THIS time last year, Neale Hanvey’s Westminster campaign had been thrown into disarray and his future in the party he’d served for years looked uncertain.

He’d been selected as the SNP’s candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in the snap General Election, the man the party backed to win the seat back from then Scottish Labour depute leader Lesley Laird.

By the time his victory was announced, Hanvey’s name had been on the ballot paper along with the SNP logo, but he’d been suspended from the party over anti-semitic social media posts. He apologised immediately and while local activists stood by the former councillor, others called for them to be suspended too.

Twelve months on, the Belfast-born cancer specialist has not only been readmitted to the party and officially rejoined its Westminster group of MPs, he’s also been elected by members to the SNP’s National Executive Committee (NEC), taking up a role on the very conduct board that authorised his six-month suspension.

Despite the passage of time, it’s still painful for Hanvey, but nowhere near as raw as it was on election day. “It was a remarkable election and that wasn’t lost on me,” he says, “but the sensitivities were very present in my mind.

“I was reflective about the circumstances and determined to do my best for the constituency, but also mend fences and put things right.

“It was quite a moment.”

The material in question was a cartoon of billionaire George Soros which included anti-semitic tropes, and more comparing the situation for today’s Palestinians to that of Jewish people in the Second World War. Hanvey said he’d given no thought to Soros’ religion or known he was in breach of the internationally-recognised definition of anti-semitism. He says everything he’s learned in the past year will allow him to “deal sensitively with such issues” through the NEC, even working proactively to help others avoid similar mistakes.

“I faced up to it straight away, I was absolutely honest,” he says. “The bottom line is, no matter how unintentional my words were, they were wrong. I take responsibility. I embarked on a period of study of my own volition and I have built a really positive relationship with the Jewish Leadership Council in Scotland and SCoJeC. I’m doing everything I can to assist them to help people understand how language like that can be really hurtful.

“I think that’s a really positive thing to come out of it. I have to approach everything with a view to make amends and do the right thing.”

Hanvey, who lives with his husband and teenage twins, describes himself as having “Irish blood but a Scottish heart”. He moved across the Irish Sea at the age of seven when his parents decided to escape the Troubles, settling in Glenrothes. After training as a nurse in Edinburgh, he moved to London in the early 1990s to work in the clinical haematology and bone marrow transplant service at University College London Hospital, eventually becoming divisional nurse director for rare cancer at the Royal Marsden Hospital, a leader in the field.

Moving back to Scotland, he became councillor for Dunfermline Central in 2012 and was group leader before shifting his focus to Westminster, having led the campaign that delivered Fife Council’s largest ever SNP group.

“The SNP is an incredibly important part of my life,” he says. “Our people are fantastic, whether they are from Scotland or, like me, are from somewhere else but feel very much part of the fabric of the country. I absolutely believe in what the party stands for.”

That dedication in part explains why, despite coming under intense pressure, he did not quit the election. But did he expect to win? “I didn’t really think, if I’m honest. It was all a bit of a blur. I quickly got lots of positive feedback from residents of the area and people encouraging me.

“The clincher for me, which might sound cheesy but it’s really true, is I made a commitment to stand on a really clear platform and I wanted to honour it. By sloping off, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.

“I haven’t encountered any real challenges with constituents,” he adds. “People see me as Neale. I went into the local supermarket last week and a guy in a van went ‘Neale’ and I turned around and he went ‘SNP all the way’.

“I’m carrying a special responsibility to do a good job on behalf of everyone else.”

That responsibility includes advocating for social justice, which is Hanvey’s passion (universal basic income, land ownership, taxation), and holding the UK Government to account through Westminster’s Health and Social Care Select Committee. He’s working to bring serving nurses to tell the committee about the realities of Covid work and remains in touch with former colleagues still working on the frontline. “It’s my bread and butter,” he says. “I understand it from frontline up to strategic leadership. I know how emotionally and physically difficult it must be.

“I really enjoy being on the committee, but I don’t think [UK Health Secretary] Matt Hancock enjoys it as much as I do. We’ve had quite full exchanges where he’s tried to fob me off and I have stuck to my guns. He can’t just give me one glib answer and sit down, I’m able to press.”

There’s a crossover, Hanvey says, with social justice work. He rails against the way people with dependency problems are written-off, calling this “the consequences of bad social policy”. “Poverty is not an accident, poverty is deliberately driven by government,” he says. “We need a government that doesn’t accept it as a choice.

“I care about people and I want things to get better.”