THE first person to announce their desire to replace Mhairi Black in Parliament has said his experience of poverty, living on benefits and drug use in his family will provide a “breath of fresh air” in the Commons.

Speaking to The National after he was given permission to enter the selection race to replace the outgoing SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, Robert Innes revealed how he had swapped benefit sanctions and foodbanks for a career in politics.

He is so far the only candidate to announce his intention to stand in what he anticipates will be a contested selection.

The Linwood councillor said he had been inspired to get involved in politics during the 2014 referendum, joining the SNP and subsequently working for Black in her Paisley office.

His route into politics is unusual and Innes – if selected and then returned for the seat come the next election – would be among few politicians in Britain with firsthand experience of using foodbanks and claiming benefits.

The National: Mhairi Black

Innes said: “I’ve waited in phone boxes for hours on end to the DWP to get a crisis loan because they’ve messed my money about. I’ve had to go on foodbanks because they’ve delayed my money.”

The 35-year-old said he had done poorly in school as a child, leaving at 16 for zero-hours jobs in retail jobs, which often left him without work and on the dole.

“I claimed Jobseekers’ Allowance and housing benefit,” he said.

“I’ve used foodbanks, when I was a kid, I went to bed hungry, I’ve done these things that you hear about on the telly and it’s time to highlight it.”

Innes told how members of his household growing up had used heroin and that his experiences with social work services as a child had inspired him to initially pursue a career as a social worker.

READ MORE: Mhairi Black to quit as SNP MP at next General Election

But he was introduced to politics while studying at college to gain entry to the University of the West of Scotland, where he graduated with a degree in politics and psychology around the time of the independence referendum.

He said: “When I graduated in my late 20s, the independence referendum was happening and I was studying politics at the time.

“I was never really involved in politics but the independence referendum sparked my interest in politics.

“When we lost the referendum, I thought I could do more than just support it and how to get involved.

“I remember going to George Square and seeing all the foodbank donations on the ground the day after and I thought, ‘I need to do more than this.’

“So I joined the SNP and started being active on the local branch, that kind of stuff. I was graduating from university at the same kind of time and a job opened up at Mhairi’s office, got the job in Mhairi’s office and been on the adventure ever since.”

'Sometimes people look at me like I've got three eyes'

He is the first in his family to gain a degree and said he occasionally feels like an outlier in the world of local politics.

“Nobody in my family’s ever had a degree, I’m the first one in my family to get a degree,” he said.

“I feel like I’ve been on an absolute journey and this for me, going for this, is the next step I feel.

“I feel like I can go down there and project some of the stuff that I’ve told you onto the House of Commons, onto the Prime Minister, make people aware of the stuff that’s happening up here.

“I feel like an anomaly in the council just now, just as a councillor. I meet with officers and stuff like that and I think they look at me like I’ve got three eyeballs because I’m not your typical councillor.”

He added: “You get treated differently and it’s important that people like us are in these kinds of things, you know?”

The National:

Asked what his priorities would be where he to be successful in his bid to replace Black, Innes said: “Obviously, independence is my drive here. I think that all the problems that we’re seeing with food prices going up and energy prices going through the roof, a lot of that gets solved with independence and highlighting that as much as possible.

“But in terms of my experience I would quite like to be going hard on the DWP, stuff like the rape clause, that shouldn’t exist.

“Apart from benefits, the immigration system. Obviously working in Mhairi’s office I deal with that an awful lot and the way that people are treated is not right.”

His personal experience with family members using drugs has also shaped his views on UK drug policy, saying he wanted addiction to be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal matter.

“I’m a big supporter of devolving drug laws because we treat it as a health issue, rather than a criminal issue like they do in Westminster,” said Innes.

“I think we’re doing the right thing with what we’re doing in Glasgow [with the opening of a Safe Consumption Room]. I was really happy to see that going ahead.”

But he said he was under no illusions about what a stint in Westminster may bring, describing the Parliament as a “horrible” place, echoing his Black’s description of the Commons as “toxic”.

Innes said: “I know how horrible it is down [in Westminster] and how we get treated as a party down there, they’ve got absolute disdain for us.

“It’s tough down there. It’s a bad place but they will have never dealt with somebody like me before and I think I’ll be a breath of fresh air in that place to project what I’m talking about.”