A man of many insults, and now of some mystery

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By Kenneth Roy

A controversial public figure has died young in a foreign country in circumstances not yet fully explained. He was so young and so controversial that the event has been the talk of the steamie almost from the moment the body was found in a Lahore hotel bedroom.

Paul McBride, the late QC, was a successful lawyer who was known to a wider public as an active supporter of Celtic Football Club. He had a lot to say about the Scottish Football Association (who threatened to sue him at one stage), the Scottish Labour Party (which he left), the Scottish Conservatives (which he also left, after the election of Ruth Davidson as its leader), and the Scottish National Party (to which he was well disposed latterly).

By Kenneth Roy

A controversial public figure has died young in a foreign country in circumstances not yet fully explained. He was so young and so controversial that the event has been the talk of the steamie almost from the moment the body was found in a Lahore hotel bedroom.

Paul McBride, the late QC, was a successful lawyer who was known to a wider public as an active supporter of Celtic Football Club. He had a lot to say about the Scottish Football Association (who threatened to sue him at one stage), the Scottish Labour Party (which he left), the Scottish Conservatives (which he also left, after the election of Ruth Davidson as its leader), and the Scottish National Party (to which he was well disposed latterly). All this was endearing. A man who changes political allegiances so often and so rapidly – there were only the Liberals left; the Greens, to stretch a point – must have been good fun; and, from all accounts, Mr McBride was good fun. His ridiculing of the pompous footballing authorities in Scotland is to his lasting credit. He was fond of bandying around words like ‘twit’ and ‘moron’ to dismiss anyone he didn’t fancy much, and he got away with it. He was a master of invective. His insults will be missed.

I never saw him on television when he was alive, but was moved by his death to watch a recording of a discussion in which he took issue with the SNP MSP Christine Grahame about the Megrahi case. So impeccably was Mr McBride attired for the occasion, in the most serious buttoned-up waistcoat I have ever seen on or off the box, most of what he said passed me by. But I did hear him say, when Ms Grahame attempted to explain her dogged pursuit of the truth, that she was lucky not to have been arrested for wasting police time. Now we know that the police spent their precious time negotiating three million dollar payouts to the unreliable chief prosecution witness and his brother, we can see that they would not have wished to have any of it wasted by the likes of Ms Grahame.

Nor did I ever see him in court, but he was clearly a brilliant advocate. His defence of Gail Sheridan in the 2010 perjury case was surely one of the highlights of his career. Many of his other clients went to prison, but that is true of any criminal lawyer; when I covered the big trials in my youth I used to despair of Lionel Daiches ever winning a case, yet he was constantly in demand and highly regarded for his ability. Mr McBride once got so cross with the prosecution that he kicked a piece of furniture in the courtroom. Anyway, that is what it says in one of the papers. I would have liked to witness such an act of passion. It would not have gone down at all well with the late Lord President, Lord Clyde.


Labour’s leader Johann Lamont called him ‘one of the finest legal minds of his generation’ and Alex Salmond went further with his reference to the ‘genius’ of the man. Genius is a big word.


Mr McBride is described in the Scottish Sun as ‘the ultimate mover and shaker’, who knew everybody – ‘the neds, the lawyers, the police, the sportsmen and the politicians’. He was ‘knitted into the very heart of Scottish society’ so completely that he had only recently, two weeks before his death, become a weekly columnist with the Scottish Sun itself; or rather with its Sunday version, where he was esteemed as ‘an enormously good friend of the paper’. The berth which he briefly occupied was the one reserved south of the border for a right-wing columnist whose opinions could not safely be disseminated in Scotland. For once Paul McBride was seen as emollient – or, at any rate, more emollient than Toby Young.

None of this explains why Mr McBride was the subject yesterday of the sort of eulogies usually reserved for the cuddlier celebrities or sporting heroes. The word ‘colourful’ popped up all over the place, but not in the usual euphemistic sense; it seems he was genuinely colourful, someone who filled a room, who cheered up people’s lives. But more than colourful; far more. Labour’s leader Johann Lamont called him ‘one of the finest legal minds of his generation’ and Alex Salmond went further with his reference to the ‘genius’ of the man. Genius is a big word.

On the other hand, there is some fairly horrible stuff about Mr McBride spilling out like so much untreated sewage over the internet. At the centre of it is his devotion to one side of Glasgow’s tribal divide. Even in death, the bile is uncontrollable. Can it be true that someone walked into a Glasgow police station within a few hours of his death, asked if it was legally permissible to post sick jokes about him, and was told that it was? This ghastly claim has achieved wide circulation.

Being unknitted into the very heart of Scottish society – indeed about as unknitted as they come – I never met Mr McBride and have no strong opinion about him. But here is an odd fact, or rather the absence of one. What age was he when he died (or, as the Herald insisted, ‘passed away’)? On Sunday the BBC gave his age as 46. By yesterday it had changed its mind and was stating it as 47. Some newspapers agreed; others preferred 48. Yesterday his Wikipedia entry said he was born in ‘circa 1965’; today it’s 1963. So he could even have been 49. An intriguing chap to the end – and beyond.

 

Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review