Not every region is proud of its member of Parliament. The majority of people living in Paisley and Renfrewshire South are. That’s because Mhairi Black, the region’s MP, has a habit of making history and standing up for her local area. She became the youngest member of Parliament in British political history when she was elected for her first term in May 2015 at the age of just 20, and while she may be a slightly less hot-headed now she’s in her mid-twenties, she still has no time for the abuse that she receives daily on social media.
All MPs who choose to own and operate accounts on Twitter receive insults and threats on a regular basis, but Mhairi receives more than most on account of being young, left-wing, female, and gay. She’s never made a secret of her sexual orientation, once famously answering the question of when she ‘came out’ with “I’ve never been in.” She has a long history of supporting pro-LGBT causes on the social media platform, but her stance makes her a regular target for abuse. She recently found herself targeted yet again after speaking out against transphobia. This time, she had the perfect response waiting.
In response to a well-reasoned and sensitively-put Tweet about how she feels as a gay woman seeing transphobic abuse, she received a response that included a crude description of a sexual act. Rather than being offended by it or rewarding the troll with a detailed response, she dismissed him with one short, to-the-point, and gloriously Scottish sentence. Quoting the offending Tweet, she said, “That’s the point ya dafty.” It clearly resonated with her audience. Her reply has received more than ten thousand ‘likes’ on Twitter and has been ‘Re-Tweeted’ over one thousand times. The offending comment, by contrast, has been deleted by the troll, who later went on to delete his account. He presumably didn’t enjoy the response he received from Mhairi’s many supporters.
Aside from dealing with trolls on social media, the region’s MP has recently made the news for speaking out against the Westminster government’s plans to roll back the furlough scheme for businesses and self-employed people in Scotland. Unlike England, which has scaled back most of its lockdown requirements and started to move toward the full re-opening of the economy, Scotland has taken a more cautious approach, with many businesses still closed, and therefore many companies and people still dependent upon the financial support provided by the government. Her fear is that if the removal of furlough payments is applied at Scotland at the same time and in the same way as it’s applied in the rest of the country, Scotland and Scottish businesses – including those in Renfrewshire – will be disproportionately affected. So far, her appeals appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Whether or not the MP is ultimately successful in protecting or extending the rights of furloughed workers in Scotland, most people in the Renfrewshire region will be happy to see her back at full health, and fully immersed in her work as a politician. There have been periods in the past – and particularly during her first term – that she struggled with illness and absences from Parliament. Black has been candid in discussing these issues in the past, admitting that the long commute to and from London to Scotland and the stress that comes with the long hours of the job have posed a problem to her in the past. She now feels that she’s developed better coping strategies to deal with these problems, and has been back to her old, forthright self in the Commons in recent months.
Not all of Mhairi’s time as an MP has been free of controversy. She attracted criticism in 2016 when she visited a betting outlet in Paisley and appeared to endorse the business and its practices, during a time when betting restrictions and the concept of responsible gambling were being heavily debated in Parliament. The number of betting terminals in bookies, much like the number of slots websites available on the internet, has increased exponentially in recent years. At the time of her visit, Black spoke favorably of the voluntary measures that the bookmaker had put in place to ensure gambling on the premises was conducted responsibly but was also criticized for appearing to suggest that bookmakers were ‘safer’ environments for gambling than online slots websites. The controversy has long-since passed, though, and tighter measures have since been introduced for both online slots and offline slots and casino games.
More recently, she found herself attracting criticism from conservative groups both regionally and nationally after accompanying a drag queen to a primary school to read books to children. The drag queen, known professionally as ‘Flow Job,’ is noted for her adult-orientated stage act. Campaigners felt that her act made her a poor choice to speak to primary-school-aged children, but Black pointed out that she was there to read an LGBT-awareness focused story, and then doubled down on her stance by suggesting that the people who were criticizing both the visit and her endorsement of it were homophobic. A meeting of SNP MPs after the events is believed to have become terse, with members split between supporting Black’s stance on the matter and opposing it. Renfrewshire council later apologized for authorizing the visit, stating that it should never have taken place, but Black refused to apologize for her own stance on the matter and felt that parents who ‘buy their school-age children the latest version of Grand Theft Auto’ have no room to criticize.
Whether local voters love or hate Mhairi Black – and given the size of her majority, we suspect that most readers fall into the former camp – there’s never a dull political moment in the area with her as the region’s elected representative. Whether she’s supporting community causes on a local level or speaking out about issues she feels passionate about on a national level, she has a way of communicating that’s refreshingly direct for a politician, and clearly resonates with younger voters in particular. We’re sure that the Twitter troll she chased off the platform won’t be the last to feel the sharp end of her occasional sarcasm.