The Saint sat down with all the candidates in the constituency of North East Fife in tomorrow’s Scottish Parliamentary elections. Here’s what Rosalind Garton, the Labour candidate, had to say on the issues important to students:
On why students should vote for her and Labour:
Because Scottish Labour is the party which is pressing for equality. Equality across the board, equality of opportunity in education, equality of opportunity in getting decent housing. Both of these are connected with getting equality in health outcomes, we’ve got an appalling lack of equality between people with some money and a nice house and their level of health, and people who are on rotten pay, in poor housing and are not in good health. There’s a terrible diversity here that there shouldn’t be.
Scottish Labour is the party pressing for equality
On tuition fees and Labour’s tax plans:
The way the system is now, I would support the continued absence of tuition fees. Now Scottish Labour isn’t worried about this because we know that we can fund this because we are pressing for a penny more on tax, particularly to go into education. Now that would be for people earning more than £20,000 a year, I earn the living wage, it wouldn’t affect me and other people who earn less than £20,000 a year. We are also campaigning to reinstate the 50p tax rate for those lucky enough to be earning over £150,000 a year.
Both of these two policies have been very well received on the doorstep and in polls, and we’ve also noticed that independent financial observers are saying that the Scottish Labour plans to raise more money from taxation is actually raising far more than any of the other parties.
On students from disadvantaged backgrounds:
We’re very, very concerned about equality in educational outcomes because we see that people who come from poorer backgrounds, with parents who may just be earning the minimum wage and being stuck with very, very expensive housing costs, how these youngsters are far less likely to achieve the kind of things that you and I have.
Scottish Labour is wanting to use most of this extra tax from its plans to put into education, giving extra money to head teachers directly to schools to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Also, putting extra money, up to £300 per child per year into the nursery systems. So we’re looking at it from the earlier stage.
There’s always this tricky situation where we say “let’s make university education free!” when actually what happens [for disadvantaged students] happens from about the age of three, so Scottish Labour is focused on supporting early years education, right through time in school, so that it won’t be a question of ‘if I work hard, I might get a loan and go to university’ it’s a question of ‘I will have a right to go because I know I will be getting the right grades and I can the student loans if I want to go forward.’
One thing that Scottish Labour is doing that is unique is being very concerned about looked-after children, or children brought up in care. Kezia Dugdale has said that full maintenance grants would be available for those children when they get to university.
There is no HMO ban – there’s a ban in the town centre
On the HMO ban:
There is no ban. There’s a ban in the town centre, HMOs are still being created outside there, and on the doorstep I’m getting complaints from local people about this, we’re now in a situation where the very people who teach you, who clean university buildings, who cook meals in university buildings, the people who send you your exam results have been almost exclusively driven out of this town for housing by parents of the very students who they teach, whose rooms they clean, whose exam results they send. Now that’s an outrageous situation.
The University is increasing it’s numbers of beds. When I was a student here, 85 per cent of the student body could be housed by the University, it’s not about 50 per cent, the University I know has realised that along with the meteoric rise, there’s not been an equal rise in the number of beds that they can provide, so I know the University is moving towards trying to address the issue.
But I have not met any new member of University staff, below the level of professor, in the last 20 years, who could afford to buy a house in St Andrews when they came here, so this is a very real issue. Ordinary people who were born and brought here can’t get a council house because so many of these were sold at a discount by Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s and 90s.
Recently, the Labour led Fife Council has, for the first in 17 years, built its first new council house, 20 of them in St Andrews. Council housing gives you, though David Cameron is trying to take this away, security of tenure.
On rent and landlords:
Unless there is better rent control, and control over the ability of people to be evicted, and control over quality of private housing, this problem [of poor quality, high cost accommodation] will continue. There are thousands of people out there now using people’s homes for financial speculation. It’s an abominable situation.
This is why Scottish Labour is planning to build 45,000 new houses for social rent, with security of tenure, and a decent rent, not a rent which is determined by the market.
Students need housing, but if more council housing would have been able to be built in St Andrews this would have soaked some of the problem, but the huge proportion of St Andrew local authority housing has been sold, and they’re going for six figure sums now, and many of them now are being let out as HMO’s.
Scottish Labour has said it will prevent above inflation rate increases in private rents, so we’re determined to do that and also impose stronger regulations for maintaining the quality of rented housing.
The quality of some privately rented homes is shocking.
There are some fabulous landspeople out there but there are also some who don’t look after their policies beyond the very minimum.
We want more control of rent, more control of social housing, more control of the quality of houses.
On encouraging the University to expand its accommodation portfolio:
If that were appropriate, I certainly wouldn’t discount it. One thing I’m noticing is a large cohort of students who’ve moved out to Dundee, it’s so much cheaper than it’s worth the season ticket for coming over to St Andrews.
It’s a tricky one, for people who live in Birmingham and Glasgow, they’d say we were ridiculous in expecting to live so close to our academic departments and labs, but for a small town university I regard that with sadness, and I know that a lot students will miss out on things in the University.
On Madras college:
Anyone in Fife council will tell you both sides have their challenges, so talking to Fife Councillors, it’s not impossible that other options may be looked at. I will point out that a former Rector of Madras College is part of STEPAL and doesn’t think that Pipeland is acceptable.
There could be other options to consider, including building two schools [one being in the Tay Bridge area]. It’s a very difficult situation and it’s awful it’s gone on for so long.
The SNP has done nothing to address poverty in Scotland
On cuts to local council budgets:
I’ll point out to you here, this is a local authority issue, and the Scottish government does have devolved powers to support local authorities, through controlling the council tax, it also is involved in the amount of money that is available to local authorities. But the SNP has talked about a review of the local authority boundaries in Scotland, and one of the things that it’s brought up is that the SNP has said it wants to take our state schools out of local authority. Now the people who want to do that are the Conservatives.
So it shows you how right wing the SNP is, and it always has been, it’s not left wing, it never has been, the SNP has done nothing to address poverty in Scotland, we’ve still got huge numbers of people on zero hours contracts in Scotland. I’m on a zero hours contract and my work is not secure.
The Conservative party and the SNP don’t like local democracy, they like to be in control of everything and you can see how the SNP threatened local authorities with massive fines earlier this year when money was being allocated for local authorities, if they put up their council tax, that was a threat. That is a party that hates local democracy, because it has no control over it.
Scottish Labour will stop these cuts, with a complete review of the council tax system, and the review that’s been put on the cards by Scottish Labour means that actually, almost two million people will be paying less.
They’ve bribed the Scottish population for over seven years now by freezing the council tax and we’re hearing on the doorstep across the board, people saying that ‘it’s time our council tax went up a bit’.
On town and gown relations:
I don’t think enough is being done. It would be for the MSP to discuss with the University, but the University is well aware of the huge role that it plays in the town, it’s well aware that it’s the largest single employer in North East Fife and it’s creating more jobs out at the marvellous site in Guardbridge.
There is the issue now that such a large proportion of town centre properties are occupied by students for about eight months of the year, so this is going to be an issue, and people will be complaining to the University and to the police if things go wrong.
If people don’t complain to the police then local folk will say ‘if it was our kids who were jumping up and down on people’s cars then they’re dragged into the police station’ if they don’t do that to the students, then that’s not going to help town and gown relations, and I’ve heard, again and again ordinary townsfolk that their kids would have ended up in a cell for the night if they’d been found the way some students are found.
So that’s something that you have to bear in mind, there has to be a level playing field and I know that there is a lot of locals who don’t see that there is a level playing field between misdemeanours by students and those by local youngsters.
On Raisin Weekend:
The University works very, very hard to mitigate the problems from that, I think it’s marvellous what they’re doing. They’re certainly better at that than when I was a student, and so is the Students’ Association.
Alcohol consumption is a massive issue, it’s shocking, I’ve seen young students outside, and I’ve known them and known they were undergraduates. Literally curled up outside buildings, completely unconscious, it’s a big issue.
We’ve come down for a total ban on fracking
On the environment:
Scottish Labour has planned a Warm Homes Act, to make sure that all new houses in Scotland are built to the highest standards of energy efficiency, particularly with insulation, and to upgrade the existing housing stock that is already there.
Fuel poverty is a huge problem in Scotland and a huge problem in North East Fife. People look at North East Fife and think this a prosperous place. We have families that are struggling here and we have high level of fuel poverty here.
We’ve also come down for a total ban on fracking. I’m a geologist and I know how great the oil deposits are underneath the central belt of Scotland, we know what the temptation is but we’re supporting a complete ban.
We’re also very concerned about the regulation of the Scottish Bus Service, this something that has been fought tooth and nail by the SNP, they refuse to regulate the bus services, and in the past two years they’ve been given £2 million by one of the largest bus company owners in the UK.
The Scottish Labour Party is intent on regulating the bus service in Scotland and also on integrating transport so that you can travel across Scotland on the same ticket, integrating railway and bus travel.