Opinion

Paul McNamee: A politician’s stint as a vendor shed light on the big issues

"We must not allow the worst of society to turn on those who need support"

Humza Yousaf selling The Big Issue in Glasgow

Last week a man was sentenced for the racist abuse of a politician called Humza Yousaf. Humza is an MSP and a minister in the Scottish government. Last year he was taking part in a celebrity selling event, when people from entertainment, commerce and politics took to the streets across Britain to sell The Big Issue.

Outside Queen Street station in Glasgow, Humza (a proud Glaswegian) was abused by a man called Christopher Chisholm.

“You’re not from my country,” spat Chisholm. He then told Humza he was a “fucking benefit locust”.

The story, rightly, generated interest and anger. Humza said it wasn’t the first time he’d been on the end of such hatred but said he believed good was “drowning out” the bad. Chisholm got a community service order.

One-in-three Big Issue vendors have been attacked – verbally or physically

The story brought headlines. One of them said Chisholm was sentenced after he ‘mistook’ Humza for a Big Issue vendor. I don’t think this headline was intended to present Big Issue vendors as somehow less than other people but unfortunately the inference was there. Chisholm was racist because Humza is not white, NOT because he was selling The Big Issue at the time.

We mustn’t allow a creeping belief to grow that it’s not quite as bad to abuse a Big Issue seller as anybody else.

One-in-three Big Issue vendors have been attacked – verbally or physically. Many have had their earnings stolen. Imagine that.

Imagine in your place of work, gathering two of your colleagues together and knowing that one of you will come under attack. Or that somebody will come along, knock you about and nick your wages.

You won’t put up with it – rightly. You’d want to do something. So it is we must not allow it for vendors. Selling The Big Issue, earning a living, is a way of climbing back into society. We must not allow the worst of society to turn on those who need support.

I’m always delighted when people tell us about ‘their’ vendor. Some of our vendors are vital parts of local communities – they are a kind ear, an oracle of local knowledge and gossip, a tourist guide, helpers of shopping to cars. They establish relationships and many of our great readers contact us when their vendor is not there for a while. Sometimes, they’ve moved on – The Big Issue has delivered them onto the next step. But sometimes not.

Some of our vendors are not so established. They may be a little newer, a bit quieter, a bit more nervous. It’s ALWAYS worth chatting and checking they’re doing okay.

Vendors are out there working, come what may. Let’s always support them.

If you have any comments please email me at paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com, tweet @pauldmcnamee, or send a letter to The Big Issue, 43 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 1HW

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