When thinking of national or international politics, scandals, drama and big decisions may spring to mind. In contrast to what’s happening on our door step, there’s a misconception that local councillors only deal with our wheelie bin problems.
Rosemary Hunter, an SNP candidate in this year’s council elections for Dunblane and Bridge of Allan, tells Brig: “A lot of people are quite confused about who controls what legislation, whether it’s Westminster, Holyrood or locally.
“A lot of key decisions that people may not realise are made locally, for example education and that’s certainly an important issue.”
Amidst the afternoon buzz of the Burgh Coffeehouse, Rosemary goes on to share her background in politics and why she’s the best candidate for the job.
“The first time I entered into anything politically was back in ‘96 after the shootings in Dunblane,” she explains.
“I was one of the people who set up the Snowdrop Campaign, so that was quite a big first step into politics as we were down in Westminster dealing with all the key politicians of the day. I learned a lot about politics at that point, but didn’t really feel it was for me, back then I had very young daughter.”
The Snowdrop Campaign was a huge grassroots push to totally ban the private ownership and use of handguns in the UK after the Dunblane massacre.
After garnering over 50,000 signatures for its petition in only six weeks, the then-Labour Government brought in new legislation further prohibiting the ownership of all cartridge ammunition handguns, regardless of calibre.
Rosemary continues: “But then when the (2014 independence) referendum started to come around I got politically engaged again. I’ve always been political but not as active, but when that came up, there was a lot of issues which I felt was important to discuss and share with people. Immediately following the referendum, the ambition was to possibly look at Holyrood as an MSP but to also certainly consider local government.
“I think I have different skills and qualities, perhaps more so than other people who come into local government. I’ve worked down south, I’ve been involved in different things and hopefully I can bring those skills and attributes to the council. And I think a few more female voices won’t go a miss.”
The one question we’re always eager to ask is what a candidate hopes to achieve in their first 100 days if they are elected.
Rosemary explains: “Because I’ve not done it before, it’s going to be a big learning curve. I think that 100 days is going to be difficult to walk in and suddenly say right, this is how we do everything. For me it’s about listening, I want to listen to people in the council to find out how they do things and to maybe see if there’s things I think can be done better.
“There’s a lot of SNP candidates who have experience so I’d like to learn from them as well. I wouldn’t like to pledge any particular policy that I can suddenly bring in 100 days, I think it’s more about learning what’s going on and working out what things we can improve as quickly as possible.”
Like running for any position in politics, it’s not without its obstacles.
“The biggest challenge is just trying to juggle everything,” she says. “You’re meant to be doing 20 other tasks as well as fitting in chapping doors and talking to people. There’s a lot going on alongside normal life. It’s an exciting challenge, it’s not something that’s panicked me.”
The next topic for discussion was whether or not there is a lack of engagement with the likes of students and young people in regards to local politics.
“I think Scotland is more politically engaged than the rest of the UK. When I think back to my school days and even university I don’t think people were all that bothered about things. I think there’s more engagement now which is a good thing. Ways I would seek to improve it is to make sure schools are more engaged.
“I know a lot of Modern Studies teachers maybe take their students to First Minister’s Questions or take them to various debates or radio shows. I think it would be good for all kids to get a better understanding of how the government works. I know there’s the Youth Parliament so maybe encourage more of that.
“Some schools maybe have pretend elections but other schools don’t. Really the best way is to find out is talking to students and school kids and see why they are interested in politics or why they’re not and finding out how we can get them more engaged from there.”
One issue Stirling students in particular aren’t happy about is the rather inconvenient bus services.
Rosemary assures me: “We definitely have a manifesto commitment to look into the whole bus service situation. In my ward in particular in Dunblane, we’ve had big issues with that. We’ve had lots of services cut. There is two sides to it, it’s all very well putting a bus service on but people have got to use it.
“If there’s only one or two people using any bus at any one time it is really difficult to make that justifiable. So it’s trying to make sure people do use what’s there but to also see where there’s a lack of buses and certainly for the likes of the uni it’s pretty crucial as some students may not have a car.”
Rogue letting agencies is another predicament students may find themselves having to deal with. Councillors are in a position where they can tackle this issue and Rosemary tells me: “I think that’s a really important point and I think housing full stop is a really important issue.
“I think that is definitely something I’d like to look into in a lot more depth. It feels like in order to be considered you have to shelve out money and what do you get back for that?”
This follows onto an insight into the SNP’s manifesto points on housing.
“Housing is a big issue for the whole area, so affordable housing and social housing is really important. We have got this as a point in our manifesto as something we want to engage in with the Scottish government to provide funding towards that. We’ll look to try and capture some of that money if we can establish some locations where social housing will be appropriate.
“It’s not just about social housing, the likes of Dunblane for example has grown massively in the last 10-20 years and if we consider that, it’s all very similar style of houses that are being built. They’re all quite big, parents and families are all growing up in that house. My question is what happens in 20 to 30 years when these people want to downsize? There’s nowhere for them to go.
“Unless we consider smaller and more varied housing, you’re going to lose a community. You’re not going to have the older population or the new starts. It is a big deal and something we need to tackle. Waiting lists have been massive for years.”
Recently, Stirling Council received planning permission to build new student accommodation. Rosemary believes “it sounds promising and I don’t see it being an issue.
“I think it will be a good thing, we’re short of student accommodation so it’s possibly a way of solving that.”
There are all these manifestos from different parties, but what gives the SNP the edge over other parties?
Rosemary shares her thoughts on the matter: “I think our manifesto is comprehensive, we’ve covered a lot of different areas. We’re actually discussing policy and what we’d like to do in it which I feel is much more than you’re getting than the other manifestos.
“The other unionist parties in particular seem to be obsessed with another referendum, and of course there’s no relevance for that at all – local councils can’t influence a referendum. I think that we’ve gone across every policy area.”
The interview concludes with finding out Rosemary’s thoughts on the recent announcement of the snap general election.
“I think it’s pretty cynical,” she states. “I think obviously as an SNP candidate, we were wanting to have the authority to hold our own referendum, and here you are with the situation where we’re told now is not the time for that, but suddenly it’s the time for a snap general election.
“Now Theresa May doesn’t have a mandate in that she wasn’t elected in, but she has a mandate in that she was put in that position within the party. She’s got a majority, she’s got everything through that she needed to get through so far, so it’s very cynical to me and it’s like a power grab.”
Voting for the council elections takes place on Thursday, May 4. Make sure to exercise your democratic right and get your voice heard.
Featured image credit: Rebecca McCurdy