I attended Fort William primary and Lochaber High school. It was a mixture of school and home that sparked my interest in politics. My parents had grown up in the Gorbals and had both been politically active and trade unionists. It was not unusual for us to discuss politics as a family and the opportunity to take part in debates in school broadened my interest.
I studied English Literature and History at Glasgow University, but left after my third year as I was expecting my first child. My husband and I moved to Port Seton and Kathleen was born at the Eastern General in 1981. Michael was born in 1984 and my twin sons Stephen and Lawrence in 1986. Having four children under the age of five was exhausting but incredibly rewarding.
I was, for the most part, a stay-at-home Mum. I would go out to work but child care difficulties meant that it just wasn’t worth working at times. Over the 7 years following Kathleen’s birth we lived in Newcastle, Banbury, Cheltenham and finally near Perth.
My first job was with a housing association, managing a project for people with mental health problems. This was the start of community care and I learnt a lot about people’s attitudes to mental health and the need for joined up services.
In Perth I worked for Capability Scotland as a Social Care Officer and then as the Manager of a respite unit and outreach service. The job was physically and emotionally demanding. I have so much respect for carers and hope I will always be a champion for their cause.
From 1997 I worked for Douglas Alexander MP for four years, and also worked for Hugh Henry and Trish Godman MSPs and for Catherine Stihler MEP for a short time.
I took a break from work to concentrate on my children and for the next couple of years took on a lot of voluntary work. I realise that I was lucky to be able to afford to take time off and the experiences I had were amazing. I was a community councillor, chair of the school board and president of the local youth orchestra and a volunteer with NCH Action for Children. As is often the case with volunteering, I became more involved and became a project worker, supporting children and young people who were at the last stage before being removed from school and/or home. It was the most difficult job I have ever taken on. The young people had often suffered neglect and abuse and their behaviour showed the damage this had caused. It was difficult to see children in so much distress and they often faced bleak futures.
When my children had all left home I moved to Edinburgh and worked for MacKay Hannah, a public policy company, as a PA and Researcher. It was an interesting experience of working in the private sector for the first time and an opportunity to learn about different areas of policy.
My heart was in politics and so I became an Organiser and then a Development Officer with the Labour Party. The day before the General Election was called, I was selected as the Scottish Labour Party candidate for East Lothian. You can find the General Election result here
I have been the Member of Parliament for East Lothian from 6 May 2010, the greatest honour I could ever imagine. Thank you.
Upon being elected to Parliament, I served as a member of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee and as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Shadow Secretary of State for Health, the Rt Hon John Healey MP.
From October 2011 to June 2012, I served as Shadow Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries under Ed Miliband. In this role, I held the government to account on environmental policy (including animal welfare, conservation, biodiversity, waterways and forestry) and I led debates on preparations for the Rio+20 Summit as well as reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. I also travelled the length of the country, from Peterhead in the North of Scotland to Plymouth in the South West of England, meeting with local fishermen to learn about the challenges they face and to ask what they would like to see from a reformed Fisheries Policy.
In 2012 I joined Parliament’s International Development Committee, which is tasked with examining development policy and the Department for International Development’s activities and budget. The Committee has recently examined a diverse range of issues; from global food insecurity, tax justice and the post-2015 development framework to improving democracy in Burma, tackling violence against women and girls and disability in developing countries. Given the number of letters and emails that I receive about development issues, I know that many constituents are interested in the work of the Committee and I am delighted to have been given this opportunity to participate in its work.
I also sit on the Committees on Standards and Privileges, and am a member of several All-Party Parliamentary Groups – currently serving as Co-Chair of the APPG on Citizens Advice and Vice-Chair of the APPG on Global Education.