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by Kirsteen Paterson
07 September 2023
Inverclyde Council leader Stephen McCabe: 'I've had a lot of abuse on social media'

Stephen McCabe's Celtic season ticket is his most treasured possession

Inverclyde Council leader Stephen McCabe: 'I've had a lot of abuse on social media'

What’s your earliest memory?

I’m not sure, but I was the youngest of seven, and being the youngest you are spoiled and looked after by your older siblings. We used to go to Rothesay every year for a fortnight for the Greenock Fair. We’d pack a trunk which would be sent ahead of us, and we’d all get down to Port Glasgow station and get the train to Wemyss Bay, then take the steamer across to Bute. I have fantastic memories of those days. Rothesay then was very busy with lots of things to do, day and night. One year my mother won quite substantially at the bingo and we could stay for another week, although my father had to leave to go back to work.

What were you like at school?

I was quite quiet and studious and people who knew me outside of school probably didn’t know that side of me. High school was pretty tough at times, full of very difficult characters. I was invited back to speak at the school prizegiving as an ex-pupil and recounted some of my experiences from those days, and people came up to me afterwards and said ‘you didn’t enjoy school, did you?’ but I did. I stayed for sixth year because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Very few people did at that time, and you felt quite important because you got your own common room. I got the qualifications I needed to go to university and was the first in my family to go. I did arts and social sciences at Strathclyde, and Tom Devine taught me Scottish history. My degree is in economics. 

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

I’ve had a lot of abuse on social media, particularly since becoming council leader – accusations of brown envelopes and everything being my fault. During the independence referendum I was very, very active in the Labour No campaign and it was just horrible – there were times I was threatened with people wanting to batter me. I’m passionately, proudly British and absolutely opposed to independence, not because I think Scotland couldn’t be a successful independent country, but because of my values. I see myself as British. Growing up, I read comics like The Victor and watched the England cricket team. I have a sense of Scottishness and Irishness as well, but my maternal grandfather came to Scotland from Donegal for a better life, and part of the better life he gave me is my British citizenship.

In 2014, I was standing at a Labour No stall and on the other side of the road was a Yes campaign stall, and somebody shouted over, “look at McCabe, his brother will be turning in his grave”. My brother had died a few years before, but not long before, and he was a very strong Celtic supporter with a strong affinity with Ireland. This guy’s perception of him was that he would be very pro-independence because he was pro-Irish unity, but my brother was a different character with different sides to him – he was in the Royal Naval Reserves. This guy didn’t know him.

What’s your most treasured possession?

I’m not a particularly materialistic person – probably a Celtic season ticket I share with my oldest son, who is currently living and working in Barcelona.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

Watching Love Island. Like all reality TV, it doesn’t strain your intellect too much. The most recent series has been a bit of a turn-off, I have to say. You have to have characters you can relate to and empathise with and like to really be invested in it, and none of them are particularly that likeable.

Steve McCabe, the Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, is also originally from Port Glasgow. Any relation?

There’s no family connection but I remember going round my ward knocking doors, and I knocked on one that turned out to be his sister’s house. We met once, when he came up in 2011 when the MP David Cairns passed away suddenly. I also got an email once from somebody down in Birmingham contacting me as if I was him. 

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

I’d go to the 60s and 70s, when I was growing up with my brother and five sisters. We weren’t wealthy – my dad worked in the shipyard as a painter, my mother had to work part time and the older children would look after the younger ones – but our Christmases were always good. I’d go down in the morning and have a fort or a Scalextric or a train set. You never appreciated how hard your mother and father worked to get you that, but they were happy, happy times.

Are you still close to your sisters?

We are a close family, and we all live in Inverclyde. We’ve all had pretty successful, rewarding lives living here. Family is really important to me and I have four kids of my own.

What’s the best advice of advice you’ve ever had?

My father gave me my love of Celtic, but the person who was the biggest influence in my life overall was my mother. She was always somebody who encouraged me. Her advice was to always work hard and she instilled values of treating people with decency and respect. She didn’t have the easiest of lives – her mother died when she was 15 and she was left to help bring up her wee brother and sister, and she was a single mother for a lot of years before she met my father. I can’t imagine how hard that was in those days. I got my backbone from my mother.

What did she think about you going into politics?

She was a bit anxious, and my father was even more anxious because you’re putting yourself up to be shot down. When I was elected for the first time my mother was incredibly proud. I’ve been regularly attacked in the letters pages of the Greenock Telegraph over the years, and when my parents were alive they took that personally. For my mother, I was her baby and it was “my boy’s just doing his best, he works hard”. My father used to ask me, “why are you putting yourself through this?” There are a lot of ups and downs in politics but you have a chance to make a difference. 

What was the last book you read?

I’m not a reader, which is probably because I read so many reports. I do buy the Greenock Telegraph religiously, six days a week, just to check whether I’m dead yet. 

What was the last film you saw?

Oppenheimer, but just on its own because my son wouldn’t go to Barbie. I go to the cinema with my youngest, who normally picks the films we go to, and he likes the Marvel stuff but I couldn’t get him to go to that one. I’ve been accused of being a misogynist but my sisters still dominate my life.

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