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From Gaza to Kirkcaldy: Labour’s Melanie Ward on her journey to general election

The campaigner tells The Courier how her background informs her politics as she tries to win in Fife.

Melanie Ward Labour Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy
Labour' candidate for Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy, Melanie Ward. Image: Kenny Smith/DC Thomson.

Westminster hopeful Melanie Ward was on the front line in Gaza confronting some of the worst human suffering the world has witnessed just two months ago.

Israel’s offensive on the Palestinian territory prompted a humanitarian crisis, and Ms Ward was focused on coordinating medical aid as the healthcare system collapsed under a relentless aerial bombardment.

But after Rishi Sunak announced a snap election, Ms Ward found herself drawn to stand as a Labour candidate – and a matter of weeks later she is on the doorsteps of voters in Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy.

Experience drives home importance of ‘politics and power’

Sitting down with the Labour candidate at her campaign office on Kirkcaldy High Street, it is clear to see how these recent experiences have informed her approach to politics.

She told The Courier the situation she confronted in Gaza had reinforced her view of politics and power.

“We were doing everything we could but were aware the decisions were being made at such a high level nobody has been able to do enough to save civilians,” she said.

Melanie Ward speaks to voters in Kirkcaldy. Image: Kenny Smith

Gaza is not the only crisis-zone Ms Ward has found herself in the middle of in recent years.

Working at the International Rescue Committee, she was Deputy Country Director in Nigeria, responding to the horrors inflicted by the terrorist group Boko Haram.

A similar role also took her to Lebanon as aid groups responded to the crisis in Syria, where the ongoing war has left tens of millions in need of help.

‘Issues home and abroad about who has power’

“Whether you look at those crises, or when I was at Kirkcaldy Foodbank, it’s politics and who holds power, and their determination to change things, that determines what happens,” she continued.

“My experiences have reinforced to me that political change is how you improve things.”

Fife councillor Julie MacDougall quit Labour. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson.

Despite her CV, Ms Ward’s selection was controversial among some local party members.

Local councillor Julie McDougall quit the party, saying it was “disrespectful and insulting” for the party to suggest there are no capable candidates who currently live in Fife.

“It’s interesting how things have changed since 2015”

Ms Ward, who now lives in Kirkcaldy with her husband and two children, returns to Fife almost 10 years after her last bid for a Westminster seat ended in a dramatic defeat to the SNP in Glenrothes.

The 2015 campaign left her with a sense of unfinished business, and she has noticed a significant change among voters this time around.

“I wanted to be the MP for Glenrothes in 2015 because I care deeply about Scotland and the people in this area who are struggling,” she said.

“It’s really interesting how things have changed. There’s a lot of hard work still to do, but the mood has changed.

“People are opening the door and saying ‘it’s time for change’ as I hand them a leaflet saying it’s time for change.”

To win, Labour will have to appeal directly to voters who’ve opted for the SNP in previous elections.

Appealing to them, Ms Ward said: “Sometimes the right thing to do is change your mind. I’ve heard a lot of people say [the SNP] have had their chance. People feel let down.

Melanie Ward said issues with NHS waiting lists were consistently raised with her. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

“I understand people still have questions about Labour. They want to know we’ll fight Scotland’s corner, and I absolutely will.”

Fife Labour hopeful ‘excited’ about new deal for workers

Ms Ward highlighted a number of policies put forward by Labour which she hopes will make a difference locally.

She said pledges around the new deal for working people would make a “real difference” to people living in Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy who are struggling to make ends meet.

Ms Ward said: “It means we’ll have a real living wage and the biggest advance in workers’ rights in a generation. That matters to me.”

Labour says it will legislate on its overhaul of workers’ rights within the first 100 days of government.

Councillor Lesley Backhouse.
Councillor Lesley Backhouse is standing for election as the SNP candidate. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson.

Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy is one of Labour’s top target seats in Scotland.

“For me this is about being positive, talking about how we make change in the local area and nationally. That’s what I’m interested in,” Ms Ward said of how she would campaign over the next three weeks.

Lesley Backhouse, the SNP candidate for Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy, said: “The Labour Party committed to follow the Tories’ austerity agenda which has had a devastating impact on Scotland’s public services over the last 14 years.

“Only a vote for the SNP will protect Scotland’s public services and put the interests of Scotland first.”

The full list of candidates standing in Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy are:

  • Lesley Backhouse (SNP)
  • Sonia Davidson (Reform UK)
  • Fraser John Ashmore Graham (Liberal Democrats)
  • Johnny Gray (Conservative and Unionist Party)
  • Mags Hall (Scottish Green Party)
  • Neale Hanvey (Alba Party)
  • Caz Paul (Scottish Libertarian Party)
  • Melanie Ward (Labour Party)

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