DURING the campaign for the 1987 general election, Maria Fyfe was called by a reporter wanting to do an interview.

As the only female Scottish Labour candidate, she wasn't surprised by the press interest.

"He said he wanted to write a contrast piece about her and Anna McCurley, the sitting Tory MP, at that time, for Renfrewshire West so I asked him what issues he had in mind," she said.

She was left speechless when he replied, "Oh nothing heavy like that, it's just that you're a brunette and she's a blonde."

Maria, 75, reveals the incident in her autobiography, A Problem Like Maria, which lifts the lid on her 14-year tenure at Westminster.

"That wasn't the end of it," she says. "The photo-grapher fished out a long-stemmed red rose and asked me to put it between my teeth. I politely told him no."

Maria was successful, winning the seat for Maryhill and the Labour vote rose by 8000.

"When I actually got to the House of Commons there were around 23 women, and only three from Scotland," says Maria.

"I was thinking, this has got to change, we've got to have more women in parliament, and I was determined to be part of achieving that."

The numbers did rise - jumping to 120 in 1997, although Maria Fyfe threatened to sue anyone who called her one of 'Blair's babes.'

While many former politicians write autobiographies to "show how I was right and everyone else was wrong", Maria says her main motivation was to explain what life is like for a new MP in Westminster and more specifically, at that time, as a woman.

"I thought it would be good to put down these experiences, particularly since I was only the 10th female Labour politician at Westminster.

"I thought it would be good for women to see what it was like, the kinds of problems you had and the progress that we have made since then.

"I remember turning up in a trouser suit and was told the ladies were supposed to wear skirts or frocks.

I told him, 'no one tried to tell me what to wear as a schoolgirl and they are not going to start now'.

"It was quite hard even to get the opportunity to speak in parliament. I thought that considering I was the sole Labour woman in Scotland, that when issues came up that had a particular relevance to women, I would be sure to be called, but that didn't happen.

"I remember one time we were debating matters to do with Cornton Vale (prison) and I wanted to make a couple of points about what we were going to do about the babies and young children of women who were in prison, because obviously that wasn't a good place to keep children.

"None of these women had committed a crime of violence, they were all in for relatively minor things, such as failing to pay a debt.

"So I just felt this was appalling and also that the training they were offered to welcome them back into the world of paid employment was inadequate.

"The only training they got was hairdressing and beauty therapy. They spent their days sewing shrouds. I had precisely one minute to speak about that."

Highlights of her political career, she says, include the campaign for a 50/50 male/female MSP ratio for the Scottish Parliament and her fight for compensation for victims of an unscrupulous Glasgow dentist.

Known as the "rebel MP", Maria, who lives in Anniesland, spoke out against the first Gulf War and was a vocal campaigner, years later, against the war in Iraq. She said: "I had two sons and thought, I wouldn't want them fighting in that war and 'I'm not going to vote to send anyone else's sons'."

In the book Maria also lifts the lid on some of the strange traditions and customs of Westminster. When she was shown to the cloakroom, she asked her guide why each hook was accompanied by a pink ribbon.

She said: "He told me it was to hang your sword.

"One of my friends had the idea to buy a sword, hang it on the ribbon and claim expenses for it, on the grounds that the house authorities must think we need a sword, but he restrained himself."

She also recalls having a cup of tea and watching a mouse run across the floor.

"I was told casually that it was an ongoing problem because we were so near the Thames," she says.

Maria recalls a conversation with Conservative MP Nicholas Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill, who stood for election in Clydebank.

She says: "He said driving along a Clydebank street in despair because he wasn't finding any Tory voters.

"As he drove along, a toddler drove a tryke out in front of him.

"He knew the car had stopped in time, he wasn't hurt but he thought he better get out.

"He got out, looked down and said, "Are you all right little fellow?", and this week boy looked up and him, clocked his blue rosette and the Tory posters in the car and as he hauled his bike back onto the pavement he shouted, "**** off."

l A Problem Like Maria is available at book shops and online, priced at £14.99