The West of Scotland anti-Bedroom Tax Campaign was launched at an open and public meeting at Unison offices in Glasgow on 13 March. At the meeting an interim organising committee was formed to build and coordinate the mobilisation of a planned march and demonstration against the tax on 30 March in Glasgow. It was also decided that conference would be held in April to elect the federation's actual organising committee.
Over 100 people turned up at this initial meeting, mostly comprising people who will be directly affected by the bedroom tax. Tommy Sheridan was invited to attend and was unanimously elected to be part of the interim organising committee. Everybody at the meeting was presumably aware of Sheridan's past. Indeed, there is likely not a sentient being in the land who remains unfamiliar with Sheridan's past.
But just in case there is, the former Scottish Socialist Party leader and MSP, who split from the party in 2006 to form Solidarity, fought a long, drawn out legal battle against the Murdoch Press over a story that appeared in the now-defunct News of the World in 2004. The story alleged that a married MSP had attended a swingers club in Manchester, an establishment where consensual sex took place between men and women. Later, it was revealed that Tommy Sheridan was the married MSP referred to in the original story.
Sheridan sued for defamation and the case came to court in 2006. After a prolonged hearing, during which leading members of the Scottish Socialist Party took the stand to give evidence on behalf of the NOTW, the jury found in favour of Sheridan. Thereafter a criminal investigation was launched by Lothian and Borders Police, acting on a complaint, which culminated in Sheridan being charged with perjury. In 2010, after a trial lasting over two months, he was convicted of perjury and sentenced to a year in prison - a sentence he has now served.
It is worth pointing out that Sheridan is presently involved in a fight to have his conviction quashed on appeal. Thus far, two of the witnesses who testified at his perjury trial on behalf of the Crown have themselves been charged with perjury. It is also worth recalling that since Sheridan was convicted of perjury the News of the World has been forced to shut down as a result of widespread criminality and corruption.
Yet this is not enough in the eyes of some, who are clearly determined to resist Tommy Sheridan's return to active politics, even up to the point of undermining a campaign to resist the most callous and cruel policy of any government in this country since Thatcher's poll tax; and even though he has been inundated with invitations to speak at meetings across the West of Scotland, as more and more local campaigns against the bedroom tax spring up.
On various blogs and internet discussion forums various individuals have labelled Sheridan a 'misogynist', 'abuser', 'time bomb', 'opportunist', 'player', all with the intention of discrediting his participation in a political movement that is growing up and down the country day by day. In this these individuals are being aided and abetted by various friends in the media.
Two recent articles in the Huffington Post are a case in point. Written by Gregor Cubie, anyone unaware of who Tommy Sheridan is or his record in Scottish political life could be forgiven for thinking they had just read a description of Charles Manson and Dennis Nielsen combined. Consider this gem from his latest piece
Possibly the most gifted public speaker in British politics, Sheridan allies a Tarantino-esque knack for dramatic timing and wild gestures reminiscent of everyone's favourite Italian presidential candidate, Beppe Grillo, with the uncanny knack of being able to continuously crescendo for hours at a time.
So it's all 'performance' and 'uncanny knack' where Sheridan is concerned. Nothing to do with the possibility that perhaps, just perhaps, he speaks from the heart and is a man of deep convictions, whose lifelong attachment to the cause of justice for the poor and the working class of Glasgow and beyond is why he remains popular among so many, even despite his very well publicised legal travails, a plethora of smear articles written by the likes of Mr Cubie, and two books which succeeded in casting the genre of biography into disrepute.
In truth Tommy Sheridan is only a divisive figure in Scotland among a small and thankfully marginal fraternity of his former colleagues and fellow travellers, people who long gave up on socialism in favour of moralism, the last refuge of hypocrisy. Moreover, in the last analysis, working class people aren't as stupid as some like to think. They instinctively know who stands with them and who does not.
Judging by the packed out audiences that have been turning out to hear him speak as the bedroom tax fast approaches, Sheridan's return to active politics in Scotland is not only welcome, it is long overdue.