Labour MSP accused of breaking pledge on local school closures


  By a Newsnet reporter
A newly elected Labour MSP, who pledged to oppose the closure of local schools during her Holyrood election campaign, is facing criticism after voting in favour of a budget that her opponents claim will lead to the schools closing.
Cara Hilton was elected on the back of being “a strong voice for Dunfermline” which contained a pledge that she would campaign to keep local schools open. 

However it has now emerged that the Labour MSP, who remains a local councillor, voted in favour of the local budget that opponents claim will see the schools close.

Ms Hilton voted in favour of a budget that will impose £2m worth of cuts and will lead to a reduction of “significant surplus capacity across the school estate”.

During the campaign, which saw her eventually defeat her SNP rival Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Labour councillor repeatedly insisted she was not in favour of closing the schools and would voice her opposition if elected to Holyrood.

Speaking during a televised hustings days before the by-election vote which saw her elected to Holyrood, the Labour MSP insisted she was against the schools closing and pledged to back parent-led campaigns fighting their closure.

Cara Hilton speaking at a hustings during her campaign

The decision to vote in favour of the budget has angered the Labour MSP’s opponents who have also accused her of failing to even voice concern for the schools when the vote took place.

SNP Councillor Douglas Chapman said: “The SNP were delighted that Cara Hilton supported the continuation of the SNP’s council tax freeze, which she praised during the by-election.  However, we would have thought she would have made a strongly worded statement against Labour’s school closures in her own constituency since her ‘commitment’ was to the children and parents of these schools?

“You might have even thought that she may have at least abstained from voting against the proposed school closures, if only to save face in the communities she pretended to support, but no, she gave full, unequivocal support for the budget saving which would be realised if schools closed.

“This is Labour hypocrisy writ large and what we have in parliament is a weak voice for our constituency and a lost opportunity for all of West Fife.”

Mr Chapman also called for the Labour MSP to resign as a councillor and to allow a by-election to take place.

He added: “Anyone doing these jobs knows you cannot give 100% to both.  While not taking a councillor’s allowance, she is clearly struggling to do one job, never mind two and we call for her to do the decent thing and resign one seat or the other.”

Defending her decision, the Labour MSP said: “The SNP can spin the budget however they want to but in reality, this is a budget that puts Fifers first and is geared towards investment in early years, housing, apprenticeships and jobs.”

Speaking to STV she added: “When the SNP ran Fife Council they spent four years avoiding tough decisions on our school estate. Now they claim to be on the side of parents when in reality they’re only interested in securing more Yes votes in September.

“The decision on the future of Pitcorthie will we made at the Council Executive on the merits of the case – and I believe there is an extremely strong case to keep Pitcorthie open. Pitcorthie Primary is a popular, highly sustainable school, it’s full to the brim and it’s in an area where the number of young families is growing by the day”.

“I will continue to work alongside the Pitcorthie parents in their campaign to save Pitcorthie Primary School and hope that those involved in scrutinising the decisions will keep their minds open and listen to the views of parents and the local community”.

“I understand that the proposals on the future of Pitcorthie will go the Scrutiny Committee on March 18 and I will be writing to the Leader of the Council asking to attend and speak against any closure plan”.