General elections interview: Brian Thomson, Labour candidate

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Photo credit: Racahel Miller
Photo credit: Racahel Miller
Photo credit: Racahel Miller

What experience do you have which would prepare you for the role?

Firstly, I was born and brought up in St Andrews, I’ve spent the bulk of my life in North East Fife. I work in the affordable housing sector. I was elected councillor in 2012.

What are your three policies most relevant to St Andrews students?

Scottish Labour introduced free tuition 15 years ago in Scotland and we’re looking to maintain that for Scottish students. Secondly in England, Labour’s policy is to reduce tuition fees from £9000 to £6000. Linked to that is the proposal to increase bursaries in Scotland. A big issue at the moment is that only about 220 students from the most deprived areas of Scotland actually make it to university so that’s hopefully going to be of assistance. There’s also the proposal to increase grants for students in England. Thirdly, a policy that will help students is Labour’s proposal to both raise the minimum wage and stop zero-hour contracts. One thing that’s cropped up recently in North East Fife is that over a third of employees actually earn less than the living wage. It’s the highest proportion in the whole of Scotland which is actually quite a shocking figure.

Do you think that Labour’s £6000 fees policy will help deprived students?

I think that the key issue for deprived students is increasing student grants that affect the cost of living, as opposed to the cost of fees. There’s the issue that the children are not necessarily getting the correct grades to get them into university. So we’ve obviously got to look at what we’re doing in the schools to make sure that students get the correct qualifications.

Other parties say Labour’s plans would lead to more cuts and deprivation, what would you say to that?

I think it’s easy for the SNP to make some of these claims as they’re not going to end up being in power or having to run the country. I recognise there does have to be a degree of cuts made but it’s about making sure that those are who are most able to pay take the brunt of the pain. Labour would reintroduce the top rate of 50p tax for those who earn over £150,000. In terms of the SNP, they would wish for Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland, which has completely unravelled over the last few weeks. If they think we’ve got austerity now, it would be nothing like what we would have under full-fiscal autonomy. The IFS calculated that it would result in about a £7 billion deficit.

What do you think of charging international students to use the NHS?

I don’t think it’s fair. These students pay extremely high fees. But not only that, they come here and then spend a lot of money and put an awful lot into the economy. They put in more than they take out, my views would be that those fees would be unfair.

What’s your opinion on Labour’s pledge to introduce the right to vote for 16 and 17 year olds?

It goes back to the argument that if you’re 16 and you can join the army, and do many other things, it seems a crazy that you’re not allowed to vote. I think as we’ve seen in Scotland in particular over the past 18 months there’s been a huge level of engagement by younger people, I think anything we can do to increase participation in politics is a good thing.

Should RUK students pay fees here?

I know it’s not party policy at the moment, but personally I think it’s unfair. I can’t get it round my head why there hasn’t been a bigger fuss about it. I would say it comes across as a form of discrimination. I don’t like it, I would like to explore and see what could be done about it.

The polls put you in 4th place. Should your supporters vote for another unionist party to stop the SNP?

No, I think people should vote for who they support and who they believe in. We’re not advocating voting for us to stop the SNP at all, we’re saying you should vote for us because we think our policies are the strongest. The Lib Dems position on this is really questionable, they’ve been playing this card for the past 30 years in North East Fife. In 2010, we got a leaflet saying “vote for Menzies, the only way to stop the Tories”, and we all know what happened two weeks later. I think a lot of people in North East Fife have had enough of those tactics. I mean why can’t they just put forward their own policies for once. I don’t think that’s the right way to go.

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