So many people wanted to attend Sunday’s hustings for Glasgow North candidates that the doors had to be closed when the maximum of 150 was reached in Hillhead Baptist Church building. Organised by the West End group of Churches – ACTS - and welcomed by Alison Spurway, the event was chaired by Professor John Curtice whose political commentaries are legendary. He posed the questions which had been submitted earlier.
Each candidate started by setting out their party’s stall. SNP’s Patrick Grady, said he wanted the energy of the Referendum to re-vitalise politics at Westminster. Opposed to austerity and spending on weapons of mass destruction, he said his party would be a strong voice for Glasgow. He said: ‘Glasgow North is a most idverse area of inequality and presents great challenges. The SNP would represet you with heart and passion.’
Simon Bone, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist (CON) candidate for Glasgow Central, stood in on behalf of his party colleague Lauren Anne Hankinson. He said there were three reasons people in the constituency should vote for her on May 7 – ‘We are part of the Union and that was demonstrated by the Referendum. We’re a young party with a growing membership and young leader, Ruth Davidson. And we’re the party for business – especially small and medium enterprises because we’d keep business tax low and opportunities up.’
GREEN Party candidate Dr Martin Bartos, said his party would put public transport back into public hands to keep profit for people not business. ‘We’re the party for people, the planet and peace,’ he added.
UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) Jamie Robertson said this was a most exciting year to have a general election. ‘The Scots always punch their weight in the UK,’ he said.
James Harrison, a candidate in Glasgow North West, was standing in for Scottish Liberal Democrat (LIB DEM)’s Jade Elizabeth O’Neil. He said his Party would promote fair taxes by cutting taxes, raising the tax threshold and introducing new green laws. ‘We’d fight for quality of healthcare and mental health,’ he said.
Ann McKechin, Scottish Labour Party (LAB) – who has held the seat for the past 10 years – said that had been a great privilege and she hoped the electorate would vote for her to continue. ‘I have a strong commitment and am passionate about many things including promoting a living wage, ending the obscenity of fees for industrial tribunals, the future of our young people and social justice.’ She also advocated an end to food banks and stated clearly that she wanted David Cameron out of office.
Angela McCormick of Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) said the same old voices of the main Westminster parties had ‘made life misery for thousands.’ She said a key election issue should be the plight of the people who had died in the Mediterranean. ‘The denial of action to save them and the racism of UKIP, should make you cry.’ She railed against ‘the rich getting richer,’ sanctions and the vast numbers who didn’t earn a living wage.
Russell Benson, introduced as the candidate for the ‘Cannabis is Better than Alcohol’ Party correct that, amid laughter, to say he was standing for ‘Cannibis Is Safer Than Alcohol.’ He posited that 1 million patients found cannabis an effective medical treatment and that they should not be criminalised. ‘We could save £300m before even considering tax,’ he said.
Asked their position on nuclear weapons, Ann McKechin (LAB) said she had opposed them since 2007 and voted against the renewal of Trident. Patrick Grady (SNP) said he joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament before he joined the SNP. ‘Weapons of mass destruction are a moral outrage. Especially when Ed Milliband said he wouldn’t press the button – yet any Government he might lead would cut help for the poor but spend on weapons. I’d vote against them at every opportunity if elected,’ he said. Simon Bone (CON) posed the question: ‘Why get rid of them when North Korea is working to have them and other countries will have them in a year to 18 months? Yes, they are a deterrent and the Americans pay for them.’ He clarified that the UK pays for the warheads. James Harrison said he wasn’t involved in negotiations so couldn’t say if the Lib Dems would ‘draw a red line’ on Trident reduction but he wanted to see a reduction in the weapons around the world. Martin Bartos (GREEN) admitted the topic depressed him and he was utterly opposed to nuclear weapons. ‘If they are a deterrent, then why not arm everyone in Glasgow with knives or guns? It isn’t rational. It doesn’t make the world safer by having nuclear weapons and calling them deterrents. They are as abhorrent as biological or chemical weapons. True leadership would have the moral authority to get rid of them if they don’t want to destroy the planet.’
Jamie Robertson said UKIP would support renewal but admitted the weapons were frightening. His comment: ‘They do support a lot of jobs in Scotland,’ was greeted with groans from the audience. Angela McCormick (TUSC) immediately responded to say the STUC has that week published a report which ‘knocked the myth of jobs on the head,’ and referred people to the STUC’s website.
On the question: ‘Is the financial deficit really important?’ Simon Bone quipped: ‘personally or Government?’ Then revealed that the debts from World War 1 had just been paid back, finally, three weeks before. ‘We’ve got to balance the books. If we borrow, we have to pay back.’ Martin Bartos pointed out that the way you run a nation’s economy is different from how you manage the money in your wallet. ‘When the banks failed, vast quantities of money were printed which went to the banks. But that did not help. We should let this model of austerity go and scrutinise the dogma that has fed it so long. It is better if we think along the lines of a farmer in difficulty needing resources to buy seeds to sow crops to have the hope of harvesting more in the future.’
James Harrison’s response was to end tax evasion. His party would not rectify things by cutting welfare as the Tory’s had done. Instead Lib Dems would grow the economy to grow more jobs. Ann McKechin said far too many people got too little return for their work. With 500,000 working people dependent on housing benefit, the economy was not working. Higher wages and spending on research and development were ways Labour would grow the economy. Russell Benson’s solution was to ‘take the economy out of the hands of gangsters and put into the hands of public bodies.’ Angela McCormick’s answer for TUSC was to highlight trade union protests on the cuts planned for the following week. She said: ‘This is not your deficit. It is the bankers’ deficit. They gambled and lost. It is a sick joke that we are asked to pay when the 1000 richest people in the UK own £500 billion. If the wealthy tax dodgers were taxed that would bring in £100bn.’ And she warned of bigger cuts to come.
Jamie Robertson’s line from UKIP was to come out of Europe. ‘That would save billions.’ Patrick Grady (SNP) also warned of ‘worse to come.’ But he pointed out that Finance Minister, John Swinney had balanced the books of the Scottish Government since 2007.
A questioner from the audience asked the candidates to justify the loss of thousands of further education lecturers’ jobs. Ann McKechin (LAB) said she’s lobbied Glasgow University to pay the living wage as they had some people on zero hours contracts. Labour’s policy was to stop the exploitation of people by forbidding zero hours contracts after 12 weeks. Patrick Grady said it was a free education that motivated him to get into politics. Jamie Robertson (UKIP) said it was ‘a tragedy’ that people were written off and his party would give people a full-time contract after 12 months.
Angela McCormick (TUSC) said the Tory party – supported by UKIP would be too ‘right wing’ and had already attacked the rights of workers. ‘I work in further education and know we need to start to do things differently.’
The next question was on the refugees dying in the Mediterranean. ‘These are Europe’s Boat People,’ said the questioner. ‘Shouldn’t we let them come and bring their assets?’ With Professor Curtis interjecting: ‘Should we take a share of these refugees?’
Answers ranged from Jamies Robertson confirming his party’s policy on more control of UK borders to prevent ‘unlimited immigration.’ Adding that he favoured the Australian points system. to James Harrison (LIB DEM) saying it was ‘a disgrace’ that Europe had reduced the budget (to save those drowning in the Mediterranean) at a time of great need.
Green Party’s Martin Bartos told how his Czech parents came to the UK in the 1980s and he, with them, worked to be good citizens here. ‘We believe immigration helps the economy and enriches culture.’ He also said that as a psychiatrist, he had treated people (asylum seekers) who had gone through torture. ‘But what was worse was seeing them put through unspeakable things in the immigration process. That is our shame.’
Going against his party’s policy, Conservative Simon Bone declared there wasn’t enough immigration. ‘We forget the numbers we export to Spain, for example. I’d encourage more immigration.’ Patrick Grady (SNP) supported more immigration. ‘We support the right of people to move and be global citizens. Scotland would be a welcome beacon and this would be to our well-being.’ Angela McCormick (TUSC) said the present government had made a conscious decision not to help the asylum seekers and so, in her view, they had murder on their conscience. ‘We take nowhere near the number of refugees we should . This is a humanitarian crisis.’
She added that Dungavel was ‘Scotland’s shame’ and should be closed down. She highlighted an STUC sponsored protest there on Saturday 30 May in solidarity with the asylum seekers detained in Dungavel who are on hunger strike because of the conditions and the unlimited time they are kept there. Russell Benson considered there was a link between people being trafficked, illegal immigration and the unregulated drugs market. ‘We have an archaic policy in the UK.’ Simon Bone (CON) said the UK had a moral duty to help: ‘We were partly responsible for the conflicts that caused people to migrate.’
On the local issue of the future of the North Kelvin Meadow – wild green space wanted by local people for children to play in and by developers to build flats – all candidates were against the commercial development of the space.
Asked by Professor Curtis what aspect of their Party’s policies they were least comfortable with, there was a wide range of answers. Patrick Grady (SNP) said he’d prefer an elected head of state instead of retaining the Queen, though he’d stand by the promise to abolish the House of Lords.
LIB DEM’s James Harrison admitted abandoning tuition fees had been a mistake and cost votes. GREEN’s Martin Bartos wished his party had a much cleverer way to get more people standing as candidates. Russell Benson said that Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol was a single issue party. ‘We could fight on more issues – for example safer alcohol. It can be used as a safe relaxant but it is also tearing communities apart.’
Conservative’s Simon Bone said he was a bit embarrassed by members with extreme views going to UKIP. On the bedroom tax, he didn’t think people should be punished for having an extra room. ‘We should be able to manage the situation better by allowing people to rent out the spare room and make some income.’
Ann McKechin (LAB) admitted it was ‘a very difficult question.’ She said she’d like an MP to interpret issues according to their own constituency and their own principles. ‘Some were opposed to the war in Iraq or to Trident and are prepared to take the consequences.’ Angela McCormick said she had no difficulty with anything in her party’s manifesto: ‘I helped write it!’ She added that the most uncomfortable thing for her was to ‘stand here’ at the hustings meeting.
UKIP candidate Jamie Robertson raised a laugh when he said with hesitation: ‘I’d need to read the manifesto (again) but…I support it all.’
If you fancy a chat with Andy Kershaw, intrepid reporter, fearless broadcaster and unique music man you have a chance when he hits the Arches in Glasgow on Tuesday 28 February.
‘This is better than a proper job,’ said Andy who is launching his biography ‘No Off Switch’ and taking the opportunity to tour 33 venues across the country to continue the conversation with people who want to talk with him. ‘Radio is a solitary occupation, so it’s good for me to get out and about.’
Andy presented his Radio 1 show for 15 years till he was sacked in May 2000. He joined Radio 3 about a year later and covered stories such as the volcanic eruption on Montserrat which happened the day after he’d arrived on the island with his partner for ‘a quiet Caribbean holiday.’
His autobiography concentrates on four particular areas he’s reported on: North Korea where he made the very first film from inside that secretive country carried by Channel 4 and where he’s been on holiday three times. Rwanda where he reported on the genocide there in 1994. ‘That was an awful situation which badly needed to be reported. Too many journalists were too scared to go there,’ he said. And some of his adventures in Haiti and Zimbabwe which are among the 97 of the 194 countries in the world, Andy has visited.
‘I’ve had 30 years of amazing adventures, seen history being made and reported on these things as a journalist,’ said Andy. ‘It is just as well I didn’t write my biography 20 years ago. While my homework may be a bit late, I’ve got more to say
And he says them through music too. Running the entertainments section of the students union at Leeds University in the early 80s for two and a half years, he lined up The Clash, Elvis Costello, Black Uhuru among many others. This took him to London – without a degree – as Billy Bragg’s driver and roadie. There his music career took off and his first asignment was a report for Whistle Test on the Monsters of Rock heavy metal festival. He now holds two honorary degrees from other universities.
‘Right now’ he comments there is ‘nothing new since Bob Dylan – who should have retired in 1976.’ But he claims he’s ‘too nosy to retire.’
His biggest challenge so far has been ‘Fatherhood! That’s the biggest responsibility and the most enjoyable experience of the lot.’
For tickets see the Arches website : www.thearches.co.uk