As you may or may not be aware, Thursday (the 3rd of May) is Local Council Election day. While this might not exactly thrill you into a state of excited frenzy, the council (or cooncil, as we say it where I come from) is important for students, controlling as it does vital aspects of student life, particularly housing. As such, the QMU held a hustings for the candidates for the Hillhead ward on Monday night, in an attempt to get them to answer the questions that students need answered.
Candidates from the five of the parties standing attended, from the Lib Dems (Kenneth Elder), the SNP (Ken Andrews), the Greens (Martha Wardrop), Labour (Pauline McKeevie) and the Conservatives (Richard Sullivan, actually standing in Shettlestone, not Hillhead). They were an eclectic bunch, for Pauline McKeevie, it was her first ever hustings, but some of the others were clearly old hands.
The hustings began with opening statements, during which the candidates made clear that they felt that the 30 year Labour stranglehold on Glasgow councils had to come to an end. Change was the word of the day, with even the Labour candidate acknowledging that it’s time for new blood, pointing out that both herself and the other Labour candidate running had never held a position before. That rang a little hollow though.
There was a worrying moment early on when the Labour candidate’s inexperience showed, and it seemed (to general dismay) that she may well just read from the manifesto all night. Thankfully, she realised that this would have been unpopular, and began to move away from prepared statements. However, it must be said that none of the candidates were particularly charismatic on stage(‘as a used hanky’ was one viewer’s comment).
The councillors were asked many questions, ranging from their views on renewable energy in an independent Scotland (which is a tad beyond the remit of a Glasgow councillor) to sectarianism in Scottish football. The candidates handled the questions with varying aplomb, although some of their comments (particularly those about renewable energy) drew increasing disbelief from an engineering student I was with.
The question of the day, however, was student housing. It’s no great secret that student housing in Glasgow is fraught with problems. One story recounted at the hustings was about someone’s kitchen ceiling falling in and the landlord taking no action to fix it in over six months. All of the candidates agreed that enforcement was the major problem, with existing legislation underutilised or not enforced to an appropriate degree. The SNP candidate was the most vocal in blaming Labour, who took fire from everyone. The candidate for the Greens, interestingly, took up the question with students who’d asked it, and arranged meetings with them after the hustings.
Something that was clear was that while Labour may talk big about change and their ‘100 point manifesto’, they’ve had thirty years in which to effect change, and they have, but rarely in a good way.
Interviewing candidates after the hustings, they seemed to have been happy with the event. A comparatively low turnout could be blamed on a lack of PR for the event, and frankly, we’ve all got exams to be studying for, but it ensured that those students who actually came along were interested in the election. I’ll admit I was surprised at the lack of animosity between the candidates, particularly the Tory candidate, who was far from the baby-murdering monster that Tories are often portrayed as in the West of Scotland. He was actually pretty sound, although admittedly, knowing he’s going to get gubbed might do that. Fatalism can have a wonderfully calming effect on people.
The comparative friendliness between candidates comes from the essentially co-operative nature of council politics. It also seemed like the candidates understood and responded to student’s issues, particularly the Green Party candidate.
Overall, the candidates felt the evening was a success. The students attending might still not be sure who to vote for, but the QMU provided us with a look at the candidates up close, as it were. The potential councillors in general lacked charisma on stage, but off were pretty much nice people. The Lib Dem guy was almost nice enough to make me forget Nick “Spineless Bastard” Clegg’s U-turn on student fees.
Anyways, vote for who you want. Just, please, do go out and vote.
After all, as a famous preacher once said, “I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.”