17 October 2015

Why is Mhairi Black pretending to be working class?


Most of us when we were young had a part-time job. I was the world’s worst assistant in a parts department in a garage in Paisley. Twenty eight years ago, a Saturday morning or a school holiday meant me standing there looking at a microfiche (Google it, youngsters) trying, and usually failing, to find a part for a customer’s broken down 1980 Vauxhall Cavalier. There were upsides. I was introduced by the full-timers in the garage to pubs and learned a little about betting odds and form, as I was despatched most days to put on bets and collect any winnings. After a good run betting my own meagre money on Scottish football results I became convinced that a glamorous life as a professional gambler lay in store. I had done the sums. If I could keep winning three weeks out of four, and stockpile the winnings (£45, 0nce, I think), never laying out too much, then I would be a multi-multi-millionaire by 1998. (Spoiler alert: This did not happen.)

The reason I mention all this is that something jarred in the rapturously received speech delivered by SNP  star Mhairi Black at SNP conference in Aberdeen this week. Most of the speech was the usual sentimental, Scottish leftie, socialist nonsense. Black lambasted austerity and demanded “investment” (spending other people’s money) but she never gets round to explaining how exactly all this is to be done. Which taxes are to go up? Which benefits will rise? By how much? How will government create jobs? After all, history suggests time and again that government is no good at organising production and matching output with the material desires of consumers

But Black also said this:

“When I first spoke at conference it was roughly a year ago and it was just after the referendum. The second time I spoke I did so as a parliamentary candidate. The third time I am now speaking to conference as a member of the UK parliament. The reason I mention this journey because it is symbolic of what has happened in Scotland over the the last year. The idea that a then 20-year old chip shop fryer could become a MP would have been laughed at, but not anymore.”

A 20 year-old chip shop fryer? By next year she’ll be claiming to have been born down a coal-mine.

Of course, this is standard issue stuff on the Scottish left, where downward social mobility is so often the thing, meaning that humble origins several generations back (which most of us have, when one considers the shape of the UK economy 100 years ago) are elevated to suggest something akin to moral superiority over those who identify as middle class, upper class or utterly uninterested in class.

For the truth is that Black is not from the badlands or even close to it. Her father was a teacher and then ran a business. They live in Ralston. I explained the details in a piece for CapX and also in a letter to the FT when the great Jeremy Paxman had, unusually, fallen over lunch for the Black public relations pitch.

Why does it matter? Mhairi Black’s schtick is that she is thoroughly authentic, and she certainly seems to be motivated by sincere concern for the less fortunate. But why is she defining herself as a “chip shop fryer” rather than as what she is: which is a bright graduate who lives in a nice house in a nice Paisley neighbourhood next to the golf course?

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX.