Scotland’s only non-white MP says that she was racially profiled by police in parliament earlier this year.
Anum Qaisar, the SNP MP for Airdree and Shotts, was stopped by police on the parliamentary estate twice in one day while wearing traditional Pakistani dress; she added that it had never happened to her while she was wearing “western” clothes.
“When I’m wearing ‘western’ — in inverted commas — clothes, I don’t get stopped,” she told the New Statesman’s Westminster Reimagined podcast, a special series with the satirist Armando Iannucci about how politics could be improved. “But on this one day, whilst I [was wearing] shalwar kameez, twice in one day by two different sets of Metropolitan Police I was stopped and asked to show my ID.”
Qaisar, 29, who is of Pakistani ethnicity, continued: “I’m very strong, I would like to think. I’ve dealt with a number of different racial abuse cases throughout my life. But at that point I just felt so alienated because I do look a little bit different to most MPs out there. And that in itself is alienating. But to be stopped by the police twice, in one day, and asked to show my ID just further perpetuates that stereotype of, ‘I don’t look like a politician and I don’t belong there.’”
Discussing the “old boys’ club” culture within Westminster, and whether it could and should change, Qaisar said she felt a duty to call the incident out.
“I am a young woman of colour. In fact, from Scotland, I’m the only MP of colour. And, you know, I am there to represent my constituents of Airdree and Shotts but I do feel this slight pressure that I’m there, also, to represent the different demographics that look or talk like me.”
In the full discussion about her experience as one of Westminster’s youngest MPs and few Muslim MPs, she said she hoped the “old boys’ club” culture was slowly changing for the better.
The first episode of Westminster Reimagined with Anum Qaisar, Armando Iannucci, Ailbhe Rea and Emma Crewe, a professor of anthropology who has studied the workings of the House of Commons and House of Lords, is available now.