Politics the new Black for young women?

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Mhairi Black is a 20-year-old fourth year law student at Glasgow University and she is the new SNP MP for Paisley & Renfreweshire.

Carole3The Telegraph newspaper described her as “one of Westminster’s most unlikely parliamentarians” which might not sound very kind but, given that the average age of MPs has remained at around 50 since 1979, is probably unarguable.

What I hope most of us want is for the House of Commons to be representative of the population it serves. The fact that the number of women MPs has increased is a step forward, as is the increase in the number of MPs from ethnic minorities, but apart from helping to bring down the average age I wonder what is likely to be achieved by having the youngest MP since the 17th Century?

I’ve recently written not just about getting more young women involved in politics but also about encouraging more of them to vote and Young Women’s Trust has been keen to support initiatives such as those from Use Your Voice to encourage a higher turnout for the General Election. 

Will Mhairi’s election encourage more young people to vote? I hope so. But I also hope we haven’t heard the end of proposals to follow the example set by the Scottish independence referendum and consider lowering the voting age to 16. While David Cameron told the House of Commons in January that he is happy with 18 as the voting age he also said he would be happy for MPs to vote on the issue.

But what of those young people who, inspired by Mhairi, want to try and become MPs? Her leader, Nicola Sturgeon, is concerned that the attention given to her own appearance might put young women off. She told ITV’s Loose Women programme: “What worries me is if young women see me [getting this flack] in the papers and it puts them off going into politics.”

The media’s preoccupation with female politicians’ appearance is, sadly, something young women can identify with; many of them tell me that they have previously felt harshly judged on the basis of their appearance. I hope that before too long young women can also identify with increasing numbers of other young women in positions of influence.