This is a guest post by Edwin Moore
Sometime after the first meeting of the devolved Scottish parliament in 1999, a Scottish writer said that she felt 'proud' to be a member of a nation that had elected Tommy Sheridan as a Scottish Socialist Party MSP. The comment raised some eyebrows, but was not that uncommon a view. For many Scots, the charismatic Tommy was the spirit of Red Clydeside incarnate; he had been one of the key figures of Scottish Militant, a campaigner against nuclear weapons and the poll tax.
Frequently jailed for his activities, Sheridan was also the leading campaigner against the hideous Scottish tradition of poinding and warrant sales, in which people who couldn't pay their debts (or poll tax) had their household possessions auctioned off. Once elected, Sheridan put forward a private member's bill to abolish poinding and warrant sales, which became law in 2001.
After 2003, photographs of Sheridan and his crew of six fellow socialist MSPs, squeezing comradely up against each other, appeared regularly in the press. Of course, it all fell apart in a spectacularly grotty sex scandal, the details of which the curious can google. The political outcome of the scandal was huge. The former SSP became two parties - the continuing Scottish Socialist Party (Sheridan's enemies) and Solidarity (Sheridan's friends), and all of them lost their seats at the 2007 election, with the SNP being the main beneficiary of their collapse. At the Glasgow East by election of 2008 both left-wing parties lost their deposits.
Sheridan himself is now studying law and became, he has said, a member of the current Celebrity Big Brother house in order to raise funds for his studies. He was evicted from the house on Wednesday night along with La Toya Jackson. The Scottish media, along with the rest of the British media, is very interested in CBB, and at one time the notion of Sheridan in the house would have provoked ecstatic coverage in Scotland. Alas, Sheridan has entered the Donald Dewar Zone for failed icons and his presence and eviction has had little coverage. Dewar, of course, was a leading campaigner for the Scottish parliament, and when he died in 2000, the Scottish media went into full-blown elegaic mode. The prize for over-the-top rhetoric went to an ex-moderator of the Church of Scotland who, the morning after Dewar's death, announced on BBC Scotland that 'we were blessed that he walked among us'. Dewar was 'Father of the Nation', a demigod, but somehow also a peculiarly Scottish egalitarian demigod. It was left to George Galloway to provide an affectionate picture of the real man, remembering him rebuking a reporter for daring to ask if he could call him 'Donald'.
Then Dewar's will was published - not only did he have several houses, he was a rich man who had stocks and shares, and the Scottish establishment speedily deemed that we are no longer blessed that he walked among us.
The paths of Dewar and Sheridan crossed several times, most notably in Dewar's constituency party of Garscadden, where Scottish Militant made a determined attempt to deselect him (and could have succeeded, were it not for Neil Kinnock). But the dead Dewar and the living Sheridan are now united in having become establishment outcasts; Big Scottish Brother has evicted them into the dustbin of Scottish history.
Gore Vidal said in 1968:
'By exalting the chorus and diminishing the actors, television has changed entirely the nature of our continuing history. Watching things as they happen, the viewer is a part of events in a way new to man.'
There are real people such as Tommy Sheridan, Donald Dewar and Barack Obama; there are also the fantasy versions we get on telly, and a moment's reflection is enough to convince one that no saints could climb the rock faces of Scottish or Chicago politics without getting dirt under their fingernails. It is now deeply unfashionable to praise Tommy Sheridan, yet his will and energy drove through a real and lasting change to Scottish law. Donald Dewar was a rich man whose private tastes were not those of everyday Scots, yet he also drove through real and lasting change to Scottish life. Like you, dear reader, I have no idea who the real Barack Obama is, but if he changes the world for the better then we shouldn't care.
As the monstrous Pat Buchanan said, one of the few things we can say about Obama is that he has probably had sex with fewer black women than Bill Clinton, but that knowledge doesn’t really advance us much. Clinton, of course, used to claim he came from a place called Hope, and managed to convince lots of people who damn well knew he didn't, that it was in some way true. Perhaps this is what comes from hanging on to the TV remote for too long. If it all doesn’t work out, there may be a new messiah on the next channel. Or we could turn to the real world, while we still can.
Edwin is the author of Scotland: 1000 Things You Need To Know. You can read his blog about it here.
Thursday, 22 January 2009
This is a guest post by Edwin Moore