Its author, Gregor Gall, is an Edinburgh-based academic who writes at the outset that, "Any biographer must have some measure of innate sympathy for the subject being written about." Tell that to innately unsympathetic biographers of Hitler or Pol Pot.
Gall's "subject being written about" is Tommy Sheridan, who throughout these 360 pages is referred to as Tommy, as if the pair are best mates. I shall refer to him as Sheridan, not because I do not have "innate sympathy" for him – I do – but because it is the manner in which such matters ought to be conducted.
Insisting that his approach is to be sympathetic without being uncritical – "so the analysis proferred is both robust and rigorous" – Gall demonstrates throughout his "political biography" that he is neither. Like many people, he is utterly convinced Sheridan committed perjury and deserved to go to jail. That is his prerogative. As a biographer, however, with "innate sympathy" for the "subject being written about", not to mention a research professor who teaches at a university, the well-named Gall might at least have tried to show scholarly objectivity.
A single example of his prejudice must suffice. In 2006, Sheridan won his case for libel against the News Of The World and was awarded £200,000 in damages. Gall, however, cannot accept the jury believed Sheridan had been wronged, preferring to speculate that there may be other reasons why they reached their verdict. But he offers no hard evidence for this, depending solely on scuttlebutt.
This is not unusual. Time and again, Gall relies on the evidence of those who were once Sheridan's fellow travellers in the Scottish Socialist Party and who, in 2009, testified in concert against him at his trial for perjury. That, again, is his prerogative. But is it not the duty of academics to test accepted wisdom rigorously and robustly?
Take, for example, the testimony of George McNeilage, who took £200,000 from the News Of The World in exchange for a tape which purportedly showed Sheridan confessing all. Though McNeilage admitted he doctored it, Gall never questions its authenticity. Nor does he investigate claims that Tam McGraw, aka The Licensee, visited McNeilage and not just to wish him a happy new year, the implication being this was at Sheridan's behest. Also, is it really true that McNeilage had a gun put to his head and was hung by his ankles from the top of a tower block by members of a gangland family angry over a Sheridan-inspired campaign to rid Pollok of drug dealing? And what about Gall's assertion that Sheridan once had a gun in the boot of his car when it was stopped by police? Says who?
Were Sheridan inclined (and able) to return to court, he might be interested in suing Gall for defamation. Certainly, there are big enough holes in his account to drive a tank through. Names are routinely and inventively misspelt ("Jonathon Aitken", "Jonathan Aitkin"), tautologies abound ("coalesced together") and many sentences read as if they were written by a committee of students for whom English is a second language ("Taking what Tommy said with a pinch of salt also meant taking Tommy with a pinch of salt").
What this all amounts to is a lack of clarity, a contagion of generalisation and the suspicion that "innate sympathy" and "robust and rigorous" analysis are weasel phrases for yet another botched hatchet job on Tommy Sheridan who, once upon a time, Richard Holloway, formerly Bishop of Edinburgh, described as "a modern-day Jesus Christ".
That "the subject being written about" was found guilty is beyond doubt. That he lied many commentators now accept. That he got what he deserved depends on your point of view. That his downfall meant the end of his parliamentary career and the demise of the SSP as a force in Scottish politics is clear. But it will take a much better book than this one to explain how it all came to pass.
Tommy Sheridan: From Hero To Zero?
Welsh Academic Press, £25