The Saint sat down with all the candidates in the constituency of North East Fife in tomorrow’s Scottish Parliamentary elections. Here’s what Roderick Campbell, the incumbent Scottish National Party (SNP) candidate, had to say on the issues important to students:
On tuition fees and why students should vote for him:
The SNP is very proud at having delivered free education in Scotland and about having benefited 120,000 students to the tune of £27,000 of not having to pay tuition fees. I respect that the fact that in St Andrews there are a lot of students from other parts of the UK, but I’m afraid the Scottish Government doesn’t have unlimited funds.
We have an agenda which is focusing on a number of issues, education being one of the important ones. One of the most important aspects of this campaign is the money that we’re going to put in to trying to narrow the attainment gap, which we’re very passionate about. Traditionally the University’s view is that they wouldn’t take students with lesser qualifications who are from more diverse backgrounds but don’t have the academic qualifications so there is certainly a battle ahead in terms of our aims and trying to narrow that attainment gap and providing fairer access to university.
To us, the mantra of free higher education is absolutely fundamental
On widening access:
We’ll be taking on board the recommendations of the commission on fairer access. One of the recommendations was that universities which kind of cooperated and took on board these recommendations need to be reassured that there won’t be disadvantages in league tables.
What is undoubtedly true is that there is an attainment gap that needs to be narrowed so it can’t just be a question of providing free education for students in higher education, we’ve got to make sure that the people who take that up are from a far more diverse cross section of society. To be blunt we’ve got to have far more working class kids in higher education in Scotland.
To us, the mantra of free higher education is absolutely fundamental. I would accept that there are not unlimited funds and that if you spend money on that then you haven’t got money available elsewhere, but we are looking at bursaries and we can improve that. Also improving the level at which you are required to repay student debt, so all these things are important on the margins.
I think fundamentally it’s a policy which is popular with the people of Scotland, as recent opinion polls have indicated.
On taxes and funding public services:
We’ve got £750 million which is highlighted for higher education and the attainment gap in particular. One hundred million each year will be diverted from the increased money because of the adjustment to council tax bands which comes in next year, and that money will go into education and into attainment, so we are focusing on education without the recourse to the extra penny on income tax because we take the view that people on ordinary wages should not be faced with having to meet the cost of the austerity program of this government.
On fees for students from the rest of the UK:
I would tell students from the rest of the UK to pressurise the UK government to opt for a change of policy.
One of the interesting things about the American presidential election is that in the Democratic party, the issue of free tuition is very much at the forefront of the election. So far from us trying to ape America, it would appear that there is significant forces in America trying to ape what’s happening in the UK and in Europe.
I recognise that those students are quite disadvantaged but hopefully they realised before they applied here that that would be the position.
Fundamentally the SNP is an independence party, I’ve never hid that and obviously we had a referendum in 2014 that we didn’t win, we accept that. Fundamentally there will not be another referendum unless there is significant change in circumstances and if there is a significant change in opinion which could be measured over a substantial period of time. When that will be I don’t know, it could be 5, 15, 20 years or never.
If our opponents are confident of their position, they shouldn’t in my view be afraid, of allowing the people further say in due course on the issue.
On the HMO ban:
Fundamentally it’s a decision to be made by the local council. The Scottish parliament has enabled councils to take the lines that they do. I think a dialogue needs to continue with the University about making sure there is adequate accommodation for students. I’m pleased by recent plans from the University but I have considerable degree of sympathy with those who say that all that the moratorium actually does is shift the problem from the centre of St Andrews into greater St Andrews, and in terms of affordable housing, it’s lost because they in turn become multiple student occupants. I think the easy solution of just renewing the moratorium is problematic.
Fundamentally it’s a dialogue and I don’t think that there are easy answer to St Andrews’ housing problem.
I think the easy solution of just renewing the moratorium is problematic
On whether he would pressure the University to provide more accommodation:
Yes I think so, I think there is the Guardbridge project going on in terms of heating University residences, my understanding is that there is space for an additional boiler there so that might be used commercially but it could certainly be used for additional student accommodation so I would always keep up the pressure on the University.
I think we have to recognise that St Andrews is a fairly unique community in terms of its balance between students, golf and tourism. There’s nowhere quite like it in Scotland, but it ought to mean that there are homes for local people.
I think it ought to be a focus for any local representative to make sure that local people are not being squeezed out of the arrangement
On accommodation in general:
The Scottish Parliament’s just passed a private rented accommodation with exemptions for students and it does contain some provisions for rent controls. In general, we shouldn’t be afraid in appropriate cases to use the rent control provisions and maybe communities like St Andrews are ones where that would merit closer examination. I wouldn’t shy away from some forms of rent control if appropriate.
The SNP managed to deliver on its promise of delivering more than 30,000 affordable homes in the last parliament. We aim to build 50,000 in the next parliament. I think we recognise that we do need more affordable homes and we to continue to provide help for first time buyers.
On Madras college:
People are crying out for a new school. We’ve been talking about a new secondary school in St Andrews for 25 years and for a whole variety of reasons it hasn’t happened, my party put forward an alternative scheme prior to the Pipeland scheme which involved decanting and rebuilding on the Kilrymont site, and that certainly wasn’t universally popular. I do think we’ve got to the stage where we need to consider all the options closely, we do need a bit of fresh thinking.
With an earlier scheme back in 2011 at Langlands, early discussions with the University and the council fell apart, there were disagreement about a number of things, including the idea of shared sports facilities with the University. There had to be the idea of an exchange between the University and the community and all I want to do at the present time is for the administration to review all of the options and not close anything down. I have concerns that submitting a new application which was fairly similar to the last one would raise the exact same problems and would not actually advance matters. I sat in on the later parts of the judicial review and I formed a view as to the ways in which any future application might go if the council’s not extremely careful. It’s about process, and the educational needs and the desire to create a school can’t allow the council to overlook that there, in addition, planning requirements which have to be strictly adhered to, and if you don’t you’re liable to get the kind of result that we had in the court last month.
I really call for some fresh thinking and some talking to the parties concerned, and talking formally to the University about matter. I hope that people will be open minded with the view to reaching a solution as early as possible to deliver a new school.
On town and gown relations:
It’s always going to be an ongoing issue. Both sides have obligations really to try and interact, I don’t think you can come to St Andrews, live in St Andrews, without being acutely aware of the presence of the University and trying to foster the best relations possible. St Andrews is getting a new principal in September and that is an opportunity to refresh that dialogue with the local community.
I wouldn’t describe it as a problem, it’s something that always consistently needs to be worked at.
On Raisin Weekend:
I certainly haven’t had complaints from constituents about that, I have a fairly close relationship with the local police and I know they work hard to try and maintain and foster good relations. If it becomes a problem then obviously its future will have to be put under review. Anti-social behaviour is obviously anti-social by its nature and shouldn’t be encouraged.
If it [Raisin Weekend] becomes a problem then obviously its future will have to be put under review
On local authority cuts:
We’ve fully funded a council tax freeze for the last eight years, this is the ninth year of the freeze. It’s true that this year there has been a reduction in local authority grants but after taking account of £250 million earmarked for the integrated social-care services, we reckon the shortfall is only about £100 million and going forward, this is the last year of the council tax freeze. In the following years councils will be able to increase council tax by 3 per cent.
Fife council, well, has it been well run? I think some people might suggest that it hasn’t. They’ve made a mess of equal pay claims, I think that’s cost about £50 million. In some ways, I think the cuts to libraries has brought a positive community response in so far as many communities in North East Fife have affected by it have come up with their own plans to provide those kinds of services.
I’m not suggesting that local finance settlement isn’t challenging but what I am suggesting is that some of the cries might be slightly over-egged.
On climate change:
Climate change is obviously a big issue, not just for the University and North East Fife but for the world in general. I am slightly encouraged by the events in Paris in December and the approach that countries around the world are taking.
Obviously the Scottish government is proposing to increase its target for reduction of emissions but it’s challenging for any government, it can’t just be about, it has to be about implementing things as well. I respect that some people take the view that reducing Air Passenger Duty might not be helpful so I think if we’re going to go down that route we need to tread warily and also perhaps give the aviation industry a bit of a harder time rather than suggesting that it’s an open sesame to extra flights coming into Scotland. Not withstanding that might produce jobs for the economy.
Climate change is complicated, I think a lot more needs to be done in terms of land filling and recycling and being a bit more coordinated across Scotland.
We’ve obviously got a moratorium on fracking which we’ve had since last year. We’ve got a number on expert studies going and there will be no fracking in Scotland until there is credible scientific evidence that it can go ahead, followed by a consultation which gives us the opportunity to review that. I think there are understandable environmental concerns on fracking, all of that has to be taken on board before any fracking takes place. I don’t see any likelihood of fracking coming to Scotland any time soon.
We’re looking at it from an evidence-based point of view, once we get the evidence we will open it up to consultation with communities.
On university centralisation:
I wouldn’t call it centralisation, it was just providing a basic structure which universities can operate under. I know that conservatives in higher education were opposed, they clearly wanted to take the line that “we run things our way, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I think in general the bill was well received by university, trade unions, students and colleges.
Governments do things. The conservative line is “why can’t we do things like we’ve always done them” but I think we’re trying to provide a basic structure that works for everyone, not just the people who are actually in St Andrews at the moment. I think if you spoke to some of the members of staff here at St Andrews at the moment you’d find a lot of support for the changes that are being made and some degree of concern about the way the University has operated in the past.
On international students:
I think all the parties in the Scottish parliament are keen on having the post-study work visa, and we’ll keep the pressure on the Home Office in that respect, and obviously recognising that students from abroad make an extremely valuable contribution to Scottish education and the Scottish economy and we all want to encourage that. Obviously these immigration targets are causing substantial difficulties in the UK at the moment and the EU referendum lurks in the background in terms of what impact that might have on the attractiveness of this country for students from elsewhere. So just to keep up the pressure really and recognise that students from other countries are a plus on the whole and not a minus.