The Saint‘s News editor Tom Williams sat down with Tony Miklinkski, the Conservative Party candidate for North East Fife in the 2017 General Election, to discuss why St Andrews students should vote for him:
Tom Williams: Can you tell me what makes you qualified to be the candidate for North East Fife? What background do you have here in particular?
Tony Miklinski: My qualifications are that I have spent 31 years in the Royal Navy; I have spent 12 of those years in Whitehall, interacting with other government departments as part of the MOD. I’ve picked up a huge range of experience and skills in that area. As far as my credentials in Fife are concerned, I was born and raised in Dundee; I used to come across here with my girlfriend – now wife – when we wanted to go somewhere nice. And I’ve lived just outside Ceres for the last two and half years. I just been elected councillor in the Fife council elections a couple of weeks ago. So I know the area now; I feel very comfortable here and I think I’d make a very effective Westminster MP.
TW: Can you tell me why students should vote Conservative?
TM: Students, like everybody else in the United Kingdom, absolutely need an economy that is functioning. We face two existential threats to our country – and I don’t say that over-dramatically. Independence, let’s start with that, Scottish independence. There are so many arguments against it, not least of all we had the referendum, we gave the SNP the timing of it, we gave them the choice of electorate too, we gave the question, and they were given the answer. The deal with a referendum is you say to the public, ‘we’re going to let you make this decision,’ you ask the question, you get the answer, and it’s up to the government to implement it, whatever that answer is. And that applies to both the Scottish independence and the Brexit referendum. So, to have a functioning economy, to have a successful growing economy that is going to give you, the students, jobs, job security, a better standard of living. The Conservatives, frankly, are the only option in this election, because to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, to vote for Nicola Sturgeon, to vote for Tim Farron, gives you that coalition. I hesitate to use the word ‘chaotic’ – it’s such a cliché now – but that is exactly it. They have nothing in common except they are against the Conservatives and we need a strong government at this time.
TW: What do you say to the nay sayers, the people who are discontent at the fact that Theresa May made a U-turn with the snap general election?
TM: First of all, this is politics and people will have to make a decision based on the conditions at the time. The simple fact is, however, that going into Brexit, does everyone expect that to be easy? Absolutely not. I’ve got experience in negotiating policy areas, like nuclear policy for example, trying to get agreement from all members of NATO – at the time it was 25 to 30 members – and it is extremely difficult and the last thing we want is to be looking at a leader across the table who you don’t think has the will of the country behind her. So to give her a mandate is fundamental and that on its own would have been a sufficient reason to do this.
TW: Given that you are the party that has been in government since 2010, obviously part of a coalition government, can you say what policy that has benefitted students that you are most proud of?
TM: To be honest, not specifically. The recent decision by the Conservatives – although the manifesto isn’t out until next week – will scrap tuition fees. Personally, I have my doubts about that. I think that having tuition fees gives the student a stake in their education. I think it raises more money for higher education which we all want and need. We have to keep the excellence of our universities at the absolute peak. If we’re going to make our way in this world, there is no free pass into economic success and you just have to look wherever in the world at the moment to see the kind of academic achievements that rising nations are putting out. So, to answer specifically, no I can’t point to it, so you’ll just have to trust me, students, that if we get the economy right, there will be more money for higher education.
TW: You mentioned tuition fees there and that’s something that people are quite discontent with, the Conservatives raised tuition fees with the Lib Dems as part of the coalition government. What would you say specifically to those who feel disillusioned with the Conservatives following the increasing rises in tuition fees?
TM: Well it’s almost that the question is too late. The indications are that we will be scrapping the tuition fees, that there will be a dependence on the funding being made available will be matched by the universities so, ‘if you put it in, we’ll put it in’ for the funding. But I’m afraid that the situation in terms of student fees is not crystal clear at the moment. We know what the SNP position is etc. but the ability to get students into universities and universities of their choice – we’re getting something like half the number of students from the lower socio-economic grouping, about nine per cent compared to 19 per cent in England, who attend university. Exactly why that is I don’t know, I can’t be specific but they are doing something in England that we’re not doing in Scotland and Scotland is the one that has gone for zero student fees. So the end results of this need to be looked at more carefully. If Conservative policy is indeed what it believed to be in the manifesto, that we are going to scrap tuition fees, then hey, that’s that.
TW: Going back to the difference between England and Scotland as well, do you believe that it is right that other UK students should pay tuition fees while Scottish student will not?
TM: No, no, no, and no again. In fact I find it ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. We are the United Kingdom and we really do have to watch very carefully the SNP’s rhetoric and propaganda. And the worst thing you can do in the world is believe your own propaganda. We are one country, we are the United Kingdom and for the SNP to do that is a recognition that they will use any ruse, any possible method to drive a wedge between Scotland and the rest of the UK, to try and force that idea that we, Scotland, are a separate country. It’s like turning the British transport police into the Scottish transport police or the Scottish police. It’s pointless it just makes the political point that suits their propaganda. So, the idea that someone from England or Wales – I mean I went to Dundee University and the place was filled with English and Welsh students and what great fun that was. You mix people from completely different backgrounds, completely different culture and when you’re a young man, 17 or 18, going to university, it’s a hugely productive period and we want to have people coming from the rest of the UK on the same basis as you where you are a British citizen. I just think it’s [inaudible].
TW: You mentioned the SNP earlier and some of the campaign rhetoric in the leaflets and flyers says ‘a vote for the Conservatives is a vote against the SNP’ and likewise the SNP are doing the same: ‘a vote for the SNP is a vote against the Tories.’ Do you think this is a fair campaign strategy?
TM: I don’t think it’s fair on the SNP. There’s a huge and relevant reason for the Tories to be using the second independence referendum because that is a massive threat – it’s the reason I’m doing this. I got fed up at shouting at the television so I stood as a councillor successfully, I now stand for Westminster because we have to get rid of the SNP infection. It’s not natural, there is no nationalist creed that ends well and the idea that they will take us away from the United Kingdom where three quarters of our trade is – I listened to Nicola Sturgeon making a point that 80,000 jobs depend on Scotland staying in the European Union. Well then she should have followed on to say that there is four times the number, 320,000 jobs, when we leave the UK because that is where our trade is. So we have to stop it; they will leave us isolated, they will leave us stone broke. So, the agenda, the idea that we focus our campaign on independence and making sure that the Scot-nats are pushed back. They were pushed back by the council elections to 37 per cent according to the first reference polls. And if the end result is along those lines, that’s the independence agenda kicked into touch; certainly for years, perhaps forever.
TW: Your campaign leaflet says that the Lib Dems are an irrelevant force in Westminster. Although the vote count is only marginally higher, the Lib Dems did achieve better than the Conservatives in St Andrews Ward. Do you believe that may be down to the Lib Dems promise to fight Brexit when many students feel discontent following the decision to leave the EU?
TM: So the Lib Dems… They’ve had a stronghold here in North East Fife for at least 30 years. A lot of that’s down to Ming Campbell, he was an exceptional candidate, an exceptional man but he’s finished in politics now. What people have to understand is there’s two reasons to be voting, one is the Scottish independence question and the other is the Brexit question. Where do the Lib Dems stand on those? Well Tim Farron said he agreed with Nicola Sturgeon on 99 per cent of the SNP policies and given that the SNP policy is 100 per cent about independence then that’s a difficult circle to square. They are weak on independence, they have debated at a conference the option of making the European Union a priority as opposed to the UK, there is only one party that stands resolutely and consistently against independence and that’s the Scottish Conservatives and I include Labour in that as well although we are not talking about them. So the Lib Dems, as the official opposition in Holyrood, they are weak. And then you turn to Brexit, so the Lib Dems flagship policy is re-run the Brexit referendum, they will do that after the two plus years of negotiations whilst every avenue has been explored after complex negotiations, and then we re-run the Brexit referendum – and then what? How many of us regret leaving the EU? I am one of them. But you can’t make these decisions and then go back on them, you just can’t not if you’re going to preserve democracy.
TW: What local issues will you be fighting for?
TM: Depends how local you mean. There are definitely issues in St Andrews. Madras has got to be solved, looks like it has been – but boy – what a waste of time. We’ve gone through the last ten years with repeated mistakes by Fife Council. We need to get a successful Brexit – Can I just pause there? People keep saying ‘hard Brexit’ there’s no such thing as ‘hard Brexit’ its just a convenient label. What Theresa May is doing – I will come back to the local issues – What Theresa May is doing is she’s not going to the negotiating table and saying ‘I’m so desperate, I’m willing to take any deal you’re prepared to give, I’ve got no place else to go’. That’s no way to start a negotiation, or at least I wouldn’t. You go in and you say ‘I’ve got alternatives’ and that’s what she’s doing by going in and laying down the marker. You sell more to us than we sell to you, so be aware of that detail. The right Brexit means that not only will we get the right trade agreements but we get all the things that come along with it – free movement of people into and out of Europe, free movement of people into or out of the University, whether thats staff or research funds or students – these are all must haves. So I think that a successful Brexit will mean that St Andrews will carry on as it was, drawing on the best talent, attracting the best students and getting all the research funding it needs. Nobody in their right minds would accept an outcome of the Brexit negotiations if it didn’t include that.
TS: You mentioned Brexit impacting vital schemes but another issue which is important to students is the HMO ban. What do you think of it and would you lobby for its repeal given that its up for renewal in summer this year?
TM: You’ve got two opposing forces. You’ve got the need for students to have good quality accommodation, close to their studies, close to their social lives, where they can enjoy their time and get on with their lives in a civilised environment. You’ve then got the pressure to keep St Andrews’ centre looking the way it always has. A lot of the area is gentrified and people like a quiet life. You guys, I’m afraid, don’t tend to live quietly. That’s youth for you. There has to be a compromise. I’ll be a councillor whatever happens at the general election. … I hope that they relax the ban and try to find the right balance. Because when you’ve got two diametrically opposed positions, you basically have to compromise, you have to find a way of making that work. Whether it’s what the university wants – it does build a lot; it has one of the highest amounts of student accommodation per head in Britain, so its not dragging its feet. But you’ve chosen to come to a very attractive town, to a very attractive part of the world and guess what? Its squashed. The HMO was an immediate response to that – well we’re going to have to find a way to satisfy all populations, all interested parties.
TM: So I hope the students of St Andrews University will think very carefully about who they are voting for, think hard about independence, think hard about Brexit and vote for me.