THOUSANDS of people took to the streets yesterday to protest against the UK government’s plans for a bedroom tax.
Police estimated that 3,000 demonstrators marched on George Square in Glasgow, while another 1,000 assembled outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
The protesters say that the policy, which will cut housing benefit for those with spare bedrooms, will disproportionately affect disabled people and women, and could lead to evictions and deaths.
Marchers chanted “ratbag, ratbag” – a reference to the heckle that greeted the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith when he visited Edinburgh last week to discuss his welfare reforms.
They also wore T-shirts and waved placards with the word “ratbag” superimposed on Duncan Smith’s face.
Feelings were running high in the capital, where Kelly Parry, representing the National Union of Students, said: “He is a ratbag. The cuts that are going to come in are going to disproportionately affect women.
“We need to fight back so that never again will the people of this country be robbed by Westminster.”
A large number of Yes Scotland banners was paraded alongside banners from the pro-independence Scottish Green Party.
In a statement of support for the marchers, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said: “The Scottish Government has brought in mitigation measures and has made a firm commitment to scrap the policy in an independent Scotland.
“SNP-led councils have committed to not evicting tenants affected by the bedroom tax, in contrast to several Labour local authorities who have refused to follow suit.
“There is no doubt that the bedroom tax is an abhorrent policy and the level of outrage surrounding what is being imposed is entirely justified.”
Pamela Nash, Labour MP for Airdrie and Shotts, also backed the protests.
She said: “I joined the thousands of people who marched in Glasgow and throughout the UK against the bedroom tax.
“This is a disgraceful, badly thought-out policy and the Tory-led government should do the right thing: admit that they got it completely wrong and abandon it immediately.
“The government wants people to give up their ‘spare’ rooms, but they have nowhere else to go. This policy will simply cut their benefits.
“Tory policy appears to be to cut the benefits of the poorest in our society at the same time as they give tax breaks to the rich.”
Former Scottish Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan was among the marchers from Glasgow Green, even though his hopes of a political comeback have been dealt a blow with his resignation from the committee of anti-bedroom tax campaign.
Within less than a fortnight of being voted on to the West Scotland Anti Bedroom Tax Federation’s interim organising committee on 13 March, the convicted perjurer quit.
Scotland on Sunday understands that Sheridan resigned when it emerged that many campaigners regarded him as too divisive a figure to head their pressure group.
He fell from grace after he sued the News of the World in 2006 for £200,000 damages for defamation over claims he had visited a swingers’ club and had extra-marital affairs.
After the case, claims that the ex-MSP had lied soon emerged. Sheridan was charged with perjury in 2007. In 2010, he was found guilty and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.
Behind the scenes, there was disquiet about his involvement in the West Scotland Anti Bedroom Tax Federation, and the five-strong committee including Sheridan resigned en masse.
One campaigner said: “What the committee didn’t bank on was that lots of activists do not want to have anything whatsoever to do with Tommy Sheridan. Some people have been pretty politically naïve about this to think that he would be a good figurehead in the first place.”
Sheridan could not be contacted yesterday. But a statement released on behalf of all five committee members said: “We are collectively stepping down from the West Scotland Anti Bedroom Tax committee, not through differences or disagreements with the aims of the committee that we all helped to establish, but to try and cut across divisions which have regrettably developed.”