General elections interview: Stephen Gethins, SNP candidate

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Photo credit: Rachael Miller
Photo credit: Rachael Miller
Photo credit: Rachael Miller

What is your experience and how will this will help you as MP?

My background is working in international development and affairs. I worked for a number of years overseas in the former Soviet Union and in the Western Balkans. I also worked as a special advisor to the First Minister Alex Salmond.

What are your three policies most relevant to students?

I think more powers for the Scottish Parliament is very important. For instance, we can help with tuition fees for students that are from Scotland. Also saying no to a new generation of nuclear weapons. George Osbourne is proposing £30 billion more austerity over the next four years and Trident will cost £100 billion. I think progressive policies around welfare are important as well, such as getting rid of the Bedroom Tax.

You speak about the SNP scrapping tuition fees as yout proudest achievement, but wasn’t it enacted by the Lib Dems when they were in government with Labour?

Well you had an effective tuition fee there previously, so what the SNP did when they came to power was they kept their promises and got rid of the top up fees from the previous administration and enshrined the principle of free education. One thing that’s quite important to remember about the SNP is that people judge you on your record, and “have you done what you said you’d do?” Now Liberals and Tories can’t really say that. Whether you agree with the SNP or not, if you look at the 2007 and 2011 manifestos for government, the SNP fulfilled their promises.

The SNP advocate for the introduction of Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland. Other parties have said this would lead to a £7 billion deficit for Scotland. What would you say to this?

There is a billion pound deficit right now. That’s not even getting into the UK’s £1.5 trillion debt. So they are saying this, but what Full Fiscal Autonomy does is give John Swinney the same economic powers as any finance minister in Europe, as right now those powers are in Westminster and their efforts tend to be focused on the South East of England. I don’t think the opposition powers are being very fair. It’s important to remember that in Western democracies, budget deficits are actually a very common thing. Scotland has contributed more tax per head of population than the rest of the UK for every one of the last 34 years. Westminster takes quite a while to get round to these things and by 2020 the IFS says Scotland will have increased its onshore economy by £15 billion.

Should RUK students pay fees for Scottish universities?

It’s not for me to tell the people of England how they should vote, but if they vote for a government that wants tuition then they voted for that government. If we have a hung parliament then the SNP could bring a lot more pressure to bear and I think one thing that’s been interesting about the leaders’ debates is the positive reaction to Nicola Sturgeon. She’s clearly gathered a large amount of support across England. Some of the other parties might want to start looking at some of the progressive policies of the SNP if they want to start gaining support.

But if voters in EU countries vote for a party that supports tuition fees, those students would still get free tuition in Scotland.

Well that’s just the European rules. A lot of the polls are saying that SNP could hold the balance of power, so if students up here think that the progressive policies of the SNP could be a good influence, especially with regard to tuition fees they should consider voting SNP. With regards to European rules, they are obviously signed up to by the London government.

Do you think it’s right to charge international students for the NHS?

I think if they’re studying here and making a contribution, I’d like to see them having many of the same rights. Unlike the Westminster parties, we’re really keen to see people come to Scotland and settle in Scotland. A good way of making sure that happens is making sure they feel as welcome as possible.

Huw Bell has said the SNP want independence “through the back door.” North East Fife voted no. How do you think this affects your chances of winning the seat?

I’ve spoken to a lot of no voters, and almost every night I find those that are voting SNP because even though they haven’t been convinced about independence, yet, they still recognise the importance of having a strong voice at Westminster. A lot of no voters also want to see the Westminster parties being kept to their promises.

A lot of candidates say that essentially, a vote for any other party is a vote for you, what do you think of this?

I’m campaigning on what the SNP stand for, if you vote for the SNP it’s a vote for the SNP. All the other parties seem to want to do is talk about the SNP. I think it would be better if the other parties engaged more in the policy debate.

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