LEADING lawyer Joanna Cherry and comedy boss Tommy Sheppard have become the first of Edinburgh’s new MPs to make their Commons debuts, with maiden speeches warning of human rights under threat and poverty blighting people’s lives.
Ms Cherry, MP for Edinburgh South West and the new SNP justice and home affairs spokeswoman at Westminster, began – as is customary – by praising her constituency and her predecessor, Alistair Darling.
There were special mentions for the WHALE arts centre in Wester Hailes, Clovenstone Boxing Club, the Dove centre and Saughton Park, as well as Hearts. Mr Darling, she said, had “played a crucial role in steering the UK’s troubled banks back from the brink of catastrophe”.
And she paid tribute to the former chancellor’s role as chairman of the Better Together campaign in last year’s independence referendum.
She said: “I am able to pay such tribute both as a gracious loser and with the comfort of knowing that while my side may have lost that battle, recent events tend to suggest that we will yet win the war.”
Ms Cherry said the “tone and tenor” of the Tories’ approach to human rights and civil liberties gave her “grave cause for concern”.
She said the government appeared to have been blown off course in its zeal to implement its manifesto pledge to repeal the Human Rights Act.
But she said: “I and my party are fundamentally opposed to the repeal of the Act and would consider it a thoroughly retrograde step if that were to be done.”
She said the nationalism of the SNP was a civic nationalism which looked outwards and wished to play a full part on the world stage. “I urge the House not to indulge in the narrow, inward-looking nationalism of withdrawing from the ECHR and drawing up its own Bill of Rights.”
Mr Sheppard, MP for Edinburgh East, told the chamber his constituency included many of the city’s most famous landmarks as well as the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh University and Fringe venues.
But he said there were also communities “that could be a million miles away from the vibrant and colourful images that adorn our tourist brochures” – areas where “despair and desperation hangs over the place in a way which is almost palpable” because of poverty.
He told fellow MPs: “We are not talking about the workshy or the feckless, we are talking about people who work a lot harder than any of us have ever done, people who go out and work long hours at insecure jobs for poor pay who at the end of the week bring home enough just to feed their families, just to get by, but not enough to lead a fulfilled life, not enough to have happiness for themselves and their families.
“I would implore the chamber that the challenge in front of us in the second decade of the 21st century is surely, in such a wealthy country, to try and eradicate that poverty.
“Twenty-one per cent of children in my constituency – and in some places as many as 50 per cent – are living in poverty and it is a scandal.
“When we talk about this over the coming days and discuss the welfare reforms, I would plead with this chamber not to do anything to make matters even worse.”
He said taking money from disability benefits or tax credits would make a bad situation worse. “You will push people to the margins, you will push people over the edge and you will complete their alienation from the society in which they live.”