Third-year international relations student Mariam Mahmood will act as a Liberal Democrat candidate in the upcoming Fife Council elections for the ward of St Andrews and Strathkinness.
Ms Mahmood was also appointed the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ environment spokesperson earlier in March by party leader Willie Rennie.
She will take over the environment brief, which was previously split between the energy spokesperson, MSP Liam McArthur, and the spokesperson for rural affairs, MSP Mike Rumbles.
Ms Mahmood joined the Liberal Democrats following the 2015 general election, in which the party lost all but one House of Commons seat in Scotland.
She said she chose to represent the Liberal Democrats because “I love an underdog.”
Ms Mahmood added, “I probably had the view [before the election] that most people have of the Liberal Democrats, the sort of ‘you got into bed with the Tories. We can’t forgive you for that’ thing, but when I thought about it a bit more reasonably, it made a lot of sense. Their ideology fitted really well with what I believed.”
The number of Scottish Liberal Democrat councillors has declined in recent years. In the 2007 St Andrews councillor elections, the Lib Dems secured three out of the four seats available to them.
The St Andrews ward currently has four councillors, all of whom hold different political allegiances: Liberal Democrat, Scottish National Party, Labour, and Conservative.
Only five councils in Scotland are now controlled by one party. 27 councils have no single party in control.
It has been five years since the last council election. In these races, a single transferable voting system is utilised. The elector has one vote; however, that vote is transferred in the order of stated preferences until the appropriate number of candidates remain.
Ms Mahmood is running alongside another Liberal Democrat candidate, Jane-Anne Liston.
A former St Andrews student who has lived in Fife for over 30 years, Ms Liston was also a councillor for the 12 years between 1995 and 2007.
Ms Mahmood said, “Since I moved to St Andrews, I’ve grown quite attached to the place, grown quite fond of it. [This] seemed like quite an interesting opportunity. I’ve always been interested in politics, and local politics gets downplayed quite a lot because it’s not as glamorous as all the rest.”
If elected, Ms Mahmood said she would use her strong organisational skills and “work hard” to balance both studies and the role of councillor.
She added, “I am aware it will be difficult, but I’ve spoken to the Lib Dem councillors we have now, and I think it will be manageable because it is technically a part-time position, even if that doesn’t turn out to be the case. The campaign is already a lot of work alongside my degree, so that gives me a little bit of practice in balancing all of that.”
Ms Mahmood said she is interested in exploring the issue of accommodation, which is a prominent topic amongst students at the University.
She explained, “We are looking into affordable housing for rent. […] Ideally we would like to scrap the HMO ban. We know that might not be particularly popular with some residents, but there is evidence that it is not doing anyone particular good.
“I think the idea was that families would move into centre of town, and that has just not happened. [The ban] is just making things more expensive for students and making attending the University of St Andrews more exclusive. […] It’s harder to get people from working class backgrounds into this university, and [the ban is] just another reason those people might avoid it. There is no evidence that it’s working.”
Ms Mahmood encouraged students to register to vote ahead of polls opening on 4 May.
“[Jane Anne Liston and I] can represent the whole community,” she said. “I am primarily a student, and I have those interests at heart. I am aware of the issues. For example, I know that housing is a big one for me that takes up my whole loan. It’s not great. We are really just looking at tapping into the main issues in the community.”
The deadline for voter registration is 17 April.
Students can register to vote at both their home and university addresses.