The Myth of Tommy the Poll Tax Martyr

I’VE NEVER watched more than a few seconds of Big Brother. I couldn’t tell you a single name of any of the “non-celebrity” contestants, and only a very few of the “celebrity” ones.

But I do know that Tommy Sheridan, the former Scottish Socialist/Solidarity MSP (note to The Independent: he was never an MP) is on Celebrity Big Brother at the moment. Here in Scotland, where people have actually heard of him, his appearance has caused a bit of controversy. Personally, I am overcome with apathy.ย 


His arm's stuck like that, you know

However, now is as good a time as any once again to scotch the Myth of Tommy the Poll Tax Martyr: there are those who cling to the belief that Tommy was jailed back in 1990 for refusing to pay the poll tax. He wasn’t.

In fact, in Scotland non-payment of poll tax was not an offence that could carry a custodial sentence. He was actually jailed for breaking a legal interdict not to attend and protest at a warrant sale. Warrant sales were auctions of debtors’ domestic property carried out to rase money to pay their debts, in this case unpaid poll tax. A barbaric practice, of course, and Tommy deserves some credit for the highlighting and ultimate scrapping of a practice that many had never heard of before he took to the streets with his megaphone.

Nonetheless, poll-tax non-payer he undoubtedly was – poll tax martyr he ain’t.

Just so we’re clear.



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12 responses to “The Myth of Tommy the Poll Tax Martyr

  1. Paul Williams

    I presume the fact he was part of Militant Tendency, would be the reason why you seem a little too keen to give less than your wholehearted support to a fellow socialist.

  2. On what you call the “barbaric” practice of poindings and warrants sales.

    Poinding allowed the attachment of goods by a creditor if the debtor did not pay the debt. VArious goods were exempt under the Debtors (Scotland) ACt 1987 (the essentials of human life). The warrant of sale allowed the creditor to sell the goods if the debtor did not pay.

    This was abolished following Sheridan’s members bill and the Sheridan Act was then repealed and replaced with the Debt Arrangement and Attachment (Scotland) Act which provided for attachments.

    Now there’s a funny thing about attachments. They allow the creditor to attach the goods of the debtor if the debtor did not pay the debt. As with poindings there is a list of exempt goods (funnily enough the list virtually identical to that in the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987 but expanded slightly for modern conditions (as it could have been expanded by SI before). Oh, and what happens if the debtor doesn’t pay? The creditor applies for an order to sell the goods and can sell them.

    I refer to this as the “I can’t believe it’s not poindings” legislation – but as with the man who shot Liberty Vallance it was a case with the political spin of “print the legend”. Oh, and the same people that voted to abolish poindings voted to introduce attachements (on the whole) So, that’s another of the Sheridan myths.

    (As it is I think the end result is a good thing – because diligence needs to target the won’t pay debtors – who if certain types of property were exempt from creditor attachment would convert their assets accordingly)

    Another myth is the idea (that Sheridan propagates) that he led the anti-poll tax protests (I remember a groundswell of criticism which was not led by any individual).

    Anyway, you’re missing the big question. What’s he going to do about his law exams which are due to take place next week? I trust the University doesn’t give him special treatment if he misses him. Or perhaps he’ll sit them live on telly. That’ll make good viewing…

  3. Er… so, who did shoot Liberty Vallance?

  4. It was John Wayne. Jimmy Stewart just let people think it was him to further his political career ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Paul – sorry, but when the legal system is involved, I err on the side of caution. See the Alex Hilton box up on the top right hand side.

  6. Paul Williams

    Thanks Tom, I appreciate your response, I wasn’t trying to drop you in it, I assumed that the nature of Mr Sheridan’s circumstances were a matter of public record, therefore ok.

  7. As a member of the SSP Executive whose partner was cross examined by Sheridan on her personal life I have absolutely no reason to perpetuate Sheridan myths but he was in fact the elected chair of the All Britain Anti Poll Tax Union.
    Which, for us, is even more reason to regard him as a Judas of the worst kind.

  8. pr roger j clementine iii cbe

    God Bless Tommy Sheridan!


  9. Andrew F

    Ignoring the substance of the post… I bet you could tell us the name of a contestant. Everyone’s heard of Jade Goody. NULAB LIES INNIT.

  10. Not a “lie”, Andrew – I… mis-spoke…

  11. Andrew F


  12. No really here

    Have to admit that I haven’t looked or searched (somewhere between laziness and lack of time) but has Tommy Sheridan ever said himself that he was jailed for not paying the poll tax or is that a “badge of honour” that others have ascribed to him?

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