In April, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May announced a snap general election, to be held in June, that could serve as a referendum of sorts on the largely divisive and disheartening political developments of the past two years, including Brexit. Almost immediately, MP Mhairi Black announced her intention to stand for re-election—despite her outspoken dislike of Westminster. Since winning her seat, Black has refused to let the political climate silence her, making a name for herself as a leader on the left.
Black was elected at age 20 in the May 2015 general election on a wave of Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) resurgence against the U.K. Labour Party. She defeated Labour’s Douglas Alexander, winning a seat he had held since 1997. The shocking Brexit vote would come a year later, but if May 2015 was any harbinger of things to come, Black is representative of a progressive generation poised to take power in coming decades.
She joined the SNP in 2011 to campaign for Scottish independence, a vote that nevertheless resulted in Scotland remaining in the U.K. But following the referendum, other party members encouraged her to run for office. Her historic win caught the media’s attention, especially given her youth. But she’s not interested in fixating on her age, and there’s no need to when she’s already proven herself a political force to be reckoned with. Since being elected, she’s emerged as an outspoken critic of conservative policies, and she doesn’t mince words.
“In my year and a half of being a politician, I can truly say that I have never been more horrified or afraid of the rhetoric coming from the conservative government as I have this past week,” she wrote in October for Scotland’s The National on the rise of xenophobia. “To read the headlines of the major British newspapers felt like I had awoken in some dystopian, V for Vendetta-esque society.”
This piece appears in the Summer 2017 issue of Ms.
Black’s voting record is consistently pro-benefits, anti-war and in favor of integration with the European Union. She’s spoken out against the way she’s been treated in Parliament, telling The Guardian, “I was expecting to be patronized, but it went to a whole new level.”
Black recently took part in protests against a Tory-approved “rape clause” that would require any rape victim claiming tax credits for more than two children to provide proof that her pregnancy was the result ofrape or coercion. When faced with online abuse from trolls, Black fired back, saying, “These kind of tweets are exactly the reason why we women still have a long, hard fight ahead of ourselves.”
Black isn’t stepping down from that fight, though her time in office could be short-lived. With Brexit looming, Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the SNP, has spoken in favor of a second referendum on Scottish independence. This time it could pass, given the drastically changing circumstances Scotland faces as part of the U.K. If that happens, Black might step away from office.
“I am aware of how it looks, at this age, to say, ‘I don’t want to be a career politician’ when I’m a politician—but I don’t,” she says. “Once we’ve got independence, I’ll do other things.”
Whatever Black does, she’ll be formidable.