TODAY, I’m going to talk about history. Not Bannockburn, not Flodden and not Culloden because history isn’t just about bloody battles of long ago. It’s also about more recent events. And this week, Labour did a bit of dabbling in history by publishing a short video resurrecting the 1979 vote of no confidence in the James Callaghan Labour government.

Of course, it ignored the diabolical betrayal of Scotland by the notorious 40% rule, introduced by a Scottish-born Labour MP, which denied the democratic decision of the electorate in that year’s referendum on devolution. Had the same rule applied to the 2016 EU referendum, Brexit would have been dead in the water two and a half years ago.

It also ignored the Winter of Discontent, when one and a half million desperately low-paid public-sector workers ran out of patience with the Labour government to join the biggest industrial stoppage since the 1926 general strike.

Most brazenly of all, the video blamed the SNP for the poll tax, which as it happens, was introduced exactly 30 years ago today.

So let’s recap on a few salient points. I wasn’t directly involved in political activism in the late 1980s, because I was run ragged at the time looking after toddler and a baby. But I remember the events vividly and I have close friends, and a partner, who were involved in the frontline of resisting and ultimately defeating the tax – and in the process, bringing down Margaret Thatcher.

Scotland was the guinea pig to test out a new flat-rate local government tax which reduced the differential between highest and lowest tax payers from 14 to 1 right down to zero. A family of four living in a Glasgow high-rise flat could face a bill of up to £1500 – the equivalent of more than £4000 in today’s council tax. Scotland was chosen to be first in the firing line because the Tories had nothing much left to lose north of the Border. At the 1987 General Election, they had lost 11 of their MPs and were reduced to just 24% share of the popular vote.

So the tax was introduced in Scotland one year in advance of the rest of Britain. And it was Scotland that became the main battleground in what developed into a momentous struggle against Margaret Thatcher and her enforcers on the ground. And who were her enforcers? Labour-run councils, that’s who. And they were backed by the entire weight of the Scottish and British Labour Party, and all but few of its Scottish MPs. This inglorious episode kicked off at a special conference in Govan Town Hall in September 1988. A mass community campaign had already begun to take shape in preparation for the issuing of the bills the following April. But Labour’s big guns were wheeled out to compare the campaign to the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade while the trade union chiefs jumped in with their giant bloc votes to makes sure the party would throw in the towel before the bell had even rung for the first round.

Just weeks later, Jim Sillars won the Govan by-election for the SNP in one of the most sensational landslides in British political history. His campaign was based around one simple four-word slogan: Pay No Poll Tax. And from then on in, it was downhill all the way. Within a year the self-styled people’s party was waging a systematic war against some of the poorest communities in Scotland. In Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, Lothian and Tayside, Labour councils mobilised a mini-army of sheriff officers to force their way into the homes of single parents and others on low incomes to begin the medieval debt collection procedure known as warrant sales, involving the public seizure and sale of people’s personal possessions.

Two dissident Labour councillors in the east end of Glasgow, Jim McVicar and Chic Stevenson, the father of the talented actor Gary Lewis, were expelled from the council’s Labour group for voting against handing over sensitive housing benefit records to assist sheriff officers to intimidate and bully the poorest of the poor.

And while all this was going on, the SNP were the only mainstream political party to back the grassroots mass non-payment campaign.

Jeremy Corbyn and Richard Leonard would be well advised to proceed very carefully when they invoke selective fragments of history in an attempt to muddy the waters in defence of the Union. Indeed, the modern independence movement has at least part of its roots in the anti-poll tax campaign. Tommy Sheridan may have been the figurehead, but this was a broad mass movement of hundreds of thousands, driven by local communities with hundreds of working-class women leading the way in many areas. It highlighted in neon lights the total contempt of Westminster towards Scotland. And it gave lie to Labour’s claim to be the party of the underdog. When the chips were down and the people needed Labour, the party deserted them and joined the other side. The experience of the poll tax days sent many people on their first tentative steps away from Unionism towards the idea that Scotland should take charge of its own destiny.

History did not figure prominently among the 2014 independence movement. Understandably, many Yes politicians and activists were wary of provoking Unionist taunts about Braveheart and claymores. Rightly, the movement focused on the future rather than the past.

Yet history matters. Without understanding our past – and not just the last few decades – we cannot fully make sense of our present. And as the old saying goes, history is written by the victors. One reason why the independence movement has avoided going there is because our own history has been strongly influenced and distorted by generations of academic and establishment historians steeped either in British superiority or in Stalinist centralism.

Which brings me to my friend Roz Paterson who, as the Sunday National reported last week, is now undergoing life-or-death treatment in London for an aggressive cancer. A strong Yes activist in the Highlands, she is co-author with my partner Alan McCombes of a gripping and compelling history of Scotland, Restless Land, that challenges ingrained Unionist assumptions from the standpoint of ordinary people through the centuries.

It’s a great read – and if you buy a special limited edition signed by both authors, you can also support Roz’s young family, who are having to spend the next two months 600 miles away while she receives her treatment. There are some still some signed copies left which you can get for a £25 donation at