Neale Hanvey: ‘I’m here to work hard for the people of Fife’

Neale Hanvey.
Neale Hanvey.

Kirkcaldy has a new MP – and it comes after a dramatic night which saw Scotland’s only independent candidate oust the Shadow Scottish Secretary.

Neale Hanvey’s astonishing win followed a fortnight of speculation over just how things would pan out in what had become a marginal seat held by Labour.

With just a few weeks to go before the election, the race was turned upside down when Mr Hanvey was suspended by the SNP over allegations of anti-Semitism.

The claims relate to social media posts in which Mr Hanvey criticised the treatment of the Palestinians.

But with the ballots already printed, Mr Hanvey decided to run as an independent candidate, without the resources or support of a political party.

However, with the backing of local pro-independence groups, his campaign ended victorious, ousting Lesley Laird from the seat in an election-night shocker.

But as happy as Mr Hanvey was at the moment of winning, he feels the incidents of the previous few weeks may have taken the shine off it just slightly.

“I think because of the circumstances around the election, I don’t think I felt the same jubilation that I would’ve probably felt,” he said.

“I was very pleased that people had put their trust in me, but the thing that guided me through the whole election was my belief that people needed to have a place to put their vote that reflected the SNP message of having a voice for Scotland at Westminster.

“Mostly I was reflecting on that. I’d been given that mandate and instruction from the electorate so I was probably a bit more serious than I normally would have been.

“Obviously I was happy, but I didn’t feel triumphant.”

However, he says he was humbled by all the support from voters, well wishers and volunteers.

“The commitment of the people who turned out for me day after day over the last few weeks – the pleasure that they derived from the success of the campaign was very satisfying.

“They believed in me and that was something I was just so grateful for.”

It could have gone either way, with many fearing Mr Hanvey’s suspension would hand the seat to Labour, but he quickly decided that he would stand without party support, as a pro-independence candidate.

He said: “Almost immediately certain people stood by me – they said they did not recognise the accusations in my character and they wanted me to continue.

“There was quite a lot of anger at the party for the decision that they’d taken without any discussion.

“It was just really important to take that energy and reflect on it, and I made the decision based on that democratic principle that the voters needed to have somewhere to express their views at the ballot box and I just couldn’t leave them without a choice.

“The personal factor was; if I walk away now, this label will be applied to me forever. And I know it’s not accurate, and so I have to see this through.”

Without party backing, a number of local groups came together to campaign on Mr Hanvey’s behalf.

“The Yes Hub were not only very effective campaigners, but a huge support. We had to run the campaign in a very different way.”

Meanwhile, on the doorsteps, the questions Mr Hanvey faced changed in the wake of the circumstances.

He said: “Before things changed, everybody wanted to talk about Brexit even though they were exhausted with it. The second thing was ‘are you still standing and can we still vote for you?

“They just wanted clarification.”

Come election night, Mr Hanvey said confidence grew as the night went on.

“We didn’t know for certain, but we were hopeful,” he said. “As it progressed we could see that we’d won every table, so we knew that we were looking at about a thousand of a majority and we started to get quite excited.”

Obviously, Mr Hanvey has a huge number of people to thank.

He added: “The list of people to thank is just too long.

“The team that turned out and helped me, every single one of them, Rob, who stepped in as my agent, they all were just spectacular and it’s as much their victory as it was mine, and they feel a real sense of ownership over it and they deserve to feel very proud of themselves in believing in the cause that we were campaigning for. And of course; the voters. All 16,000 of them.

“I think I’m the first independent candidate to ever be elected while suspended by his party, which is not quite the notoriety I was looking for,” he laughs.

But as the independent MP becomes accustomed to life at Westminster, he is still in the dark regarding his future in relation to SNP membership.

“The party haven’t contacted me since the suspension,” he said. “I’ve had no communication from them whatsoever about the process.”

So Mr Hanvey may have missed out on the usual group photo political parties use to show off their newly-elected members, but this isn’t something he’s going to lose much sleep over.

“People have said to me ‘oh it’s a shame you’re not in the picture’. But I’m not here for pictures, I’m here to do a job to represent the views of the people of Fife, and to work hard for them.”

Mr Hanvey’s campaign hub on Whytescauseway looks likely to be his constituency office in future, though he is waiting on parliamentary security staff to check it out to see if it fits the criteria.

“It’s got excellent bus access, just next to the station, so the really ideal spot.

“One of the criticisms that I was told about so many times on the doorstep was that nobody had a clue where Lesley Laird’s office was.

“They didn’t know how to get there. I think if you’re going to represent people, they’re going to have to know where you are and that they can speak to you.”

And with the new job comes a lot of new information to take on board.

“I’ve got a huge amount of reading to get through. Monday was just processing all the admin stuff and getting IT equipment and information packs. There’s a lot to get through but it’s been pretty smooth, fairly straight-forward. I feel quite comfortable.”

Yes Hub’s backing for MP’s campaign after SNP suspension

With a lack of party backing, members of the Kirkcaldy Yes Hub on Hunter Street were among the groups to jump to Mr Hanvey’s aid.

The hub’s Roy Mackie said the group’s backing came after a great deal of discussion, following Mr Hanvey’s suspension.

He said: “Naturally, we just got together and tried to make some sense of it. Our main aim is to promote independence and the majority of us felt the best thing to do was to get behind Neale Hanvey.

“One of the reasons was we could clearly see the massive amount of support he was still getting from SNP members - that was a huge factor in coming to our decision.

“His crowdfunder targeted £2000, but it got £6000 in 60 hours. So it was quite simple for us to jump in and do what we can.

“We got together with Neale’s team and got quite involved in campaigning, leafleting, and online promotional stuff.”

The Hub quickly got to work raising the profile of their candidate and clearing up confusion over whether he was still running or not.

“We went out canvasing, door-to-door,” Roy said. “Although some people were doing this off their own back before he was suspended.

“The reaction from people was absolutely great. We went down and did a mass leaflet on Kirkcaldy High Street.

“People were coming in to the Yes Hub because Neale’s hub was shut at that point. And all they wanted was a bit of clarification.

“The ordinary people on the street did feel that Neale had been treated a bit badly, and that galvanised support, I think.”

With the arrival of election day, hub members were quietly confident after canvasing.

He said: “We were all manning polling stations, some were counting agents on the night, it was a really busy day.

“We knew from just being on the doorsteps and being down the High Street that Neale still had a lot of support.

“When we got to the count, there was quite a few of us. You try to be positive but there’s a bit of the unknown, and you just don’t know if it’s possible that he might win.

“It was looking pretty good and we knew he was doing well.”

But things appeared to be going very much in their favour.

“As the night went on, the positivity grew, and at one point, we heard that he might do it. We were like: ‘wow, really?’.

“It was a bizarre set of circumstances. I wasn’t quite buying it yet because I was scared of the disappointment.

“We were asked to go upstairs, so we left the floor and we were told ‘Neale’s won it’.

“We were given t-shirts, so we went down again. We were looking round the hall, and all the other parties – I know Labour were confident – the Tories, the SNP, and everybody was looking at us, because they probably knew by then as well. It was really strange and unusual, I’m fairly new to politics, and if someone told me ten years ago that I’d be at polling stations, and at a count and getting excited about politics, I’d get them sectioned.”

For Roy, the moment of victory was something he hadn’t felt in a long time.

“I felt the way I did when I went to Scotland matches back when we used to qualify for World Cups, it was just like; crikey, we’ve done it.

“We were like a rag-tag group who had flung ourselves together with just two weeks to go, with no funding, and no data.

“Various other groups – not just the Yes Hub – all came together, from Cowdenbeath, Lochgelly, Benarty, and SNP members.

“When it came to the declaration it was overwhelming, it was quite emotional because Neale has been through the wringer.

“It just felt like we’d all taken part in something quite amazing.

“I joked about it with Neale, saying ‘they’ll make a movie about this’.

“I think everybody that was directly involved in the campaign, you really felt that you did have an influence on the outcome, it was just fantastic.”

So does this speak volumes about what people can achieve when they group together?

“Without a doubt,” said Roy. “If they’re motivated enough.

“If you can all get together, and if you’re passionate about something, it’s amazing what you can do.

“I’m glad Neale got elected, I think he’s a decent man and he’ll do a good job. We hope that he can be reinstated, but even if he doesn’t he’s a pro-independence MP and that’s our main thing.”