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Last Updated: Friday, 4 August 2006, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Split on the cards for Socialists
By Glenn Campbell
Political correspondent, BBC Scotland

Tommy Sheridan outside court
Tommy Sheridan will weigh up his options after the case
Tommy Sheridan has taken on one of Scotland's biggest selling tabloid newspapers and won.

The News of the World is not just any paper. It belongs to News Group Newspapers, part of Rupert Murdoch's global media empire.

In Mike Jones, News Group had one of the finest QC's representing its interests.

Tommy Sheridan had top rate representation too until he sacked his legal team and decided to fight alone.

This was a David and Goliath-style battle. Or to use Tommy Sheridan's football analogy, it was like Gretna beating Real Madrid.

The damages are a record for the Scottish courts in a defamation case. Tommy Sheridan sought and has been awarded 200,000.

Not bad for a man who faced bankruptcy and ruin, not to mention the loss of his job as an MSP if the jury decided against him.

The showdown is already scheduled, the SSP has brought forward its annual conference from next spring to October

No wonder the News of the World is planning an appeal. This dramatic legal wrangle is not over yet.

It was the man who co-founded the Scottish Socialist Party with Tommy Sheridan who described the case as a "bizarre pantomime".

Alan McCombes must have been right. It seems the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow now wants to turn the drama into a stage show.

But there is nothing make-believe about the consequences of this trial for the future of the radical left in Scotland.

Tommy Sheridan has plenty to celebrate but the Scottish Socialist Party he created is almost certainly finished - at least in its current form.

The party forged from an unlikely alliance of left-wing factions and radicals including Militants, eco-warriors and feminists, is breaking up.

The Tommy Sheridan trial has set comrade against comrade.

'Kiss and make up'

The most senior members of the SSP came to the witness box one by one to testify against him or against each other.

You can't have that kind of open combat in court and then expect everyone to kiss and make up.

The comrades are heading for a split.

The showdown is already scheduled, the SSP has brought forward its annual conference from next spring to October.

All the party's key posts are up for grabs. The stage is set for a political bloodbath.

Emboldened by his victory in court, Tommy Sheridan may seek to regain control of the party, two years after he quit as leader.

Alternatively, he may now prefer to walk away, taking his MSP colleague Rosemary Byrne and hundreds of party members with him to found a new political force.

Carolyn Leckie (left) and Rosie Kane
Carolyn Leckie (left) and Rosie Kane are aligned against the MSP

His supporters have already formed a grouping in the party known as the SSP Majority.

It includes the Socialist Workers Party and the Committee for a Workers International.

Others have formed a rival faction called United Left which centres around former leadership contender Alan McCombes and MSPs Carolyn Leckie, Frances Curran and Rosie Kane.

Whoever's left inside the SSP after these forces fight it out will also be left with the party's debts.

It picked up a 40,000 legal bill trying to prevent a set of minutes being handed over to the Court of Session.

That compounded an already large overdraft which at one point topped 200,000.

It's not clear where the money will come from to pay that off.

The judge in the case, Lord Turnbull, made clear perjury charges could be brought against some witnesses

The party's six MSPs donate half their wages to party funds but that income's not guaranteed beyond the next election.

If the Scottish Socialist Party's share of the vote was to drop by say two percentage points when Scotland goes to the polls in nine months, the party would be lucky to return one MSP.

Recent opinion polls and by-election results do not bode well.

If that's not enough to keep the party's national convener Colin Fox busy, there's always the threat of criminal proceedings following Tommy Sheridan's civil action.

The judge in the case, Lord Turnbull, made clear perjury charges could be brought against some witnesses.

Mr Fox was one of 18 whose testimony was rejected by the jury.

The demise of the Scottish Socialist Party has long been predicted but who would have thought Holyrood's sixth largest party would reach the brink in a legal battle over Tommy Sheridan's sex life?


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