Stuart Auld is an environmental ecologist at the University of Stirling and is standing as a Liberal Democrats candidate in Dunblane and Bridge of Allan.
His passion for politics shines through when he tells Brig that SNP candidate, Jim Thomson’s claims that all other party manifestos were irrelevant because they could not receive a majority were strictly untrue and instead, he believes it is essential to local government to work cohesively together.
“Especially at local government, coalition governments do well and there is a place for small parties. We’re never going to lead the council, numerically we can’t even if all Lib Dem candidates won.
“I nevertheless believe that we can work issue by issue to provide a better, and consensus driven government for the area.
“Labour have talked about a plan for having a metropolitan transport system with buses that are under direct council control, we totally support that.
“I really want to get away from this team and us approach, even with the SNP, there are things I agree with and with Labour and to a certain extent the Tories.”
Working at the university has given Stuart the opportunity to work firsthand with students and this is something he vows to take forward to Stirling Council if elected.
He says: “Housing is a national crisis but however anyone stands up and says it’s a national crisis doesn’t matter because to most students it’s a personal crisis.
“I think there needs to be a stronger link between the council and the university population. There needs to be a dialogue there, not just for the university itself but for the students directly.
“I think sometimes students may feel that because this isn’t their long-term home, they might not necessarily have the ability to access a direct connection within the area.
“Many councillors think it is up to the student to approach the community, but I disagree and feel that it is our responsibility to help students take that first step.”
At this point in the interview, Brig took the opportunity to quiz Stuart on the manifesto pledges he and his party had included in their leaflets to voters.
The Liberal Democrats are pledging to build a proper strategy for public transport to fix the current system in place. Stuart says: “Right now the bus system is expensive, not great, and overall unreliable.
“The council enters its pitch battle with First Bus for the renewal of every contract and it’s difficult.
“Some parties will blame the current leadership, but the current leadership of the council doesn’t have control of the regulation of the buses, so are only able to pull one set of levers.
“I firmly support plans for a system like the one Edinburgh has with Lothian Buses, where the system is fully under council control. It’ll cost a bit of money, that’s for sure, but it means we can make the city a greener place as well.
“If there are more reliable bus links to places like Dunblane and Bridge of Allan then you haven’t got as many cars. I think it is bold and we’d see the benefits of it really quickly.”
Stuart believes he provides the best chance in ensuring the people of Stirling get the most out of the Regional City Deal.
It aims to build on the council’s existing initiatives to drive economic improvements and attract further investment.
He says: “When you go to Stirling, Bridge of Allan and Dunblane, there’s a lot of empty shops and a major reason for that is that business rates are just too high.
“You think of taxing business and it’s easy to frame it in terms of companies like Amazon, as we want them to pay their fair share, but in reality it is mostly the smaller businesses that end up being affected.
“I think it would be really good as part of the Regional Deal to have a fund to support local businesses to offset this tax. I don’t know why it’s set so high but it’s not something the council has control over, it’s something that Holyrood does.
“But hopefully, we can build a system where we can mitigate the effects of that tax, as when you bring business in, you also bring jobs and tourism.”
Stuart references the council hustings organised by PolSoc earlier this month and says he hopes parties can stop arguing between each other and work together to make local government more effective.
He explains: “I watched Labour and the SNP take chunks out of each other and I don’t think it’s very productive because actually there’s a lot of stuff that the Tory/Labour coalition brought in that’s good and the SNP supported.
“But now we’ve got these pitched battles and when I saw that happen I looked at the audience and you could see the audience had just totally switched off.
“That’s not the way to do local government. When governments are formed in coalition with different points of view, there’s a consensus and things are better and that’s what I want to do.”
With the snap election just around six weeks away, Stuart talks about the progress of his party since their downfall following the coalition government, as well as the pressures of having the election right after the Scottish local elections.
He says: “I’m torn on the election, as on the one hand as a Lib Dem, I think that we’re at an artificially low point.
“We lost heavily last time because Tories took Lib Dem seats, in England that is, and that means a lot of people changed their minds.
“There’s the hope of trying to recapture popularity, but the other thing is it’s just an opportunity to shout loud about Liberal values. We have consistently been pro-EU.
“On the flip side, I’m slightly annoyed because I think it’s bad for the council elections to continuously pull the focus away from local issues. We should be talking about local services not indyref2 or Brexit.”
To conclude the interview, Stuart told Brig what he thought gave him the edge over the other candidates standing in Dunblane and Bridge of Allan.
He explains: “As a scientist, I’m well versed to dispassionately weighing evidence and ascertaining what I think is going on in the world, and I aim to apply that level of scrutiny to local government.
“So in the Stirling Regional Deal there’s chat about controlling the tidal nature of the Forth and I see that the deal has to be ambitious.
“But this is the most crazy idea. It is unbelievably stupid and I don’t know how it’s got this far. It stands as yet another example of people coming up with and presenting an idea without first having applied the proper scrutiny.
“Control that and you’ll increase flood risks and it will affect ecologically important species and I believe that to be an unbelievably terrible idea.
“What I’m offering is someone who isn’t going to get all ‘party political point scoring’ on things I am going to look at it, and will actually say whether I think it’s a good idea or not. Rational conversations are key, and as I will continue this approach on other ideas that don’t have a firm evidence base.”