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Election '11: Cumbernauld candidates battle it out at public meeting

Written by Scott Campbell.
 
 
 
 
 
Published at 00:00 GMT on Saturday, April 30th, 2011.

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WITH less than a week until polling day, candidates from across the board came to Cumbernauld for a local hustings meeting.
 
Over fifty people piled into the Link Community Centre to see how the candidates would perform, many were already made up as to who they would vote for but some were first time voters.
 
Candidates took questions from the floor, on a range of issues, from health to transport to tax to independence, it’s all listed below. 
 
Candidates present were:
 
Jamie Hepburn- SNP Candidate for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth and Central Scotland,
Cathie Craigie- Scottish Labour Candidate for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth,
James Boswell- Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party Candidate for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth,
John Love- Representative for Martin Oliver, Liberal Democrat Party Candidate for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, John is also a Liberal Democrat canidate for Central Scotland and Airdrie and Shotts.
Hugh O'Donnell- Independent Candidate for Central Scotland,
Kevin McVey- Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) Candidate for Central Scotland,
Rob Kay- Scottish Green Party Candidate for Central Scotland.
 
The meeting started at 7.30pm sharp and the first issue to be raised was the cuts agenda and how the candidates felt about tax rises and the banks.
 
Taxation and Economy.

The Liberal Democrat's John Love started the debate: “Gordon Brown stole my pension. I think we should let these banks go, I don’t want these gamblers, in our country.”

The Green's Rob Kay said: “The role of barons has bled us and our country dry. The poor pay more tax than those who are better off, we have to change this.

"There is a lot more to tax than income. Establish a dialogue with people in this field.”

Labour's Cathie Craigie also joined in on the debate and said: “I’ve already given my support to this campaign. The union have already been good at sniffing out the millions, the billions that goes unpaid, in taxes but more could be done."

The SNP's Jamie Hepburn said: “Although this is a reserved matter it does affect the local economy. HMRC is the Cumbernauld’s largest employer.

"A great campaign has been fought against the cuts and I fully support the campaign, cuts are going too fast and too deep. 

"In these times we should increase HMRC staff numbers to collect tax. We have to challenge the way the Westminster is dealing with things.”

Hugh O'Donnell, Independent Candidate then joined in: “Forty years ago I was a low paid civil servant, so I know how it feels.

"This week, 80’000 letters went to poorer people for sums as little as £100, I find this ridiculous, that this Government goes after those who are less fortunate. I already support this campaign and I believe that our voice in the Scottish Parliament should be a strong one. This just isn’t acceptable.”

Kevin McVey, of the SSP said: “I was a PCS for 20 years, I am more than happy to support their campaign. The mainstream political parties won't help as they are signed up to a 'free market' approach.

"Despite promises, we won’t see stepping stones laid down to deal with this problem. I question the Green party saying that they would be the most radical party on this.

"The top earner’s wealth has grown, this isn't right; The SSP would take practical steps to redistributing wealth.”

James Boswell of the Scottish Conservatives ended the first debate, by saying: “It’s all very well saying that we'll do this and that and that we could have done this, but let’s be realistic.

"If we chase these fat cats away we will have a lot to lose. Because the City contributes so much to our economy, if we chased them away we would all be much poorer."

Mr Boswell continued; "Pensions are so expensive that we’ll bankrupt the country, we need a balance, to make ends meet - toxic debt. We all have to suffer, to a degree.”

Local Government and Frontline Services.

After a strong debate on taxation and the economy the debate turned to local government and how they would be able to defend frontline services, during times of difficulty. A question fielded from the floor was “What resistance should councils take to defend services?”

James Boswell (Con.): “It’s not so much a question of resistance, its stronger councils we need.

"There are going to have to be efficiencies, we are all going to have to look for efficiencies, wherever we are.

"We are all in this together. Truthfully, this means that we are inclusive, 'the big society.' This crisis will bring us all closer together. What people seem to forget is that Scotland's local authorities are currently richer than their English counterparts."

Kevin McVey (SSP): “We are all in this together; I find this statement quite offensive. The Government should be honest about these cuts; these are the services that we all rely on.

"I remember when the Conservative Government, in the 1980s' talked cuts, suddenly Labour became the Conservatives, shutting facilities, in Strathclyde and destroying our frontline services, they run the risk of doing this in today's climate. 

"I believe that all politicians, in Scotland, should fight the cuts from England. Bring on the confrontation with Westminster. It’s not good enough to make excuses, put your money where your mouth is, and take action. How far will politicians go?”

Hugh O'Donnell (Ind.):  “Local authorities get 85% of funding from the Government so that means that the council choose their priorities.

"What I don’t get is why people are seeing their services affected, when John Swinney defected to cuts until next year. If the money the council is getting, is the same, until next year then why are they cutting now, they must explain, they are not being pushed.”

Jamie Hepburn (SNP): “All in it together - its nonsense, they are disproportionately attacking the poor.

"Local Councils and the Parliament are in difficult times, if we were independent we wouldn’t be so limited. Although these are still in difficult times the SNP are protecting Scotland and its people.

"An SNP Government introduced free university education, whilst England students face tuition fees of £9000; the SNP can better protect Scotland, with the current existing powers. I won’t lie, councils are facing constraint but they are better off than English council counterparts.”

Cathie Craigie (Lab.): “The SNP said we will give you all these savings whilst at the same time we'll cut your income. In reality, four years ago, the SNP cut North Lanarkshire Council’s budget, despite the Government having more money.

"Politics is all about making choices and decisions; I feel the SNP’s choices have all been wrong. I place the blame for the destruction of frontline services and facilities squarely at the feet of the SNP.”

Rob Kay (Green): “The way I see it is that we have two options. Our first option is to increase revenue and our second option is to reduce the number of vanity projects, such as the M80 upgrade programme; there are  two billion potholes to correct before these crazy vanity road projects, should even be considered.”

John Love (Lib.): “I like this idea of the lack of resistance from council’s. We cannot control the money that we have. We don’t do cuts lightly.

"Cathie managed to evade the fact that Labour would still have cut the budget anyway so council’s would still be in the same boat, as they are now. The SNP aren’t helping the difficulty with the council tax freeze. We have to do the job that we are elected to do.”

James Boswell (Con.) then continued on to say: “I’d like to say something seeing as I seem to be the only person representing the Government. Every time we have a labour government we end up in a mess. Let’s look at the realities of the life; we’ve always been in a mess.”

Mr Boswell's statement was laughed at by all the audience and panellists, when he said he was talking as the only person present, who could represent the Government, clearly forgetting about his Liberal Democrat colleague, further down the table.

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Independence.

A comment was fielded from the floor that “Independence is no option during these times.”

Jamie Hepburn (SNP) took centre stage, firstly to rebut the statement, saying:  “Oh ye of little faith; why not talk about Norway, did Ireland run back to London, when they got into difficulty? No.

"My unionist opponents will ask why we always talk about oil, but Scotland is oil and gas rich, we acknowledge it will run out in forty years.

"Many small independent countries have not experienced a tough recession. We can afford to be an independent country.”

Cathie Craigie (Lab.): “People don’t want to be independent. The SNP were scared to bring independence to the people. The ‘Big Conversation’ was a waste of money. We live in a democracy and the vast majority of people would not support independence, where would Scotland be if we were independent, during the banking crisis?!”

Kevin McVey (SSP): “SSP is pro-independence, but what is independence? Independence would give people control of the institutions that destroy our country. I would like to see the wealth of our countries spread across the board.

"I would see independence as freedom from institutions and privatised businesses. Independence is the least of things we can expect from the SNP.”

Rob Kay (Green): “Being 'Green' means that I’m an internationalist. I want a Scotland whereby the people could decide what the future of the country should be. The SNP want to run Scotland to tell the people what to do."

John Love (Lib.): “I’m against independence, plain and simple. Let’s tally up the votes on Election Day; let the people decide.”

Hugh O'Donnell (Ind.): “The people of Scotland have the right to choose their future. I’m not personalising my issues. Independence doesn’t mean Mel Gibson as ‘Braveheart’; let’s hear from the SNP what an independent Scotland would look like. People are comparing apples with apples. Let’s hear what the SNP are offering.”

James Boswell, of the Scottish Conservative party rounded off the independence debate by saying: “We hear these wonderful phrases from Alex Salmond. Our greatest trading partner is England, why break this up? It’s a cut throat world, let’s be realistic. Independence would lead to a lower standard of living.”

Health Care, Health Services and the NHS.

As the debate moves onto health care a question is taken from the audience asking “Would have saving the local X-ray services, been a way to save/ create jobs?”

Rob Kay (Green): “Yes, a few. The critical issues for people living here is how to get to health services. It costs a lot to keep getting taxis, to and from Monklands Hospital. One thing I can safely say is that Cumbernauld doesn’t have a decent number of health services."

Cathie Craigie (Lab.): “The X-ray facilities didn’t create a lot of jobs; it provided a public service, more than anything.

"Promises were not delivered for local healthcare services; these cancelled projects are lost jobs. The SNP have not invested in NHS Lanarkshire as much as they should have.”

Jamie Hepburn (SNP): “Cathie is suggesting that we are not seeing things that we meant to see happen, what about closing Monklands Hospital?

"X-ray services would have created jobs; I think it’s more about the service provided, though. NHS Lanarkshire actually has more money than ever, another thing that Cathie isn't telling you.”

Kevin McVey (SSP): “Health services - the more local, the better. We need to get the private- pirates off our backs otherwise it’s a battle to save services that everyone relies on. I do support these services through and I was against the move of the technology.”

Hugh O'Donnell (Ind.): “Whichever government comes in, NHS Lanarkshire will still have less money and the formula will change.

"You take the pain from the first move and hope that it goes away, my fear is that this will happen with the X-ray services. Somebody has to point that finger at the health board and ask what you are doing?!”

Shortly after Mr O'Donnell made his point, an audience member interrupted: “I led the campaign against the closure of the services and I still do. I turned up at a meeting of the board and they announced they couldn’t get maintenance contract.

"In actual fact the real reason was that NHS Lanarkshire wanted a new unit at Haymires, which would cost £375’000. I believe there is a thing called ring fencing. I can't believe that NHS Lanarkshire would keep facilities at Coatbridge, where technology is older than what Cumbernauld has.

"I asked one of the personnel what was going to happen with the staffand they said they would have to go to Monklands. I was then told that the maintenance manager was to tell the staff where they would have to move to. I will not give up the fight!"

It became clear afterwards that the man speaking was the Chair of the Cumbernauld Community Forum. 

Transport and Infrastructure.

A question was taken from the floor regarding the bus service, the question was "Would you regulate the bus service, in Scotland?"

James Boswell (Con.) started the debate: “It’s quite fraught. It’s not an issue I particularly know. However, to me it seems like allocating free bus travel seems to be to bribe to electorate.”

Kevin McVey (SSP): “I would relate that question to make previous answer on regulation of banks.

"Profit dictates the bus routes; I’ve been involved with campaigns regarding this.

"I would re-regulate the buses and bring them back into public control. The SSP would support free public transport, for everyone.”

Hugh O'Donnell (Ind.): “I wouldn’t support what the Kevin has just said. What the Scottish Government needs to do is to look at how existing regulation works.

"There are major challenges and constraints that affect SPT, such as cost. But it can be done; look at London, nationalism doesn’t have to be used to make buses work."

Jamie Hepburn (SNP): “The SNP support the concessionary bus pass, in fact the SNP extended it to Veterans.

"It’s not clear, from what it being said, what people mean by 'regulating' the bus service. I think we need to look more closely at any proposal that comes forward.”

Cathie Craigie (Lab.): “What better regulation means to me is providing better bus services to areas such as Craigmarloch.

"There are certain areas which are cut off, not meeting the needs of the public, especially those who rely on public transport, such as the elderly. 

"I support re-regulation of the buses. The concessionary travel card was introduced by us and we have no plans to worsen it but rather expand it to other areas.”

Rob Kay (Green):  “This is playing to Green strengths. Greens would increase funding to lower fares, to get people out of the cars and into public transport.

"We have no clear pledge in our manifesto to deal with bus regulation. The public transport service is vital to our country. One of the things that needs to change is the fact that some of the buses finish so early, finishing early in the afternoon doesn't help anybody, its not good socially neither as it means people have to come away from facilities early."

John Love (Lib.): “The sad fact is that bus companies are able to do whatever they want to do. We need to get them together, around the table to discuss joined up services, a heavy handed attitude isn't needed but something must be down to make them sit down and provide a service for the people.”

Your Vision for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth.

As the hustings event drew to a close the final question was asked by Cumbernauld North Councillor, Councillor Chadha, he asked: “What is each of your visions' for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth?”

Cathie Craigie (Lab.): “I want to lower unemployment, particularly among young people, they should be able to leave school and move up the ladder, full employment for young folk.”

Jamie Hepburn (SNP): “I am very proud to live locally. This area has a great community spirit, unfortunately the spirit is not met by the facilities we have. There are real opportunities for new businesses to come to the area and provide jobs, our town centre also need a plan of action. I'd move the town in the right direction."

Hugh O'Donnell (Ind.): “I’ve been living on and off, in Cumbernauld, since I was 12. I remember that your family got interviewed to see if you could live here, sadly, since the Cumbernauld Development Corporation left Cumbernauld has been neglected by the council, not the councillors that sit on it.

"Why are people living in Carbrain, not having proper community facilities, to meet the community's needs? Why not see the same development, in Cumbernauld, as we've seen in other towns? I want Cumbernauld to be respected, the way it should be!"

Kevin McVey (SSP): “I think vision and politics are really good, they go hand in hand. How do we order our priorities? There is a crying need, in Cumbernauld, for facilities like a cinema and a proper town centre. Housing is another priority for Cumbernauld."

James Boswell (Con.): "It seems that as Cumbernauld gets older it declines, and when it gets repaired it quickly needs repairing again, it always progresses, however.

"We need a change in the enterprise sector meaning that there would be company to fund local facilities and services. The Conservatives want a cabinet minister for Enterprise.”

Rob Kay (Green): “It’s a big challenge. Parts of Cumbernauld are crumbling; I know what people are concerned about. We need to invest in infrastructure. We need to invest in education and skills, which in the future will bring the future jobs and skills. Social enterprising are about generating good services, for a community.”

John Love (Lib.): “I have heard these sorts of questions come up from Airdrie. Jobs are quite frankly the answer. Not just jobs for the young but jobs for everyone. Jobs stimulate an answer. Its jobs we need, it’s the people we need, it the shopping centres we need. We have to build up our own areas, ourselves. Jobs will cure most problems.”

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