Read my latest CultNoise magazine article on 10 Reasons to Love SNP MP Mhairi Black:
Since 2014, we have seen a huge surge in public interest in politics, particularly amongst young people. Rather than young people being typically disinterested with the political world, they are now making it their business to fight for a better government and a better society.
The political landscape in Scotland has changed dramatically within the last year with the Scottish National Party (SNP) experiencing a landslide in support and winning a staggering 56 seats at Westminster in May’s General Election; something which has never been done by any other party before. One of the politicians at the helm of this new wave of politics in Scotland is Britain’s new youngest MP, Mhairi Black.
Following Black’s historic election win and her triumphant maiden speech, her popularity has soared. Here are my pick of 10 reasons why, Scottish or not, you should love Mhairi Black:
1. Black refuses to compromise her views and she stands up for what she believes in
In Black’s maiden speech – the video of which went viral and is now standing at around 10 million views on social media – she talked about several different social issues and injustices of the welfare state. But one of the best points Black made – when quoting the late Labour MP Tony Benn – was that she will refuse to conform to the latest popular opinion and stay loyal to her roots, her policies and her beliefs:
After hearing the Labour leader’s intentions to support the changes of tax credits that the Chancellor has put forward, I must make this plea to the words of one of your own and a personal hero of mine. Tony Benn once said that in politics there are weathercocks and sign posts. Weathercocks will spin in whatever direction the wind of public opinion may blow them, no matter what principal they may have to compromise. And then there are signposts, signposts which stand true, and tall, and principled. And they point in the direction and they say this is the way to a better society and it is my job to convince you why. Tony Benn was right when he said the only people worth remembering in politics were signposts. – Mhairi Black MP, Maiden Speech transcript via The Independent
2. She is a great role model for young female aspiring politicians everywhere
Overwhelmed by all the messages of support. They’re really appreciated. It’s been a great day for everyone involved. pic.twitter.com/V1NRtOg8xw
— Mhairi Black MP (@MhairiBlack) June 26, 2015
When Black was elected in May 2014, she was only 20 years old, making her the youngest MP elected to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom since at least the Reform Act of 1832, nabbing the youngest MP title from James Dickson who was 21 years old when he was elected all the way back in 1880. As if this wasn’t impressive enough, Black was still completing the final year of her Politics and Public Policy degree at the University of Glasgow and was awarded a First-class honours degree only last month (June 2015). Talk about over-achieving! To have such vision and to be so hardworking and determined at such a young age shows that Black is already one of watch in the world of British politics.
3. Unlike some (or most?) UK politicians, Black actually has a personality and a sense of humour
I believe that part of the reason that the general public can, at times, be so disenchanted with politics is because politicians are not the easiest people to invest in. Their demeanour generally comes across as robotic and faceless. They more often than not appear to be manufactured beings with carefully calculated answers to pre-warned-about questions who are not capable of really engaging with the public, of being able to truly empathise with the very people they are supposed to represent. Black, however, refuses to fit into this cookie cutter mould of the faceless politician species. In the opening of Black’s triumphant maiden speech in the House of Commons, she, instead of getting bogged down with statistics, specifics and jargon as many politicians do, instead took the opportunity to express her personality by being light-hearted and humourous:
And as one of the tale end doing the maiden speech of my colleagues in the SNP I’ve noticed that my colleagues quite often mention Rabbie Burns a lot and they all try to form this intrinsic connection between him and their own constituency and own him for themselves. I however feel no need to do this for during my research I discovered a fact which trumps them all. William Wallace was born in my constituency. – Mhairi Black MP, Maiden Speech transcript via The Independent
4. Black has real empathy and genuinely cares about the effect policies have on the general public
Black’s astounding story of a man she met through charity work which signifies the cruel and ideological nature of the current state of the welfare system speaks for itself:
Before I was elected I volunteered for a charitable organisation and there was a gentleman who I grew very fond of. He was one of these guys who has been battered by life in every way imaginable. You name it, he’s been through it. And he used to come in to get food from this charity, and it was the only food that he had access to and it was the only meal he would get. And I sat with him and he told me about his fear of going to the Job Centre. He said “I’ve heard the stories Mhairi, they try and trick you out, they’ll tell you you’re a liar. I’m not a liar Mhairi, I’m not.” And I told him “It’s OK, calm down. Go, be honest, it’ll be fine.” I then didn’t see him for about two or three weeks. I did get very worried, and when he finally did come back in I said to him “how did you get on?” And without saying a word he burst into tears. That grown man standing in front of a 20-year-old crying his eyes out, because what had happened to him was the money that he would normally use to pay for his travel to come to the charity to get his food he decided that in order to afford to get to the Job Centre he would save that money. Because of this, he didn’t eat for five days, he didn’t drink. When he was on the bus on the way to the Job Centre he fainted due to exhaustion and dehydration. He was 15 minutes later for the Job Centre and he was sanctioned for 13 weeks. – Mhairi Black MP, Maiden Speech transcript via The Independent
5. She refuses to accept austerity of any kind in any country
6. Black is in touch with reality and hit the nail on the head when discussing the decline in Scottish support for the Labour Party
I have heard multiple speeches from Labour benches standing to talk about the worrying rise of nationalism in Scotland, when in actual fact all these speeches have served to do is to demonstrate how deep the lack of understanding about Scotland is within the Labour party.
I like many SNP members come from a traditional socialist Labour family and I have never been quiet in my assertion that I feel that it is the Labour party that left me, not the other way about. The SNP did not triumph on a wave of nationalism; in fact nationalism has nothing to do with what’s happened in Scotland. We triumphed on a wave of hope, hope that there was something different, something better to the Thatcherite neo-liberal policies that are produced from this chamber. Hope that representatives genuinely could give a voice to those who don’t have one. – Mhairi Black MP, Maiden Speech transcript via The Independent
For me, this was one of the most prominent parts of Black’s speech because she was absolutely spot on. I, too, come from what used to be a socialist Labour family who all, including myself, voted for the SNP in May’s General Election. And Black was right about this so-called ‘wave of nationalism’ and how out-of-touch Labour is with public opinion in Scotland. I don’t feel that there has been a particular rise in nationalism in Scotland. Instead, there has been a rise in the demand for change and the SNP were the party who were offering something different, something fair and just, and something better – which is why they won such a vast majority of seats.
7. She has decided to do something worthwhile with her MP wage increase
This month (July 2015), The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) confirmed that MPs’ pay will increase from the current £67,700 to a staggering £74,000 as part of a package of changes to their remuneration. Following this announcement, many members of the public took to social media to voice their frustration over a government that is introducing millions of pounds worth of cuts to the poorest of society while, ironically, accepting a substantial wage increase for themselves:
Don’t see why MP’s are getting a 10% wage increase and the likes of NHS are having to make loads of cuts in their budgets! #robbingbastards
— Scotty G (@Scott_Gilfillan) July 16, 2015
So we can afford to increase MP’s wages but can’t increase the minimum wage to a basic living wage?!?! — Chloe’s Brain (@ChloeBlackwell8) July 16, 2015
In a move that I doubt many UK politicians would take, Black publicly spoke out against this ridiculous wage increase, which insults everyone in Britain who is living in poverty, and announced that she will not be accepting the rise in her salary:
Now is a time of austerity and huge financial difficulties for far too many people. It is not right for MPs to have a pay-rise in these circumstances. As IPSA has gone ahead with these changes, I think it would be right to use the funds to support good causes. I will therefore establish a system where my salary increase will be donated to community groups and charities which operate in Paisley & Renfrewshire South. – Mhairi Black MP, Facebook
Not many politicians would donate this kind of money to charity, especially when it’s coming out of their own pockets. Good on you, Mhairi!
8. Black isn’t afraid to call out the government for their failures
During her maiden speech, when discussing the welfare state, Black brought up an excellent point about the worrying increase of food banks in the UK:
If we go back even further when the Minister for Employment was asked to consider if there was a correlation between the number of sanctions and the rise in food bank use she stated, and I quote, “food banks play an important role in local welfare provision.” Renfrewshire has the third highest use of food banks use and food bank use is going up and up. Food banks are not part of the welfare state, they are symbol that the welfare state is failing. – Mhairi Black MP, Maiden Speech transcript via The Independent
9. She doesn’t let her pride get in the way of reaching out a hand of friendship to other parties
I think one of the biggest mistakes Ed Miliband (and Labour as a whole) made during his GE campaign – a mistake which actually might have cost him the entire election – was that he refused to work together with other parties to oppose the Conservatives. This is where Black differs from most politicians because she isn’t too proud to admit that one party cannot form an opposition on its own and that parties need to unite and work together to form an opposition against Tory rule as she discussed at the end of her maiden speech:
Now, yes we will have political differences, yes in other parliaments we may be opposing parties, but within this chamber we are not. No matter how much I may wish it, the SNP is not the sole opposition to this Government, but nor is the Labour party. It is together with all the parties on these benches that we must form an opposition, and in order to be affective we must oppose not abstain. So I reach out a genuine hand of friendship which I can only hope will be taken. Let us come together, let us be that opposition, let us be that signpost of a better society. Ultimately people are needing a voice, people are needing help, let’s give them it. – Mhairi Black MP, Maiden Speech transcript via The Independent
10. She represents real people and truly does speak for the people of Scotland
— Mhairi Black MP (@MhairiBlack) June 20, 2015
Whether you are Scottish or not and whether you agree with Mhairi Black’s views or not, it is undeniable that her conviction, intelligence, passion, determination, empathy and genuine concern for the general public – especially those living in poverty – is admirable, inspiring and compelling. While she may be the newbie and the “baby” of the Commons chamber, she possesses a progressive attitude, a fresh take on politics and qualities that I think all the politicians sitting alongside and opposite her in the House of Commons should take notes on.
Do you think Mhairi Black represents a new wave of progressive politics? Tell us what you think in the comment section below.
Featured image courtesy of Ewan McIntosh via Flickr.