A LABOUR candidate in the upcoming General Election refused to back a bid to challenge Keir Starmer on his support for the two-child benefit cap and the rape clause, The National can reveal.

Councillor Kirsteen Sullivan, who hopes to become the MP for Bathgate and Linlithgow after the next election, refused to back efforts to get a Scottish council to send a letter to the Labour leader asking for his backing in their campaign against the policy.

Starmer found himself under fire last summer after he said a Labour government would not scrap the two-child benefit cap.

The rape clause refers to an exemption in the two-child benefit cap which allows mothers to claim benefits for a third child – only if they can prove they were conceived as a result of rape.

When it was introduced in 2017, then-leader of Scottish Labour Kezia Dugdale (below) described the policy as “barbaric”.

The National: Kezia Dugdale

But last week, Labour’s candidate in a key target seat abstained on an SNP motion at a meeting of West Lothian Council, which set out plans to write to both DWP Secretary Mel Stride and Starmer on the policy.

Councillors voted to write to the DWP calling for the two-child policy to be scrapped and to Labour asking for the party’s support.

READ MORE: Labour to impose two-child benefit cap 'more fairly' than Tories, Keir Starmer says

Sullivan, who will challenge Martyn Day for the Bathgate and Linlithgow seat at this year’s General Election, has had her “feminist” credentials challenged over her stance.

The new Bathgate and Linlithgow seat is among 24 Labour target seats in Scotland, according to the site LabourList. 

Janet Campbell, the leader of the SNP group on West Lothian Council, called Sullivan’s refusal to back the motion “disgraceful”.

She told The National: “I find it incomprehensible that a Labour councillor and a parliamentary candidate who claims to be a feminist should not have supported this motion.

“For somebody to call themselves a feminist and refuse to support this motion, as I say, it’s incomprehensible, it’s contradictory in the extreme.

“I’m sure that she will be attempting to sway female voters in particular, who may have voted or have voted SNP in recent years. I’m sure she will be trying to communicate with females in particular and encourage them to go back to Labour.

READ MORE: Keir Starmer mocks Labour critics in two-child benefits cap row

“I’m afraid her stance on this, of all things, is absolutely and utterly disgraceful and will not appeal to working-class women in the Linlithgow and east Falkirk area.”

Sullivan said she and her Labour colleagues in West Lothian believed the two-child limit and the rape clause should be scrapped when approached for comment.

The National: Keir Starmer

She referred us to her contribution in last week’s session and accused the SNP of refusing the offer of a composite motion which would seen the council write to Starmer (above) asking for a commitment to a review of Universal Credit in its entirety and that he gave consideration to scrapping the two child benefit.

Speaking during the debate, Sullivan said: “I don’t think that anybody should be surprised to hear that my colleagues and myself are in favour of scrapping the limits on people who are entitled to claim and, in particular, think it’s abhorrent and that women have to prove that they’ve been raped.

“I think most people would find that an indignity too far.”

She went on to accuse the SNP of playing politics.

“I would have hoped that the SNP group could have supported a composite here but unfortunately it seems politics has taken precedence,” Sullivan said.

Scottish Labour did not respond to a request for comment.