Interview: Mhairi Black
The SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, Mhairi Black was elected while still a student at the University of Glasgow. Words by Nadine McBay.
In May of 2015, Mhairi Black became the youngest person to be elected to the House of Commons since the 1830s.
Still the ‘baby of the House’ at the age of 24, Black is a vocal critic of the Conservative government’s benefit and pension reforms and of the culture and practices of Westminster.
A famously straight-talking supporter of Women Against State Pension Inequality and Partick Thistle FC, she took to Twitter last month to describe Brexit chaos as “an absolute riddy” for PM Theresa May.
Here she talks about cutting her political teeth with Jim Sillars on the Margo-mobile, whether she will stand for election again and the biggest issue currently facing Renfrewshire.
Your maiden speech in the Commons was viewed over 10 million times in less than a week. How did you learn to speak so confidently?
During the 2014 referendum I started speaking to people and chapping doors. Eventually my lecturer asked me to be on the Yes side for a panel debate with Tommy Sheridan, Michelle Thompson, Ruth Davidson and James Kelly. I remember thinking, “Just answer the questions the best you can.” I was able to answer them, I had done my homework and the confidence then came naturally. I spoke at more meetings and then Jim Sillars took me on his Margo-mobile around Scotland. It was learning politics how you should learn it, through people.
“Parliament is inadequate in every sense. I wouldn’t even say it’s a parliament. It’s a private club masquerading as one”
Was it exciting or a culture shock when you first went to Westminster?
It was both of those things. When I first went, there was a guy cutting around the central lobby with a big hawk on his hand. It was to chase pigeons, apparently.
Now you’ve been there for four years, how would you characterise it as a parliament?
Inadequate in every sense. Through my understanding of what tools are available for the opposition parties and backbench MPs, it seems specifically designed to ensure you hit a dead end, no matter how hard you try. I wouldn’t even say it’s a parliament. It’s a private club masquerading as one.
What would be the first thing you’d reform?
The voting system. If it was in any other workplace, it would be thrown out in a heartbeat. Electronic voting would free up so much time. At present, you go out to the lobby, wait for eight minutes for the doors to be locked, then 200-odd people have to file back one by one. With the recent Brexit votes, there were times when the lobbies had around 400 people in them. You could be pressed up against people who have been accused of sexual harassment, people who are unsavoury to say the least.
What’s the most enjoyable part of being an MP at Westminster?
Shouting at Tories! The most enjoyable part is speaking to members of staff. I’ve heard from multiple members of staff that the SNP group is the first group of MPs who have just been ‘normal’. The abuse they get off some MPs is ridiculous. Some of the other MPs walk about like they’re royalty.
Is there an achievement you’re particularly proud of?
Getting my degree.
Are past reports true of you considering not to stand again?
No. Utter nonsense. So long as I’m able to do the job to a standard that I think is needed, then I will happily keep doing it. I’m not putting a time limit on it though. Put it this way, if I was still in Westminster 20 years from now, I don’t know if I’d be that happy about it.
What in your view is the biggest issue currently facing the people of Renfrewshire?
Brexit. Regardless of whether it’s no deal or not, people are going to start to see things declining. I think it will be really bad. To give you an everyday example, I was talking to a friend just buying a wardrobe off a website. It was a German company. The guy wasn’t doing a hard sell but he said: “If you want it, buy it now. After Brexit, the price is going to triple at least.” I don’t think people are aware of the gravity of the situation. If it’s a no deal Brexit, I think we’re all going to get a shock.
Favourite part of Renfrewshire? Gleniffer Braes.
Best place for dinner? Butchers Steak & Grill in Elderslie, where we had our Christmas meal.
Best place for coffee? I like a cup of tea in Malatso, Paisley.
Follow Mhairi Black on Twitter via @MhairiBlack. Follow Nadine via @nadine_mcbay. This interview was published in Mill issue 5, May/June 2019.