Deputy Editor, Editors-in-Chief, Features Editor, Deputy News Editor and Reporter
The Glasgow Guardian talk to the Glasgow North GE19 candidates
With the general election later this week, The Glasgow Guardian has interviewed five of the six local candidates for the Glasgow North constituency, in which the University of Glasgow is situated.
The candidates are Patrick Grady (SNP and current MP), Pam Duncan-Glancy (Labour), Andrew Chamberlain (Liberal Democrats), Tony Curtis (Conservatives), Cass McGregor (Greens) and Dionne Cocozza (The Brexit Party). Dionne Cocozza was contacted for an interview but did not accept our offer.
We questioned the candidates on issues that are important to Glasgow University students. We asked about the climate crisis, the recent UCU strikes, the drug problems that face Glasgow and Scotland (Scotland has the most drug deaths in the EU and Glasgow faces the worst of it), poverty (one in five Scots live below the poverty line), Brexit, and the NHS.
At the end, we have included a specific question for each party.
The climate crisis:
SNP: “Our continued membership of the EU is vitally important in tackling the climate emergency. In the next couple of years, we’ll have the introduction of the deposit return scheme on bottles for example; we’re absolutely promoting the use of electric vehicles across the country.”
Labour: “This constituency, as with others across the whole of the United Kingdom, has its part to play in ending the climate crisis. This is the last general election, I think, where we have an opportunity to fix this. We can’t wait, because the climate won’t wait, and there is no social justice without climate justice. And that’s why we have to address it. I quite like summing up our policy in four words: red flag, green jobs. We will create a socialist approach to climate change, we will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in a green industrial revolution, because we know that the way forward in the future is to create jobs in regenerating industries. There’s no point in making the same mistakes as the past, and continuing to carbonise our society and create jobs in fossil fuels, so we have to create jobs and innovation in the green sector.”
Conservative: “Our party’s position is clear: we’re aiming for net-zero by 2050 and I am 100% supportive of that. We need to look more at carbon capture, in relation to carbon being released into the atmosphere. How can polluters capture that carbon and store it? Can we look to nuclear? Are renewables an answer? For me, it’s about energy security. We’re moving towards more technology, which means our demand for electricity is going to increase. If we’re not going to fill that with coal and gas-fired power stations, we need to fill these gaps.”
Greens: “You might have seen our ‘Scottish Green New Deal’: it’s about a 25-page proposal that we put out recently. To tackle climate change, it requires fundamental system change, so the SGND is not just industrial policy, but tackles poverty and inequality, looking at transport, and looking at how our energy is produced. Trying to change all of the systems to deliver what we need to tackle climate change.”
Lib Dems: “The Liberal Democrats have the most radical and realistic proposals on tackling climate change. We are investing £11bn in climate change, including eliminating fuel poverty, having 80% renewable energy by 2030, and being fully renewable by 2045. Not only are our proposals radical they are also realistic.”
SNP: “The staff have the right to strike and I was there on the picket line this time and 18 months ago. It’s been great to see the solidarity from the student community. The University has a good record on the living wage but there’s always more that can be done. Hopefully they can come to some sort of agreement and move forward.”
Labour: “I support the industrial action at the University. I fully understand that students are missing out on an education as a result of staff going on strike, but staff have not gone on strike lightly. The dangers to students’ education as a result of the changes that are proposed by universities are far greater than the danger from the two weeks of the strike.”
Conservatives: “To be honest with you, I didn’t know much about it until yesterday [Monday 2 December]. I think that it’s unfair and they’ve taken flexible working too far. The pay gap between men and women is a hot topic and we need to work hard towards equality. Zero-hour contracts have a place in society for different companies, but a blatant use of them is a circumvention of people’s rights to employment, people’s rights to a career. It is not a sustainable position for anyone to be in who is providing education to people who are the future of our country. I think we need to look more at putting pressure on university bodies who are, in effect, able to spend a billion pounds on a redevelopment of a campus but yet can’t give your staff contracts.”
Green: “I fully support the strikers. 100%. I hope they are listened to. As I said, I work half the time at GCU and I have a lot of friends in academia, so I know how precarious the work is. I believe they’re doing the right thing, and that is the power of the trade union to bargain for our rights and for a better education. I do hope they’re listened to.”
Lib Dems: “I’m not too familiar with what this is about I’m afraid. They should, and do, have the right to strike. I feel it’s more of a matter between the universities and the staff; hopefully they come to an agreement.”
SNP: “We are at a crisis point. At our launch, the FM described the drug issue as a public health emergency. What we’re calling for are the relevant powers to be devolved so we can establish, for example, drug consumption rooms. There is political will on a cross-party basis to roll this out in Glasgow but it has been blocked in Westminster. Perhaps we need to look at broader aspects of drugs policy, such as legalisation and [de]criminalisation. There are deeper issues around the long-term impact of austerity, the long-term impact of people not having the support that was previously there from the state.”
Labour: “Every single drug death is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy for the families of the individuals who have lost their lives, but it’s also a tragedy because it is preventable. It’s 2019, people shouldn’t be dying of preventable conditions or illnesses. Drug use is a condition, an illness, it is not something that needs to be treated through the criminal justice system, it is something that we absolutely need to take a public health approach to. And I fully support that. And the things that make people turn to drugs in their lives are the sorts of things that put people into poverty. When people are in poverty they have to make ends meet and look after the immediate circumstances that they are in and it’s very difficult to think of the long term consequences of what they’re doing. That’s when you see people turning to drugs, and we have to address the underlying issues. That’s why our manifesto is one that will end poverty in the next two terms under a Labour government.”
Conservatives: “We have this fine line between making sure that drug-users – addicts – are looked after in terms of our health provision; but also that we’re doing more to crack down on drug-related crime. As a country, we have to abide by our laws. But that doesn’t get us away from the fact people are dying from drugs. I think that our policy on drugs in Scotland is flawed. Personally, I’m against the proposed safe drug consumption facility. We need to control the supply and illegal import into the country. We need to crack down on the dealings and use of street valium and injectable heroin. I don’t think we should decriminalise drugs yet as there’s a lot more research to be done. The Glaswegians have an issue with their behaviour with regards to addictive substances, so if we then decriminalised another substance then we’d end up with another serious issue, in Glasgow particularly. I’m pretty sure all drug-users don’t want to be on drugs and I think there is not as much money being spent on abstinence treatment programmes as there has been on methadone programmes, the heroin-assisted treatment and the proposed safe drug consumption facilities. We also need to look at the mental health issues of problem drug-users. Are there problems in their life; financial burdens, family problems, socio-economic problems, problems with deprivation? If it’s poorer areas that always have problem drug-use, should we be looking more at cracking down on the dealers that are making a trade from the poorer areas, that are exploiting poorer people in areas of deprivation? We need to change behaviour and be tough on this. We need to be tougher on justice. We have to be tougher on the sentences we’re giving to people. We have to be looking towards better rehabilitation for criminals to get them back out into working society and into being productive.”
Greens: “There’s a lot of endemic problems related to drug deaths. Decriminalising drugs as well, so we are able to actually manage it as a public health problem as well as being able to regulate it. That would involve devolving down power to Scotland as, obviously, the Scottish government manages the health system. And again, funding into public health.”
Lib Dems: “I’m in favour of drug treatment centres in Glasgow, having safe shooting rooms to take drugs in a safe environment, and eliminate disease which the current law prevents. I would like to decriminalise cannabis and also look into decriminalising all drugs. They cause a lot of health problems and I believe the best way to confront the issue is to regulate drugs, and tax them in a similar manner to Portugal.”
SNP: “There needs to be a wholesale reform of the social security system, starting with universal credit. On a daily basis at my surgeries, I see people who are being driven into poverty due to fundamental flaws in the way that the welfare system has been reformed. In principle, the idea of wrapping up everyone’s benefits into one complete payment is not a bad one, but the way that it has been rolled out and the difficulties that people have, and the fundamental flaw that you don’t get any money for the first five weeks, is absolutely squeezing people.”
Labour: “We would put more money in people’s pockets and we would cut the cost of living. We would do that by increasing the minimum wage, giving a pay rise to 700,000 people across Scotland, the minimum wage would be £10 an hour from day one under a Labour government. We will scrap universal credit, which is so toxic; I don’t believe in thinking around the edges to fix it, it is beyond repair and needs to start again. We’ll also cap charges for overdrafts so that we can’t just be screwed over by the bank who decide that every time you go 3p over your overdraft they can charge you £45.”
Conservatives: “If we’re talking about homelessness on the streets, a lack of services, food banks and people struggling in terms of localism, we have to draw it back to the Scottish government’s plan of austerity and their infatuation with a second independence referendum. The Scottish government should be getting away from this divisive constitutional crisis that they assume is happening – they just want total control over it and they are restricting the amount of money that this city is getting to make it seem like it is Tory austerity down in Westminster that is causing the problems that we see here in the streets of Glasgow. You can talk about Tory austerity all day long but what has happened in the past nine years had to happen in order to steer the ship right and we are going to move forward from that and be a more prosperous nation and look after our citizens with the respect they deserve.”
Greens: “Poverty does reflect the levels of inequality in the country – which is huge – which is why you need to redistribute wealth. You need to look at everything, including industrial policies. That’s why tackling inequality is a fundamental thing in the Scottish Green New Deal. [The system] needs to be designed in a way that will do that, and it comes through government decisions.”
Lib Dem: “Our manifesto is the most redistributive. We plan to scrap the two-child cap on tax credits and increase benefits in line with inflation. I wouldn’t scrap universal credit; we should run it better to make it work. Make it more generous to those in need, fix its issues, such as reducing waiting times. I support the basic proposal of universal credit, we just need more money for it to move and run more smoothly.”
SNP: “We need to restore the Post Study Work Visa. Obviously, for EU students, we should remain in the EU or at least retain the rights that go with freedom of movement. International students and staff are crucial and they have to be welcomed and supported. That means massive reform of the immigration system.”
Labour: “I want us to remain in the EU. And so I am really pleased that our party is offering a People’s Vote so that we can go back to the people. I don’t believe that we will get a better deal from the EU by being out of the EU. So in the People’s Vote, I will campaign strongly to remain in the EU because I believe it is the right thing to do for worker’s rights, for human rights, for students, for education, for funding and research, for our international place in the world, for our approach to immigration, and refugees. For all of these reasons, I will campaign to remain in the EU. And the Labour party are the only party who are offering the choice back to the people.”
Conservatives: “‘Getting Brexit Done’, the tagline – it seems like we’re trying to just ram it through. We’ve had three years of dither and paralysis within our parliament and something needs to be done. We’re a democratic nation and we need to respect the will of the 17.4m people who voted to leave the EU. The doom and gloom that’s been prescribed about closing borders and not allowing people to move from the EU, or from anywhere else in the world, to our country, is entirely false. We want to have a good system of immigration and I think we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot to close off our ties with the rest of the EU in terms of the research and the academics who are there and the talent pool that we can tap into. For the students and academics who are here right now, we have stated that we are going to look after their rights; we will secure them here. Just because we’re leaving the EU doesn’t mean we’re closing our borders to talent, workforce, ideas, trade or economy; we’re going to be an open country looking forward, we just need to have control over these things and not divvy out to a European state we have no control over. The stigma of feeling unwanted is a terrible situation to be in and the more finite and deliberate we can be about dates of exit, the more security people can have.”
Greens: “Brexit has been a massive distraction, especially when we quite clearly need to tackle climate change. We have only 10 years to turn it around. So, Brexit and the continual constitutional crisis is just getting in the way of that and it will obviously continue as well. Extinction Rebellion came into existence after Brexit, so it has not stopped them. I believe in democratic political change. I just hope we get people voting Green as well.”
Lib Dems: “It is the official policy of the Liberal Democrats to cancel Brexit. This is a popular policy. At one point we were ahead of Labour in the polls after the European elections this year. In the event that if the Lib Dems got a majority and Jo Swinson became prime minister, it would be a clear mandate to follow this policy [of revoking Article 50].”
SNP: “One of the first things the SNP did when it came to power in 2007 was to take privately contracted cleaning back in house into the health boards of the hospitals. There is a legacy of contracting out some elements of routine operations but we want to continue to increase public investment in the NHS. It’s still a publicly funded service free at the point of use and we want that to continue.”
Labour: “In terms of the NHS, the Labour party would put an extra £2bn funding into the NHS. It was the Labour party who created the NHS, when we were in government we doubled spending on it, you can trust us with it, you can’t trust the Tories with it, they’re going to sell it to Trump, and you can’t trust the SNP with it because they’ve missed their own legal targets that they set. They’ve just not put the funding into the NHS to recruit the doctors and nurses that we need. The GP crisis is soaring, we’ve got a situation where people in our poorer areas can’t access the services that they need, and in some areas, life expectancy is going down. When life expectancy declines in a society, it is usually a symptom of something else massive and huge going on, like a period of war. For life expectancy to be declining in the fifth richest country in the world, in 2019, suggests there is something seriously wrong with the way that we are directing our public resources.”
Conservatives: “I have family in America, so I’ve seen firsthand how much a privatised healthcare system can cost individuals. I think that protecting the NHS is one of the key priorities of this government. I know for a fact that of the 70 years the NHS has been running in this country, we’ve been in power for 47 years of that and not one time have we sought to privatise any particular part of it. I would fight tooth and nail if I was put into a position of power and anything changed in terms of our position against the privatisation of the NHS. We are all in there with one agenda and that’s to get Brexit done and actually put the money back into the NHS and our public services. From my position, that’s not on the table.”
Greens: “Green party policy is quite different from what the SNP does in a sense, not just in healthcare, but across the board. Our policy places more emphasis on healthcare provision and public health and trying to deliver care at the lowest level. That would support more district hospitals, community hospitals, and primary care.”
Lib Dems: “I support the NHS and want to give it more funding. Scrapping private services would cost too much and be destructive. I’m comfortable with the current amount [of private services within the NHS] and model of the NHS now.”
Along with more general questions, we asked the candidates about issues specific to their party:
This is a marginal seat, do you think you’ll win again? There are a lot more students here from other parts of the UK who are less likely to vote SNP.
SNP: “I have championed this institution since the day I was elected. I’ve helped students with visas, access to different kinds of benefits, and issues relating to the institution itself. So if students at Glasgow want a strong local voice that will continue to work for them and prioritise stopping Brexit and tackling the climate emergency, then I hope they will put their trust in me. Whatever happens, it has been an absolute privilege to represent this area.”
The current antisemitism row is obviously an issue relevant to all Labour MPs, especially following the letter released by the Chief Rabbi, and we were wondering if you have a message for Jewish students at the University about antisemitism in general, and within the labour party?
Labour: “Yes, antisemitism is abhorrent. There is no place for it within our country, in our society, or in our party. In my opinion, we took too long to root it out, but we are absolutely clear there is no place for it in our party now. When the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) decided to have an inquiry into the party on this I was really sad and quite worried, because the EHRC is a commission that the Labour party set up, and so when we are being tested against our own standards and not meeting them, that is a concern for us. And everyone in the party, everyone in the party, has a part to play in that, and we absolutely have to root it out. So my message to Jewish students at the University of Glasgow would be, please understand and know that you are welcome in our party, and in our country, in our society, and our universities, and that as a lifelong equality and human rights activist, I will do everything I can to make sure that your experience is a positive one, and that you do not experience antisemitism in our party, in the university, or in our country.”
The Muslim Council of Britain has accused the Conservative Party of “denial, dismissal and deceit” over Islamophobia, and we are still waiting on the investigation of Islamophobia within the Tory party that was promised during the leadership elections. Pairing this with the instances of racist language used by prime minister Johnson, do you have any message for Muslim and ethnic minority students here at the University?
Conservatives: “I think there have been a couple of instances of anti-Islamic comments made by candidates and our party has been quick to act. Unfortunately, they will still run on the ballot paper. However, they were suspended after names were submitted for the ballots.
Compared with other parties, we have taken action where others have not. I think my comments to the Muslim population of Glasgow North is that we are a broad church and an inclusive party. Boris Johnson’s comments were a) free speech, and also the article was taken out of context. With regards to the whole article, the prime minister was respectful of the communities and right to practice.
In this day and age, free speech, and when comments are taken out as soundbites, it paints a picture. Our position is zero tolerance and we’re quick to act.”
This constituency and many others have, in the past, only flipped between two parties. Why do you think people should vote green rather than tactically vote?
Green: “If they don’t, we won’t get climate change taken seriously. The Greens want to see electoral reform; unfortunately, Labour are supporting the system that could return a Tory majority government. Obviously, with first past the post it manufactures majorities and Labour are relying on that to get themselves in. Unless people start to vote differently, we won’t see that change, so we need to make Labour listen to get this change in the long run.”
Looking back on the coalition years, what did the Lib Dems do right? And what would be your biggest regret?
Lib Dems: “Well the good would be the tax package we introduced. We introduced a higher threshold for personal allowance that reduced the tax people had to pay. The pupil premium we introduced was progressive and a success. Our biggest mistake was the tuition fee promise we made in policy terms. We deserve to be punished for it. It would have been better to have gotten rid of it, but Nick Clegg was overruled by the board. I don’t think the current system in England is bad, we just shouldn’t have broken our promise to vote against any increase in fees.”
The closest polling station to the University is 44 Oakfield Avenue, and will be open from 7am until 10pm on Thursday 12 December.