As it Happened: Election Question Time
Midlothian's six candidates answer your questions
At 7:30pm in Penicuik Town Hall on Monday 20 April, Midlothian’s General Election candidates gathered to answer your questions.
The debate was hosted by the Penicuik Churches Working Together Group and was chaired by Reverend Ian Cathcart. We provided full up to minute coverage below. You can relive the action by scrolling through the updates.
There will be no further hustings in the Midlothian area. Our election series continues on 21 April with Michelle Ballantyne of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. You can also read the Green, Labour and SNP candidates’ “why me” articles by clicking here.
Coverage will start here at 7:15pm. Please bookmark this page and return then.
We’re all ready here. However the candidates are not. Aisha Mir (LibDem) is not yet here. UKIP not in attendance either, despite earlier reassurances.
Chair (Reverend Ian Cathcart) is introducing the candidates and the evening. Five candidates are in attendance. From left to right: Michelle Ballantyne (Conservative), Aisha Mir (Liberal Democrat), the Chair, Owen Thompson (SNP), Ian Baxter (Greens), Kenny Young (Labour).
Candidates get 1 min each to introduce themselves. Starting with Kenny.
Labour Party candidate to be Midlothian MP. It is his home. He cares about here most. Different ways to deal with deficit, method of dealing with it though austerity hasn’t worked. We need change. This comes through a Labour government. £800m more spending in Scotland through first year. Funding for nurses. Guaranteeing jobs and apprenticeships for young people. Time is up.
Ian Baxter next. First Green party candidate on Midlothian Council. Vote for what you believe. Ian advises against tactical voting. And that’s it.
Owen Thompson introduces himself as the council leader and SNP candidate. Grew up in Loanhead, went to paradykes and Beeslack. SNP offering alternative to Tory, Labour and LibDem cuts. Will invest our way out of austerity. An election unlike any before. SNP voices could have real sway in new parliament to benefit Midlothian.
Aisha Mir is here. We know it is going to be a hung parliament. It is now about who is going to hold the balance of power. She believes the Liberal Democrats are the ones to do this. Talking about raising minimum tax threshold through the coalition. Stands for building a fairer society.
Michelle Ballantyne for Conservatives. What you need in an MP. Experience and understanding. She has experience in the NHS and in the manufacturing industry. Proud of last five years. Got things moving again. Fastest growing economy in G7. 261,000 taken out of tax in Midlothian. Conservatives are making a difference.
First cross candidate question: When do you see consensual politics arriving in Britain? Meaning everyone will work together for the greater good. Question got applause.
Kenny first. Answer: Sometimes it is to do with the personalities. No one on stage is petty or mean. Okay, good and healthy to contrast things and respectfully critics thinks. Where it crosses the line is when you forget about the people and attack personalities. His questions will be critical of other parties but not the person but the policies.
Ian says he agrees with Kenny (consensual politics joke followed). Ian speaks about the minority government in the Scottish Parliament and its success. He thought it worked well. Westminster encourages adversary politics with two party system. Agree broadly on most things. Would like to see people working together more.
Owen now speaking. Says he had to do deals when he was elected as first SNP councillor in Midlothian in 2005. No is going to have a majority. Will either be coalition or minority. Minority would need support of other parties. Owen argues we get far better decision making under that system. Vote SNP to give strong voice to influence decisions in Westminster.
Chair questions, Liberal Democrat on whether politics will always be like bears in a pit. Aisha says it is about the people. Westminster has to speak for the voters. Make bigger waves working with other parties. The coalition has shown it. “We are here for the people”.
Michelle Ballantyne says Prime Minister question time is not representative of politics but it is what the media like. If you watch other committee’s they are a lot calmer. Michelle wants a “none of the above ” vote on the ballot paper. This would let the people speak about just who they want. She says she doesn’t want to talk about the other parties. It is her duty to talk about the Conservatives and their policies.
Question 2 – The economy: Most politicians believe that spending tax payers money is a good thing. Does any candidate support the views that government spending should be as little as possible? And should we balance what comes in and goes out?
Ian Baxter first to answer. He says money from specific taxes should go to the respective sectors (i.e congestion charge to road infrastructure). He says we must also redistribute wealth. Must see what taxation can be used for other than income.
Owen says that he believes in balancing. SNP proposing investment compared to cuts. Attacks Labour candidate about his austerity remark, saying the party disagrees. Says it is too late for them to change. Borrowing can be beneficial.
Aisha says it isn’t about how much but what you target. This was evident in 2010. Many parties haven’t learnt their lesson. Can have a combination of two. Need long term plans not short term headlines. Not a perfect situation and it will take time to get out of the hole we’re in.
Michelle Ballantyne being questioned directly by chair over George Osbourne’s desire to balance the books. She says the proof is in the pudding as to why one should vote for them. Borrowing more and more does impact on services. £1.43 trillion debt, £73 billion deficit. All this has interest so as the debt grows the money available for services decreases. Wealth comes from private sector. Got to have a balance or you pay a heavy price. Inequality gone down in this government. Tax raising powers about bringing tax in not emotive statements. Recommends the book “The Spirit Level” which describes redistributing wealth. Question about whether it is needed but how you get there.
Kenny next. Healthy not having consensus amongst Labour and Conservative parties. Need to learn right lessons. What didn’t happen was Labour overspent. What did happen was that the banking sector wasn’t regulated. It the collapsed. If we didn’t spend more than our income RBS would have gone under. If you spend too much in year one, you must pay it back in year two. We’re not an equal society. Compares a child born in Glasgow to one in wealthy Surrey. Says he is happy introducing mansions tax to help those in need. Labour going to put £800m into Scotland in first year. Tory austerity hasn’t worked. Taxation should fall on those with the broadest shoulders.
Questions from audience for Kenny: Regarding Tony Blair’s reckless spending. “No money left in kitty” note. Why should he vote for Labour again? Kenny says you should vote for who you believe in.
The gentleman in the audience also mentioned the war in Iraq. Kenny says it is wrong to compare public spending and that war.
Another question for Kenny. Who was it who wanted a light touch on the bankers? You let the Tories in, the gentleman says. Chair jokes how the man is clearly not a Labour voter.
Kenny says hindsight is 20:20. Blame lies on political system and banking system. Also says Alex Salmond called for lighter representation. It was the consensus that the banking system shouldn’t be regulated. Have we learnt our lessons? Yes but not everyone is a regulation expert. We have to trust the right people and watch things closely. How do we stop it happening again?
Chair intervenes. Says he thinks that we have tested Kenny enough. Let’s have other questions. Next Q.
Why are we having to run so many foodbanks? Chair says every church in the town runs a food distribution system.
Owen Thompson says we can’t do anything but commend those who work in food banks. Reality is this is 2015 and we shouldn’t be living in a wealthy country where people have to rely on foodbanks. Shows just how badly wrong the government’s policies have been. he visited a food bank in Gorebridge to speak to staff. Individuals who use them have got there through no fault of their own. Need to stop endless austerity cuts.
Aisha says foodbanks shouldn’t exist in our society. Why do we have them? Because people don’t have enough money. Says it is partly due to the previous administration. Austerity is working but it isn’t a quick fix. Got to be long term and sustainable. Need to build a recovery to get those out of foodbanks. Where will you get the money to abolish the need?
Michelle is this all your fault? What personally, she asks? Laughs echo. Foodbanks have always existed. They are a sign of a kind and generous society. It is not in our interest to have loads of foodbanks. What we’ve been going through is change from a high benefits system to one where everyone needs to stand on their own two feet. It’s not as simple as moving the wealth. Have to grow and improve opportunities. She thinks we will see a decline in use overtime. Statistics only show number of foodbanks in operation not who is using them. We can’t see what is really needed?
Kenny is now speaking and says that the number of foodbanks which have been set up since 2010 is not a got show of our society. Kenny says he wants to abolish foodbanks and bring in crisis loans to buy food. Kenny also says the Bedroom Tax needs to go.
Ian Baxter says the Greens believe in tackling inequality at its source. It is their policy to increase the minimum wage to a living wage immediately then to £10 by 2020. If you tackle inequality the foodbanks will dissipate.
The original questioner says why aren’t the social services department sorting the problem? Michelle asks for clarification over whether she means Department for Work and Pensions or the social services. Questioner says it is about DWP. Owen Thompson targets the government’s benefits. He talks the Universal Credit down due to the lag in getting the funds to the claimant.
Questioner says that SNP has been in power for seven years and they have done “heehaw”. How are you going to tackle zero hour contracts?
Michelle first. She says fewer than 2% are in 0-hour contracts and 66% are happy with it. What we are really talking about is exploitative 0-hour contracts. And the government were in the process of banning them, she says.
Aisha says that 0-hour contracts themselves aren’t bad as they give the people flexiblity. Need to clamp dow on those exploiting it. Owen says the SNP have done what they can. Says that the Scottish government has no ability to help. Questioner takes aim again saying the SNP has powers to vary income tax. Owen says we need more power to help but the Smith Commission is not enough.
Ian up next. He says not only about exploitative 0-hour contracts but split shifts etc. Talks about Germany’s structure of trade unions. There the unions help the system. He says we need to promote co-operatives.
Kenny says we need to ban 0-hour contracts. Ed Miliband has said that those working over 12 weeks for a company should be given a proper contract.
Next pre-arranged question (back on track): Question on environment [Chair letting panel debate *exciting*] – Q: There is a widespread consensus that fossil fuels must remain in ground to avoid climate changes? Do you agree with that? How will it affect Midlothian?
Aisha says she agrees. Liberal Democrats will bring in five environmental policies, such as new carbon reducing targets. Ian interrupts, here we go. He asks whether the candidates support the tax incentives on oil and gas exploration introduced in the last budget.
Aisha is first to answer. Oil is a finite resource. We are now looking at fracking etc. Need to look into fracking more. Aisha says that she doesn’t support the tax incentives per say. Michelle says the thing is there was enormous pressure to do something. Need a balanced approach to electricity. She says she sits on the planning committee and that there are objections for every type of energy application. Michele says local communities need to have a say through planning policies on local applications.
Kenny says no alternatives to what we’ve got. Supports measures to continue investing in the oil and gas industry, as no point to remove jobs. Long term thoughts need to be elsewhere. Need to consider where our electricity comes from on a personal and local level.
Owen Thompson says that changes can’t be made overnight. Scot Gov wanted incentives. Says that in Midlothian we need to look at old mine water etc and the power it could generate. Alternatives to old dirty energy. More we can do but need to be realistic on a day to day basis, people’s jobs rely on the the industry.
Some time for pictures whilst Ian Baxter repeats previous points:
Here’s Owen Thompson looking happy with himself.
Michelle interrupting discussion on the North sea: Do we just stop? Ian says that the key word is transition.He wants to see wind turbines in north sea. Michelle takes aim saying does he just want to eradicate the jobs, considering the oil can be harvested elsewhere (new find near Gatwick in London).
Next question (number 5): Please would each candidate explain their position on Trident and nuclear weapons in general?
Michelle says that everyone will be against nuclear weapons. However we are part of NATO. She supports the renewal of Trident as it is part of the agreement with NATO. Can’t just get rid of the nuclear deterrent due to the jobs connected. The world is unstable. We have moved forward from the Cold War and there are threats in every direction. Chair asks whether money should come from Trident renewal to help those in poverty.
Trident costs Scotland £163m but provides a lot more in terms of jobs and investment. It is simplistic to say that eradicating Trident would free up lots of money. It is part of the economy, it’s removal could prove detrimental.
Kenny says that Labour have decreased the warhead stockpile in previous administrations however no other countries participated. It shows that we can’t solve the problem by just removing the deterrent. We need to get round the table and come to an agreement about unilateral disarmament.
He does however support the renewal. Ian now speaking saying the complete opposite. He remarks that the threats are no where near what they were during the cold war. Owen says he doesn’t want to see their renewal. It is “macho posturing” (repeats line from previous hustings). The threat is not going to be solved by nuclear weapons but from computer systems etc. Kenny says there is an inconsistency in the SNP’s argument. SNP wants to be part of NATO. Panel argues over Owen Thompson’s claims that a Russian sub was undetected in Scottish Waters. Michelle says it was known of, just not publicised.
Aisha says her view will be unpopular but she agrees with the deterrent. It provides jobs and supports the economy. She would like to see it go but it would leave a huge hole and can’t be done overnight. We are an enviable nation which carries and great influence. “Enough nutcases out there willing to press a button.”
Another audience question: He is responding to Michelle. What is the deterrent going to do? There is nothing that could stop the Russians. We have not got the military to partake in battle. If Argentina attacked the Falklands we would not win. We are not facing a nuclear threat. Chair stops the badgering.
Michelle says she supports spending in conventional forces. Her sons have served along with her husband. The heckling continues with exchanges over not having a need for a nuclear deterrent. If you want to hear what’s happening, tune into Crystal FM in the coming days to hear more.
Another question: Questioner says she is a member of the scrap trident group. Continues along line of opposition and need to lead the disarmament.
Aisha interrupts saying that no one will speak positively about the weapons. Ian Baxter says his father was in Hiroshima shortly after the bomb fell and he has terrifying photos.
Michelle says that war is not pretty but we need to get rid of war not the weapons. Conclusions will now start.
Everyone has a final minute. Michelle says that being in government is being able to make decisions and the ability to balance everything in front of you. It is about how you manage your way through the difficulties. History proves that inequality has always narrowed under Conservative rule. It is important you have policies to do that. The job of the candidates is to scrutinise what is on offer.
Aisha says that Westminster represents us all but why when we are colourful nature, is it so black and white. You need a candidate who will listen to the problems in Midlothian and take aim on sorting those.She is just an ordinary person and we need more ordinary people in politics. Who do you think can shape and influence policy. The Liberal Democrats will fight for everybody and have a track record of delivering.
Owen thanks that Chair (“Don’t butter me up now”, Rev Ian Cathcart says). SNP is an alternative. There is another way form austerity. He wouldn’t be going to Westminster to become part of the establishment. He would be going there to lead change. Vote for a change, vote for something different and vote SNP.
Ian Baxter is now talking about the SNP candidates who defected from the party to join the Greens. They said they had already been Green they just didn’t know it. When people choose policies they come out finding they are Green. A Green vote is not a wasted vote but one for what you believe in.
Kenny finishes the evening. He says it is the final hustings before May 7 (aww). We are at the business end of the election campaign now. If you want a Labour government, want to end the bedroom tax, want to end the need for foodbanks. If you want a Labour government vote for one, don’t vote for someone else. It will be a hung parliament. He is fighting for a Labour Majority through becoming the candidate for Midlothian.
And that’s it. The final event of audience participation before May 7. If we have persuaded you to vote make sure you are registered. You have until midnight tonight. Don’t miss the opportunity.
Chair is thanking everyone for their participation.
That’s us concluding tonight’s coverage. Thank you for joining us. Until the next time, have a very good evening.
Editor and founder of The Penicuik Cuckoo. Third year Architecture student (MA Hons) at Edinburgh University and triplet. Interested in all things Penicuik.