A Positive Word About Two Nationalists

     With regard to the SNP and its politicians, there is usually not much good I can say about them, for their quest to break up the United Kingdom puts me at odds with them more so than almost any other significant political party in Britain or America.

     However, I do believe in being respectful to people and parties of all kinds, and there are even some cases when I may feel compelled to occasionally say something good about politicians and parties with whom I viscerally disagree.

     Such is the case for Mhairi Black and Pete Wishart of the SNP, and before some of y’all out there start freaking out, please allow me to elaborate.

     Mhairi Black was elected as the MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South in the SNP’s landslide during the general election of 2015 – defeating Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander and becoming the youngest Member of Parliament in over three centuries.

     The 21-year-old has taken an interest in international issues and in particular, poverty and heath issues in developing countries. She’s also a fan of the band U2 and its lead vocalist Bono (to whom, Alexander is now an adviser), who has been noted for his activism concerning such places, and Africa in particular. One of his anti-poverty organizations, the ONE Campaign, is one that Black has been a member of since she was 14, and earlier this year, she was invited by ONE to see their charity work on display in Kenya.

     While there, she noted the importance of international aid in the effort to combat AIDS and other life-threatening diseases in places such as Kenya, and praised the UK Government for its role in providing critical aid. In one case, she said that the “drugs British aid has funded” is the reason for an HIV-positive woman named Mary along with her children still being alive after her husband had infected and abandoned her.

     Black also said that British aid has been used to help educate people on the basics of things such as the preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the Daily Record reported that international aid by countries such as Britain has contributed to the significant drops in new infections and disease-related deaths.

     At a time when foreign aid is hotly debated and criticized in the UK – especially with Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to increase aid outlays to 0.7% of GDP, Black said:

“It’s very rare to find me praising the Government but Britain is one of the better countries in terms of commitment to foreign aid…and having seen the difference it makes to people’s lives, I think it’s highly important that we maintain that level of support.”

UK Aid being delivered in Dubai.  Image Credit:  UK Department for International Development  via  Flickr   cc

UK Aid being delivered in Dubai.  Image Credit: UK Department for International Development via Flickr cc

     Indeed, while it may be rare for Black to saying anything good about the UK Government, the fact is that she did so as a Scottish nationalist who wishes to see the end of Britain. But her willingness to offer praise for the country in its aid commitments across the world is perhaps a sign of political maturity on her part, and even perhaps a small bit of respect for being British.

     Meanwhile, Black’s veteran Commons colleague Pete Wishart has done his own bit to be engaged as person representing the UK while the Union exists with Scotland firmly part of it.

     The MP for Perth and North Perthshire was first elected in 2001, and with his skills as a keyboard player, he joined with other MP’s in 2004 to form the MP4 Band – the world’s only parliamentary rock band. It consists of Wishart, Labour MP Kevin Brennan (guitar and vocals), former Labour MP Ian Cawsey (bass guitar and vocals), and Conservative MP Sir Greg Knight (drums).

     According to their website, the band has:

“helped to raise over £1 million for charity since their first gig in February of [2004]. When the Parliamentary timetable permits, they perform at charitable events around the country and actively encourage young people to take an interest in music.”

     In 12 years, MP4 have performed at many venues both private and public throughout the United Kingdom, and have the distinction of being the first musicians to perform in the 900 year old Westminster Hall – a place steeped in British political history – when they were in concert before over 1,000 MP’s, Peers, and parliamentary staff as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in May 2012. Most recently, they attended the 2016 Brit Awards and functioned as the house band for a special show in London hosted by comedian Matt Forde.

     They have also produced and released two albums (with a third on the way this year) containing a mix of cover pieces and their own original tracks. Their first single on EMI was downloaded by then Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2005.

     In addition, the cross-party band has received numerous awards and accolades, including the title of “Alternative Parliamentary Entertainers” in 2011 and a commemorative disk in 2014 by the British Phonographic Industry – the trade association for the British music recording industry – in recognition for their fund raising efforts and notable contributions to charitable causes including MacMillan Cancer Support. Their work has been praised by David Cameron and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

     Now, they are trying to position themselves as contenders for representing the UK at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, and in a BBC news report featuring the band, Wishart stated that MP4 were “ready and willing…available for the call when it comes to represent Great Britain in the Eurovision Song contest.” He further spoke of the need for “hardened, grizzled old Members of Parliament” as opposed to so many young faces in what he referred to as a “political contest, anyway.”

     So imagine that. A Scottish nationalist MP, a person dedicated to breaking up Britain, has voiced his enthusiasm for representing Britain in the Song Contest.

     Whether or not this actually happens, the very fact that he was willing to utter the words “Great Britain” with apparently some element of pride was quite surprising and made me forget some of his more – putting it mildly – eccentric statements on air, in the press, and especially Twitter. In fact, Wishart has indicated that he himself may not be as hostile to Britishness as many are in his party, and said during the referendum that he believed that independence could “actually reverse the decline of Britishness, a concept that…I feared might eventually go in a devolved Scotland.”

     In this belief from him, there is much skepticism to find, for many us on the pro-Union side believe that Britishness can only survive and thrive with the United Kingdom staying together.

     That being said, it is good to see him in some way embracing Britishness – even if only in a loose sense – with his involvement in the MP4 Band and potentially representing the country on an international stage, instead of sulking in a corner and twiddling his fingers awaiting separation. This good-natured and valued mixing of parliamentarians from throughout Britain is a display of the social and cultural value of the Union – something which has tended to get lost in debates going back-and-forth over numbers, figures, GERS, Barnett, oil, powers exercised by Westminster and Holyrood, etc. - and more needs to be done to encourage and deepen social relationships among the British people.

     At the risk of overstating and making more out of this than there actually is, Mhairi Black’s praise of Britain in providing much-need aid to Africa and Pete Wishart’s role in an all-British parliamentary band perhaps does show even among nationalists, there is some level of appreciation for Britain and being British. If nothing else, they have shown that they are capable for speaking about Britain in positive terms outwith all of the political and constitutional considerations. One hopes that they could see this bigger picture all the time and turn away from separatism, for their talents can be used to help keep the country the together and see itself as one.

     That is not likely to happen, just as I am likely not going to change my stripes. However, their positive outlook on Britain in some areas has led me to write this positive post on them, and I hope that they and many others can see that there’s more to the UK than just (big, bad) Westminster.