Our new man at West­min­ster

Ger­ard Killen tells the Re­former of what he hopes to achieve as he set­tles in as MP

Rutherglen Reformer - - Front Page - Dou­glas Dickie

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

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