For your consideration, I offer a transcription of the opening statements made by the candidates in the 8th April debate in the Greenock Town Hall. You can listen to the entire thing here at Inverclyde Radio (direct link). Rather than comment directly on what the candidates say (that’s coming up in another post), I’ll put in a few links you might want to read up on. After trying out several audio programs without success, I resorted to typing it out like a savage. Any errors, comments (or suggestions for audio software, seriously I don’t think I can manage to type out the next hour of the program with my sloth-like fingers), please let me know.
The SNP have a good story to tell. It is as much about ambition and foresight as it is about good governance and good management. When the UK establishment at Westminster tell you the recession is over, and at the same time rack up £1.4 trillion pounds of debt – a debt that continues to grow – John Swinney has balanced the Scottish budget every year for the last eight. When Westminster allows us to run our own affairs, we do so with tact, composure, and sensitivity. I know any area that I choose to talk about, could be done better. That will always be the case. Nobody is saying everything is perfect, or will be perfect. But like any well-run establishment, the aim of the SNP government is one of continual, irreversible improvement.
Where Labour continue to support the Tories in undermining the NHS in England, we’ve continued to provide care free at the point of need. Where Labour imposed tuition fees in England, we’re providing education based on ability and desire to learn. Given the opportunity, the SNP government put into place a ground-breaking renewable energy program, which now produces 50% of our electricity requirements, and will lead the renewable hub here in Inverclyde. Why was this not pursued by Labour and Tory? And with the back of the Smith Commission, we’ve been promised more powers, including Airport Passenger Duty – APD – a power first promised in the Calman commission in 2009, but never delivered. Given that they are ducking and diving already trying to wriggle out of these promises, and quite correctly, areas of England are calling for extra powers including APD, it’s up to Scottish MPs at Westminster to hold the establishment to their promises and ensure this commission delivers. So who do you trust to do that job? Those who fought for those powers, or those who opposed them? Remember, the more power that is devolved to Scotland, the more levers we have to create prosperity.
This part’s going to be hard for me to say: I’ve lived in this area all of my life. I want to be proud of Inverclyde. But the truth is we continue to underachieve. Inverclyde has a higher death rate than the rest of Scotland, with main cause still being cancer; male life expectancy is lower than the rest of Scotland by 2 years; according to Shelter Scotland, 58% of occupied properties fall below the Scottish Housing Standard. Why? Because successive MPs, MSPs and Labour-run councils have shown a singular lack of ambition or belief in the people of Inverclyde. After Thatcher & her Tories destroyed the Coal industry, dismantled the steel industry, and sank the shipyards, we experienced mass unemployment and the hardships to go with it.
But we’re left with an opportunity – one we didn’t ask for, one that we didn’t want, but we had it anyway. A strip of land that runs from Custom House to Ferguson’s, with a main road that runs to Glasgow and North Ayrshire, a railway that runs parallel to it, and a river that runs by it, placed between two international airports, and a willing and able workforce: and you have Inverclyde. If you start with a blank piece of paper, you could do a lot worse than design Inverclyde. So why do we not utilise that?
Why did our Labour-run area not have the vision and the foresight that the likes of the SNP-run council in Dundee have had? Take that strip of land, put it in the hands of a great architect like Frank Gehry, and the could create something astounding. When the people of Sydney built the Opera House, when the folk of Bilboa built the Guggenheim, they could have built enormous boxes that served a purpose, but they thought big, and they had self-belief, and two things happened: the buildings became classics which attracted people, and the people attracted investment. It isn’t just opera-goers that benefit from the opera house at Sydney. All we could have done is limited only by our imagination: what actually happened was limited by a lack of ambition under local Labour rule.
(Mr Cowan ran out of time at the debate, but for those who wanted to know what he wanted to say, he has kindly provided the final few sentences, which follow below)
We had an opportunity that slid away from us because of apathy and self-serving politics. The question we have to answer is will we allow this to continue? Or will we take the opportunity for change. Believe in ourselves, keep politicians honest and plan long term for future generations here in Inverclyde. On May the 7th that choice is yours same old story or a new chapter.
It is a great pleasure for me to stand today in front of you. My name is George Jabbour, I am the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party Candidate. A few months ago, I celebrated my third anniversary of becoming a British citizen, and swearing allegiance to her majesty the Queen. This is how it all happened, and why I’m standing here in front of you tonight, at Greenock Town Hall.
I was born in Syria, and I spent the first 22 years of my life there. I know how people in other countries view Britain, and how important it is for us to remain united, to preserve our global role. I also believe that the divisive and negative rhetoric of the SNP doesn’t promote the shared values and interests of Scots and of the rest of the British people. This is why I campaigned very hard for Better Together, and why I’m standing as a candidate in Scotland. I’d like to continue fighting for the Union, and tell the SNP move on.
(At this point there is much applause from Labour Councillors & boos from pro-independence activists. The chair, Willie Stewart, interjects: “Let him finish his opening statement, you can comment later.”)
As I was growing up in Damascus, under an Assad regime, I used to dream about moving to Britain. However, as I am not European, there was no easy way for me to come here. Also, my parents couldn’t afford to pay for my studies. I decided to do something about it: I studied very hard by enrolling at an engineering program at Damascus University, and I won scholarship to study at Imperial College for a master’s degree in 2004. After Imperial, I worked in banking, and I did business with clients from all corners of the world. This taught me important skills in how to relate and connect with people from all backgrounds. However, I am not a fat cat bankster: while still in banking, there are sometimes public sector organisations who were taken advantage of by investment banks. I decided to do something about it: I started a business, and I campaigned about this issue in a number of countries, and after a few years of hard work, success ensued, and wrongdoing was uncovered. I was recognised as advisor who spoke his mind to expose wrongdoing.
Britain has been my only home for over 10 years. I spent the majority of my other time here, and I care very deeply about it. However, a year ago, opinion polls were predicting that Ed Miliband might become prime minister. I decided to do something about it: I campaigned very hard for the Conservative Party, I travelled across Britain, to about 10% of the councils which had local elections, from Trafford to Winchester, and from Swindon to Lutonborough. I also did a lot of phone canvassing for the Conservatives Central Office. I might have done a bit too much! The other day I received a letter – it was from the Prime Minister! Who was telling me…
(More booing & mutterings, presumably from people who don’t like the current Prime Minister – i.e. just about everyone in the room)
… that I have made more calls for the party than any other activist in all of Britain. While I was delighted to receive a letter from the Prime Minister, I’m slightly concerned that after the General Election, he might follow it by sending me the BT phone bill of Central Office!
After this, I was selected as the Conservative candidate for Inverclyde. Inverclyde is one of the few places where I can imagine living for the rest of my life. There’s so much history and natural beauty here. The firth of the Clyde in Inverclyde is the most breathtaking that I’ve ever seen. Inverclyde has also a proud history of engineering and industry, and James Watt has been my hero since my teenage years. I would like to become the Member of Parliament for Inverclyde, and I decided to do something about it. I knocked on over a thousand doors, and I spoke with thousands of constituents across Inverclyde, and listened to all the concerns and problems that were shared with me. I analysed the circumstances, and found the solution: so tonight, standing before you, I am making a pledge which is to set up the Inverclyde Investment Fund if I am elected as the Member of Parliament for Inverclyde. My background in engineering and finance combined with my business experience inside and outside Britain equip me with the skills needed to set up the Inverclyde Investment Fund and create more jobs here. So I’d like to invite you to join me and the Conservatives in creating more jobs for Inverclyde. Thank you.
Burrows: I’ll start by saying: yep, I’m the UKIP candidate for Inverclyde, just see what reaction that gets… and, pretty well, no-one’s booed so far! Well, I’ll start: the UK Independence Party is a patriotic party. We believe in independence from the European Union. We believe also in free trade, in less government interference, in libertarian values, lower taxes, and personal liberty. We provide a vision of hope and aspiration for the people of Britain that has not been given to them for decades. What has happened in Scotland is that Labour has said “if you vote for anyone else, you’ll get Tories”; the Tories have said “if you vote for anyone else, you’ll get chaos”; the Lib Dems have flip-flopped between the two; and the SNP have come with a vision. And while I do not agree with it, they have come, and they have told you how they intend to make life better for your children. How they intend to give your future a hope, something to look forward to, and something to believe in. I do not believe what they propose in independence, I don’t believe in that. I understand there are some here tonight who probably do. But what I would say is that while the SNP have proposed a vision to the people to the people of Scotland, we propose a vision to the people of the United Kingdom: for a strong sovereign Britain that is a global trading nation, re-engaging with the commonwealth nations we left behind when we joined the common market, but at the same time trading and cooperating with our partners and friends on the continent of Europe.
Now, our flagship policty, then, is an EU referendum. We believe it is right to trust the people, and I would say that every party here has not done that: you saw, I think it was yesterday, that Tony Blair came out and said “people are too dumb to decide whether they should stay in the EU,” that was the jist of what he said. Now whether you want to be a member of the EU or not, do you not agree that it is right that we should have a vote, that we should decide? Because the last time we decided, we were offered a trade deal – and I would agree with that, I want trade deals to be done with many parts of the world, so why not do one with Europe – but it has turned into much more. The EU controls our fishing, our agriculture, intervenes in our finances, our foreign affairs, and many other walks of life. Our energy is set in Brussels; our finances are in line with Brussels; there is a movement within Europe, within the EU commission, to create a super-state across Europe, and it is being done against the democratic will of the people.
There has been no consultation: when there was in Europe, the people voted no to the Lisbon treaty. What happened? The EU commission said “you voted the wrong way, go back and do it again.” They held a second referendum, and the establishment of Ireland managed to get on side, and to get the backing of the EU commission. This is not a democratic project, and this is why I as a democrat oppose it. We are stifled by EU directives, and we are stifled by being anchored to the Eurozone. Now I feel sympathy for any young person my age in the Eurozone crisis hit countries: think of being in Greece or Spain or Italy, where unemployment is over half. We have problems here, there’s no denying that, and you’ll hear various solutions tonight. But in these countries, people are getting desperate: they are resorting to the far right and the far left. We see the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece, and if you look into them it’s pretty horrific what you’ll find; the Front Nacionale in France, not good. The EU was set up to stop the far right of nationalism, to prevent disputes and conflicts and disruption across Europe, it has done the opposite. Because Britain didn’t join the Euro, we were ok, we’ve managed to pull back, and we’re doing better than any other EU nation at the moment. I am now proposing to get out of the European Union and into the world.
(“Hear hear!” – Inverclyde’s most prominent UKIP supporter, who is known for driving about the town with a great big saltire & Lion Rampant.)
Now Inverclyde on a local level has been my home since birth – the accent may not give that away, but believe me it is – I am Inverclyde in all but voice. Now, I will campaign for the betterment of this region. There’s party politics, and then there is personal connections, and I love the area, honestly; there is nothing more I love than to wake up and see the view, to speak to the people, and to live here. It’s a wonderful area, and I think if you put aside political allegiance we can all agree that, and we all want the best for it. And that’s why I’m here today.
Now, I would say that the area has the skills to succeed. Ronnie touched on it: we are talented, and we know we can do better. We have the potential, and we have the capability, and I would ask that people put their trust in me, because it would be a privilege and and and honour and a duty to represent the area, and I’ve enjoyed the campaign so far, thank you.
Thank you chair, and a very warm welcome to each and every one of you for coming along tonight, in showing such an interest in the local hustings. I realise there is another debate on the TV, but it seems we are the popular one here in Inverclyde this evening. Let me tell you, chair, why I joined the Labour party back in the 1980s, and it was the height of Thatcherism. The divide in our society was stark; the very existence of our community was at stake; shipyard closures were coming thick and fast, and unemployment was rising even faster. Families were breaking up, and they were forced to leave their home. The indifference to the suffering of friends & relatives by that Thatcher government was breathtaking: Nye Bevan would have described it as “social blindness.”
I joined the labour party because I shared their values: the right to work, fairness and social justice. These are the same values that motivate me now. I’m proud of the achievements of the Labour government, and I campaigned for shared wealth, dramatic reduction in child poverty, millions of pensioners taken out of poverty, and the introduction of the minimum wage. Now, unfortunately, our society is once again divided as we were in that Thatcher years. We’ve had five years of a Tory Lib-Dem government, blind to the suffering of the poor. They seem to think here in Inverclyde, we were somehow to blame for the global economic crisis. That’s why I ran for MP in 2011: because I simply could not accept the injustice of this. It was a fight I couldn’t walk away from: it’s a fight I won’t walk away from now.
There is a real and palpable sense of anger here in Inverclyde: and it’s clear that austerity is hurting, but it’s not working. The gap between rich and poor has never been greater, and societies fare worse when this gap is so large. Where millionaires get a £3 billion tax break, millions find themselves heading to food banks. In-work poverty is rising, and real wages are falling, and the health gap between the rich and poor is growing wider. And with over a quarter of children here in Inverclyde living in poverty, the once common assumption that we could leave our children better off than our generation is being challenged. So it’s clear: we need a fairer society more than ever.
Scottish Labour is guided by a simple principle: when hard-working people and families do well, Scotland does well. So in May 8th, Labour will end Tory austerity, and begin the task of delivering an economic recovery for the many, not for the few. We’ll ask those with the broadest shoulders to pay more, raising top rate of tax of 1% earners to 50p in the pound, and lower the starting rate of tax to 10p, giving a tax break to 24 million people throughout the UK. And end the need for food banks with an investment of £175 million to tackle the real causes of poverty. And we’ll tackle the cost of living crisis by raising the minimum wage to at least £8, and we’ll promote a living wage through Make Work Pay contracts, and ending the scandal of zero-hours contracts. We’ll stand up to the big energy companies, freezing energy bills to 2017 so they can go down, but not up. Ad we’ll bring in a powerful regulator to fix that market.
We’ll also stand up to the banks, closing tax loopholes that see billions moved out of our countries, and repeating our successful tax on banker’s bonuses, with the money used to guarantee a job to every 18-25 year old out of work for a year. Scottish Labour will also invest in our NHS by hiring a thousand nurses delivered by UK wide mansion tax on homes, showing how we will share and pool the resources from throughout the UK to benefit us here in Scotland. And rather than settle for low-pay low-skill, I want to see high pay high skill jobs, and support small businesses, driving the recovery in Inverclyde, and promote real growth through regional investment.
These are deliverable promises, because unlike the other parties here, our manifesto has been assessed by the Office for Budget Responsibility: we don’t have a single unfunded policy. Our promises are based on fairness, ending Tory austerity, and lifting the burden of those suffering the most, and asking those at the top to pay their fair share. The Tories offer 12 of unidentified cuts in welfare, and the SNP through Full Fiscal Autonomy would leave us with a £7 billion black hole in the Scottish economy. Only a vote for Scottish Labour on May 7th will end Tory austerity.
Watson: Well, thank you for coming, and I think these hustings are important because although this is an election which is being fought by very strong national issues, MPs do represent the constituencies, and it’s important that you get the opportunity to see us and ask questions of us, so thank you for coming, and if we meet our timetables, then we can still go back and hear the second broadcast.
Why am I standing for the Scottish Liberal Democrats? Well, because what we stand for: last night someone said on the first leader’s questions “I don’t understand what the values are, you parties represent.” Well the Liberal Democrats stand for a fair, free and open society, balancing liberty, equality and community, and fighting discrimination, and giving power to those who don’t have power. Locally, nationally and internationally, the values are the same for Liberal Democrats wherever. We have a record of achievement at a local level in Inverclyde, in Scotland, working in collaboration, in coalition with Labour from ‘99 to 2007, in Westminster in coalition for the last 5 years, in Europe with MSPs like George Lyon, our working on agriculture and fishing and the European budget, by working with others with common interests.
What we have done is to provide common ground, to use reason and evidence, national and not narrow sectional interests, promoting local and not central decision making. We have results over the last 5 years: we have seen jobs go up 180,000 extra jobs in Scotland. We’ve seen taxes come down. We’ve seen over the last 5 years the tax rate has… personal… (indecipherable) The people are better off, and will continue to be better off by £800 better off. And that means that wages have been tight, with people taking pay cuts, with people in the public sector and the private sector having wages frozen for several years. Enabling people who are earning the least to have some benefit by using tax relief for that purpose has helped promote recovery on stream(?)
We’ve see pensions go up, because by European standards, Britain has low pensions, but not only have we done that, we’ve also put in place pension reforms which will last for several decades, which will enable people to save for their pensions, and to use their pensions in the way that they want. And we’ve seen a stronger Scotland with powers devolving following the Smith Commission, following the vote on the referendum to stay within the UK. The Liberal Democrats through Alistair Carmichael, Scottish Secretary of State, delivered the Smith Commission, and now those powers come through.
But what’s really important is that in an election where we are likely to have another undecided parliament, Scotland’s vote to stay in the UK is important because the powers that will now come to Scotland for that parliament, for our parliament to work properly, can only work properly when the United Kingdom governments is also right, that the moment Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland have parliamentary systems which are far more effective, far more functional than that of Westminster.
At the moment the parts of the three countries are more effective and more functional than that of Great Britain, and Scotland can only work effectively now the next stage is that we deliver to the United Kingdom a constitutional settlement that works for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the party that can deliver that is the one that actually – for many people, Liberal Democrats over the years have been seen as rather eccentric in our commitment to constitutional reform. But unless you get governance right, organisations, bodies just do not work if the governance is failing, then how can people make decisions effectively, and follow them through on a fairly sustained basis. It is the Liberal Democrats who will deliver that across the United Kingdom because we do not have national, narrow sectional interests, and we’re not a party driven by trying to break up the very thing that we’re trying to improve on.
But it is a local election as I said, and this is about Inverclyde needing a strong voice, and I think that’s what come over tonight is that we all shared that Inverclyde can do better. But it’s about you, to be optimistic, and that is what I want to fight for as the MP for Inverclyde.