Christine Jardine, the MP for Edinburgh West, was first elected in the 2017 general election, one of only four Liberal Democrat successes in Scotland, and increased her majority in December’s vote.
In that election, the Liberal Democrats enjoyed an increase in vote share of 6.8 per cent in Scotland but lost former leader Jo Swinson’s seat to the SNP.
Jardine points out that the party’s support is wide but less concentrated than that for Labour and the Conservatives, and that the Liberal Democrats could have done better with a different voting system. Will the party be pushing the government to consider electoral reform?
“We’re always pushing for electoral reform,” Jardine responds, “but they’re not going to listen, because it’s not in their interests.”
A study by the Electoral Reform Society suggests that had the system of proportional representation been used, the Conservatives would have won 77 fewer seats in December than they did under first-past-the-post.
This would have resulted in a hung parliament with 70 Liberal Democrat MPs rather than the current 11.
The Liberal Democrats’ slogan, “Stop Brexit: Build a Brighter Future”, did not lead to a wholesale movement of Remainers to the party, and Brexit has now gone ahead.
What are the Liberal Democrats’ ambitions for the UK’s future relationship with the EU?
“The first hurdle will be at the end of the year, at the end of the transition period,” Jardine says, “when we are hoping to maintain a good relationship with the EU and not go over a cliff edge. That’s our first priority; our second priority is to have as close as possible a future relationship and protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU.”
As well as being passionately European, Jardine’s party is pro-union; given the success of the SNP in December’s election (when the party won 47 of Scotland’s 59 seats), is she optimistic about the future of the union between Scotland and the rest of the UK?
“Yes,” Jardine says, qualifying, “but it depends on hard work to protect it.
“The Union is under as much threat as it was four years ago, but far from what the SNP claim. A lot of their success came from tactical voting against the Conservatives to remain in the EU.
“And we took North-East Fife.” North-East Fife was, in 2017, the closest-run constituency race in the UK.
Stephen Gethins held the seat that year by just two votes, but Jardine’s party did indeed win it last year, when new MP Wendy Chamberlain gained a majority of 1,316.
Jardine has, since August 2019, been the Liberal Democrats spokesperson for Women and Equalities.
“First priority is the Domestic Abuse Bill, which Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg has promised will come before Parliament before Easter,” she explains.
“Apart from that, we will be pushing on LGBT rights – the government promised in 2018 to criminalise conversion therapy but this hasn’t happened, so I have a written question tabled about that.”
Victoria Atkins, the Minister for Women, has since responded to this question, saying, “This Government will deliver on the LGBT Action Plan, including the commitment to end conversion therapy.”
Elsewhere in equalities, Jardine emphasises that the gender and BAME pay gaps must be closed.
She is also committed to ending the gap between, “what women pay for basics and what men pay for basics – clothes, haircuts, toiletries…due to the gender pay gap, women earn less, but pay more…there is this invisible inequality.”
It’s difficult to interview a Liberal Democrat for a student newspaper without mentioning tuition fees – why, having potentially lost a lot of trust, is the party the best option for students?
“We’re not just the best party for students, we’re the best party for everyone,” Jardine tells me.
“We aim to create equality of opportunity – there is a gap in opportunities for those from deprived areas, and those from middle-class backgrounds.
“We’ve moved on from tuition fees…There is an increasing shortage of places for Scottish students at Scottish universities because of the pressure to fill places with students who pay more.”
Finally, she states that there is a need to tackle funding problems more widely, not just tuition fees.
At a time when politics can be considered to have an increasingly toxic atmosphere, and trust in politicians may not be at its highest, what would Jardine say to students who are considering pursuing a career in politics?
“Please do,” she says, “It’s very rewarding if you’re in it for the right reasons – to make a difference to people’s lives.
“The most rewarding thing is seeing people you’ve been able to help. Get in touch with your local party and see how you could get involved.
“Don’t be bamboozled by the idea of Parliament and power and all of that – it’s about helping people.”
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