This week, Member of Parliament for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, Mhairi Black, wowed the nation with her impassioned maiden commons speech, which was viewed 3.9 million times in under 24 hours. Journalist, Harriet Hall looks at why the public reaction has been so adoring and why we've been screaming out for a female role model like this.
Mhairi Black delivered a cracking maiden speech this week. As far as speeches in the House of Commons go, it was certainly one of the more captivating ones.
There is something about this particular MP that has captured the hearts and minds of the United Kingdom.
I say ‘United Kingdom’, because Black is not just a Scottish hero now, she’s a British one.
Whilst rumours abound about a possible sequel to last year’s Scottish referendum, for the moment, our countries are united and the Scottish National Party remains Great Britain’s third biggest political party.
On May 7th, Mhairi Black made history. Not only did she beat Shadow Foreign Secretary and long-standing Paisley MP, Douglas Alexander, with a whopping 23,548 votes compared with his 17,864, she became the youngest MP since the 1832 Reform Act.
Black secured her seat whilst still studying for her Undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow- for which she since received a First Class Honours.
At only twenty years of age, Black has adopted the colloquial title of ‘Baby of the House’ – one that she’s already outgrown - acting with more gravitas and maturity than those involved in the weekly PMQs, whose behaviour one might be forgiven for mistaking for wild animals at an African watering hole.
And, before you reference her expletive Twitter history (admittedly, not her finest moments), cast your mind back to our purr-inducing PM and irate London Mayor, prior to questioning if Black deserves her seat for a few over-zealous Tweets about a football match, posted when she was fourteen.
There was also an incident in which Black expressed a desire to "put the nut in Labour councillors", but I don't really hold that against her. Nobody is squeaky clean - especially not in politics. And, if we're honest, by the time May 7th came along, most of us wanted to 'put the nut in' the lot of them.
The MP’s age hasn’t been a remote deterrent in securing her seat. She doesn't let it become her distinguishing feature, a set-back that prompts 'inexperienced' quips or even cash-in on it as a unique selling-point. In fact, Black displays a wisdom well beyond her years. She's not blind to it, though, making a witty reference to her age when her predecessor, Alexander, was elected (“Afterall, I was only three”).
What sets Black apart isn’t her age, as she told BBC Newsbeat prior to the election, it’s that people “can see past political spin and aesthetic things like your age and your gender – they recognise that I can’t help that – so it’s about what I am saying, what I am standing for.”
And Black is standing for real change – it’s clear she truly believes in her politics – citing Dylan’s The Times They are a Changin' as her favourite song, and former Cabinet Minster under Harold Wilson, Tony Benn, as her role model.
Black has proved that age, gender and sexuality needn’t be barriers (Black is openly gay) and instead that principle, passion and personality win outright.
I’m not here to preach Black’s politics. You can make your own mind up on those. What's fascinating to me is that a video of an MP giving a fairly quotidian speech has amassed 3.9 million views and such an outpouring of support on social media.
What I am here to discuss is why we have we all fallen quite so head-over-heels for this political ingenue? And what is it about Black that has resonated with women - who have been screaming from the social media rafters about her brilliance - and made us hold her up as someone who deserves our respect?
Black’s appeal – even to those on the right, or in the ‘no’ camp, is that she’s unflappable, cool and wise but beyond that she’s human - traits unfamiliar to the majority of the male, pale and stale (even after a Tory reshuffle) Members of Parliament.
She’s fair. There’s nothing more appealing than someone who greets success with humility, rather than a bitter sneer.
In her maiden speech Black made a heart-warming tribute to Douglas Alexander and it didn’t feel like a load of tosh, it felt genuine. She held out an Olive branch to her Labour contemporaries, those whose seats her own party had overturned, looking to the greater good as opposed to petty inter-party politics, saying:
“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.”
On the unexpected SNP landslide in May’s general election, Black said: “we triumphed on a wave of hope, hope that there was something different, something better than the Thatcherite neo-liberal policies that were produced from this chamber. Hope that representative genuinely could give a voice to those who don’t have one.”
She’s got the kind of passion and heartfelt desire for change that we’d like to believe all politicians once had, rather than the majority’s hunger for power, and a fat expenses cheque.
Black is one of the few politicians whose genuine drive for a more equal society is yet to be marred by the dirty workings of Parliament. Her integrity and principles hold her up as someone worth listening to, as a signpost worth following.
Quite a feat in today’s society, in which our young female role models (whether they embrace the title or not) have most recently been famed for the creation of violent misogynistic music videos, singing about their feuds or ‘breaking the internet’ with their posteriors.
That's not to say I condemn any of these women - they are impressive in their own rights - simply that it's refreshing to come across a young woman whose sole drive appears, at this point, to be to fight for a more equal society- even at her own expense.
Black happily exposed the irony of the situation that has arisen since George Osborne's Budget, in which she has become "the only 20 year-old in the whole of the UK that the Chancellor is prepared to help with housing." And from the confidence and well considered points she raised in her speech, it is clear she won’t stop there when it comes to calling-out double standards and confronting complaceny in politics.
It’s difficult to understand where all the genuinely inspiring young female role models are today. We celebrate the brave strength of Malala Yousafzai who continues to risk her life in her fight for girls’ education, Lena Dunham, who campaigns for abortion legislation or Emma Watson, promoting international women’s rights as UN Goodwill Ambassador. But who else is there?
Whether or not you agree with Black’s political stance, or the SNP in general, or even those of Tony Benn, you’ve got to admit, she’s exactly the type of young female role model we need more of.
Images: Rex Features, Getty Images