Local councillor Jim Thomson has represented Stirling for ten years and is now standing for re-election as an SNP candidate for Stirling North in the upcoming council elections on May 4.
In between campaigning and meeting with constituents, Jim found the time to sit down with Brig to discuss all things politics.
Across Stirling as a whole, the SNP have a total of 14 candidates standing for a seat in Stirling Council and if successful, are the only party who have enough candidates to make up a majority and it is this that Jim believes gives the SNP the edge over all the other parties in the running.
“We have had a Tory/Labour coalition running the council and when you remind voters that effectively the other parties manifestos mean nothing because they can’t deliver on it, it does resonate,” he explains.
“The fact is – we do have 14 candidates and you need 12 for a majority. Is it difficult to achieve? Yes but we believe we can do it.”
Now that Jim is armed with his tea in hand, it was time to start pressing him on the important issues of housing shortages and student accommodation.
The housing shortage across Stirling is growing problematic and the SNP manifesto promises to use Stirling’s share of the £3 billion of Scottish Government grant to build affordable homes in Stirling.
“Stirling, I think, is probably in a worse position than most, we have a lot of students and finding accommodation means that other people aren’t able to get houses,” he says.
“We do get provided with funding to build social housing but no where near enough. It’s a problems and we’ve a waiting list in its thousands and social housing is at a premium.
“We need to start building houses now. We’ve got the land, the government has allocated £3 billion and we want to ensure that we’ve got access to that funding.”
Whether it be with university accommodation or privately renting in town, students are among those hit the hardest by housing crisis, and if elected, Jim assures that he would like to set up links to work with the university to tackle the problems.
“Personally I think it’s a partnership [with the council and university], it has to be. We have run into some difficulties in the council area at the minute and I disagree with the current policy on local occupancy.
“There’s a limit that’s been imposed on effectively the town centre both north and south that means that students are having to relocate to places like Bannockburn and Menstrie.
“It’s difficult enough getting a bus from the town into the university so can you imagine you’ve maybe got several changes to make to get to uni?
“I understand the accommodation difficulties at the university, that they’re upgrading the properties and they’ve knocked down a few, and that’s meant pressure on Stirling.”
We speak about the new student accommodation proposal for Dumbarton Road and although Jim feels it would massively ease the strain on housing demand, he is quick to admit fears that it may turn out to be “upper class accommodation aimed at students with a lot of money”.
Regarding the potentially high rent costs, he says: “What private companies do, we have no control over whatsoever but if I you create a marketplace where accommodation becomes cheaper then even the private have got to reduce their rates so if you’ve got a good range of accommodation then we can do that but that means you’ve got to build houses in the first place.
“You could argue that if the Dumbarton Road proposals go ahead and you build it and 150 people use those facilities, you’re releasing 150 properties elsewhere so that’s the good side of it but as I say if you have a good range and a good number of properties, chances are the value will drop.”
The issues of transport comes up and Jim takes the opportunity to discuss his hopes to reinvest in public transport.
“When we were in control of Stirling Council from 2008-2012, [our spending] went up from around £750,000 on subsidised transport to up to around £900,000,” he states. “That’s been cut back now to about £650,000.
“Transport is essential. If you live in Deanston for example and you work in Stirling, you need to get to your work so it is absolutely essential that we provide good quality transport and reliable transport.
“Buses, because they’re deregulated, they choose the routes that suits them and the council isn’t able to compete with them so you can only fill some of the gaps.
“My view is that when we were in power we had regular meetings with First Bus and had built up a decent relationship and if you work in partnership with them, we’ve got ideas to create within the communities because we’ve got the budget and for participated budgets so it could be that smaller communities can perhaps buy their own bus.”
As the interview was coming to a close, it was only right to ask him about Theresa May’s decision to call a snap general election for June 8, just 6 weeks after the Scottish council elections.
Jim seems generally unfazed by the extra pressure but adds: “I was out knocking on doors last night and everybody at the doorstep mentioned it and the reaction was ‘oh not another election’ so I don’t think it’s necessarily going to go down well.”
When asked to choose the one manifesto commitment that he believes gave him the edge over his competitors, Jim instantly chooses his emphasis on working with communities.
“I’m a great believer in devolving power downwards if people want it, that could be the difficulty,” he says.
“But I think with participatory budgeting, when people know there’s money there for them, they will come up with ideas on how to spend that money far better than our councillors can because they know their areas better than we do and they know how better to spend the money.”
Over the next few weeks, Brig will be providing you with a run down of all of your local council candidates, so stay tuned for more news as the election comes to a close.