My first general election hustings

Written by Luna Webster

Despite my genuine, deep rooted interest in politics, before Monday night I had only ever been to one debate. Maybe it’s because I’ve been rejected from being in the Question Time audience three times (I’m not at all bitter) or that just watching David Dimbleby and co through the TV fills me with enough adrenaline to run a marathon I’ve become fearful about what seeing a debate live would do to my physical health.

Anyway, on Monday night, I attended a general election hustings in St Andrews. Being young and Scottish at this general election has proved to be really exciting and unpredictable so naturally, my next step was to watch my local candidates in action. I’d already interviewed a few of them so I was intrigued to see how they’d perform when questioned by the excitable public and not just little old me.

The panel was made up of all six candidates in my constituency, so Andy Collins of Scottish Greens, Huw Bell of the Conservatives, Stephen Gethins of the SNP,  Mike Scott Hayward (Independent but previously Tory and UKIP…I’ll get to him later), Brian Thomson of Labour and Tim Brett of the Liberal Democrats. Now, my seat has been Lib Dem for decades under Sir Menzies Campbell. However, Ming is stepping down this year and letting Mr Brett follow in his footsteps – coincidentally, also letting Brett get the full force of the angry St Andrews students. Cough cough, tuition fees.

The audience definitely had left leaning views despite the wealth and typically ‘small c conservative’ beliefs in the town and this resulted in constant cheering in support of both Stephen Gethins and Andy Collins. Throughout the night Gethins got his confidence, positivity and competence across successfully and the feel in the room was that he was the strongest candidate. He was articulate and didn’t attack the other candidates, rather stated his respect for their work. This couldn’t be said for Thomson, Hayward, Brett or Bell, who in the current spirit of the anti Sturgeon media seemed to have the SNP as their target for practically every issue discussed. Gethins handled this well though and proved himself to be a powerful yet calm and collected speaker.

There were still some Lib Dem supporters in the audience though, and Tim Brett also spoke well, reflecting Sir Menzies Campbell’s views on most topics covered. It felt he was strongly abiding by the party line on the matter of tuition fees when he stated he wouldn’t change the current £9000 cost at all. This was a mistake in a room full of students from the town’s university and after this comment he was under a lot more scrutiny from the younger members of the audience. He also struggled somewhat when his previous work as a health chief at Dundee hospital Ninewells was brought up – he left this post after some financial scandal over a decade ago. Brian Thomson also had difficulty when quizzed over Labour’s austerity plans and had a poor response from the audience which really hammered home Scottish Labour’s fall across the nation.

Mike Scott Hayward provided entertainment as it was hard to tell if he could really believe the things he was saying. He suggested students should pay their own tuition fees and find their own bursaries from businesses and at several moments displayed very little understanding of the differences between Scottish local council and Holyrood. The scariest thing about the whole thing was that Huw Bell kept agreeing with him – that is not the centre right the Tories claim to be, that is an example extreme, American Tea Party levels of individualism.

Overall, the recent polls showing a large swing to the SNP in this constituency were proved to be true with booming support for Stephen Gethins. North East Fife is certainly an exciting seat to keep an eye on this general election night.

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