A Rose Loupt Oot – Poetry and Song Celebrating the UCS Work-in
Smokestack Books, ISBN 978-0956417503, £8.95.
Oor faithers fought this fight before –
Maclean, McShane fought fairly –
And we will fight them once again
Wi’ Jimmy Reid and Airlie
(extract from Wi’ Jimmy Reid and Airlie by Matt McGinn)
This book is as described a celebration of the UCS work-in through a collection of 40 poems and songs, some contemporaneous others specially commissioned for the book. The book launch at Clydebank College, on the site of the former John Brown’s, was attended by around 100 including many participants in the work-in and we were entertained to a selection of the songs and poems performed by 12 of the writers including George McEwan and Arthur Johnstone.
With your hammering, your caulking,
Your gouging and your burning,
Snow in your face and tired inside,
The conditions are bad, apprentice young fellow,
But please hang around and fight from inside.
Please hang around and fight from inside.
(final chorus from The Great Iron ship by Danny Kyle)
The book has several short introductions from Ann Henderson, Jimmie Macgregor and Jimmy Cloughley. These outline the timetable and political background to the work-in and some lessons for current struggles. The collator David Betteridge outlines the steps taken to produce the book in time for the 40th anniversary of the work-in and explains the book’s title is taken from MacDiarmid’s A Drunk Man looks at the Thistle in a passage about the 1926 General Strike. Ewan McVicor then gives background to the songs and songwriters, including Jim McLean, Tony McCarthy at the time and later Iain Ingram, Leo Coyle and Geordie McIntyre.
The big ships are gone, the boatyards stand idle,
And they must leave Glasgow, no more may they bide.
Their torches are dimmed and their hammers are silent.
And the cranes stand still, mourners at the death of the Clyde.
(chorus from The Death of the Clyde by Tony McCarthy)
Several common songs included are anonymous.
The Hell wi’ Ridley, Heath and Davies,
The Hell wi’ Ridley, Heath and Davies,
They say it is too late tae save us
But we’ll show them they’re not on.
(chorus of U.C.S. – anonymous)
David Betteridge introduces the poems and poets including Freddy Anderson, Bill Sutherland, Jim Aitkin, Edwin Morgan, Tessa Ransford amongst many others.
Their emblem was the banner red,
they were no craven crew;
like Clyde has served you with its streams,
they lived and fought for you.
Their tribe still live throughout the years,
nor change with Time nor Tide!
For Liberty come sing with me
this ballad of the Clyde.
(last verse from Ballad of the Clyde by Freddie Anderson)
Some poems were specially commissioned for the book.
I saw shipbuilding dying,
Till men began to fight
To stop the closing of the yards,
Showing solidarity is might.
People came together
With their passion and their pride.
I felt at one with them
And proud to be the Clyde.
(verse from I See the Salmon Flow by Peter Scrimgeour)
The book is illustrated with photos and cartoons from the time. Further reading is courtesy of John Foster. Finally Smokestack Books only publishes radical song and poetry and can be visited at www.smokestack-books.co.uk where the book can be purchased.
Jimmy Reid and Airlie,
Barr, Gilmour, and the rest,
They aa went doon tae London Toon
The government tae face.
They telt them we were workin in,
That we were gaun tae stay.
When the government relented,
UCS had won the day.
(verse from Doon through the Years by Arthur Johnstone)
Downfall: the Tommy Sheridan Story
Alan McCombes, Birlinn, ISBN 978-1841587592, £9.99
This is a book full of surprises. I had no idea, for example, that the Scottish Socialist Party was once the most successful socialist party in Europe or that Tommy Sheridan was once Scotland’s most celebrated and best-recognised politician. Perhaps both are true – how do you judge such things? But the author’s gift for pub-talk hyperbole did make this reader wonder. It cannot actually be true (obviously) that Alan McCombes and his colleagues wrote enough press releases in Sheridan’s name “to fill the archives of the British Library”; a filing cabinet would surely do the job. But when in the same paragraph McCombes also claims that he wrote more words under Sheridan’s name than either of them ever did under their own names, are we also meant to take the boast in the same spirit as the British Library comparison?
I don’t think so. McCombes’ contention, more or less, is that Sheridan was an empty vessel – a handsome head – waiting to be filled with ideas and strategies. “In the drab and dusty world of party politics,” McCombes writes, “Tommy stood out like the aurora borealis. He had the matinee idol looks of a Hollywood star, the vocal power of a Christian fundamentalist preacher and the persuasive techniques of a door-to-door salesman.”In a politician, these are considerable qualities and skills and they have built many successful careers – Ronald Reagan’s to name one.The problem (if it was a problem) with Sheridan was his lack of what Denis Healey called hinterland. He had few interests outside football and, as we now know, certain kinds of sexual exhibitionism. He read very little, with “zero interest”, according to McCombes, in literature, art, science or philosophy. Political writing didn’t attract him other than an occasional stab at Tony Benn or John Pilger, and neither did the day-to-day management of the SSP. McCombes ghost-wrote many of Sheridan’s columns for the Daily Record, the Sunday Herald and the Scottish Mirror and “virtually every word” of their co-authored book, Imagine.
McCombes says he resented none of this help. He and his SSP colleagues knew that Sheridan was the party’s star performer. They depended on him to get the message across, and he depended on them for the message.But he also thinks they created a monstrous conceit in their leader (or ‘convenor’ as he was titled). “We went too far. With the best of intentions – and with Tommy’s enthusiastic acquiescence, it has to be said – we created an unhealthy and imbalanced relationship between the individual and the movement.”The same might be said of Tony Blair; and there was in Sheridan the same kind of self-belief – the belief that people would share his own estimate of his sheer goodness (‘I’m a regular kind of guy’) – that led the one to invade Iraq and the other to sue the News of the World. In this, Sheridan may not have been mistaken. He made an impassioned closing speech along Blairite ‘who-me?’ lines (“I am either a complete and utter idiot or I am someone who loves his wife deeply and would not betray her trust”). The jury found in his favour – like the jury in Jeffrey Archer’s libel case they took a simple-minded either/or view of sexual behaviour, ignoring the dictum of an Alan Bennett character that “King Sex is a wayward monarch”- and he was awarded £200,000.Unfortunately, like Blair with Iraq but with more personally damaging consequences, his case was founded on lies.
Given all that has happened since Sheridan was convicted of perjury, the temptation is to wonder about the safeness of that second verdict too.Was he a victim, as he often insisted, of the evil Murdoch empire that has turned out to be rather more evil than he knew, routinely paying policemen and hacking into mobile phones?McCombes wrote before the recent disclosures, when the News of the World was still alive and malignant, so the question isn’t raised in his book. On the available evidence, however, the answer would seem to be not, or not where it matters. Sheridan was his own victim. The minutes of an SSP conclave showed him admitting to visits to Cupids nightclub for ‘swingers’ in Manchester. Sheridan argued that the minutes were a fiction concocted by his embittered rivals. They weren’t.‘Swinging’ is a sexual preference or hobby and not a crime.Sheridan and his friends in the party, who at that point still included McCombes, could probably have found ways of limiting the political damage: a ‘lapse’ confessed, an apology offered. By suing, Sheridan chose the route of the lie direct. You might say he was destroyed by his own hypocrisy.
Of course, this version of events carries a caveat. Many of Sheridan’s supporters, including his ever-devoted mother, see McCombes as their leader’s political assassin. Et tu, Alan indeed, because the two met long ago at the start of the campaign against the poll tax and were close friends as well as political colleagues for two decades, with McCombes enrolled as one of three best men at Sheridan’s marriage. But McCombes (it should also be remembered) went to jail for refusing to give the court the controversial minutes that recorded Sheridan’s admissions – hardly the mark of an out-and-out traitor – and inside the party his concerns about the leader’s behaviour were widely shared. Despite the slack hyperbole and the clichés (every truth complete with its scintilla), I found his account largely persuasive.
It tells a sad and often grubby story, located in bars and hotel bedrooms. The media, whether they were for or against Sheridan, hostile or gullible, do not emerge well. If I were a sober and serious resident of a poor housing scheme, investing my hopes in socialism as Sheridan once did, I would feel utterly betrayed.