Parliament & Politics: Poll tax rebel free to resume battle

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CIVIL PRISONER number 292 walked through Edinburgh's Saughton Prison gates yesterday to resume his old job of anti-poll tax campaigner, and take on a new role as an elected district councillor of Glasgow.

Last March, Tommy Sheridan, leader of the anti-poll tax federation, was sentenced to six months' imprisonment after defying a court order banning him from taking part in a demonstration that prevented Scotland's first attempted warrant sale - an auction of personal property to recover owed poll tax.

Yesterday, with remission for good behaviour, he finished his 'government sausage' just before 9am and as Saughton's clock struck 9.15, walked into the arms of his mother and a press conference held on the prison steps. His four months of imprisonment had done nothing to diminish an articulacy that some in the Labour Party ranks believe they allowed to escape too soon.

His reception at Saughton was mainly from friends, relatives and the media. The real welcome home was at Glasgow's Queen Street railway station, where about 300 people, with banners, scarves, modified football songs and a small pipe band, awaited the arrival of the 12.15 from Waverley station, Edinburgh.

Special Branch officers in sunglasses and carrying portable phones were out in force and a convoy of black Bentleys was parked outside Queen Street. 'This is all tremendous,' one of Mr Sheridan's supporters said. But it was not for Mr Sheridan. The Irish Republic's president, Mary Robinson, was in the Copthorne Hotel near by, meeting the Lord Provost of Glasgow.

However, Mr Sheridan was carried shoulder-high from the station and across George Square to the front door of the City Chambers, before climbing the three floors to the council chambers. He went first to the provost's chair: 'This is where Scottish Militant Labour will be in two years,' he said. Then, moving to the back row, he sat in the seat that has been waiting for him since his successful election campaign run from prison.

Outside he told demonstrators: 'If I had the choice today, tomorrow, next week, next year, in two years, I'd still do the same thing. I promise that I'll repay everybody who voted for and supported me during my imprisonment.'

While he was speaking, a van drew up. Inside a man waved the red, white and black flag of the AWB, the South African neo-Nazi movement. Police stopped the vehicle and dragged the protester into the City Chambers - probably for his own protection.

(Photograph omitted)