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Solidarity wins on decibel count But SSP defeats Sheridan's new party for vitriol levels

SOCIALISTS like little more than a cracking good schism, and this weekend's revolutionary crowds showed the current one on Scotland's far left is good revolutionary box office.

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Their mainstream rivals could not compete with a weekend tally of 900 comrades, but this was to celebrate two factions' loathing of each other, bitterly divided by the single issue of Tommy Sheridan.

On one side, nearly 600 people yesterday packed into a sweaty function suite at Glasgow's Central Hotel, to hear the case for Solidarity, the new party being set up by the Tomministas.

There was no trouble for stewards to handle, so their main job was to keep the revolution from wilting in Cuban-style humidity, offering a steady supply of bottled water.

By coincidence, it was in the same airless room, 21 hours before, that the Scottish Socialist Party (continuing) had gathered around 300 people to pledge allegiance to the "Zero Tommy" brand of socialism.

The new party won the weekend's skirmishing on several scores.

Its meeting was bigger, longer, hotter and, with Mr Sheridan at full throttle, it won on decibels too.

"We're not looking inward any longer, " he thundered.

"We're looking forward and upward." He was relieved to "get the shackles off, " and looked to Scotland joining Bolivia and Venezuela in winning socialist majorities, rather than fighting over the 130,000 who voted SSP three years ago.

There was anger too. He attacked those who testified for the News of the World in the five-week defamation trial he won a month ago: "Some socialists were tried in a time of adversity and sadly, they failed the test.

"They took the side of the boss class instead of the side of the socialists". . . The rest of the sentence was lost to riotous applause.

But on vitriol, it was the Scottish Socialists who came out slightly ahead.

Colin Fox, their leader, dropped the harsher attacks from his prepared speech. He admitted that when he promised last May that his party's best days were ahead of it, he had omitted to add that its worst days were somewhat more imminent. Saturday was a day for celebration, he claimed, as the party moved on from its nightmare and "the black propaganda".

Others were keener to scratch their Sheridan itch, with one T-shirt warning: "Never forget, never forgive".

Richie Venton, the trade union organiser, reminded comrades that they had "sweated and toiled" to get Mr Sheridan elected, but he had repaid them by "trashing this party". Setting up the breakaway party was "appalling, sad and disgraceful", he said.

With so little difference between them, it was the nuances that counted, and that can be judged, in far-left politics, by who gets a place on the all-important "platform".

Solidarity showed signs of its Socialist Workers platform being an inf luential player, just as it is in George Galloway's Respect party, with which Mr Sheridan has already agreed a nonaggression pact.

There were messages of encouragement - though not all of support - ranging across trade unionists, anti-globalisers, Muslims, Christians, gays, lesbians and transsexuals.

One person argued the anti-war movement should become "the mothership" for the left, as a source for linking its various strands and for "refuelling".

By contrast, the mothership message of several SSP speeches on Saturday was that feminism must be put at the heart of the party. Carolyn Leckie, the Central Scotland MSP, accused Mr Sheridan of treating his former party "like a household controlled by an abusive man".

She argued the balance of power within the party has to shift, giving women more space to speak while men should learn to hold back with their opinions and confidence.

The feminist cause has regressed over the past 30 years, said Ms Leckie: "We need to look at putting the ideals we want for society into practice in our own party."

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