Independence Minded? talks to Tommy Sheridan: ‘I’ve used sunbeds most of my life, so I’ve got very tough skin…’
The dream of independence is closer than it’s ever been for the Scottish socialist and former MSP, who has put jail time behind him to go on a speaking tour that focuses on the future of his country — and which has put him back on the political map in Scotland, despite the wishes of some in the Yes campaign. We caught up with Tommy Sheridan when he was both in his hometown of Glasgow, and in his element.
It’s a family affair in Govan on the sunny night in July 2014 that I head along to catch Tommy Sheridan taking to the stage.
“It was very, very interesting. I had my mum in tonight, I had my wife in tonight, I had my father-in-law in tonight, and he had his brothers in tonight. It was interesting to have so many people close to us here tonight — and the good thing is that they enjoyed it, they said it went well.”
Indeed, wife Gail was chairing the meeting — as Sheridan adds: “I keep on at her to try and get more active in the campaign, I think she would convince a lot of women in particular” — but if there’s any sign of nerves they certainly weren’t evident on stage at the Fairfield Working Men’s Club in Govan, Glasgow.
The venue would never be described as the most glamorous of locations, but then the former Scottish Socialist Party MSP has rarely been about the razzle dazzle of politics, and his lengthy Hope Over Fear tour across the length and breadth of the country seems a world away from any televised debates.
This style of relentless on-the-ground campaigning has been a consistent feature of the multifaceted Yes campaign, and it is something at which the 50-year-old socialist veteran excels.
There are few in Scotland better able to whip up a crowd and make them feel passionate about the cause.
Critics might call it schtick, or point out that his speech doesn’t cover new ground, but that’s not the point: Sheridan has an ability to connect with the issues that concern working-class voters, and to address their problems while not making it feel as though he is being in any way false or insincere.
To achieve that in itself could be seen as a sizeable achievement. Though he is currently appealing his case, Sheridan was not so long ago sent to jail for perjury in a prolonged political drama which saw him branded a liar, with the party that he had been so instrumental in forming torn apart.
Given that he had been “exposed” by the News of the World thanks to an secret recording alleged to be Sheridan, I had expected him to be much more on his guard when I got in contact about filming and talking to him about Independence Minded?. Instead he was as open as anyone I approached to interview; friendly and warm to our small team, and incredibly relaxed about our potential presence.
‘The sticks and the stones, they don’t matter’
Part of me was rather worried that when we arrived it would be a ruse, and that Sheridan would be on the defensive from the get-go. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The team around him, including Gail, were only too happy to help.
The reason for this became clear soon enough: the focus was on Scotland’s future, not the past. The positives around independence are what matters, not the negative aspects of his back story. And it’s that which seems to be bringing out the crowds, rather than any curiosity around Sheridan’s notoriety.
Speaking about his opinion on people bringing up his past, he replied: “Irrelevant, honestly. I’ve used sunbeds most of my life, since I was 17 years of age. I’m now 50, so it means I’ve got very tough skin.
“I’ve also got no-bad broad shoulders, and I’ve been called lots of things in my time. The sticks and the stones, they don’t matter. What matters is the message, and I think most people see that now: the message of an independent Scotland is what matters. Not the individuals, not the political parties. It’s the message.”
Can it be as easy as that? It has been reported that Sheridan has been frozen out of the official Yes campaign, and as recently as this week he was apparently dropped from a debate. It might be a case of playing the man and not the ball but it’s clear that plenty of resentment lingers, especially when his profile is being raised through appearances on the BBC’s This Week and Scotland 2014. Does he deserve another chance? Or, to put it another way: if the voters want to listen to his message, how much should the past affect his visibility in the campaign?
As he put it: “If you want genuine freedom, if you want to tackle poverty in Scotland, if you want to build a new nuclear-free country that stands up for peace, we’ve got to vote Yes.
“I’m for unity for independence.”
And what does he hope for in an independent Scotland? “My hope for an independent Scotland is that we recognise that it isn’t a destination. We don’t put our feet up and say ‘that’s it, we’ve got an independent Scotland, everything’s going to be alright’,” he explained.
“In an independent Scotland we’ll still have poverty pay, we’ll still have pensioners frightened to put on their electric fires. We’ll still have children no realising their potential because they don’t have proper class sizes, they don’t have proper encouragement.
“I think in an independent Scotland we have the potential to create a new and a better country that puts people before profit, that invests in welfare not warfare. That’s the type of Scotland I want to build. I’m 50 years of age, I’ll only have maybe another good 20 years left in me. This is really for the grandkids: they’re the ones who are going to benefit from an independent Scotland.”
That may be true, but the prospect of an independent Scotland seems to have benefited Sheridan a great deal, as is revealed by the energised speeches of his which are being shared around the internet. You can only imagine that — if there’s a Yes vote — he will enjoy a further resurgence as the possibility of realising his dream of a socialist Scotland becomes even more tangible. But even if the vote doesn’t go the way he wants it to, then it won’t be the end. As long as there are people in the likes of Leckmelm or Cambeltown who want him to come and convert their family and friends to the pro-independence cause, then you suspect it is going to be awfully hard for Tommy to ever say No.
“I think that in an independent Scotland we have the potential to create a new and a better country that puts people before profit, that invests in welfare not warfare. That’s the type of Scotland I want to build. I’m 50 years of age, I’ll only have maybe another good 20 years left in me. This is really for the grandkids: they’re the ones who are going to benefit from an independent Scotland.”
Tommy Sheridan, socialist politician and independence campaigner, in Govan, Glasgow