In his last, unfinished and thoroughly marvellous wee book 'The Historian's Craft', the late Marc Bloch
, God rest his great French soul, wryly wrote of the horror that a medieval merchant might feel at the idea of his ledgers' privacy being invaded, should they survive long enough to become historical documents.
Today, Tommy Sheridan, certainly the most charismatic Scottish politician of his generation, and also possibly one of the most able, was convicted of perjury
. Like Macbeth, his downfall was self-inflicted, his fatal flaw not ambition, although he had plenty of that, but a taste for perverted sex that verged on Caligulan decadence.
There would have been a time, probably not so long ago, when this news would have had me in an ecstasy of schadenfreude, but not today. He has a wife and daughter, and it is for his daughter in particular that I feel sorry. For no reason more grave than that her father couldn't seem to admit that he had a sexual problem, she may be separated from him. Sheridan has received Scottish mercy today, his appointment with Scottish justice deferred, and his bail continued, until after Christmas. Lord Bracadale didn't have to do that. As Sheridan is over 21 and has already been imprisoned, he could have sent him down today, but he didn't, so father and daughter will at least be able to spend Christmas together. I hope that Sheridan has the good grace to thank Lord Bracadale for that when he appears for sentence. It would be a welcome reversal of his previous posture of gross public disrespect to the law of Scotland, and to its institutions.
It may be the case that Sheridan has told his great lie, that he didn't go to Cupids with Katrine Trulle, so often that he now actually believes it. It has been indicated to him that he may go to custody. If it is the case that he still believes himself to be innocent, then, perhaps perversely, a spell in custody might be of some advantage to him. The phenomenon of convicts who believe themselves to be innocent because they've told themselves that lie so often, and who find in prison the space and peace to begin healing themselves by acknowledging the truth of their actions, is quite well-known. If it is the case that he has thus convinced himself of his innocence, and if he is sent down, then, if it helps him come to terms with what he's done, custody might not be an entirely negative experience for him.
On the other hand, the classic definition of chutzpah is of a man who kills his parents and who then begs for the court's mercy because he is an orphan. Given the amount of chutzpah Sheridan has shown over the best part of a decade, if he persists in his belief that he is innocent, then, having sacked his lawyers, I wouldn't put it past him to ask for clemency on the basis of lack of access to counsel. This night, lawyers all over Scotland will be licking their lips at the thought of just how many actions he might bring against the Scottish Executive for breaches of his human rights, should he be sent to custody. The age of Tommy Sheridan, political firebrand, might be over, but the age of Tommy Sheridan, prison reformer, may be about to dawn.
But apart from the Godawful tawdriness of the behaviour that has led to his personal tragedy, it is a public tragedy that Sheridan has managed to get himself into this position at a time when the people he has claimed to speak for and represent need a tribune of his political gifts more than they have ever done before. Libel and defamation trials are fecund breeding grounds for perjury, their toxic potential to both save face in front of the public and make a financial killing at the same time too strong a lure for some fish even bigger than Tommy Sheridan. But as a figure in modern Scottish political history Sheridan has been unique. The typically self-serving braggadocio of the statement read out on his behalf outside court today seemed to dwell heavily on the evils of News International, the bluster of the Glasgow street corner at its worst. I hope he understands, just even privately, that in doing what he's done, he's only managed to make those connected to News International very happy. He wanted his day in court, by any means necessary. He has achieved nothing from it other than to deliver his own head on a plate to Keith Rupert Murdoch, probably with the jaw still moving. That is not the world's greatest political epitaph.
If he does go down, it will be an opportunity for him to display both personal courage and greatness of spirit. If it comes to that, I hope he takes the chance to use his considerable talent and intelligence to help those who come into contact with him. There may be any number of rudderless young men who could benefit from having a mentor like Tommy Sheridan. The behaviours of his which have been attested to in court not once but twice are sickening, but no matter what his sexual partners did or have done, some of them told the truth about it. That's the inescapable fact of this whole appalling episode. Even swingers tell the truth. Even Trotskyists tell the truth. People with well-focussed moral centres, with senses of right and wrong, tell the truth. For almost all of his adult life, Tommy Sheridan was in the business of speaking truth to power, and of working for right over might, and there were times when he did it very well indeed. That phase of his life is over now, and it's never coming back. If nothing else, I hope he at last learns to tell the truth to himself, for he will feel better for it, and Scottish public life without Tommy Sheridan adding his talents to it in any available capacity would be even duller and more limited than it is already.