SNP MP reveals struggle to be understood in Parliament

Posted On: 
3rd April 2017

SNP MP Alan Brown has revealed how his thick Ayrshire accent has been the subject of perplexity among ministers and Hansard scribes.

Alan Brown with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon
PA Images

Such is the struggle among some of Westminster’s staff, that Brown, who was one of the 50 Scottish nationalists who arrived to the chamber in 2015, is thought to be the first MP to be asked for his interventions back in writing by Parliament’s debate recorders.

“It first became really clear to me not just when it was ministers looking to respond, but it became a running joke with my colleagues that even if I asked a two-line question Hansard would send me a note asking me to confirm what I said," he said.

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"As a matter of course, if you do a speech they ask for your speech notes, but with me it's even just a question."

The MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun said his brogue leaves those at the despatch box - including East Kilbride-born Trade Secretary Liam Fox - stumped and amused.

"[Brexit Secretary] David Davis, he almost laughs when he sees me standing up. You can see him, by default, move his ear to the speaker," Mr Brown said.

“Sometimes they say ‘I didn’t catch what the member said’ and say they’ll write to me.”

"I think Liam Fox struggles too."

"I was on a cross-party trip to Qatar, so speaking to Qataris I had to make even more of an effort to slow down and enunciate what I was saying,” he added.

"That was when a Tory MP said: 'Alan, I can understand you. If you spoke like that in the chamber that would make things much easier.' She thinks I sound fast and angry."

But Brown said the dilemma of staying true to, or toning down his Ayrshire accent, is one which the people of Kilmarnock have solved on his behalf.

"Because people know me locally and know how I talk, they would actually question what was happening if my accent changed when I came down to Westminster,” he added.

"We know people are very wary of politicians losing what they stood for, or changing too much when they take on the role. A sort of 'who does he think he is now?'."

Brown remains defiant, that if his wife’s family from across the pond can make out his broad Caledonian tones, then those from a few hundred miles down the road have little excuse.

"One last wee aside: my wife is actually American and I take the view if her family can understand my accent, the people in Westminster should be able to as well."