Don't talk about George!
Workers Unity platform members attempted to get an emergency motion on the McNeilage scandal debated at the Scottish Socialist Party conference, but it was ruled out of order. Sandy McBurney spoke to Peter Manson
Our motion read: "This conference condemns the action of George McNeilage in making and selling the 'Tommy Sheridan video tape' to the News of the World. We believe his actions are incompatible with socialist principle."
At first we were told by the conference arrangement committee that platforms could not put forward emergency motions and we would have to get 10 signatures instead. We did this by approaching other delegates on the Sunday. It was then rejected on the grounds that it was not really an emergency motion, as it could have gone to a branch meeting the previous week.
According to a CAC member, "If we allowed this kind of motion to go forward, conference would be an absolute nightmare and we'd never get anything done." In any case, I was told, the matter should have been raised on the Saturday morning, when a slot had been allocated to deal with issues around Tommy Sheridan and the split. Thirdly, a motion to conference was not "the correct way" to deal with such matters. One comrade told me to write instead to the Glasgow regional committee stating my complaint, with a copy sent to new national secretary Pam Currie.
In other words, they were saying that our main purpose was to discipline McNeilage and this was not a matter for conference. What nonsense. We were calling on conference to take a political position and distance ourselves from certain actions. The motion did not even mention disciplinary action In any case the real villain of the piece is not McNeilage, but the leadership.
Another argument was that it was not an emergency motion because the situation was a week old. This is ridiculous, because the whole purpose of emergency motions is to allow conference to debate questions that arise at any time after the closing date for ordinary motions. In fact, McNeilage featured again in the News of the World the very morning we attempted to have the question debated, and it had become even more obvious that SSP members were cooperating with the paper in an attempt to get Sheridan jailed.
While delegates were talking about virtually nothing else amongst themselves, conference itself was prevented from discussing the question. Meanwhile, McNeilage himself stayed away - he was being interviewed on TV, defending his actions before thousands of viewers.
When I persisted with my objection to the ruling on the emergency motion, Allan Green read it out to conference and called for a vote on whether I should be allowed to speak, stating my reasons for wanting it discussed. Only about 25% voted to hear me and so the motion was not taken. It is disgusting that there was no revolt by the rank and file against this disgraceful breach of socialist principle.
Afterwards former press officer Eddie Truman complained bitterly that I had been trying to get the matter discussed even though the press were "watching every fucking thing" we were doing. He said this would allow them to portray the SSP as divided and as a result Sheridan and co would be "laughing and slapping each other's backs".
Republican Communist Network member Mary McGregor did refer to the McNeilage affair in her contribution on the Saturday during the debate around motions on Sheridan and the split, but the RCN comrades we approached refused to back the call for an emergency debate (while stating they were against what George has done). One RCN member said afterwards she had been unwilling to condemn McNeilage, as she had yet to hear his side of the story, apart from what he had told the NOTW - as if that were not clear enough.
The debate on the Sheridan case was cut right down to about an hour and a half through compositing and the late start. The only really critical speech came from the RMT's John Milligan, who told us the union is now reconsidering its position on affiliation to the SSP. He walked out of the conference straight after, even though there was a motion on rail renationalisation due to be taken. It looks to me that the RMT will now withdraw its funding.
Pieces of silver
Television viewers in Scotland were treated to a grotesque spectacle last Sunday when Tommy Sheridan and George McNeilage went head to head on STV's Scotland today. We reproduce part of their exchange on payments received from the bourgeois press
Sheridan: How much did you get, George?
McNeilage: Tommy sold his story ...
Sheridan: How much did you get, George?
McNeilage: Sorry, hold on, Tam.
McNeilage: I'll tell you what: I'm going to tell you what I got the minute you put your hand up and admit to the whole of Scotland that you have been a liar ."¦ The reason why the tape eventually came out, because Tommy just never took his money and got off. He wanted to come out on the Daily Record on the Monday, selling an exclusive story to a pro-Labour, pro-war rag "¦.
Sheridan: "¦ That's the difference, you see. I haven't hidden that. My wife Gail received a cheque for £20,000 from the Daily Record and Sunday Mail ... Mr McNeilage has hidden the fact that he's received £20,000 from the News of the World, the very people who called the miners "scum", the very people who called the firefighters "Saddam's stooges" "¦
The fact that the leadership was determined not to allow any discussion of the McNeilage question only adds to my conviction that some of them knew about the tape. I find it incredible that McNeilage would not have told someone about it - after the May national council meeting, for example, when everyone was so angry at Sheridan. Why would he keep it secret? He has said it was made at the instigation of SSP members in Pollok. Did any of the Pollok members, such as Keith Baldassara - a leading figure nationally and a local councillor - know about it or actually view it?
Surely when Sheridan started saying people were lying about his confession at the November 2004 EC McNeilage would have told someone - 'Hey, I have him on tape saying he admitted it!' Surely before he went to the NOTW he must have consulted with someone first? Has no-one from the leadership discussed the tapes with him in the last few weeks? What advice did they give?
When SSP executive members were being cited to appear in court, surely then McNeilage must have thought of revealing the tape's existence? You would think, if he had done that, someone would have approached Sheridan and told him, 'You cannot say that. We've got you on tape saying the opposite.' When confronted with this evidence, surely Sheridan would have had the sense not to pursue the case?
A leading member has stated: "Expel George? Give him a bloody medal, I say." If those around the leadership think McNeilage deserves a medal for what he has done, why are they so bashful about the facts? Why the secrecy over who knew or how much money was exchanged?
I have no time for people who make and sell secretly recorded tapes of their comrades to the press for financial gain and seek to send other members of the left to jail. The whole thing stinks and such behaviour, if it became acceptable, would sink the socialist left for ever.
Solidarity is a rival left party. I will not support any attempts to use the state to attack its members or its existence. I will not collaborate with our class enemies in News International and in the bourgeois media in any attacks on members of Solidarity.
I am loyal to socialism and hate the NOTW and all it stands for. But I am not loyal to scabs or traitors. I hate capitalism, not the oaf, Tommy Sheridan. I am opposed to any attempt to get members of Solidarity jailed - that crosses class lines. It does not surprise me that many in the SSP cannot understand what I mean by that, given the way the party has developed.
Many members seem a bit punch-drunk from the last few months. Their hatred of Tommy Sheridan is blinding them to the real enemy. Many are demoralised and the leadership is giving them the wrong answers on the way forward.
The whole conference was a controlled show. The United Left faction have no political basis for existence other than opposition to Sheridan (and some amorphous talk about grassroots democracy and feminism). And, since Tommy has now gone, it was all shadow-boxing.
There was nothing concrete on the way forward for the working class - other than supporting the Scottish National Party-led 'fight' for a capitalist Scotland, that is. A motion proposed by the 'Pro-Independence Platform (Temporary)' was passed in favour of capitalist independence. It got about 100 votes, with just 15 against.
As a result, our motion on a British-wide socialist party fell, but I would estimate we would have only got around eight votes. The RCN warned about the "dangers" of nationalism they saw in the Pro-Independence platform motion and voted against it, but would have voted against ours too. Apparently calling for a common workers' party across Scotland, England and Wales is a sign of British nationalism.
Colin Fox stressed his own nationalist credentials. In his speech he reported how he had assured Murray Ritchie, former political editor of the Herald and head of the Independence Convention, that the SSP would be out selling independence on the working class estates and housing schemes.
But the debate did not even go beyond this kind of crude, 'we support independence' line. There was no serious talk of tactics, even from a left nationalist perspective. For example, do you call for an SNP vote where the SSP is not standing or in the second ballot?
And the leadership made sure that the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement's motion, calling on independence to be entrenched in the SSP constitution, was not taken. We were getting through the motions very quickly on the Sunday and it was becoming apparent that we would complete the agenda - the SRSM's was the very last motion.
However, when it was the turn of the SRSM's Donald Anderson to speak, the platform decided to call the "international guest", Alan Thornett from Respect, to the microphone. Comrade Thornett said he was surprised to find himself on his feet, as he did not know he was going to be asked to speak.
The leadership was clearly worried that the SRSM motion might pass. Even though they agree with the sentiment, they want to maintain the notion that the SSP is a broad party, open to all socialists. No wonder Anderson was talking about leaving after this treatment - although there are only four or five SRSM people still in the SSP.
Judging by the turnout at conference - there were about 250 members present - I would say that between 30% and 40% have left the SSP for Solidarity.