Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hustings report: Edinburgh Southern

It was a beautiful sunny day today, so what better place to spend it than in a church hall listening to politicians. Glorious. This time it was the Newington Churches Together hustings for Edinburgh Southern and we had Andrew McPake from the SSP list, Gavin Brown the Tory constituency candidate, Jim Eady the SNP constituency candidate, Margo MacDonald the respected independent, Mike Pringle, the outgoing Lib Dem MSP and Paul Godzik Labour's constituency candidate.

Alison Johnstone for the Greens (pic from here)
Oh, and Alison Johnstone for the Greens who was the best of all of them (pictured).

I'm going to be nauseatingly pleasant for a moment and say I thought they all came across well, in terms of speaking style and personability. In other words there were no 'duds' on the panel, but there was a great deal to disagree with. I wrote sporadic notes throughout but wont attempt to give a blow by blow account, just a flavour.

Alison (Greens) started off and managed to set the agenda of the initial discussion by raising the cuts, whether they are actually necessary and the amount of social harm that they will do. She praised groups like UKUncut for their sterling work against corporate tax evasion and talked about the need for tighter legislation to ensure even the richest companies and individuals have to pay their fair share of tax. As she said the private sector will not fill the jobs gap when public sector workers have been laid off.

Andrew (SSP) said how we used to have a colourful parliament. Full of different parties that represented different view points and this was good for democracy. He hoped to see a 'rainbow parliament' again, with SSP members in it. Like Alison he railed against the cuts and felt that in order to tackle tax avoidance we needed an 'independent Scotland with teeth'. We didn't need cuts but increased taxation revenue, and that was to come from the rich.

Gavin (Conservatives) listed all the money the Tories were giving to various small business schemes and market organisations. For me this came across as hand outs for businesses and we'll close your library. Later he also said that the cuts were *not* savage, but more a gentle rebalancing of the books.

Jim (SNP) was a competent speaker but lacked detail I thought. So for example he said the cuts weren't necessary but I was never sure why he thought that, unless it was his comment about using the wealth oil would bring in - which I'm pretty sure is not a sustainable model. Certainly though he came across as a steady social democrat, but I did drift off a bit when he was speaking. Sorry.

It was good to hear Margo (Independent) in the flesh as I'd heard nice things about her. I was very disappointed then when the main thrust of her opening address was on how essential the cuts were, and that they needed to be deep. She claimed that the politicians (including herself) did not understand the current situation (which I took to mean she didn't) and that we needed to get the election "over with as soon  as possible". Frankly I think the date is set at May 5th and it would be a bit of a hassle to change that now.

Mike (Lib Dems) agreed with Margo about how necessary the cuts were but that his priority at this election was police numbers, and opposition to the merger of the Scottish police forces. He stated very clearly that he was against free prescription charges and opposed to a council tax freeze (at least I can agree with him on that last one).

Paul (Labour) made quite a motherhood and apple pie introduction talking about protecting jobs and "frontline" services, although he was opposed to getting extra revenue from taxation. I wondered how he was going to achieve this, well, "efficiencies" in the "backroom" (where clearly nothing useful happens because the public can't see them) and "Scottish solutions for Scottish problems". In particular he wanted further efficiency savings in the police, fire-service and health. That's all sorted then, job done, no harm to anyone.

Of the highlights of the debate I'd say there were three. First on crime. The Lib Dem and Margo MacDonald both came out against mandatory sentencing for carrying a knife and although the Labour guy tried to defend it he just sounded like someone who likes locking people up and doesn't mind if they deserved it. It was Andrew from the SSP who took it up a  notch getting very impassioned about the low conviction rate for rape in Scotland and noted that it was time we thought about lowering the evidence threshold on rape. I'm not for that, but it was a strong point well made.

The Conservative, Gavin Brown, felt that we weren't sending enough people to prison and that we were letting them out too soon. I should have heckled that Ken Clarke didn't agree with him, but was too lazy.

The second was on renewable energy. Now this is an area which I think is difficult for the Greens (at a hustings). Everyone expects us to be good on this, it's our topic as it were. So if we shine - well, that's as it should be - and if the others all say they like turbines, sun and wave (as they all say they do these days) it's harder for us to be distinctive on this unless we're prepare to really hammer the record of the other parties.

So we had a few comments about how windy and wavy Scotland was and that the SNP were going to make us 100% renewable powered. Then Alison stepped in and, I think, blew the others out of the water. It's all very well arguing for new wind turbines, she argued, they're ok I suppose, but the key problem is that we're using too much energy, not simply that we're producing it in the wrong way.

If our home insulation scheme was rolled out properly (unlike the half hearted scheme the SNP proposed) it would have a phenomenal impact on our energy *needs* as well as making the poorest households warmer. Without tackling waste and reliance on oil fancy renewable technologies wont take us nearly far enough. I thought that was great, as it challenged the idea that green ideas are something you can just buy in and carry on as normal.

The last highlight (there were lots of other questions) was on what party the panelists would be a member of if they couldn't be in their own. It's a great innocent sounding question that is an incredible minefield for all the parties, but especially the Greens.

SNP Jim got in quick with his "The Margo MacDonald Party" which was promptly banned as an answer for further panelists. Then Labour, Lib Dem and the SSP candidates all said they'd be in the Greens (the SSP candidate pointing out that many members of his party had actually been expelled from Labour so might find it hard to go back).

Alison for the Greens, faced with all this love, had to do some quick thinking. She basically ran through the fact that we like some of the policies of other parties and work with them (for instance the SNP and nuclear) but would have real problems digesting some other policies (for instance SNP and road building). In the end she plumped for the Green Party of England and Wales - which in no way answers the question, well dodged that woman.

That only left the Tory who made some weird remark about Solidarity... but I don't think he was considering joining them.

Anyway, those were my impressions. I'm sticking with the Scottish Greens for the list vote, as you might expect, but you'll have to wait and find out who I vote for in the Constituency list where the Greens aren't standing.

No comments: