Born in Dunfermline and raised in Kelty, he was educated at St Columba's High School Dunfermline and Newbattle Abbey College Dalkeith, and at Edinburgh University graduating with an MA Honours in Sociology and Politics, and an MSc in continuing education.
Rowley was General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party from May 1998 to May 1999. He was sacked as general secretary after setting out proposals for giving it more freedom from London control. He was first elected to Fife Regional Council in 1990 when he was Chairman of Finance, and he later became Fife Council leader.
Prior to his election as an MSP he was a Fife councillor (re-elected in 2007) and Labour Council Group Leader  He has three grown up children and one granddaughter. Worked as an education official with the TUC and worked for five years as an assistant, election agent and constituency manager to Gordon Brown. He has been considered Gordon Brown's right-hand man and protégé. He stood in the 2011 Scottish election as a Labour candidate for Dunfermline.
- "BMMS May 1999". Artsweb.bham.ac.uk. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- "Rowley was sacked over control issue". Herald Scotland. 1999-05-21. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- "UK Politics | Labour denies London control claim". BBC News. 1999-05-20. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- "Home of the Daily and Sunday Express | UK News :: Labour needs miracle to stay on in Scotland". Express.co.uk. 2011-05-01. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- Jack O'Sullivan Scotland Correspondent (1999-05-21). "Parliament: Scotland: Labour sacks Scots party chief – News". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- his website[[Category:Year of birth missing (living people)]]