31 July 2015

Jeremy Paxman gets Mhairi Black’s Paisley dead wrong


I’m a big Paxman fan. He’s not only a superb journalist; he’s great company too. I’m also a fan of lunch with the FT, the feature when a leading personality gets taken for lunch. Incidentally, it has improved a lot since the guests started taking a drink with lunch. The Financial Times is great too, particularly at the weekend. But that’s enough about how terrific everyone is.

Someone has to flag up Paxman’s interview with Mhairi Black, Paisley’s 20 year-old MP and the political star of the moment, for it contains one slur and one piece of outright nonsense.

First Paxman, says of Paisley, my home town (I left ages ago but return often):

“Her home town of Paisley sits solidly in that less than beautiful strip of lowland Scotland where the textile mills closed long ago and one grandly titled promise of regeneration after another has fallen flat.”

I won’t repeat the economic history of Paisley. I wrote about it recently for CapX, in the context of Black’s socialism. But a “less than beautiful strip of lowland Scotland”?

Eh? Stand high on the braes above Paisley (on a rare day when it is not raining) and look east across to Glasgow, or west down to the mouth of the Clyde and I challenge anyone to describe it as anything other than beautiful. It is certainly much nicer than the view of smog from Hampstead Heath or Islington (which is flat). Ok, Paisley town centre has serious problems, but lots of towns outside the south east of England are in a similar bind.

But then comes this:

“When at home in her constituency she still lives with her parents, surrounded by “schemes” (council housing estates), the indications of deprivation — unemployment, a wrecked town centre, substance abuse — all too easy to find.”

That is nonsense. As I understand it, according to her crowdfunder appeal, Black lives with her parents in thoroughly-middle class Ralston, near the golf course. Anyone who knows Paisley will identify owner-occupied Ralston as one of a perhaps surprising number of attractive residential areas that ring the town. I’m from another such affluent area on the other side of Paisley. The tough “schemes” that exist, and they do exist, are not in Ralston or even particularly near it.

I wish Black well, and she seems sincere, but there is a danger in all this media myth-making as the interviews and columns are put into the digital archives. Mhairi Black, with her socialist rhetoric, is being turned by middle class journalists into a working class warrior or heroine from the badlands of Paisley. She is anything but. She is from Ralston and her father was a teacher.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX.