March 5, 2012: It is so hard to believe Paul McBride has gone.  He was everybody’s favourite lawyer, a guy who could phone you up and give you a big noisy row but somehow do so with grace, wit and a generosity of spirit. Last year I spoke to him at length about football, politics, his personal life and the novels of Ian Fleming for a “Face to Face” interview in The Herald. This is it.        David Leask

This interview was first published in The Herald on May 23, 2011.

There is a mobile phone stuck to Paul McBride's ear as he waves me through the double doors of his duplex apartment in Glasgow's West End. "It is an addiction," he apologises, pointing at the phone. "When it stops ringing I feel like a politician who is suddenly out of power: lonely.

"I was in Cape Town last week and my phone was cut off twice because of my bill. It was two-and-a-half grand. The bloody thing just did not stop."

Mr McBride, one of Scotland's best-known QCs, is in demand. And not just from his usual clientele of murderers, rapists and police officers who have strayed on to the wrong side of the law.

In the last few months he has been threatened with legal action by the Scottish Football Association, appeared regularly on TV and radio espousing a Celtic view, represented high-profile players and been targeted by nail bombers for his work with another client, Celtic manager Neil Lennon.

Now everyone wants a piece of Mr McBride. Even when he is on holiday. "I had 45 missed calls when I got off the plane in South Africa," he says. I am not sure if he is boasting about this - or moaning. Does he like the attention? "I like busy," he says. "I never thought my life would turn out this way. It is 24 hours. You are so used to being busy that on the days you are not busy you feel slightly at a loss."

We are taking coffee, Nescafe rather than espresso from the flash machine installed into the wall of an imposing fitted kitchen. The 46-year-old is sipping his from a Celtic FC mug, carefully placed on a coaster.

Above us, below his high ceiling, are steel Buddha heads the size of barrels. But there is nothing Zen about Mr McBride.
"I don't really get to relax," he explains. Not now - after police have arrested men they believe were behind a campaign of viable letter bombs against Mr McBride, Lennon and others - and not any other time either. "It is an interesting life. You only get one chance and you have got to take it."

The weeks since a bomb thought to be full of liquid explosives and nails addressed to Mr McBride was intercepted in Ayrshire have been as interesting as it gets.

He has had to keep counter-terrorism officers aware of his movements (the police, he says, have been great) and carry an alarm.
All because of the bile in and around Scottish football and bigotry he reckons is getting worse.

A "hopeless" player, he was once an SFA referee. He ran the line at Premier League games until the mid-1990s saw him take silk as Britain's youngest-ever QC and land a prime job as an advocate depute.

His last game as an official was a Rangers victory over Kilmarnock. "It was always pretty intense. But nothing like today." He was back at a big game this March, as a spectator at the Old Firm CIS Cup Final.

He reckons the media plays down the sheer scale of sectarian bigotry now in Scottish football - despite all the coverage in recent weeks. His point: the bigots may be a minority; but they are not a tiny one. "We heard a lot of people singing about the Pope and we all know the words," he said of the final, making it clear he didn't want to blame one support and not the other. "It wasn't two or three hundred people and it wasn't two or three thousand people. It was many thousands of people. And then Celtic fans sang about the IRA. What has any of that got to do with football?"

Mr McBride goes out of his way to praise Lennon, insisting the public image of a battling football boss is far from the soft-spoken father in private.
He cites radio phone-ins where listeners are asked whether Mr Lennon somehow "deserves" the terror he has been subjected to, like a dinosaur sheriff suggesting a women in a short skirt was somehow "asking" to be raped.
"You hear people say, 'Neil has brought it on himself, the way he acts,' 'he looks aggressive' they'll say, or 'he looks provocative'." Mr McBride raises his voice, suddenly angry, no longer the advocate, now the friend. "But the bottom line is that people are trying to kill him for doing his job."

Where does their bile come from? The home, yes, says Mr McBride. And the terraces too: football authorities, he insists, including the new regime at the SFA, have to show more leadership. Mostly it comes from the internet.

"Any halfwit with £100 can vent their spleen and say the most shocking things online. I Googled myself. It is vile stuff. I have got Celtic websites saying I am a God and Rangers websites saying I am a paedophile."

He now wants to see tough action on online hate criminals - including the maximum five-year sentences currently proposed by the Scottish Government.

"A 15-year-old with a laptop could catch these imbeciles," he reckons.
First Minister Alex Salmond, Mr McBride argues, has recognised the problem of sectarianism and is determined to do something about it; not just hold summits.

"These are not as we would like to think isolated bampots," he says, referring to whoever is behind the recent upsurge in sectarianism. "We can no longer pretend this is one or two people causing trouble."
Up until last summer, Mr McBride was being talked about as a future advocate general for Scotland, one of the government officials with the power to handle such problems. This is no longer the case.
In 2009, he dumped Labour and signed up for David Cameron's Tories (Mr Cameron's, he stresses, not Annabel Goldie's). "I don't know anybody who doesn't like her but if you wanted to get votes you have got to be more than just nice," he says of the departing leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

The trouble is he finds it hard to stick to a party line. Ever the lawyer, he prefers evidence to assertion. "That is why I haven't made it in politics," he says. "I am open-minded. I am always willing to be persuaded."

Take short sentences, the bugbear of Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. Mr McBride used to defend such disposals. Now he is not so sure.

"I have listened to the arguments and looked at some of the evidence," he says. "It is something I think Kenny has changed my mind on."

So too with the SNP's flagship policy on alcohol, minimum pricing. Mr McBride is coming round to the Nationalist way of thinking here too.
His take: "The empirical research says it should make a difference. So let's try it. If it works, it works."I thought Labour - and the Conservatives - behaved badly by voting against it out of what was essentially just political opportunism."

In fact, he is so gushing about the SNP - Mr Salmond, he says, is a "colossus among the pygmies of Scottish politics" - that I check to see if he is still a unionist. He is. And the union, he warns, is very much in peril. "We have to recognise Salmond won the argument. If he gets the fiscal autonomy to which he is entitled and manages it well people might take the view that independence should come. Salmond might just pull it off."

Despite his admitted weakness for first-class long haul air travel (the only time his phone ever stops ringing), Mr McBride should be a natural Labour supporter.

After all, he still calls himself working class. His dad was a pipefitter. His mum worked in a factory making Snowballs.

The couple put their only child through fee-paying St Aloysius' College. Straightening his pinstripe trouser leg, the advocate could not be more grateful: "I phone them every day and take them abroad twice a year.

"They moan I don't see them as often as I should. I accept the admonition completely."

The parental sacrifices paid off. He went to university at 16 and graduated at 19. He still had "a lot" of pimples when he started lawyering, he confesses.

But the QC says he could have turned out like the people he sees in court every day, Scotland's third-generation of jobless drug addicts left over from the days when the Tories were a party he could never have supported. Not everyone in court is a victim of circumstances. "There is such a thing as evil," he declares. "And such a thing as God."

He was once punched by a rapist he was defending but has had little trouble from most criminals. It was his decision to represent Lennon before a committee of SFA blazers that put his life at great risk.
"That is the irony of the situation," Mr McBride says. "I have represented some of the vilest people on the planet and only ever got a thank you very much. Then I take on Neil Lennon as my client and somebody tries to blow my face off."