Amidst a sea of praise following her maiden speech last week, the SNP’s Mhairi Black found herself on the receiving end of some pretty scathing, even offensive comments from some that were less than impressed with her performance.
If she’d been a Labour politician, or say, a children’s author, it’s possible you’d have heard more about those comments. Perhaps we’d be referring to it as “abuse”, and perhaps there’d have been a double-page spread in the Daily Mail. But she’s not a Labour politician, or a children’s author, she’s the SNP’s 20 year old member of parliament for Paisley & Renfrewshire South, and I don’t intend to use this article to re-hash the whole “CyberNat” debate.
What I find most telling about the recent insults thrown at Mhairi Black, is that they represent a microcosm of Scottish Unionism. You see, “Britishness” is defined by many things, but more than anything it is defined by its class system. Archaic and old fashioned it may be, but we are still very much in its thrall. Whether it’s cooing over pictures of royal babies, giving a pass to the house of lords, to the far more innocuous displays of reverence we reserve for property owners or our fetishisation of self proclaimed “entrepreneurs”, we have a thing about class.
Scotland likes to think of itself as removed from that mindset, and to a large extent it is, but notions of class are no less ingrained north of the border. You don’t need to be the Duke of Buccleuch to look down your nose at others because of some lingering classist prejudice, huge swathes of Scots still seem to be pre-programmed with an idea that ours is a nation populated by idiots.
What surprised so many people last week when they heard Mhairi Black’s speech, was not simply that it was eloquent, or that it seemed to strike a chord across the whole of the UK; rather, that she said it with a working class accent.
We Scots are remarkably self-loathing (there’s no way we’d have voted No last year if that wasn’t the case). Too many of us still can’t come to terms with someone who sounds like us, holding a position of influence or respect. I lost count of the number of conversations I had with unionists during 2014 (and yes, it was exclusively unionists who said it), in which they basically implied that because Scotland was populated with working class people, it couldn’t possibly run its own affairs.
From our earliest years at school we are reprimanded for using Scots in the classroom, we are taught that it’s not how you’re supposed to talk, it’s how thick people speak. Such arguments are often couched in euphemistic (yet no less offensive) talk about “neds”, “chavs” or “schemies”, but it’s all just code for poor people (which in turn is code for thick people). This attitude didn’t simply lose us a referendum, it has successfully kept working class Scots down for generations.
Mhairi Black has quite rightly been applauded for inspiring younger generations to take an interest in politics, but I can’t help feeling that the media have overlooked the effect of having a a working class Scot in such a prominent role at Westminster. Don’t get me wrong, there have been working class Scots in Westminster before, but they were hidden away on the back benches, little more than vote fodder for the Labour party whip.
What really terrifies the British (and indeed, the Scottish) establishment, is a parliament packed with Mhairi Blacks. Because only then would we have a system, and maybe even a Government, that actually looked like the rest of the country. Roll on the day.