Was the festival always so jam-packed with MPs and MSPs being quizzed as entertainment? And was it always so uncouth? Maybe the volume merely feels vast due to the increase in unguarded commentary.
The relaxed atmosphere of the Fringe and live audiences certainly seem to promote a tantalising candour. Looking at you, Humza Yousaf, and your advice that racists and bigots should be told exactly where to go. Can’t say I disagree.
But also looking at you, Mhairi Black. Ms Black, who is seeing out her final term as MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, clearly doesn’t give a… well, we’ll leave that word to the First Minister.
She’s caused a right old stooshie – as she is prone to – by sharing her precise thoughts on women who oppose gender self-ID. Ah yes, that gentle topic.
Ms Black has been consistently forthright on her views on trans rights: she supports trans people unequivocally and has – or at least seems to have – no sympathy for or insight as to the concerns of those who don’t support the Scottish Government’s legislative changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
These views, so robustly expressed, have seen her in hot water before. “In order to get to the kind of society that I think we all want to see,” she told the news website Joe in 2019, “fundamentally it’s got to start with just being nice to people.”
One cannot argue. But then she continued where she might have stopped. “Ultimately, just don’t be a Jeremy Hunt.” You can imagine the reaction. Displeasure doesn’t quite cut it.
To many people the C-word is, as well as inappropriate language for an elected member, misogynistic. It is no coincidence that the most foul swear word we have in English describes female anatomy and not male.
Another word for which there is no male equivalent? Karen. The phrase “Karen” as a descriptor and an insult has morphed over the past few years from its origins as a meme signifying a middle-aged white woman with a very particular asymmetrical bob asking to speak to the manager.
A Karen is arrogant, entitled and ignorant. She cares for no one but herself, is a Nimby in the extreme.
Karen is also used to describe the kind of white woman who polices black people in public spaces, such as the famous Central Park “Karen” who called the NYPD to complain of feeling threatened because a black man asked her politely to leash her dog.
A racist, in other words, a bigot. The type that Ms Black’s current boss would tell to “f*** off”.
Ms Black’s previous boss, Nicola Sturgeon, caused pearls to be clutched at last year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival when said she couldn’t wait until she reached the age where she “didn’t give a f***”.
That seems to be Mhairi Black’s default position because at her Fringe appearance she likened gender-critical feminists to white supremacists, suggesting they are funded by the American Christian right.
Then, while saying that trans people should be “left the hell alone”, she dismissed women who disagree with her on trans rights as “50-year-old Karens”.
I suppose, at the age of 28, being 50 is a far-off and unimaginable prospect. I remember when I was 28 and my older cousin (who actually is called Karen) turned 40 and what a zany prospect this was, that anyone could be so ancient.
It’s a particular crime of youth, to be repelled by middle age. We don’t want to believe it will come to us and yet it will, unrelentingly and only if we are lucky.
Only the young can be so dismissive of older people purely for the fact of their age. Partly, it’s a defence mechanism against the uncontrollable march of time. Largely, it shows a lack of imagination, an inability to imagine oneself in middle age or imagine an inner life or richness to other women’s experiences purely because they are “old”.
It’s bad enough coming from any quarter, but an elected representative selling out older women is unforgivable.
Ms Black complains that trans rights have been used as a political football and that trans people have been ill-treated by public debate – but she and her party should take a share of the responsibility for this. The issue has been badly handled across the board, causing hurt and fury and compelling sides to become ever more entrenched in the face of that hurt.
How many women in the age bracket Ms Black reviles are responsible for putting her in her current Westminster position?
Middle-aged women served the MP very well when she was raising her profile by campaigning for the pension rights of the WASPI women – women even older than, gasp, 50.
Mhairi Black, on announcing her resignation as an MP, said that the fact she has spent nearly a third of her life in Westminster “gives her the ick”. During the SNP leadership race I spoke to many people who said they wished Ms Black was in the running.
Black is a fine orator, engaging, earthy, confident and articulate. Being so forthright and so unwavering – as well as so entertaining – wins people round; it also covers a multitude of sins. This forthrightness leaves no space for nuance or compassion for anyone who wavers from complete agreement with her stance.
A blunt refusal to empathise is exactly what creates the toxic political atmosphere Ms Black is stepping away from.
She has spoken of the extreme abuse online she faces for a variety of characteristics: being a Nationalist, being young, being Scottish, being a lesbian, being a woman. It’s a little rich to complain of sexism and misogyny while using sexist and misogynistic tropes and slurs to put down those you disagree with.
Ms Black might be surprised at the number of 50-plus women who are in complete agreement with her – and the young women who believe strongly that, on the issue of self-ID, she is entirely wrong.
One day she will reach the age of 50 and find herself feeling the same as she did at the age of 25. It will only be people’s perceptions of her that have changed – but there is little point explaining ageing to the young.
One merely has to wait for them to grow up.