New Falkirk MP will have some tough acts to follow

Some of the famous faces who have represented Falkirk, from left, Thomas Johnston, Harry Ewing, Eric Joyce and Dennis Canavan
Some of the famous faces who have represented Falkirk, from left, Thomas Johnston, Harry Ewing, Eric Joyce and Dennis Canavan
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As the independence debate rages, The Falkirk Herald looks at the men the district has sent to London ahead of what could be the last General Election in Scotland.

It’s the election Scottish voters, already in the midst of a hotly-contested independence debate, could be forgiven for forgetting all about.

But another ballot box battle is already heating up and ready to burst into life as soon as the result of the referendum on September 18 is declared.

The 2015 General Election is scheduled to take place in just under one year’s time on May 7 - and, depending on the outcome of the independence vote, it could be the last time Scots send MPs to the House of Commons.

But regardless of the referendum outcome, whoever wins the Falkirk and East Falkirk constituencies at next year’s election will follow in the footsteps of a diverse range of characters who have served the former burghs of Falkirk, Grangemouth and Denny. The men – for thus far they have been all men – who have represented the district in the Houses of Parliament have been called many things by voters, but they could never be described as boring.

Among the best-known of the district’s former MPs is Dennis Canavan, who represented West Stirlingshire from 1974-1983 and then Falkirk West from 1983-2000.

The Cowdenbeath native served the majority of his time as a Labour member, but famously was expelled from the party in 1999 after announcing his intention to stand as an independent in the first Scottish Parliament elections.

He subsequently won the highest majority of any candidate at both the 1999 and 2003 elections, before standing down in 2007.

Canavan is now the chairman of the Yes Scotland campaign for Scottish independence.

His predecessor as MP for West Stirlingshire was William Baxter, who served from 1959-1974.

A wealthy farmer and builder from Banknock, he caused outrage among local Labour members when - in response to the inconclusive election result of February 1974 - he called for the formation of a government of national unity, led by the Duke of Edinburgh.

Baxter resigned and was replaced for the October election in 1974 by Canavan, who beat future First Minister Donald Dewar among others to secure the candidacy.

West Stirlingshire had by then already established a reputation for its forthright MPs. Tom Johnston, a firebrand socialist from Kirkintilloch, held the seat from 1923-1945 and served in Churchill’s war cabinet.

His successor, Alfred Balfour, was notable for taking eight years to deliver his maiden speech in the Commons. When he finally rose, he commented: “People get up here from time to time and keep us here for hours on end, and I have said: ‘What’s the use of inflicting another torture upon the House?’”

Far more industrious was the late Harry Ewing, another Cowdenbeath native, who represented Falkirk in various seats after winning a closely-fought by-election in 1971.

A former postman, he was a vocal proponent of Scottish devolution and the right to work - he vigorously opposed job cuts in an era when the country was going through the painful process of de-industrialisation.

He once remarked in parliament that “The Falkirk Herald is an active local paper, which reports without fear or favour — although I do not always agree with what it says.”

He stood down in 1992, when he was enobled as Lord Ewing, and died in 2007.

Two to go, but counting down

The race for Westminster in 2015 has yet to hit top gear as the SNP focuses its energy on securing a Yes vote in September’s referendum.

In contrast, Labour has already begun its campaign to retain the two seats it won in 2010.

Karen Whitefield will contest the Falkirk constituency and Michael Connarty has been re-selected to stand in East Falkirk.

The majority of voters in the district will be asked to choose a replacement for Eric Joyce, who is standing down as MP for Falkirk.

The former Army major has endured a torrid time as the town’s representative at Westminster since winning re-election four years ago. He resigned from the Labour party in March 2012 after pleading guilty to assault following an incident in a House of Commons bar.

Labour have sought to draw a line under Joyce’s spell as MP, but the selection process to find a new Falkirk candidate became national news after allegations were made of vote rigging.

A subsequent police inquiry was later dropped and no charges were brought.

Whitefield, a former MSP for Airdrie, believes Labour is already reconnecting with Falkirk voters.

However, the 44-year-old faces a tough fight to become the district’s first woman MP.

The SNP views Falkirk as a key target seat. But for now, the party is focusing on European elections and the referendum.

It’s gambling that if voters back the Yes campaign then Scottish MPs elected in 2015 could face a very short term in office.

David Alexander, constituency organiser, said: ”The whole saga with Eric Joyce best demonstrates the disconnect between the people of Falkirk and Westminster, and the sooner the powers held by the Westminster sideshow are transferred to the Scottish Parliament the better.”