I had a very interesting Friday night. It was spent in the company of between 40 and 50 Catholic Parishioners from the Cumbernauld area of West Central Scotland. Originally I was invited, via Facebook, to speak at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church Charitable Men’s Breakfast Club. It was to be a morning meeting with a chat and breakfast. However the club is celebrating its 4th year of existence so they decided to organise an evening meeting instead and invite other parishioners not available in mornings. Tony was the guy who contacted me and he gave me free rein to speak about any topic.
As it was the 30th of November I decided to talk about my political inspiration, John MacLean. As you will be aware from my last column John died on the 30th of November 1923 so Friday was the 95th anniversary of his death. The audience was predominantly ‘mature’, with some more ‘mature’ than others. Several of the 40 to 50 in attendance were in their 70’s and one former Scout Troop leader, Jack, was 84 with a tremendous record of service throughout Glasgow and Scotland in the Scout Movement.
What was sad, but unfortunately typical of Scotland as a whole, was less than 20% of the audience at most had ever heard of John MacLean. They did, however, listen intently and after I spoke for a long time, too long as usual, I fielded questions on MacLean, Scottish politics, Russia, boxing, football, religion, independence and my appearance on Celebrity Big Brother (CBB).
I explained my decision to appear on CBB in January 2010 was motivated by money. I lost my job as an MSP in May 2007. I also lost my job as a radio presenter on the Talk 107 Radio station in Edinburgh later that same year. I successfully completed a Masters Degree in Social Research at Strathclyde University in 2007/08 and then began an accelerated Graduate Entry Law Degree at the same university in late 2008. I had to pay for both degrees myself as my government funded undergraduate degree was completed away back in 1984/85. I had accumulated a lot of debts and wanted to contribute to the family budget for my wife and young daughter. I had knocked back CBB in 2006 because I was working at the time and it would have been wrong to abandon my post as an MSP to appear on a TV Reality show. However the circumstances had changed by late 2009 when I was approached to appear on the 2010 show .
Initially the person who enquired about the CBB decision had doubts about the appropriateness of accepting the offer. ‘Would John MacLean have done it’ was the loaded question. I didn’t know the answer to that but I did ask rhetorically what socialist principle I breeched by agreeing to take part? There was no picket line crossed. No denial of socialist ideals. No racism. No sexism. No anti-trade union behaviour. Sure the show itself is not particularly high brow or sophisticated. It is not intellectually stimulating viewing but choice in such matters is key. One person’s art is another person’s arse. One person’s pudding is another person’s poison. And don’t get me started on what constitutes comedy?
I recall being lambasted by some snotty nosed columnists over my decision to take part in CBB and thinking how wonderful life must be in the Ivory Towers they inhabited. If they didn’t like the show they didn’t have to watch it but I was skint, plain and simple. I was honest in 2009 when asked for the promotional video why I was taking part. It wasn’t about seeking to re-launch a flagging TV or music career it was about being offered an incredibly large amount of money to agree to spend a maximum of 3 weeks in a wee hoose somewhere in London with a group of strangers and being subjected to various tasks that were bound to be mildly humiliating. No picket line crossed. No principles denied. No writing for anti-trade union, racist and sexist tabloid rags for money.
As it happens not only was I paid an excellent fee for my time and efforts I also had a blast. Some of the fellow housemates were top class and my 19 nights in the ‘Mad Hoose’ was extremely entertaining and enjoyable. Sure I missed my wife and four year old daughter like crazy, that was the longest separation from wee Gabrielle since she was born in May 2005, but long chats and silly tasks with the likes of American Rapper and songwriter Coolio, TV Presenter and writer Terry Christian, the late actor Verne Troyer and singer and dancer La Toyah Jackson, among others, made it a unique and unforgettable experience.
I told the Cumbernauld audience about the time I was in the ‘Luxury’ bathroom in the House doing some exercises when La Toyah entered to have a chat and tell me about her life. She was polite enough to ask about me and my politics and I was in full flow explaining the need for, and benefits of, public ownership when ‘Big Brother’ (BB) intervened on the speaker system to instruct La Toyah to repeat everything I said for the next 15 minutes. I reckon she was struggling to understand my broad Glaswegian accent and BB thought it would be fun to challenge her linguistic capabilities.
I parked the politics and decided to sing songs instead. I was trying to help her. I started with ‘Flower of Scotland’ and loved hearing her belt out our current national anthem with her American twang. Then to be mischievous I opted for a song bound to divide my Scottish audience along football allegiance lines. I started singing the anthem of the famous Glasgow Celtic FC called ‘Hail, Hail’. How delightful it was to hear the world famous La Toyah Jackson sing the national anthem of the world famous Glasgow Celtic. It was music to my ears. But not just to my ears. The bold Coolio heard La Toyah sing ‘Hail, hail the Celts are here’ at the top of her lungs and popped his head into the bathroom to demand to know what the song was. He wanted to claim it for the LA Lakers. He loved it. I explained who Celtic were and their incredible history, managing to put Manchester United mad Terry Christian’s gas at a peep (given the fact we were the first club from the UK to ever win the European Cup, which we did in considerable style in 1967 one year before Man Utd), and how their tremendous stadium was called ‘Paradise’ by the supporters. He was hooked.
He visited my home several times while on tour in Scotland after the show and always enquired about visiting ‘Paradise’. After all he was famous for ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’. His visits never coincided with a Celtic game until last September 2017. At last, seven years after learning about the famous Glasgow Celtic, he got to visit the ground and watch them play a league game against Hibernian. He absolutely loved it. He was even invited onto the pitch at half-time to draw the raffle tickets and was interviewed by Celtic TV. To hear some 50,000 fans cheer him and join in with the stadium blasting out ‘Gangsa’s Paradise’ made him extremely proud. He was the ‘Gangsta in Paradise’ now. His love for the Glasgow Celtic is now firmly cemented.
The predominantly, if not exclusively, Celtic supporting crowd in Cumbernauld on Friday night lapped up that story. There were many others I could have told but I had been speaking for two and half hours and I think some were worried if I would ever stop. They pretty unanimously agreed that if they had been in my shoes they would also have agreed to do the CBB show.
As I drove home from Cumbernauld after 10pm on Friday I reflected on the rich tapestries of our lives and how particularly blessed I have been to experience the abundance of ups, and some downs, in life. I had just engaged with a kind and appreciative audience of strangers who appeared to adhere to the majority of my views and certainly treated me with respect and warmth. We had discussed the rich social and political history of Scotland through the heroic context of John MacLean and agreed it was disgraceful that we did not learn of him and his ilk at school. We discussed current affairs in Scotland and lambasted the cold, cruel and callous Conservatives. I stated my belief that it was incompatible to be both a Christian and a Conservative given their vindictive and deliberate policies of benefit cuts, universal credit, forced homelessness and increased income inequality.
Although an atheist myself I suggested socialism is more compassionate than most religions and although I deeply respected the right of others to hold to and practice their religions I often wondered where all the love was within and between religious communities. The idea that warmongers like Tony Blair and George Bush professed to be Christians while they ordered the slaughter of up to a million Iraqis based on a prospectus of lies surely undermined the authenticity of Christianity? It was not ‘Christian’ to incinerate innocent men, women and children through a one-sided ‘shock and awe’ bombardment which obliterated much of Iraq and de-stabilised the whole Middle-Eastern region on the altar of cheap oil and geo-political influence.
I returned home around 11pm to a warm home, beautiful wife and incredible daughter. It made me realise just how lucky I am in life. Many in society are struggling with medical problems, addictions, bereavements and a catalogue of other challenges. When contemplating our own set of problems in life I think it is always right and proper to think about the problems facing others. They are often much bigger and more serious than ours. John MacLean often said “We are out for life and all life has to offer”. I think that is a fitting motto for us all. Try and always stay positive and treat others we meet and live alongside as we would ourselves like to be treated.