Our new man at Westminster
Gerard Killen tells the Reformer of what he hopes to achieve as he settles in as MP
Sitting in Rutherglen’s Black Poppy cafe, Gerard Killen cuts a contented and relaxed figure.
It has only been two weeks since he scored a shock general election victory over SNP’s Margaret Ferrier in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West ward, but he is already settling into his role at the House of Commons.
He is here for an exclusive chat with the Reformer about how he came to be the area’s MP and his hopes for the future.
“It’s been a total whirlwind but I think I am settling well,” he says.
“I have been getting good support from colleagues. Down at Westminster the party’s really delighted there’s so many Scottish Labour MPs back and we have a good system in place, a buddy system, so we have hit the ground running.”
Born in the Gorbals, Gerard moved to Rutherglen with his parents as a young boy. He attended St Columbkille’s Primary and Trinity High, stayed in Blantyre for a period but returned to the Royal Burgh when he bought his first flat.
Now 31, he recalls becoming involved in politics because of his desire to fight inequality and he joined the Labour Party in the aftermath of the 2007 Scottish and local elections.
“Even at school I was vocal about things I thought I were wrong,” he says. “Just looking back at what I was involved in, it makes sense.
“In 2007 I was helping out friends of my mum and dad who were involved in politics, campaigning for them, and I really enjoyed it.
“I had already been interested in the Labour Party before that because of equality, that’s my main driving force in politics – LGBTI equality, equality for people no matter your income, background, race, gender.
“In that election I knew quite a lot of people I was at university with at that time were thinking of voting SNP and I remember thinking ‘I’m not sure about the SNP’, I wasn’t convinced.
“They were doing that because of the promise to get rid of student debt and scrap council tax and all these things and here we are all those years later and those things haven’t happened.”
In 2012 Gerard stood as a council candidate for the first time, in Rutherglen South. He was edged out on that occasion but finally enjoyed success in a 2013 by-election following the death of Councillor Anne Higgins, beating Margaret Ferrier to the seat.
He considers his time at South Lanarkshire Council an excellent learning curve.
As well as having to deal with cuts to council budgets, there were controversial issues such as the Cathkin Relief Road in his ward. But he insists he never viewed being a councillor as a stepping stone to bigger things.
“To be totally honest, I have never sat and charted out a path that I thought I was going to follow,” he says.
“It’s just been that I have been interested and involved in issues and campaigning and being a member of the Labour Party and the path’s kind of fallen in front of me.
“We had an early general election, it was a chance to get rid of Theresa May, kick her out of Downing Street and get a Labour government, so I couldn’t knock that back.”
Not many people would have given Gerard a chance of overturning a near 10,000 majority in the constituency.
But with the party’s manifesto proving popular with the public, the tide started to turn.
“As the campaign started to progress, we were getting a really good response chatting to people on the doors,” he says.
“The manifesto was really well received, we got a great feeling on polling day from people who were coming up to vote, so I would say in the last week and a half we could sense the tide was turning.
“It was just whether or not it was going to turn in time for polling day.
“In Scotland we are trapped between two governments that are putting the interests of their parties before the interests of people.
“I think a lot of people were getting fed up with that and they wanted to see Nicola Sturgeon getting back to her day job and they wanted to see an end to austerity. We were offering a fresh start. I was standing on that platform, as a fresh start for Rutherglen and Hamilton West.”
Looking forward, Gerard says he has several areas where he is determined to make a difference.
“Locally, it’s about jobs, investment, the economy. Up and down the high streets in this constituency there are units closing down. That creates pressure on local businesses.
“We need to make sure we are drawing people to our high streets, so I am going to be focussed on that. I am going to be focussed on trying to address the housing crisis. As a councillor I know how serious that is. We need to look at the NHS, there’s pressure on the NHS.
“I just spoke to someone recently whose daughter could not make her next asthma clinic appointment and she’s been told the next one is in January. That’s totally unacceptable.
“There are big issues, issues that the Scottish Parliament deals with, but polices in the UK Government have a direct impact on that as well, so I am going to be speaking out on these issues.
“In terms of devolved and reserved issues, people are looking for a champion, someone to speak up for them, and I am happy to do that whether a council issue, a devolved issue or a reserved matter.”
With the political situation in the UK fluid, Gerard is aware there are no guarantees he will not need to defend his seat before the five-year term is up.
But he says he is looking forward to the challenge having learned from friends such as former MP Tom Greatrex and James Kelly MSP.
“The biggest lesson (from them) is that the constituents come first and you need to put their needs above all else.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen and I don’t know how long I am going to be there for, so I’d like to think whether it was five years or six months I am going to make every day count.
“I am going to be a champion for this community, I am going to make sure I am standing up for the local issues and make good on my promise to make this a fresh start for this area.”
Winning feeling The moment Gerard Killen was confirmed as MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West