The poignant comparison between Mhairi Black and Bernadette Devlin

The reception given to Mhairi Black, the SNP MP who at  20 is the youngest MP since the 1830s brings to mind the similar reception given to another Baby of the House, Bernadette Devlin who was elected in the byelection of April 1969 a few days short of her 22nd birthday. The contrasts are of course vast. With Bernadette we have the advantage of hindsight to have followed the course of a damaged, even tragic life and embittered politics, affected no doubt by narrowly escaping assassination.  And yet her personality remains striking and in many ways sympathetic. In their maiden speeches almost half a century apart, both were clear confident voices who exemplified a generational shift in politics with a vividness that eludes people with longer memories. Agree or disagree with them, that is their rare value. Whether their exposure at such at  early age is a good thing is a moot point. I wish Mhairi a happier and more fulfilled life that her predecessor and  wish Bernadette all the best.  It should help that Mairhi is a member of a political party, whereas Bernadette despises compromise and courted  the  wasteland of the outer fringes.

Mairhi Black extract 

Like many SNP members come from a traditional socialist Labour family and I have never been quiet in my assertion that I feel that it is the Labour party that left me, not the other way about. The SNP did not triumph on a wave of nationalism; in fact nationalism has nothing to do with what’s happened in Scotland. We triumphed on a wave of hope, hope that there was something different, something better to the Thatcherite neo-liberal policies that are produced from this chamber. Hope that representatives genuinely could give a voice to those who don’t have one.

Bernadette Devlin extract 

We come to the question of what can be done about incidents like that in Derry at the weekend. Captain O’Neill has thought of a bright idea—that tomorrow we shall be given one man, one vote. Does he think that, from 5th October until today, events have not driven it into the minds of the people that there are two ideals which are incompatible—the ideal of social justice and the ideal and existence of the Unionist Party? Both cannot exist in the same society. This has been proved time and again throughout Northern Ireland by the actions of the Unionist Party.

I should like in conclusion to take a brief look at the future. This is where the question of British troops arises. The question before this House, in view of the apathy, neglect and lack of understanding which this House has shown to these people in Ulster which it claims to represent, is how in the shortest space it can make up for 50 years of neglect, apathy and lack of understanding. Short of producing miracles such as factories overnight in Derry and homes overnight in practically every area in the North of Ireland, what can we do? If British troops are sent in I should not like to be either the mother or sister of an unfortunate soldier stationed there. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. Henry Clark) may talk till Domesday about “Our boys in khaki”, but it has to be recognised that the one point in common among Ulstermen is that they are not very fond of Englishmen who tell them what to do.

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  • EddieWhyte

    “Embittered politics”? How condescendling. Note to Editor: replace “politics” with “writer” and why not give Mr Walker another column where he can justify how – under his watch – the BBC deliberately refused to report on the widespread use of British government death squads responsible for the deaths of hundreds.

  • bert mccann

    I saw Bernadette speak twice last year and she came across as anything but embittered. Her speeches were imbued with both wisdom and wit. She may have lived through bitter times that would have soured the milk of human kindness if let. However it has not dimmed her political and human expansiveness. And who are you to assess her life as being unfulfilled or indeed to place value judgements on it at all.

  • kalista63

    Yep, I saw her speaking last year 2, pretty sure its on Youtube. She was wickedly funny and clearly enjoying herself.

  • eireanne

    here’s a vid of Ms Devlin speaking at a scottish referendum rally last year. Going by the audience response she sounds like a really embittered, tragic figure who led an unfulfilled life. Judge for yourselves!

  • Chingford Man

    Let’s be honest about Black’s speech. It was a load of left wing guff, exemplifying so many of the attitudes that have wrecked urban Scotland. Then there was the tribal hatred of “Thatcher” and love of Wedgie Benn: embarrassing and stupid in a student union, never mind in Parliament.

    This silly girl would have been better off doing a job in the real economy for 10-15 years and then we might have a reason to listen seriously to her.

    Tom Elliott’s was better anyway.

  • Chingford Man

    Having watched it, I agree. She does indeed sound like an embittered tragic figure who has led an unfulfilled life. This good friend of the hunger strikers is still as blinkered as ever and has new admirers in blinkered Scottish nationalism.

  • chrisjones2

    One was a revolutionary socialist republican who will never see her dream of freedom from the Brits in her lifetime

    The other isn’t

  • Turgon

    The central point here is that the differences between the two women are much greater than any superficial similarity. Both espouse nationalist politics though in fundamentally different contexts, different times, different countries / regions and advocating different means.

    Indeed the only similarity is that both are / were young women when they became MPs. Trying to build a similarity and indeed comparison on this basis is both condescending and sexist. Would Mr. Walker have produced a piece comparing Charles Kennedy (23 when he became an MP) with Chris Leslie (24 when he became an MP)?

    This piece seems to be an attempt to launch a pretty personal attack on Devlin (of whom I am absolutely not a fan) whilst at the same time condescend towards Black.

    Maybe this article demonstrates more than anything that we need not a generational but an attitudinal shift in certain political commentators as regards young women.

  • Brian Walker

    I have -as usual – none of the underlying motives beloved of some blogging comment. I made pretty clear I have a soft spot for Bernadette who despite her old IRSP sympathies and scathing anti-SF analysis has always spelled out where she’s coming from. My point is how the two women expressed a generational shift with the confidence of youth. That’s it!

  • the rich get richer

    If the Scots do become independent it will have some effect on the Rest of the UK.

    Bernadette may live a good while yet (hopefully)

    Change mostly comes slowly and very occasionally not so slowly and predictability can also be occasionally unpredictable. (Donald Rumsfield would have an inkling about what that means).

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Slugger’s new commentors keep breaking new records for whataboutery.

  • EddieWhyte

    No new blog on why the BBC deliberately refused to report on the widespread use of British government death squads responsible for the deaths of hundreds and thus prolonged the conflict then? What a shame.

  • Brian Walker

    Eireanne, Thanks for the sight of Bernadette at her best. Nostalgic
    in a way but also amazing to hear her pushing the feel- good factor of the Scottish revolution. Or was she? (This was before
    the general election). With the biting wit that was designed to provoke but actually charms, she urges the SNP “never to go into coalition.. Say, we are going down this place to destroy it (Westminster),not to make it work. “

    So what price then the SNP’s “ progressive alliance?” Just a
    new target for her wit. There is no Scottish revolution in her terms.We can smile at how she warns the Scots against falling for the sort of flattery she claims Gerry Adams and the IRA succumbed to at the hands of Tony Blair.

    “ Suddenly the IRA were the most sophisticated military organisation ? Jesus wept!” ( laughter ) .. With 50% of their members locked

    Great stand-up, but what else did she achieve?

  • Brian Walker

    Eddie, you mean the same BBC that constantly reported the shoot to kill allegations and how John Stalker was framed? Just for starters. But that’s another story.

  • Thomas Girvan

    I remember after the Enniskillen massacre, how she defended the IRA, by allying herself to the Republican lie that the bombing was, in some way a mistake.
    Some Socialist.

  • Mirrorballman

    Spot on Turgon

  • EddieWhyte

    Ach come one now Brian – making a few shows several decades after even the dogs in the street knew what was going on doesn’t really count for a lot I’m afraid.

  • barnshee

    Are those the same dogs that claim Gerry was in the RA

  • ted hagan

    Looking back at old clips of McAliskey during at the start of the troubles I found found her incredibly articulate, brave and inspiring. I feel frustrated, looking back, that such a talent went to waste, not necessarily through her own fault, may I add

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed kalista63! I am astonished that anyone could call that performance embittered, she simply seemed to be “telling it like it was.”

    “Be very wary about voting for a person who wants to be a politician” and much else of what she was saying is simple truism.

  • barnshee

    Try producing things like facts and that old standby –proof

  • MainlandUlsterman

    if you’re referring to covert security forces operations against the terror gangs, they shortened the conflict, undermined the terrorist campaigns and saved lives overall. But your mistake is compounded: because, further, you’re expecting journalists from the BBC or anywhere else to have known the ins and outs of what the paramilitaries and the intelligence services were doing at any given time. That’s how you end up with something as absurd as blaming the BBC for Loyalist killings in the Troubles (and presumably Republican ones too, as they were also infiltrated by the security forces at that time).

    When you use phrases like “British government death squads”, you make an assertion that is in contradiction to the evidence. As Da Silva found, talking about the late 80s period he was analysing:
    “5.20 Any attempt to crudely describe loyalist terrorists as simply ‘State-sponsored forces’ is, in my view, untenable and
    fundamentally at odds with a substantial body of contemporary evidence and the historical context of the relationship between loyalists and the security forces during this period (see Chapter 2).”

    I’d urge you to read Chapter 5 of Da Silva in its entirety for a reality check before trotting out untruths about supposed “British government death squads”. They no more were than the (also riddled with agents and informers) IRA were.

    The British government was running agents within Loyalist and Republican death squads to try and stifle them and did in fact do so. So it’s kind of odd to rail against the British government’s infiltration role in the death squads, which was to f*** them up, and not rail against the actual death squads. Perhaps you can set out the alternative anti-terrorist intelligence tactics you’d have employed if you were in charge. I’m sure you have some ideas …

  • EddieWhyte

    As you yourself freely admit: “The British government was running agents within Loyalist and Republican death squads……” and there you have it – British government death squads responsible for the deaths of hundreds and the prolongation of the conflict.

  • EddieWhyte

    Try publishing under your own name