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Scottish Parliament opening Thursday, 1 July, 1999, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
I'm boycotting this rich farce
Tommy Sheridan
By Tommy Sheridan, Scottish Socialist Party MSP for Glasgow region

History has a way of repeating itself.

In 1707, as the "parcel of rogues" assembled in the Scottish Parliament to sell out in the Act of Union - under which the rich gained from free trade and the rise of empire - crowds gathered to vent their anger.

They were the "socially excluded" of their day.

On 1 July, 1999, as Scotland's first elected parliament is officially opened, I will be part of a crowd gathered outside, venting anger at the dirty deal on student tuition fees stitched up between New Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Modern parliament

We were told this would be a modern parliament, democratic, accessible and sensitive to the Scottish people who demanded and elected it.

Yet the ruling coalition ignore the wishes of the 62% who voted to scrap tuition fees in May's elections.

Yes, there is cause to celebrate and street parties will attract real representatives of real Scottish communities.

My criticism of the opening ceremonies is that this should have been declared a national holiday; the parliament is the product of the Scottish people's struggle, not the gift of overpaid politicians, and certainly not of the feudal relics on display at the parliament's opening.

What place is there in a modern democracy for the unelected Queen, gifting a Mace to the parliament as a symbol of hereditary royal power?

Or the Royal Company of Archers and a whole parade of wigs, robes and funny trousers, with the modern successors like the Duke of Hamilton at their head?

'Medieval inequality'

New Labour is so "modern" it has rummaged the costumes and customs of medieval inequality and paraded them in public as we enter the New Millennium.

As these feudal relics show off their fineries they will be a stone's throw from the fabulous wealth salted away in the vaults of modern financial capitalism up the Royal Mile - 150bn of it to be specific.

In the same country where the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland each declared 1,000m profits last month, one in three children and one in four families are officially classified poor.

The Scottish Socialist Party was formed and I was elected to expose and oppose poverty and inequality, advocating measures to fundamentally and radically redistribute wealth.

My chief condemnation of Donald Dewar's eight Bills is that they fail to set targets on tackling Scotland's national crime of poverty.

Tommy Sheridan
Tommy Sheridan: "Parliament product of people's struggle"
How are the public meant to scrutinise the impact of their first elected parliament when we have no measure of how our national wealth is allocated? That is why I have lodged a Bill demanding a national audit.

That is also why I have lodged Bills for a pensioners' charter; to replace the unfair council tax with a progressive local income tax, and for abolition of student tuition fees and loans, with restoration of a student grant to at least pre-1979 levels (6,000).

As I gaze across the parliament I spot Blairite clones who themselves enjoyed a student grant, housing benefits and free education, now hell-bent on kicking away the ladder of opportunity to this generation, making education the preserve of the rich.

Instead of joining a feudal ceremony echoing back 300 years, on 1 July after attending the demo against student poverty I will attend the official opening of the Jack Jardine Memorial Hall in the heart of Glasgow's Pollok.

This community hall is an oasis of facilities for all age groups in a desert of deprivation.

Two years ago, in an act of vandalism and spitefulness, Glasgow Labour council shut the hall.

'No council funding'

I'm proud to say the local community occupied it and sustained the facilities despite absolutely no council funding.

This is a symbol of the community solidarity and struggle which forced the government into conceding the parliament, and is a seed of socialism which challenges all that is rotten and unequal in society.

Jack Jardine was one of those who sustained the community hall.

Former shipyard worker, tenants' leader, life-long socialist and founding member of the Pollok SSP branch, Jack died earlier this year.

He was one thousands of the unsung heroes who devote their time and talents to the betterment of others.

A sharp contrast to the privileged inheritors of stolen fortunes who will officiate at the parliament's opening.

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28 May 99 | UK Politics
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