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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 39 - Dapper human megaphone in the front line of the war of words

OH, IT’S Tommy this, and Tommy that, and Tommy he’s a hoot. But it’s subverter of the Army when the guns begin to shoot. Who’s Tommy? Certainly not Tommy Atkins, mythical figure and British Army archetype but dapper, heavily-demonstrative, lightly-tanned Tommy Sheridan, the sole Scottish Parliamentary fugleman of the Scottish Socialist Party, passionate, partisan self-publicist, whose well-tailored suits are a cut above the proletarian average but who, wisely, wears no hat since people might think he was talking through it.

What else do we know about this human megaphone whose voice at full Marxist blast could call leviathan from the deep and get an irritated response, but whose unswervingly-sincere committal to the cause of social-ism in Britain if not the universe, makes him a type I had long thought extinct and a personality that, operating at full battery power, can leave many MSPs looking like flickering dimbulbs?

His working class credentials are as commendable as a commissar’s - sales assistant, Burtons Menswear; removals lab-ourer, Pickfords; health instructor; hypothermia programme team leader, Community Programme Service; and Glasgow City councillor. Spasmodic guest in Her Majesty’s slammers, national SSP convener, he was expelled by Labour for being a leading figure in the Militant Tendency. He spent his honeymoon in Cuba - where else?

All that would perhaps not have gained him a nomination for the old Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, but it indicates that Tommy is a true-blue comrade of the red dawn, a man whose words would spit in the eyes of jumping-jack capitalist blood-suckers, oil-grabbing colonialists and running dogs of "imperialist and illegal" warmongers.

Of the anti-Iraq war militant tendency, he has, according to a press interview, called on British troops to disobey orders, lay down their arms and leg it homewards. He also urged peace activists to increase campaigns of infiltrating military bases and damaging warplanes, called on trade unionists in war-supporting industries to strike and - lest we forget - stated that the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, should be tried for war crimes.

All very predictable from such an expert and tireless agitator whose efforts to form a lollipop assault line against the war were seen recently in a cacophonous children’s upsurge into the streets of Edinburgh and other settlements. But there are more shots in his agitprop armoury.

British troops, he claimed, had a choice, and those with doubts about the war should have the courage of their convictions and refuse to fight. He admitted that it would be difficult for them to do so because they would be under orders and strict discipline, but if individual soldiers were prepared to say "No" to the war, "they would be heroes in my eyes".

To readjust Milton: "How unseemly it is and how dispiriting, when, into the tongues of vociferous men, fate puts unmitigated tripe." When, in the name of Services’ regulations, did personnel have a choice, moral or legal, to opt out of the battle line? It was theatrically noble of Shakespeare’s Henry V to tell his weary warriors before Agincourt: "He which hath no stomach to this fight let him depart ... and crowns for convoy put into his purse," but any British troops who suddenly decided that the war they were in had become illegal and immoral, wanted to fight only what they considered ethical conflicts and to leave the scene pronto, would find that the Army took a near-sighted view of such attitudes.

I asked an Army spokeswoman what disciplinary measures would be taken against any who tried to follow Sheridan’s words, and was told that soldiers in Iraq were professionals, not conscripts. They had chosen to be in the armed forces and were paid to fight. They did an excellent job and "are prepared to put their lives on the line".

True, although not the answer I sought. Neil Griffiths, a British Legion, Scotland, spokesman said that anyone refusing to fight the enemy would be likely to face severe disciplinary measures, including years in a military detention barracks and a dishonourable discharge. Tough punishment but compensated surely by the offenders’ knowledge that Mr Sheridan considered them heroes.

Tommy Sheridan is a lively politician, with a disarming smile, who presents his views with impressive incisiveness. In this case, knowing the moral choices we Second World War service personnel never had, I say that Tommy this and Tommy that is talking tommyrot.

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