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.
A lot of young people are choosing not to vote or to get involved with politics in non-traditional ways. Why do you think young people should go out and cast their vote at the ballot box?
I do think people should vote but I think it’s understandable that some people feel pretty alienated from politics. There are people who don’t vote but live their politics very passionately and will campaign on certain issues. I think it’s being involved and being politically active that’s important. For me, voting is just one part of that. It’s an important part but not the only one. The one thing I would always say to someone who’s not voting though, is think about the people who are voting. Are they going to vote for what you want? Voting doesn’t mean that things are going to change overnight but it does mean that you can start to influence things.
Why should young people vote for the Green Party?
Well I think we are a pretty young party. Something like one in three of our members are under 30 and we’ve got some of the youngest candidates standing in the Westminster election. They will be going around the country in the next few weeks and showing that young people can really be part of politics in a significant way.
In terms of policy, what do the party have to offer young voters?
There’s a great deal of issues that we’ve been focused on around the cost of living. If you look at issues around land value tax and issues around investment in social housing and some of the policies the Greens have on reducing the economic burden of housing, I think that’s something that clearly is in the interest of a younger generation who are looking to start out in life. There are a whole host of other issues from transport to climate change that I think young people are passionate about and are really at the core of who the Greens are.
Over the last two years, you’ve shot up from 4th to 2nd in terms of most popular party among students. Realistically though, the Greens are not going to win an overall majority at this election. Realistically what place do you see the Green Party having at Westminster?
Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be astonishing anybody by saying that the Greens are unlikely to overnight suddenly become the biggest party but I think Caroline Lucas has demonstrated that Green MPs can get elected using the first past the post system. Not only that but also be a distinctive and a popular voice for an agenda and a perspective that’s not been heard in politics. I’m hopeful that there will be a good collection of Greens in there but I don’t know how many, that’s up to the voters.
One of the issues people always seem to have with the prospect of voting Green is what will happen to their vote if they’re in a seat contested by two or three much larger parties. What would you say to people who are considering voting Green but are worried their vote might be ‘lost’, allowing their least favourite party to take the seat?
I would say that I understand why people get tempted to vote tactically but I would say look at the track record. Year after year, decade after decade, people have been voting tactically and that’s brought us to where we are now. Tactical voting is essentially decided to put up with the least worst option and I think vote that way and you’ll just get disillusioned. I think as you see the spread moving away from those two dominant Westminster parties, it shows that there are people out there who are ready to vote for what they actually believe in. That’s kind of how it’s supposed to work.
At the last election, people talked about ‘Cleggmania’ and at this election they’re talking about a possible Green surge. How far do you think that could take the party in this election?
Well, you need to count the pieces of paper at the end of the day to see how it’s affected the vote. The Green surge is clearly happening in terms of membership. The Green Party in England and Wales have more than doubled their membership in the last year and we’ve went from 1,500 to 8,500 in Scotland. The membership surge is palpable and very clearly happening. Whether that transfers into votes, I hope it does but we’ll need to wait and see.
We’re asking all of the leaders: what were you like as a student and how has that affected your politics?
I was a very bad student. I swapped courses a lot and never finished any of them but I had an office in the student union staggering distance from the bar and at the time that was pretty important to me.
I was active in LGBT politics at the time and when I came back to Scotland from Manchester that experience definitely prompted me to get involved in the sexual health side of things. I was a youth worker in a gay men’s project and I probably wouldn’t have done that if it hadn’t have been for that student experience.
Then, if I hadn’t ended up working in that field, I probably wouldn’t have been involved in the Section 28 campaign back in the first session of the Scottish parliament and I probably wouldn’t have ended up standing for parliament so yeah, one thing leads to another somehow.
This article was originally produced as part of a series for thestudentadvertiser.co.uk