Tommy Sheridan, Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) MSP and the most charismatic and well-known politician in Scotland, won a fantastic victory in his defamation case against the News of the World.
Less than a week later, the Guardian carried an article entitled “A Win For Machismo” in which former SSP activist Catriona Grant claimed that the case was “a fight between men and women. This was not about class, but gender.”
The article, by Guardian journalist Julie Bindel, misquoted an open letter from Tommy Sheridan to SSP members as referring to “a cabal of women”. In fact the document refers to a “cabal of comrades”.
In the same article, Catriona Grant falsely accused male members of the Socialist Worker platform in the SSP of using vile, sexist language.
Carolyn Leckie MSP claimed that the SSP is riddled with “sexist, brutish behaviour” and that women are “handy ornaments, or surplus to requirement for some socialist men”.
If any of these allegations were true, then why on earth haven’t these comrades spoken about these matters sooner, or put in a complaint?
So was this a class battle with a leading socialist politician pitted against the Murdoch empire, or was it a gender battle with a “macho” socialist politician pitted against that well-known defender of women’s rights, the News of the World?
In November 2004, the News of the World printed stories about Sheridan’s sex life. These stories were politically repugnant because they were designed to destroy the reputation of a leading socialist politician.
This court case was about a global media conglomerate intent on decapitating a party that had recently sent six socialists to the Scottish parliament.
Rather than supporting Sheridan, however, leading members of the SSP lined up with the News of the World. These people became “political scabs” in the eyes of many. They had clearly failed to understand the class nature of the court case.
The dividing lines in the current arguments in the SSP do not fall neatly into gender positions. Many leading women in the SSP, including at least five women on the current executive, have supported Sheridan throughout.
Conversely there are many men - notably Alan McCombes and Keith Baldassara - who have been central to organising a faction opposed to Sheridan.
Many of us who have supported Sheridan in his battle against the Murdoch empire have long track records of fighting for women’s rights.
We consistently challenge macho behaviour, the abuse of male power and the use of sexist language.
We have been involved in campaigns to defend abortion rights. We have been part of raising debate in the party about tolerance zones for prostitutes and part of developing party policy on equal pay, and the right to safe and legal abortion.
Sheridan himself was a supporter of the campaign in the party for “50:50”, the ruling which means that half of the party’s elected committees and electoral candidates have to be women.
This is why MSPs Frances Curran, Carolyn Leckie and Rosie Kane are wrong to spin the line that Sheridan’s victory is a win for machismo.
They are wrong to use the likes of the Sun and the News of thae World to portray themselves as the victims of a macho man.
Rather, Sheridan’s victory over the Murdoch empire, which thinks that it can print any old crap and get away with it, is a win for the working class.
The future of the SSP, which is now split into two factions, is unclear. However, the need for a political party in Scotland, which fights against neo-liberalism, war and for women’s equality, is greater than ever.
Gill Hubbard is an executive member of the Scottish Socialist Party, coeditor of Arguments Against G8 and author of the SW platform pamphlet Women’s Liberation and Socialism