SOMETIMES history is not that old. Many people, especially the younger generation, think of the poll tax debacle as ancient history, but it was not – I dare say many Sunday National readers lived through it and know how painful it all was.

So here is a short history of how the poll tax started and how a full-blown crisis engulfed Scotland in the first month of 1990.

For it was in this week 30 years ago that Strathclyde Regional Council escalated the poll tax crisis in a quite extraordinary fashion.

On January 15, 1990, Scotland’s largest local authority issued an astonishing 250,000 summary warrants, and all of a sudden, the protests against the Community Charge were no longer just about the unfairness of a poll tax that hammered the poor more than the wealthy, but about the use of the law in such a brutal and unflinching fashion.

For summary warrants, if not paid, inevitably led to the degrading and humiliating spectacle of warrant sales in which sheriffs’ officers would come into your house and openly value your goods – a process known as poinding – and arrange a public sale of those goods under warrant.

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Many people labour under the misapprehension that poinding and warrant sales during the poll tax scandal – and it was indeed a massive scandal – were an ancient form of debt collection. Indeed they were, as they dated back to the 16th century, but the actual law that governed debt recovery in Scotland in 1990 was only put through the Westminster Parliament in 1987.

The Debtors (Scotland) Act, instead of throwing out these barbaric practices, set them down in law. Yes, there were exemptions of certain goods from sales, but the Act confirmed that summary warrant sales could continue and indeed in many cases of debt, they would be the only way for a creditor to obtain redress.

In 1985, the Scottish Law Commission had recommended that poindings and warrant sales be retained – not their finest hour – and then along came the poll tax and the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987 kicked in with a vengeance.

It is worth remembering how the crisis in January 1990 – which I believe was a real turning point in the whole scandal – came about.

The Tory government under Margaret Thatcher had been elected in 1987 on a manifesto which included the abolition of domestic rates and their replacement with a poll tax.

The Conservatives had a long tradition of hating rates, and had introduced the “rates cap” to stop local authorities overcharging, as they saw it.

The 1985-86 revaluation process in Scotland proved disastrous for the Tory government, and the Department of the Environment duly came up with a Green Paper called Paying for Local Government.

It proposed a flat tax to be paid by every adult resident of an area, with some exemptions for the very poor, and that “poll tax” was the principle behind the legislation put through Parliament, though the misleading name Community Charge was applied to the new tax.

At this point something very sinister happened. Another rates revaluation was just around the corner and the Scottish Tories were panic stricken that it would lead to their supporters being hammered again, even though there was little evidence that it would.

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Thanks to the release of Cabinet papers in 2015, we now know that it was George Younger, the secretary of state for Scotland, who personally pushed for the poll tax to be introduced in Scotland before England and Wales, and he was doing that as far back as 1985.

Younger got his wish and the poll tax was introduced in Scotland on April 1, 1989, a year before our Union partners. By then a whole new grassroots opposition was under way, and one example of its effects was the loss of tens of thousands of people off the electoral roll.

There was also a growing campaign encouraging people not to pay the tax, which was a whole new tax for so many people in Scotland who were used to paying rates along with their rents for their council houses – remember them?

The key issue for all those who opposed the poll tax was always going to be how Scotland’s Labour-dominated local authorities were going to react.

At that time local government was split between districts and regions, and the “Big Two” – Strathclyde Region and Glasgow District Councils – were very much Labour dominated. At the previous elections the party had won 60 out of 66 seats in Glasgow, and 87 out of 103 seats on Strathclyde council.

The interesting thing was that despite Younger’s promises to the contrary, the average amount paid in poll tax per household annually shot up from £399 in 1988-89 to £467 in 1989-90 – in other words people really were worse off under the poll tax. No wonder the Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay movement began.

Unemployment was high at the time, and Strathclyde Region officers who were responsible for collecting the Community Charge estimated that more than 580,000 would be due a rebate because of their financial circumstances.

As protests grew across Scotland in 1988, it became clear that mass non-payment was happening. The anti-poll tax movement began to prepare for the actions that would be taken against non-payers.

The only question was which would be the first council to react and what would they do. On January 15, 1990, we got our answer and Strathclyde Regional Council issued 250,000 summary warrants for non-payment. They said there was nothing else they could do ...

The reaction was one of utter shock across Scotland. Far from intimidating people into paying, opposition to the poll tax hardened. By the end of the year, a million people in Scotland were non-payers.

The timing was crucial – now the people of England and Wales who were due to get their own poll tax from April 1 could see the reality of the “Community” Charge.

They got the message, the riots began, anti-poll tax activist Tommy Sheridan went to jail just for trying to stop a warrant sale, and by the end of the year, Thatcher was gone and the poll tax was doomed in the face of mass opposition on both sides of the Border.

It was proof that civil disobedience on a mass scale could change things.