Opinion: Sheridan triumphs as working-class hero

One of the main results of devolution for Scotland has been the almost complete media blackout of Scottish news south of the border. That at least was the case until the sensational libel action taken against The News of the World by Scottish Socialist Tommy Sheridan.

A perfect mixture of politics and sex ensured that this story made its way to the front of English papers. But for weeks the Scottish had been enjoying lurid claims of Sheridan allegedly visiting swingers' clubs and having a string of affairs.

Sheridan has gained near cult-hero status in Scotland, because unlike his compatriot, ‘gorgeous' George Galloway, he is seen as a serious politician. This is a man who would never dream of appearing on Celebrity Big Brother. No, he is happier being snapped as he's arrested for the hundredth time outside a nuclear base.

He came  to prominence during the fight against the poll tax and gained respect for spending time in prison for refusing to pay it. When the new Scottish Parliament adopted proportional representation for electing its MPs, it meant smaller parties such as the Scottish Socialists could take seats, pushing Sheridan into the mainstream political scene.

Last week, however, brand Sheridan came of age. It is difficult to imagine a bigger PR coup for a politician than to win a libel case and £200,000 in damages. Even more remarkable was the fact that Sheridan sacked his legal team in the middle of the trial and fought the case himself. His self-styled ‘man of the people' image was capped with a rabble-rousing victory speech alongside his wife.

Only in Glasgow could you have a popular politician talking about ‘the working class jury' doing a service to the people of Scotland.  And how many politicians could get away with comparing their victory to ‘Gretna taking on Real Madrid in the Bernabeu and taking them to penalties'?

So, will Tommy try to cash in on his new-found national fame? Unlikely, as his wife showed when she turned down a fortune by giving her story to the Scottish Sunday Mail. Instead, her husband is likely to use his victory to try and win back control of his party, and will almost certainly refuse advances from Galloway's Respect.

In a summer of depressing news from the Middle East, a little-known socialist from north of the border has brightened up our lives a little. Sheridan's popularity shows that even if New Labour has given up talking about the working class, there is still the odd spark in the far reaches of the kingdom.  

charlie.whelan@haynet.com

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