Scottish socialist leader quits for family reasons

The firebrand politician Tommy Sheridan, jailed in 1992 over a campaign against the poll tax, has resigned as leader of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) for "personal reasons".

After 15 years as the main standard bearer of the hard-line socialist cause, the 40-year-old MSP whose wife, Gail, is an air hostess, said yesterday his decision had been prompted by the impending birth of his first child and a desire to disprove criticism that the SSP was a "one-man band". Mr Sheridan, married for four years, has led the party since its formation in 1999. He said he wanted to devote more time to being a hands-on father.

"I am going to be a dad soon and that's something I have never done before," he said. "If I am going to be a good socialist dad I am going to have to be around a bit more."

Yesterday, as nominations opened for the job as leader of the party, which has six seats in the Scottish Parliament, a spokesman for the SSP paid tribute to Mr Sheridan's "outstanding role in the development of socialist politics in Scotland over two decades".

His campaign against the poll tax as a young Labour militant made his name. His high-profile stance led to his exclusion from Labour and he formed the SSP. In 1992, he was jailed for six months for defying a court order banning him from a warrant sale in Turnbull Street, Glasgow, which arose from resistance to the poll tax. He was elected as councillor for Glasgow Pollok while he was in Edinburgh's Saughton prison.

For 14 years, he has been one of the biggest thorns in the side of the establishment. He was jailed again for refusing to pay the poll tax and for his part in blockades at Faslane submarine base while campaigning for nuclear disarmament.

His party has its struggles too. The SSP, now the fifth-biggest party in Scotland with 60 branches, is expected to be £200,000 into the red by the end of the financial year. Mr Sheridan has dismissed as "crap" rumours that some scandal may be about to emerge about him, and said there was nothing in his life that could bring the party into disrepute and force him from his position.

Mr Sheridan's resignation, being effective immediately, means the party could be subjected to "collective" rule until a new leader is elected at the national conference in February.