Anne Begg is Nazi scum. But only on Twitter.

In real life the 60-year-old is a veteran disability campaigner.

For 18 years until May, Dame Anne served as a Labour MP.

But her defeat wasn't the worst thing to happen to her in career: she laughs that off.

No, her political low was a social media and blogging campaign sparked by a picture of her with a member of the far-right group, the National Front.

The unsubstantiated suggestion on Twitter and Facebook: that she had campaigned with "Nazis" against Scottish independence.

The Herald: Dame Anne Begg

Dame Anne said: "The last thing you want to happen is for your politics to be defined by something that is a complete lie.

"That is the most unpleasant thing that has happened in my career.

"It felt awful. It was unbelievably appalling."

The campaign - which continues today on social media - began after the image was used by a pro-independence blogger called Wings over Scotland.

In a short post, entitled The Best of Friends, the nationalist published a photo of Dame Anne with a man wearing Labour badge and carrying a Labour paper in the last week of the referendum.

"Who’s her No-campaigning pal?" the blogger asked.

He, as the site correctly said, a prominent member of the local National Front in Aberdeen and a former NF candidate.

But Dame Anne did not know that. Cue, nevertheless, a furore online that started to have real offline consequences for the Labour politician.

The Herald:


Above: a widely distributed attack image from Twitter.

Dame Anne said: "It is still happening. If I say anything at all, they say: 'You were campaigning with the National Front.'

"When I deny this, they respond: 'Ah well, you would say that wouldn't you.

"And you say: 'Are you calling me a liar?'

"It was a horrible, horrible thing. In some cases some folk came to defence and said 'For goodness sake, how is Anne a Nazi?"

"And then the response comes: 'Oh, well you should have known who he was'.

"Well, no, because I spent my life avoiding anybody from the National Front. So how would I know who this person was? Clearly I did not.

"Wings over Scotland and others made sure that that was not the story. "Why would anybody from the NF be wearing Labour sticker? It was nasty, nasty stuff.

"This was in the context of the last Saturday of the referendum when folk were asking for pictures al the time.

"I am laughing in the picture because he made some comment about the friend in the picture. The whole thing took 30 seconds."


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The picture was published on the local National Front website and - Dame Anne assumes - spotted there by chance.

It has changed her life. Social media and the independence referendum divides, she says, are "corrosive".

During the general election she refused to be pictured with anyone, just in case. "That is awful, isn't it?" she said.

During the same election unionist bloggers and social media users - including some from her own party - tried the same trick.

They recycled selfies with Nicola Sturgeon taken by some of the men who heckled then Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy.

The Herald:

Dame Anne stresses such tweets and posts can be permanent.

She said: "When it is out there, it is out there. You get called scum.

"Social media has been good for disabled people who have been able to find each other in a way they could. "The nastiness is just phenomenal."

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Dame Anne was speaking to The Herald as part of our survey of former MPs, of what they are doing now and how they see Scotland.

Aside from the abuse directed at her following the Wings over Scotland blog, Dame Anne had a pleasant campaign. Her opponent, Callum McCaig, "certainly was not nasty", she said. And, she stressed, she had never taken her seat, one of the most complicated marginals in Scotland, for granted.

She explained: "When I won on the New Labour wave in 1997, Aberdeen South was a four-way marginal.

"The fact I survived eighteen years was beyond anybody's wildest dreams, never mind my own.

"I was taken out by a mass wave that had nothing to do with me as an individual.

"I never had a Labour MSP in my constituency.

"If you go back to January 1997, Aberdeen South in Westminster or Holyrood had been held by four different parties.

"I went in to every election with the expectation that I could lose.

"I think it was only this one that I went in to thinking that I would definitely lose."

Labour's campaign strategists knew they were struggling in their old heartlands of west central Scotland. But they had a hope of keeping seats like Dame Anne's where there was a smaller traditional Labour vote.

Dame Anne said: "About two weeks to 10 days out we knew we had lost.

" Before then it we thought that if we were going to hold on to any seats it would be like Aberdeen South, the non-traditional Labour seats."

However, Dame Anne believes that unionist Liberals in Aberdeen were more anti-Labour than anti-SNP.

She said: "So some of that vote went back to Tories and some went to the SNP as an anti-Labour vote. That was a our miscalculation."

"I spoke to both my parliamentary staff and my campaign staff and said I thought we would lose.

"They never like to say that kind of thing in front of the candidate but that is what they were thinking too.

"But we thought we would go down fighting. You always hope things might not be as dire as you suspect."

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Dame Anne remains popular in her constituency as a personality. In fact, she thinks she is more popular now she is a non-politician again.

She said: "I would never go back to politics, definitely not. I had made up my mind to retire in 2020 anyway."

But after 18 years of elected politics she is suddenly without the support that an MP gets. For someone who relies on a wheelchair, that is not easy.

She said: "I have a fairly major disability. It has come as a shock to me just how disabled I am now that I am having to be more independent.

"I have always had staff that I had come to rely on to get my places and get me around. They are not there any more.

"I don't have the support I used to have."

She isn't giving up public life. Dame Anne has become a member of the board of the Scottish Social Services Council, the Scottish Government's watchdog for social work and similar staff. Would she consider running for the local city council?

She said: "I would never say never with regard to the council but at the moment the answer is no.

"I am still adjusting to having to do things for myself. I am certainly not interested in the Scottish Parliament or going back to Westminster."

Dame Anne is not one of the several former Labour MPs to publicly criticise the party. She has, she said, seen bad times before.

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She said: "Things are not good for the Labour party and we have a lot of ground to make up in Scotland.

"I have been very impressed by Kezia Dugdale and she has made the best Scottish leader speech I have ever heard. When you have fallen this far, it is very difficult to start climbing back up.

"But I joined in 1983 so none of this comes as a surprise or a shock to me. I was the young enthusiastic person who was keen to get another Labour government elected after the first Thatcher term.

"When I was first a member we were not wining anything.

"I remember being devastated by the 1992 election, when Frank Doran lost Aberdeen south. Even in '92 we were losing seats.

"There is now a younger generation who are very keen.

"But anybody who is ambitious ion politics is not joining the Labour Party.

"But I think people have got fed up with the professional politician.

"In '97 I was not a professional politician and a lot of people were elected who had had lives. That is maybe is the way to go. What you want in politics are not necessarily are the people who are nakedly ambitious."

The new SNP MPs, she acknowledges, are full of people new to elected politics. She said: "It is true of Westminster, but less so for Holyrood where the SNP has been in power for eight years."

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Dame Anne is intrigued by how her nationalist opponents have managed to remain popular while in power.

She said: "That has been the remarkable thing. How you can still behave as if you are an opposition and blame everything on somebody else?

"That has been a magic trick, a fantastic trick, and I know of no other party that has ever pulled that off."

Dame Anne - in a view echoing that of several former MPs interviewed by The Herald - said she wanted to return to the kind of politics where independence was not the only issue.

She said: "The thing I have found frustrating is that all the discussion is about structure and not about what you will do with structure.

"There is an idea that with the change in constitution all other stuff will sort itself out.

"That was true in 1999 too. We were so busy arguing for the Scottish Parliament being created, we forgot to debate what we would actually do with it.

"It is even more acute now. There is no discussion of what is the point of these powers. It has become a land grab.

"The thing about devolution is the exercise of the appropriate power at the appropriate level. I think we have forgotten that. We should have a constitutional convention across the whole UK to decide what is the answer? Is it a federal system? I would be happy with that."