Featured

Midlothian’s new Labour MP has big shoes to fill – but they aren’t her party’s

So, the dust has settled, and the election results are clear – Midlothian has a new MP, Labour newcomer Danielle Rowley, who defeated the SNP incumbent Owen Thompson by only 885 votes.

From 1955 to 2015, Midlothian had been a Labour stronghold; with Corbyn’s meteoric rise in England, it seems almost unsurprising that the voters of Midlothian have returned to their Labour roots, despite a 10,000 majority to the SNP in the last election. But while Miss Rowley has been swept to power on the back of a resurrected Labour movement, closer to home she may find that the shoes of her predecessor are quite a bit larger than she anticipated.

Oh, but I’m not talking about David Hamilton, the Labour MP who stood down before the 2015 elections after representing Midlothian for 14 years. I’m talking about Owen Thompson.

Let’s look at the numbers.

In his two year tenure as MP,  Owen Thompson spoke in an impressive 60 debates, and put forward 25 Early Day Motions – parliamentary  jargon for the motions designed to bring attention to areas of interest or a particular subject. Contrast this with Hamilton, who between 2001 and 2003 (the first two years of his tenure) spoke in only 23 debates – it would take him a further two years to match the figure of his SNP successor – and by the end of his parliamentary career had submitted just 23 EDMs in 14 years.

So while Mr Hamilton may have been a recognised figure in the community, in reality his successor had done more for Midlothian in two years than Labour did in over a decade.

While I am reserving my official judgement on Miss Rowley until she has had enough time to prove herself, initial impressions aren’t exactly comforting. Her campaign pledges spoke nothing of Brexit, Trident, or other issues within her control – instead she focused on housing and social care, a stance she reiterated in this interview with LabourList:

https://en-gb.facebook.com/LabourList/videos/10154902747863020/

Of course, housing and social care are matters devolved to the Scottish Government, over which she has no control or influence – not that the anti-Corbyn MSPs of Scottish Labour would support her, even if her father is their Deputy Leader in Holyrood. I suspect that she may seek to form ties with the new Scottish Labour administration in power at Midlothian Council – but that in itself brings with it a host of problems, given the party’s informal alliance with the Scottish Conservatives there.

All in all, it’s interesting times ahead for Midlothian – and if Miss Rowley does not provide the same voice for her constituents as her predecessor, we may well see that 885 figure diminish by the time a new election is called.

Photo Ops, Nepotism, and Misinformation: A Week In The Life of Danielle Rowley

For the past two weeks I’ve been on holiday in Northern Ireland – two weeks of blissful ignorance of the goings on in Scottish politics while I spent time with my partner, our son, and the family I left behind when I moved to Scotland seven years ago. It’s been heavenly.

But alas, all good things must come to an end – so without further ado, let’s dive into what Midlothian’s newest MP has been up to while I’ve been away.

Photo Ops

In my last piece, I wrote about how Ms Rowley seemed only to appear in Midlothian when there was a camera about, and apparently she is eager to prove me correct, if the events of the WASPI Women Awareness event in Dalkeith on the 21st of July are any indication.

The Midlothian Advertiser published an article today (26th July) about this event, along with the picture below:

FB_IMG_1501107781524

To look at that photo, it would appear that our newest MP is joining with the SNP to promote the cause of the Women Against State Pension Inequality. And, were that that the case, I’d be the first to applaud her efforts. Indeed, I believe the cause of the WASPI women is one that should be championed by all MPs.

The situation is not as the Advertiser would have you believe, however.

Ms Rowley was indeed present – but sources from the event have confirmed that she put in an appearance almost an hour after the event had begun, conveniently missing the speeches, the rally and the canvassing.

Indeed, the official WASPI picture paints a strikingly different scene:

FB_IMG_1501107787115.jpg

SNP Cllr Dianne Alexander, who organised the event in question – a fact not published by the Advertiser, or indeed by Ms Rowley herself – and MSP Colin Beattie are both present; however, Ms Rowley is nowhere to be seen, and by the time the Advertiser took the photo they would eventually publish, the event was nearly over – hence the decreased number of participants in their photo.

Indeed, it seems Ms Rowley has an issue with actually dealing with members of the public – which quite neatly leads me to my next entry…

Misinformation

An odd thing happened this week – the SNP Council Group at Midlothian Council started receiving a number of calls from constituents enquiring about the impending closure of Dalkeith Job Centre.

Naturally, this came as quite a surprise to the Councillors, who had heard nothing of such a closure. The origin of the concerns was identified as a statement made by, you guessed it, Ms Danielle Rowley MP:

Screenshot_20170726-234521.jpg

Just seven words, written as simply as though she were telling us the sky is indeed blue – “The Dalkeith Job Centre is closing.”

Naturally, such a claim was immediately investigated by both the SNP Midlothian Council Group and MSP Colin Beattie, but imagine their surprise when their investigations and enquiries with the Department of Work and Pensions yielded… nothing:

Screenshot_20170726-235852

There is no closure scheduled for Dalkeith Job Centre; indeed, such an action would require the completion of a public consultation, which – at time of writing – has not taken place.

Naturally, the publication of this statement from the SNP Group had many flocking back to Danielle asking her what, exactly, was going on – and indeed, she clarified:

Screenshot_20170727-001532.jpg

To summarise – that is our elected representative in Parliament, freely admitting on Facebook that this information came from a union, not from the DWP or sources within Parliament – and considering the effect that such a closure would have on the community, you would think that some fact checking would have been done by either herself or her staff before she made that information publicly available.

But instead of doing the bare minimum, Ms Rowley simply repeats what she has been told verbatim. Were I more cynical, I would suspect that the plan all along was to announce this as factually as she did so that when the closure did not come to fruition, the credit for “preventing” this would go to her.

But perhaps I’m mistaken. Perhaps Ms Rowley merely has other, more pressing issues on her mind…

Nepotism

If the events of the 26th of July are any indication, Ms Rowley truly does have more pressing issues on her mind.

It appears that political infighting and the prospect of a potential coup against Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale MSP are more important to our new MP than the needs of her constituents.

Last night, the majority of new Scottish Labour MPs backed Ms Rowley to become Chair of the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party, aiming to defeat outspoken Corbyn critic and Dugdale ally, Ian Murray. However, due to an intervention by Labour peers in the House of Lords, Ian Murray won the chair.

Why is this important?

Because had Danielle Rowley been successfully voted in as chair of the SPLP, she would have used her position on the Scottish Executive to influence and support any attempt of Scottish Labour to oust Kezia Dugdale. In the event of a coup, the natural successor as leader of the Scottish Labour party in Holyrood would be none other than Alex Rowley MSP – Danielle’s father.

When Ms Rowley was selected as candidate for Midlothian back in May, Mr Rowley was asked by the Herald whether nepotism had played a part in his daughter’s selection:

Screenshot_20170727-102607

Screenshot_20170727-102624

 

I’ll tell you what’s insulting.

What is insulting is that, instead of a voice for the constituency, we have an MP more interested in publicity shots and posting misinformation in order to garner a few Facebook likes. We have an MP who seeks to use her influence to further the political aspirations of her father; who shows up late to events (when she can be bothered to show up at all) and who seems far more interested in furthering her own career than actually engaging with her own constituents. An MP who takes on more and more roles that demand more time at the House of Commons; time that is then not spent in her constituency.

When her name was published in the list of Scottish Labour candidates, the party stated that she reflected “the diversity of 21st century Scotland”.

In truth, she is just another example of the reality of Labour in the 21st Century – divided, unprincipled, and more interested in good publicity than actually getting on with the day job.

 

 

Representation In Absentia

Five weeks have now passed since the election, and it’s fair to say that our new MP, Ms Danielle Rowley, is well and truly enamored with life at Westminster. So much so, in fact, that it seems that she’d rather be there – or, indeed, anywhere – than at home with the constituents she now represents, though at first glance, her maiden speech would have you believe otherwise.

Indeed, her maiden speech is full of curious little anomalies. Let’s look at a few of them; the first appears just two paragraphs in:

Maiden Speech 2

Ms Rowley calls for getting “the best deal for our economy, protect jobs and defend the rights of EU nationals”, which is after all the party line. The anomaly is in what she says next – “I will be fighting for that on behalf of my constituents in Midlothian, and I thank them for sending me here to do that.”

Except they didn’t, as it happens:

MidRemain

Midlothian voted Remain, with an 10,000+ majority. To claim that the people of Midlothian sent her to Westminster to push forward with Brexit in any capacity is an outright falsehood.

Indeed, one of her first actions as MP was to abstain from a vote on remaining in the Single Market, an amendment submitted by her fellow Labour MP, Chuka Umunna – a fact that cannot have gone unnoticed by the 1600+ EU nationals living in Midlothian.

On to the next anomaly:

Maiden Speech 3

 

Ms Rowley may indeed be keeping the tradition alive, coming from miner stock, but the idea that Labour are the party of the miner community in Midlothian is long since dead. In the Council, Labour – who run the administration – are in unofficial coalition with the Conservatives, whose policies in the 1980’s brought about the Miners’ Strike she makes reference to. In doing so, they have relinquished any claim that they may have to represent that community.

And finally, the greatest anomaly of all:

Maiden Speech 4.PNG

I have no issues with the points that Ms Rowley raises here. While the necessity of the existence of foodbanks in 2017 is a travesty, there is no doubt that they are vital to the continued survival of so many who are affected by the policies of the Conservative Government.

Which is why I do take issue with her raising this point just a week after her party voted with the Conservatives in Midlothian Council to slash the funding for Third Sector services – foodbanks included – while simultaneously voting to give themselves £20,000 to “reconfigure their offices”. Ms Rowley may be an advocate of socialism, but it is clear that the majority of the Midlothian Labour branch do not share her views.

Indeed, many of the community projects that she so zealously advocates in the excerpt below…

Maiden Speech 1

… will be directly impacted by the cuts her party has voted through, and some may even have to close their doors as a result.

I was surprised, at first, that Ms Rowley would bring this up in her maiden speech just a week after the developments on the council – surely her constituents would have informed her of this?

And that was when I discovered that, despite a full five weeks passing since taking office, Ms Rowley has not held a single surgery in Midlothian, nor are any scheduled for the summer months – that time of year when families are stretched even further as kids are off school and household costs soar as a result, no doubt ensuring an increased reliance on the very foodbanks her party has cut funding from. In fact, at time of writing, not so much as a “Thank You” correspondence has been sent from Ms Rowley’s office to the constituents she claims to represent.

It isn’t as though she is pressed for time – after all, she has time to post tweets such as the below:

Twitter.jpg

I am not claiming that Ms Rowley has not returned to Midlothian physically – indeed, her maiden speech also references her attendance “of many Children’s Gala Days” since her election – but it seems that only when there is a photo opportunity can she be found, as evidenced by her attendance of the Durham Miner’s Gala on the 3rd of July, just three days before this speech would be delivered in the House of Commons.

Those constituents who she so vehemently defends in her speech are suffering at the hands of her party, with cuts forced through with Conservative votes. Perhaps it is time for Ms Rowley to take her eyes away from the glamour of Parliament, from the £74,000 a year salary and the plush, tax-payer funded accommodation, and cast her eyes back up North, to the constituents she seems to have left behind at the mercy of her party – a Labour that not only no longer holds a consensus with her policies, but seems content to actively advocate and implement those of the Conservative Government.

“For the many, not the few”, indeed.

 

 

A Tale of Two Parties

This week, Midlothian Council – an administration run by Scottish Labour propped up by votes from the Scottish Conservatives – has successfully widened the gulf between their party and the Corbyn-led iteration in England by another significant margin – and it has done this with just two motions.

The first was a motion to cut Grants Funding to Midlothian’s third sector, which is primarily made up of voluntary agencies and charities. This sector provides vital services across the constituency, and directly affects Midlothian Voluntary Action, the organisation behind the Midlothian Council For Voluntary Services, who have now found their jobs at risk because of this decision.

The MVA does more than just support the third sector; they also run the Woodburn Day Care, host the Community Care Forum, and host the Social Enterprise Alliance. It is clear that these cuts, which both Labour and the Tories voted for, will directly affect our community’s most vulnerable families and constituents.

But the sting in the tail of this decision is what happened next. Merely an hour later, reports coming from the Council confirmed that Labour – again, supported by votes from the Tories – had passed a motion to drop a cool £20,000 on redesigning the top floor of the Council building, including plans for a new large “meeting room” for the Provost, and rearranging of further rooms to provide new “work spaces” – a phrase which here means “Councillors’ Offices”.

Just let that sink in for a moment. On the same day as they cut funding to voluntary and charity services, no doubt as a “cost-saving exercise”, they simultaneously decided to set aside £20,000 for a vanity project to give themselves fancy new offices, seemingly saying that the council tax of Midlothian residents is better spent on the Council itself than the services residents depend on.

All this from an administration that has lambasted the Scottish Government for cutting Council Budgets, and pledged that every financial decision be made in the best interests of Midlothian residents. Perhaps our “Dynamic Duo”, Derek Milligan and Pauline Winchester, can spin some yarn to justify their actions, but with these decisions coming in the face of the Welfare Cap, an increase in the number of families using foodbanks (which absolutely fall under the Third Sector), and Derek’s decision to pay Pauline an “enhanced salary” despite performing no duties beyond that of a normal Councillor, it is becoming increasingly clear that the only residents who benefit from the decisions of this Council are the Councillors themselves.

Serving to highlight the Labour division further, we need only look at the newly elected MP for the constituency. Miss Rowley, whose politics are the epitome of what Corbyn’s Labour stands for, was working for homeless charity Shelter Scotland before she was elected as our Westminster representative. Her comments upon election seem to indicate her continued commitment to the support of Third Sector services – what then is her response to her own party cutting the funding of those services in the constituency she represents?

Danielle Rowley asked Midlothian to vote Labour, to beat the SNP and the Tories, to combat austerity and ensure that the poorest and the most vulnerable in society are protected.

It seems that our decision to do so was misplaced – and until Scottish Labour’s politics begin to reflect those of their English counterparts, a vote for Labour will do nothing but increase the pinch that many in Midlothian feel every day.