Liz Truss went to school in Paisley. Would that make her a better PM for Scotland?
Tory leadership contender Liz Truss caused a bit of a stir when she used Sunday’s ITV debate to say her Conservatism was formed by the “low expectations, poor educational standards and a lack of opportunity” she witnessed while attending state schools in Paisley and Leeds.
Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate, the Tory MP for Leeds during the 80s and 90s, was aghast at the claim. The foreign secretary had, he said, “exaggerated” her memories, noting that Roundhay School – the comprehensive she attended – is in an affluent suburb of the city and over the years has produced many pupils who “did very well, and went on to good universities”.
“I think she was suggesting she was the only person who went to any sort of university [Truss studied at the University of Oxford] and all the others were poor, inner-city kids, which was certainly not the case for Roundhay,” he told The Times.
Likewise, Barrington Black, a retired judge who was educated at the school and went on to serve on the Supreme Court of Gibraltar, told the paper that Truss had made a “serious mistake”.
In Paisley, where the Truss family lived from 1979 to 1985, the comments were met less with consternation that the leadership hopeful could criticise the local school system and more with shock that someone vying to be the top Tory had grown up in the town.
“WAIT!!!!!! Did Liz Truss just say she was brought up in PAISLEY??!!?!! Surely no!!!!!!!!,” wrote one local on Twitter. “Liz Truss is fae Paisley…. No way,” quipped another Twitter user while another wrote: “Haud oan..Liz Truss grew up in Paisley??…wtf!”
Yet when it comes to historical recall, it seems Truss’s memory is just as hazy on Paisley as it is on Leeds. Sure, it’s easy for the lazy of thought to paint the former industrial town, parts of which always feature high up on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, as a mass of underachievement, but every place is more than the sum of its parts and the part of Paisley that Truss grew up in was far from underprivileged.
Having moved to the Renfrewshire town at the age of four, when her father – a mathematician – left his job as a school teacher in Kidderminster to take up a lectureship at Paisley College of Technology (now the University of the West of Scotland), the young Truss started her education at West Primary School.
Though the area – like the school’s catchment – was and remains mixed, the Truss family lived in the upmarket Castlehead enclave, a leafy estate of large Victorian villas that became surrounded by the high-rise flats Paisley has become infamous for after the area was bombed during the Second World War.
As was the case in Leeds, Truss’s classes would not have been made up of a gaggle of poor, underachieving, inner-city kids – poor, underachieving, inner-city kids she claims her brand of Conservatism was created to save – but a mixture of children from all backgrounds and all abilities.
Despite that, Truss was right when she wrote in a 2018 column for The Scotsman that at the time she was growing up in Paisley “it was simply unpopular to be a Tory in the West of Scotland”. The town has certainly produced some famous right-wing sons – think broadcaster Andrew Neil and columnist Iain Martin – but it has never been known as a hot-bed of Conservatism.
Yet perhaps it will soon be able to claim a Tory prime minster as one of its own. And perhaps she’ll put her memories of the town to good use, coming up with policies that eradicate the social problems Paisley continues to suffer from.