Colin Fox interview

There had been a demonstration by postal workers in Edinburgh against the privatisation of Royal Mail services earlier on the day we met. Colin Fox, top Lothian list candidate for the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) arrives in a sunny Nicholson Square fresh from lending his support the the protesting posties. Earlier in the week he was in London for an anti-cuts rally. Fox, it seems, is happiest out on the streets campaigning and talking to people. He said:-

“I’m in Princes Street every Thursday, Friday and Saturday lunchtime and I would advise every politician in the country to do that. If you want feedback from the people stand with a megaphone, right in the middle of Princes Street and talk to people.”

Fifty year-old Fox was raised in a typical working class family in Motherwell. He has been involved in socialist politics in one form or another for most of his adult life. He recalls one incident growing up in Lanarkshire that played a vital part in shaping his political convictions:

“One of the things that personally influenced me looking back was that there was a radical theatre company called 7:84 who had a play that was touring and I went to see it at Viewpark Community Centre. The play was called The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil and I remember thinking that was terrific. It just evoked a spirit in me and an idea that working people should be given the opportunity to make their own decisions.”

Today when asked what the policies are that the SSP are campaigning on as he seeks to return to Holyrood, where he was an MSP between 2003 and 2007, Fox is in no doubt of the major issue and said:-

“The election for us is dominated by the economy and cuts. This idea that there have got to be cuts in the public sector and that there has got to be rising unemployment in this area: our premise is we don’t accept this. The whole idea that the country is grievously over-spent : our view is that is complete nonsense. We don’t accept the cuts. The reason we are in the position we are is that we bailed out the banks. In other words the bankers caused the crisis and they are the ones that should pay for it.”

Raising taxes, especially for the wealthy, is another flagship policy of the SSP. Fox makes no apologies for this saying:

“Tax raising powers don’t frighten us any. All the talk now is we are going to cut taxes. Our attitude is the rich have got to start paying their fair share of taxes now – currently they (the rich) are avoiding it. We want to scrap the council tax which is unfair. It is based on a nominal valuation of your house and is therefore nothing to do with your income. There are people whose income is literally coppers, like pensioners, paying a quarter of their entire income on this one bill. The council tax is a fraud, a con and it has got to be replaced with something based on your income.”

Fox has lived in Edinburgh since 1995 and has strong views on what the challenges facing the capital are – and how they need to be tackled. He said:-

“Edinburgh is the most cosmopolitan city we have in Scotland, that’s the great thing. Even people from Motherwell are accepted here!  However the dichotomy here is that enormous wealth exists in this city cheek by jowl with extreme poverty. We have people going under every five minutes, where every bill pulls them under the water. They are the forgotten citizens of this city and I can tell you exclusively that I really don’t care about JK Rowling or (RBS chief executive) Stephen Hester or big houses in Grange or Barnton, my concern is that the vast majority of the population of this city are struggling to get by in indecent housing and on indecent wages. So the most important issue in Edinburgh is redistributing the enormous wealth to those that need it the most from those that have the most whether it be in health, social care or wages that is what needs to be done.”

Fox is realistic enough to realise he and his party have a tough battle ahead to gain at this election:-

“As a democrat, and I am a democrat and a socialist, I fight to win every election I stand in.  But we are realistic enough to know that because of the Sheridan nonsense and other things, we still have to prove to the people that the SSP have our heads and eyes on the prize. Working people feel we let them down, and it is my job to show them that we are still fighting for them.”

Yes Tommy Sheridan, Fox’s former SSP colleague, whose fall from grace rocked the SSP, could cast a shadow over the party. When asked about the Sheridan effect Fox claims that it does not get raised often specifically but is seen as part of a wider problem.

“The Sheridan thing never specifically comes up but what comes up is people saying, MSPs, politicians – all bent as a three pound note, every last one of them.”

As for a political high point Fox, who introduced the initial bill in the Scottish Parliament to abolish prescription charges, cites this important achievement in the history of the party.

“From April the 1st, prescription charges no longer exist in Scotland after more than 50 years. They are abolished in part, I don’t seek to take all the credit as it is the SNP government after all that has abolished them, due to my bill, we blazed the trail here. The SSP has a right to feel proud in our part of standing up for ordinary people in this matter.”

When asked for his hopes for the Scottish Parliament and Scotland in the future, Fox offers up a slice of his political philosophy:-

“There is a quotation from Boys from the Blackstuff and it is ‘every man has his price but the incorruptible man has the highest price of all.’ And I have my price, I will sell the jerseys tomorrow if we have a socialist society based on need, where the poor are cared for and the rich pay their way. That’s my price, it is perhaps a price politicians from other parties cannot afford to have, but at least I’m honest enough to admit I have one.”

Original article here –

Interview with Mike Pringle

Sitting in a comfortable chair in his Edinburgh South constituency office,  Mike Pringle MSP with his grey hair and casual jumper looks rather like a favourite uncle. He exudes the kind of warm friendliness that the Liberal Democrats used to thrive on. That, of course, was in the days before protesters were burning effigies of Nick Clegg.

Pringle himself is acutely aware that events in Westminster could make May’s Holyrood elections tough for his party and said:-” There is no question we are getting a lot of kickback from what is happening down south and all the associated issues. While this is Scotland, and we will be concentrating on Scottish issues that affect people in Edinburgh South, I can’t deny that the national issues may have an impact.”

Certainly Pringle is at pains to highlight differences in policy between the Scottish Lib Dems and their Westminster counterparts and pointed out:-”One of the big issues is the imposition of tuition fees. The situation of course is completely different in Scotland. Indeed, recently, I received a letter from Liam Burns of the National Union of Students congratulating the Lib Dems in Scotland on our role in amending the recent Scottish budget to secure greater funding for students.”

Born in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, Pringle moved to Edinburgh as a thirteen year old in 1958. Save a few years working in London, he has lived in the capital ever since and hopes that the voters will concentrate on the local issues he has been championing since being elected to Holyrood in 2003.  One of the main areas Pringle plans to campaign on locally is education, where he says he has been fighting  hard on behalf of Edinburgh South. He said:-”I have campaigned hard for increased funding for Boroughmuir High School having already secured government funding for a complete rebuild of James Gillespie’s High School.”

Supporting local businesses is another major theme of Pringle’s campaign. One innovative scheme he plans to launch, if re-elected, is the ‘Edinburgh South pound’. Based on a successful scheme in Totnes, Devon the plan would offer discounts to local businesses involved, thus encouraging economic growth in the area. Pringle said:- “ Similar schemes have been run successfully elsewhere and helped local businesses.  I think it is something that, if we could launch it, would benefit Edinburgh South greatly. I have approached local businesses who are prepared to back the scheme.”

Pringle has always been a keen supporter of environmental matters and sees the environment as a key Lib-Dem issue. He is a supporter of a Green Bank and hopes that it could be based in Edinburgh:-”I recently met Environment Secretary, Chris Huhne,  to discuss the setting up of a Green Bank. I was representing the whole of Edinburgh in making a case for the proposed Green Bank to come to Scotland, but specifically Edinburgh. It would bring a huge amount of jobs to the city. Even though the decision on location has not yet been made, I am relatively hopeful that it will come to Edinburgh.”

Elected in 2003 with a wafer thin majority of 158, Pringle has proved a popular constituency MSP, increasing his majority to 1,929 in 2007. He sees his constituency work as vital:-”As a local constituency MSP, I have always looked on my primary responsibility as standing up for the people. My work is defending my constituents against Local Authority planning decisions and on council tax issues, but probably the biggest area is constituents problems with NHS Lothian which  I try to help them resolve.”

Asked to pick out a personal highlight from his time in Parliament, Pringle chooses an issue he is passionate about:-”Meeting the Dahlia Lama twice was a personal highlight. I have always been a very strong supporter of Tibet and the campaign to free Tibet from the yoke of China.”

Looking to the future, Pringle feels that a majority government whether one party with an overall majority, or a coalition, is better for Scotland than a minority administration. He says: “ As far as the parliament in general is concerned I hope we have a strong parliament. I have to say that I think over  the past four years it has lacked something, because there has been a minority administration. That is not the fault of the SNP, but because they did not have an overall majority, they could not introduce the radical policies a majority administration can.”

Of his own party’s role in the new Parliament Pringle said:- ” The Lib Dems’ aim is to be back in coalition and to be able to influence things as we did from 1999 to 2007. As our colleagues in Westminster have discovered, you can only influence policy from a position of power.”

Affable as he may be, Mike Pringle is a hardened campaigner who wrestled Edinburgh South from Labour, and increased his majority. Given the Lib-Dems’ current woes, this promises to be his toughest campaign yet. Pringle will be hoping that his local record and personal popularity will see him re-elected, and not spending too much time fishing, or in the stands of his beloved Tynecastle come May.

Original article here.

Robin Harper interview

May 6th 1999 was a historic day in Scottish politics. Not only did this date mark the first Scottish parliamentary election for more than 250 years, but it also saw the election of the UK’s first Green parliamentarian. Twelve years on, Robin Harper MSP sits resplendent sporting his trademark multi-coloured tie, looking back over a frontline political career which will come to an end when he stands down as an MSP on March 22nd.

The road to electoral success was a long one for the politician and for the Green party. Harper can pinpoint the exact date that his personal journey began. He says: “The 11th of July 1985 when Rainbow Warrior was sunk was the very specific trigger for my interest in environmental politics.”

Outraged by the sinking of Greenpeace’s flagship vessel, Harper, then a Modern Studies teacher at Boroughmuir High School, joined the fledging Scottish Ecology Party, which would shortly evolve into the Scottish Green Party. Harper was identified as a leader within the movement from the outset. He says of his early days: “I got involved (with the organisation of the party) in the first party meeting I attended, which they asked to hold in my house which should have aroused my suspicions.  Then at the AGM of the Edinburgh branch I was asked to become the convener for the Edinburgh area, so I became an activist on my very first day.”

By 1986, Harper stood for election as a councillor in the  Tollcross ward garnering around 3% of the vote. Over the next thirteen years, Harper was the Green Party candidate at eleven Local Authority, European and Westminster elections all over Scotland. As Harper says: “Wherever in Scotland there was an election, I was there saying ‘Let me stand as a Green candidate.’ I’m glad to say I was never turned down.”

The advent of the Scottish Parliament offered Harper and the Greens a real opportunity for electoral success. The Green party polled 6.9% in the Lothians list vote, enough to secure a seat for the party’s top candidate – Robin Harper.  Of his landmark election he says: “In terms of elation there was nothing to beat making history in 1999. That was just extraordinary.”

The party used their success in 1999 as a stepping stone to further electoral gains. Indeed  the election in 2003 saw six more Green MSPs elected to Holyrood alongside Harper. Of that night he says: “It was a different sort of elation in 2003, to come back with six more MSPs it was a ‘Could you believe it’ moment to do so well.” Though the 2007 election saw the party’s representation at Holyrood cut back to two, Harper and Patrick Harvie, the party did perform well at Local Authority elections in Scotland on the same night.

As an MSP throughout the parliament’s twelve years, Harper admits that he will miss the day-to-day cut and thrust and the “wonderful staff and friends from all sides of the parliament.”. He is also a staunch defender of the parliament’s record saying: “The smoking ban, which other countries have adopted, mental health legislation and the abolition of tuition fees and prescription charges – all these things mount up. We have now passed an amount of specific Scottish legislation that would have taken Westminster 100 years to pass.”

Of his own contribution, Harper feels great satisfaction from what he describes as “little victories” such as widening discussion subjects and having amendments on individual bills passed. Indeed he says: “Every single time an amendment is accepted, is cause for a small celebration.”

Harper certainly feels he is leaving Holyrood with the Green party in a strong position. He says of the forthcoming election: “Of course every election is an opportunity, but this one in particular is a fantastic chance to get back to or better our previous numbers.”

As for his own future, Harper will not be slowing down too much just yet. While he does intend to spend some time pursuing his hobby of collecting acorns he will remain a busy man. On March 12th he launches his autobiography, Dear Mr Harper, while on March 24th he attends his first meeting as a board member of the National Trust for Scotland.

One way or another, the Scottish public has not seen the last of Robin Harper and his multi-couloured scarves and ties!

Original article here