The Student spoke to Liberal Democrat’s candidate for Edinburgh South West, Tom Inglis, to discuss how he feels the party has progressed since the coalition and in advance of the General Election.
Why should students trust the Lib Dems? Do you feel that your party has regained some of the trust that may have been lost as a result of going into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010?
I think that the Lib Dems were able to achieve positive things in the Coalition with the Conservatives, like trebling renewable energy, introducing same sex marriage and shared parental leave, raising the threshold at which people pay income tax, and introducing a pupil premium in England.
But I also think that the raising of tuition fees having scrapped them in Scotland and pledged to scrap them in England was a mistake, as were the level of cuts to public services and expenditure that were not ring fenced. I think that being honest about mistakes and having clear and achievable policies on stopping Brexit, keeping our United Kingdom together, tackling the climate emergency, and building a fairer economy with better funded public services, help to win back trust.
Many students will be first-time voters in this election. What does your party have to offer students at the University of Edinburgh, and students and young people across the UK as a whole?
I think that some of the most important things for students and young people are feeling that they can make their voice heard in the political system, having a clear route to a sustainable income, having an affordable place to live and start to build their life, and having the opportunity to expand their horizons and easily study, work, live and build relationships abroad.
We want to extend voting rights to 16 – 17 year olds; reform our democracy so that all elections use a form or proportional representation called Single Transferable Vote (used for Council elections in Scotland); complete the devolution settlement with a written constitution, elected House of Lords and regional devolution in England; support flexible working with a 20% increase in the Minimum Wage for people on zero hours contracts and a “dependent contractor” employment status with minimum earnings levels, sick pay and holiday entitlement; and to build 300,000 more homes per year, especially social housing and homes for rent. In stopping Brexit, we want young people to continue to enjoy the benefits of accessing 28 countries to learn and work.
A recent YouGov poll suggested that young people, more so than the general population, consider the environment to be one of the most important issues facing the country. If you get into government, how will the Liberal Democrats tackle the climate crisis?
The Lib Dems have always been passionate about the environment, and we have produced an ambitious but credible plan to tackle the climate emergency. We have set a target of 2045 for net-zero carbon emissions, but action would start straight away on the biggest contributors – we’d switch to 80% renewable energy by 2030 by investing in offshore wind, tidal and solar energy and better connecting our grid with Europe; and we’d start a massive programme of insulating buildings so that by 2025 we need much less energy to heat our homes and can put an end to fuel poverty. In addition, we’d electrify all railways, tax frequent flyers more and oppose further airport expansion, and ban the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030.
Two difficult parts of the greenhouse gas problem are agriculture and industry – we’d introduce better regulation and encourage the use of carbon capture and storage technology wherever possible, as well as planting 60 million trees per year to start taking more CO2 out of the atmosphere. Finally, we’d ban fracking across the UK, and introduce a Just Transition Commission to migrate the fossil fuel industry into sustainable jobs.
As a vegan myself, I’d like us to encourage people to eat far less meat, because I think that meat consumption contributes significantly to climate change because of the methane emissions and because it encourages deforestation in countries like Brazil.
You are against a second referendum on independence for Scotland, but support a second referendum on Brexit. Some may find these views contradictory; how do you reconcile them in your own head?
I think that Scotland should be at the heart of the UK and the UK at the heart of Europe. Being part of both organisations and reforming them from a leading position, better enables us to work with our friends and neighbours to tackle the climate emergency, environmental and workers’ rights, ensures our businesses can trade freely in goods and services with 65 and 500 million people, and that we can recruit talented people to staff our NHS and public services.
A referendum on constitutional change should require a confirmatory vote after any change has been negotiated. I think it’s entirely right that now that we know what Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement is, we should be able to vote on whether or not to accept it, particularly when it causes such damage to our United Kingdom by crashing us out of the single market and customs union and forcing Northern Irish businesses to fill in forms to sell goods to the rest of their own country.
I think that to have another referendum on breaking up our United Kingdom next year, in the middle of the Brexit chaos, is utter madness. It is chaos upon chaos, and the reason the SNP want this, is because they see it as their best hope of winning. We had a vote in 2014, and I am not opposed to us having another one in a generation’s time, if there is still a demand for one, but I like to take my constitutional crises one at a time.
I believe that we are best served by stopping Brexit as soon as we can, and then mucking in and really improving our United Kingdom with proper political reform – PR, elected House of Lords, meaningful regional devolution in England (i.e. parliaments with the same power as the Welsh Assembly), and a written constitution. That’s the way to restore trust in politics and make people in Scotland who currently favour independence feel like they have an equal stake in the Union.
In 2017, the Liberal Democrats won just 4.3% of the vote in your constituency. Are you optimistic about gaining on this enough to win the seat? What are your grounds for such optimism?
A lot has changed since 2017 – we have faced the cliff edge of a No Deal Brexit several times and know just how awful Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement will be for jobs, for staffing our public services, and for opportunities for young people and students to explore the continent and build their lives as European citizens.
In May, the Liberal Democrats came second in Edinburgh South West, the Conservatives were 4th and Labour 6th. Many people who have previously voted Conservative or Labour are backing me at this election, because they know that the Liberal Democrats are the only party unequivocally wanting to stay in the UK and in the EU, and they like our serious and achievable plans to tackle the climate emergency and build a fairer economy.
We can’t afford the Conservatives or the SNP to win here – both will do such damage to our country, and distract us from the real perils that we face in the climate and in growing inequality.
Finally, how do you think the Liberal Democrats election campaign is going overall?
I think that the campaign across the country is going well, and that we have a chance to win a significant number of seats at this election. In particular we are likely to win a lot of seats from the Conservatives in the South of England, which is going to be very important in stopping them from getting a majority, which would enable them to crash us out of the European Union. The question is whether we can win more seats from them than the Conservatives can win from Labour in the Midlands and Northern England.
People are responding positively to our clear position on staying in the EU and in the UK, our genuine and well thought out plan to tackle the climate emergency, and our desire to build a fairer and more sustainable and more equal economy.
Image: via libdems.org.uk