General election 2017 interviews: Rosalind Garton, Labour

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The Saint‘s News editor Tom Williams sat down with Rosalind Garton, the Labour party candidate for North East Fife in the 2017 General Election, to discuss why St Andrews students should vote for her:

Tom Williams: What about your background makes you qualified candidate for North east Fife?

Rosalind Garton:Well I’m an adult education tutor, and I teach geology classes for the University of St Andrews. In the adult education wing. The USA still has an adult education wing, many universities have cut them but we still have a small one, so that’s really good. I’m also partly self-employed I teach yoga classes in town. They’re very popular too.

I’m in education but I work for an institution but I’m also self-employed. So I have business experience as well, and in teaching fierce competition as a yoga teacher my classes are still thriving so I know I’ve got business acumen.

TW: Now can you tell me why students should vote labour?

RG: If they have a look at the history they’ll see that the only time in the 20-21st century when the university in the UK have enjoyed expansion have been during Labour governmentt. Enormous expansion in research in the white-age of technology of the Labour governments of Harry Wilson and Jim Cannon in the 60-70s and an enormous increase in availability and accessibility to universities for not just young people, for all people during the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown governments. So the only time we’ve had university expansion has been during Labour governments and we’re very proud of that.

TW: What local issues in St Andrews would you be fighting for in particular?

RG: Well you have to bear in mind that this is the UK elections, so there are a lot of government responsibilities evolved in Holyrood. Like education and housing, but one of the things which is a reserved issue in the UK is employment issues. It is of huge interest in North East Fife because in 2015 it was discovered that NE Fife is the constituency that has the highest number of employees earning less than the living wage. That might surprise you, but I am a zero hours contract employee, I have been for over 33 years – there’s nothing new about zero hours contract, it’s just that they are now endemic. And millions of people are now having to cope with insecure and often badly payed employment.

The very insecurity makes it difficult for them to use trade unions support, because the trade unions are there to support people to have safe employment, well paid employment and good employment conditions. We all benefit from that, everyone does. So, employment is going to be my biggest issue in this area, not only because it’s a reserved issue to Westminster, because it’s a big issue in this area.

A young friend of mine who works in a chain of supermarkets, she has mild learning difficulties, and to have a job at all is a matter of huge pride. She’s like other young people. She does tell me that in this shop – none of the staffing or staff is employed for more than 20 hours a week. They will not give them a full-time job. Now you can’t leave home unpaid like that, let alone have enough to pay your rent, or to buy your own place, forget it. So, this is the kind of year it ends.

At Christmas 2015, I bought some clothes in St Andrews in a local chain store and while I was making my purchases of Christmas presents I asked the young woman who was serving me “Have you been busy?”

“Yes, she said we have, we have been busy. My boss didn’t think we would be so he’s cut our hours.”

Now I don’t know if you were here for Christmas 2015, if you weren’t you wouldn’t know that the Forth Road Bridge was shut. So being in business, the Forth Road bridge shut, and I think ‘Oh Perth will do well this year and Dundee will do well, St Andrews did well too’. And this young woman’s hours were cut. You can’t leave home unpaid like that. So, employment is very much our topic.

millions of people are now having to cope with insecure and often badly payed employment

TW: Now what three key policies in the Labour manifesto will be able to appeal most to students?

RG: I think it’s a great manifesto, but as far as students are concerned, the Labour party manifesto promises the removal for students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland of tuition fees. So, this means that far more people that don’t come from wealthy backgrounds can consider university I think that’s a great step forwards.

Another thing which I am pleased to see is two words: ‘rent control’. We are dealing with a massive private rent market, bigger than it has been for decades, and runaway rents. I’ve encountered students in St Andrews who could live within the town, either in university student accommodation or private accommodation who are now moving to Dundee. Now that might be ok in London but we’ve not got London public transport. So, this is students missing out on a lot of St Andrews activities because it’s worth their while to pay rent where it’s cheaper in Dundee and still pay bus fare. So rent control and also security of tenure enjoyed by many other European countries, that too will help students, and finally what happens to these students when they graduate?

The Labour Party manifesto is going to bring in a ban on zero hour contracts. I’ve been a zero hour contract for so long, I think that’s a fantastic move.  And in addition to that there’s going to be a ban on unpaid internships. I’ve certainly encountered a number of young people, ones I’ve known and children of friends, who are working for nothing. Appalling situation where they are just being taken for a ride, and exploited. They are being exploited.

And of course, students with parents who have a decent amount of money can do that! Students who’ll have to go straight out, those new graduates into living, an unpaid internship is out of the question. So they can’t get the experience that the internship undoubtedly does give. So, I think there’s lots for students to welcome in the manifesto.

TW: Now, some students will welcome these reforms and some will actively oppose them. Some actually have zero hour contracts on the basis that they can balance their studies alongside selecting shifts that they can do. What would you say to that?

RG: I would say that’s fine if you’re a student. If you’re having to pay rent, if you’re wanting to buy a house, if you’re wanting to start a family, and you can’t because your pay is so unreliable, I’ve talked to some young people in the area that because they have zero hour contracts, they have huge difficulty finding private property to rent, because somebody (the landlord) didn’t trust the reliability of their employability. Now, one of these employees was working in a care home in the area, there is nothing unreliable about care home work. There are lots of people who are needing support of care homes. It’s regular, 24/7 work, it’s there. And yet, they told me they had great difficulty finding anywhere to rent and they had to move out. So they were about 11 miles away. Yes it can still affect people because of the way they’re paying their rent. It’s fine for a student, but once you’re needing to pay rent, it’s no joke.

TW: You also mentioned rent control. Now, rent in St Andrews has been going up, primarily because one off due to the HMO ban, which is up for renewal and scrutiny this summer. Now what do you think of it?

RG: I was asked that question last year. While I was on the doorstep, for campaigning, I have had a lot of complaints from the people just outside the town centre. Because what is now happening is the HMOs, the maximum occupancy are being created outside the town centre. And I’m hearing the complaints of the residents of 2 bedroom houses having an extra bathroom, an extra room, suddenly finding 5, 6, 7 students living next door. So, it’s alive, it’s causing huge problems for the people living and working in this area. And in addition, the huge amount of money that you can earn from buying a house or letting this area is meant for the parents of students buying these properties, because many of them have been bought by parents. They have now driven out of the town the chance of buying a house here the very people who teach their kids, who administer their exam results, who clean their rooms. It’s an appalling situation for local people.

TW: So where would you propose moving students to?

RG: I’m very pleased that the university has now picked up on the fact there have been enormous increases in student numbers in St Andrews, which is great to see, more people having the chance to attend university, but the university hasn’t until recently kept up, with its housing and they’re now taking on that big new housing plan to be able to house all the students. Which is great.

TW: You also said that you’re going to raise the minimum wage to £10 per hour. There are a lot of small business in St Andrews. How do you think that you will be able to cope with the excess amount that they will have to pay in wage, given that this already makes up a lot of what they pay out?

RG: Well can I say that this is the same argument that they put out in the late 90s and early 21st century, and Tony Blair announced a minimum wage and exactly the same complaint came up from business. The minimum wage was then introduced and there wasn’t a huge rise in unemployment. The minimum wage was brought in as one of the pretitudes [sic] of the Blair and Brown era. This has been tried before, and people complained it would raise unemployment. It didn’t happen.

They also had to look at the wages that people are earning, and the discrepancy between the top and the bottom.

I run a business I’m also an employer for teachers and I pay them very well. I keep them, I get good employees and I keep them. And I’m very proud of that. I am an employer on a very small scale but I know that if you want them to stay, then you have to pay them well.

TW: Now, Brexit is obviously a key issue, especially for students in St Andrews. What would you be fighting in the UK’s Brexit deal?

RG: Well Brexit does have to go ahead, and I’m fairly sorry to see that because Brexit has kept the peace in European Union. The EU was set up to prevent a third world war, through trade. So, I’m very sorry to see that happened. I’m upset that it’s to take place, that is what people have voted for, a very slight majority. The thing that concerns me more is how much the freedom of movement has benefited countries in Europe, people from this country going to work abroad, and people from Europe coming to work here. There are concerns about where we’re going now, you appreciate that the negotiations are still at a very early stage but I would be sorry to see the richness between countries. I’m very concerned about the fact that we’ve just turned our backs on a massive market – we forget how large the market is, simply because Western Europe is one of the most densely populated parts of the world. It’s an enormous market and we’ve turned our backs on that market in the hope that we might have access to markets elsewhere in the world like Australia or New Zealand.

I’m very concerned about the fact that we’ve just turned our backs on a massive market

TW: You actually mentioned scrapping unpaid internship large Companies can afford to pay interns, some do, some don’t. But if you want an internship with a small business that maybe can’t afford to pay, how would you go about this?

RG: I would say to these people. I would tell them get on and make the business pay. And I say that as a business person myself. I don’t run up big debts – I pay the bills and then I spend. Make the business able to support those people

TW: St Andrews is home to a lot of wealth and a lot of wealthy students, The Scores for example is one of the most expensive streets in the country. The Labour party is proposing increased taxes for those earning above £80,000 and £127,000 a year. Do you think people St Andrews students, many of whom will go on to earn very high wages, will want to vote for a party like that?

RG: You’ve just described St Andrews as a very privileged town, I’ve given you the figures on North East Fife and St Andrews is largest town in Northeast Fife. There are a lot of people who are not wealthy living here as well so I think it will have a very small effect on the town.

I was paid minimum wage last year. My employers just cut my pay by 16% so I’m being paid less than the minimum wage.

I would actually challenge the assertion that St Andrews is one of the richest towns in Scotland. There’s a great deal of poverty in St Andrews and in this constituency.

TW: The Lib Dems propose a second referendum on Brexit, Labour Party also say they will parliament the power to approve the final Brexit deal. Are you worried about the Lib Dems in this constituency… seeing as students have commonly oppose Brexit?

RG: This is a very tricky one. And we’re seeing this too from the SNP. That’s a tricky one. The issue of another referendum here I think would be an issue of hopefully winning a better informed referendum. I was very uneasy about some of the assertions being made on the Leave side about what would happen if we come out of the EU. This is the field where I think more has to be done. It’s incredibly difficult to say here. What I would like to see if there is a second referendum is as I mentioned earlier, emphasis put on strategic issues around Brexit.

The EU has kept the peace. I would like to see the EU using trade to keep Europe at peace.

We see the things going on in Europe in order to know it is something we still have to think about. So were there to be a second referendum, I would like to see more emphasis put on strategic associations because this is a peacekeeping through trade organisation.

So were there to be a second referendum, I would like to see more emphasis put on strategic associations because this is a peacekeeping through trade organisation

TW: On the issue of International students, a lot here in St Andrews. How will you satisfy some of their interests?

RG: I think UK universities should support their home students but I love to see international students. What do they gain from working and studying in a foreign country, I think our home students benefit from friendships with international students.

I have a lot of friends as a graduate of this university, my friends were German, US, Spain, Switzerland, I greatly enjoyed that. But also be very selfish about this. Obviously, they will be friends of the UK for the rest of their lives because we’ve given them that top class education here. I don’t want to see home students affected by this, but I’m delighted to see this mixing, good hybrid mixing between people. Other thing to bear in mind apart from richness of mixing here, is the business aspect. I don’t think people realise what an enormous foreign currency earner foreign students are. We sell education, we sell top class education and I think that’s fantastic. That tells people something about the UK and how we put education first.

TW: Why is it important for St Andrews students to vote in this election?

RG: It’s been nice talking to you Tom, I’m pleased to be here for the party that invented the NHS and keeps people in education. One of the things I found most disturbing is how many people don’t vote. I find this particularly upsetting when it’s women who don’t vote. My maternal grandmother was a suffragette. Please cast your vote and carry out your democratic right.

 

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