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Showing posts with label BSkyB. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BSkyB. Show all posts

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The SNP’s mortal sin – pragmatism – so say the unionists – and the Left?

I mentioned recently that we were perhaps in another phoney war period, only to be sharply reminded by some SNP activists that while I was sitting comfortably musing at the keyboard with a coffee in my hand, they were out on the streets doing the hard, vital slog of canvassing and leafleting for the critical local elections.

I bow my head and acknowledge the truth – that although full battle has not commenced, there is crucial ground to be won that will have an infinite impact on morale, and on the lives of Scots dealing daily with fallout from the disastrous remedies being pursued by the Coalition to address the shambles left by Labour – remedies designed to protect the rich and powerful by making the ordinary people pay the price, punishing them with increasing severity for crimes they did not commit.

Watching the complacent rich boy Clegg deliver his feeble justifications for the action of his government and his LibDem hit men - Alexander and Cable - to Isabel Fraser on Sunday made me want to throw up.

Nicola Sturgeon put this in a nutshell at the Glasgow University Law School last night when she stated that the Union was now the biggest threat to the welfare state, and only independence offered the decent choice.

Faced with a totally objective statement on the State of the Economy by Dr. Gary Gillespie, Bill Jamieson, Editor of the Scotsman was left with a dilemma  - how counter such objective neutrality while appearing to remain neutral oneself? Bill Jamieson’s big idea was to complain that John Swinney offered a comment on what this meant for the Scottish economy immediately after the speech, and worse still, said what the SNP Government were going to do about it.

That’s what government’s are supposed to do, Bill – that’s what we elected them to do. We also expect our newspaper editors to present objective views as well, but the Scottish electorate have had one expectation fulfilled and the other less so … 

Bill Jamieson comments on the absence of debt interest from the analysis, and Scotland’s share of it.

Since the debt was caused by a UK Labour Government’s mishandling of the economy during a global crisis and compounded by the UK Coalition’s mishandling of the remedies, one might reasonably think that until Scotland is independent of these UK incompetents, there is not a lot of point agonising about that which we don’t and can’t influence until after 2014. Bill Jamieson would call this blaming the UK for Scotland’s ills. Well, yes, Bill – that’s because they are to blame. His earlier comment, that “nothing is measured and neutral in Scottish politic today” is certainly true, least of all what emanates from the Scotsman.

THE PRAGMATISM THING

But strangely enough, there is a criticism of the SNP Government and of Alex Salmond specifically that comes from both the unionist camp – entirely predictably – but also from the independence-supporting Left, represented by many commentators and by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, and that is that the SNP and the First Minister are guilty of the sin of pragmatism.

Pragmatism: a philosophy that evaluates assertions solely by their practical consequences and bearing on human interests. From the Greek pragma, a deed.

I readily accept that a political philosophy based solely on pragmatism is doomed to failure – to a series of compromises that ultimately prove fatal because they ignore an underlying reality and a grand strategic imperative. But it is also true that a political philosophy based on grand narratives that ignores reality and the need to adapt to changing circumstance is also doomed to failure, and a failure that is likely to be fundamentally damaging to a society over a much longer period.

The general who reacts tactically, but has no strategy may succeed in the short term, but will fail in the long term. The general with a grand strategy may hold to it in the face of short-term reverses, but without a tactical dimension, will ultimately be brought down a by a series of failures, or by a fundamental and rapid change in the dynamics of the situation faced.

The unionists, who are essentially of the right in politics - even though Labour and the LibDems can’t face that this is what they have become – are instinctively economic pragmatists locked in a destructive and false grand narrative about the nature of society, and therefore make the wrong pragmatic choices, as Blair did, for example.

The Left are locked in a grand narrative that profoundly distrusts pragmatism, believing that all evidence that contradicts the grand dogma must of necessity be false, and must be ignored, lest compromise blunts the edge of the great plan. This folly unfolded tragically throughout the whole of the twentieth century, and has played itself out through all of my life, during which I saw the Labour Party gain power after a destructive but necessary war and transform British society with a mixture of radicalism on their grand narrative and necessary pragmatism in the face of post-war reconstruction, yet ultimately fail to maintain that balance, drifting back into dogma.

Both the unionists and the Scottish independent left are now united in a criticism of the SNP’s and Alex Salmond’s pragmatism, but mean very different things by it.

The unionists want the SNP to conform to their stereotypes of the nationalist character.

They want them to be nostalgic, Braveheart and Bannockburn nationalists, they want them to be separatist and insular, they want them to be republican, not monarchist, they want them to be anti-English, they want them to be isolationist and not internationalist, to be economically illiterate and unrealistic, to be addicted to borders, boundaries and passports, to be anti-European, to reject the inter-dependence of the modern world, to be anti-defence alliances, pacifist, and above all, they want them to be racist.

The fact that neither the Scottish National Party nor its leaders are any of these things is a source of constant frustration to unionists, especially Labour unionists. There is nothing worse than being faced with a reality that will not conform to your stereotypes.

This is why, for example, the American racist right could not abide the existence of articulate, qualified and successful blacks, and tried to deny the blazing reality of black talent in the arts, in music, in theatre. This is why those who resisted the rights and equality of women could not abide the reality of strong-minded, capable, successful articulate women. Because in both cases, to acknowledge it meant that they must be allowed to vote, to govern, be equally rewarded, and  take their place in society as free and independent human beings.

But what of the Scottish Left – committed to independence, yet suspicious of the SNP’s pragmatism in government? Well, firstly, they do not see an independent Scotland as an SNP fiefdom for all time after independence. Neither do I.

After independence, normal democratic politics will return, and the parties will compete for the ear and the votes of the electorate on their programmes for Scotland. Between the SNP, the LibDems and Labour, there will simply be a dialogue on the best policies to achieve a democratic Scotland that care about its people, about its public sector, about a dynamic and entrepreneurial private sector, about education, about defence, etc.

There will still be a gulf between these three parties and the Tories, because that has been a great divide in Scottish society for a long time now. But the Tories will have their place in the new democracy, and it will be a stronger, more influential place than it is now.

So what’s bugging the Scottish Left about the SNP’s pragmatism,?

It seems to come down to two things – the monarchy and corporate-friendly policies. At the heart of the monarchy question is the fact that the left tend to be instinctively republican, as I am.

How can a democrat support a crucial part of the political structure that rests on birth and divine authority, not to mention one that cascades into a whole structure of dependency and unelected privilege?

Answer – only by the pragmatic view that such a symbol matters to large sectors of the electorate and that, properly controlled and limited, it can provide the role and function of Head of State that seems to be necessary in democracies across the globe – and of course the fact that democratic parties may be unelectable unless they accept such a symbolic institution.

The other dimension to this question is whether or not the ‘policy’ that Alex Salmond has stated clearly on many occasions, most recently to Andrew Neil on the Sunday Politics is in fact a policy approved by SNP members. The evidence seems to be that it is not. Shock, horror? Well, no. Anyone who thinks that political parties when in government only create policy with the approval of their party members  has had their eyes and ears closed to reality and history, not to mention to constitutional realities.

Governments are not elected by political parties, they are comprised of individuals elected by voters – the electorate. The electorate is in part influenced by the party that the candidate belongs to, and that party’s manifesto, but also by the candidate themselves and what they are committed to. They also elect a representative within a representative democracy, a representative who is free to accept or ignore the party whip – a representative who is neither a delegate of the party nor a delegate of the electorate, but an individual who, once elected, will act freely in accordance with their beliefs, in step or out of step with the party, and if necessary, out of step with the electorate.

We are not a populist democracy – we do not govern by referendum, we give a free mandate for a fixed term to an individual, but with some reasonable expectations on how that individual will behave while in office.

The only remedy of the party, if unhappy with their member, is to remove the party whip and de-select at the next election, and the only remedy for the electorate is not to vote for the candidate at the next election. We have seen this uncomfortable reality at work recently in the Joyce and Walker cases. In fact, I am not uncomfortable with it – I like the system, and accept its occasional frustrations as the price of the benefits it conveys.

So I don’t give a bugger whether the SNP Government or Alex Salmond have the imprimatur of the party membership for their policy on the Queen. I think the electorate knew that was their position when they elected them, and moreover, I think the republicans in the party – like me – knew it as well, and accept it as a necessary pragmatism. There is, of course, the argument that after independence - since the monarchy is a constitutional issue - it should be the subject of a referendum.

I reject that, as I believe most republicans in the party and the electorate reject it, because it would be seen a pragmatism taken a step too far, towards blatant expediency and deceit practised on the monarchists for whom this issue might be a deal-breaker in how they cast their vote. If we go into the referendum with a Keep the Queen policy, then we must live with it for the foreseeable future because that is the only honourable and decent thing to do.

And so to the ‘corporate-friendly’ policies of Alex Salmond, epitomised in the minds of his critics as low corporation tax and the meeting with Rupert Murdoch. One might reasonably ask if the critics would like the First Minister of Scotland, at a time a deep economic uncertainty over jobs and private sector activity, to pursue corporate-unfriendly policies?

But let’s move to the Murdoch meeting, and look to the Guardian for a reasonably objective factual report on it. Here’s what the Guardian and the Press Association said on 29th February -

Rupert Murdoch met Scotland's first minister on Wednesday to discuss the potential for further investment in the country. The News Corp chairman met Alex Salmond in Edinburgh, where they also talked about the country's constitutional future and the Leveson inquiry into press standards.

A spokesman for Salmond said: "This was a very constructive meeting focused on News Corporation's substantial economic footprint in Scotland and the first minister and Mr Murdoch discussed the potential for further investment within the country.

"Mr Murdoch was keen to express his view that the current debate on Scotland's constitutional future continued to make Scotland an attractive place for inward investment.

"During the meeting, the first minister indicated support for the Leveson inquiry and police investigations into journalistic malpractice.

"Mr Murdoch gave strong assurances that News International is intent on consigning these matters to the past and emerging a better organisation for it."

Also at the meeting was Tom Mockridge, the chief executive of News International.

Frankly, the critics are out of their skulls if they think there is anything sinister or untoward in such a meeting with such an agenda. Murdoch’s organisation have been bad boys, aided by the Metropolitan Police and the close and intimate friends of David Cameron – Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brookes, not to mention the close and intimate relationship between the Labour Party under Blair then Brown for years.

But Murdoch is not the Antichrist – he is an international businessman who was allowed to get to big for his boots by successive UK Governments who had their own narrow political interests at heart rather than than the integrity of democracy. He is also a large employer of people who are doing decent professional jobs - and very necessary jobs – in an economy that desperately needs jobs.

Let the First Minister say it all in his own inimitable, principled and – yes – pragmatic style. If BSkyB comes to Scotland, I for one will be delighted – and so will a helluva lot of unemployed Scots, who don’t give a green damn about the scruples of the Left, or a vague, romantic idea of internationalism that has huge appeal for the kind of people who theorise about such things, but has never produced anything except destructive wars and ideological divides.


Thursday, 21 July 2011

Hackergate Debate 20 July 2011 - a selection of questions

This is a selection of questions from the early part of the debate. It is almost exclusively confined to Labour questions, since virtually all of the Tory questions were of the "How wonderful you are David, Labour was twice as culpable, why are we discussing this at all?" variety.

I share the view that Labour were at least as culpable with Murdoch, however, they are not the Government - the Tory-led Coalition is, and the exposure of the shameful behaviour of News International and Cameron's cosy relationship with it came from an indefatigable Labour MP, Tom Watson, and of course, The Guardian newspaper.


Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Hackergate - What did Cameron say to Rebekah and the Murdochs on BSkyB?

I have unqualified admiration for the ingenuity that David Cameron deploys to avoid answering a straight question. He avoided it when it came from Ed Miliband, and here again he ducks and weaves around four other attempts to get the truth.

But in his evasion, he has in fact given his answer, and everyone now knows the truth about his relationship with Coulson, the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks, despite his current desperate attempts to distance himself from his former neighbours and cronies.


Wednesday, 13 July 2011

News of the World: a note of distinct unease among the unionists - and others…

I never went to university, having been forced to leave school at fifteen to earn a living to support myself and my widowed mother. The Glasgow of 1950 was an unforgiving place to someone of my class and economic circumstances. But over the years, especially during my management consultancy years, I have had contact with universities, enough to realise that the groves of Academe are as rife with feuds and petty politicking as industry and commerce, and that such behaviour often rages unabated, unchecked as it is by any accountability to shareholders, give or take the odd undergraduate riot.

So I took some amusement from reading in today’s Scotsman of the behaviour of sundry professors at the University of Abertay, and the clear evidence that fancy dress doesn’t protect one’s back from being bitten.

But what caught my attention was a little piece tucked away up in the corner of page 7, at the end of a four-page coverage of the phone hacking affair. It is by a sociology lecturer at Abertay University, one Stuart Waiton, and it is entitled Analysis: NotW closure an act of liberal intolerance.

I wouldn’t exactly describe it as an analysis, more a little anti-liberal rant. Stuart is fond of inverted commas, which doubtless in the flesh he would offer as raised eyebrows while twiddling two raised finger as enclosing quotes to what he says. Paraphrased, his piece comes down to saying that the News of the World closure is a bad thing, brought about by “right thinking” people, the “liberal” elite - a “tolerant” group, driven by snobbery and fear of the “mob”. He dismisses the idea that the “right” is all powerful in our “neo-liberal” world as a myth. The quotes are all from Stuart, who clearly deeply distrusts “right thinking” people, “liberals” and their “tolerant” pretensions.

Tell it as you see it, Stuart. The only obvious omissions from your piece are references to the silent majority and an attack on The Guardian. It’s safe to assume that Stuart and I would not choose each other as drinking companions. Sociology must be an interesting discipline at Abertay, in among the coup plots, the spying, the allegations of the incompetence of the university court, the grievance letters, the resignations - a rewarding research laboratory right on a sociologist’s doorstep, with the conflict doubtless being exacerbated and its extent exaggerated by tolerant, right-thinking liberals and the mob.

For the record, Stuart: Rupert Murdoch took the decision to close the NotW, not tolerant, right-thinking liberals or the mob.

However, this strange little outburst, and a piece on essentially the same theme on page 29 by Allan Massie - who could not easily be mistaken for a liberal - gave me cause for wider consideration about just what is happening here …

The phone hacking crisis has been building for some years, but the accelerated pace of events over the last week, the enormity of the revelations, and the magnitude of the impact on the hitherto seemingly impregnable News International monolith have been welcome to many - including me - but deeply threatening to some.

Professional journalists have been uneasy over the closure of The News of the World, and are worried about just what form regulation of the press might take. These fears are entirely understandable, and in some respects, well-founded. When journalists of the reputation and calibre of Harry Reid and Tim Luckhurst call for a period of sober reflection before rushing into regulation of the press - as they did last night on Newsnight Scotland - we must listen and take account of their views.

But the collapse of the News of the World, the sudden ebbing away of power from the Murdoch organisation, the threat to the BSkyB takeover, the serious questions over the behaviour of the Metropolitan police, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron towards News International are of deep concern to other groups, with very different motives, sharing very different fears about the pattern of recent events and the forces that precipitated them.

The Guardian newspaper played the central role. This venerable news organ, once The Manchester Guardian, with a formidable reputation beyond its regional origins, was a formative influence on my political thinking throughout my youth and during my middle life. It is of course the bête noire of the right, infested as it is by tolerant, right-thinking liberals.

Throughout my career in business, espousing liberal - with a small l -values and ideals was treated with deep distrust by my main employers, and reading the Guardian newspaper was regarded as clear evidence of pinko-lefty tendencies and general unsoundness. One employer objected to my bringing it into the senior management/directors dining room, the existence of which, in itself, was evidence of their non-liberal values!

The forces in our society that were hostile to liberal values had initially seemed to me to be the forces of the right in politics, e.g. the Tories, and amoral big business, the military/industrial complex, and fundamentalist religious groups. However, this distinction - which had been blurring for decades - became irrelevant from Tony Blair onwards, as the Labour Party effectively became - and remain - the Tories Mark II.  Since the Liberal Democrats were becoming increasingly illiberal and undemocratic, especially in Scotland, it seemed at one point as though the game was lost to the forces of the right, and liberal values were in total retreat. The only gleam of hope for me was the SNP win in 2007.

In the absence of any effective opposition to the juggernaut of right-wing values and the increasing dominance of war, the military/industrial complex and the nuclear deterrent as the operating principles of the United Kingdom, those of a liberal persuasion in Scotland had the Scottish National Party, whereas the the people of England were left with no real political choice except the feeble, vacillating Liberal Democrats, who experienced a dramatic but short-lived revival of their electoral fortune before the 2010 general election, but then promptly betrayed their mandate utterly in coalition.

In short, the forces of reaction, anti-liberalism, anti-democratic values, anti-Europeanism, power and privilege were incarnate in the UK, in its three main political parties  - Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats - and the ever-present, ever-powerful unelected British Establishment.

The only possible response of the people to this denial of their democratic rights and freedoms was to operate outside of the perverted democratic process, through alternative media, friendly mainstream media and the power of social networking. Since the UK is not yet a totalitarian dictatorship, it has been possible to do this effectively without the use of violence, although inevitably some mass demonstrations had egregious episodes of violence by a tiny and unrepresentative minority. This has been in marked contrast to the so-called Arab Spring - a spontaneous wave of people power, with violence as its only route, provoking even more violent responses, with as yet unresolved and unpredictable outcomes.

The Scottish Parliamentary elections exploded into the complacent UK Establishment  consciousness in May of this year, delivering an unequivocal mandate to the Scottish National Party, and the ability to call a referendum on Scottish independence.

In the space of 24 hours, the possibility of the break-up of the UK, the removal of the nuclear bases from Scottish waters and Scottish soil, the removal of Scottish armed forces from Westminster control, the removal of Scottish oil revenues, Scottish tax revenues, Scottish whisky duty revenues - all of these things became a frightening reality for the UK Establishment and Westminster.

The present outbreak of consensus between the three UK parties, their enthusiastic but belated condemnation of Murdoch, News Corporation, News International, Andy Coulson, Rebekah Brooks, the police and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all, is an attempt to mask their complicity in what had gone before. This entire web of corruption and influence was and is the UK in all its sordid operating reality - a conspiracy of the rich and powerful - and those politicians who aspire to be both - to exploit the ordinary working people of this kingdom in its four component parts.

It was forced upon them, as was the exposure of the expenses scandal, of the cash for influence scandal, of the revelations of egregious incompetence of the Ministry of Defence, of the sordid machinations of the UK’s complicity in illegal and/or misconceived wars by the actions of those organs of the Press and media that remain beyond their influence and control - and most of all by the people, in their campaigns, in their use of the new media, and in their overwhelming disgust for what is being done to them in  the name of democracy.

And the Scottish manifestation of this deep unease with the true voice of the people, and their aspirations for a real democratic state has been to give a powerful mandate to a party they believe in. This mandate cannot be attacked directly by Scottish unionists, but they have targeted it obliquely by every avenue open to them, questioning the reasons that led them to decisively reject the unionist parties, trying to pretend that the electorate were fools and had been manipulated, that the turnout and the proportion of the vote was not a real mandate - the list of ‘charges’ is endless.

But in the phone hacking scandal, the unionists have taken to attacking the people themselves as deluded, complicit, as bringing it upon themselves.

Allan Massie, Defender of the Union par excellence, closes his otherwise bland piece - which contained no new insights, and says little that has not already been said - with an extraordinary final paragraph.

“Nobody owns the moral high ground in the present kerfuffle - and this includes the public with its appetite for salacious gossip. Of one thing we may be sure. If the Press is curbed, the appetite for such gossip and slanderous comment will not disappear. Already you can find more - and nastier examples of it on the so-called social media. The public indignation now being expressed is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in the glass.” 

In other words, it’s all the fault of the people - they are not driven by revulsion at the hacking of the phones of murder victims and their families, of the families of servicemen and woman killed in the UK’s foreign wars, nor at the manifest corruption of the Metropolitan Police Force, nor of those at the heart of government. The people are themselves to blame for bringing all this upon themselves and will do so again - their moral outrage is hypocritical.

I have this to say to Allan Massie - in choosing between the culpability of those who create, feed and profit by depraved appetites and those who suffer from them, the line of argument that chooses the victim is despicable: we have heard it articulated over alcohol abuse, over rape, over drug addiction, etc. and it is usually accompanied by a wish to avoid any form of legislation or practical action that would ameliorate the abuse, substituting instead moral posturing and an attack on the victim rather than the perpetrator.

Any commentator who values his or her reputation for objective comment, as I am sure he does, should consider vary carefully using any argument that contains a hint of this. In his unionist campaign to prevent Scots from achieving their nation’s freedom from and independence of the UK, Allan Massie should be alive to these dangers of unwitting association with the more extreme examples of this blame-the-people mode.

He says that nobody owns the moral high ground. I agree with him on that at least.

But some of us are on higher moral ground than that occupied by the present London-based UK political parties and by the British Establishment, and that higher ground is increasingly occupied by the people, especially the people of Scotland.

I invite him to join us on it - it will be worth the climb …

POSTSCRIPT: As of this afternoon, News Corp has withdrawn its bid for BSkyB.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Resign? Moi? Je ne regrette rien. Plus ça change plus c'est la même chose ...

Or, as we say in Glesca - Aye, right, Jimmy ...

And so the Dogged Sleuth of the Met passes into legend - or a pension?

Monday, 11 July 2011

Cameron the Coward–frit, frit, frit

David Cameron - frit, frit, frit, as Maggie would have said – or feart, as Scots would say.

Dodges the phone hacking/BSkyB debate and sends the hapless Hunt - a right Hunt if ever there was one - to take the flak, unable to answer questions.

Not even a slippery Old Etonian could have avoided incriminating himself faced with the forensic questioning of the House. He has taken the 5th, so to speak, by hiding from Parliament. What does he have to hide? A cosy Cotswolds dinner party with old pals Murdoch and Rebekah Brookes can't sort this one, Davy boy.

Scots! Let’s get the hell out of this corrupt Union as soon as possible.

Saor Alba!


Thursday, 7 July 2011

What I said about Tommy Sheridan 24th December 2010

From last year’s blog on Tommy -

Sheridan: Yesterday the verdict – today the inquest

I would categorise the polarities of the reactions – media and individual - to the verdict in the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial as follows -

1. Justice has been served – he brought it upon himself.  Sheridan was undoubtedly guilty. Perjury is a serious offence, and has the capacity to seriously damage the criminal justice system – it must be feel the full force of the law and be punished severely. It was not a political trial – it was public money well spent.

2. It was a political trial – a show trial – designed to satisfy News International, Rupert Murdoch, those who detest socialists of whatever ilk, and it was also a valuable smokescreen to cover the much more serious questions hanging over Andy Coulson, former editor of the NotW, now a senior advisor in the ConLib Government, over the phone tapping scandal by the News of the World. Tommy Sheridan is innocent of all the charges brought against him. There was a wide-ranging conspiracy to bring him down, one that included most of his former Scottish Socialist Party colleagues, News International, the Scottish Police and the Scottish justice system.

The truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in between, and that is the area I find myself in, much as I would like to be absolutely clear-cut in my view.

Let’s try to nail a few things down …

Did Tommy Sheridan bring it upon himself?

Leaving aside for the moment the question of his guilt or innocence (the Law has spoken but in a free country we may express our doubts over its verdict), Tommy Sheridan faced two crucial decision points – one when the News of the World’s made allegations about his private life, and the second when the Crown Office launched a prosecution for perjury against him and his wife, Gail Sheridan.

The original choice was to either ignore or contest the NotW allegations. To ignore them would undoubtedly have cost him his leadership of the SSP, and perhaps ultimately his parliamentary seat, but he could have survived that, diminished but not destroyed. His enemies would have claimed that his failure to contest the allegations was tantamount to an admission of guilt. His wife, the staunchly loyal - and in my book, wholly admirable - Gail Sheridan, would have stood by her husband. He could have rebuilt his career, perhaps with a new, Jack-the-Lad dimension to it, and could even have enhanced a media profile.

THE ORIGINAL CHOICE

If Tommy knew the allegations were true, he was extremely unwise to pit himself against the Murdoch empire, and in choosing to do so, he was following the paths of Aitken and Archer, both of whom destroyed their political careers and were imprisoned as a result of their choice. Only cynical self-interest, the instincts of a gambler and vanity could have led him to contest allegations that he knew were true.

If Tommy was innocent of the charges, then given his personality and the core of his political convictions, he was inevitable going to engage in the fight, even though the risks were appalling.

My advice to him, regardless of his guilt or innocence of the charges would have been – don’t do it, Tommy.

Nobody expected him to win, and there is some evidence that he did not expect to win against such a powerful adversary. Although he trumpeted his win in typical barnstorming, populist style, he must have known the inevitability of what would follow. The die had been cast, and a 21st century tragedy was about to unfold.

THE SECOND CHOICE

The second choice was whether or not to defend himself against the perjury charges laid by the Crown. Here, in my view, he had no real choice, whatever his private knowledge of guilt or innocence – he had to defend himself. To suggest as some have done, that he should not have defended himself to save the public purse the expense of a trial is utter nonsense. It is the legal system and the nature of the police investigations that create these enormous costs, estimated at £1m for the police investigation and £4m for the trial.

Sheridan was facing the inevitability of prison and crippling costs that would lead to bankruptcy. In my view, he had to fight, guilty or innocent. Most importantly, it would have been a betrayal of his wife’s unflinching loyalty and commitment to give up. There was no way back.

SHOULD THE PROSECUTION HAVE BEEN INITIATED AND HAS JUSTICE BEEN SERVED?

I say no to both questions. It should have been left to News International to decide what their remedies were after losing the initial civil action for damages.

Perjury, an offence that is committed countless times in every court daily throughout the land, is almost never prosecuted, and the egregious exceptions to this have been political – notably the Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer (Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare) perjury prosecutions.

In both these case, the prosecutions were justified by the rationale that these were powerful politicians and public figures – both Tories – who could not be seen to flout the law. Jonathan Aitken was seen as a future Prime Minister: Archer was a life peer and had been Chairman of the Conservative Party.

The same arguments and justification have been applied to the Sheridan prosecution. Why therefore was it wrong to prosecute him?

My answer is that in the Aitken and Archer cases, only they had been accused of perjury – in the first Sheridan trial, the Crown believed that many witnesses must have perjured themselves, but they only chose to prosecute Tommy and Gail Sheridan? Why not the others? Why not the ones who had testified against Sheridan? Why was a police investigation launched that appeared to focus solely on the Sheridans?

Secondly, the context in which a prosecution would have to be launched implied a political witch hunt, and some would say, a political smokescreen for the much more serious allegations against Andy Coulson, the former editor of the NotW, and now an influential man in Government, right-hand man to the Prime Minister.

All of this was taking place against a background where the very foundations of British democracy had been shaken by the expenses scandal, and were arguably being undermined by the concentration of power and influence in one media empire, News International, one that was seeking to extend its grip over news media by the BSkyB taekover.

And who would be the central players in a perjury prosecution against Tommy Sheridan?

News International’s flagship paper, the News of the World, and its former editor, now ConLib Government spinner-in-chief, Andy Coulson.

Where did the public interest lie under these circumstances, and where did the other, shadowy interests lie? In a time of economic stringency, was it wise or prudent to divert substantial police resource to investigating allegations of three-in-a-bed sex? To incur a cost of millions to the public purse for a long-drawn out show trial?

I close with a clip from last night’s BBC documentary on the case – a police interrogation of Gail Sheridan. These interrogation tapes appear to have been freely released to the BBC by the police, with what motive I cannot fathom.

But this excerpt is both damning and shaming in my view. It shows Gail Sheridan, a young mother, devoutly religious, deprived of her rosary beads, trying to act on the advice of her lawyers to exercise her absolute right not to answer questions.

Faced with her quiet determination to remain silent in the intimidating circumstances, after years of intolerable pressure on her and her family, in a bare room, the police interrogator virtually accuses her of having been trained in terror suspect techniques to avoid looking at the interrogator.

He refers to people “just like yourself” who have been held under the Terrorism Act for a period of seven days, “and that is the kind of activity I would expect from them. It is a recognised PIRA, IRA whatever – form of terrorism technique.” He waits, then asks “Who has trained you in the technique?”

And they say this was not a political trial …

Friday, 24 December 2010

Other views on the Sheridan Case–links
QC lambasts Sheridan case as "prostitution of Scots law": Law "lies in shame"

Ian Hamilton QC

“Scotland has lost three very different radical leaders in one year alone. And no, the potential arrival of George Galloway won’t help.”

Tommy's Troubles - Bella Caledonia

Should Sheridan's perjury trial have been prosecuted?

BBC

The GUARDIAN

Guardian: The real tragedy of Tommy Sheridan