CommonWeal and Tommy Sheridan (again) – and the Scottish Greens

I wrote recently about Robin McAlpine of CommonWeal trying to rehabilitate the liar and misogynist Tommy Sheridan.  Rather bizarrely, as you’ll see from reading my earlier blog posting, Bella Caledonia appeared to be supporting this attempt, though they claimed simply to be opening up debate (I understand a woman submitted an article arguing against rehabilitating Sheridan to Bella but for some reason it was rejected, which on the face of it hardly sounds like opening up debate).

I gather the CommonWeal board met and discussed this issue and came to a decision, which, rather strangely, is available if you ask for it by email, but does not appear on their website, and has not, as far as I am aware, been widely publicised.  I was sent the statement yesterday:

At a Board meeting on Monday 11 May it was agreed that Common Weal practice would be to decline invitations to speak on behalf of the organisation at any event which includes Tommy Sheridan on the platform. No public statement will be issued.

What is very strange about this is that apart from deciding to make no public statement, it’s unclear if  CommonWeal’s branches know about this policy.  The statement above came to me after tweets I sent to them that picked up on an event by Lochaber CommonWeal planned for tomorrow, with Sheridan one of the speakers:

Lochaber CommonWeal invites Tommy Sheridan (screen grab, click to see the original tweet)

Lochaber CommonWeal invites Tommy Sheridan (screen grab, click to see the original tweet)

What’s the point in having a decision not to share a platform with someone like Sheridan if branches of the organisation either don’t know about it, or don’t feel bound by it?  There is – with good reason, it seems to me – considerable scepticism about CommonWeal’s commitment to avoiding work with Sheridan, as the tweet at the bottom of this conversation shows:

CommonWeal normalising Sheridan? (screen grab, click to see the bottom tweet)

CommonWeal normalising Sheridan? (screen grab, click to see the bottom tweet)

Of course, there is another issue that concerns my own party, the Scottish Greens, in that John Finnie MSP, who joined the Greens in autumn 2014, seems to have been happy to be on a platform with Sheridan, as the tweets above show, as well as others, eg:

Sheridan and the Scottish Green Party (screen grab, click to go to the original tweet)

Sheridan and the Scottish Green Party (screen grab, click to go to the original tweet)

I am not aware of any response to this from the Scottish Green Party, but it is something I want to follow up.  I also don’t know if tomorrow’s event is still going ahead as originally planned.

It is worth noting that CommonSpace (the news service part of CommonWeal) have recently published some proper discussion pieces on Sheridan’s place in Scottish politics.  For example:

(I know that these are all men, but it’s hard to find whether there’s anything written by women because CommonSpace doesn’t appear to have a search function – at least not on my browsers; I’ve scrolled through a few pages of links and I don’t think they’ve had any women comment recently – but I may have missed that.)

I really welcome this kind of clear discussion, and Tommy Ball’s piece is particularly worth reading.  Despite all the misgivings about CommonWeal that exist (and there are quite a few, from staff pay to wider programmatic and cultural issues in society, some of which are expertly discussed by Mairi McFadyen in this rather brilliant piece), in general terms I support the work of CommonWeal: the aims are mostly ones I can agree with, and I know some of the rather wonderful people involved, which gives me hope that they really can sort out their position on working with people like Tommy Sheridan. Not least because I don’t want to write about the unrepentant hypocrite again if I can help it.

Now, I’m off to tweet John Finnie…


Postscript, 8.8.2015

Yesterday Ross Greer of the Scottish Greens wrote to me and confirmed that John Finnie was not, in fact, sharing a platform with Sheridan:

Ross Greer of the Scottish Greens confirms that John Finnie will not be sharing a platform with Sheridan (screen grab, click to see original tweet)

Ross Greer of the Scottish Greens confirms that John Finnie will not be sharing a platform with Sheridan (screen grab, click to see original tweet)

I’m very glad to hear that!  Thank you, Ross for getting in touch.


Why the urge to rehabilitate Tommy Sheridan?

Something odd is going on.

In recent days, Bella Caledonia has published two pieces that effectively seek to rehabilitate Tommy Sheridan:

  1. Robin McAlpine: Hope Over Fear?
  2. Jordan Daly & Liam Stevenson: Hope Over History: How the Past is Affecting the Future

Why are they defending Sheridan?

I don’t know who the authors of the second piece are, but I know that McAlpine is a key force behind CommonWeal – a very good organisation, with excellent people involved.

I commented on McAlpine’s posting to affirm a critical comment someone else made, but with the second posting, I thought it worth adding a more substantive comment.  Aware that comments often get lost on a site as popular as Bella (there are already 184 comments on McAlpine’s text as I write this, and 20 on Daly and Stevenson’s text!), I thought I’d also add it here:

Involving Tommy Sheridan [in an event] automatically excludes those of us who have any concern about the welfare of the people – and in particular women – who have been so very badly treated by him, including folk I know. His behaviour is sexist, misogynistic and completely unacceptable. He shows no remorse for anything he has said or done in this regard.

May I ask: had his behaviour been characterised as racist rather than sexist, would you still be so happy to have him involved? Would that kind of abusive behaviour be acceptable to you? If not, why not? And if it would be, where DO you draw the line? Or don’t you think a line needs to be drawn?

To speak of “an age where things were pretty different” is a nonsense: what was sexism, misogyny and lies then is still sexism, misogyny and lies today. A refusal by Sheridan to show any remorse is at the root of many people’s avoidance of him. Your defence (or the patronising nonsense from McAlpine a few days ago saying it was all about class) is simply a way to excuse a misogynist who has single-handedly, through his lies and manipulation, done more damage to the Scottish left than any of us who refuse to now engage with him.

Nobody is asking for angels who never make a mistake. But to excuse behaviour that he has never even pretended to acknowledge was harmful is to communicate that it’s ok to be abusive and tell lies.

Something odd is going on.

Or maybe it’s not so odd.  Maybe it’s just a reflection of how patriarchy and sexism pollutes every part of our society, even amongst progressives on the left?

It certainly looks like that to me.  We know that much of our society simply accepts men’s violence towards women, so maybe these articles are just a depressing recognition that a sexist, misogynist, lying man can readily be welcomed back into the ‘progressive fold’ by other men, provided he says some of the right things on ‘more important issues’ than sexism and gender-based violence?


A day after posting this, I shared it again on Twitter:

A tetchy response from Bella Caledonia followed, but they did agree to post a link to this blog, and I’m grateful to them for doing so:

It’s interesting that Bella see what they have done as ‘hosting a discussion’ when they have only provided two articles exonerating Sheridan.  The explanation (see the replies to my tweet) was that they had only published what they had been sent – but surely on such a contentious issue they should also be seeking out opposing views?  This kind of defence is one that people on the left, including Bella, criticise the BBC and others for all the time.  How often do we hear ‘we could only find a banker and a hedge fund manager to discuss the financial crisis’ – and no trade unionist or socialist commentator is used?  Equally, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail have lots of discussion – almost all between people on the right (or the far right!).  Bella has grown to become a prominent actor in Scottish media, and that brings with it certain responsibilities.

All that being said, I do have a high regard for Bella, and read and share their articles regularly – and I would encourage readers to do so too.