The toxicity of Mhairi Black
The outgoing Paisley MP represents everything that’s wrong with the SNP.
Mhairi Black, the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader, announced last week that she won’t be standing in the next General Election. When Black was elected in 2015, as the youngest MP since the Reform Act of 1832, there were high hopes that her youthful energy might refresh our staid, old parliament.
No such luck. Black soon settled into her tiresome schtick. Despite being a middle-class university graduate, and the daughter of a teacher, she has become famous for performing a grim parody of working-class Scottishness.
The west Scotland accent she loves to torture can be a thing of beauty and power – as Robert Burns and Billy Connolly, born centuries apart, both prove. But Black prefers to grunt her way through interviews and speeches, as she delivers the sort of blatantly obvious points that adolescents think are revelations. Things like: poverty isn’t a terribly good thing, or more jobs would be nice. How to actually solve these problems has always seemed to be beyond her.
Black has certainly never worked very hard as an MP. She has long been criticised for failing to answer her constituents’ letters and for her poor attendance record in parliament. In 2017, Black hit back at her critics, protesting that ‘people need to recognise that I have a life of my own’. When asked why she appeared to have held fewer constituency surgeries than most other Scottish MPs, she admitted she was ‘tired of sitting in surgeries’. While most people would see it as a privilege to represent their constituents in parliament, Black has never shown any signs of taking this duty too seriously.
According to Black, her sudden skedaddle has nothing to do with the state of the Scottish polls. As things stand, with Labour soaring and the SNP sinking, her re-election would be unlikely. Instead, she says she decided to stand down to escape what she calls the ‘toxic environment’ at Westminster.
Her talk of toxicity is more than a bit rich. Like so many in today’s SNP, she oozes contempt for anyone who dares to hold another opinion. In 2019, she labelled feminist critics of her extreme trans-rights positions a bunch of ‘Jeremy Hunts’. Similarly, earlier this month, in an interview with Politics Joe, she accused those with concerns about the SNP’s gender self-identification bill of being part of a global far-right conspiracy. Perhaps Isla Bryson, the double rapist who was sent to a women’s prison under Black’s preferred self-ID policy, was paid to do so by the right-wing Heritage Foundation, or the Freemasons, or whoever else it is that Black believes secretly runs the world?
To the liberal English middle-classes, the sort of people who thought Nicola Sturgeon was born with a halo attached, Mhairi embodied a kind of proletarian authenticity. They imagine they’re paying Scots a compliment when they praise Black’s thuggish outbursts. All they’re really doing is revealing their contempt for a nation that used to value excellence, ambition and self-betterment, but is now sadly represented by oafs and character acts.
It’s not as if we weren’t warned. During her first election campaign in 2015, Black publicly boasted that she wanted ‘to stick the nut on’ (ie, headbutt) a group of pro-Union Labour councillors. Supporters argued this proved ‘she’s one of us, not an out-of-touch, polished politico’. Speak for yourself.
Black’s intolerance of other views sits alongside a volcanic sense of self-righteousness, both of which are now increasingly the default mode of the SNP politician.
This style of politics is dramatically at odds with the party’s traditions. Scottish nationalism used to be full of bright people who dreamed of being given the chance to improve Scotland and its institutions. This was a party that attracted poets and artists. SNP-supporting writers like Hugh MacDiarmid yearned to lift the sights of Scots and to turn Scotland into a leading light in intellectual affairs.
Now the modern SNP is full of people like Black who self-identify as ‘progressive’ but exude nothing but cynicism. They continually excuse their failure to change things for the better by blaming someone else – usually the English, the Tories, Keir Starmer or ‘Westmonster’. They prefer the cheap and easy symbolism of identity politics to the hard work needed to make progress happen.
Black’s constituency, Paisley and Renfrewshire South, contains one of the most deprived areas in the UK – Ferguslie Park. The old-style SNP would have emphasised the importance of a decent education in improving people’s life chances in an area like this. It would have encouraged even the most disadvantaged pupils to aim high and to strive. In 2020, by contrast, Black showed just how little she thought of education when she accompanied a drag queen to a Ferguslie Park primary school. The drag queen’s name was Flowjob (get it?). His Instagram was full of sexualised content and drunken antics. He promptly posted pictures of the kids on it, just beside the BDSM jokes. Yet none of this seemed remarkable to Black and she has never apologised for any of it.
In fact, Mhairi Black never apologises, no matter how many times she puts her foot in it. At least she’s not sorry she’s leaving. She’s not the only one.
Malcolm Clark is a TV producer.
Picture by: Getty.