Published: 05/09/2006 00:00 - Updated: 25/11/2011 23:23

Solidarity set to emerge from ashes of the SSP

THE Scottish Socialist Party is set to disappear from the region's political map with its Highland membership emerging as a key force in launching a rival national organisation, Solidarity, led by Tommy Sheridan. The SSP's Highlands and Islands regional council was expected to decide at a meeting in Inverness last night to disband and become part of Solidarity. It would follow a similar decision taken last Thursday by the Inverness branch to transfer its allegiance to the breakaway party. According to Steve Arnott, Solidarity's newly-appointed Highlands and Islands regional organiser, members in the region have already played a crucial role nationally in galvanising support. "I am very confident Solidarity will become, in a relatively short period of time and in the months to come, the pre-eminent Socialist party in Scotland," he declared. The launch of Solidarity marks a bitter split from the SSP by Mr Sheridan and his supporters in the wake of his court victory against the News of the World which claimed he visited swingers' clubs and cheated on his wife, Gail. During the high-profile case, several SSP members, including MSPs, testified that Mr Sheridan had admitted at a party meeting to attending a swinger's club. Mr Sheridan denied the claims and accused them of helping to engineer "the mother of all stitch-ups". On Saturday, an SSP rally in a Glasgow hotel was told there was no justification for the split but the following day, Solidarity was launched from the same hotel. Mr Arnott - formerly the SSP's Highlands and Islands regional organiser - acknowledged he was sad there had been a split but described it had been a jubilant and europhic launch. As one of three regional organisers, he will write to SSP members in Highlands and Islands during the next few days inviting them to join and he anticipates strong support. "Although there has been acrimony at national level, here in the Highlands and Islands I think there will be only a few individuals out of 200 or so members who will remain with the SSP," Mr Arnott said. "Perhaps there will be a few who would like to think about it for a while. Our attitude is we will remain on friendly and comradely relations with these people." But as of last night, he believed the SSP would cease to exist in the Highlands and Solidarity would become the organised force. Mr Arnott also hoped Tommy Sheridan would visit Inverness next month to speak at a rally. He reflected on the party's agonies during the turmoil of the last few weeks. "It has not so much been about who to support - throughout this whole business, the Highlands and Islands members have been very much in support of Tommy Sheridan," Mr Arnott said. "The question over which people have agonised is, 'Do we stay within the SSP and try to repair it - or accept it is a broken organisation, a tarnished organisation? Now, because of the events surrounding the trial, do we waste our energies over the next two years with in-fighting or do we set up something new and fresh and do what we do best - get out campaigning on issues such as the privatisation of care homes and housing stock transfer?' "I think people have drawn the latter conclusion. It is an emotional wrench but I think the metaphor used by myself when a relationship breaks down is that a clean break is best for both parties." .In last year's General Election, the Scottish Socialist Party was placed last out of the seven candidates who stood in the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency. George MacDonald gained 429 votes. v.sweeney@inverness-courier.co.uk

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