Humza Yousaf's ageist remark about his youthful Cabinet wasn't the worst one I've heard recently – Christine Grahame

As a septuagenarian, I am unusual, I suppose, in that I continue to work – though the late Queen kept going till the end.
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No one made ageist remarks about her, just how wonderful she looked and praise for still doing her job. However, there are rules for royals and rules for the rest of us. Now I am usually not prickly about ageist comments made by colleagues and take them with a pinch of salt, but one sentence from a young colleague stopped me in my tracks.

We were discussing the remark by the new First Minster about how many in his Cabinet were under 40. Someone at the time heckled that this was ageist and I thought so too. Competence is not reserved to the under-40s. Then came the astonishing remark, as I proclaimed my age, 78, that, and I quote, “you are lucky to be here”.

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If I had been black, a Muslim or Hindu, or gay would those words have been uttered? Would they have been withheld for fear that it was racist, prejudiced? It strikes me that few older people realise that age discrimination is an offence, yet day in, day out, it happens. From supermarkets’ well-meaning offer to help you pack to the bus driver who calls you “love” or “missus”, for many in our society there seems to be the view that we are somehow, all of us, reduced in competence.

Now don’t get me wrong, age brings challenges, yes, physical, emotional and, for some, the horrors of dementia. But we, I repeat we, are not a brand, each of us is as individual as the day we were born with a bucket-load, not a bucket list, of differing life experiences. In my youth, I was as guilty as the next. Mind you Grannie Grahame ensconced by her range at her wee hoose on Easter Road, shoulders draped in a shawl, grey hair pulled back tight in a bun and habitually dressed in black, looking like Whistler’s mother made it hard not to be ageist (though I don’t think the term existed then).

But on the other hand, we had respect for her. No mugs in her place, no, cup and saucer, thank you very much. She had doilies and antimacassars too. Google them if you must. There was no giving lip to her or indeed to our parents. Today you can hear quite young children, let alone sullen teenagers (yes, I can play the ageist game) being quite outrageous in what they say to adults.

OK, time moves on and we are told to do the same but we have lost something in this progressive society. Frankly, it is not progressive to demean age for its own sake and that goes for all ages, but particularly those concessionary card-carrying over-60s. There is a world of difference between being helpful and being patronising (no matter subconsciously).

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Yes, you can probably tell that – behind the banter I bat back when ageist remarks are made – there is a teeny boiling pot of resentment. That’s why I don’t think it is relevant that so many of the new First Minster’s Cabinet are under 40. After all, how old was wartime Churchill?

Christine Grahame is SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale

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