On Thursday 8 June 2017, there will be a general election in the UK. The UK general election system is neither an everyday occurrence nor a straightforward affair, thus, a brief overview of the general process will firstly be provided, followed by a summarisation of several key issues addressed in the main political party manifestos in an attempt to provide St Andrews students with a bit of knowledge to help them understand ideas and changes relevant to them.
17 days prior to a general election, parliament dissolves, and, if they are seeking re-election all Members of Parliament (MPs) go home to campaign. However, for these 17 days, there are no MPs in the UK. Every five years there is a regularly scheduled general election, and the last election was in 2015, though an election can be called at anytime so long as it obtains 2/3rds support by Parliament. Today, there are 650 MPs in the UK – a direct correlation to the number of districts. Since the UK operates on a parliamentary system, voters (who must register by May 22 to be eligible to vote in the election) must balance local and national concerns when deciding who will get their vote. Whichever party wins a majority of MP seats throughout the country will then generally form the new government. However, there are exceptions to this, for instance in 2010, when the Conservative party did not win enough votes to form a government, they created a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
The upcoming election is of a paramount concern to St Andrews students. There are currently a wide range of issues that are bitterly contested between parties which thus have a direct effect on large swaths of the St Andrews student population. Issues such as Brexit, immigration, and tuition fees will be front and center during this election, thus it is important that St Andrews students know where different parties stand on these key issues in order to make informed decisions on which party will best represent them and their interests. So what are some of the specific stances that the four main parties – the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish National Party (SNP) – have on issues related to the students of St Andrews?
In regards to Brexit, the Labour Party backed the Remain faction during the referendum just as the Conservatives did. They propose to honour the referendum results while continuing to work closely with the EU. The Labour party seeks to maintain existing workers, environmental, and consumer protections, maintain British involvement in schemes such as Erasmus, and are open to remaining in the EU customs union and protecting rights of EU nationals living in the UK. The Labour Party’s desire to honour the referendum results while continuing a close relationship with the EU could be a part of the reason that they have garnered so much support from students and younger Britons alike. The end of Erasmus scheme, for example, would be detrimental to young people in the UK, including St Andrews students who can currently participate in the scheme.
On immigration, the Labour party, led by Mr. Corbyn, does not advocate for a reduction of immigrants per year. Rather, they propose getting rid of wealth requirements for spouses of migrants, removing students from the immigration quota, and creating a Migrant Impact Fund, a fund designed to help ameliorate the strain placed upon public services due to the recent influx of immigrants. Importantly, removing students from the immigration quota could make potentially make it easier for certain international students at St Andrews to obtain visas.
In addition, the Labour Party would like to get rid of University tuition fees, a facet of their manifesto that makes them popular with undergraduate students. According to an article on the Huffington Post, some 55 per cent of university undergraduates are expected to support the Labour Party in the election.
Delving into the Conservative manifesto, specifically addressing issues that matter most to St Andrews students, I will first look at Brexit. Theresa May, as well as a majority of the conservative MPs, did not support the Leave faction during the referendum, yet now support a full retreat from the EU.The Conservatives, or “Tories,” advocate creating deals with nations outside the EU, quitting the EU customs union, and a “Great Repeal Bill” to convert EU laws and regulations to British laws and regulations. Furthermore, it will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act. In other words, specific EU laws will no longer take precedence over UK laws, while the “Great Repeal Bill” ends the authority of the European Court of Justice in the UK. In regards to immigration, the Tories seek to reduce the UK’s overall net immigration from the hundreds of thousands per year to the tens of thousands–what they refer to as a sustainable level of immigration. They seek to tighten requirements for student visas and expect students to leave the UK upon completion of their studies. This could have a detrimental impact on international students currently at St Andrews, who hope to remain in the UK upon graduation, as well as potential, future St Andrews students who currently live abroad. The Tories’ final immigration goal is to rework the visa process as a whole, increasing the financial wherewithal an individual needs to sponsor a family and better align the visa process with the UK’s modern industrialist strategy. The Conservative manifesto also indicates that university tuition fees would remain as they are. Indeed, it was the Tory party that increased tuition fees to £9,000 in 2010 and implemented the change in 2012. With this increase, tuition fees could also be held accountable for inflation every year until 2020. Additionally, thanks to a post-Brexit economic slump, students could pay a higher interest rate on loans – up to 6.1% to be specific. Yet not to be forgotten, it was through the Labour party and under Tony Blair in 1998 that tuition fees were adjusted to £1,000 pounds per year.
In addition to highlighting the key positions of the Labour and Conservative parties, I hope to provide an overview on the key points of views found in the Liberal Democrats and SNP manifestos.
In regards to Brexit, the Liberal Democrats maintain a pro-EU stance, despite the referendum results. They are campaigning on a policy of preventing Brexit. Specifically, the Liberal Democrats seek to maintain UK involvement in the EU customs union, the single market, and the free movement of people. Immigration is another important issue to the Liberal Democrats and to St Andrews students, considering the fact that many students come from overseas, or seek to go overseas upon graduation and thus will require visas.In a speech given by party leader Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats supported the freedom of movement between the UK and EU. Moreover, like the Labour party, they propose the removal of students from the official immigration quota, and seek to welcome highly skilled immigrants in lacking sectors. Finally the Liberal Democrats seek to reestablish the child refugee scheme “Dubs,” which provides transport and assistance to unaccompanied refugee minors travelling from Europe to the UK. According to the manifesto, they hope to accept 500,000 additional Syrian refugees over a five-year period. Lastly on tuition fees, the Liberal Democrats strive to regain student trust after their 2010 flip flop, during which they voted for the Conservative headed university tuition fee increase despite a pledge to oppose it when the potential to form a coalition government was proposed. While in the 2017 election campaign the Liberal Democrats have not promised to get rid of tuition fees, they are seeking to regain younger voters through other financial matters, such as reduced bus fare for 16-21 year olds and reversing housing benefit slashes in the budget for 18-21 year olds.
The SNP’s stance on key issues could be of paramount importance to St Andrews students who, for at least 9 months a year, call Scotland home. Led by Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP sees Brexit through the eyes of Scottish nationalism and would like for Scotland to maintain an independent seat in the Brexit negotiations. Furthermore, the SNP seeks a second Scottish independence referendum before the UK fully leaves Brexit. The SNP suggests that Scotland remain in the EU single market, guaranteeing the rights of NHS workers from mainland Europe, and confirming that the fishing industry not be used as a bargaining chip between the Tories, who hope to integrate certain EU fishing regulations that could help the Scottish fishing industry, and the SNP, who do not want this aid to be utilised as a way to gain SNP cooperation in other areas. In regards to immigration, the SNP advocates for EU nationals in the UK to be able to remain in the country. Furthermore, they support the reestablishment of refugee scheme “Dubs.” Yet the most dramatic portion of the SNP’s proposed immigration policy is their proposal for Scotland to act independently from the rest of the UK on immigration issues, allowing them to control immigration levels to Scotland in itself, potentially enticing EU citizens. In regards to tuition fees, the SNP supports the abolition of university fees for students. The fact that Scottish universities are free for Scottish students could provide a possible model for expansion into the rest of the UK, if the SNP manage to win enough seats.
In sum, it is important for St Andrews students to make a concentrated effort to vote on June 8th, and to consider which candidate or party will support them locally and nationally. Apart from these key issues that could affect all students at St Andrews, voters are encouraged to read the individual major party manifestos in order to effectively compare and contrast the candidates running in their districts.