Whether you like it or not, the general election is just around the corner. But there is no need to worry if you’re still unsure who to vote for, because over the next week Brig will be introducing you to the candidates fighting to represent Stirling at Westminster.
To kick-start our election coverage we quizzed the university’s own social policy professor, Kirstein Rummery, on her key pledges.
Rummery was selected as the only Scottish candidate for the Women’s Equality Party (WE), and is one of the only parties of its kind in the UK, with equality and women’s rights at its heart.
As a small party, WE are seeking to work with the other parties in parliament to combat issues centred around women’s equality. It is this emphasis on collaboration that Rummery says makes her party “unique”.
Throughout her career, Rummery has extensive experience working with the main political parties to assist on social policy which has allowed her to take an “outsiders view” on her own campaign.
“I’ve been an academic and an activist for a long time and I’ve gotten frustrated with presenting to governments of various political parties,” she said. “They only take up bits of the policies that fit in with their aims. I think I’d have a better sense of how to work collaboratively with parties.
“We need more women and disabled people in politics because we need more people with a wider experience of the policy issues. They actually need experience with using the services that people are funding.”
Improving women’s rights is enshrined throughout Women’s Equality Party’s manifesto, vowing to tackle issues such as rape and violence against women through education, with guidance on consent being taught.
Speaking on the issue close to her heart, Kirstein said we have to get rid of the “nasty rape culture”.
“We’ve got people who believe the rape myth that it’s a woman’s responsibility if she’s raped, and one in five Scottish women are going to experience rape and sexual assault during their lifetime.
“I was one of the one in five, because I was raped as a student when I was an undergraduate, and I know as somebody who teaches undergraduate students, that it’s just as endemic.
“I would say it’s even worse now because you’ve got online pornography and very sexualised images everywhere. I think the only way you’re ever going to tackle that is through education.”
Included in the manifesto, Kirstein would review the current laws in place for websites that intentionally host revenge pornography, making them both civilly and criminally liable and allowing victims to seek damages from perpetrators.
A key pledge by Kirstein is to implement shared parental leave, changing the system to nine months shared leave on 90% of pay for each parent as well as free universal childcare for all children that starts after parental leave.
She said: “I think it’s a shame we haven’t had these things yet so far because I’m lucky in that I’m an academic, I get to look at other systems and other countries, and one of the things that I’ve seen is that in countries where they have more gender equal situations, and fewer income gaps between women, it’s because they’ve had things like universal free childcare and flexible leave.
“Flexible leave is important not just for parenting, but also for caring, so for people who are looking after older relatives or disabled relatives, they need to be able to take time off work as well. That actually benefits everyone.
“There’s lots of research that shows, for example, that if you’ve got shared maternity and paternity leave that the income drop for mums when they go back into work is less, but also that dads later on – so five or six years down the line – are much more likely to be more involved with their children’s lives, so they know what’s happening in school and are much more hands on than fathers who have to work really long hours.”
But this is not an issue that just affects women and children. Kirstein explained that overall it can have better physical and mental outcomes, by taking the pressure off of low income families and allowing fathers and male carers to be more involved.
Describing the lack of investment in social care as one of the main reasons for standing as a candidate, Kirstein’s party is the only one calling for better investment in social care.
She said: “I’ve been researching this [social care] for 20 odd years and we’ve seen the crisis in social care coming, activists have told the parties, academics have told the parties, and the parties have told themselves, they’ve known it’s coming and none of them have done anything about it.
“If we could get proper long term care insurance done at a Westminster level then we could invest in the economy. We’ve seen around £2-5 back for every pound that we spend on social care.
“We could share the costs of social care better and make a better life for carers, for disabled people themselves, and particularly for older people who are worried about losing their homes and things like that.”
But candidates from smaller parties can often be accused of stealing votes from larger parties, which causes them to lose their seat.
Even as the pressure grows from the campaigning, Kirstein admitted she was unfazed by these criticisms, saying that voting for a smaller party is never “a waste”.
“It gives you the opportunity to vote for a party that you believe in, rather than negatively to keep other parties out,” she said. “The only time where it would look like perhaps keeping another party out is when it’s very close and you are essentially stealing votes from the other parties, but that’s not the case in Stirling.
“Votes don’t belong to parties, they belong to the people voting, so every party should have to earn your votes on the basis of their policies. The idea that it’s a wasted vote or let’s someone else in is misunderstanding the nature of the political process.”
Over the next few days, Brig will be providing you with more general election content about the candidates.