The Student spoke to Ben Parker, the Green Party candidate for Edinburgh South West, to find out why he thinks the party’s policies could appeal to young people.
How did you first get involved with the Green Party?
I joined the Greens when I was 16. I think I always had a little bit of an interest in politics, but it increased in 2010 when the Conservative government came in and there were a lot of changes made to education. As a student, I felt the impact of it personally, but my parents are also both primary school teachers. They were definitely affected by it and after I saw what was happening in terms of their working conditions I started to look at politics more formally.
What was it about the party’s ethos that appealed to you?
I think there’s something nice about being a smaller party. It makes our politics a lot kinder and more collaborative and that’s what really appealed. When you look at the Tories and Labour, it’s very ‘macho’. There’s a lot of bravado because it’s all about winning the election, when actually politics should be more about making people’s lives better. I don’t think you are able to do that if you are constantly beating your chest and saying ‘we’re the best’.
You recently graduated from Edinburgh University. How do you think it helps to be a younger candidate standing for election?
I’m 23 and I graduated in July. I think I understand certain issues better than some of the older candidates. For instance, I rent a flat privately in Edinburgh: it’s terrible! It’s cold and we don’t have central heating or double glazing. I’m looking at a large amount of student debt and I work two part time jobs, which I think is common amongst younger people. Those experiences give me a background that is quite different to what other candidates are used to.
I was also born in 1996, which means I grew up in a digital world. When you look at the way politics is operating and how campaigns are moving online now, I’m probably more savvy and aware of how to approach this technology.
Do you think it’s a good thing that politics is becoming more digital, or is it potentially dangerous?
It’s definitely dangerous if we don’t have the right checks on things that are being spread. Electoral law was written years and years ago, before the Internet existed. If we look at the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, a lot of that was conducted on social media and they were fined for breaking electoral law. I think we need to get better at making politics reflect that we’re in the 21st century.
On the flipside, it absolutely is a positive thing. You have a much bigger reach of people. If you can get a message out on Facebook or another social platform, more people are going to see it. It can only be a good thing in terms of scrutiny of our politicians. It’s much easier for voters to look up what their local MP has voted on and what they are getting up to.
How else do you help the community in your part time jobs overseeing volunteering projects in Edinburgh?
I work two jobs. I’m a volunteer coordinator for a nationwide disability housing charity. People come to us in pretty dire situations and we help them out. I get to talk about a lot of the happy endings and I really enjoy seeing the ways in which we can make a difference.
I’m also the shop manager the One World Fair Trade shop at the bottom of Princes Street. I think there’s a myth that Green views of the economy are totally unsustainable and what really matters is the profit margin. But I know that business can be done differently, and that’s what Fair Trade is about: treating people fairly, giving them a decent wage and making sure they have labour representation. So it’s really rewarding to be part of something that is doing ‘business’ in the right way and putting people at the heart of it rather than profit.
One of the aims of the Green party is to scrap tuition fees for university students and write off the existing debt of former students, but some may doubt how realistic this is- how can we deliver such a policy?
It comes down to a party’s priorities in terms of spending. We could be taxing more fairly, so we would introduce a wealth tax. Another example is that we are currently spending billions of pounds on nuclear weapons. We don’t think that’s a responsible way to invest our money, so we’d redirect these funds into reducing student debt. This would free up millions of people and allow them to invest better in social enterprise and local communities.
It’s also worth noting that since the government tripled tuition fees in England and Wales, they’re actually making less money back from the student loan system due to the fact that no one is paying it back anymore. So not only do we think that it’s fair for everyone to have a right to education, but it is also the case that, economically speaking, the policy has failed and so should be readdressed.
The Green party has talked about moving away from the rigid ‘production line’ and ‘endless testing and measuring’ of today’s education system and reintroducing the ‘freedom to flourish and grow’- do you think this is something we have lost sight of in education?
Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. We would want to see a much broader education. Our Green New Deal is about creating hundreds of thousands of good quality jobs across Scotland in low-carbon industries and manufacturing. At the moment, we are not equipping people with proper skills needed for those kinds of industries, so there’s definitely a need to reform the education system.
What do you think ordinary people should be doing to tackle climate change in their everyday lives?
There’s lots of things people can do, from reducing consumption and recycling more to having a KeepCup instead of a disposable one. But ultimately I don’t think that this is the right question to be asking. 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions, so individual action is important but actually we need structural change. Having a bamboo toothbrush or a reusable coffee cup isn’t enough to solve the problem. The most important thing individuals can do is to vote and vote seriously about climate change.
You say that we must take action to stop climate change within ten years. How hopeful are you that this can be achieved?
I’m hopeful. We have the knowledge and this isn’t a new problem, it’s one we’ve known about for decades. Lots of people say that our ambitious plans on climate change are ‘not politically possible’. For me, that’s bullsh*t. The question shouldn’t be about what’s politically possible, it should be about what’s scientifically necessary. We always seem to find money for other things, like war or tax cuts. If we’d started this transition 40 years ago, we’d be there by now. The fact that we’re at a crisis point is because of our inactivity.
When we say that we have ten years to stop climate change, we talk about trying to limit warming to under 2 degrees. Now, that’s not because 2 degrees is safe, but simply because it’s the only amount we can take. As soon as we get to 4 degrees, we’re talking about mass flooding, coastal towns being lost and catastrophic consequences worldwide. At 6 degrees, you’re talking about 95% of life on Earth being extinct. So when people say ‘is it possible?’, my counterargument is ‘well, what’s the alternative?’.
Why should students vote Green?
Lots of reasons! We are the only party who are talking about a total transformational change in terms of the way that society works. While other parties treat the environment as an add-on or an afterthought, we build all of our policies within the understanding that we have one planet to live on.
We’ve had years and years of ‘business as usual’ politics and we’ve seen the main parties slide from left to right, whereas the Greens have always been consistent. We’ve been consistent on austerity, climate change, standing up for freedom of movement and migration, independence for Scotland and remaining in the EU. If those are all things that you care about and you want to vote for a party which has that track record of consistency, then you should absolutely vote for us.
Image: via Ben Parker