Tommy Sheridan: From Hero to Zero? A Pofitical Biography, Welsh Academic
Press: Cardiff, 384 pp: 9781860571190, 25 [pounds sterling] (hbk)
Tommy Sheridan was one of the best-known far-left political leaders of modern times, and for a period of about ten years, from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, he was probably one of the most influential. Yet in the space of just a few years he moved from a seat in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood to a cell in the Scottish prison at Barlinnie. Meanwhile, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) that he had helped to create and develop underwent an acrimonious and enormously damaging split from which it has yet to recover. The story of Sheridan's rise and fall is therefore important for all those interested in the creation of a popular left-wing movement that can mobilise large-scale resistance against economic austerity.
Because Sheridan is such a contentious figure in Scottish labour politics, any biography will be thoroughly dissected by his friends and enemies alike. Gregor Gall knew Sheridan through working with him in the SSP, and he was therefore able to interview him as well as members of his family and close friends. His book is based partly on these 28 interviews with key informants, often lasting as long as three hours, as well as on SSP documents and publications and a substantial number of newspaper and magazine articles. The events depicted in the book are therefore thoroughly documented and referenced in almost 70 pages of footnotes, within a text of 375 pages. Gall's own view is that the News of the Worm claims about Sheridan's sexual activities were largely accurate; that Sheridan's decision to sue the paper was reckless in the extreme; and that his subsequent conviction for perjury was sound. Nonetheless, he is scrupulous in presenting rival interpretations of key events, not least those from Sheridan himself and his key supporters.
The book begins with the development of Sheridan's world view and its central focus on mobilising against injustice, particularly as it affected local people. He joined the Militant Tendency whilst a university student, declaring that he preferred to work with fellow socialists inside the Labour Party rather than standing outside like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) or the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP). He came to national prominence through his leading role in the Anti-Poll Tax Federation, an organisation that ran a highly successful campaign...