Lothian’s MPs give their verdict on time in Commons

SNP Nicola Sturgeon and the elected SNP members of parliament. Picture: Getty
SNP Nicola Sturgeon and the elected SNP members of parliament. Picture: Getty
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SCOTLAND’S political map underwent the most dramatic change in its history just over ten weeks ago when the SNP won 56 out of the country’s 59 seats at Westminster.

Lothian elected eight SNP MPs, leaving Ian Murray in Edinburgh South as Labour’s only MP in the region – and Scotland.

Tommy Sheppard. Picture: Neil Hanna

Tommy Sheppard. Picture: Neil Hanna

And Scottish politics has played a prominent part in proceedings at Westminster since the general election, not least with the debate over the Scotland Bill and its proposals for more powers for Holyrood.

The SNP caused some controversy over seating arrangements – trying to ensure it got at least some frontbench space in the chamber – and over its MPs’ habit of clapping instead of shouting “Hear, hear”.

But as the Commons prepares to begin its summer recess tomorrow, what have the new Edinburgh and Lothian MPs made of it all?

What is their verdict at the end of term?

Ian Murray. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Ian Murray. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Hannah Bardell (Livingston)

“It has been hugely exciting and very satisfying,” says rising star Hannah Bardell.

“We have achieved a lot – a big presence in the chamber and lots of speeches. We’ve got the government to back down on fox-hunting and the date of the EU referendum – issues people maybe didn’t expect us to get wins on.

“It’s disappointing on the Scotland Bill we didn’t get any amendments accepted. But there is a real feeling of momentum.”

Joanna Cherry. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Joanna Cherry. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Ms Bardell has a key frontbench role as fair work and employment spokeswoman and is heavily involved in taking on the Tories over the “really awful stuff” in their welfare plans.

She says it’s a great experience to be part of an SNP group with a big range of experience.

“I’m dealing with an immigration case for a constituent and we have an immigration lawyer in the group so I can go to him for expert advice.”

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West)

SNP MP Hannah Bardell. Picture: Contributed

SNP MP Hannah Bardell. Picture: Contributed

AS justice and home affairs spokeswoman, lawyer Joanna Cherry has been on the SNP’s front line in the Commons right from the start.

“There has been a lot coming at us,” she admits, reeling off the Human Rights Act, so-called Snoopers’ Charter and the immigration crises in Calais and the Mediterranean as examples. “It has been busier and more demanding than I was expecting. The challenge of settling in as a new MP and being a frontbench spokesperson on top of matters to deal with as they come up on a daily basis has been pretty massive.”

But she still found time to listen to some of the many pressure groups who visit parliament. “I feel I have built up a body of knowledge on all sorts of areas which as a lawyer I knew nothing about.

“I like to think that as a group we have risen to the task.”

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South)

LABOUR’S Ian Murray has his work cut out as shadow Scottish secretary and the party’s sole MP north of the Border.

Where before there were 41 Scottish Labour MPs, now he is on his own.

His main task has been to lead the official opposition on the Scotland Bill – four days of detailed debate at committee stage, 81 amendments and more to come.

He says: “It has been strange not having close colleagues around you would normally be bumping into.”

But he still has 231 Labour colleagues from across the UK and says the shadow cabinet team has been “incredibly supportive”.

He says he has a “very constructive relationship” with SNP MPs. “Where we can work together we will do. The difficulty is we are the SNP’s enemy and although some of them would like to work with us, they don’t see it as in their interests to do so.”

Michelle Thomson (Edinburgh West)

BUSINESSWOMAN Michelle Thomson has felt quite at home setting up an office, employing staff and going out and engaging with businesses.

It has been “the politics bit of it” that was new to her. But she says: “I’m loving that because politics is about people and building relationships and strategies.”

The SNP’s shadow business secretary says she didn’t know what to expect when she became an MP – and others didn’t know what to make of her.

“There was a lot of uncertainty from people wondering ‘what are these guys going to be like?’ But I think people generally have been impressed with the level and scale and nature of the contributions.

“Although people were asking what could we do, we have already proved the Conservatives have a wafer-thin majority and there are fissures at the heart of their group and they have backtracked on several issues.”

Owen Thompson (Midlothian)

PARTY whip Owen Thompson’s verdict as recess approaches is clear: “All in all, a very successful first term.”

But he says the traditional function of the whip – trying to make sure everyone votes the right way – has not been necessary because the group is “absolutely united”.

And he says MPs from other parties have been voting with the SNP.

“Over time, as we continue to battle the crazy austerity agenda, many of the Labour people will see we are on the same page. It’s been very positive and all our members have got stuck into it.”

Deidre Brock (Edin Nth & Leith)

The ten weeks since the general election have been “quite a whirlwind” according to former soap star Deidre Brock.

“Effectively an MP has to become a small business, setting up an office and em-ploying staff.”

She says she has already had constituents with “heartbreaking stories” whom she is trying to help.

But she says despite the clashes in the Commons chamber, the atmosphere is mostly positive.

“People are extremely welcoming and friendly. And I love working with the rest of the SNP group.”

George Kerevan (East Lothian)

FORMER lecturer George Kerevan has taken part in many debates in the Commons chamber – not least on George Osborne’s controversial Budget.

And he has not been afraid to pursue some of the more obscure and technical points.

He made a special request to school pupils in East Lothian to tell him what he should say in his maiden speech about his constituency. And he has been made the SNP’s member of the Treasury select committee, overseeing the work of the Chancellor.

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East)

THE comedy club boss says the SNP MPs have made their mark.

“We’ve certainly delivered on our promise to make Scotland’s voice heard,” he says. “We’ve been jumping up and down more than Scottish MPs ever have before. And although the Tory government has a majority they have had to back off on several issues.

“There had been a lot of stuff about the Caledonian hordes arriving. When we turned out to be reasonable, middle-aged, middle-class people it shocked them a bit. A lot of it is about relationships. We have been making friends and influencing people.”

The fuss over the early rows about seats and clapping have died down.

But Mr Sheppard says: “If we had not put down a marker we’d be sitting at the back. And as far as clapping goes, there’s still an occasional ripple of applause. We’re being normal in an abnormal place.”

Martyn Day (Linlithgow)

WESTMINSTER could learn a thing or two from West Lothian Council, thinks local government veteran Martyn Day.

“I’m now getting my head round the arcane procedures,” he says. “But I’m used to local government, where we got committee papers setting out the issues a week before, so we could read them and go to the meeting and make informed decisions.

“At Westminster, you have no idea what’s really happening until the day itself and even then business keeps changing.

“I think there are many things the council does more professionally.”

But he’s full of praise for the Commons staff. “The staff have been fantastic. They have welcomed us with open arms.”

And he says there is a surprising agreement between the new SNP MPs and the “newbies” from the other parties. “They are going through the same things as we are,” he says.