Earlier today, two things were brought home to me in staggering fashion.
One was the continuing and unsurpassed level of cynicism and blind hatred for the SNP at the dark heart of Labour in Scotland, which even three electoral scuddings has not exorcised and which the prospect of a fourth has done nothing whatsoever to temper.
The other was pride. Pride in my country. Pride in its people.
Pride in the way our votes for #Team56 are being vindicated.
Yes, today I watched Mhairi Black’s maiden speech to the House, and it was something to see.
Everyone who reads this blog knows I don’t do bullshit. Nor am I part of the wee personality cults which are all too common in politics and which I find worrying.
Nevertheless, there are people I truly admire and respect.
For example, I have written, on many occasions, about how I spent years following the political career of one particular “SNP loser” (and I called her that to her face in 1997) only to be mightily impressed years later when I saw how she performed in government.
I was a full blown fan long before she became First Minister, and although I don’t have a picture of Nicola Sturgeon pinned to my bedroom wall (and I’m not knocking anyone who does!) I think she’s the finest political asset we have in a country that’s been damned fortunate to have a few of them in recent years, most notably her predecessor, Alex Salmond.
With that in mind, let me tell about my personal experiences following the life of Mhairi Black.
I first heard of her, as many people did, when a national newspaper put her on the front pages in the run up to the election. Now, I am a Celtic supporter who is unrepentantly cynical about the media and the way they portray my club so it was a surprise to me to see my fellow fans being “put on notice” by said newspaper about the wannabee politician who hated us so much.
You’ll all be familiar with this story, no doubt, the one about the foul mouthed ned tweeting from the match about how much she hated fellow football fans; the girl who had talked about head-butting a Labour councillor; the one who liked a wee drink of a Saturday night. A twenty year old, without any “real life experience.”
The one some party geniuses thought was up to the task of decapitating Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary and co-chair of the Labour campaign.
Oh yes, I thought, that was a good idea.
I was furious. I vented on Facebook, where I accused the SNP hierarchy of not taking the election – and the opportunity to wipe Labour off the map – seriously. I pondered who else they might have on their lists who wasn’t worthy of the battle ahead.
Then some people on my page, people who read this blog, told me to check her out on YouTube and listen to some of her speeches during the referendum. I did just that, and I saw no evidence at all of the girl who had wanted to batter elected officials and who hated my football club and my fellow fans so much. I decided to research the claims.
And lo, what did I find?
Although factually correct the context of those events was very different.
For a start, her football remarks were no different to the kind of stuff I read (and have occasionally posted) on Facebook many, many times. They were the passionate, unfiltered, response to a moment of high drama at a game … something that’s also not alien to me.
I looked back over my own Facebook feed and found plenty of similar examples, including some where I was slating my own team in foul mouthed rants … including one memorable occasion – 4-3 against Aberdeen at home, in March 2013 – where I had gone so far when Aberdeen took a 3-1 lead that I was the butt of jokes for weeks afterwards, especially in light of the fightback, which we completed in the final minute of the match.
I understood, easily, how she could have got swept away in a moment and made an arse of herself on social media. I understood it all too well.
I also found myself strongly sympathetic to her position on the day she wanted to “nut” a Labour councillor at a referendum event. Looking back over the course of those events, I knew what it felt like to stand in a room and listen to people spreading fear and telling lies and whipping up all the old demons, even as they invoked the principles of social justice.
I remember my own fury, my own desire to see these people pay a price.
And I realised that this woman was possessed of the same passion and conviction and anger and emotions as me, and that changed my perceptions.
I realised that at last – at long last – we had people going into the game for the right reasons, with the right ambitions, not ambitions for themselves but for others.
I realised we had a warrior here, a soldier.
And I so wanted her to win.
I read the early reports of her lead incredulously. I wrote a long blog for this site on the electoral math and how it looked as if the SNP might just reach a “tipping point” in the national swing that would put every Labour seat in the country at risk.
I knew all this stuff intellectually, backed as it was by hard data and reinforced from what I was hearing on the ground. But emotionally I dared not believe it.
On the night of the election I was at the Glasgow City Count, covering it for Scooped, and footage of me turned up on the telly, celebrating as a Labour MP was ousted. (I think it was probably the moment Sarwar lost his seat.)
I’ve always been glad they never filmed me (or at least never showed it) in the moment Mhairi’s result came through from Paisley, because I went nuts, hugging people, jumping around like the football fan that I am, as if I’d watched a last minute winner go in.
I wrote an article on this site after #team56 went down to Westminster for their induction day, and about how pleased I was that they were ignoring outdated parliamentary conventions and charting their own course. I saw that famous picture of her, with her piece and chips, and I laughed and thought about MP’s quaffing champagne and eating caviar whilst she sat there munching on her dinner and probably dreaming of Irn Bru.
In that article I talked about how she and Natalie and others get it because they know class warfare from the ground level. And I was surprised when some, including some of our own, criticised my characterisation of Mhairi as working class, as though you have to be to get the class war from this side of the lines.
Today in her speech she quoted another glorious class warrior, Tony Benn, the guy who was born into wealth, including an inherited title, which made no difference at all to his political outlook and his hatred of the class enemy … the one whose lifestyle he was born into.
Today I felt vindicated, and damned proud. Proud of her, proud of my country, proud that it is, again, producing warriors, people who get it, people in the game out of something more than careerism, something more than just bettering their own lives.
She is an example for Scotland, and for young Scotland in particular. A first class degree, which she says is a source of greater pride than her election to the House, simply adds to the overall impression that we’re seeing the emergence of a serious individual with the fire so many of our political class lacks.
She comes from a Labour family, and a Labour background, and she echoed my sentiments exactly (and not for the first time) when she said that Labour left her, not the other way around. It’s nothing many thousands of us have not expressed.
Yet it unleashed the hate, the visceral, bubbling lava pool of anti SNP sentiment which runs through Labour and much of the right-wing press like red through a stick of Blackpool Rock.
These people could not bring themselves even to congratulate her, or show her the slightest respect, this articulate, brilliant young woman who spoke from the heart about the issues that matter, and not just to her but millions of us.
I understand this of the bitter bastards of The Daily Mail and The Telegraph.
But the response from some in Labour was truly disgusting.
They could not even wish her well after she had paid a fine, classy tribute to her predecessor and who voiced her admiration and respect for one of their historic icons.
The viciousness of their responses, the derisive contempt, the level of bile and venom they reserved for her is matched only by the scorn that I feel for them as a consequence.
Today I saw the two distinct faces of Scottish politics.
One of them was youthful and energetic, with eyes that burned with conviction and hope, and who’s mouth spoke the words of justice, fairness and a better world.
The other face was contorted with anger, and the twisted mouth on that sneering puss dribbled envy, spite and disgusting self-regard.
I know which one I prefer. I know which one Scotland prefers.
Mhairi Black, congratulations.
You have made this cynic a true believer.
I have no words for your detractors.
Their own words say more than mine ever could.
You are worth a hundred of them.
Scotland is proud of you.
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