Mhairi Black in the house
The out gay Scottish Nationalist MP talks to DIVA’s publisher Linda Riley
Mhairi Black first hit the headlines following the 2015 General Election when she unseated the incumbent MP and Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander in spectacular fashion, becoming Westminster’s youngest MP since the reign of Charles II. Her fame was further enhanced by a truly astonishing maiden speech – “in the office it’s known as ‘that bloody speech’,” she laughs – that saw her trend worldwide (number two in Nigeria) and has been watched on YouTube 12 million times and counting.
But these are not the only reasons the Scottish Nationalist stands out. Over the years, I have met and interviewed dozens of politicians from all sides of the house and, while many do excellent work, there is often something unworldly about their interviews. This is, I suspect, the result of striking a balance between expressing their own views while, at the same time, ensuring that they don’t move too far away from the party line.
Meeting Mhairi Black at parliament’s hub Portcullis House, a stone’s throw from the Palace of Westminster, was like meeting an old friend for a coffee. Honest, straight-talking and easy-going, whatever your political affiliations or your views on Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom, it’s easy to see how she was able to overturn her Labour opponent’s majority of 16,000.
Despite being one of the youngest MPs ever to sit in the House of Commons (she’s 22), and being a gay woman to boot, Black doesn’t think any of those things have held her back. “In Scotland, because of the referendum, the country is so much more politically engaged than anywhere else in the UK. I remember going around the doors during the election campaign. A woman from the Guardian was with us, and she said to me, ‘I can’t believe no one’s talking about your age’. Later, I ended up on a doorstep talking to a guy in his vest and he was arguing with me about oil revenues. We’re having this intense debate, and this Guardian journalist butts in and says, ‘I’m sorry, but how are you not bothered about her age?’ This guy was like, ‘What does that have to do with anything? I just want to know what she thinks about this, that and that’. That, to me, sums up the mindset Scotland has. No one cares about my age, sexuality or anything.”
Being an MP in Westminster is a whole different ball-game, though. “When I came down to London, it was totally different,” Black admits. “It was all people were talking about. It’s a weird world down here. A lot of folk don’t like me because I’m young, female, gay, SNP. When I was first elected, some people were very patronising. I had to assert myself quite a bit.” What did that assertion involve? “When I was first elected, I was outside getting some fresh air. There was an old-guard Conservative MP who has been here for years, and I asked him, ‘When is it you have the summer ball again?’ He leans down to me and says, ‘I think you’ll find it’s called recess, darling’. I turned around and said, ‘I think you’ll find I’m called Mhairi, sweetheart’.”
You can read the rest of our interview with Mhairi Black in the May issue of DIVA, on sale now via the links below.