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By Jason Michael
Independence Live asked me to do a series on the thought leaders of the independence movement. After Stu Campbell said he couldn’t do the first interview I turned to the Wee Ginger Dug, and he invited us over for tea.
Moroccan leather slippers, beige slacks, and an almost matching patterned pullover. This wasn’t exactly how I had imagined the wee ginger dug to look in the flesh. The Paul Kavanagh I’m used to is the dapper chap in the three piece suit atop city street brogues. This Paul Kavanagh looked as though he was making himself at home. Well, he was at home. We were in his home. He has style even when he’s sprawling out on his sofa. First impressions count, and the one we made was of two lost boys lost in an unfamiliar east end of Glasgow walking right past his house. The one made by him was like a mammy in the aulden days hanging out the window calling us in for tea.
Ginger – the wee ginger dug – met us on the landing, barking. He’s so calm when you only know him from the front page of The National and YouTube videos. In real life the furry Valencian is a lover of people and a hater of dogs. Other than probably being Scotland’s most recognised pooch, Ginger is weal kent on his own street. Apparently he has his very own “enemy dog” and has been known to put manners on the local MP’s assistant’s dog. Character is something he has in spades.
Once he was satisfied we weren’t enemy dogs on his patch, and once he had impressed his formidable self upon us on his couch, Ginger reverted back to being the laziest dog in Glasgow and fell asleep on the rug – after photo-bombing the interview of course.
Paul welcomed us in his kitchen while he made us a cuppa coffee. Naturally I drew the short straw and got the saltire mug; something I was conscious of hiding on camera, knowing it would only give our yoon viewers ammo. We got the grand tour of the hoose – or should I say the trams? Paul’s a huge fan of Glasgow trams as it turns out. I didn’t see that coming, but I did confess to being something of a stamp collector myself. Hobbies must just be part of the writer package.
His living room is a wonder to behold, and again – not what I had expected. The coffee table is a spectacular working light-up tram set complete with a miniature road cone-wearing equestrian statue, identifying the lilliputian metropolis as his native Glasgow. Up on the display cabinet, beside his impressive collection of Gàidhlig place name directories, there’s a Victorian police truncheon (it is the east end after all), a First World War Prussian Pickelhaube (want!), and a couple of mounted proto-human skulls – yes, you read that right; one an Australopithecus and the other a Homo-erectus.
By this point, dear reader, you will have figured out that I was basically a fan boy on tour. It was like interviewing wee Eck all over again. It’s not easy to “adult” when you’re perched next to one of your heroes. But unlike the Alex Salmond experience, interviewing Paul had the oddly relaxing feeling of playing the X-Box with your mate. Everything was so chilled. Okay, he did bring up the thing about him being second bill to Stu Campbell – which was awkward right enough – but that evaporated quickly enough with my studied effort to pretend not to have heard it. Plus, it was quite a pleasant feeling thinking he was seething about it.
In person the author of the Wee Ginger Dug is every bit as sharp and erudite as he is on his blog. His language is measured and precise. He uses words like surgical blades, always cutting right to the heart of whatever it is he has to say – and this is a rare quality in people. It’s impressive and intimidating in equal measure. What’s more is that he delivers this show, this oratorical performance, in the finest Glaswegian voice you’re likely to hear. This is something, given our horrible national inferiority complex, I had never thought possible. I had grown up ashamed of Scots. It wasn’t “proper.” It was – quite often – beaten out of us. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to sound smart by hiding it – to my shame and regret. But Paul doles it out – lays it on thick – with ease and a self-confidence that is nothing short of inspiring.
He backed away from being referred to as a “leader of the movement,” which he absolutely is. It all seems to have been dumped on him by accident. Earlier in life he was involved in the anti-nuclear protest movement and the fight for gay and lesbian rights, activism that has quite obviously equipped him well for the role he now willingly-and-unwillingly has in the campaign for Scottish independence. I suppose it might be accurate to describe him as the accidental hero of his own story and ours.
When the interview was over and we had shot the breeze for a while he walked Kevin from Independence Live and I back to the train station with the dug. Maybe it was more the case that the dug walked him, but all the same it wasn’t aloof. It turns out that Paul Kavanagh – the Wee Ginger Dug – is just a guy, a mensch – one of us. I don’t know why I hadn’t expected that. What else would you find in Barlanark? Anyway, it was a terrific experience – and I’m hoping he takes up my offer and comes to visit my hoose next time he’s in Dublin.
Paul Kavanagh interview Part 1 – Who is Paul Kavanagh