SNP, Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Greens clashed in Teviot Debating Hall last night (30 March) during the Politics and International Relations (PIR) Society’s General Election Debate.
The event, which was jointly hosted by outgoing PIR Society president Maxwell Greenberg and outgoing EUSA president Briana Pegado, saw ten speakers answer questions from the hosts and the audience. The speakers consisted of one parliamentary candidate and one student from each of the represented parties.
The SNP were represented by Neil Hay and student Richard Lovell. Hay was hit-and-miss with the audience, his blunt speech sometimes raising applause and sometimes failing to excite the audience. Lovell spoke levelly about SNP policy during his times at the podium.
Hay spoke to The Student, saying “It was a good event, and the questions were good. The only thing I probably would raise is that I’d have liked to have seen all of the parties on the stage to have their say, as opposed to five, as I think we’ve got two more now – UKIP and certainly the Scottish Socialists.”
During the audience questions, one member of the SSP (Scottish Socialist Party) was selected and spoke up on behalf of his party, echoing Hay’s concern that not all parties were represented.
Ian Murray, who was MP for Edinburgh South until parliament dissolved yesterday, stood alongside first-year student Shonagh Munro on behalf of Labour. Murray emphasised to The Student and to the audience the importance of students and the need to vote, saying that students are too often “taken for granted”.
He said: “Well it’s great to have students involved in the campaign because I’ve made repeatedly tonight the point that students need to get out to vote, they need to register to vote, they need to make sure their voice is heard. Because we have to discuss some of these issues that are important to younger people and particularly students in Edinburgh. So it’s good to have that debate.”
The Conservative speakers were parliamentary candidate Ian McGill and student Rachel May Varley. Their ideas were largely received icily by the audience. May Varley commented to The Student after the debate that “to be honest, not much Conservative support [was] going on down there, but we were expecting that. Maybe our supporters are a little bit more well-behaved, should I say.”
May Varley, who has supported the Conservatives since she was 16, admitted that while she doesn’t agree with everything the party says, she believes it is the best choice in the election and will continue promoting them in Edinburgh. She said: “I’d like to be changing the image of the Conservative party that are here in Edinburgh – making people feel like they can vote Conservative […] without a reputation attached to it.”
Liberal Democrat candidate Pramod Subbaraman and student Jonathan Ainslie gave meticulously detailed, although not wholly popular, answers throughout the debate. Ainslie was interrupted more than once by Pegado and Greenberg as he explained Lib Dem policy, having gone over his allotted time.
The Green candidate, Phyl Meyer, arrived late to the debate, having received the wrong starting time. Second-year student Matthew Nicholson held his post until then. The Greens received some loud rounds of applause, but were criticised on twitter.
George Melhuish commented online: “Greens in audience clapping the Green candidate saying we shouldn’t grow our economy is one of the weirdest things ever”
Meyer, speaking to The Student after the debate, commented that: “The chairs did the best they could with, as usual, a reasonably unruly bunch. […] It was a good debate. Good questions.”
Regarding the Green Party’s image, he said: “We do still struggle with the false impression that we’re just all about the environment, a fringe party, and so on and so forth. But there is a lot of good research behind our manifesto.”
Greenberg and Pegado aimed questions at the ten speakers concerning votes for 16 and 17 year olds, the importance of voting, post-study work visas and zero-hour contracts.
Questions from the audience included issues involving LGBT+ rights, women’s representation, homelessness, and the “squeezed middle.”
More on this to follow
Photo credit: Edinburgh University PIR Society