The Bills have ayes: MP reveals Westminster struggle with Scots accent


Since sweeping en masse into Westminster, the SNP have complained they find the Tory Government's policies incomprehensible - but for one Scottish MP, the problem is the other way around.

Alan Brown has revealed that ministers have so much trouble understanding his thick Ayrshire accent that he rarely receives direct answers to his questions when he speaks in the Commons chamber.

Reporters at Hansard, the official verbatim report of Parliament, struggle with the same problem and pass notes to the SNP backbencher asking him to write out what he said whenever he rises to speak.

Mr Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) told the Press Association: "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.

"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."

Mr Brown said whenever he gets up to speak, he notices the minster sink back into their green leather bench and put their ear right up against the speaker embedded in it.

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

"I think Liam Fox struggles too. There are a few, it's hard to pick them all out. Margot James struggled one time.

"Sometimes you know if you have caught them out, they hide behind it - they say 'I didn't catch what the member said', and they say they'll write to me, but my inbox hasn't been inundated with letters."

It has become a running joke with his colleagues, who poke fun at the frequent letters from Hansard requesting a translation.

The parliamentary sketch writers are also known to scratch their heads when he is speaking.

Mr Brown said: "Sometimes Hansard ask what other people say, but I make the joke that they must have an Ayrshire translator in now but the Ayrshire translator doesn't understand my colleagues."

Mr Brown grew up in a village just outside Kilmarnock in the constituency he now represents, and he is proud of his accent.

He said: "I stayed in that village all my life. I went to university in Glasgow, but I still travelled up and down from where I stayed so that helped me retain my accent.

"My mum had a theory that I deliberately held on to my accent when I went to university because it is a way of not changing and trying to remain close to your roots."

While he takes the issue in good humour, Mr Brown said it can at times be frustrating as he struggles to get a straight answer to his questions.

He made an effort to speak more slowly during Commons debates, but several Tory MPs have confessed that they still cannot follow him.

"I think I have slowed it down and spoke clearly and then other MPs still think I've spoke way too fast - so again it's that perception", he said.

"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.

"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 he said his constituents north of the border would revolt if he suddenly lost his Kilmarnock accent, and Mr Brown said he has "no intention of changing now".

He said: "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.

"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?'.

"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."