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.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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