The 20 year-old MP’s maiden speech has now been viewed online more than 10 million times. Fiona Longmuir isn’t surprised. Here, she salutes a young woman whose passion, humour and clear-headed vision for her country is a shot in the arm for UK politics.
The first time I heard Mhairi Black’s name was during the furore following the Scottish independence referendum. Addressing a group of Yes supporters in the wake of the SNP’s defeat, she talked about the desire to “stick the nut” in the Labour politicians who surrounded her to gloat on the night of the vote.
I thought this was hilarious. The media did not. Articles sprung up accusing Black of inciting violence, of being a thug. I wondered if the criticism would be quite so loud if her accent had been more similar to David Cameron’s than it was to… well, mine.
Shortly afterwards, I found out that the 20-year-old would be running as MP for my hometown. This prompted a whole new wave of media attention, largely centring on a statement Black had tweeted as a teenager: “Maths is shite.”
Again, I found this hilarious. Again, the media did not. Black handled the whole thing with a lot more grace and style than I would have mustered, explaining that if any of the other politicians had had Twitter at the age of 14, they would probably have tweeted some garbage too.
Her career has been hounded by media snobbery. I have seen her described as a ned, a chav, a thug, even a “foul mouthed slut”. Because god forbid that Paisley people should actually elect someone who sounds like us.
“I love an underdog, and Black had it all going against her. She’s a woman. She’s barely out of her teens. She’s unapologetically working class. And despite all that, she refuses to simply keep her mouth shut.”
When they weren’t pulling her up on her accent, her disregard for mathematics and her apparent propensity for head-butting opponents, they were reminding us over and over again just how young she was. The media loves patronising women and here was one so young, they could almost justify it to themselves. She’s just a baby! She’s still at university! Tee-hee! They somehow managed to take someone who casually became Britain’s youngest MP at the same time as getting a first-class honours degree in politics, and turn that into a negative.
I liked her straight away. I love an underdog, and Black had it all going against her. She’s a woman. She’s barely out of her teens. She’s unapologetically working class. And despite all that, she refuses to simply keep her mouth shut. Her quick wit and upfront opinions came as a gorgeous antidote to our asinine human ham of a Prime Minister. Nonetheless, cults of personality are how we end up with people like Boris Johnson in charge, so I decided to reserve judgement to see how she fared once she actually got into power.
Then I watched her maiden speech.
Black talked about her constituency, and tears sprang to my eyes as she talked about our rich history, our sense of humour, our inextinguishable spirit. To hear a Scottish voice saying the names of the streets that I grew up on in Parliament, as if they mattered, as if they meant something, I suddenly understood the wave of political engagement that has ignited across Scotland. Constituencies like Renfrewshire have been ignored and belittled and trampled on by the government for so long.
“Renfrewshire isn’t just an interesting plot point in Black’s political story. It’s a real place where real people are suffering. Towns like mine need someone to stand up for them.”
I listened to her incredible speech and I heard something amazing: the voice of someone who actually gives a damn. The tears of pride quickly soured as she related the story of a man who she met before her political days, who had his benefits sanctioned after fainting from hunger and exhaustion made him late for his appointment at the job centre.
She talked about the decline in our town centres, about the systematic dismantling of support services, about the poverty that kills our people. She spoke with raw, disarming honesty. Because no matter how good your sense of humour is, it’s hard to be the plucky underdog when you’re constantly getting booted in the face. Renfrewshire isn’t just an interesting plot point in her political story. It’s a real place where real people are suffering. Abused by the Conservatives and abandoned by Labour, towns like mine need someone to stand up for them. And after that speech, I think that wee Paisley lassie just might be the woman for the job.1894 Views
Fiona Longmuir is a professional storyteller, reluctant adult and aspiring funny girl. When not getting naked in tube stations and binge-watching inappropriate TV shows, she can be found scribbling at the Escapologist's Daughter.