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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 11:33 GMT
Rebel without a pause
Tommy Sheridan
Tommy Sheridan on his soap box in the early 1990s
Scottish Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan is now in police custody and heading for his third jail sentence.

BBC News Online Scotland looks at the background of the man who has vowed to continue championing those less well off in Scottish society.

Tommy Sheridan's political consciousness was woken at the age of 16.

He thanks his mother for that.

She was involved with the trade union movement and the teenage Sheridan was used to seeing propaganda leaflets and posters going into and out of the family home.

"There were certain things which made me aware of injustice and the need to change," he recalled.

"My favourite uncle, who was blind, was moved from his home in Govan to the 14th floor of a flat complex in Cardonald.

Sheridan in parliament
Sheridan makes a point at his swearing in ceremony
"I remember thinking that was a clear case of a lack of compassion."

He joined the Labour Party "to make a difference", but by 1989 he had been expelled for his high-profile stance against the poll tax.

As a youngster, besides having an interest in all things political, Sheridan has always been a keen footballer.

"My father helped out with the local soccer team, which I believe was a form of socialism at work," says the 36-year-old.

Have any conversation with this politician and you will find most things are referred back to socialism.

Third jail sentence

He is no stranger to the inside of a prison cell. This is is his third term inside.

The first was in 1992. He was given a six-month sentence for attempting to stop a warrant sale.

Sheridan was sent to Saughton jail in Edinburgh where he served four months in the lifers' wing.

As a kid I wasn't a trouble-maker - I saw myself as a team player, a conformist, I liked football, chasing the girls and being with my mates

Tommy Sheridan
"Because I was a civil prisoner I could not be put into the mainstream jail.

"I should have been in a special unit, but there was no special unit because it was rare to have an inmate like me.

"I remain in contact with some of the men I served my sentence with.

"It was a valuable experience, it was character building and taught me about humility."

His next spell inside was in 1994 when he spent two-and-a-half days locked up in Barlinnie Prison.

SSP logo
Sheridan leads the Scottish Socialist Party
On that occasion, he was punished for his role in trying to prevent a poinding.

Already a local councillor, in May 1999 he took his role in the democratic process a step further when he was elected to the Scottish Parliament.

Was becoming part of the establishment a turning point?

"I won't soften. In fact, as I have got older I have become more committed to the cause," he pledged.

Warrant sales success

"Sometimes you have to join the establishment in order to change it.

"There is no point in getting elected and then dropping your beliefs."

Sheridan has made in-roads since becoming an MSP.

Earlier this year his campaign to have warrant sales and poindings abolished paid off when his members' bill made it through the parliament.

Saughton prison
The politician spent four months in Saughton Jail
As for his latest jail term, that stems from his refusal to pay a 250 fine for the part he played in a blockade of the Faslane Nuclear base.

Mr Sheridan holds hopes that he can rid Scotland of nuclear weapons, in the same way as he has rid it of warrant sales and poinding.

Despite finding himself on the wrong side of the law, he will not lose his seat as an MSP.

He would have to be given at least a 12-month prison sentence for that to happen.

'I wasn't a trouble-maker'

But it is a risk the Scottish Socialist Party leader is prepared to take.

"If I sat in parliament and I could not speak or take direct action then I don't see the point in being in parliament."

Sheridan might like being the political rebel, but the confirmed teetotaller says he is a conformist in other parts of his life.

Socialist party poster
The socialist agenda
"As a kid I wasn't a trouble-maker. I saw myself as a team player, a conformist. I liked football, chasing the girls and being with my mates.

"I live a normal life and my family and my football are very important to me."

The Motherwell FC fan says once this latest period in prison has passed and Christmas is over he will continue the fight.

After all he has a mission to fulfil: "I believe most people are socialists at heart, they hold those beliefs but it is an unconscious thing.

"I and the Scottish Socialist Party are in the business of making those beliefs a conscious thing."

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18 Dec 00 | Scotland
MSP jailed over anti-nuclear fine
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