Dunfermline goes to polls to elect successor to disgraced SNP member
Bill Walker jailed for abuse of three ex-wives and step-daughter
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, Labour candidate Cara Hilton, shadow chancellor Ed Balls and Cathy Jamieson during a recent visit to Lloyds Banking Group in Dunfermline. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA.
Dunfermline was a seat the Scottish National Party (SNP) never expected to win, until Bill Walker succeeded in the 2011 Holyrood elections with 600 votes or so to spare. There have been days since when the SNP regretted the victory.
Last month, Walker was jailed for a year for domestic abuse inflicted over 20 years on three ex-wives and a stepdaughter. The 71-year-old had denied all charges, leading the judge who convicted him to accuse him of being in “extreme denial”. Walker did everything possible not to resign his Scottish Parliament seat, even refusing to heed the calls of 90 of his colleagues to go.
Under Scottish law, politicians must quit Holyrood if they are jailed for more than 12 months, but Walker fell just under the threshold because Sheriff Courts’ sentences cannot exceed a year.
Scottish Women’s Aid questioned why so many domestic abuse cases are “routinely prosecuted” in summary courts, rather than higher courts where longer sentences can be imposed. The “controlling, domineering, demeaning and belittling” behaviour used by the politician, it said, graphically highlighted that “domestic abuse is about more than isolated physical assaults. It involves patterns of behaviour which have a cumulative impact on women over time and make it harder for them to leave abusive men. Fear is a significant factor. Women are afraid,” it said.
On Tuesday night, Walker’s conduct featured prominently during a candidates’ hustings, where all supported calls that voters should have powers to eject offending parliamentarians during their term.
There is a weariness among Dunfermline residents, irritated about the tarnishing of their reputation by Walker. However, their real focus is on plans by the Labour-controlled Fife council to close seven schools – some in the constituency, some nearby – with public consultations due to end by December.
The issue has caused problems for byelection favourite, Labour’s Cara Hilton, who voted for the closures but has rowed back since being selected to run for Holyrood. Bookmakers still make Hilton the banker to win today’s vote. Anything less than a clear victory by Labour will be seized upon by the SNP, which has downplayed its own chances.