizabeth II, we will elect a new parliament on 5 May.
By Her Majesty’s leave, a victorious leader will then form a government. No royal assent, no power.
That’s the rule.”
It is, say Gray and Tomkins, a rum do. We are all subjects of the Crown, and the power that parliament and the courts wield over us is borrowed from hereditary sovereignty.
Should it not be the other way around, with sovereign people lending power to their leaders on condition of good behaviour?
The book makes the case for republican reform robustly and breathlessly, burning through the story of democracy from ancient Athens to the present day in one drag of a left-wing pamphleteer’s cigarette.
The merits and failings of the English Civil War, the French, American and Industrial Revolutions are emphatically flicked into the ashtray of history.
And, at the end of the yarn, the butt is stubbed out contemptuously on New Labour’s record of constitutional tampering.
What we need, argue the authors, is a parliament without whips and aconstitution without the Crown.”