With the general election just around the corner, there’s been no shortage of media attention around the proposed party leaders’ TV debates. Whether it’s been the argument over who should be involved or the Prime Minister being labelled as ‘feart’ for not wanting to take part, the debates have somehow managed, even in their possible absence, to spark public interest in dusty old Westminster politics.
Meanwhile, young people have been bombarded from all directions with contradictory messages on who they should vote for, who they definitely shouldn’t vote for and even whether they should bother voting at all.
As a result, politicsandthat has organised our own leader’s debate, with the top figures from each of the main political parties in Scotland giving their own views on voting, young people and what their party has to offer young voters. This is the our Scottish Leader’s Debate.
There seems to be a lot of media directed at young people right now telling them not to go out and vote. For you, why is it important for young people to vote?
It’s one of the most important ways to change the world. It’s as simple as that. You can influence things by signing petitions and going on demonstrations but you can only a government by voting.
Why do you think so many choose not to vote then?
I think that politics sometimes seem boring. I think there’s a sense that you have these elections and no matter the outcome, the government always wins. The bottom line is that if young people don’t vote, sure as hell, other people will.
Young people seem to be really crying out for a political party to represent them. In your mind, why is Labour the party to do that?
Because we believe in changing the country. Our country is too unfair, our country is too unequal. There’s too much poverty and too much disadvantage. Uniquely, we’ll say that we’ll put some people’s taxes up to pay for fixing the problems. There are a lot of other parties who’ll say the countries unfair but they think that they’re warm words and political posturing will change it. It won’t, so we’re going to ask the people who’re the richest to pay some more on their taxes.
In terms of policy though, what specifically do you think Labour Party has to offer young people?
The Labour Party is going to invest more in young people than any other political party in Scotland. If you’re a young person who doesn’t go to college or university, you shouldn’t be left behind. They’ll get a £1600 future fund. If you’re a working class youngster and you go on to study further education, we’ll boost your bursary by £1000 a year. What’s more, if you’re studying a higher education course, I will keep tuition fees free.
There’s over £1billion that we’ll invest in Scotland’s young and most of this money doesn’t come from Scotland. A lot of it is coming from London and the South East of England. We’ll transfer wealth from the richest to the poorest and from the South to the North.
Tuition fees are obviously a topic that students feel very strongly about. The Labour party south of the border are pledging to reduce tuition fees but won’t go as far as to pledge to scrap them. Why does the Labour Party not agree that they should just be scrapped altogether?
In Scotland they’re scrapped and they’re not coming back. What the Labour Party does in England is largely a matter for the Labour Party in England. The Labour Party in Scotland is clear; tuition fees will remain free in Scotland. The Labour Party in the rest of the UK cannot tell the Labour Party in Scotland what to do on these things, just like it’s not for me to tell them what to do on things.
A lot of surveys and polls have shown young people moving away from the Labour Party and signing up with the Greens or the SNP or even UKIP. Why do you think that is?
We weren’t good enough and we weren’t strong enough in recent years. There’s no point pretending otherwise. But we’re changing. In the past, young people knew what the Labour Party was against but not enough knew what we were for. We’re for a sense of social justice; eradicating poverty; abolishing foodbanks; and increasing the minimum wage. I’m not a nationalist, I’m an internationalist. I care about poverty at home and I care about hunger abroad.
Realistically, how much can you turn that opinion around in the weeks leading up to the election?
Well, we’ve got a long way to go. We’re behind in the polls and if these polls are repeated in the election, of course the SNP will win some seats and David Cameron will be re-elected as Prime Minister. While the other parties will argue about this, the biggest party forms the government in the UK. 1924 was the last time the biggest party didn’t for the government. Any seats the SNP wins reduces the size of Labour and increases the chances of David Cameron getting back in.
As you said, it’s looking like the SNP will go on to win a substantial number of seats but in reality, we’re only going to have one of two people as Prime Minister after this election. Why would it be such a problem for Labour to work with the SNP?
Well it’s not going to happen. If the SNP get the votes that the polls are predicting then Labour doesn’t get to be the biggest party, David Cameron gets to be the biggest party. It’s not about wanting to work together, it’s about whether or not you want to change the government and there’s only one way to do that.
Well if there was going to be some kind of agreement similar to what we saw from the Coalition government – although I accept most likely not a formal coalition- why wouldn’t that work in the event of Labour winning the election but with a minority government?
The SNP have ruled out a coalition with us and we’ve ruled out a coalition with them so that’s definitely not going to happen. If we’re the biggest party, we’ll try and win votes for our policies and if the SNP wants to vote for them that’s fine. We can’t really be in a position where we ask for their permission before we put up the minimum wage or ban exploitative zero-hours contracts. The only way to get a Labour government is to go out and vote Labour.
We’re asking each of the party leaders; what were you like as a student and how did your experiences shape your politics today?
I was quite passionate and I was interested in politics. I was working in three different jobs at the time and I met a lot of good friends. The things that made me passionate about politics are the kinds of things I’ve spoken about before; growing up on a housing scheme in Glasgow and then growing up white in South Africa. My belief has always been in trying to make Scotland a fairer and more equal society and that’s what I’m going to put forward to the Scottish people.
This article was originally produced as part of a series for thestudentadvertiser.co.uk